Archive for April, 2017


So, house keeping post is coming up later in the week. I’ve been falling behind lately and want to address that. Switching over from that, I do have a review for you all today. Thanks to the folks at Tor, who provided me a review copy, here’s The Empty Ones. Enjoy!

The Empty Ones cover

You’ve seen them before. You’ve even seem the charming strangers with nothing behind their eyes. Carey’s been fighting them since the seventies. Kaitlyn just found out about them a couple weeks ago. To being hunted endlessly by the empty one that nearly killed them, they’ll have to track him down first. Meanwhile a blast from Carey’s past turns up and she doesn’t seem interested in helping save the day.

Robert Brockway’s The Empty Ones is a decent follow up to The Unnoticeables and a solid book in its own right. It’s definitely a middle book, though one that has the courtesy of tying up its own story before jumping for the next book.

It being a middle book is sort of where my big complaint comes from. With The Unnoticeables there was an awareness that there had to be more creepies than just what the protagonists were dealing with, but it was pretty well all small scale stuff. It was local, almost personal, to the protagonists so it felt huge and each thing they stumbled into built it up more and reinforced how out of their depths they were. This book doesn’t have that. It physically takes the protagonists out of their usual haunts and has them chasing the monsters. Having that makes the whole plot feel smaller, or less, even as the stakes are higher this time around.

Part of what makes this an issue is the difference between what the reader knows from the 2013 sections and what the reader learns from the 1978 sections of the book. In the first book, the split timelines worked really well because it allowed the reader to see something in action and then learn about it or vice versa. The parallels aren’t nearly as clean in The Empty Ones, so we get a lot of new information in the past that doesn’t really seem to inform the present or the previous book. It can feel  awkward even when it does land right, making scenes feel off kilter and characters feel not like themselves.

That’s a big part of what I meant when I said it’s solid in its own right but only a decent follow up. On its own, The Empty Ones has a lot of the same energy and punch as The Unnoticeables. The characters are still easy to care about. The monsters are still that extra spark of creepy. Even the new things that don’t totally work in context of the previous book are really cool if taken as part of a standalone novel. Reading it as a sequel though leads to comparisons and little rough spots throughout. The wonderful bittersweet ending to The Unnoticeables is suddenly fractured because we don’t have to wonder how Carey got from there to being nearly alone. Sammy Six’s story matters a whole lot less now because of new details. What’s lost is a lot of character stuff, and not necessarily little stuff at that.

On its own this is a really fun book. The antagonists are far stronger than the heroes, so the heroes have to be clever or just runaway. The characters feel very human or that perfect degree of just slightly wrong. The tone is by and large spot on. Emotive scenes hit the right chords, generally at the right times. And ultimately, while I like it better on its own than as a sequel, it makes me want to keep reading. I want to see where everything goes.

So, where does this leave The Empty Ones? As a standalone book it would be nearly a five out of five. The issue is that it follows a book that I would more than happily give a five to and, while it does well on its own, it doesn’t stack up to the book it follows. So that earns The Empty Ones a four out of five.

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Gauntlet

So that was a week without a review. Fun. Today though, I have something for you. Thanks to the awesome folks at Ace, here’s Gauntlet. Enjoy!

Gauntlet cover

A year ago Kali Ling was the first female captain in the Virtual Gaming League’s history. Now she’s the youngest ever team owner. With a new tournament starting up, pitting the best gamers in the world against each other, Defiance is definitely on board. But, between the new pods that constantly adapt to players actions and all her new responsibility as team owner, can Kali stick to her convictions or will she wind up being just as bad as the rest of the VGL when the chips are down?

I have issues reviewing this book. That’s one thing I absolutely need to mention first off, because what’s good can be really good. Unfortunately that’s balanced by the fact that what’s bad tends to be really bad. So, let’s get going.

One of the big things with Gauntlet, much like the book before it Arena, is that Holly Jennings tends to do really well with her character stuff. When Kali is interacting with her team there’s this great flow, these are characters who care about and support each other. They work through their issues by talking, and it’s made clear that communication is part of why they work as a team. I love this aspect of the book. I adore that problems get worked through because friendship and communication. But then that’s kind of why I can’t stand the romance between Kali and one of her teammates, Rooke.

