Entries in historical fiction (6)


The Fated Sky

So, it's hard to say much at all about this book without spoiling The Calculating Stars so I won't. If you liked the first you'll love the second.

The things I had issues with in the first book didn't go away for this one. The social issues that serve as antagonist were personified in Stetson Parker, first man in space. So it was interesting to see him get a bit of a redemption arc (though I never felt bad for him) while the social issues never really went anywhere. They were overcome to a point, but yeah... racists gonna racist.

The book was fun and infuriating and heartbreaking in equal measure, but it ends on a uplifting note. I had a lot of questions about some of the characters from the first book who weren't really in the second, but it looks like Mary Robinette will be writing more in the series, so I look forward to that.

Both books are really good. Mary Robinette's research is so extensive and it shows (and only rarely does it show a little too much). So go check out Calculating Stars, and if you like it, this one won't disappoint.


The Calculating Stars

This is alternate history sci-fi, taking place in the 50s and giving a whole new meaning to the space race after a meteor strikes the Earth in a possible extinction-level event. Instead of reaching the moon, the ultimate goal is Mars and space colonization due to fears that the Earth will very soon be uninhabitable.

And since it's the 50s and the main character, Dr. Elma York, is both a woman and an extremely gifted mathematician, sexism and racism are front and centre. While the meteor serves as a catalyst, these two social issues are the real villain throughout the book.

Elma's is a former WASP and her husband is the lead engineer working to get humans into space and give them all a future before Earth becomes inhospitable. Elma takes work as a computer with the IAC and strives to convince the men in charge that women belong on the astronaut teams.

But in addition to fighting the racism and sexism of the day, Elma has to overcome her crippling social anxiety. There are plenty of bumps and hiccups along the way.

There was a lot of cool space/rocket science stuff in this book, and Mary Robinette did some really excellent and extensive research in preparation for writing this, and that was easily one of my favourite things about it (even if some of the jargon got to be a little much). At first I didn't think I liked this book because all the ingrained racism and sexism was driving me absolutely crazy. But the end has a good pay-off to make up for that. Also, lots of hilarious rocket-related sexual innuendo. Hee!

While on the surface, this is a book about surviving an extinction event on Earth, it's really about social justice and friendships. It's a slower burn than I usually read but that doesn't mean it's boring. Highly recommend!


Taste of Marrow

This book is a quick and excellent read. It's everything I wanted from the first book. The pacing is fantastic, the characters are brilliant and I love them all. The plot is a little soft, but I don't even care because the rest of it is so good.

So this series is less fantasy and more alternate history examining what would happen if hippos had been imported as an alternative meat source in the 1800s. Cowboys on hippos, essentially. And that part is a lot of fun!

This book jumps in where the last one left off, with the gang all split up and searching for each other, no one certain who survived the first book and who didn't. They're all hurting one way or another. This book is far more emotionally driven than the first book was. Overall, it holds together better too.

And it touches on that whole "found family" thing I love so much. The scenes with Hero and Adelia learning to sass each other was excellent. I love me clever banter. There wasn't much of it here, but when there was, it was spot on.

And can we talk about that amazing cover with Adelia clutching both her NEWBORN and A BIG-ASS KNIFE and threatening to cut up a lot of terrible people. Hot damn! (seriously, though, there wouldn't have been a plot at all if Adelia had been wearing the baby)

So while I was pretty meh about the first book, the second book more than makes up for it. I'm sad it's over and hope that someday the author will pull out these characters and their world and find more adventures for them.


River of Teeth

This story had a super cool premise, but it just didn't come together for me. It was very short, too short. Everything felt rushed. I think this is technically a novella? Anyway, it really could have benefited from being much longer. From taking the time to really set things up, to give the characters more obstacles for a richer story.

It took about half the book just to set up the characters. And then everything raced to the ending and suddenly it was over and I was a little confused and very unsatisfied. I like books that are fast paced, and while this was, that wasn't necessarily the problem. I got to the end and thought "Wait, that's it? It's over??"

I felt like the story was just getting started when it ended. The plot was too simplistic. Which is really a shame because the book was otherwise well-written and the characters were amazing. I want so much more of these characters! Especially the hippos.

It was also the first time I've seen the singular they used in fiction for a non-binary character. And while in theory I liked it, in practice I found it confusing, especially since this was an ensemble piece and there were frequently multiple characters in every scene. Hopefully I'll get used to it once I've seen more of it.


His Majesty's Dragon

Huzzah! Finally back to reading fiction. And I'm so glad that I am and that I read this novel! It's the first in Naomi Novik's series about Temeraire the dragon. The series (or at least the first book) is the Napoleonic wars with a fantastical slant, as there are dragons used in aerial combat to support the warships in the sea.

Naval captain Will Laurence captures a dragon egg from a French ship and immediately bonds with the hatchling dragon, thrusting him into an unexpected and fascinating career change as he gives up his ship to captain a dragon instead. The bulk of the book describes his transition from Navy to Aerial Corps, as well as the steep learning curve he has when it comes to dragons. It's far more fascinating than I've just made it sound.

This is like How To Train Your Dragon (the movie franchise) for grown ups. While there is plenty of action in the book, it focuses on the relationship between Temeraire and Laurence. The deep sense of loyalty the characters have for each other is quite moving. The interactions between the other dragons is a lot of fun to see.

There were parts of the book that I found dragged a little bit, but overall it was enthralling. The characters, particularly the dragons, made the slow sections entertaining despite the pace. There were so many feels! Especially due to the affection Laurence and Temeraire have for each other. And little Levitas thoroughly broke my heart!

I remember seeing this book when I was in post-student poverty and wishing I'd had the funds to buy it. I failed to remember the author's name and couldn't find the book afterward. Then people who've read Dragon Whisperer started recommending it to me, and I definitely see why!

The relationship between Laurence and Temeraire has many parallels to the relationship between Dionelle and the black dragoness. Novik's dragons all have very distinct personalities and quirks, just like the dragons in Dragon Whisperer. So if you've enjoyed my dragons, you're going to love Novik's too!

I'm beyond pleased to have found the series again and I'm sincerely looking forward to reading more.