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.

Fun Friday: Recent(ish) books that remind me why books are magic

There are a lot of books that have strongly influenced the way that I think, the way that I write, and the way that I approach other books when I read them.  Not all of them are Timeless Classics that are beloved worldwide – a lot of them have come out quite recently and aren’t in genres that are constantly lauded on the internet. I was thinking more about that today because one of those books is just having its fifth publishing anniversary and the author is revisiting it for a couple of online events. 

The book that got me back into reading critically back in high school was a YA book called A Thousand Nights by EK Johnston. What I love about it is it took an ancient story and managed to turn it into something completely fresh and new that told a very different message than the original myth did. Johnston did especially well in that she doesn’t name any of the normal characters. While that sounds like it could be confusing, in this case, it lent itself to the idea that any small insignificant person could completely change the course of history. It was excellently done and when coupled with the rich, poetic language in the book it felt like a journey. It’s one of my all-time favorite books, and I always highly recommend it to anyone looking for a good read. 

Another one that I always gush about and am SO thankful an internet fandom exists for is, basically, the entirety of Brandon Sanderon’s Cosmere universe but especially The Stormlight Archive. That series is a lot to summarize spoiler-free, but what I love about it si that Sanderson doesn’t shy away from deeply flawed characters. Jasnah Kholin is also so intriguing for me, as an atheist character who sticks to her beliefs and logic despite being in the middle of basically a war between the gods she scorned. The world-building is astounding, the characters are all wonderful, and Sanderson far surpasses the (sadly low) bar for white, male fantasy authors depicting women, people of color, etc. in thoughtful and realistic ways. Nothing in the book is overly gratuitous – it all serves a purpose and lends itself to a branching but tightly interwoven narrative. 

On a much more gratuitous and violent note, The Power by Naomi Alderman still haunts my thoughts sometimes even though I read it several years ago. It’s a modern Handmaid’s Tale. This book explores what happens when the standard gender roles in the world flip exactly 180 and goes on to highlight the danger of ideals that maintain the same power structure with new people at its head as opposed to creating a newer, more balanced structure. Alderman does not pull her punches. This book is not for the faint of heart, but I also wholeheartedly believe this is a book anyone who feels strongly about gender politics should read. 

On another light note, I recently read The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman for a creative writing course and completely devoured it. It’s quick and light and could easily be read to children. Something in its simplicity makes it all the more enchanting. Gaiman doesn’t feel a need to explain how any of the magic truly works, nor do you feel much of a need to ask – while reading, you’re simply too swept up into the story. It feels nostalgic and fun and somehow incredibly haunting at the same time. Neil Gaiman obviously has a multitude of excellent books, but this one has claimed a special place in my heart. 

What books first made you fall in love with reading? And what books have kept you in love with it to this day? 

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 🙂