Category: stand alone


So, guess who got hit with a fun little dose of anxiety about actually starting her new job back on Wednesday. It’s me. I spent so much time getting up and looking for things to do that I got just about nothing done. All the same though, I’m happy to share this one with you all. The nice folks at Tor Teen sent it to me ages ago and I’m finally talking about it. By an author I’ve reviewed several times before, Ann Aguirre, this is Heartwood Box. Enjoy!

Heartwood Box cover

Araceli Flores Harper’s parents sent her to live with her great aunt Ottillie for her own safety. On paper, the town is safer than nearly anywhere Araceli could possibly be. No crime. No outward threats. But people, her great uncle included, have been disappearing for years with no trace found. That’s concerning enough on its own. But between her new pen pal from World War 1 and the disappearance of her best friend Araceli will need to dig deep into the town’s mysteries for the truth regardless of the danger.

Ann Aguirre’s Heartwood Box does an interesting job of balancing the mystery of what causes the disappearances and Araceli’s attempts to figure them out and the sort of romance across time between Araceli and Oliver.

Aguirre is one of those authors that I adore with major exception to how she writes romance, Heartwood Box is a fascinating exception to that. Something, I think, about how she balances the romance against the plot and Araceli’s feelings about other characters. The plot is allowed to happen without being entirely devoured by the romance. As the plot gets more serious it feels like Araceli leans more heavily on the impossible romance with Oliver. And yet, the only thing that feels lost to the romance was the possible love triangle with the boy next door class clown, Logan, which did not feel like a loss at all given the characters involved.

It actually becomes difficult to talk more about the plot, beyond going over how it balances with the romance, without spoiling the climax. Which is a bit frustrating because the real mystery only kicks in later in the book, the first half or so of the story is introduction and lead up. And yet, it is introduction and lead up that is done well enough that I was almost disappointed when the end started getting closer. I was enjoying seeing Araceli trying to figure out how she was communicating with Oliver, seeing her finding out more about the town, even her interactions with Logan made for good character work and made him feel like more of a character than just the third wheel guy. The character work over all is good actually, I enjoyed reading the interactions between Araceli and her friends. I wanted to see more of them, more of their stories, it made for great side characters because they felt solid and like they had their own stories going on off page.

My problem, if I had a problem at all, with Heartwood Box is the ending. Trying not to go too far into it, it feels way beyond Araceli’s scope. By nature of the narrative and the book to that point, the reader has to stick with Araceli for the ending but then the things that happened seem vastly out of step with what both the reader and Araceli herself know and could expect. It leaves her feeling unmoored in a way that could easily have been the start of a completely different story. This is definitely a matter of necessity, again the reader has to stick with her or it would be way too jarring, but the difference has to be tremendous enough for the reader to get the sheer magnitude of how much changed from the comparatively small scope of Araceli’s life in this small town in New York. It is a trade off that I’m not entirely sure works, but acknowledge had to be made.

Which brings me to this, I liked Heartwood Box a great deal. It falls pretty far from my usual genre preferences but the characters were interesting and the mystery was well constructed enough that I got hooked. It reminded me of the parts of Ann Aguirre’s writing that I really enjoy and made me want to check out more of her YA works. So it earns a four out of five from me. If I felt more confident with the ending it would have gotten a five.

Postponing this helped a lot, though I wish I hadn’t needed to. Things to work on for next week, right? Let’s get to the book though, here’s Claire O’Dell’s A Study in Honor. Enjoy!

A Study in Honor cover

Doctor Janet Watson lost her arm while working desperately to save injured soldiers on the front lines, ending her career both military and as a surgeon. Given honorable discharge and a partly functional mechanical prosthetic, she’s returned to Washington DC to find her way back to a normal life despite the political upheaval of the New Civil War and her own PTSD. Normal means a place to live, a more functional prosthetic, and a job. Normal means just about anything except Sara Holmes and the many many secrets she brings with her. Normal means that her patients should not be dying under suspicious circumstances, their records deleted within the day. Normal might mean having to work with her evasive and teasing roommate to follow the trail of suspicious deaths into something deeply dangerous, all in the name of justice.

I do not know what I expected when picking up Clair O’Dell’s A Study in Honor. The idea of a cyberpunk mystery using new versions of known characters appealed, though ultimately there is not much cyberpunk to it and the mystery is slow to arrive.

