BOOK REVIEW: The Phlebotomist, by Chris Panatier

BOOK REVIEW: The Phlebotomist, by Chris PanatierTitle: The Phlebotomist by Chris Panatier
Published by Angry Robot
Published: September 8th 2020
Genres: Fiction, Thriller, Science Fiction
Pages: 344
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Publisher
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

In a near future where citizens are subject to the mandatory blood draw, government phlebotomist Willa Wallace witnesses an event that makes her question her whole world.To recover from a cataclysmic war, the Harvest was created to pass blood to those affected by radiation.

But this charitable act has led to a society segregated entirely by blood type. Patriot thanks and rewards your generous gift based on the compatibility of your donation, meaning that whoever can give to the most, gets the most back. While working as a reaper for the draw, Willa chances upon an idea to resurrect an obsolete collection technique that could rebalance the city.
But in her quest to put this in motion, she instead uncovers a secret that threatens her entire foundations…

Chris Panatier’s The Phlebotomist is a wild dystopian ride that took a turn I was not expecting but by which I was completely thrilled. It starts out as a Bladerunner-esque dystopia in which people must sell their blood to Patriot, the government, in order to survive and to help those in the Grey Zone, an area suffering from the aftermath of bombardment. This differs from the usual dystopian fare in that the main character is a grandmother, and I truly love seeing older characters in the spotlight. Yes, the younger ones can be fun, but having the experience of life while also learning that you don’t know as much about the role you play in society is such a refreshing thing for me to see.

If you’re bothered by blood and medical terminology, definitely be aware that this has a lot of it. It’s so well done that even I was feeling a bit squeamish at some of the scenes, but I think that added to the grim reality of selling blood every month to the government for survival. I loved the medical definitions related to blood at the beginning of each chapter that kind of clued into where the story was going. Around a hundred pages in is where the twist happens, and it’s better if you don’t know what it is, because that’s when the puzzle of this future world starts piecing itself together and making its reveal. I went into this only knowing it was about a phlebotomist in a dystopian setting, and that twist got me excited to finish reading this to see how everything ended. All of the characters brought so much life to the story, and the unusual cast was another reason I was hooked, even though I knew no one could possibly be safe.

While this isn’t your typical gritty dystopia, I recognized a lot of throwbacks to dystopian favorites while also being fresh and innovative. There are a lot of WTF moments that pulsed throughout because it’s full of secrets, political intrigue, and class exploration that feels so relevant toward today, especially with COVID, society collapse, and its criticism of governments exacting control over their citizens. Because it blends together elements of so many different genres — thrillers, science fiction, mysteries, and dystopias — I think it’ll appeal to a wide variety of readers. It’s definitely a fun, fast read, and I hope someday there’s another book set in this universe! It reads as a standalone with enough of an open to add more.

Many thanks to Angry Robot for sending me a complimentary review copy! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: The Echo Wife, by Sarah Gailey

BOOK REVIEW: The Echo Wife, by Sarah GaileyTitle: The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey
Published by Tor Books
Published: February 16 2021
Genres: Fiction, Thriller, Science Fiction
Pages: 256
Format: ARC
Source: Netgalley, Publisher
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

The Echo Wife is a non-stop thrill ride, perfect for readers of Big Little Lies and enthusiasts of Killing Eve and Westworld­

Martine is a genetically cloned replica made from Evelyn Caldwell’s award-winning research. She’s patient and gentle and obedient. She’s everything Evelyn swore she’d never be.

And she’s having an affair with Evelyn’s husband.

Now, the cheating bastard is dead, and the Caldwell wives have a mess to clean up. Good thing Evelyn Caldwell is used to getting her hands dirty.

When they said all happy families are alike, this can’t be what they meant...

Sarah Gailey’s The Echo Wife reminds me so much of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein crossed with a domestic thriller in the sense of examining the question: how much responsibility do we carry for our creations?

Evelyn Caldwell’s research leads to genetically cloned replicas of people, and her entire life is shattered when she discovers that her husband stole her research and created her clone – a “better” version of herself so that he could have what he wanted out of their marriage. Evelyn is a workaholic who prefers to work to starting a family, so when she discovers that Nathan, her husband, is wanting a divorce because he has created an Evelyn clone named Martine who is everything Evelyn couldn’t be for him – including being the mother of his child. The twist in general domestic thrillers usually ends here, but this is where the story actually begins.

Clones, by design, should not be able to get pregnant, but Martine clearly is carrying Nathan’s child. This is only the survace of the story, and it dives deeper and deeper into uncanny territory the more Evelyn gets to know Martine. Everything takes a complete turn when Evelyn receives a call from Martine saying she has killed Nathan. The only way the two decide to cover this up as Martine’s existence, and pregnancy, are illegal, is to create a clone of Nathan. As they bury and re-bury Nathan’s body in the backyard, Evelyn and Martine realize they have only scratched the surface of what Nathan has done.

