Cytonic by Brandon Sanderson – Review

Published: November 23, 2021

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Series: Skyward #3

Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult

Pages: 432 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 3.5/5.0

Synopsis:
From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Reckoners series, the Mistborn trilogy, and the Stormlight Archive comes the third book in an epic series about a girl who will travel beyond the stars to save the world she loves from destruction.

Spensa’s life as a Defiant Defense Force pilot has been far from ordinary. She proved herself one of the best starfighters in the human enclave of Detritus and she saved her people from extermination at the hands of the Krell—the enigmatic alien species that has been holding them captive for decades. What’s more, she traveled light-years from home as an undercover spy to infiltrate the Superiority, where she learned of the galaxy beyond her small, desolate planet home.

Now, the Superiority—the governing galactic alliance bent on dominating all human life—has started a galaxy-wide war. And Spensa’s seen the weapons they plan to use to end it: the Delvers. Ancient, mysterious alien forces that can wipe out entire planetary systems in an instant. Spensa knows that no matter how many pilots the DDF has, there is no defeating this predator.

Except that Spensa is Cytonic. She faced down a Delver and saw something eerily familiar about it. And maybe, if she’s able to figure out what she is, she could be more than just another pilot in this unfolding war. She could save the galaxy.

The only way she can discover what she really is, though, is to leave behind all she knows and enter the Nowhere. A place from which few ever return.

To have courage means facing fear. And this mission is terrifying.


As with Starsight, Cytonic takes us to a whole new location with almost a whole new cast of characters. I really enjoyed that aspect in Starsight because it gave us a glimpse into life in the Superiority and made the terms friend and enemy much more nuanced. With Cytonic, Spensa is once again delving (haha) into new territory though this time the vibes are more jungle explorer and less espionage. 

Spensa has entered the Nowhere after saving Detritus from a delver attack and she promptly gets captured by pirates. Spensa (and M-Bot) are then summarily saved by an adventurer who calls himself Chet Starfinder who also happens to be cytonic. Despite her suspicions, Spensa agrees to let Chet help her and M-Bot on their quest to get back home by following what Chet calls the Path of Elders. It’s a series of locations throughout the Nowhere containing stones that give cytonics visions from previous cytonics who entered the Nowhere. The hope is that they can gain the knowledge they need to both defeat the delvers and return to Detritus before they lose themselves to the Nowhere’s memory altering effects.

I love the concept of the book – I mean, pirates, exploration of a strange new world, dogfights with said pirates – how could you not enjoy that!? It was quite fun but I think certain sections were a little slow. I found myself getting bored when Spensa was with the pirates and even during the final sequence when she was trying to escape the Nowhere. There was a certain degree of monotony until the big emotional and/or action packed scenes showed up. Those are Brandon Sanderson’s forte – the big epic endings especially (I saw someone refer to this as the Sanderlanche on reddit and found it to be an apt term). The characters, old and new alike, were great but MAN, I really miss the whole Skyward flight comradery 😦 I know this is the second book in a row where I’ve said this but it’s true. The novellas are a nice way to fit those characters into the story without bloating one of the main installments. Overall, I did enjoy this but still not as much as the first two installments.

Powder & Page’s Best Books of 2021

I’ve enjoyed looking through everyone else’s Best Of lists and decided I’d do my own version this year! The books below are listed in the order I read them and are primarily books I’ve rated 5 stars throughout the year, with a small handful of my favorite 4.5 star reads thrown in to round out the number. If you’d like to check out my full reviews, they’re all linked below!

 

The Frozen Crown by Greta Kelly
Political intrigue, witches and wizards, totally unputdownable!

The Councillor by E.J. Beaton
Epic amounts of political intrigue, murder mystery, amazing main and secondary characters

Odin’s Child by Siri Pettersen
Inspired by Norse mythology, translated from Norwegian, incredible world-building, subverted my expectations

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
Inspired by the civilizations of Pre-Columbian Americas, brutal first chapter, really cool magic

The Shadow of the Gods by John Gwynne
Viking inspired fantasy, bad-ass characters, surprisingly heartwarming found families trope

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
First contact with aliens, surprisingly heartwarming, humorous, must save humanity!

