2015 TBR

The first in a steampunk trilogy and the final book in the Steampunk bundle I bought last year. It’s set in a secondary world which is reminiscent of India.

Publication year: 2013
Format: ebook
Page count: 264

Aniri is the third daughter of the Queen of Dharia, the wealthiest country in her world. Her older sisters have both married for political reasons but their mother has promised that Aniri will be free to marry for love when she comes of age. Aniri is happy about that because she already loves Devesh, a charming courtesan from Samiri, a less wealthy but technologically very advanced country. But just couple of weeks before Aniri’s birthday, the Queen tells her that a prince from a primitive land of Jungali has asked Aniri’s hand in an effort to seal the diplomatic relations between their countries and to keep peace in the prince’s own land. After meeting with the thoughtful and noble prince Malik who is willing to sacrifice his own chance for happiness in favor of his country, Aniri can’t say no right away.

Then the Queen tells Aniri that she has heard through her spies that the Jungali have a terrifying flying machine and asks that Aniri will pretend to accept the prince’s offer and go to Jungali to find out if the rumors are true. Aniri accepts. She can’t tell anything about it to Devesh who runs after her to the train station. Aniri leaves with a heavy heart but determined to do her duty and then return and marry Devesh, if he’ll still have her.

Jungali and Prince Malik turn out to be a somewhat different than Aniri expected and as the days go by it becomes harder and harder for her to lie to the prince who seems to have his people’s best interests at heart.

As a third daughter Aniri hasn’t paid much attention to the politics and the court around her – even Devesh calls her naïve. She longs to go after her father’s killers and she practices with a saber she inherited from her father. Her father the king was killed ten years ago by some ordinary ruffians, apparently, and the queen never investigate things, as far as Aniri knows. She’s stubborn and feels stifled by the court.

When she travels to Jungali, by train, she takes with her only her handmaiden Priya and a bodyguard Janak. Priya is very loyal to Aniri and flirts with the men around her. She also knows fashion and Aniri depends on her to wear appropriate clothing. Janaka is a stern bodyguard who’s loath to let Aniri out of his sight at all. He was also Aniri’s father’s bodyguard on the day the king was killed and Aniri bears a grudge about that.

This was a light, entertaining read. I don’t know enough about Indian culture to know how much actual Indian culture is in the book. However, I did notice that all the mentioned clothing come from western culture, such as corsets. Also, there weren’t a lot of steampunk elements.

The plot focused on spying and intrigue and had lots of adventure.

The first book in Sign of the Zodiac series where superheroes battle supervillains in Las Vegas.

Publication year: 2007
Format: print
Page count: 455
Publisher: Eos

I love superheroes and I wanted to like this book. But I’ve read my fill of “grim” superhero stories and they just don’t excite me anymore. And this is grim: rape, murder, screwed up family relations, and cursing, cursing left and right. It felt like those early years of Image comics with the slogan “dead stays dead” and heroes killing people.

Joanna Archer has had a pretty sucky life. Even though she’s the daughter of a Las Vegas gambling mogul Xavier Archer, and so didn’t lack for money, she’s always had a cold relationship with her dad, and her mother Zoe disappeared ten years ago. In fact, Zoe vanished on the night when an unknown man attacked and raped Joanna and left her for dead. But Jo didn’t die. Instead she vowed never to be a victim again and started training martial arts. Pretty much the only decent thing in her life has been her sister Olivia. In fact, their interaction raised the hope in me that this would a book where sisters fight crime together. That turned out to be the wrong impression.

At the start of the book Jo is on a really sucky date which ends with her date, Ajax, showing her a glimpse of another, a paranormal world, and then trying to kill her. Luckily, Joanna has been training martial arts for the past 10 years and isn’t an easy target even when the attacker has powers she doesn’t have. After escaping her attacker, she runs into her ex-boyfriend whom she still has feelings for. But the highlight of the evening, the eve of her 25th birthday, is a meeting with her sister Olivia and their dad Xavier Archer. Xavier promptly reveals that he’s been informed that Jo isn’t his child. So he has disinherited her and wants nothing more to do with her. Jo is actually relieved to hear it. She has no problem cutting ties with Xavier. Later, Jo runs over a homeless man who heals right in front of her and rants about being part of a superhero group who’s going to help Joanna but not be-fore she turns 25 – if she lives that long.