That is actually my biggest complaint about A Study in Honor, it is incredibly slow starting up. The first third or so of the book feels as long or longer than the entire rest of it. It has all of the introduction to the second Civil War, why it happened and how it is effecting things. It has Watson’s thoughts on the candidates for the upcoming presidential election and the promise and failings of the current president. It has Watson falling down a depression hole and just going through the motions of life for a time until the monotony of it is broken by a run in with an old army buddy and her introduction to Sara Holmes. All of this is important background, but it drags on and on. The official blurb does not really help this, given that it covers most of the book, which could easily make the slow start feel even more so. The plot really only starts after Watson has moved into apartment 2B and been given reason to suspect that Holmes is more than she seems.

Holmes herself feels like an oddity. Simultaneously charming and infuriating, Holmes spends much of the early book seemingly toying with Watson by playing a game of questions and half truths. She has some really concerning behavior at one point, it gets explained later in the book but still feels really off from a character Watson and the reader are meant to come to trust. There really never is a point where it feels like the reader could catch up to her even if the reader has figured out what will happen on their own. Her seemingly endless wealth of information and resources just puts her so far outside of what Watson could know that it feels in places like she is being dragged along by some force of nature as Sara Holmes jumps from clue to unknown clue, hauling the plot along with her.

All this feels far more negative than I entirely mean for it to. The plot is familiar enough to figure out what will happen and roughly in what order. The characters of Dr. Janet Watson and Sara Holmes are well written and consistent, Watson perhaps more so since she is the reader’s view into all of this. The background conflict of the New Civil War has far reaching consequences, both serving as the inciting incident for Watson’s return to Washington, DC as well as touching most every major plot point. It feels like a big dangerous thing rather than serving as an excuse for Watson to have been injured and honorably discharged from the army and then just dropped.

Overall, I enjoyed A Study in Honor and I look forward to the follow up, I also appreciate though that A Study in Honor feels like a complete story on its own. I would read more of O’Dell’s writing. So, while it loses a little bit for me due to how slow it starts, I give A Study in Honor a four out of five.

 

It occurred to me while writing this that I really want to ramble about a few sub genres at some point. Not sure how well I would do with that, but it still might be fun. This one is from the nice folks at Entangled Teen, here’s Cindy R. Wilson’s Sting. Enjoy!

Sting cover

The Scorpion robs warehouses in the Light District. These raids help the denizens of the Dark District survive as more and more of the jobs they rely on disappear. But it only takes one person betraying her for the Scorpion to be killed off, replaced in the minds of the Enforcers with a teenage girl, replaced  in their minds with Tessa and thrown in jail to rot far from the people she cares for.  If she wants to get out, to even have the chance at revenge, Tessa will have to team up with the prisoner in the cell next to hers, an outcast from the very Enforcers she wants to stop, Pike. Will their escape allow them to pursue revenge or will the attempt doom them both?

In many ways, Cindy R. Wilson’s Sting feels very much like a book failed by its genre. It feels like a book that had romance ladled into it to avoid filling in the gaps in world building. Or like the author really wanted to dig into the basic social stratification ideas that are heavily used in cyber punk but then backed out for fear of really saying anything. But then it really seems to not know what to do with the romance angle either.

Throughout the first third or so of Sting the reader is introduced to the Dark District with its falling in buildings and denizens who can barely find enough to eat and the jail, Decay, which is being used to erase the jobs that people in the Dark District used to work, thus depriving them of a way to survive, but that has more regular meals and solid shelter than our protagonist can ever remember having had. Tessa wants out though, wants revenge, wants to get back to her sister and helping the people of the Dark District. To do that she has to follow Pike’s plan, which means that she and the reader wind up plopped into the Light District. The reader was shown the Dark District in ruins and told that the Light District was much wealthier, that they had electricity and excess food and all the industry. But then it winds up being so much more than that. The Light District is presented as this big glamorous thing with lights everywhere and brilliant colors on everything and expensive parties regularly.

