the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for the ‘Nicole Kornher-Stace’ Category

I was gonna write one of those really indepth reviews, where I give you all the background on Mallory’s world and “how we got here”. I even had it half written. But then I realized I wasn’t saying the most important thing first, and who the heck wants to read eight paragraphs to finally get to the most important thing, which is:

OMG Firebreak is SO SO SO GOOD. It’s got a TON of stuff going on, and I cried all the time while I was reading the end, a hustle based economy sucks, and when the government makes a few stupid decisions, the consequences last, um, forever. <deep breath> The first half of Firebreak was everything I wanted Ready Player One to be, smashed up with everything I wanted An Absolutely Remarkable Thing to be, and then the story went gloriously off the rails and I when I heard a name that rang a bell I realized I also recognized that sword/gun combo, and I ran and grabbed some other books off my bookshelf because I HAD to read those too all of a sudden. </and breathe>

Imagine if a superhero didn’t know who they were. Or maybe they did know, but they couldn’t escape their employers. Because they aren’t superheroes, they are property. They even have Merch!

Imagine if property decided to steal itself.

Firebreak is one of the best books I’ve read this year. Nicole Kornher-Stace is the best author you haven’t read yet. I love her books so much that I force my husband to read them. He described one of her earlier novels as the best novel he’s read in ten years, maybe ever. That’s it. That’s the review.

Oh, you want some more?

New Liberty City has their own Superheroes! Designed by Stellaxis, the Operatives keep the city safe from the invading corporation, Greenleaf. You can buy merch of the Operatives! They even have their own NPCs in the popular online MMO BestLife! Does your city have its own superheroes? Yeah, didn’t think so!

But the Supersoldier Operatives who are seen as superheroes are not citizens. According to Stellaxis, they aren’t even real people. They don’t even have names, only numbers, like 22, or 05. They were designed and built by Stellaxis, because it is important to Stellaxis to keep their city safe. When your apartment collapses around you, killing everyone you care about, when you are slowing dying of dehydration, Stellaxis will always be there.

Mallory makes part of a living livestreaming BestLife. When internet access is free, and there’s electricity for around 16 hours a day, grinding your way to the top of the charts is a cheap way to make some money, especially if you can score a sponsor who is willing to pay you in cash and water tickets. Oh, didn’t I mention? Stellaxis runs the city, charges for water, and you’ll be in even more debt up to your eyeballs if you end up in a rehydration clinic. People balance multiple jobs and gigs just to buy enough water to not die.


When Mal and Jessa score that unicorn sponsor, they agree to just ignore all the conspiracy theory bullshit the woman is spewing. But when her building completely disappears a few days later? When Mal meets a Supersoldier Operative in real life, streams her encounter, and goes viral? Maybe that disappearing sponsor was on to something after all. Mal doesn’t like attention. She never wanted to go viral.

The Operatives. What happens when you are a superhero and a slave, at the same time? What if you want a different life for yourself? Being a superhero only gets you killed some of the time. And if you are one of the lucky Operatives who didn’t die? It means you watched all your friends die.

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As we slowly unpack books (finally bought some bookcases! And ordered a few more!), I’m reading random books. . . and also ordering a ton of new books.

Out of the manga box, I finished omnibus 2 of XXXHolic, and I’m off to find omnibus 3. This story is so adorable! I’d forgotten how much I adore the main character, Watanuki. He has a huge crush on Himawari, so whenever she’s around he acts like a complete dork, and it’s the cutest. But you can tell, right under the surface, that Watanuki’s got some major trauma that he’s never dealt with. He’s an orphan. He lives with a couple who quite literally took him in, and allow him to sleep in an extra room in their house. He’s employed by Yuko, the Space Witch. He loves cooking. I wonder if cooking is his coping mechanism? Watanuki can see ghosts and spirits, and they are drawn to him. A classmate of his, Domeki, sort of repels spirits. So Watanuki is safe when he’s around Domeki.  What happened to Watanuki’s family?

Domeki has realized he can’t enter Yuko’s home. There is so much unsaid in this story, and I’ve been told that once you get to the big reveals at the end, that everything that was revealed, it was there for you to see for yourself from the beginning, if you know what to look for. Another great thing about manga is that it’s usually a fast read, cuz it’s all pictures!

Speaking of fast reads with great pictures, I’m also reading a brand new manga series (which means uggh, gotta wait months for the next volume!!), called Apothecary Diaries by Natsu Hyuuga. The manga is based on a light novel series. A historical fantasy, the author has mashed together imperial China, ancient Japan, and possibly some Joseon fashion for a slice of life romp with buckets of nuance and so much glorious side eye! Maomao is a servant in the inner court of the Imperial Castle, she’s basically a maid to high ranking concubines. A trained apothecary, Maomao knows maybe a little too much about poisons? And the more Jinshi tries to flirt with her (he’s not interested in her in that way, he just wants her to be interested in him!), the more she gives him the side eye and proves she’s much smarter than she looks. The artwork is beautiful, I love seeing all the dresses and hair ornaments, and then there is all the inner court backstabbing and people trying to subtly kill other people to gain political power! Is the next volume out yet? And have the light novels been translated to English yet? No? That sucks.