After reigniting her relationship with her ex-boyfriend Ben, Jo goes to her sister’s apartment expect-ing a quiet birthday party. Instead, they’re attacked and Jo goes through a transformation.

Essentially in this world there are heroes who have been literally born into Light side and villains who have been born into Shadows. While it’s possible to change sides, it’s done very rarely and Joanna is the first ever child born whose one parent was Light side and the other Shadow side. The heroes and villains track each other by scent. They all also heal really fast and are very quick. Every-one has a signature weapon and can only be killed with their own signature weapon. Also, their ad-ventures are recorded in actual comic books which are called manuals. And Light side people can’t read Shadow comics and vice versa.

Joanna is an abrasive MC. She’s angry and hurting and just looking for a target to lash out on. But she’s also a survivor and quick to adapt to situations. She’s a loner and has been since the attack. But when she finds out her true inheritance, she’s expected to work in a group of complete strangers. She’s also the prophesied Chosen one. She’s by no means likable but I ended up caring for her and I liked her toughness.

But I had some issues, too. I went through a phase reading “dark” comics and I’ve bounced back from them. I really disliked the way that the Zodiac troop, the heroes, kept her in the dark and just waited her to survive a situation which nobody else would have. I liked the ideas but the whole Light/Shadow split was too dualistically simple for me and a bit strange considering how “adult” and “edgy” the rest of the book was.

A Modesty Blaise adventure.
Publication year: 1967
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 1967
Format: print
Page count: 311
Translator: Jukka Kemppinen
Publisher of the Finnish translation: Otava

This time Modesty and Willie encounter a young man who has talents in ESP. The man is called Lucifer and an exceptionally ruthless man Seff, and his wife Regina, have acquired, perhaps kidnapped, Lucifer and are using him to their own ends. Apparently, Lucifer’s mind has fractured (he’s called paranoid in the book) and he really thinks that he’s the devil and the people around him are his diabolical servants. He has the ability to foretell who is going to die and he can also use this ability to stay ahead of his opponent in a fight. However, he’s not an evil and has no malicious intent. Seff and his crew are able to use Lucifer’s delusions to their advantage and they’ve come up with a blackmail scheme. If the blackmail subjects don’t pay, Seff’s underlings kill them. The blackmail subjects are also told about the people whom Lucifer has predicted will die and told that the subjects will die themselves if they don’t pay. Seff and his wife use very strange puppet shows to enhance Lucifer’s delusions.

Rene Vaubois, the head of the French Deuxieme Bureau and Modesty’s friend, is being blackmailed. He’s not rich but he’s a civil servant and the blackmailers want his government to pay. But they don’t. Fortunately, when Seff’s goons attack, Modesty and Willie are there to save Rene. They start to investigate the matter.

At the same time, Modesty has a new friend Steven Collier. He claims to be a metallurgist but he actually is researches all sorts of supernatural skills in humans. He’s interested in Willie’s danger sense especially when it also reacts when Modesty is in danger. However, Modesty travels to Britain in order to investigate the strange blackmailers and leaves Steve behind. But the blackmailers contact Steve because they want Lucifer to be even more accurate than he already is.

This is a fast-paced thriller where the reader knows the people responsible and enjoys the ride towards the final confrontation. Modesty and Willie are their usual almost supernaturally capable people and Steven balances that out.