While I am aware that cities exist with this level of social stratification and that there are people like the Enforcers who want to hurt others seemingly just because they can, it just seems comical here. There is a literal closed off border between the two districts of this one city, a closed off border with armed guards all hopped up on propaganda and undeserved power ready to hurt the Darksiders who might try and go to the Light District for a job or something. It winds up being one of those things that, I am certain that something like it exists, but as presented in Sting it all feels like short hand for actual world building. It feels like the differences needed to be made as stark as possible so that the plot could be remembered through all of Tessa’s random moments of angsting over falling for Pike or over the feelings she had for River.

I confess, a lot of my frustrations here are made much worse by the ending. It feels far too tidy. Too like Wilson was dedicated to that ending from the start and refused to adjust it in light of how dark her antagonist wound up being. It sort of casts everything that came before it in a very artificial light. It feels unearned in a couple of ways.

From a genre angle, as much as I want to compare it to cyber punk, the comparison does not fit well. It is not technology making the Darksiders’ lives worse. Technology really fails to feature heavily, Tessa’s scorpion bots aside. Everything that makes the Darksider’s lives worse is down to one single antagonist and his underlings. The romance plot is certainly key to Sting’s word count, but manages to feel unnecessary and over done. It tends to feel more like filler than important to the character’s arcs. The scenes where Tessa thinks about her feelings for Pike were, at best, frustrating interruptions to what felt like the actual plot even as it feels like the reader is never properly let in on what Pike’s plan is. I kept waiting for something about that to come up, for us to get a better look at how they were planning to deal with the antagonist and show that Pike is as clever as the reader is told he is, but then it never came up.

There was so much here that had the potential to be well done if only given more room for development. So much that should have been given another pass or two before this was sent to the presses. And it just makes the finished book so much more disappointing that the potential was there and not given the development it needed. It took me multiple weeks to finish Sting, not because it was terrible or insulting, but because it was so easy for me to just put it down and do something else. I found other things to do because Tessa getting torn up over her feelings got old just so, so quickly. I came closer to just not finishing Sting than I have any other book in the past three years. For that, it gets two stars.

This one has been a long time coming. The folks at Berkley were nice enough to provide me with an eARC for review and then I fell out of reviewing several times for one reason or another. From Kali Wallace, here’s Salvation Day. Enjoy!

Salvation Day cover

Ten years ago the House of Wisdom was the sight of a horrific viral outbreak, there was only one survivor and the ship has been locked down since. Zahra’s father was blamed for the outbreak, resulting in her mother fleeing to the wastes with her and her siblings to escape retribution for it. Now she and a team are set to make the House of Wisdom a home for the whole Family. They just have to abduct the lone survivor, Jaswinder Bhattacharya, use his genetic signature to access the ship, and get it up and running again in time to meet everyone when they arrive. There are some things better left buried though and there is a reason the House of Wisdom was allowed to sit derelict for ten years.

Kali Wallace’s Salvation Day feels largely like a book with quality writing and far too short of a timeframe. As the title suggests, Zahra’s group only has about a day to get the House of Wisdom ready, so everything that happens, happens within about a day. That leaves some things feeling rushed, like the viral recurrence part of the plot or big chunks of Zahra’s character development.

The character work in Salvation Day bounces a bit. For many of the characters it feels really well considered, even antagonists feel fairly well rounded. There are a couple of characters who feel flat, but it fits them and their function in the book. But then we reach one of the major antagonists and the split between how he is described early on and how he actually behaves when he is introduced is a bit jarring.  It works on a level, because the antagonist needs to be fairly awful for certain aspects of the book to stay on course, tension needs to be maintained. But the contrast also comes with a change in reactions from Zahra that feel off. At first he’s the Family’s leader who’s done all these great things for her and the rest of the Family, she wants to prove herself to him and feels proud to have been selected for this mission, but then later on she starts expressing tremendous fear of this guy and what he might do to her siblings if the mission fails. It coincides with the reader learning more about what happened on the House of Wisdom and with Zahra becoming more and more a sympathetic character, but it also feels like it happens because she is meant to be more sympathetic rather than because she has started realizing how dangerous he is.

Additionally, the cult leader, Adam, feels almost cartoonish in some places. Largely, I think, because of both the need for Zahra to have that turn from the cult and because the reader is not really given space to feel the weight of the House of Wisdom take over being slowed and threatening to fail. If there had been a longer time frame and the reader had been shown the Council breathing down the group at the House of Wisdom’s necks more or if Jas and his classmates had been able to contact the Council while they were away from their captors and we were shown that being brought to bear against the Family over even a handful of days, it feels like a lot would have settled better.

