An Anatomy of Beasts by Olivia A. Cole

An Anatomy of Beasts follows Octavia English as she runs from her past in N’Terra and learns to embrace the ways of Faloiv. Her mother has been killed, her grandmother has been hiding, and the N’Terrans are doing their best to destroy the planet. In the coming conflict, Octavia will have to choose between the home she has always known or her family.

We get to see even more about Faloiv in this planet than we did in Conspiracy. There’s a lot of emphasis on symbiotic relationships, which are relationships between species that are beneficial for both species. Symbiosis is the foundation of Faloiv, and the Faloii’s purpose is to promote that symbiotic relationship, so much so that they travel to other planets to learn what they can do to develop better symbiotic relationships between certain species.

In this book, we get all the answers we’re looking for. We learn the history of Faloiv, of N’Terra, and of the Origin Planet. There’s an emphasis on how these histories tend to rhyme with each other and affect the future peoples.

It’s so interesting to see the differences between the Faloii and the humans. The Faloii exist to improve their planet, while the human live to serve themselves. In the coming conflict, the Faloii chose to shield those who had chosen to live with them and learn their ways, while the N’Terrans convinced their children to fight their wars.

While Octavia is conflicted on her stance for much of the book, her choice in the end is obvious. Would she choose the cold distant father she’s known her whole life, or this new life on the planet that has always been her home? Would she choose the friends she cherished in N’Terra, or would she choose to spend her life being so shielded she doesn’t know who she is anymore?

Again, I really enjoyed this book. I preordered the kindle book online as soon as it was available because I liked the first book so much. This is rare for sequels, but novel improved upon the first. I’m excited to read the conclusion of this trilogy.

A Conspiracy of Stars by Olivia A. Cole

Forty years ago, the Vagantur crashed onto the planet Faloiv. Ever since, the humans aboard have been making a home for themselves on Faloiv. They formed a community based on scientific discovery, using traits from the plants and animals that inhabit the planet to make it survivable for them. But some of them have never let go of the idea of going home, back to the Origin Planet.

The world-building in this novel was remarkable. There are so many pieces to consider when starting on an alien planet, and the author hit on each of them. She made a world that felt magical, but was still controlled by science. There were rules and consequences to the actions of our characters. The aliens were sufficiently

I was left frustrated by the many things left unsaid during the length of this book. We still don’t know a lot of backstory that feels important. To be fair, Octavia doesn’t know it either, but sometimes it feels like I’m being strung along for an unnecessarily long period of time.

Everything in this novel felt like it was developing toward an inevitable conclusion: war. People really haven’t learned anything from the collapse of the Earth. They just want to continue to exploit Faloiv like they exploited Earth, but the Faloii will not let them. They take what they want regardless of whether or not it belongs to them.

I really enjoyed this book. I enjoyed the parallels you can see between our time on Earth and the people of N’Terra. The Faloii give me hope: their strength and devotion to their planet is refreshing and I like that they are committed to attempting peace before violence becomes inevitable. I like Octavia. She’s a well-written character who is strong in her own way. I’m very excited to read the sequel and can’t wait to share those thoughts with you.

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

Let’s be real, you do not need me to tell you to read the long-awaited sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. June is no longer our protaganist, that title has fallen to the three women of The Testaments. The men of Gilead spend so much time worrying about which of them is in charge and how they can curry favor, but all it takes is three women to bring their empire crumbling down.

The reader figures out pretty quickly that our protaganists are familiar faces. We get to Hannah-now-Agnes grow up on the Gilead side of the wall. In many ways her life is easy: her expectations are laid out for her and she knows the rules. Baby Nicole, who was smuggled away to Canada as an infant, is now a symbol both for and against Gilead. The zealots of Gilead use her as a ploy for pity, while she embodies what the people of Canada believe should be done for all women and children of Gilead. She’s grown up on the free side of the Wall and has lived a relatively normal life until her foster parents are killed and she becomes part of the Mayday operation.

Aunt Lydia survived the original take over and she’s been keeping score. As an Aunt, she’s afforded the special privilege of reading/writing, and she’s been using it to track the crimes and Bloodlines of every person she’s dealt with. In Gilead and in the free world, knowledge is power, and Aunt Lydia needs Baby Nicole (now grown) and Agnes to deliver that knowledge.

Even after everything Aunt Lydia has done, I still found a way to be impressed (and sympathetic). She’s been gathering the information needed to trigger Gilead’s fall for years and she’s really just needed the opportunity. From the beginning she’s been playing the long-game. Her wit is impressive, and her recognition of her actions is palpable.

What’s most remarkable about this novel is that I’m equally excited to learn what’s happening with each woman. Typically when reading a book with multiple points of view, I hate one of the characters and can’t wait for my favorite to come back into focus. But each time we focused on a different character, I was immediately drawn into what was happening with them. Agnes taught us more about what growing up in Gilead was like, Nicole/Daisy/Jade became deeply involved in a terrorist plot, and Aunt Lydia has been playing in a political drama for decades. There was so much to be interested in.