However, I was troubled by some aspects of the book. Just like in the previous book, Modesty was put into a situation where she had to use sex or “allow” herself to be raped in order to save her life. She doesn’t dwell on it and treats it as just another way to survive which almost makes it more peculiar. In fact, the men around her have harder time accepting it than she which makes it even more peculiar. I don’t remember any of the comic strips using that kind of plot device but I guess it wouldn’t be possible in visual form. Also, we get some strange ideas about gay people. One of the men attacking Modesty near the beginning of the book is a crossdresser and that apparently makes him gay…

Otherwise, this is again a great ride with memorable villains.

A Modesty Blaise spy adventure.
Publication year: 1966
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 1967
Format: print
Page count: 315
Translator: Seppo Harjulehto
Publisher of the Finnish translation: Otava

The second Modesty Blaise book starts with a glimpse of the enemies: a ruthless mercenary commander called Karz is gathering a large group of mercenaries, people who would kill anyone for money. Among them are the Twins, two huge men who fight like one man even though they hate each other (they’re Siamese twins who were separate later in life). Karz is looking for more lieutenants. He wants the best and has his eye on Blaise and Garvin but the two are difficult to control so he’s looking for leverage.

Meanwhile, Sir Gerard Tarrant (the head of British Intelligence) has a problem and he brings it reluctantly to Modesty and Willie. Turn out that some crackpot is claiming to be Prime Minister of Free Kuwait and saying that the current government oppresses the local people. However, that’s not true and Tarrant has a hard time figuring out what’s going on. He also knows that mercenaries are disappearing alarmingly.

Also meanwhile, Modesty and Willie have taken under their wing a young girl, Lucille, who has lost her parents and has lived on the streets. She has a hard time getting used to her new life, stealing even from Sir Gerard.

This is a very good Modesty Blaise adventure: plenty of action and violence and memorable villains. Modesty and Willie have to endure a lot and their friendship is put through a hard test. Highly entertaining! While both Modesty and Willie have to be in the biggest badass mode to get through everything alive, they’re more compassioned sides are shown.

On the down side, this was written in the 60s and it shows: Modesty is called “a girl” and other sexism, and there are some seriously strange ideas about rape. I could have done with certain scenes near the end.

I’m kicking myself for leaving it unread for a couple of years.

An independent sequel to the Reindeer Moon; a historical fantasy book set in the Paleolithic Age.

Publication year: 1991
Format: print
Page count: 316
Publisher: Pocket Books

This book is set among a different tribe and about 10 years after the events in the Reindeer Moon. It’s written in first person and the main character is Kori, a young man. He’s the son of Swift, who was a secondary character in the previous book, but because Swift and Aal, Kori’s mother, have divorced Kori has grown up among her mother’s people. Even though Kori thinks that he’s already a grown man, his mother’s people treat him like a child and this frustrated him. When Swift visits the tribe, Kori sees his father pretty much for the first time and immediately starts to hero worship Swift. When Swift leaves, Kori goes with him.

Swift came to Aal’s people to find a wife for himself. Swift already has a wife that she’s childless. The only person he’s interested in is Pinesinger and so he gives gifts to her parents and takes the young woman with him. However, Kori and Pinesinger had sex before so the situation is a bit awkward for them. Swift gives his son a wife, but the little girl is just a couple of years old so Kori has to wait for her to grow up which frustrated him.

So, Kori starts a new life with his father’s people. While most of the things they do are familiar to him, hunting deer, reindeer, gathering fuel and berries etc., they have some customs which are unfamiliar to him and nobody bothers to tell him, so he has to learn through mistakes. Then one day, he encounters a strange woman who is swimming in the river. Kori immediately wants her and promptly kidnaps her. However, this could start a fight between her people and Swift’s people, so the men are worried and want Kori to take her back. But Kori keeps her.