The more I think on it, the less I really feel like I can say about Jas without spoiling aspects of the story. It generally feels like he gets the parts that focus more on furthering the reader’s knowledge of what had happened and uncovering the series of events that lead to his survival and the virus being contained. His sections generally felt slower where it seemed like Zahra’s sections were more action focused. He did feel a bit more complete as a character in some ways, his arc being mostly about facing his past and getting out alive might be part of that. I think I appreciate where the ending took him, it feels like a good stepping off point for more story without feeling like a sequel hook.

Salvation Day is a book that, for one reason or another, it took me a while to review after reading it. I was never quite sure how to talk about it and so I’m left with the parts that stuck with me, some of which are things that I want to leave alone as they are parts of the ending itself and do not really feel fair to talk about. Mostly I find myself thinking that, while I would definitely read Kali Wallace again and while I would really like to see more of the setting, Salvation Day is the kind of book that I enjoyed while reading it but that I probably will not read again. I give it a three out of five with the note that that would have likely been higher if I had made myself write the review earlier.

Sometimes I’m lucky enough to read two wildly different genres by the same author. The last time I had the chance to review one of Myke Cole’s works was a couple years ago, this is actually his first book with Angry Robot. I got to read it for review thanks to netGalley, here’s Sixteenth Watch. Enjoy!

Sixteenth Watch cover

After a riot between Helium 3 miners evolves into a brief, tragic armed conflict between American and Chinese naval forces career Search-and-Rescue woman Captain Jane Oliver is returned to Earth and a teaching position away from the sixteenth watch and the death of her husband. But tensions remain high and the best hope of preventing the first lunar war rests with the Coast Guard. Oliver has a new mission, return to the moon, get the Coast Guard SAR-1 team ready to win this year’s Boarding Action, and prove that they are the right force to keep the peace.

Myke Cole’s Sixteenth Watch feels like a bit of an odd duck when it comes to military science fiction. It feels more character focused and less hard sci-fi than other military sci-fi I have read in the past. How things are done is important, but pulling the team together is more so. Each member of the SAR-1 team is the best at what they do in the Coast Guard, but they have issues jelling with each other.

This is also the most anti-war military sci-fi that I have ever read. The entire reason Oliver is there is because the Coast Guard are a better fit for policing the folks avoiding quarantine without starting an armed conflict than the Navy is. The goal is to avoid a war, to keep things cold as it were, to keep people not only on the moon but also back on Earth safe.

But the only way to convince people to take them seriously is to win what is essentially a massive sporting event, so she has to get the Coast Guard team ready to secure a victory against the Marine team that has won several years running. It kind of winds up being funny, how the ability to keep war from breaking out on the moon is dependent on them winning what’s essentially a sporting event, but it is treated dead seriously and a lot of the challenges Oliver faces wind up being in service to getting her team the kind of practice they need to come together as a team. In a lot of ways that takes the place of a proper antagonist, no single person is standing between the SAR-1 team and active work and the Marine team is brilliantly good at what they do rather than antagonistic. That lack of a direct antagonist feels to the book’s credit. It would be weird if there was just one person actively pushing for the Coast Guard team to fail, rather than any number of people following orders that happened to get in their way or following their own need to see someone else succeed or getting wrapped up in the idea that a war is going to happen so they need to be backing the Navy over the Coast Guard. It is a complicated situation that Cole chose not to simplify.

This actually stands in something of a contrast to the pacing and the characters other than Oliver and her XO. At several points in the plot I found myself naming off the part of the hero’s journey that was coming up. This is very much not a complaint, the hero’s journey is the basis for a lot of stories, but it did make the flow of things a little predictable. I would have liked to have seen more character for the SAR-1 team, a lot of Sixteenth Watch is focused on Oliver working towards getting the team ready and working through the trauma of the events of the beginning of the book, which does not leave much space for the Boarding Action team. I would have liked to have seen more of them growing together as a unit and more individual growth for each of them. But, again, that is mostly a personal quibble the team are not the focus of the book. Oliver is the protagonist, so of course she gets the most focus on her arc.

Ultimately Sixteenth Watch leaves me wanting more, if not a further series with these characters, then more writing in a similar vein from Cole. He is definitely an author I am going to try and keep a better eye on now. This one gets a five out of five from me.

