Review: Burn This City by Brenda Poppy

Title: Burn This City
Author: Brenda Poppy
Publisher: Glass Fish Publishing
Genres: Science Fiction
Length: 303 pages
My Rating: ★★★.5
3.5/5 stars

Summary

Kasis is an uninhabitable planet, yet there they were – inhabiting. It’s no wonder that prolonged colonization produced…side effects. Or gifts. But with a militarized government that persecutes people for being different, using such a gift could mean certain death.

Auburn Alendra is one of the gifted. Her power allows her to hear into the deepest corners of the polluted city, gathering secrets and using them to her advantage. When one of those secrets threatens her very existence – along with thousands of others throughout the city – Auburn must do everything it takes to fight back.

Along with a resistance force known as the Lunaria, “Burn” races against the clock to infiltrate the government’s Peace Force in search of answers and discover a way to avoid all-out warfare. Join Burn on a thrilling adventure as she navigates the perils of a scarred dystopian landscape and discovers the true cost of survival.

Review

Burn This City did not go the trajectory I had anticipated, and it was all the better for it. All too often in dystopian or science fiction reads there’s an imbalance between an intricately designed setting and some rushed together characters or plot but that was not the case here. In fact, by the end, most of the questions I had revolved around the world itself! I felt like I understood the characters, their motives, and their relationships quite well in the ending. The concept of powers in the world was really interesting, and I like the balance it provided through the idea that more exposure to pollution equates to more individuals with powers, effectively balancing the privileges that those in less polluted areas have. This book was also excellent with foreshadowing – there were things laid out so clearly in the very beginning that I hadn’t even realized tied together until the end reveals. This is a good light read and I’m intrigued to see where book two goes! 

What I especially liked was how unique the gifts in this book were, so I’m going to highlight three of those

  • Burn (Auburn)
    • Auburn has enhanced hearing, to the point that she can hear people several city blocks away. Despite living most of her life with this gift there’s still room for her to explore it. We get to see that growth during that book and the payoff from the growth is great to see. 
  • Scar (Scarlett)
    • Scarlett is kind of a cyborg, in a way? She was born partly metal, which I try not to think of the science behind too deeply because in practice it is freaking cool. She’s like a mechanical savant, fixing and inventing anything she can. 
  • Coal 
    • Can impersonate anyone, but they’re not a shapeshifter. It vaguely reminds me of how Lightweaving from the Stormlight Archive novels works. 

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Thank you so much to the author, Brenda Poppy, for a copy of Burn This City! It’s out today if you’d like to grab a copy.

Review: Hush by Dylan Farrow

Title: Hush
Author: Dylan Farrow
Publisher: St. Martin’s Publishing Group
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Length: 384 pages
My Rating: ★★★
3/5 stars

Summary:

“Seventeen-year-old Shae has led a seemingly quiet life, joking with her best friend Fiona, and chatting with Mads, the neighborhood boy who always knows how to make her smile. All while secretly keeping her fears at bay… Of the disease that took her brother’s life. Of how her dreams seem to bleed into reality around her. Of a group of justice seekers called the Bards who claim to use the magic of Telling to keep her community safe.

When her mother is murdered, she can no longer pretend.

Not knowing who to trust, Shae journeys to unlock the truth, instead finding a new enemy keen to destroy her, a brooding boy with dark secrets, and an untold power she never thought possible.”

Review:

Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Publishing for a copy of Hush in exchange for an honest review! Hush releases tomorrow if you’d like to pick up a copy. I enjoyed this, though I think I’d enjoy it more with a reread than my first time around. This book is filled with small details that don’t pull together until in hindsight, which is excellently done but can lead to some confusion for me. The concept of Bards was really cool, and the Blot is such a unique sickness – it felt so threatening and so new. I had a lot of questions about the Blot and how it came to be throughout the book.  Though some parts felt a little unclear, I’d say most of those sections were quite strategic and tied together by the plot’s final revelations quite nicely. The way the author holds out until absolutely necessary to provide some key information threw me headfirst into the Shae’s fear of succumbing to madness, and it added a strong effect to those moments alternating between fear and clarity. If you’re a very empathetic reader, this book is a wild ride; however if you prefer to know secrets or guess where a book is headed before the main character knows, you might end up a little frustrated by Hush. What I truly appreciated is seeing the way a world can be rebuilt to focus on the power of words where once they existed freely for everyone, and how the Bards being the safe-keepers of language and writing influences the world at large. 