I loved this so much. I’ve loved every single book Gailey has written, and I’m sure I’ll love everything they’ll ever write. They have such a knack for taking a trope, running with it, and twisting it so that you have to continue reading to see how everything unfolds and resolves. This is one of my favorite science fiction and thriller books I’ve read in a bit, and I’ll be recommending this one to everyone on its release in February. And I’m sorry you have to wait that long to get your hands on this, but believe me, it’s well worth your time and consideration, because I hope, like me, you’ll continue thinking about the nature of personal responsibility in the aftermath of creating something.

Thank you to Tor and Netgalley for an early copy to read and review! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Fable, by Adrienne Young

BOOK REVIEW: Fable, by Adrienne YoungTitle: Fable by Adrienne Young
Series: Fable #1
Published by Wednesday Books
Published: September 1st 2020
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 368
Format: ARC
Source: Netgalley, Publisher
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

As the daughter of the most powerful trader in the Narrows, the sea is the only home seventeen-year-old Fable has ever known. It’s been four years since the night she watched her mother drown during an unforgiving storm. The next day her father abandoned her on a legendary island filled with thieves and little food. To survive she must keep to herself, learn to trust no one and rely on the unique skills her mother taught her. The only thing that keeps her going is the goal of getting off the island, finding her father and demanding her rightful place beside him and his crew. To do so Fable enlists the help of a young trader named West to get her off the island and across the Narrows to her father.

But her father’s rivalries and the dangers of his trading enterprise have only multiplied since she last saw him and Fable soon finds that West isn't who he seems. Together, they will have to survive more than the treacherous storms that haunt the Narrows if they're going to stay alive.

Welcome to a world made dangerous by the sea and by those who wish to profit from it. Where a young girl must find her place and her family while trying to survive in a world built for men.

You weren’t made for this world, Fable.

I have a weakness for pirate and pirate-related stories, especially when they’re female character centered. Adrienne Young’s Fable is the first book in a duology that follows a young woman named Fable who has been left on an island by her father with the directive to get off that island. Once she gets off the island by spending the last of her coin, Fable begins to realize there is so much more to the world in which she lives and to which she discovers she belongs than she had ever imagined.

As a dredger, Fable dives to collect stones in the sea, and she keeps to herself that she has a knack for discerning the truth about stones and gems. During her voyage on The Marigold, the crew learns that Fable’s stone-scrying ability isn’t just a hunch or a knack; she could be a stone sage, one who intuitively knows everything about a particular stone and its value. Her abilities as a stone sage tie into her family, and the more she learns about her father who left her on the island and her mother who died in a wreck the more she learns about herself and who she is – and who she’s meant to be.

To Fable, nobody is who they present themselves to be. Everyone, including her, carries secrets that are only revealed in time. The book itself is slow to open and slow to make these revelations, and once they are revealed I was left both satisfied and wanting more. By the time the action picked up and carried me through the last third of the novel, it was over and left on a cliffhanger that made me glad the sequel is releasing in only a few months! Each of the characters lean more toward the morally grey area that seems relatively popular in YA fantasy these days, and this leans into the grimdark style of fantasy too. It’s a harsh world, and you can only survive if you keep the soft, quiet things close to your heart.

Even though the world-building takes up quite a chunk of this first installment of a duology, it never felt unnecessary. The tension created from the first line ties all of this story together (and hopefully through the sequel!), and the tension kept me turning the pages to see where and how it would all tie together. I was not disappointed, and I can’t wait to see how all of this ends. If you like Pirates of the Caribbean and The Princess Bride, I think this one will be right up your alley.

Thank you to Wednesday Books and Netgalley for an advance copy to read and review! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire, by Dan Hanks

BOOK REVIEW: Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire, by Dan HanksTitle: Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire by Dan Hanks
Published by Angry Robot
Published: September 8th 2020
Genres: Historical, Fantasy, Fiction
Pages: 380
Format: Mass Market
Source: Publisher
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

An ex-Spitfire pilot is dragged into a race against a shadowy government agency to unlock the secrets of the lost empire of Atlantis...

In post-war 1952, the good guys are supposed to have won. But not everything is as it seems when ex-Spitfire pilot Captain Samantha Moxley is dragged into a fight against the shadowy US government agency she used to work for. Now, with former Nazis and otherworldly monsters on her trail, Captain Moxley is forced into protecting her archaeologist sister in a race to retrieve two ancient keys that will unlock the secrets of a long-lost empire - to ensure a civilisation-destroying weapon doesn't fall into the wrong hands. But what will she have to sacrifice to save the world?

It felt like those in the west had a talent for skipping straight out of one war and into another, as though they had a lust for it, while the locals would be left to clean it up when they had gone. More and more, the glorious ideas of “Empire” were revealed to be nothing more than fancy dressing when you saw the realities of those who came to suffer beneath its polished boots, blinkered ambition, and secret agendas.

