A satisfying conclusion to the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, Dreams of Gods and Monsters follows hard on the heels of Days of Blood and Starlight in embracing the themes of war and redemption over the overwrought romance, although this inevitably features too. I think I'd have loved this if I had met it in my early/mid teens.

I'm a bit too cynical and crusty to get excited about YA romance tropes and narrative arcs now, but the finale – as the rest of the trilogy – is diverting and entertaining. Laini Taylor writes good fluff and if quite a lot still feels like wish-fulfilment, I remain amused that she turned this in on itself in Daughter of Smoke and Bone by making it clear that even within the bounds of her own tale – where wishes are possible – it is rampant wish fulfilment, and one disapproved of by the wish-granter at that.

Points for introducing angels of all colours, a whiff of a suggestion that angels are not all heterosexual (introduced if not explored) and for strong women outnumbering the strong men, with romantic relationships that make them happier rather than more capable. Further points for tackling some of the difficulties of forging an alliance between mortal enemies, given what past acts must be over-looked or forgiven and what behaviours must be changed for the future; points lost for this feeling more than a little simplified (but hey, this is firmly YA fiction; I'll cut it some slack).

That said, I was mildly irritated to have

echoThe ill-fated Ishiguro mission set space exploration back decades. Years later, the Hyvonen twins (students of Guy Singer, the only ‘real’ scientist aboard Ishiguro) achieve the funding and the mandate to retrace the failed mission’s footsteps in order to discover the nature of the Anomaly that Singer wanted to study – and which appears to be moving closer to Earth.

The short version: some good character work (especially on the lead women), clear definition of 4 cultures on an alien world (1 alien) including different takes on gender and sexuality, and interesting ideas (cultural isolation, culture exchange, managing the impact of high tech on low tech society, and re-casting science as magic). On the down side, it's flabby, I couldn't help but feel it was lazy in the world-building, and it's overly simplistic in its conclusions. Ultimately entertaining but not stellar.

For those who can bear it:

unnamedmidwifeI picked this up in the wake of links highlighting award nominees beyond this year’s poisonous Hugo debate. Winner of this year’s Philip K Dick award, The Book of the Unnamed Midwife is a brutal apocalyptic novel set in a nearly-now. The world has been ravaged by a flu-like sickness that has spread like wildfire, killing 98% of infected men – and more women.

Ok, I’ve taken the hit so you don’t have to. The rumors about this being oh-so dry? They aren’t lying.

Three-Body started well, with a fascinating glimpse into the crimes against science committed during the Cultural Revolution. It continued well, setting up a mysterious ‘why are our top scientists committing suicide?’ thriller set in the modern day. It’s an interesting cross-cultural experience with the seeds of good characters and interesting stories.

Red Planet RunA reluctant Star  and her sulky twin teenagers are sent to Mars by her Machiavellian boss to investigate the traces of a possible past civilisation. A botched landing leaves them on the wrong side of the planet, and they soon realise a vicious enemy from the Belt is hard on their heels. Can Star fix her relationship with her kids, survive a loony and solve the mystery of the Cydonian ruins? Of course she can. She’s Alaskan.

Book cover: Orthe - Chronicles of Carrick V by Mary Gentle (Golden Witchbreed / Ancient Light)Ancient Light continues the epic world-building of Golden Witchbreed, giving us a good look at the Southern Continent to explain the fragile balance of power before the action returns to the Hundred Thousand for the devastating final act.

This is great stuff, but ultimately a tough sell and not one for readers seeking happy escapism. I think Ancient Light is a book that needs to be read in the context of the time it was written (the 1980s) to be fully appreciated – while it works on its own terms, the themes gain resonance when you keep corporate greed and the Cold War in mind.

Book cover: Orthe - Chronicles of Carrick V by Mary Gentle (Golden Witchbreed / Ancient Light)I didn’t mean to read this, but I’m ever so glad I did – it’s an excellent book and a great introduction to Mary Gentle.

Earth has mastered FTL travel, and sent diplomats and xeno-teams all over the galaxy to establish relations with our alien neighbours. Relatively inexperienced Lynne Christie is sent to the enigmatic world of Orthe / Carrick V when the previous envoy dies – in part, she soon realises, because she is expendable.