The Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigalupi

It’s always disheartening for me when I pick up a book by an author whose previous work I love and the book just… isn’t that good. A sense of guilt overwhelms me as I trudge on and on, continuing to dislike the book and wishing it wasn’t the case. Such has happened with Paolo Bacigalupi and The Doubt Factory as I really kinda hated this book. In fact, I’m very thankful that I read Ship Breaker and The Drowned Cities before I read this novel, because there’s a good chance I’d have not continued on with any of Bacigalupi’s other works, which really are quite good. But as it stands, very little about The Doubt Factory landed for me, and reading it left me only tired and frustrated at the characters and the plot. (Sidebar: I will attempt to not spoil major plot points but in order to detail what about this book annoyed me so much, I’m going to have to explain certain character actions in vague generalities. Please be warned if you wish to remain completely spoiler free).

The Doubt Factory follows 17 year old Alix Banks, daughter of a fairly affluent and powerful PR executive. Living in her sheltered and privileged world, Alix doesn’t particularly bother herself with worries over how most other people live. Not out of a calloused and uncaring worldview, mind you, she just hasn’t had anyone challenge her view of the world. She’s a child living in a pristine house where the reality of life hasn’t broken in and soiled up the place yet. But when an underground protest group called 2.0 start threatening her and her family, Alix is forced to confront what exactly her father does and how it affects those less fortunate than her.

Paolo Bacigalupi tends to write message fiction. I’ve recommended him to my father many times due to his heartfelt passion for environmental problems and fixing climate change. His books tend to be set in the not too distant future where Earth as we know it is gone, ravaged by floods or a lack of water or a mass shortage of food where everything is genetically modified. The books are close enough to recognize our society and culture but far enough to allow for elements of the fantastical/dystopian to drive home the point of “we need to fix this NOW.” And similarly, The Doubt Factory also has a message Bacigalupi wants to impress upon his readers: that of how much power lobby groups and PR companies have over organizations like the FDA. That the general health and safety of the public is compromised by greedy capitalistic corporations who are well aware that their drug has serious and/or deadly side effects, but hire PR companies to bury the evidence in order to squeeze out more years of sales before they are forced to put warning labels on their products. An easy example of this would be the amount of marketing work done for cigarette companies in the 50s and 60s when science was coming out about how dangerous smoking actually was.

Now the message, although somewhat heavy handedly driven home, is not the reason I hated The Doubt Factory. I fully believe and understand that government is controlled by lobby groups and PR firms are masters of spin and influence and trick the consuming public every day. No, my problem was that every single one of our characters seemed to be as intelligent as a bag of bricks and only half of them operated in the real world.

The main issue I have is with our main character Alix, and not just because of her incredibly millennial spelled name. I do not understand any of Alix’s decision making. When 2.0’s leader starts enacting “pranks” (more on whether or not I consider these instances pranks later) at her school and essentially begins stalking her, she is drawn to him, entranced. Time and time again she defends 2.0 and his actions, balking at the harsh labels her father and his security company use to describe him (terms like, say, terrorist). She feels a sense of teenage allure to him as he’s a slightly older handsome black man and she a VERY sheltered rich white girl. He’s the dangerous bad boy she’s never experienced. That part is fine… up until he starts assaulting people and continually threatens her and her family. About then is where she logically should stop sympathizing with him and start fearing him.

The reader might feel sympathy for 2.0 because we’re getting POV from him and understand some of the pain he’s gone through to lead to this point, but Alix knows none of this. All she knows is that a scary and clearly physically strong black man is threatening her and her family and appears to want to kidnap her to get at her father (I’d like to clarify that I’m not bringing up the stereotype because I believe it true, but because in the book, Alix makes it clear how incredibly sheltered and white her upbringing has been. There are only a very VERY small amount of black people at her school, and she’s barely interacted with them. In this context along with the context of the world we’re operating in (our own), that stereotype and prejudice would be in the forefront of her mind). Throughout the book Alix routinely withholds information from her father and the security people set to protect her and her family for no good reason, other than she doesn’t want to get 2.0 in trouble. Screw getting him in trouble, he’s threatened your family and assaulted a person! Why are you behaving like this?