Back in Arena, Rooke was brought in to replace one of their other teammates. He was new and hot and kind of a jerk, so obviously he’s the love interest. It felt under developed then. In this book though we start off with the relationship reset, Rooke has cut Kali out and left the team with no explanation. He did it for her own good, so he says, which immediately loses my interest. It feels like a lot of the Kali and Rooke working things out got cut in an earlier draft and was only left in so that she would be as off balance as possible at the beginning of the book. There was a lot of really self pitying stuff from Kali regarding how she’d been just as bad to him last year that just didn’t really pan. I could have done with a lot less of it, especially since the whole Kali and Rooke thing feels like Jennings was told she had to have a love interest in there somewhere.

Gauntlet can also feel very scattered. At first the deal is that Rooke fell off the wagon and what if he can’t sort things out. Add to that Kali not being able to balance leading the team and doing her job as the team owner. Add to that the tournament itself and something being off about it. Add to that the team being attacked in the tabloids. Add to that Kali still wants to fight corruption in the VGL and do what’s best for her teammates. It can alternate between feeling like there are three different plots that never really go anywhere and feeling like everything is happening at once. A lot of that could have been cleaned up by removing repetition and focusing more on the tournament itself and any single one of the other problems. There was a lot of repetition, mostly things that the reader really shouldn’t have needed to be reminded of like Kali worrying about doing what’s best for the team.

I would have personally loved to see more of the tournament itself. Jennings does a great job with her action scenes and, with the core idea the book is being sold on being a massive tournament, I feel like going more into the game itself would have been an excellent choice. It’s hard to overstate how much I like the fight scenes here. They feel visceral and epic. They’re the place where the characters are in both the most and least amount of danger and that lends them an interesting weight that a lot of the rest of the book lacks. The fights feel a lot like a well done boss fight. They feel like Defiance is up against the wall.

When we finally get the big fight scenes it’s, of course, near the climax of the book. So, it’s actually kind of fitting that my last issue with Gauntlet is with its ending. There were a couple of places where it would have felt really natural to end Gauntlet. They would have been solid and left it open for the next book without feeling like an ad for it. The author went past both of those and just went ahead and set up book three. My issue with this is twofold. One, it gives up a more solid satisfying ending for a much weaker one. Two, it makes the rest of the book feel like less. Suddenly it feels like reaching the end of a game and finding out that the ending it paid DLC. It feels like there is less point to Gauntlet because here’s this cliffhanger that steals this book’s resolution for another book’s beginning.

So, where’s that leave Gauntlet? A big part of my issue with reviewing Gauntlet is that the stuff I didn’t enjoy made me dislike that I enjoyed the stuff I did. For every time there was a scene of Defiance being a great team and friends and just really jiving well together, I remembered that Kali and Rooke didn’t have that for their scenes as a couple. For every awesome fight, there were a bunch of other scenes that felt like repetition for the sake of padding. For all that I really enjoyed the bulk of the book, the ending left me feeling like I just discovered that my Little Orphan Annie decoder ring was an ad this whole time.

It’s a decent enough read, and a good sophomore novel. There’re definitely bits that need work. Jennings could certainly tighten up her writing some, get rid of some repetitiveness. But at the end of the day, even with its issues, Gauntlet is a fun read. Frustrating because of the bigger problems, but fun. It’s definitely a three out of five, but I think with a little more time and a couple more books Jennings could be a five star writer.

So, Words Again

As I continue my quest for a steady posting schedule I find myself failing again and again. I’ve spent the day reading the book I’m posting a review of and trying to get some things sorted out. That hasn’t been real successful, but hey, adulting isn’t really about succeeding in my experience so much as keeping going.

So yeah, review should be up tomorrow evening. Unless something terrible happens and I’m stuck home because of the weather or something, then it’ll probably be earlier. Either that or I’ll just post the spider dance gif with no other explanation.

I’m having a bit of trouble with this one for a few reasons, but it’ll all come out in the wash. Might have some stuff going on on another blog soon. Nothing big, just building a character for an upcoming game my group is going to run. It should be fun writing exercise though.