Mini Book Reviews – September 2016

Time for some mini book reviews! All the following reviews are for the audiobook versions.

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

I’m very, very picky about the kind of fantasy novels I choose to read. I don’t like too much magic or tons of fantastical creatures. World building has to be complex but not so complicated it becomes confusing and frustrating. All this on top of great characters and storytelling.

Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes fits my criteria. Set in a fantasy world similar to the Roman Empire, the novel centers on Laia, a young girl who belongs to a cultural group called The Scholars. Her parents were killed by the Martials, the ruling class that oppresses her people. Her mother and father were rebels and famous for their bravery. Laia feels like an outsider in her family because she doesn’t feel she has the same courage. When her grandparents are killed by the “Masks,” the military elite, and her brother is captured and imprisoned, Laia vows to overcome her fears to find a way to free him. Joining up with a group of rebels, she reluctantly agrees to spy for them at the Blackcliff Military Academy—by becoming slave to the vicious and ruthless woman who is the academy’s commandant.

The book is split into two points of view: Laia, and one of the cadets, Elias. Elias is the bastard son of the commandant. Along with Laia’s mission to spy for the rebels so they will help her rescue her brother, the story follows not only the cadets’ brutal training, but trials for the new Emperor. Elias is one of four chosen to compete in the trials.

The two main characters are engaging and Tahir has a lush prose style. The story has copious hair-pulling suspense and action scenes. I warn you, some of it is very brutal, particularly the way the treatment of slaves is portrayed. Which is as it should be.

I thought Tahir did a perfect job with the fantasy elements (as in Game of Thrones, many characters don’t believe some of the magic exists). She leaves the story on a bit of a cliffhanger, but fear not, there is a sequel that just came out (A Torch Against the Night) and at least two more books are planned in the series. I’m looking forward to spending more time with these characters in this fascinating world.

Aftermath: Life Debt (Star Wars) by Chuck Wendig

The second in the Star Wars Aftermath series, Life Debt continues following the adventures of a disparate group of rebels right after the events of The Return of the Jedi.

Ex-Rebel pilot Norra Wexler, her son Temmon, Zabrak bounty hunter Jas Emari, ex-Imperial officer Sinjir Rath Velus, and SpecForces officer Jom Barell have formed into a team to hunt down Imperials who need to be brought to justice. The team is chosen by Princes Leia for a mission to find her missing husband Han Solo, who has gone to Chewbacca’s home planet of Kashyyyk to help free the enslaved Wookies.

While in my view they don’t surpass the two recent Star Wars novels by Claudia Gray (Lost Stars and Bloodline), these books are still plain, unadulterated FUN. I love all the characters and the use of original Star Wars characters as supporting players (especially Wedge Antilles, who is one of my favorite of the minor Star Wars characters). Special bonus in this book: some backstory for at least one character introduced in The Force Awakens.

I also love experiencing these and other Star Wars books in their audio form because they use the Star Wars musical score and sound effects. It’s super-cool.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

I had heard a lot of good things about this book for quite some time (it was released in 2012) but was reluctant to read it because it didn’t sound like my cup of tea. I’m not big on espionage novels set during World War II. However, when Audible had a 2-for-1 sale and this was one of the eligible books, I thought, what the hell, if I don’t like it at least I got it for free.

Turns out this is now high on my list of all-time favorite books.

The book is split in two sections: it starts out as the “confession” of a British spy, Julie (also known as Queenie), after she has been captured by the Gestapo while on a mission in France. The second half is narrated by her friend Maddie, a pilot and Julie’s best friend, who crashed the plane that took them to France. Maddie relies on the Resistance to help her find Julie and complete the mission.

I don’t want to say another word about the plot, because the colder you go into this story, the better.

It has one my favorite themes in stories: two people who would never have known each other under normal circumstances become best friends. The upper class Julie and lower class Maddie would never have crossed paths if it were not for the war. Wein did tremendous research to get historical details right, especially about women who were spies and pilots (she only fudges a little on dates, as female pilots did not fly missions until very late in the war).

This is an amazing, amazing book. I cannot recommend it highly enough. I also can’t figure out why Hollywood or British TV still haven’t made it into a movie or miniseries. Get on it, guys.

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