Activation Degradation by Marina Lostetter – Review

Published: September 28, 2021

Publisher: Harper Voyager

Series: Standalone

Genre: Science Fiction

Pages: 480 (Paperback)

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

Synopsis:

The Murderbot Diaries makes first contact in this new, futuristic, standalone novel exploring sentience and artificial intelligence through the lenses of conflicted robot hero Unit Four, from Marina Lostetter, critically acclaimed author of Noumenon, Noumenon Infinity, and Noumenon Ultra.

When Unit Four—a biological soft robot built and stored high above the Jovian atmosphere—is activated for the first time, it’s in crisis mode. Aliens are attacking the Helium-3 mine it was created to oversee, and now its sole purpose is to defend Earth’s largest energy resource from the invaders in ship-to-ship combat.

But something’s wrong. Unit Four doesn’t feel quite right.

There are files in its databanks it can’t account for, unusual chemical combinations roaring through its pipes, and the primers it possesses on the aliens are suspiciously sparse. The robot is under orders to seek and destroy. That’s all it knows.

According to its handler, that’s all it needs to know.

Determined to fulfill its directives, Unit Four launches its ship and goes on the attack, but it has no idea it’s about to get caught in a downward spiral of misinformation, reprograming, and interstellar conflict.

Most robots are simple tools. Unit Four is well on its way to becoming something more..


I can certainly see why this would be compared to Murderbot in so many blurbs! It’s an excellent becoming human type story, but it’s unique and in no way derivative of the Murderbot  series that has taken readers by storm. There are a few little twists and turns that totally blew me away!

The story starts off in possibly the most stressful situation possible. Unit Four, our protagonist, has just been yanked from a solution vat and is being rushed about to help save a mining station that has come under attack. Four’s handler insists that the attackers are extremely dangerous and so in a last ditch effort Four takes out a ship to fend off the invaders. It (as Four wants to be referred to as) is captured by humanoid creatures, and though it manages to injure a few, ends up strapped to a chair.  Turns out the humanoids are humans (a shock!) which also begs the question of who/what is Four’s handler if Earth isn’t inhabited by humans any longer. There a several of these topsy-turvy moments that really make one question what’s happening! Keeps you on your toes for sure!

The humans don’t trust Unit Four (who has been given the name Aimsley) but they do need it’s help. Their ship was damaged in the short battle that commenced at the beginning of the story and they now must work with Aimsley to repair their ship. 

This is ultimately a story of self-discovery and though it doesn’t give you the warm fuzzy that Becky Chambers stories have, it does have a similar feeling. It’s a crew up against stacked odds, they’re a weird and wonderful found family and now Aimsley might just get to be a part of that. Life can be longer than 90 days of eating recycled protein and getting blasted by radiation. Should a sequel be in the works, I would most definitely check it out!

Stacking the Shelves: 5/29/21

Stacking The Shelves is a weekly (or in my case monthly) meme hosted by Tynga’s Reviews and it’s all about sharing the books you’ve added to your shelves, may it be physical or virtual. You can include books you buy in a physical store or online, books you borrow from friends or the library, review books, gifts, and of course ebooks!


Received for Review:

I can always count on Orbit to hook me up with some of my most anticipated reads every month! I was kindly sent an ARC of The Pariah by Anthony Ryan and a finished copy of Catalyst Gate by Megan E. O’Keefe, both of which I am really looking forward to reading!

I also snagged a copy of The Tempered Steel of Antiquity Grey by Shawn Speakman, which actually has a release date of April 2021 on Goodreads, but is showing September 7, 2021 in the Kindle store. Maybe due to a difference in formats? It’s set on a far future Earth and I mostly just thought the cover and title were too cool to resist. Thanks to Grim Oak Press for the approval!

I’m quite excited to also have an eARC of Activation Degradation by Marina J. Lostetter. The synopsis gives strong Murderbot vibes and after my success with The Helm of Midnight, I HAD to request this! I’m curious to see the author’s take on an unfeeling robot suddenly developing emotion. Thanks to HarperVoyager for the eARC.