Dan Hanks’s Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire is a action-packed adventure that reminded me a lot of a cross between Marvel’s Captain America and the Indiana Jones universe with a dash of The Mummy and National Treasure. Captain Moxley is a take-no-shit heroine who races to protect her sister from a shady section of the United States government involving Nazis, genetically modified beings, and aliens? Yes, this novel is incredibly pulpy and uses a lot of familiar tropes to the genre, but it’s a page-turner with a lot of heart and a lot of insight that made me want to see where Captain Moxley was headed.

One of the things I liked the most about this was that Hanks does explore colonialism and the “empire” in archeological history and what that means for everyone involved. It’s an important conversation to have when we consider how many, if not all, of the artifacts of our museums come from colonialist “exploration.” I loved the dynamic between Samantha and her sister Jessica, and I thought the balance of being a protective sibling while also learning to let the other make choices because she’s her own person was well done. I also loved the genderbent characters and how those flips toyed with the genre’s tropes and expectations. Even though I took my time reading it (thirty minutes for lunch only leaves for bite-sized reading sprints), I found it easy to follow and compulsively readable with a lot of fun surprises throughout. It’s pulp fiction at its best and pulls in so much of what I like reading in genre fiction and making it new, too.

This book feels like an action-adventure film or even a video game, and once you’ve strapped yourself in, you’re in for a ride. There are a few anachronisms, mostly in the use of language, but in the scope of the novel, it’s not entirely noticeable at all in the midst of it all. Because it’s so cinematic, I think these anachronisms are to be expected. But if that sort of thing bothers you, then it’s something to be aware of!

I really hope to see more from Hanks and this world he’s created with Captain Moxley, and this ends with a set-up for a sequel, so I hope there’s one coming out in the future! I’d love to see how Captain Moxley continues to handle her relationship with her sister and the discovery/exploration of Atlantis and everything else that has come with finding those amulets and the Hall of Records.

Thank you to Angry Robot for sending me a complimentary copy of this book to review and feature! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Branwell, by Douglas A. Martin

BOOK REVIEW: Branwell, by Douglas A. MartinTitle: Branwell: A Novel of the Brontë Brother by Douglas A. Martin, Darcey Steinke
Published by Soft Skull
Published: July 7th 2020
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 256
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

For readers of Michael Cunningham's The Hours and Madeline Miller's Song of Achilles, this genre-bending exploration of the tragic figure of Branwell Brontë and the dismal, dazzling landscape that inspired his sisters to greatness is now available in a new edition with an introduction by Darcey Steinke.
Branwell Brontë―brother of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne―has a childhood marked by tragedy and the weight of expectations. After the early deaths of his mother and a beloved older sister, he is kept away from school and tutored at home by his father, a curate, who rests all his ambitions for his children on his only son. Branwell grows up isolated in his family’s parsonage on the moors, learning Latin and Greek, being trained in painting, and collaborating on endless stories and poems with his sisters.
Yet while his sisters go on to write Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and Agnes Grey, Branwell wanders from job to job, growing increasingly dependent on alcohol and opium and failing to become a great poet or artist.
With rich, suggestive sentences “perfectly fitted to this famously imaginative, headstrong family” (Publishers Weekly), Branwell is a portrait of childhood dreams, thwarted desire, the confinements of gender―and an homage to the landscape and milieu that inspired some of the most revolutionary works of English literature.

Douglas A. Martin’s Branwell is a queer interpretation of Branwell Bronte’s life, and an interpretation that I found both thought-provoking and stylistic. Martin imagines a Branwell struggling to live up to the expectations he felt as the ‘man of the house’ and ultimately failing on several levels. I think to get the full scope of the novel, the reader must be familiar with the Bronte history and lore, especially knowing that Charlotte destroyed so much of their family’s personal writings and letters after their deaths. It raises the question of what Charlotte was hiding or protecting, and Martin’s novel explores an answer to the question of Branwell. Based on my own research, this novel takes liberties with the life of Branwell, though I feel these liberties were tied in with Martin’s own experiences through revelations in the introduction to this book. I ultimately found the sexual content of this novel disturbing, and the barn scene at the end soured my reading experience because the implied bestiality ended up being all I could think about as it seemed out of place in the context and scope of things.

I do find it interesting to me to have received this almost alongside another title about Branwell’s life and I am looking forward to reading that one as well, and Martin’s seems to be in stark contrast thematically and stylistically to the other book about the affair of “unspeakable acts” Branwell had in his lifetime, as the affair has been referred to as a screen for homosexual activity. If you are interested in queer interpretations of literary figures and stylistic writing, based in fact or toying with it, this may pique your interest, but do be aware of the heavy subject matter.

Many thanks to Soft Skull Press for sending me a complimentary copy to review! All opinions are my own.