Many of the elements from the Reindeer Moon are the same as in this book: the harsh struggle for survival in an environment which can be unpredictable and sometimes starkly hostile. But there are differences, too, and I was a bit surprised by them. The biggest of them were rigid gender roles. Yanan’s tribe was just two small families so everyone had to do what they could and they sat around the same camp fire. But here men hunt and women do pretty much everything else. They even have separate camp fires: one for men and one for women. Men also talk about women disparagingly which I don’t remember reading in the first book at all. Right from the start Kori tells us that men are “open like daylight” and women are “closed as darkness” full of secrets and anger. When something goes wrong a woman is blamed and when something goes right a man gets the credit no matter who has actually done these things. Also, men own women, hunting grounds, and lodges. A man can have multiple wives but a woman can have only one husband at a time. Teaching skills seems to be pretty rigidly defined by gender. One of the women in Swift’s camp hunts, but not well; of course most of the time she does other work and so lacks the experience that the men have.

Maybe I should have expected that but I’m still disappointed. All this gave the tale an undercurrent of misogyny which rather soured the reading for me.

I think Kori is a teenager by modern standards even though he thinks of himself as an adult. He’s a good hunter and could be a lot better if he got more experience and guidance. He’s frustrated because he can’t get that with his mother’s people and much happier when he moves to his father’s people. Yet, he’s very impulsive and headstrong. When he abducts the strange woman and makes her his slave, he isn’t really interested in her; he just lusts after her and wants the children he’ll force her to bear. He doesn’t bother to learn her language or to find out anything about her customs. Nor does he bother to teach her his language. One of the other women does learn her language, so it’s not impossible. Kori even renames the woman Muskrat; she tells him her name and he refuses to use it.

The tribes seems to be very xenophobic. When Muskrat has different skills and uses them, the others make fun of her and Kori feels that she shames him. They also constantly compare her to an animal just because she has different customs. Especially different religious customs frighten them.

In the Reindeer Moon, Swift saw that it’s possible for a wolf to help humans to hunt. However, that wolf befriended a young girl and Swift abused the wolf so that wolf wouldn’t work with Swift. Now, he tries again but again he doesn’t seem to understand that an animal will work only with the person who is kind to it and feeds it. Swift doesn’t bother to do that. This subplot interested me a lot but it was just a small part of the book.

The book has very little magic in it, far less than in the first book.

Again, the book is very well researched.

A stand-alone fantasy set in the Paleolithic Age.

Publication year: 1988
Format: print
Page count: 393
Publisher: Pocket Books

Yanan is a young girl living with a small group of people, including her mother, father, and little sister Meri. They live in tundra where part of the year their world is covered in snow and survival becomes even more of a struggle than during the summer. The people have to rely on each other and work hard to survive. Most of their days are spent setting traps, hunting (and often coming back empty handed), and gathering berries, roots, and even pine corns to eat. Because the group have several people, some of them have the time and energy to make clothing, too. It’s written in first person.

This is Yanan’s coming of age story. She’s a willful girl whose life isn’t easy, admittedly sometimes because she defies customs and is punished for it. The people she lives with form an extended family and it’s important to get along with everyone. But that’s not easy for a teenager.

The book has some fantasy elements, too. In the second chapter Yanan reveals to us that when she died, her group’s shaman (her aunt Teal) captured her spirit so that Yanan could help her people after death, too. She can take the form of an animal and rematerialize into the world. As an animal, she needs to eat and sleep, and mates sometimes, too. Teal and the group’s other shaman command her to help the tribe but it seem to me that the spirits can’t really do much. The group has another servitor spirit who was also part of the tribe before he died. However, when the sprits take animal form, they often seem to forget who they are and just live as animals until the shamans call them back.

The authors has done a lot of research and notes the sources at the back. I think it’s an excellent glimpse into the world where our ancestors could have lived in (excluding the magic, of course).

First in a fantasy alternate history series.