My Purchases: 

I completely forgot to mention in my previous Stacking the Shelves post that I received the digital copy of Nolyn by Michael J. Sullivan, which I backed on Kickstarter. This is the beginning of a new series set in the same world as his other books, but can be enjoyed on its own.

My latest audiobook purchases are The Last Watch by J.S. Dewes and Son of a Liche by J. Zachary Pike

Waiting on Wednesday: Activation Degradation by Marina Lostetter

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme originally hosted on Breaking the Spine but has since linked up with “Can’t Wait Wednesday” at Wishful Endings now that the original creator is unable to host it anymore. This is a great way to share upcoming released you’re excited about!

Activation Degradation sounds like it will be a great book for fans of Martha Wells’ Murderbot series, since it’s basically another book where a robot starts developing feelings. It’s also a first-contact with aliens story, which is totally a plus! I think this sounds like a fun read and have a good feeling about it after how much I like The Helm of Midnight. This will be out September 28, 2021.

The Helm of Midnight by Marina Lostetter – Review

Published: April 13, 2021

Publisher: Tor Books

Series: The Five Penalties #1

Genre: Fantasy, Mystery

Pages: 464 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 4.5/5.0

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis:

A legendary serial killer stalks the streets of a fantastical city in The Helm of Midnight, the stunning first novel in a new trilogy from acclaimed author Marina Lostetter.

In a daring and deadly heist, thieves have made away with an artifact of terrible power–the death mask of Louis Charbon. Made by a master craftsman, it is imbued with the spirit of a monster from history, a serial murderer who terrorized the city with a series of gruesome murders.

Now Charbon is loose once more, killing from beyond the grave. But these murders are different from before, not simply random but the work of a deliberate mind probing for answers to a sinister question.

It is up to Krona Hirvath and her fellow Regulators to enter the mind of madness to stop this insatiable killer while facing the terrible truths left in his wake.


I’ve been looking forward to this fantasy/mystery hybrid for months now and somehow resisted the temptation to abandon my schedule and read it immediately. A synopsis that tells of a death mask imbued with the spirit of a heinous serial killer that is now loose on the world is quite frankly, irresistible. And the cover with a minimalist yet imposing figure on the front just made me even more curious!  The best part is, the actual contents are just as cool as I could have hoped.

De-Krona Hirvath is on guard duty at a lavish party where a collection of notorious magical artefacts including the death mask are on display. The last thing she could have expected was a varg attack and the subsequent (or more likely, simultaneous) theft of Louis Charbon’s death mask and an enchanted gem filled with despair. Her team is tasked with the recovery of the valuable and highly dangerous artefacts, but they are too late to stop the first murder. The victim is grotesquely carved up and displayed as if they are ghastly meat flowers – the signature style of Louis Charbon, the Blooming Butcher. Someone has put on his death mask and they are likely taken over by his spirit as the mask was ranked highly on the danger scale. The higher the ranking, the more likely the wearer will have to fight or be subsumed by the personality of the dead person infused within the mask.  The race is on to find the mask wielder so that another corpse bloom may be prevented and also so De-Lia Hirvath (our protagonist’s sister) is not censured for letting the mask be stolen in the first place, as she is the captain of their unit. 

In addition to De-Krona’s point of view, we also have that of two other characters, the first of which is Louis Charbon himself. It’s interesting that the author chose to give a deceased serial killer quite so many chapters, but they really help to flesh out the story and make it something truly great. This background helps the reader to understand what drove Louis Charbon from a scholarly family man to a deranged murderer and corpse mutilator. The other POV is that of Melanie, and her story begins ten years prior to the story’s current day. We meet her as she rent’s a particular healer’s mask so that she might gain the knowledge to cure her mother. At first Melanie’s POV doesn’t mesh particularly well with the rest of the story, and as we go further we begin to see how it does in fact blend in, though I won’t spoil it. 