So, it’s taken me awhile to get one of these written, hasn’t it? I don’t know that I’m back back, but I feel like at some point with this one I fell back into my groove. That should make it easier to keep going. Anyway, this one’s Grady Hendrix’s We Sold Our Souls. Enjoy!

We Sold Our Souls cover

The Blind King is rising one last time, a final five nights of Koffin before they close the crypt for good. Millions of metal heads across America are desperate to see Terry Hunt perform before he retires, to be part of what promises to be rock and roll history. The advertisements for it are the ugliest thing Kris Pulaski, Best Western night manager and once band mate of the Blind King himself, has ever seen. She’s tired and buried in stress and the ad reminds her of Dürt Würk, the band that had so nearly taken them all to the top back in the nineties. The band that nearly had something great with Troglodyte, that last album that never was. The band that had been torn apart on contract night, when Terry sold out paving the way for his solo career.  As she sets back out to try and set things right Kris starts to realize that Terry might have sold more than the band’s credibility for his own success.

We Sold Our Souls is a book that simultaneously makes me wish I had started reading Grady Hendrix’s books way earlier and a book that I’m not quite sure how to talk about. This is a book that I both want to fangirl over some of its character work and that I also want to dig into and dissect other aspects of the writing.  It’s an interesting balance.

See, We Sold Our Souls is a horror novel that can feel far more urban fantasy than I’m entirely used to in the genre. The character work is the focus here with the horror following from the past, from things that were forgotten and choices that characters made in the intervening time. It builds as Kris meets with more of her former band mates and the audience learns more about Troglodite, the album that wasn’t.

There are between chapter bits that sort of introduce the weirdness and horror aspects a little at a time. It works well for pacing, starting slow and then ramping up as things get more serious. Though the content of some of them feels at odds with Kris and some of the other characters, I’m sure this is purposeful, I’m just not sure that aspect of it works for me. It can also wind up feeling a little on the nose further into the book. There was also this bit that I really loved, a call back between various former members of Dürt Würk about how they used to quote The Runaways’ “Dead End Justice” back and forth to each other. It was used sparingly but well and it added to the reality of the characters, giving them a sort of in joke from when they were still a band. It was also a nifty character bit to see how they invoked or reacted to it from character to character.

The end, while I don’t want to talk too much about it for fear of spoiling the experience, made for a fantastic tying together of the various plot threads that lead into it. And it was a thematic fit for the rest of the story that wasn’t exactly difficult to see coming but that was still more than narrative expectations might have lead it to be. It made me want to go grab my guitar and start practicing again.

We Sold Out Souls was definitely a right book at the right time thing for me. Having read it, I’m definitely going to go check out some of Hendrix’s other books and keep an eye out for if he has anything new coming out soon. It gets a five out of five from me.

The Con Season

I’m running behind here, not unexpected but still. Errands got a little away from me. This is one that has me thinking of plans for October and wanting to watch a bunch of horror movies. Needless to say, I had a lot of fun with this one, so here’s Adam Cesare’s The Con Season. Enjoy!

The Con Season cover

Camp Blood Con offers a seriously unique experience. Three day, six iconic horror actors, one terrifying slasher out to slaughter them all. Be one of the lucky gore hounds to join in on the inaugural year for this fully immersive fan experience!

Starting into Adam Cesare’s The Con Season: A Novel of Survival, I expected a certain degree of attention paid to horror movie tropes. Maybe Cesare would spend some time developing his characters in such a way that the reader looked forward to their gruesome fates. Perhaps he would play with the expected tropes so that the turns were fun to look for while still feeling fresh. I did not know what I expected exactly, but I had a lot of fun with the story.

The time spent on set up here feels like it paid off well. The reader is introduced to several of the more important characters and given enough to start figuring where they fit in the horror movie aspect of the plot itself. Meanwhile, bits and pieces of Camp Blood Con’s framework are introduced, enough to tease but it also enough to give a read on the antagonists. It takes a fair amount of the page space given, but I find that it feeds into the more active part of the book well enough. The buildup ends just as it was starting to wear out its welcome, giving a good jumping off point for the pay off.