Earlier I described 2.0 as an “underground protest group” but that’s… not entirely accurate. It’s just that I don’t know how else to classify them without either sugarcoating the ramifications of their actions or using extremely harsh language (like, say, terrorist). The book too seems to struggle with how dangerous 2.0 is, or should be perceived. Alix refers to all of their actions as “pranks.” Except that the actions include things like: assaulting a person, calling in a bomb threat at a high school that isn’t entirely untrue, causing a literal explosion when security enforcement attempts to protect Alix and apprehend 2.0, and, of course, kidnapping. The reader gets POV of the group and understands their motivations and they truly do not seem to understand the seriousness of what they are doing and brush off any terrorist-esque label as PR spin meant to make them the bad guys. But…. they kinda are. Their actions are very serious. They assaulted a SWAT team called in to protect the school. They are implicated in multiple kidnappings and keep one person locked up in a cage for periods of time. They are doing things specifically meant to cause fear and, well, terror, in Alix’s household. They are trying to punish Alix’s father for things they believe he has done. They are a serious threat and rightfully are treated like one by the security team and Alix’s parents. It’s just that the book seems to have missed that memo because time and time again I’m meant to feel sympathy that they’re being treated this seriously.

I think this all could have been resolved with a few changes. If, for example, Alix had an established difficult relationship with her father when the book began, we might believe her withholding information from him. If she already was suspicious of his job and what he does for a living, it’d make sense why she’s so sympathetic with 2.0. But as it stands, she and her father have a good relationship, if a little strained by how busy he is. But when Alix’s life is threatened, he immediately comes home and calls in as many favors as he has to to keep her safe. He worries and cares for her and goes to great lengths to protect her. 2.0 even comments on how good of a father he is.

Another solution would be to do what so many other Bacigalupi books do and set this in the not too near but not far off future. Make this a world that isn’t present day. Because it’s set in 2014 America, all of its actions are painted by how 2014 America would behave. A very rich, very privileged white girl with little to no interaction with people who aren’t her race or financial bracket WOULD be scared of a threatening black man. The actions of 2.0 WOULD be labeled as terroristic and threatening acts. A 17 year old girl WOULD NOT be able to enact any real change on how her father or the world operates in regards to PR spin. But every time Alix behaves strangely or reacts not in our reality, I get confused because we’ve gone out of our way to establish this as present day America. If this was the year 2050 or something and PR spin has gone amok, endangering the lives of Americans nationwide on an exaggerated scale, I’d have a much easier time sympathizing with 2.0’s actions, or believing Alix’s behavior, because it wouldn’t have to make sense in our current world.

This book was the biggest disappointment I’ve encountered this year. I loved Paolo Bacigalupi’s previous works but there’s very little about this book that I enjoyed. Pretty much the only part that worked for me was near the middle where Bacigalupi went on a rant about PR firms covering up the dangers of aspirin. When in full blown message mode, the book works. I understand and agree with the point Bacigalupi is trying to make. It’s just the plot that continually falls apart at every turn.

How Star Wars Conquered the Universe, by Chris Taylor

If you had asked anyone in my high school who was the biggest Star Wars nerd, they probably would have mentioned me. More accurately, they probably wouldn’t have known my name but “that one quiet girl who is always reading the Star Wars books” would be referring to me. As part of the somewhat maligned prequel generation, I was coming of age as episodes I, II and III were being released in theaters, and boy, was I ever obsessed with Star Wars. Padme was my halloween costume of choice for 3 years in a row, I read nearly every Expanded Universe book I could get my hands on (goodreads has logged 35 books but I know there were more that I’ve forgotten by now), my first ever online forum account (not counting neopets because I think every 90s kid had a neopets account) was to theforce.net as “yodarulez,” I even went to high school dressed up as a jedi to celebrate the release of Episode III, an act which alone should clue everyone in as to how much Star Wars meant to me.

I don’t remember when I first watched the original Star Wars in their entirety, although I’m certain it was before the release of Episode I in 1999. But what I do remember is the first scene of Star Wars that peaked my interest, that grabbed my brain and refused to let go throughout my adolescence and adulthood. My Dad was sitting on the couch in the living room, watching one of his movies after dinner like he of so often did and pre-10 year old Jen wandered inside to the tv screen projecting a snowy landscape. An injured looking man was lying on the snow and a large, blue, ghostly figure appeared and started talking to him. “Luke, you must go to the Dagobah System. There you will encounter Yoda, the Jedi Master who taught me.” Little Jen was entranced. Who was this ghost guy? What was a jedi? Was the hurt man going to be okay, he must be very cold out in the snow like that. I vaguely recall my dad somewhat distractedly telling me that this was the 2nd movie and most of my questions were answered the movie previous. Ever since then, I was hooked. Star Wars became the most important series of films in my childhood, my core obsession, and the franchise that continually brought joy to my life.

