Book Review: Warrior Women

warrior womenWarrior Women
Edited by Paula Guran
Anthology/Science Fiction/Fantasy/Military Fiction
375 pages
Published 2015

This is an older anthology, but I recognized a lot of the authors in it, and I was excited to see a sci-fi anthology centered on war but starring women. The book is divided into five sections; Swords (& Spears & Arrows & Axes) and Sorcery focuses on the more standard fantasy warriors – knights, and mages, and the like in fantasy worlds. The next section, Just Yesterday & Perhaps Just Beyond Tomorrow, is closer to contemporary fiction, with a story set during WWII, and a drone pilot, and then an alien invasion of Earth. Somewhere Between Myth & Possibility is like a combination of sci-fi and fantasy; there are space ships and alternate dimensions and witches. The fourth section is Space Aria, and it is what it sounds like – space opera. Pretty straight sci-fi. It’s the fifth section that has the most thought-provoking pieces. Will No War End All War? centers stories about the cost of war. And it’s a little depressing, to be honest. It’s a heavy topic, so that’s unsurprising, but it left me in a low emotional place when I shut the book.

Warrior Women is a really interesting book, with twenty-four different stories examining different aspects of war. Some stories are told by soldiers, some by scientists, some by commanders, some by the sisters and daughters of soldiers. The book does a really good job of examining the subject from all angles. I am eager to see what my husband, as a former Marine, thinks of the book. I can’t say that I enjoyed the book, exactly, but it gave me a LOT to think about. And books that do that are just as important as escapist fantasy.

From the cover of Warrior Women:

From fantastic legends and science fictional futures come compelling tales of powerful women – or those who discover strength they did not know they possessed – who fight because they must, for what they believe in, for those they love, to simply survive, or who glory in battle itself. Fierce or fearful, they are courageous and honorable – occasionally unscrupulous and tainted – but all warriors worthy of the name!

Book Review: The Poppy War

poppy warThe Poppy War
by R. F. Kuang
Asian Military Fantasy
530 pages
Published May 2018

Have you ever read a book that is so good you don’t know what to say about it? It’s taken me almost two weeks to even attempt this review because I just don’t know what to write. The Poppy War is your typical story of downtrodden, disadvantaged girl testing into the highest school in the land and gaining the opportunities and privileges that come with that, but then the book takes a sharp twist into war. Rin doesn’t exactly get the most typical of educations, even before war breaks out. And when war breaks out, the school is disbanded, the students getting flung all over the land to where the government thinks they will help the most. For Rin, that’s joining The Cike. The Bizarre Children. The division of people who can do….things. Things the rest of the military isn’t comfortable with. The Cike can call on the powers of gods, and doing so makes them not-quite-untouchables. Rin, who was never short on resentment before this, grows ever more resentful.

Rin is an interesting character; she’s been hard done by, yes, but she makes decisions that only make things harder on herself. So I feel for her a little, but at the same time, girl. Check yourself. What’s been done to you doesn’t justify what you plan to do to others. I am hoping she comes to see that in the next book, because her rage and need for vengeance definitely gets the best of her in this one.

The Poppy War is an excellently written blend of military fantasy, epic fantasy, and coming-of-age novel. Unlike some books, where the military aspect far overshadows the characters, leaving them flat, Poppy War doesn’t ignore the characters to focus on the bigger picture. It’s a very good mix of both close-up focus on characters, fights, battles, and zoomed-out strategy and war. It’s probably the best military fantasy I’ve read, and the Asian aspect of it makes it even better. So much military fantasy is western European, or Steampunk, or both. I’ve been finding more and more Asian and African fantasy, and I am SO HERE FOR IT. I need to try to find more South American fantasy. I know it’s out there.

I will definitely be watching for the next book in this series, because it’s awesome.

From the cover of The Poppy War:

She is a peasant.
She is a student.
She is a soldier.
She is a goddess.

When Rin aced the Keju – the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to study at the academies – it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who always thought they’d be able to marry Rin off to further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was now finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard – the most elite military school in the Nikara Empire – was even more surprising.

But surprises aren’t always good.

Being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Rin is targeted from the outset by rival classmates because of her color, poverty, and gender. Driven to desperation, she discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power – an aptitude for the nearly mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive – and that mastering control over her powers could mean more than just surviving school.

For even though the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied the Nikara Empire for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people in the Empire would rather forget their painful history, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away.

Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god who has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her her humanity.

And it may already be too late.

Book Review: The Guns Above

the guns aboveThe Guns Above
by Robyn Bennis
Steampunk
351 pages
Published 2017

The Guns Above is what I’d call hard Steampunk. It’s about the mechanics of the airship, and the strategies of war, far more than about the characters. There’s little to no character development; Bernat, described as a “shameless flirt” in the cover blurb, really only flirts once, and that with Josette’s mother.