I am stepping lightly here to avoid spoilers, but the actual con portion of the story is a lot of fun. The slasher is unveiled to the reader and the con goers. The atmosphere develops this delightfully creepy edge as the horror lurches into full view and the characters stumble to the realization that this is all too real. I find myself wanting to just talk and talk about this section because I enjoyed so much.

Which brings me to the end here. I read the entirety of The Con Season over the course of a long work day. And I admit, I want a sequel that winds up being oddly derivative and not quite as good, just like one of the movies Cesare clearly knows so well. It has been two weeks since I read The Con Season and I still want to tell all of my co-workers about it. It gets a five out of five from me. I am definitely going to be looking at Adam Cesare’s other work.

I think this book might have kicked off my recent reading streak. I enjoyed it a great deal and very much appreciate Entangled Teen’s providing me with a copy for review. Here’s Pintip Dunn’s Malice. Enjoy!

Malice cover

In a shattering flash of electricity Alice was visited by a voice claiming to be from the future. A voice that would go on to inform her that one of the students at her school is the creator of a virus that, in her time, has killed all but a third of the human population. A voice that charges her with finding out who this person is and stopping them before it is too late. But the voice’s orders often feel contradictory or nonsensical and Alice finds herself questioning if following its orders is really the best way to save the future. Is there anything that she can do to save the future outside of the voice’s orders? And why is it so insistent that she avoid one specific boy?

There is a lot to recommend Pintip Dunn’s Malice. The concept is interesting, the idea of a sort of indirect time travel and the implications of that fascinate me. So does the way the story was laid out, with Alice being pulled in different directions by the voice and her own feelings and fears, but it does so while laying out a solid path to who the virus maker might be and building layers of characterization for most of the cast.

The characters for the most part felt like characters. They felt like they existed for more reasons that to support the romance sub plot between Alice and Bandit and, more importantly, most of them felt like they could have been the protagonists of the book if it had been written from a different angle. Even the nameless background students feel like they could have been characters. Alice notes people interacting in the background as part of describing her surroundings. The only real exceptions here have their reasons for being comparatively out of focus, though there were a couple of characters that I found myself wishing we had seen more of.

The plot is well laid out, a reader can pretty easily catch on to where things are going. Though enough unexpected happens that the book never gets boring. Even the romance subplot is well done, it feels like Alice is actually getting to know Bandit rather than just them suddenly being in love. It fits well with the plot too, supporting and complementing it rather well.

One of the only things I have a real complaint with is how the confrontation with the virus maker was handled. It felt rushed in an odd way, almost like Dunn only had so many pages she was allowed and was running out of them. There was all this set up baked in for the virus maker, right up to the climax where the virus maker sounded both heartbreakingly young and so far gone that it sort of made the rest of the ending not work for me. It was not the worst ending that I have ever read by any means, but I would have liked for it to have been given a little more space to settle in.

I had a lot of fun with Malice. There were moments when I wanted Alice to go ahead and figure out what was going on so that we could get into the fighting back part. There were moments where something clicked and I just knew where things were moving. It was a book that I was willing to go with the flow on and see how things fell into place. The writing was well plotted and, while Malice is vehemently a standalone book, I find myself looking forward to what Dunn writes next. So, this earns a four out of five from me.

 

Hey all, I’m a little later getting this up than I really would have liked, but I’m here now and we’re going to get this show on a roll. There’s a blog tour starting today for Kittie Lambton’s The Cellist’s Notebook. My stop is coming up on Friday, but definitely stop by the the other stops to see what they have going on.

The Cellists' Notebook Banner2

The Cellist’s Notebook is a charming, life-affirming tale of discovery surrounding an old family mystery. A young girl’s curiosity, her love of a little melody and the beauty of a cello evokes memories long forgotten.

Set in the present day, ten-year-old Emily Peters is spending the summer with her Nana Rose, a retired piano teacher, in rural Cumbria whilst Emily’s sister Lizzie travels to Paris for a French exchange.  When Emily notices an old photograph of a cellist dating back to the Second World War and discovers cellos and an old music manuscript in the attic, her Nana tells of the touching and compelling story of her brother Leni, a linguist, cellist and music composer, whose disappearance was marked ‘ultimate fate unknown’ following World War II.

Emily’s love of the unfinished cello melody, found in her Great Uncle Leni’s music notebook, evokes memories for her Nana Rose and Emily returns to Norfolk with a passion to play the cello and a determination to learn the long-lost melody. A series of events unfold that change the life of Emily and her family forever.