How Star Wars Conquered the Universe reminded me of how deeply my love of Star Wars runs. It tells the tale of George Lucas’ most beloved creation from pre-THX 1138 to disney takeover, showcasing throughout its pages the expansive reach the Star Wars universe has on the entirety of Earth. We learn about the early drafts and ideas Lucas had for the original trilogy, the immense problems he had pitching the films to movie studios, the bad ideas paired with the good ones, and how fan made creations such as Star Wars kid and the 501st Legion of Stormtroopers began. I’ll admit, I knew a lot of the information detailed in this book, especially regarding the scriptwriting process of the original and prequel trilogy, but I still felt a rush of nerdy glee reading this book.

As the title indicates, How Star Wars Conquered the Universe specifically looks at the ubiquity of the Star Wars franchise. The book starts off with the author attempting to find someone who doesn’t know anything about Star Wars. Not someone who hasn’t seen it, not someone who can’t detail the plot, someone who has never heard of Star Wars. Someone who could be shown a picture of Darth Vader or Yoda or any jedi and have zero clue who these people were. This exercise alone showcases how monumental Star Wars is as a cultural force. We all know someone who hasn’t seen Star Wars (and probably all can recall feeling a sense of amazement that said person has escaped the unstoppable force that is the Star Wars movie franchise) but the odds are, that person still could name some plot points or recognize some characters. Pretty much everyone knows that Darth Vader (or “the evil helmet robot guy”) is Luke Skywalker’s father. Heck, even I don’t remember this being a twist when I first watched the movies. I think even pre-10 year old me who hadn’t seen Star Wars before had picked up at some point this once shocking plot twist.

The book doesn’t necessarily provide a formula as to why Star Wars became the cultural mega-force that it currently is. It does, however, explain the environment and circumstances and carefully structured corporate decisions that kept Star Wars in the spotlight and capitalized on its initial popularity. If you know someone who is a Star Wars nerd and is reading this book, be warned: you’ll probably be inundated with endless facts found in the book. As my family and fiance can attest to, nearly every time I had this book in my hands, there’d be frequent interruptions of me raising my hand and going “STAR WARS FUN FACT TIME!!” And so, here are some Star Wars fun facts I would like to share:

  • In early drafts of A New Hope, Lucas gave names to both the light and dark side of the force. The dark side was called the Bogan and the script had such great lines as Luke telling a depressed Han “Don’t give in! It’s just the Bogan force talking!”
  • All of Boba Fett’s lines in the original trilogy can fit in the space of a single tweet, complete with attribute.
  • The 501st legion of Stormtroopers had a charity fundraiser to allow for Peter Mayhew, the original actor of Chewbacca, to get knee surgery who he could play Chewbacca again in the new Disney movies.
  • Star Wars was one of the first movies to not have credits in the beginning of the movie and George Lucas had to fight the studio tooth and nail to keep the transition from exposition crawl to the Star Destroyer free of meddling text.
  • The Star Wars logo we know and love today was designed by a 22 year old female new hire after George Lucas thought that the original logo designed by a more senior designer at the company needed to be “much more fascist looking.” Also, the Star Wars logo began as Helvetica Black which was then heavily modified (I’ll be honest, this fact is my favorite simply because I’m a designer and typography nerd). Unfortunately for her, she was hired on contract basis and as such has received zero copyright rights over the logo or money for its now infinite usage.
  • Lucasfilm retained merchandising rights for Star Wars related toys over Twentieth Century Fox because it had all rights to things under the name “Star Wars” whereas Fox had rights for the title “The Adventures of Luke Skywalker” which was the running title of Star Wars for the longest time.
  • Tatoonine is never actually named in Episode IV. Luke refers to it as “this rock,” “if there’s a bright spot in the galaxy you’re on the planet where it’s farthest from,” and “back home.” No one ever says the name “Tatoonine.”
  • James Early Jones recorded all of his lines for Episode IV in a single session and was paid only $6500 for his contribution to the film.

