Review: Dogs of War by Adrian Tchaikovsky

dogsofwar_tchaikovskyDogs of War
Adrian Tchaikovsky

Publisher: Head of Zeus Ltd.
Publishing year: 2017
Pages: 346
ISBN: 9781786693891
Language: English
Genre: Science fiction
Rating: 5/5

Rex wants to be a Good Dog. He’s a genetically engineered dog-like creature called a Bioform. He’s obedient, loyal to a fault, and more than capable to follow orders and fight in a war. And that’s what Rex does: follow his Master’s orders and kill enemies. His feedback chip tells him he’s a Good Dog for doing just that. However, Rex discovers that life is not so black and white, and that being a Good Dog is far more complicated.

Initially, Dogs of War starts out with Rex and his pack of other Bioforms just following orders during a war in Campeche, Mexico. Rex’s squadmates are all interesting in their own right. There is Dragon, a genetically engineered lizard who is used against special targets, but is a bit on the lazy side. There’s Honey, a genetically engineered bear who sports a giant cannon and is also very clever. Finally, there is Bees, a hive-mind of bees, which is a fascinating concept of itself. Life is initially simple for Rex; he follows orders, and commands his squad to fulfill those orders to the best of their ability. Then the plot kicks in and Rex finds himself having to make decisions on his own. But how do you decide what’s the best course of action? How can you be a Good Dog when no one tells you what to do? Can you be a Good Dog when your Master is bad?

Rex is a very endearing main character. Despite the fact that he’s deadly and that he has killed a lot of people, there is a certain innocence in his world view. When he slips his Master’s control, you see him not only agonize over what he should do and how to decide on whether someone is an enemy or not, but you can also understand his yearning for the clear-cut purpose he had when still on a leash. He becomes increasingly conflicted between his loyalty and doing the Right Thing, whatever that might be. Rex’s conflict is given weight because he’s so endearing, which allows this novel to pack quite the emotional punch.

As rewarding as Rex’s growth is, Dogs of War offers much more than that. Where it could have ended after the initial situation in Campeche was resolved, it doesn’t. The novel deals with the rights of non-humans and their place in the world, their rights to ‘live’ as sentient beings even if they aren’t human. There is also the issue of artificial intelligence and the manifacture of it. The novel also deals with ethics and morality; of bearing the responsibility for your decisions or hiding behind justification and conditioning. Tchaikovsky also manages to provide some interesting social commentary about public opinion and warfare. He not only does this through Rex’s POV, but also by including the POV of several other characters. Some people might not find the human POV’s  interesting, but I felt it contributed to the world building and the gravity of the issues that were tackled.

The prose itself was also very well written. Most characters had very distinctive voices; especially in the cases of Rex – whose canine qualities really shine through in the used language, which makes him even more endearing – and Bees, whose hive mind was incredibly interesting to read. The only downside? I felt that the character of Asanto and her purpose in the story felt a little forced, even though the concept she represents is interesting. This is only a minor issue, however.

If you’re looking for a well-written science fiction with an endearing protagonist that deals with some complex issues, you should give Dogs of War a try, especially if you like animals and/or good action sequences. I’m definitely interested in reading more of Tchaikosky’s work.

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Reading goals for 2018

Happy New Year! It’s January: time for new year’s resolutions and goals. My reading goal on GoodReads has been set (to a reasonable number for me, as always), but that’s definitely not my only goal of the year!

Goal #1: Reducing my physical TBR
Last year, I had made plans to reduce my TBR by buying fewer books and reading the ones I actually have on my shelves. Back then, I was at 107 unread physical books. Currently, I’m at 90 (including one comic). Though I did make a few purchases outside of the ‘next book in a series’-category, I also began reading comics and got a bunch of free books from work which didn’t really help! Hashtag first world problems? Despite the fact that the amount of books on my TBR hasn’t lowered as much as I had liked, I did limit my purchases. That’s a good thing!

Anyway, I mean to continue my plans of reducing my physical TBR pile by buying fewer books. This also fits with my non-bookish goals of the year, as I’m saving up for a trip to Japan and getting my own place. Of course, the exception of last year remains: the next book in a series can be bought once I have (nearly) finished a given installment. I do try to switch between stand alones and series, though. It doesn’t mean that I won’t be buying books outside of my exception at all, but it’s good to minimize my purchases.