The novel did much more to inspire hope than it’s predecessor did. While The Handmaid’s Tale does present a (rather unnerving) view of the Gilead Academic Sessions, it does little to reassure that people get out. The television show (if you watch it), does a better job of that. But The Testaments really showcases the structure of the resistance. It may not be sanctioned, but there were many who were involved in smuggling people and information out, including Aunt Lydia herself.

This novel is beautiful, it’s fast-paced and it’s smart. Gilead remains terrifying because of it’s plausibility and realism. Atwood stands by her resolution to include only horrors with historical precedence, and it carries the same weight it used to. It’s impossible to say I loved this book. It is impossible to love Gilead. But I did find hope in it. We get the happy ending we were looking for in The Handmaid’s Tale.

Go support your local independent bookstore and buy this book. I won’t be linking to Amazon for a while because of some issues with broken embargoes on this book. If you’re interested, read more about it here, but I got my copy from Literati. If you’re in the area, I’d suggest the same.

The Final Six by Alexandra Monir

We’ve finally destroyed the Earth, and the international space agencies have declared that our only hope is escape to Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons. An international draft has been declared to decide who will man the first mission to Europa, who will terraform the planet so it is habitable, and who will start the first colony on a foreign surface.

Leo is Roman. Most of Italy is underwater now, including his family. He’s made his living by scavenging, selling, and diving for valuables. Before the floods Leo was a championship swimmer, which makes him a prime candidate for the underwater specialist on this mission. Naomi is an Arab-American and a scientist at heart. For her whole life, all she’s wanted is to find a cure for her brother Sam. But it’s her expertise at communications that brings her into the draft.

This book was definitely a worthy premise, but it could’ve been handled better. There was a lot going on in a world that very much tried to act as if it were one of those “20 minutes in the future,” kind of novels. We were tackling issues of colonialism, climate change, bioethics, corruption, and advanced technology. With all of that packed in, it’s understandable why a lot of it fell flat.

We know almost from the beginning that there is likely intelligent life on Europa. Naomi thinks that the leaders of the mission also know that, that they plan on wiping out that life to make room for the humans. The view of this issue is made to seem much simpler than it actually is. Naomi wants to call the mission off in terms of safety of for the Final Six, others want it called off for the sake of anti-imperialism, and still others try to cover it up because it’s the only hope left for the human race. In reality, this is a

Leo & Naomi develop a connection. They come from vastly different backgrounds and have very different reasons for being at the training center, and I’m genuinely unsure why they go together. But Leo follows Naomi’s lead during much of the book, and Naomi falls for the goofy Roman boy. I’m interested to find out what Beckett’s deal is. He’s the nephew of the President, he’s a dick, and I’m unsure what his motivations for his behaviors are. Over all, a very strange character.

I guess, that’s how I’m feeling overall: unsure. There are a lot of questions left unanswered, and the pace of the novel is manufactured to go as quickly as possible without answering any of them. I’m sure it was meant to make things more interesting, but it was just frustrating. It left me underwhelmed, though I’m looking forward to see where the sequel goes.

A Lily in the Light by Kristin Fields

Little Lily went missing from her home. Madeleine was yelling at her and Esme wouldn’t tell her a story about a fish, and the next thing they know, Lily is gone. In the aftermath, their mother becomes a shell of the person she once was and their father tries to keep the family from falling apart. Esme seeks solace in her ballet classes, eventually moving in with her teacher. She uses ballet to run as far away from her family problems as she can, all the way from Queens to San Francisco.

I received A Lily in the Light as part of the Amazon First Reads Program. I am continually impressed with the quality of books they share in this program. They offer a wide variety of books to choose from and they’re typically well-written and well-designed books.

A Lily in the Light surprised me in a lot of ways. It was the story of how Esme handled the disappearance of her sister. It was an incredibly human representation of how people cope with grief and loss, and how traumatic events in youth can continue to affect people as adults. Esme’s past with her sister is the dark secret she hides from her fellow dancers, but it’s also the reason she has trouble connecting with them. She’s protecting herself from feeling the same sense of abandonment she felt when Lily disappeared.

I identified with Esme because of our love for ballet. I won’t be getting into the San Francisco Ballet any time soon, but there’s something to be said for working out your frustrations in ballet class. The familiarity of being at the barre, the mental challenges presented in each combination, and the physical work are all useful tools and distractions in dealing with stress and grief. There’s a large emphasis on the expression of the artist, and Esme has a large well of unworked-through emotion to draw from.

She avoids confronting those feelings for as long as she can, too. Nobody wants to be reminded of the trauma of their past, so when Adam asks her to dance one of the most triggering roles she’s ever known, she’s thrown off.  Waltz Girl from Serenade is hard for her because it was the first ballet she saw after Lily disappeared. It’s a physically demanding piece, but Serenade in itself is not a particularly sad ballet, so I think much of her reluctance stems from her unresolved past.