I was commenting to Matt the other day that it amazes me how varied Star Wars fans can be in their knowledge, a reflection of how vast the Star Wars universe itself is. I have friends who are experts are Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels, the two canon cartoon shows fleshing out what happened in between the movies. Others know everything there is to know about the Old Republic, an era of Star Wars history occurring 5000 years before the Battle of Yavin. I, myself, have read nearly every post Battle of Yavin through Legacy of the Force books, and can talk to you endlessly about Yuuzhan Vong, Coran Horn, Jacen and Jania Solo and Chewbacca’s death (spoiler, a moon falls on him). Similarly to this variety, How Star Wars Conquered the Universe contains information that will appeal to different Star Wars nerd’s interests. I, personally, read every word about the different drafts of the scripts and behind the scenes process of filming, while skimmed through parts discussing museums of Star Wars merchandise created by fans. You might not be interested in Star Wars Kid or the drama that happened between Lucasfilm and the original effects creator but absolutely love hearing about how the 501st legion was formed. There’s something here for every Star Wars nerd.

Above all else, How Star Wars Conquered the Universe helped solidify my excitement for the new movie coming out this December. Regardless of what JJ Abrahms and Disney creates, for a brief moment I will feel the excitement that child Jen did sitting in the theater waiting for the prequels. And so, I leave you with the ending passage of this book, which for me perfectly encapsulates the joy and emotional outpouring I will experience sitting in that theater once again waiting for a new Star Wars movie to begin.

The screen will go black. Then up will come ten familiar words in blue: ‘A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away…” Then silence. Blackness again. Then an orchestra will explode in B-flat major, and the largest logo you’ve ever seen will fill the entire screen. And no sooner has it appeared than it will immediately begin to recede, slipping away, pulling back into the stars as if daring you to give chase.

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer

This book broke my review schedule. After finishing a book, I’d generally take a week at most to review it, writing my thoughts down while everything was still fresh and quickly moving onto the next book on the pile. But then I read Missoula and everything stopped. How exactly do I review this book? How do I talk about how much it meant to me, how it affected my worldview without devolving into a political discussion of rape, rape culture and the controversy surrounding those words?

Fact is, I can’t. I can’t just ignore Missoula simply because it’s difficult to talk about and will raise issues that I find to be incredibly personal and important. Because even though no one reads this blog and the odds that more than 3 people will see this are around 5%, I need to talk about Missoula and what it teaches, even if that means I will have to face victim-blaming opinions of people I know. And so, I need to issue a content warning for this review, because I’m going to talk in detail about the things that Missoula talks about and it isn’t nice. I’m not going to light-heartedly dance around saying that a woman was raped and how. What happened and continues to happen to women around the world is not a thing I’m going to sugarcoat for this review. Consider this your only warning.

Missoula, as the full title suggests, is Krakauer’s journalistic investigation into a series of rapes in Missoula, Montana, specifically ones linked to campus life at the University of Montana. We follow the stories of real women who attempted to come forward after being sexually assaulted or raped and how both the college system and the police reacted to their claims. We read about, in gruesome and painful detail, the rapes of 3 primary women and watch as all but one of them fail again and again to bring their rapists to justice. They are blamed for nearly every single thing leading up to their rape. Well, she invited him over to watch a movie (it doesn’t matter that she told him to stop and pushed against him so hard a bruise was left on her chest where he held her down). Well, she was drunk at a party (it doesn’t matter that 6 football players got her so incredibly wasted and drugged that she was passed out for the majority of her rape, waking up here and there to realize there were penises in her mouth). Well, she said previously “I’m yours anytime” (It doesn’t matter that that exchange was multiple nights previous and when she woke up after crashing at his place, she found herself stripped naked and him in the middle of penetrating her.)

The list just goes on and on. When first going to the police, a woman is asked multiple times if she has a boyfriend and if she was caught cheating (implying she made up the whole rape story because she was unfaithful and wanted to hide it). Women arrive to the police station with underwear soaked with blood, bruises on their bodies and tears in their vaginas and only one of their rapists were sentenced to any prison time. The one woman who was successful? She only was because her rapist confessed to the police that he raped her (a confession he’d later try to recant and spread lies around campus that she made the whole thing up, making her a local pariah).

These stories enraged me. But as Krakauer strives to convey throughout this book, Missoula, despite being named “the rape capital of the country” is not this special isolated case. Missoula’s sexual assault numbers are right around the national average. The rage I felt reading this book is rage knowing that this treatment of rape victims, the disbelief and victim blaming and slut shaming, is not a specific problem only affecting Montana.