Goal #2: Blog more
My posts have been a bit sporadic the past few months, but I mean to change this. I have a list of books I’d like to review on here and there are some topics I have in mind to post about. I just need to sit down and actually do it! I don’t use a steady posting schedule, but that’s no excuse to post once in a blue moon.

Goal #3: Don’t waste time on books I don’t like
I’ve been doing this already, but considering I’ve struggled through some books that were pretty terrible last year anyway, it needs to be said. I used to be pretty adamant about finishing books, but life is too short to read books I don’t like. It’s fine to DNF a book. Maybe I should write a post about that some time.

Goal #4: Read books I’m looking forward to!
Okay, this is just an excuse to mention some books I’m looking forward to in this format. I don’t want to make a whole separate list of anticipated reads like I did last year. Though I did read the majority of them, I don’t like to pressure myself to read certain books. At the same time, I do want to mention some I’m definitely excited about!

I’m currently reading The Dark Tower series by Stephen King and I’ve finished the third book, The Waste Lands. I hope to continue reading this series, starting with Wizard and Glass. I would also like to continue The Witcher series, since I also haven’t finished reading that one yet. Another, a light novel by by Yukito Ayatsuji is also quite high on my list, as well as Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman.

I also plan to read Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik. She’s one of my favourite authors as I loved Uprooted and the Temeraire series, and will be released in July. This is definitely one of those books I’ll get this year despite not being a part of a series.

But yes, we’ll see if I actually get around to reading these? As for other books, I’ll just pull them off my shelf if I feel like reading them. I’m very much a mood reader, after all!

What about you? Any reading goals for 2018? Particular books you’re looking forward to? Feel free to share your goals or anticipated reads in the comments!

Favourite Reads of 2017!

I hope everyone has had a nice Christmas! I’ve been a bit scarce the this month due to the busy holiday season, but we’re nearing the end of the year already! This is usually the time for reflection, and though 2017 has been a mixed bag with ups and downs, the second half was pretty busy (hence, the fewer posts). Thankfully, I did get a lot of reading done this year. I’ve read 52 books so far, excluding a bunch of manga and Western comics. I don’t think I’ll finish more books this year (other than maybe the fourth volume of Fables), so I’m going to go ahead and post a list of my favourite reads of the year!

To be fair, this list was a little difficult to put together. I’ve read a lot; stuff that I liked and even <i>really</i> liked, but for one reason or another, they are just barely short of becoming a favourite read of the year. I’ve also read some books that I found ‘okay’ or even outright horrible, but I’m not going to be talking about that. Either way, I’ve managed to put together a list of books that really resonated with me and kept getting excited about even after I had finished them.

This list excludes books I’ve reread. Also: the ones I’ve listed are in no particular order and they are not necessarily released this year. I don’t think any have been released this year, actually.

 

thewakingfirefinalThe Waking Fire (The Draconis Memoria #1)
Anthony Ryan
Genre: fantasy

Yeah. If you’ve read my review earlier this year, this shouldn’t be a surprise. There are dragons in this book. There’s no point in repeating my own review, but in short: this book has a very intriguing setting with interesting characters who offer different perspectives on what’s going on. Moreover, the mystery of what exactly is going on makes this book a real page turner. Did I mention it has dragons? I loved its sequel, Legion of Flame, as well, but The Waking Fire was a little better and it’s definitely one of my favourite discoveries of 2017.

 

alittlelife_hanyayanagihara

A Little Life
Hanya Yanigahra
Genre: contemporary fiction

Where do I start? A Little Life follows four friends throughout their lives in New York City after graduating from college until they hit their middle ages-ish. The friendship between these four men changes over the years by success and addiction. The friendship, and the novel, heavily center on Jude, a broken man who deals with the physical and mental trauma of his abusive childhood. It’s not a very happy novel, as you might have gathered, but it’s beautifully written and I really felt for the characters (especially Jude). I keep meaning to review it but I haven’t yet been able to convince myself that I’d do it any justice.