Adam and Esme share the experience of childhood trauma. They never shared much about their trauma with each other, but that shared experience brought them together when they were younger. It strengthened their connection as pas de deux partners and made their dancing better. They continually pushed each other to improve their dancing, but they never asked more of the other than they could give. It’s a shame that they grew apart when Adam moved to New York, but I’m glad that they found each other again and that they’ve grown enough to be together at the end of it all.

I really enjoyed this book: it was an incredibly human display of grief and trauma. Esme grew with that scar on her memory and her heart. It forever changed how she interacted with the world and changed how her family interacted with each other. Even the littlest of our families have the power to change our lives.

The Midnight Star by Marie Lu

 

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Raffaele, in his extensive wisdom, has learned a few things since we first met him. He learned about the alignment of each Elite. He’s learned that an Elite exists with no marking. He’s learned that his betrayal pushed Adelina to the point of no return. And he’s learned why the Elites have their powers and that they’re killing them. The powers of the Elites belong to the gods. They are immortal in nature, and the bodies of the Elites – really the world – was not made to contain those powers. He’s learned that if they do not return their powers, they will die, and they’ll take everyone with them.

 

I care so much less about Adelina taking over the world hunting for her sister than I did when she was out for revenge. She’s so much colder now than she is angry. It feels like a defense mechanism: people can’t hurt her if she doesn’t let them close enough. Her emotional unavailability also makes it difficult to feel as connected to Adelina as I have in the past.

The amount of loss we experience is less unsettling than I thought. Don’t get me wrong, there were definitely some gut-punches, but there is a lot of death in this story, and a lot of it passes without a second mention. I can’t tell if I’m apathetic to it because Adelina is apathetic, but this frigidity makes everything feel separate.

I love the role that Teren plays in this novel. It’s not a redemption, but rather a recognition that he has a role to play. He was right about the gods the whole time, and he finds strength in that. His enemies called him crazy, but he was right.

I’m unsure how I feel about the ending. Adelina is right, if Violetta and her were to trade places, Violetta would bargain her life in a heartbeat. And I guess it’s Adelina’s redemption. It’s her attempt at atonement for the misery she’s caused. But it doesn’t feel fair. In the acknowledgments, Lu discusses how Adelina is a projection of herself. Adelina is all of us any time we’re overwhelmed by feelings of anger and bitterness. I need to believe that there’s a better redemption arc for her and for everyone else.

This series was so different from anything that I’ve ever read. The deep darkness in Adelina is part of what made this story so compelling. It’s strange to hear from someone who is so strongly a villain, and even stranger to be able to identify with her. I’ll miss this series and likely revisit it often. 

 

The Rose Society by Marie Lu

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Adelina Amouteru’s fellow Elites have cast her out. Her powers killed their friend and their prince, and now she is looking for revenge: against the Daggers for their betrayal, against the Inquisition Axis for their role in tormenting and murdering malfettos, and against every unmarked civilian for their privilege. She establishes her own society of Elites – the Rose Society – made of up of Elites who are like her – abandoned and cast out- and together they plot a coup. Adelina wants to be the Queen of Kenettra, and it seems like nothing can stop her. 

Adelina’s past continues to haunt her in The Rose Society. Her attachment and guilt for killing Enzo is obvious. Her ambition and her anger fuel her journey in this book. It’s so compelling to read. Watching Adelina get everything she’s ever wanted is empowering. But while she doesn’t make considerable personal sacrifice (that she can tell) it’s a little terrifying to watch what that power does to her. The reader can almost watch her humanity fade away as she gets more powerful and as she accumulates allies.

Again, it feels weird that I align so strongly with Adelina. At her core, she is dark, angry and vengeful. I’d like to think that I’m not, but she manages to speak to every part of me that’s ever felt bitter or abandoned. I can’t fault her for wanting to hurt the people who’ve caused her pain.

We hear about the Rose Society as a group far less than we hear about the Daggers, which is strange considering they’re meant to be the focus of this novel. We watch her assemble her small group of Elites and mercenaries, but the Daggers were such a “one-for-all” persona, and the Roses are much more of an “all-for-one”. They would lay down their lives for Adelina, but I doubt their loyalty to each other.

I’m struck by how few Elites there are in the world. Many people were damaged by the blood fever, but so few developed powers. It’s different from The Red Queen series, for example, where there was an army of Newbloods. I expected something similar in this novel, even compared to TYE. But what the Elites lack in numbers, they make up for in destructive power, I suppose. Especially Adelina and Enzo.

I still love this book, but I think the shock factor from the first novel has worn off. Lu is still a great author, and I still like her writing style, but what was most compelling this time around was the change in Adelina as she shifted from frightened girl to queen. Now that she has the throne she’s always dreamt of, I’m excited to see what comes next.