Reading Missoula, I remembered the case of Steubenville, where 4 high school football players found a girl extremely drunk to the point of unconsciousness at a party and proceeded to strip her and finger her while she was unconscious, posting the entire thing to facebook and twitter like it was a joke. That happened in the state I live in and the story flew around my facebook feed. I remember seeing people I considered friends commenting on how she shouldn’t have gotten so drunk. Where were her parents teaching her how to behave? What was she wearing? People I knew were suddenly regretfully bemoaning how she was ruining these boys lives. The lack of empathy for her was astonishing (“Hey! Responsibility is a two way street! She also bore responsibility to not get so wasted that she couldn’t stop them from doing these things!”). She was unconscious and violated without any form of consent and it was posted all on the internet, but it’s her fault this happened.

Rape culture is not a mythical boogey man word made up by the Evil Feminists out to destroy the manliness of America. Rape culture is having a family member tell me that they hope I would be smart enough not to allow myself into an abusive relationship. Rape culture is having a coworker tell me that if I wear a skirt that is higher than knee length that I’m “giving men the wrong idea.” Rape culture is logging onto facebook and seeing people I went to school with complaining about how “sluts just make up rape allegations to castrate men.” It’s knowing that if you ever find yourself in the horrible situation of being raped, it most likely will be by someone you know, and that you are expected to have followed these “rules” in order to have a chance of being believed:

  1. Do not drink any alcohol in a party setting because even if you only had 2 beers, it’ll be used as evidence that you are a woman of loose morals
  2. Do not dress in any sort of sexually appealing way. How on earth are men expected to not behave like animals and take advantage of you?
  3. Do not express any interest in a man because if you do, even if it was months ago, that’ll be used as permission you’ve given him to violate you. I mean, if you were interested in him at some point, you must have secretly wanted the sex and ergo it isn’t rape.
  4. Do not engage in kissing or any sort of foreplay unless you also want intercourse. Wanted to just make out and cuddle while watching Netflix? Too bad, that desire means that you also are giving permission for him to stick his penis in you. Hey, you liked him enough to kiss him, clearly that means you’re okay with sex!
  5. If you are being raped, make sure you stay awake throughout all of it. If you don’t remember the rape, how can it really be rape? Doesn’t matter if you wake up with your vagina bleeding and bruises on you, you don’t remember being raped so how do you know that you actually were?
  6. If you are being raped and awake, make sure you’re fighting back to the utmost extent you can possibly muster. It doesn’t matter if you’re fearing for your safety or in such a state of shock that you can’t react. If you don’t completely fight back, you must have wanted it.
  7. If you are a man and find yourself getting raped, tough for you. Men don’t get raped! You’re so silly. You must be gay and trying to hide it. Wait, you’re a man and claiming you were raped by a woman? That biologically is impossible! Men cannot ever NOT want sex!! There’s no way a stupid woman could have forced you into having sex, you are such a pussy.

Missoula is an extremely important book. I honestly wish everyone could read it. My hope would be that reading these stories and seeing the facts that Krakauer presents that we could slowly start to undo the culture of disbelief and victim blaming we’ve developed around victims of sexual assault. But even thinking back to the people in my life I referenced earlier, the family member, the facebook friend, the person in my workplace, I know in my head that reading this book would not change their viewpoints. The statistics and facts, all thoroughly researched and well cited, would be dismissed as biased propaganda. The women are either liars or also partially to blame for their assault.

Missoula does not offer much in the way of positive hope for the future. These systems of questioning the validity of women and blaming them for their assault is so ingrained in our society by now that there’s not much any one person can do. But hopefully if more and more people start becoming aware of how we as a society treat victims of rape and assault and start questioning why we are so quick to blame the woman for her pain, maybe eventually books like Missoula won’t need to be written.

Pre-teens are the worst, a review of The Troop by Nick Cutter

The Troop follows 5 boy scouts and their Scout Leader partaking in a yearly camping trip up in the Canadian wilderness, on an isolated island. While on the island, an emaciated man devouring everything he can find (dirt, algae, animals, etc) stumbles across Tom and his scouts and then all hell breaks loose. One by one, the boys and Tim begin to realize that the man was infected with some sort of creature, a creature that they are now exposed to with no way to escape the island.