Kittie Lambton 3

Author Information

Kittie Lambton was born in 1975 in Norfolk, England. She is a cellist, and has been providing music tuition for over fifteen years. She is an advocate for all children being able to learn musical instruments from a young age. Her early learning of the cello with her cello tutor in Norwich, Norfolk has created warm memories that inspired the writing of this book. Kittie enjoys exploring the science behind how music can evoke and improve memory and the importance of music in our everyday lives. She was recently awarded second place in the Westgate on Sea Literary Festival Short Story Competition 2019.

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So, here’s a review where I dip my toe in a setting that I know not a ton about. I feel like the book stands well enough on its own to be enjoyable even if you aren’t super familiar with the rest of the Star Wars extended universe. This has sort of inspired another thing I want to talk about. For now though, enjoy!

Star Wars Queen's Shadow cover

On the last day of her rule Queen Amidala stayed ensconced with her handmaidens and trusted guards, relaxing on the one day she could before trying to build a life as Padmé Naberrie. A life she would have to put off building once the new Queen asked her to continue serving Naboo. The planet needed a new representative in the Galactic Senate, who could be a better fit? Who else loves Naboo and its people well enough to fight for them? And so Padmé agrees to take up the mantle of senator, to remain Amidala for as long as she is needed. A senator needs to be a much different person than a queen though, Padmé and her handmaidens will need to figure out what that means if she is going to navigate the Galactic Senate.

I confess, I started E. K. Johnson’s Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow because I wanted something science fiction but with little to no narrative consequence. So a book focused on a character who, while I’m certain other aspects of her personal arc have been covered on other books, by definition cannot be allowed to do anything that would have consequences for the greater Star Wars narrative seemed like it would fit the bill pretty well. The blurb suggested that it would be mostly character work, something that sounded really good honestly. It was pretty well exactly what I was looking for.

As much as this is a book about Padmé, and her change over from Queen to senator, it’s also very much about her world and the people she surrounds herself with. Early on each of Padmé’s handmaidens get a fair amount of focus all the better to drive home how close they all are and how much they care about Naboo, how idealistic Naboo’s culture is even after the Trade Federation’s attack. It gets the reader attached to everything Padmé is about to leave behind. Gives a taste of her relationships and the rules she’s lived by before leading into a place where those relationships and rules are not nearly as effective as they had been at home, are in fact detrimental in some ways. I adored that. Having the protagonist not only very clearly relying on others, but having that be a core feature of how she is able to accomplish things and adapt is something that I had not really realized that I miss in a fair number of other books. Because Padmé’s handmaidens are more than just her staff, she trusts them with her life and there’s this support structure there. Especially with Sabé, Padmé’s best friend and bodyguard and body double, very nearly the deuteragonist in some places where she acts as an agent outside of the happenings directly in the Galactic Senate.

I found myself wanting to see more of the handmaiden characters as the book went on and focused more on Senator Amidala. I find myself wanting to see more of them having finished the book, it left me curious about how they would deal with the Empire but not doubting for a moment that each of them would rebel in her own way be that art or politics, providing space for those displaced or fighting directly. I want to know where they went from the last chapter of Queen’s Shadow and where that took them.

That also leads me to one of the only issues I had with Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow.  The ending, specifically the epilogue, just completely took me out of it. The final chapter wrapped things up on a low note but left the reader with a sense of hope. Padmé and her team are going to keep fighting for what’s good and right in the galaxy.  The Epilogue shattered that in a way that starts off beautifully mirroring the first chapter but that also feels unnecessary and almost mean spirited in how it deals with some of the characters. It took me from knowing that cannon will still happen with everything that implies and hammered it in like a crooked nail in an otherwise fantastically built piece. It killed the sense of hope that the final chapter ended on and that’s what I find myself coming back to over and over like a missing tooth. The death of hope and how very out of place it feels in the context of the rest of the book.

That’s my only big issue and, aside from a couple of odd romance-ish moments that felt a little out of place, I think it was my only real issue. If not for the epilogue Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow would be a five out of five for me. It leaves me wanting more from the characters and I am definitely planning on looking for more of E. K. Johnson’s work. So, all told Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow earns a four out of five.