On the shows of power – 

  1. “Only the Bards can harness words safely, through their Tellings. Everyone in Montane knows that any fool can speak disaster into existence by uttering something forbidden”
    The Tellings are how the Bards ultimately maintain power in Shae’s world. As is seen later, Tellings are powerful enough to change entire landscapes. As a reward for a good tithe, a town will be blessed with a Telling for rain, fertile crops, etc. If the tithe is unsatisfactory, the town will be punished and not receive a Telling for the coming year. This turns into a vicious cycle where the towns that struggle most continue to struggle, as they can’t keep up with the demands of the Bards without help. 
  2. “For every Bard in the ranks of High House, there are dozens more hopefuls who cannot withstand such power… Such occurrences are sadly more prevalent among the few women we have discovered in possession of the gift” The main character, Shae, seems about as in control as she could be given the nature of the magic and secrets surrounding her life. A Bards magic, when misused, seems to be an extended practice in gaslighting. It raises some interesting questions throughout the book that become very important to the plot, pitting women against women and making Shae work 5x harder to be taken seriously. That threat of madness, in part due to her magic and in part due to her gender, makes the book feel all the more intense. 
  3. “If I want to exert my will over the castle’s, I need to lend my Telling permanency. My eyes fall on my needles and thread, discarded in the corner” The most important act of telling is its staying power. Writing is mostly outlawed throughout Shae’s world to prevent more permanently etched Tellings from taking hold. Words or impulses make for impermanent, esily changed Tellings. This ultimately brings about the heart of the matter: nothing in Shae’s world is really permanent. The Bards have established themselves as the only people responsible enough for writing, for keeping everyone safe. But they behave in shady ways and don’t lend themselves easily to being trusted, instead working through propoganda and militant control of the surrounding areas. A world without writing, with no permanence to be had, is an easily subjugated world. The hints at resistance are strong throughout Hush, and I can’t wait to see where the blossoming resistance to the powers that be leads in book 2. 

Review: To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

Title: To Sleep in a Sea of Stars
Author: Christopher Paolini
Publisher: Tor Books
Genres: Science Fiction
Length: 880 pages
My Rating: ★★★.5
3.5/5 stars

Kira Navárez dreamed of life on new worlds.

Now she’s awakened a nightmare.

During a routine survey mission on an uncolonized planet, Kira finds an alien relic. At first she’s delighted, but elation turns to terror when the ancient dust around her begins to move.

As war erupts among the stars, Kira is launched into a galaxy-spanning odyssey of discovery and transformation. First contact isn’t at all what she imagined, and events push her to the very limits of what it means to be human.

While Kira faces her own horrors, Earth and its colonies stand upon the brink of annihilation. Now, Kira might be humanity’s greatest and final hope . . .”

Review

The middle portion of this book became so incredibly intense that I actually had to take a break and read a fluffy rom-com book in the middle of it. If I was any other person, this would be a 5-star read. Instead, I am the person who gets so anxious about where a movie is going that I have to google the ending halfway through to even bear the crescendo of an intense plot. There are multiple episodes of The Office that, to this day, I cannot rewatch thanks to how overwhelmingly anxious they make me feel. Seriously – don’t make me watch Scott’s Tots. I try my best to not read ahead to the ending of books because I can take them at any pace I need to set my heart at ease. The pace I needed in the midst of this book just so happened to be an entire intermission period in which I finished One to Watch while trying not to daydream about evil, cancerous alien abominations, and how heavy the burden of keeping the peace and saving all known life in the universe must be. This book was so much that I don’t think I can break it down into a neat, three-part highlight of where the author did or didn’t shine like I typically do. It might take several rereads before I hit a point like that. On top of the fact I don’t know if I could make myself experience that emotional rollercoaster again so soon, I fear vastly oversimplifying an intricate web of moral quandaries, diligently researched physics, and intriguingly structured character arcs. 

Disclaimer for the faint of heart like me aside, this was an impressive book. Eragon was a long time ago, and I was curious to see what aspects of Paolini’s writing became a stylistic pattern, and what were habits he outgrew. On one hand I’m happy to say that this story arc and the approach to writing female characters are so. damn. amazing. There was depth, there was range, and it didn’t feel cliche or tropey in the slightest. On the other hand, I’m so happy for one specific character type he kept exactly the same: There’s an eccentric wise woman with a cat that I dearly wish had been named Solembum. This oddball potential space-witch (unconfirmed but I can dream, okay?) said arguably the most memorable quote of the whole book: “Eat the path”. 

Don’t like the choices laid out before you? Eat the path. 

Want to seize the day? Eat the path.

No idea what the hell you’re doing? Eat the path. 

It’s really quite a versatile platitude – I fully intend to adopt it into a daily mantra. 

So, pros of reading To Sleep in a Sea of Stars:

  • (possible) Space witch
  • empowered women empowering women
  • super cool, theoretically possible science
  • pretty cover
  • classic sci fi, raising thoughtful questions about what it means to be human

cons:

  • Incredibly intense if you’re a wimp like me
  • no really, spoilers but you read a scene where somebody cuts off their own limb
  • like please if you’re faint of heart maybe have a happy place or some ice cream easily accessible

So, long story short, this was a great book and I blame my own quirks for the fact I wasn’t wholeheartedly obsessed with it. If you’re into science fiction at all, you absolutely should read it. Even if you’re a wimp like me you should read it – just have something soothing available for when you need a break 🙂