Look, I don’t want to beat around the bush, I hated this book. About 50 pages into the book I figured out that I hated this book and was too stubborn to just put it down and walk away. And so I continued on, flipping page after page, hoping at some point everything would click and my ever growing loathing of our main characters would dissipate. Surprising no one, this did not happen. Mainly because our main characters continued to be intolerable to be around.

Imagine a stereotypical 11-13 year old boy. Puberty is about to hit, hormones have begun to course through children’s bodies and they aren’t anywhere near mature enough yet to realize how horrible and obnoxious they are being. And in adolescent boys particular, you get an unhealthy mix of aggression and alpha male dominance as they try to figure out who will lead their social circle. Their sex drive is revving to life and so now the previous gross out talk of boogers and poop become masturbation and well, we still are talking about poop except now we’re calling it shit because WE’RE MEN. And unfortunately, these are our protagonists for the entire book.

That’s not to say every 11-13 year old boy is the Absolute Worst TM but the characters in this book have no nuance.

Kent is the “leader” of the group, alpha male complex in full effect due to his cop father giving him a heightened sense of self-importance. He refuses to show Tim the scoutmaster any respect because “adults are f**ked anyway.” He bullies the other kids and asserts his dominance in stereotypical insulting ways.

Ephraim is the kid with anger management problems. Constantly about to fly into a rage, hates life, hates everyone around him, fantasizes about hurting them.

Max is Ephraim’s best friend and polar opposite, quiet and unassuming. He’s reliable and probably the least horrible of the bunch.

Shelley is creepy. That’s his defining characteristic. No one really likes him because everyone picks up on the unsettling vibe he always gives off. He hangs around in the background until he does something particularly strange to remind everyone that he probably will grow up to be the teenager who sets up cameras in the girl’s locker room.

Finally, we have Newton our nerrrrrddddddddddddd. He’s fat. He’s constantly bullied by everyone else. His mother calls him a “sensitive boy” and babies him. He brings up facts and rules in a pitiful meek voice and gets beaten for his neediness.

In a horror book or film, normally the readers should be endeared to at least one of our protagonists. We know pretty much everyone is going to die and don’t care about half of them, but there should be a couple character who we like and want to see succeed. And unfortunately, I don’t care about any one of these blundering idiots. They’re just too one-dimensional and that dimension is simplistic teenage boy. We have a conversation early on with all the boys arguing about whether they’d want to jerk off a donkey or “finger bang” a girl in their class who is rumored to have given someone else a hand job. Everyone picks the donkey because LOL. EVEN ANIMALS ARE BETTER THAN SLUTS AMIRITE???

::sighs::

If you don’t mind caricatures of over masculine teenage boys then you might like this book. The pacing and atmosphere when the creature was doing it’s thing was well developed. Descriptions used to set the eeriness of the creature were genuinely unsettling. With other characters, I would have better enjoyed the way the boys start observing each other for the slightest hint of infection with increasing suspicion. Someone’s stomach is rumbling, is that legitimate hunger or signs that the creature is slowly taking over and turning him into an ever consuming and dangerous fiend? But unfortunately every time we got hints and threats of infection, I was simply glad to know that we’d soon be eliminating another idiot from the troop.

Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch, book two in the Gentlemen Bastards Sequence

Nearly a year ago, in October of 2014, I read the Lies of Locke Lamora and immediately fell in love. The characters of the Gentlemen Bastards took hold of my heart and put me on an emotional roller coaster of a journey. I cheered as they schemed and swindled their way through the city of Camorr, raged at The Grey King and Falconer as they took away characters I loved and cheered on Jean and Locke in their final attempts to overcome the villains and avenge their friends. By the time the book was over, I had a new favorite book to put in my top ten list. But more importantly, I felt satisfied with the journey I just went on. We had a real sense of loss and achievement and the ending, while certainly leaving room for further adventures with the Bastards, wrapped nearly every loose thread up. I was left wondering, “where do we go from here?”

This is what Red Seas Under Red Skies faced from the beginning. As a follow up to Lies of Locke Lamora, it needed to keep enough of the same tone and structure that made us love its predecessor so much, but also craft its own identity as a sequel. For the most part, the book succeeds. Jean and Locke continue to grow as characters in a logical and dynamic way, we introduce new locations and change up the plot so it’s not simply a rehash of Lies, and we introduce new characters whom I love to interact with our two main protagonists. But at the same time, there’s a lot Red Seas Under Red Skies does that structurally is very similar to Lies but doesn’t do as successfully.