I confess to being disappointed with this book. I was expecting something more character driven, and instead what I got was Steampunk military fiction. There was a LOT of violence, injury, and death, as you’d expect in a real war, especially a war fought with rifles and sabers and cavalry. With the exception of the airships, this is a close-combat kind of war. Rifles are a new-fangled innovation; most people are still using muskets and bayonets. Pistols are rare. Airships are the best technological advancement either side has made, and they’re dependent on bladders of lighter-than-air gas and wooden frameworks. They’re fragile enough a single cannon blast, if aimed right, can take out the entire contraption.

The cover blurb makes it sound as if there could be a romance between Josette and Bernat – nope. Not in the least. Bernat is conscripted by his uncle (the General) to find some dirt on Josette that will let the General demote her without incurring the wrath of the people who view her as a war hero. Bernat’s entirely okay with doing this until some point in theĀ  book where he changes his mind for no discernible reason. If he’s decided that Josette is a worthy Captain, I wish that had made it onto the page as a motivation.

And WHY were they at war? Even the characters struggle to explain it. They’re just perpetually at war for no good reason.

The action was good. The strategies were good. The characters and world-building fell very, very flat.

From the cover of The Guns Above:

THEY SAY IT’S NOT THE FALL THAT KILLS YOU.

For Josette Dupre, the Aerial Signal Corps’s first female airship captain, it might just be a bullet in the back.

On top of patrolling the front lines, she must also contend with a crew who doubts her expertise, a new airship that is an untested death trap, and the foppish aristocrat Lord Bernat, a gambler and shameless flirt with the military know-how of a thimble. Bernat’s own secret assignment is to catalog her every moment of weakness and indecision.

So when the enemy makes an unprecedented move that could turn the tide of the war, can Josette deal with Bernat, rally her crew, and survive long enough to prove herself?

Book Review: An American Family

americanfamilyAn American Family: A Memoir of Hope and Sacrifice
by Khizr Khan
Memoir
271 pages
Published 2017

Like many people, I was inspired by the Khizr Khan’s speech at the Democratic Convention last year, and appalled by Trump’s reaction. As a Marine wife, the family members left behind when a service member dies get my utmost sympathy and compassion. That was my biggest fear while my husband was in the Marines, and it’s still a very emotional memory to look back on. So when I heard that Khan was writing a book, I knew I HAD to read it. I put a hold request in at the library before the book was published, and I’m glad I did. The book is definitely one of my favorites of 2017. (One of my next posts will be a round up of my favorites from this year.)

An American Family follows the Khans’ journey from Pakistan, to Dubai, to Texas, Maryland, and finally Virginia. And it’s fascinating. He says in the beginning of the book that he wrote it to answer the question he’s constantly asked: why do you love America? Why are you a Patriot? He couldn’t answer it in a few short sentences. This book is his answer, and what an answer it is. It’s impossible to summarize this book – it must be read.

It’s a very easy read – it flows beautifully, and Khan tells a story well. It’s easy, at least, until you get to the point where their son dies in action. Perhaps it wouldn’t have such an emotional effect on someone else, but that, and its aftermath, was pretty hard for me to read about. The event is important, however. Its repercussions ripple out through the Khans’ lives and affect everything they touch.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Especially if you’re American, and no matter where on the political spectrum you fall, this book is important. It might give you a different view on immigrants.

From the cover of An American Family:

“I am an American patriot not because I was born here but because I was not. I embraced American freedoms, raised my children to cherish and revere them, and lost a son who swore an oath to defend them, because I come from a place where they do not exist.”

In fewer than three hundred words, Muslim American Gold Star father Khizr Khan electrified viewers around the world when he took the stage at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. And when he offered to lend Donald Trump his own much-read and dog-eared pocket Constitution, his gesture perfectly encapsulated the feelings of millions. But who was that man, standing beside his wife, extolling the promises and virtues of the U.S. Constitution?

In this urgent and timeless immigrant story, we learn that Khizr Khan has been many things. He was the oldest of ten children born to farmers in Pakistan, and a curious and thoughtful boy who listened rapt as his grandfather recited Rumi beneath the moonlight. He was a university student who read the Declaration of Independence and was awestruck by what might be possible in life. He was a hopeful suitor, awkwardly but earnestly trying to win the heart of a woman far out of his league. He was a brilliant and diligent young family man who worked tow jobs to save enough money to put himself through Harvard Law School. He was a loving father who, having instilled in his children the ideals that brought him and his wife to America – the sense of shared dignity and mutual responsibility – tragically lost his son, an Army captain killed while protecting his base camp in Iraq. He was and is a patriot, and a fierce advocate for the rights, dignities, and values enshrined in the American system.

An American Family shows us who Khizr Khan and millions of other American immigrants are, and why – especially in these tumultuous times – we must not be afraid to step forward for what we believe in when it matters most.