Empire Ascendant by Kameron Hurley

The second book of the Worldbreaker Saga. This book adds a few new POV characters, including Kirana, the invasion’s leader.

There’s a lot less learning everything from scratch in this book, which made it an easier read. Similarly, the plots and actions by everyone seem much more straightforward. There’s some leveling; Zezili is back after her mauling and ready to kick butt. Roh (and new POV Luna) are engaged in arctic survival, Lilia is coming down off her end of book 1 high, with the impossible demanded of her.

Three of the new POV characters are rulers; Kirana for the invading empire, but also the king of Tordin and Saiduan’s power behind the throne. They are interesting people, all with tough choices to make. Time seems less compressed; the book covers about a year of the conflict, instead of only a few months.

By the end of the book, we’ve killed some of the POV characters, so we should be back to five-ish in the next (last?) book of the Saga. The strife is terrible, but feels less shockingly bloody than before. It read much faster than book 1; perhaps in part because I was fluent in the characters from just finishing the Mirror Empire.

The next book has some big plots to finish; I look forward to it!

The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley (reread)

My first read and review was here: Quick reviews to catch up. The Mirror Empire: Worldbreaker Saga 1 by is an ambitious book grounded in multiple worlds shoved into violent collision.

We have a lot of appealing characters from several empires and social strata. Most of the characters with face time (POV chapters) are from the primary world; all are grounded in the primary world’s struggle. A time of change is upon us; the wandering satellite Oma is powering channelers of its own; the other three satellite’s devotees are mixed in their ability to handle Omajistas–and almost all expect another 20 to 100 years before they’ll have to deal with it.

By “change”, I mean that terrible destruction is predicted–last time, thousands of years ago, much of a continent was sunk into the sea and strange life poured over the land, permanently changing things. Like a lot of carnivorous plants and trees are everywhere now, requiring special protections for settlements.

There are fiveish major POV characters. We start with Lilia, who is immediately appealing–abandoned by her mother, she’s left to become a drudge at a monastery. While she had a lot of missteps, her story felt like a good coming of age tale. She’d make a good YA protagonist, though the world she’s trapped in is more relentlessly oppressive than most.

Taigan comes next. A bit of a helper, a bit villainous–the chapters of Taigan make you wonder if you’re supposed to root against them. Lots of interesting details come out, slowly–but you’re distracted by the interactions with Lilia most of the time and only come to understand what makes ’em tick later.

Ahkio’s story is political, revealing the complexities of Dhai as understood by adults. He’s deeply enmeshed with steering the country, and hard times won’t wait…

Roh’s story feels like an outgrowth of Lilia’s, since he starts at the temple with her, but soon he’s off to foreign lands–very foreign to him. He’s kept in the dark, mostly, which makes him a good viewpoint character for learning about the world beyond the temples and Dhai from a Dhai’s point of view.

Zezili flips us over the border to Dhai’s enemies, as they see themselves. She’s a successful and powerful general; from her eyes we see Dorinah. It’s a compelling, dark, realistic feeling matriarchy.

The overall plot is confusing, since none of the five are very clued in. But each figures out more and more about what’s really going on as the book progresses. No one has it easy; Lilia struggles across multiple worlds, striving and trying–she’s almost a perfect incarnation of perseverance. Her price–like everyone’s–is steep.

The book came much easier on reread. I was ready for confusing names and got to enjoy Taigan’s joke on the world from the start this time. The world is truly alien… which is a great reason to read this book. It’s not five heroes questing together against the dawn; it’s five messy, painful stories in a tough time.

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

Supervillains came onto the scene about 10 years ago and remade the world. They run independent city states cared out of the remnants of the US (and probably throughout the world, but horizons have narrowed).

It’s a story of resistance and struggle against an overwhelming foe. How do you bring down a man who can’t be killed? Who has remade the ground for floors deep into solid steel? And how do you coordinate that while on the run from his allies and servants?

It’s fun YA, with a very likable protagonist. I’d strongly recommend it to anyone interested in good YA fiction.

Windswept by Adam Rakunas

A nicely dystopian sci-fi future; it harnesses corporations’ flaws and projects them forward for an authentic feeling.

Padma’s an excellent character with a bit of mystery to her past. She’s solidly connected to the other people of Windswept, and has strong motivations and responsibilities that get her interacting with everyone in a more than plausible way. She’s also damaged by an experiment, and it’s interesting to learn how it came about in parallel to her world going to shit. Which, of course, it does from a few pages in.

I really like the truths about Windswept that are revealed, slowly but steadily. The plot has a lot of action, but not a lot of deadly violence, which feels right for a world so in need of people.

Mystic by Jason Denzel

A good turning of age fantasy book, in a less glossy world. I liked the assumed privileges of the nobility (and their secret stressors), and the conflict with Pomella. The petty revenge of her Lady (and the surprising solidarity she found from her peers) felt like good world building.

Her relationships are strong and interesting, including her mistakes. I’d like to see how the story continues.

While You Were Gone by Amy K. Nichols

Be careful what you ask for…

I was mildly interested in the mirror image story from the other Duplexity novel. This one tries the star-crossed thing with much less interaction, making it a greater strain to believe.

If you enjoyed the first book, this one is an enjoyable continuation. If the first seemed like a stretch, this doubles that feeling. But it’s a quick read with a mostly charming, balanced pair of POV characters. The biggest problem comes from the social strata differences–the governor’s daughter circulates in very different circles, and it strains credulity when they cross paths. (Well, even more than the “wrong universe” thing would make you think!)

Anyway, for me it was fine because it was quick, but I doubt I’ll reread either of the pair.

EXHeroes by Peter Clines

A fun mashup of heroes and zombies, just like the back of the book says. The heroes are pretty heroic, and the zombie plague is horrific and fits the setting.

It’s a well written apocalypse, with a collapsed society and tightened boundaries that felt realistic. The book falls into a focus on the supers, with everyone else more an abstraction–people to save, protect, but not really interact with.

I’m mildly curious about other books in the series.