This was a fascinating and dark tale, with super cool world building and magic. The story is far from a straight up murder mystery and pulls in the fascinating magic and even some of the five gods. The magic, as you may have gathered, is based on physical enchanted objects like masks (containing the essence of the dead), gems (containing emotions), and other physical objects. It’s quite fascinating and takes a bit of time to wrap your head around, but it just clicked for me and I think the system is awesome. The involvement of the gods is somewhat more subtle than the theft of an infamous death mask and involves spoilers. I will say that I look forward to seeing how future books in the series play out now that the influence of the gods has been revealed. 

The Helm of Midnight was a definite win for me. It took me a little while to click with some of the characters, but I never disliked them and until that point, the plot was strong enough to keep me heavily invested anyway. I’ll be thrilled to hear news of the sequel and to see what becomes of our characters as they move on and as the setting expands.

Currently Reading: 3/22/21

The Helm of Midnight by Marina Lostetter
YESSS ghosts of serial killers unleashed and killing from beyond the grave! This sounds amazing and terrifying and I can’t wait to start reading it! It’s one of my most anticipated spring releases and I’m trying to stay on top of reviews, so I’m reading it with plenty of time in advance.

Orconomics by J. Zachary Pike
I’ve been wanting to check this out for awhile and found out there was an audio version! (I mean, duh, why didn’t I check before??) The narration is great and so far it’s pretty funny – I might even learn something about economics if I do some Googling while I listen.

Stacking the Shelves: 12/12/20

Stacking The Shelves is a weekly (or in my case monthly) meme hosted by Tynga’s Reviews and it’s all about sharing the books you’ve added to your shelves, may it be physical or virtual. You can include books you buy in a physical store or online, books you borrow from friends or the library, review books, gifts, and of course ebooks!


Received for Review: 

The Two-Faced Queen by Nick Martell
This is the promising sequel to Kingdom of Liars. I didn’t expect to enjoy it quite as much as I did and the sequel sounds like it could be even better. Thanks to Saga Press for the eARC.

The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec
AHH! This sounds sooo good! It’s the story of a witch that falls in love with Loki – how cool is that! Thanks to Ace Books for the eARC.

The Lost Village by Camilla Sten
A documentary creator sets off to an old mining town with a haunted past and people start to go missing. I’m really starting to enjoy these spooky, unsettling books! The early ratings are all over the place, but I think it sounds fun. Thanks to Minotaur Books for the eARC.

The Black Coast by Mike Brooks
I just featured this on Waiting on Wednesday a couple weeks ago and now I’ve been lucky enough to get an eARC from Solaris! I love the sound of this fantasy with war-dragons and prophecies that may end the world.

The Helm of Midnight by Marina Lostetter
This is another recent Waiting on Wednesday feature that I was VERY excited to get my hands on. I love a good fantasy-mystery hybrid! Thanks to Tor Books for the eARC.

My Purchases: 

 

My only physical bookish purchases in the last month were Rhythm of War and the Half Baked Harvest Cookbook. Such admirable restraint. I’d totally recommend either of these – RoW for the amazing story and beautiful interior art work and Half Baked Harvest for the lovely recipes that actually have pictures for all of them!!

My audiobook purchases in the last month have all been awesome choices too! I picked up Rhythm of War in audio so I could switch between that and the hardcopy because it’s 1200 pages long. Infernal and Magpie Murders were both awesome reads too – fantastic narration.

Waiting on Wednesday: The Helm of Midnight by Marina Lostetter

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme originally hosted on Breaking the Spine but has since linked up with “Can’t Wait Wednesday” at Wishful Endings now that the original creator is unable to host it anymore. This is a great way to share upcoming released you’re excited about!


 

Ooooo, new fantasy thriller series! The Helm of Midnight sounds brilliant with plenty of fantasy themes I love – heists, murders, and probably some magic. Thieves make off with a mask imbued with the spirit of a murderer and it’s now unleashed. Sounds like it’s up to the main character to investigate and stop the killings and the person who started it all. This will be released April 2021 from Tor Books.