Publication year: 2012
Format: print
Page count: 508
Publisher: Angry Robot

This book is set in an alternate Elizabethan England. In this world, Queen Elizabeth I married Robert Dudley and they had two sons, Robert and Arthur. However, the prince consort has died and the queen has secluded herself in morning. She’s already in her sixties so many people are expecting prince Robert to become the king soon. The most obvious fantasy element are the skraylings, a non-human species from the American continent. By the time of this book, some of them already live in London and elsewhere in Europe and humans loathe them because the skraylings refuse to be converted into Christianity. But some humans get along just fine with them, mostly for business purposes. England has allied with the skraylings, mostly that Spain would not be able to form a strong alliance with them.

Maliverny Catlyn is a down on his luck swordsman. He has few friends but some of his acquaintances might be able to give him some work. However, before he can ask around, he’s dragged before the Lieutenant of the Tower. Mal fears the worst but he’s offered a job as the bodyguard of the first skrayling ambassador to England. Mal has some unhappy history with them and he doesn’t want to work with them. But Sir James Leland insists that the skrayling ambassador specifically asked for Mal so he doesn’t really have a choice. However, he’s happy to get enough money to pay for his brother’s care so he takes the job.

Ned Faulkner is Mal’s good (and only) friend. He does copying jobs for the local theatre groups. He’s also very attracted to Mal, who doesn’t return his feelings, and loves a young male actor, Gabriel Parrish. When Mal takes the job, two mysterious men start to threaten Ned.

Coby is a young girl masquerading as a man. The rest of her family died after they fled a war from Netherlands. Cody doesn’t want to be a prostitute so she dresses as a boy and has a job as a tireman for the theatre company Suffolk’s Men. She doesn’t want to be an actor at all and is happy mending the costumes and running errands for their master Naismith. She knows the skrayling trade language and teaches Mal how to speak it. However, she’s blackmailed into spying on Mal.

They all come entangled with a plot involving the skraylings. Unfortunately, we don’t really get to know much about the skraylings.

As far as I can tell, the period details are correct. Mal’s mother was a Frenchwoman so some people hold that against him. Also, Mal’s a Catholic so he has to live in fear that someone will expose him to the Protestant authorities. Strangely enough, I liked Coby but felt that she was a victim to a few tropes: she’s young enough not to have periods yet and she falls in lust with Mal almost at first glance. She’s also very afraid that people will find out that she’s a girl, even though she’s been working for the troupe for five years already.

I really liked the book and the characters, though.

Oh and both Will Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe are mentioned in the book but neither appears.

This is one of my TBR reads. I bought this very nice looking paperback on a whim.

A stand-alone historical fantasy set in the Roman Republic.

Publication year: 2007
Format: print
Page count: 250
Publisher: Juno

Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio Hispallus comes from a powerful and respected family (Scipio) and is a praetor peregrinus of Rome, yet he feels like he hasn’t accomplished much in his life, especially compared to his grandfather Africanus or his cousin who is the consul. He also has secrets which could ruin him. When a young architect Daedalus, his former slave, comes to him to ask for money, he doesn’t have it. But Daedalus threatens to expose Hispallus’ secrets if he doesn’t pay. Hispallus receives only a few days to get a great sum of money. When he hears that Domina Euryale is giving a similar sum of money to anyone who can answer her question, he tries to persuade her to give the money to him instead.

Domina Euryale is a mysterious and very rich foreign woman who has come to Rome to get an answer to her riddle: how can stone be brought to life. Euryale is always veiled, claiming infirmity or disfigurement. Every servant and slave in her household is either blind or has very poor eyesight.

Daedalus is a young man whose father, a slave, was part of Hispallus’ household and he is convinced that Hispallus is to blame for Daedalus’ father’s death. Daedalus had befriended Hispallus’ drunkard son and is looking for a way to avenge himself on Hispallus.

Sevisus is a young slave in Euryale’s household. He works hard and he’s very interested in books. His mistress’ old maidservant taught him how to read. He runs around Rome doing errands for his mistress, such as talking to an astrologer and an alchemist who are working to find an answer to Euryale.

As far as I can tell, this is an excellent portrayal of the Roman Republic, including festivals and the Roman mistrust of anyone or anything foreign. The characters are interesting and don’t have too modern mindsets. The plot doesn’t bring much surprises but it also avoids clichés.