This is a non-spoilery review so I won’t get too much in depth as to what I feel didn’t work that well in Seas, but I am writing a spoiler filled in depth comparison of the two books in case anyone cares to read that.

I love most of the secondary characters in Seas. Pirate Captain Zamira is a force to be reckoned with, resolving any qualms I had regarding Lies and its sparse offering of important female characters. Requin and Selendri are much more competent of marks than the Don and Donia were in the previous books, keeping Locke on his toes throughout his primary scheme involving them. Zamira’s pirate crew is a colorful and entertaining lot, standout being the most badass first mate ever, Ezri.

The villains leave something to be desired. Similarly to Lies, about a third of the way into the book, we introduce a roadblock in Jean and Locke’s conmen scheming ways and put them in a situation where they have to deal with this new villainous force. Only he’s not the most threatening. Unlike the Grey King and Falconer, I never particularly felt afraid of this villain and the power he supposedly wields over the Bastard’s head. The bondsmagi in theory show up now and then but don’t play nearly as pivotal a role as I hoped given how Lies ended with the fate of the Falconer. If they had played a more active role in the challenges Jean and Locke face, I feel this new threat would have elevated the book in my mind.

There’s one last part I want to mention which unfortunately doesn’t seem to fit anywhere else because it’s an extraneous plot thread that has nothing to do with the main story. Sabatha. I said it in my review of Lies and I’ll say it again here, but what is the point of Sabatha? In Lies she was mentioned as clearly an important part of Locke’s past that caused him a lot of pain and regret. We didn’t learn anything about her so I assumed it was set up for later books but then we did literally the exact same thing in Seas. We occasionally mentioned Sabatha, Locke got all angsty and upset and then we stopped talking about her. What is the deal with Sabatha? Is she dead? Thought to be dead so we can bring her back later? If that’s the case, how am I supposed to emotionally react to this “reveal” when I don’t know anything concrete about her to begin with? Is she just… I don’t know, off somewhere else being a swindler? What is her history with Locke? Why is he so hurt and upset whenever her name is mentioned? We’ve gone two books now with offhand mentions of this mythical person but nothing for me to care about regarding her alive/dead/lost/ran away status.

Red Seas Under Red Skies is most definitely not the same book as The Lies of Locke Lamora, and that’s okay. People going into this expecting something as good as the first book will be disappointed. It’s not as good, but I don’t think it ever could be. That doesn’t mean the book is bad. Red Seas Under Red Skies is an entertaining adventure all on its own, and a different kind of adventure than Lies was. The kind of adventure that involves pirates and plunder rather than conmen style schemes. The side characters are vibrant and fun to be around and I grew attached and concerned about the safety of a good number of them. The tension is not as high as it was in Lies, but that’s alright. The story of Jean and Locke continues on and left me excited to read book three.

The Girl with All the Gifts: a review

For all her albeit short life, Melanie’s days begin the exact same way. She wakes up in her cell and waits for the Sergeant to bark “TRANSFER.” She then gets up, sits in her chair while Sergeant and his men strap her in, legs, arms and head. He wheels her down the hallways so she can attend classes with her fellow children, all also in their respective chairs, learning about a range of subjects from Greek mythology to the population growth of local English cities. She must never be touched. Every sunday she and the children receive intense chemical baths and sit in the dark, waiting. Occasionally the head of the compound, Dr. Caldwell, requests to see some of the children.

They never come back.

Melanie yearns to know more of the outside world, but her only friendly confidante, her teacher Ms. Justineau, has been getting more and more depressed, and Dr. Caldwell’s requests have been becoming more frequent.

If this summary at all sounds interesting to you, and you enjoy sci-fi/dystopian/horror-esque novels you should read this book. I would love to say more, in fact will say more, but here I have to put up a spoiler warning. Normally I don’t consider plot points to be spoilers if they happen in the first quarter of the book, but normally also those plot points are mentioned somewhere in the book summary and don’t change your worldview on what’s happening. About a quarter of the way through this book, a reveal is made about the world we’re in and why the children are being treated the way they are. I loved this book. It was an excellent exploration of the price humanity pays in order to protect itself and the moral quandaries that comes with that price. Butttt…….. to talk at all about why I loved it so much, I have to let you know about that one reveal. So if you will be bothered by that or want to go into the book blind like I did, stop now, know that I loved the book, and come back if you want AFTER you’ve finished it.

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