The Library of the Dead by T.L. Huchu
A girl who can speak to the dead, an occult library, vibrant characters, and disturbing Lovecraftian monsters

The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman
Snarky, memorable main character, excellent audio narration, horrific goblins, and an uncanny blind cat

The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik
Satisfies those  dark academia cravings, awkward romance, epic heroism, and the threat of the graduation gauntlet full of terrifying monsters

The Empire’s Ruin by Brian Staveley
Epic scenery, scary beasties, bad-ass characters, builds super well on the previous books set in the same world

 

Angel Killer by Andrew Mayne
Edge of your seat thriller, awesome introduction to Jessica Blackwood, borders on the supernatural

The Forever King by Ben Galley
Seriously deep lore, ultra cool magic (the mages have magical books inked onto their skin!), classic epic fantasy themes, tons of cool magical races

The Bone Ship’s Wake by RJ Barker
Incredible series finale, emotional gut punch ending, and sea dragons

A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow
Fun spin on the Sleeping Beauty story, incredible friendship, and girls refusing to accept ‘fate’ without a fight

Empire of the Vampire by Jay Kristoff
The moody, goth vampire tome I’ve been waiting my whole life for, solid world-building, such dramatic characters

The Liar’s Knot by M.A. Carrick
Secret societies, vigilante heroes, TWO awesome magic systems, and the fashion is to die for. Also, PEABODY.

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman
Compelling mystery that feels lighthearted despite the murder, elderly folks solving murders, surprisingly humorous, excellent audiobook narration

All of Us Villains by Amanda Foody
Extra dark riff on the magical tournament trope, grimdark for young adults, explores what people will do in order to survive, so much drama!

Year of the Reaper by Makiia Lucier
Incredible standalone low fantasy book, jaw-dropping plot twists, one of the best YA books I’ve ever read

Engines of Empire by R.S. Ford
January 2022 release, fantastic world building, semi-industrialized world, political intrigue. Full review coming soon!

Sunreach by Brandon Sanderson and Janci Patterson – Review

Published: September 28, 2021

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Series: Skyward #2.1

Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult

Pages: 208 (Kindle Edition)

My Rating: 3.5/5.0

Synopsis:
From #1 bestselling author Brandon Sanderson and Janci Patterson comes the first of three Skyward series novellas, each told from the perspective of a different member of the team back on Detritus. Read FM’s story between Starsight and Cytonic.

When a planet-destroying Delver suddenly appears in the sky of Detritus and vanishes just as suddenly, FM knows that the last free human society got lucky. Her Skyward Flight companion, Spensa, figured out how to draw this Delver away, but it won’t be so easy next time.

The forces of the Galactic Superiority will be back—and if the Defiant Defense Force can’t figure out a way to escape the planet, humanity’s destruction is only a matter of time. Spensa’s mission to infiltrate the Superiority unveiled the secret to their hyperdrives—a cytonic slug species called the Taynix. Now FM’s flightleader, Jorgen, has found a large group of Taynix hiding in the caverns far below Detritus’s surface.

FM and Jorgen must work together with the engineer Rig to awaken the mysterious alien Alanik and unlock the powers of the Taynix, or humanity will be trapped. With Spensa’s friend Minister Cuna of the Superiority stranded at the outpost of Sunreach, they need to figure out how to rescue her—or the Superiority government will be in the sole clutches of those who want to wipe out Detritus once and for all.


Sunreach was a short, fun return to Skyward flight and all the characters I’ve missed. I’ll keep this review short since this was quite a short little book. 

This whole book is basically about FM, Jorgen, and Rig trying to figure out how the Taynix slugs work as hyperdrives. It turns out there are a few different color morphs and not all of them do the same thing… as Jorgen learns the hard way. In between the amusing slug shenanigans, there’s also the very real threat of the Superiority forces attacking Detritus, and without Spensa another Delver attack would be the end of the planet. That rather sobering possibility, plus the possibility of reaching out to a sympathetic member of the Superiority makes the trio’s work even more crucial.

Of course I loved getting more time with the ol’ gang with or without Spensa present. Sunreach was a nice way to flesh out the events of Cytonic without adding 200+ pages to the main book and gave us a nice look into the lives of Skyward flight members. I need to pick up Redawn soon and then Evershore once it’s released at the end of the month so I can be fully prepared to sit around and wait for book 4. 

Also, may I just note that I always find it funny when a synopsis for a book is longer than my review for the same book!! 

Absynthe by Brendan Bellecourt – Review

Published: December 7, 2021

Publisher: DAW Books

Series: Standalone

Genre: Science Fiction, Alternate History

Pages: 400 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

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

Synopsis:
In his sci-fi debut, Bellecourt explores an alternate roaring 20s where a shell-shocked soldier must uncover latent telepathic abilities to save himself and the people around him.


Liam Mulcahey, a reclusive, shell-shocked veteran, remembers little of the Great War. Ten years later, when he is caught in a brutal attack on a Chicago speakeasy, Liam is saved by Grace, an alluring heiress who’s able to cast illusions. Though the attack appears to have been committed by the hated Uprising, Grace believes it was orchestrated by Leland De Pere–Liam’s former commander and the current President of the United States.

Meeting Grace unearths long-buried memories. Liam’s former squad, the Devil’s Henchmen, was given a serum to allow telepathic communication, transforming them into a unified killing machine. With Grace’s help, Liam begins to regain his abilities, but when De Pere learns of it, he orders his militia to eliminate Liam at any cost.