While I’m waiting for the 3rd volume of Apothecary Diaries, I’ve got some excellent new stuff to keep me out of trouble:

Now Will Machines Hollow the Beast by Benjanun Sriduangkaew, takes place in the same world as Machine’s Last Testament, which I really enjoyed last year. Not 100% sure what this book is about, but everything Sriduangkaew writes is fantastic, so I’m pretty confident I’m going to enjoy this. I have an eARC of the third book in this series, Shall Machines Divide the Earth, but I’ll likely just buy the paperback of that too, so I can have all three of them on my shelf. Short novels, beautiful prose, sexy people? Godlike AI’s who don’t have much use for humans but are occasionally amused by us? YES PLEASE.

And speaking of must-buy authors, check out this baby! I got Firebreak!! Another book i’m not 100% sure what it’s about, but 200% sure I’m going to love it, because hell yeah Nicole Kohnher-Stace!!! Yeah, so if I buy your book in hardback without even looking at the price, that means I really like what you write.

Now I just gotta find the time to read, do housework, and garden. Sleep? Who needs sleep! And hmmm . . . I could take some vacation time from work . . .

Archivist Wasp, by Nicole Kornher-Stace

published May 2015

where I got it: purchased new

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She’s been told her whole life that she was chosen by the Goddess Catchkeep, that only she and the few like her had the ability to be Catchkeep’s avatar.

 

A ghost told her she’s famous in the underworld, that the dead speak of her skills, her knowledge, and her compassion.

 

When she gained the title of Archivist by poisoning the previous archivist, she took the name Wasp. Her true name has been buried deep.

 

It will take a journey to the underworld for Wasp to realize how much of her life is a lie.  More than just her true name has been buried deep. Under the shrine, under the town, under what passes for civilization are the lost and forgotten secrets of the dead.  The dead rarely speak, but they nearly always communicate, usually by physically attacking living people.

 

As the Archivist, Wasp is responsible for catching any ghosts found in the region, asking them a specific set of questions, keeping them if they are useful, and releasing them if they prove worthless. Violent ghosts are destroyed.  To guide her, she has the notes of the archivists who came before her, some notes are better than others, some archivists collected more knowledge than others. The life of an archivist is usually short and violent, this is not the kind of job you retire from.  There can only be one living Archivist at a time, so their knowledge dies with them.

 

I recently read the soon-to-be-released sequel to Archivist Wasp, Latchkey (July 10th, Mythic Delirium Books) so I’m reading these atmospheric and compelling books backwards. In a way, it’s neat, because I went into Archivist Wasp knowing things about the world that Wasp doesn’t know yet.  Latchkey actually had very little in the way of spoilers for the first book, so it was thrilling to watch Wasp as she learns how the harvesting knife works, and I finally got to see what really happened to the Catchkeep Priest.

 

As expected, Kohnher-Stace’s balanced prose in Archivist Wasp perfectly captures Wasp’s lonesome post-apocalytpic world, just as it exquisitely captures the inhumane violence of Wasp’s life as a temple upstart and then as an Archivist.  Imagine Hunger Games on steroids, where teenagers are viciously murdered in cold blood because there can be only one winner, now crank up the masochism and throw in some angry, hungry, and very confused ghosts.

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Latchkey, by Nicole Kornher-Stace

publishes July 10th 2018

where I got it: received ARC from the publisher (thank you Mythic Delirium!)

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Reading the second book in a series first is like getting to have dessert first.  More than likely the worldbuilding is already done, the characters know what they are about, the author has a clearer idea of where the story is going and what should happen. You might feel a little lost, and your mileage will certainly vary.  But then when you do go back and read the first book, you’ll feel like a psychic, because you’ll know all sorts of details the characters don’t know!

 

Suffice to say, the first thing I did after I finished Nicole Kornher-Stace’s Latchkey was order the first book in the series, Archivist Wasp.

 

Latchkey is part post-apocalyptic, part mythology, part ghost story, and and all perspective shift, told through the lens of  Kornher-Stace’s mastery of prose and evocatively transportive language. This is the kind of sharp vibrant prose that would translate beautifully to an anime or a movie.  Highly recommended for fans of Robert Jackson Bennett’s Divine Cities series, fans of N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series, and anyone who enjoys a gorgeously told story about horrible things that should never have happened.

 

With metaphors that shouldn’t make sense but do, a poetry on the weight of stories that became legend that became religion, and a world where a hypervigilant 6th sense itch is the only thing that will save your life, nothing in Latchkey stays merely on the page. When Isabel was afraid, I was afraid. When she couldn’t breathe, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. When she is about to drop dead of exhaustion, I felt tired and fatigued. She never lost hope, so I didn’t either.  When I say this was an exhausting read, I mean that as the highest form of praise.

 

Latchkey takes place a few years after the events of Korner-Stace’s 2015 award winning Archivist Wasp.  Isabel and the other ex-upstarts are still getting used to the fact that they won’t have to kill their friends to survive, that they won’t ever again have to live a life of violence and fear.  The old tradition of the archivists has come to an end, even if the PTSD is still at the surface.  Isabel and the other girls need to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives. In the meantime, they’ll still care for the Catchkeep Shrine, still say the words of their goddess, still have hope that the townspeople of Sweetwater can come to trust them.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.