Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Book Review: The Caged Queen by Kristen Ciccarelli

Title: The Caged Queen
Author: Kristen Ciccarelli
Publication date: September 2018
Publisher: Gollancz
Series: Iskari #2
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher

Description: Once there were two sisters born with a bond so strong that it forged them together forever. Roa and Essie called it the hum. It was a magic they cherished--until the day a terrible accident took Essie's life and trapped her soul in this world.

Dax--the heir to Firgaard's throne--was responsible for the accident. Roa swore to hate him forever. But eight years later he returned, begging for her help. He was determined to dethrone his cruel father, under whose oppressive reign Roa's people had suffered.

Roa made him a deal: she'd give him the army he needed if he made her queen. Only as queen could she save her people from Firgaard's rule.

Then a chance arises to right every wrong--an opportunity for Roa to rid herself of this enemy king and rescue her beloved sister. During the Relinquishing, when the spirits of the dead are said to return, Roa discovers she can reclaim her sister for good.

All she has to do is kill the king.

My thoughts: I loved so much about the first book in this series when it came out - it was one of my absolute favourite reads of 2017. So, I had high hopes coming into The Caged Queen, but I was also nervous: that was a lot for it to live up to! Dax and Roa were both introduced as secondary characters in The Last Namsara, with Dax in particular playing a crucial role. His actions in the last few chapters of that book are now bringing out consequences. It was really interesting to see how he handled the new challenges that came to him, and how he tried desperately to balance the needs of Firgaard, and helping and appeasing his wife.

There were parts of the book where I didn't like Roa much. I could understand some of the motivations for how she was feeling, but I thought she was being a bit hard on Dax a lot of the time. Maybe that's just because we'd seen more of Dax's story and background in book one, and I was biased to see him as a 'good guy', but I found it frustrating that Roa had made firm decisions in her mind about some things and wasn't going to re-examine those.

Another thing I enjoyed (and still found frustrating to read at times) was that Dax and Roa might have a political marriage, but they're still very much relearning each other, after being close as children and then spending years apart with a lot of history and politics falling into that time apart. They also both care a lot for each other, something that's very clear to the reader, but doesn't seem quite as straightforward to the pair of them! There is the usual mixture of misunderstandings, half-confessions, and attempts at denying feelings that you often get in romance plot lines, but even anticipating how some of those issues could lead to disasters I really enjoyed reading their journey.

I'm giving The Caged Queen 8/10. Thank you Gollancz for the review copy!

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Book Review: From Distant Stars by Sam Peters

Title: From Distant Stars
Author: Sam Peters
Publication date: 19 April 2018
Publisher: Gollancz
Genre: Sci-fi
Rating: 8/10
Series: From Darkest Skies #2
Source: Review copy from publisher

Description: Inspector Keon has finally got over the death of his wife Alysha in a terrorist attack five years ago. The illegal AI copy of her - Liss - that he created to help him mourn has vanished, presumed destroyed. His life is back on track. But a deadly shooting in a police-guarded room in a high-security hospital threatens to ruin everything. Who got past the defences? Why did they kill the seemingly unimportant military officer who had been in a coma for weeks? And why did the scanners pick up the deceased man the next day on the other side of the planet, seemingly alive and well?

As Keon digs into the mysteries he begins to realise that the death was connected to a mysterious object, potentially alien, discovered buried in ice under the north pole. Someone has worked out what is hidden there, and what its discovery will mean for mankind. Someone who is willing to kill.

And another player has entered the game. Someone who seems to know more about Keon than is possible.

Someone who might be using Liss's information against him.

Or who might be Alysha, back from the dead.

My thoughts: I really enjoyed the first book in this series, so I was keen to see what happened in the sequel. Author Sam Peters didn't disappoint. Keon is the sort of officer who is determined to get to the truth of an incident. In this book, he gradually realises how big the powers he's trying to disagree with and look into are, and then what the significance of the things he's learning might be. It also seems like there's still more to the story of his wife's death than he uncovered in book one. He's wrestling more with the big question of 'where did we come from' and 'what happened to life on earth to push us out to these planets'. It seems like there might be more to things than what everyone has always been told.

In its simplest view, this book is a police procedural in space, with a tight-knit group at the centre. But From Distant Stars has intricate twists and turns, and needs you to be paying attention. I know that when I read the next book in the series, I'll need to come back to this one first to properly refresh my memory!

It's a really exciting book, and I couldn't put it down. If you love science fiction or crime novels, I think you'll really enjoy this book. Overall, I'm giving it 8/10. Thank you Gollancz for the review copy!