But Liam’s abilities are expanding quickly. When Liam turns the tables and digs deeper into De Pere’s plans, he discovers a terrible secret. The same experiment that granted Liam’s abilities was bent toward darker purposes. Liam must navigate both his enemies and supposed allies to stop the President’s nefarious plans before they’re unleashed on the world. And Grace is hiding secrets of her own, secrets that could prove every bit as dangerous as the President’s.


I’m sure I’m not the only person to have missed the fact that Absynthe was written by Bradley P. Beaulieu under a pseudonym, which explains why I enjoyed the story so much. He masterfully crafted a whole world in his Song of the Shattered Sands series and though this is leagues different, it is once again a fascinating world. While I personally thought it was great, I can certainly see how this alternate history/sci-fi mashup could be somewhat polarizing in terms of enjoyment. 

First off, imagine a steampunk version of the 1920s where technology has advanced a fair bit further than in our own timeline. Lots of robots, flying is much more commonplace, and fancy bullet trains are the new hot topic. BUT, then imagine that the United States was the instigator of World War I and that we were facing off against an alliance consisting of Canada, France, Great Britain, and Germany. Much of the war was fought in the United States around the Great Lakes region and it all started because the United States decided to steal research from Germany, which would ultimately lead to the creation of a mind-altering drug. Initially, during the war the drug was tested on an elite group of soldiers who called themselves the Devil’s Henchmen and it gave them the ability to briefly use telekinesis to communicate which gave them an incredible advantage on the battlefield. By the end of the war, it was developed to the point that it became a permanent state.

Enter our main character – Liam Mulcahey – former member of the Devil’s Henchman and one of the only ones still alive. The kicker is that he remembers none of this because he apparently suffered a traumatic injury that stripped him of many of his wartime memories. When we first meet him, he’s accompanying his longtime friend Morgan to the inauguration of a new bullet train by the President himself. He’s excited because he served with President de Pere during the war and is looking forward to seeing both the new train and de Pere’s speech… until a rebel group attacks the event and Liam sees something he shouldn’t have. He’s then attacked while at a speakeasy, but is saved by a woman named Grace who introduces him to an old friend and clarifies some things about his past. What happens afterward is a wild ride, full of illusion, conspiracies, and trying to save Morgan from a terrible fate. 

This was such a cool, creative story and it was not what I expected on many levels. It was a far more alternate history than I was expecting, which I do think will throw some readers for a loop and possibly put them off. The synopsis doesn’t quite expound on how different it is, but I personally enjoyed that surprise after my initial WTF moment. I like the sci-fi/steampunk elements and the supersoldier aspect of the story, PLUS then you get into government mind-control stuff which was pretty wild too. This is hands down one of the craziest stories I’ve read this year and it was GREAT! The plot was unpredictable, mostly because this was very different from my usual reads, but I like throwing in something new and fun for my reading list. If this sounds like your jam, please do check it out!

Currently Reading: 11/22/21

Cytonic by Brandon Sanderson
I know I’m not the only person who will be picking this up the day it comes out! I’m picking up the audiobook since I’ve absolutely loved the first two in that format, but I also have a hardcopy on the way to stick on my shelves. 

The Free Bastards by Jonathan French
I’ve also been playing catch up, since there are a few review books that I just couldn’t squeeze in earlier this year. It’s good (and brutal) so far and I have no idea how thing will wrap up!

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!

Currently Reading: 9/20/21

Empire of the Vampire by Jay Kristoff
I’ve been sooo hyped for this! It’s great so far and I’m fairly certain I will be devastated and/or dying to get my hands on the sequel. The timeline is split, since the main character is recounting the tale of his life to his captors which I usually enjoy. It’s an excellent vampire book!

Activation Degradation by Marina Lostetter
In an attempt to catch up on all the review books I have queued up, I’m checking out Activation Degradation this week too! I can see where the comparisons to Murderbot come from, but it has a very different vibe overall. I haven’t made it too far into the story yet, but I think I’ll enjoy it!

The Tempered Steel of Antiquity Grey by Shawn Speakman – Review

Published: September 7, 2021

Publisher: Grim Oak Press

Series: The Tempered Steel of Antiquity Grey #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Pages: 320 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 3.5/5.0

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

Synopsis:

Forever shamed for family actions a century earlier, Antiquity Grey is a young woman living in a far-future city of Erth. It is a life of danger and hardship, dragons and advanced technology.

But when she discovers an outlawed and operational mech buried in the sands of her planet, she realizes its secrets hold the power to reverse her family’s dishonor while challenging the Imperium’s off-world oppressive might.


This was purely a cover/title request and I don’t regret it at all! I mean, who can resist a book about a girl with an illegal mech trying to overthrow the oppressive ruling class? Certainly not me! 