I very much enjoyed this historical fantasy and I’m hoping that I can find Dalkey’s other books.

A historical fantasy set in 1876 USA.

Publication year: 2010
Format: print
Page count: 387
Publisher: Ballantine

Emily Edwards is a Witch in a remote village called the Lost Pine. Her mother died when she was still a very small child and she was raised by the local Warlock whom she calls Pap. Pap has gone blind and so Emily has taken over the family business of making charms and small spells as well as gathering herbs and making potions. However, most people are starting to buy from a big company Baugh’s Patent Magics and the winters are getting leaner so Emily decides that the best way to secure any kind of future for her and Pap, is for her to marry a wealthy man. Fortunately for her, she has grown up with Dag Hansen who is altogether a decent man. So, she casts a love spell on him. Unfortunately, it goes terribly wrong.

The next evening in the dance the local drunk soothsayer tells everyone that Emily has done some bad magic and that the Corpse Switch has failed. The Corpse Switch is a device which (sort of) controls the zombies which are working in the local mine. They’ve never failed before so nobody believes that it could fail now. However, Emily goes to check it and is joined by Dreadnought Stanton, an uppity Warlock from the East who has come to educate the local yokels about modern sorcery.

But the Switch has failed. Emily and Stanton have to defend themselves against zombies and in the fray Emily ends up grasping a strange, large stone. It sticks inside her hand. Stanton knows that it’s a very powerful magical item, called the Evening Star. It’s formed from a mineral which can store magic, so Emily can’t do any spells as long as the stone is imbedded into her hand. She’s desperate to get it out so Stanton offers to take her to San Francisco where is the closest branch office of Dr. Mirabilis’ Magical Institute. Stanton has the Jefferies Chair there, so he’s sure that the Institute will help Emily and also pay her handsomely for the stone. Emily doesn’t have a choice, so she agrees. But soon they’re running from powerful enemies.

The setting was great! The magic is detailed and convincing. Most people accept magic as part of society and use it just as cheerfully as scientific gadgets today. But there is one sect of religious people who abhor magic and are trying to turn the people against witches and warlocks. The magic users are split into three groups: animancers, who practice Emily’s type of “earthern, small” magic, credomancers who use belief, and sacrimangers who require human blood to do magic. The split is most prominent in the big cities and Emily doesn’t even know about the other two before Stanton tells her. Unfortunately, this being a historical story, all of the men in the story treat women condescendingly at best and with outright misogyny at worst. In addition the (male) warlocks all seem to think that (female) witches are pretty much whores.

Emily is a great heroine; she’s duty-bound to help poor Dag and that’s why she want get to Frisco as soon as possible. Stanton has two large horses so they ride there even though Emily doesn’t know how to ride. She’s smart and determined and she wants to learn. She also owns up to her mistakes and wants to correct them, when it’s possible. However, she looks down on all easterners and thinks that the Native Americans are all savages.

Stanton is pretty much the polar opposite: he knows everything and isn’t afraid to tell it, often. He scorns Emily’s lack of schooling and rubs her face in it with every opportunity. However, he also knows several languages and is friendly with the local Native Americans while Emily just fears them and doesn’t know anything about them. He also keeps a lot of secrets from her.

Unfortunately, I didn’t care for the romance because Stanton doesn’t respect Emily and he’s downright disrespectful to her all the time; he calls her uncivilized and stupid. Also, the romance was very low-key. I also thought that it was strange that Emily didn’t really think about the stone in her right hand. It must have made things like eating very difficult. It’s mentioned a couple of times that dressing and undressing was difficult, but that’s it.

The book doesn’t end in a cliffhanger but it’s clearly a first in the series. While the immediate problems are solved, there are larger difficulties still to come.

The first book in the Devices of War series.