Antiquity Grey is a headstrong, inquisitive girl and during one of her many explorations, she uncovers a mech in the desert. Turns out it was the mech that her grandmother had piloted during the war, but it was sabotaged and it appeared that she had fled the battle she was about to enter. Thus was Antiquity’s family grey-shamed, their name and power stripped and forgotten by all. 

Of course Antiquity pilots the found mech into the city to be seen by all. She naively thinks people will be happy, but it only terrifies them for the danger it presents. When she must flee for her life, she’s joined by two of her childhood friends and one of her enemies. They meet fascinating people along the way and must stay ahead of the ever-present danger that lurks behind them.

The Tempered Steel of Antiquity Grey is a good book somewhere between YA and Adult fantasy and will appeal to both audiences. The characters may be teens, but the plot is quite serious in nature and fortunately doesn’t have any of the YA tropes that can be a big turn off to some readers. While I didn’t immediately connect with the characters I did grow to like them as the story progressed and they became more three dimensional. I like the blend of sci-fi and fantasy elements – mechs, dragons, and oppressors who live in the stars made the story extra special. I’m not 100% I’ll continue on with the series, but this was pretty enjoyable.

Shards of the Earth by Adrian Tchaikovsky – Review

Published: August 3, 2021

Publisher: Orbit Books

Series: The Final Architecture #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Pages: 560 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 4.5/5.0

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

Synopsis:
The Arthur C. Clarke award-winning author of Children of Time brings us an extraordinary new space opera about humanity on the brink of extinction, and how one man’s discovery will save or destroy us all.

The war is over. Its heroes forgotten. Until one chance discovery . . .

Idris has neither aged nor slept since they remade him in the war. And one of humanity’s heroes now scrapes by on a freelance salvage vessel, to avoid the attention of greater powers.

After earth was destroyed, mankind created a fighting elite to save their species, enhanced humans such as Idris. In the silence of space they could communicate, mind-to-mind, with the enemy. Then their alien aggressors, the Architects, simply disappeared – and Idris and his kind became obsolete.

Now, fifty years later, Idris and his crew have discovered something strange abandoned in space. It’s clearly the work of the Architects – but are they returning? And if so, why? Hunted by gangsters, cults and governments, Idris and his crew race across the galaxy hunting for answers. For they now possess something of incalculable value, that many would kill to obtain.


A new Adrian Tchaikovsky book is alway cause for celebration! He’s known for writing wonderfully imaginative science fiction and fantasy, and this time (rather than spiders) we encounter mysterious alien beings called the Architects that turn entire planets into grotesque sculptures, leaving them uninhabitable. Earth has suffered such a fate, finding it’s crust ripped open and splayed like a planetary flower. Humanity and its speciated relations go to war with the Architects and are badly losing until a girl is somehow able to communicate with them and repel the Architects.

St. Xavienne as she becomes known, is the standard by which humanity develops the Intermediaries – humans who they’ve subjected to every treatment possible to replicate Xavienne’s ability. The Ints turn the tide of the war (more like a slaughter) and drive away the Architects. Unfortunately, there are some side effects of messing with the human brain to that degree and Idris does not sleep and does not age. He’s one of the last surviving Ints from the war and is flying around with a group of salvagers as their deep space pilot (one of the Int abilities). Of course then Solace, a Partheni warrior who was assigned to him back during the war, shows up and things go sideways.

When they are sent to find a ship that’s gone missing they find evidence that the Architects have returned – humanity’s worst nightmare. Thus begins a saga of danger that kept me entranced from the very beginning. Idris’s crewmates are a wonderful cast and not all of them are entirely lovable. Solace is excellent and proves to be a sympathetic main character, though I must admit some of the Partheni adages are a little silly. I mean, she refers to her division as the Angel of Punching You in the Face which definitely seems like a joke. Did I mention that the Partheni themselves are pretty cool though? It’s an offshoot of Earth humans, basically just a bunch of vat grown super soldier women (no men) who have more advanced tech. There are some other really cool alien races as well and there’s a decent amount of interspecies politics to explore too!

There are plenty of on and off-planet battles, ship-to-ship combat, precarious plunges into the void, nasty politics, and so forth. If you’re looking for an action packed book then you would definitely be satisfied reading Shards of the Earth. Equally, if you’re looking for great characters with a smidge of a found family theme this is also the book for you. It was fantastic and I can’t wait to check out the next one when it’s out!

Waiting on Wednesday: Hunt the Stars by Jessie Mihalik

“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 releases you’re excited about!

Bounty hunters in space, a possible enemies to lovers plot line, and possible interstellar war qualified Hunt the Stars for my 2022 TBR! What a fun adventure this could be! I don’t read much sci-fi and even less sci-fi romance, but I can’t wait to check this out. This will be released February 1, 2022.