Publication year: 2013
Format: ebook

This book is part of the steampunk bundle I bought last year. However, it doesn’t have much steampunk in it. There’s some technology and a couple of the characters are inventors but I don’t think they use steam tech much. Some of the tech is very interesting and innovative, though. It’s written in first person from Synn’s POV.

In this world, the House of Tarot and their four Queens rule most of the world and they want to conquer the rest of it by subjugating the Great Families who are still fighting back. The Queen of the House of Wands, Nix, is a beautiful and ruthless woman who uses her beauty as a weapon. She also doesn’t hesitate to execute even children if it furthers her goals. She also wants to control as many people with Marks as possible. Marks resemble tattoos but they give their bearers fantastic powers. The powers correspond to the Family or House of the bearer. The Marks appear on children or teens who go through ordeals so Nix’s tactic is to subject some people to terrible things in order for the Marks to appear.

17-year-old Synn El’Aurim is one of the children born to parents whose marriage joined two power-ful Great Families. The Mark of the El’Aurim gives them power of storms and the Mark of the Ino family controls fire. The El’Aurim family lives aboard airships and ride the currents. The Ino family lives on living ships, the letharan which swim in the oceans.

Synn is the only one of the children who doesn’t have a Mark. He feels like he has let down his family and his mother barely tolerates to look at him. But Synn is mostly in the company of his fa-ther and thinks of their airship as his home. He doesn’t even know much about his mother’s people.

Then Queen Nix’s minions, called the Hands, attack. They’ve already destroyed one Family’s leth-ara. The El’Aurim airships try to lure them away from the Ino family. But in the process the airship where Synn and his father are, is captured. Queen Nix is aboard the Hand ship. To Synn’s horror, Nix orders Synn’s father burned for attempted rebellion. Synn tries to help his father but instead, he’s also strapped to a pyre. But Synn doesn’t burn; instead his Mark manifests itself. Unfortunate-ly, a powerful Mark makes him also a powerful tool which Queen Nix wants for herself.

Synn is tortured for what feels like a very long time to him. The Queen uses all sorts of methods, starting with starving and beatings, and when they don’t work she also uses sexual torture. She takes Synn to the legendary Sky City which is a literal flying city. She wants Synn to want to be-long to her but he refuses. Synn is very interested in the sciences so Nix lets him attend the local university, called the Librarium, but only on the condition that he does exactly as she orders. There he manages to befriend a couple of people – and they might even help him escape. But even if they can escape, Nix has no intention of letting Synn go.

This was a pretty fast read and Synn grows a lot during the story; he’s quite immature at the start. It was also a lot darker than I expected; the torture is pretty gruesome even though it isn’t terribly graphic. After the torture, Nix has a mental link to Synn and he has to constantly struggle against it. We’re also introduced to Varik who was Nix’s previous victim. Varik is totally devoted to Nix and constantly reminds Synn that he will belong to her.

The world building is fascinating and very detailed. At the beginning there’s a short chapter detail-ing the history of the planet but after that, the author doesn’t explain much.

Synn has a circle of friends whom he can rely on: Joshua who is also a young inventor, Joshua’s gen-tle sister Keeley, and Synn’s old friend Haji. Sometimes they argue but most of the times they watch out for each other. Joshua and Keeley lost their families because Queen Nix burned them before the siblings’ eyes when they were just children. The only reason they are still alive is because they mani-fested Marks which Nix has a use for.

Queen Nix is a ruthless and conniving woman. She burns people alive and kidnaps children. She justifies it saying that she wants to keep her House safe but she clearly also enjoys torture.

The Marks reminded me very much of super powers. Synn is even taught to use his Mark in a way that very much brought to mind young superheroes training. At first each Mark seemed to have just one way to use it, but thankfully the characters started to use them in more versatile way. I very much enjoyed the Marks and Synn’s circle of friends.

There were a couple of time jumps where the author just glossed over what had happened during a couple of months. Also, the chapter headings give too much away IMHO.

The book ends in a cliffhanger.

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