 

Monstress_LiuTakedaMonstress (Volume #1: Awakening)
Marjorie Liu (story) & Sana Takeda (art)
Genre: comic, fantasy

I bought this comic for the stunning artwork and the story immediately pulled me in. It’s about a one-armed girl dealing with demonic possession and the mystery of what exactly her own mother has put her through, and various creatures and factions hunting her for the demon she harbours. All the while, she tries to maintain control over herself. The art is stunning and really shines with the amazing world building this comic has. It has a bit of a steampunkish fantasy setting. The main character, Maika, is a well-written character, and the supporting cast plays off her nicely. Monstress also deals with very mature themes such as prejudice, racism, slavery, and war trauma.

 

The Treesthetrees_alishaw
Ali Shaw
Genre: magical realism

Like I said in my review, I was impressed by the way the characters — and especially the main character, Adrian — were depicted in this apocalyptic novel. What I liked even more was its premise and the eerie yet fairytale-like quality of the woods. Though I would have liked it if Shaw did more with the mysterious Whisperers and the eerie atmosphere, which prevented me from giving The Trees a rating of five stars, this was a very intriguing novel that definitely stood out among all the other things I’ve read. So yes, it deserves a mention on this list.

 

 

fables_billwillinghamFables (Deluxe Edition, Volume #1)
Bill Willingham (story), Lan Medina (art), Mark Buckingham (art), et al.
Genre: comic, fantasy

Another comic, but I couldn’t not mention Fables. I got interested after playing the video game The Wolf Among Us by Telltale because of the premise and its characters. It’s about fairytale characters who are banished from their homelands and now live in modern Manhattan. It’s a bit gritty, but an interesting take on famous characters — my favourite being Bigby Wolf, a.k.a. The Big Bad Wolf who is the community’s sheriff. This edition contains ‘Legends in Exile’, a whodunnit with Bigby as the lead, and ‘Animal Farm’, which deals with a revolution brewing on the farm housing the nonhuman exiles, as well as Snow White’s relationship with her sister.

 

There we have it, my favourite reads of 2017! The list is a little shorter than last year, actually, even though I’ve read more books. There are a few honourable mentions (It by Stephen King, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, and Seraphina by Rachel Hartman) that I really liked as well, but I had one or more reasons to decide against actually listing them here.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post! What are your favourite reads this year?

Review: The Trees by Ali Shaw

Life was pretty busy, so apologies for the radio silence. I bring you a new review to make up for it.

thetrees_alishaw

The Trees
Ali Shaw

Publisher: Bloomsbury
Publishing year:
 2016
Pages: 487
ISBN: 9781408862308
Language: English
Genre: Magical realism, apocalyptic
Rating: 4/5

One downside of working in a bookshop is that cover buys are likely to happen, especially if you’re unpacking or shelving books. This was most certainly the case for The Trees. A face of a fox made of leaves certainly caught my eye. This, along with the blurb on the back, made me purchase it by the end of my shift.

The Trees takes place in England for the most part, where trees suddenly spout from the ground, destroying houses, streets, and human lives in the process. The people who didn’t get skewered on tree branches are faced with the instant collapse of society and have to survive in an unfamiliar world. Protagonist Adrien Thomas is one of the survivors, and he is quite overwhelmed by the sudden change. Luckily, he meets nature-loving Hannah and her son Seb. Together, they set out to find Adrian’s wife, who was in Ireland for work at the time. The forest seems to go on forever, though, and they not only have to face the cruelty of nature, but also their own demons.

To be fair, Adrian is not a protagonist I’d normally like. He is passive, prone to self-pity and tends to give up easily. He is well aware of his faults, which is an unending source of self-loathing for him. When the trees first arrive, he clings to the idea that help will arrive and would be content to wait it out in his comfortable armchair. He meets Hannah and Seb by chance, and it’s fear that eventually propels him to join them. Still, Adrian managed to be a sympathetic character that I was rooting for, which paid off in his character development. Though he doesn’t become some assertive, ambitious leader (that would have been weird), he does grow as a person and ends up doing things by the end of the novel that he wouldn’t have done at the beginning.

Hannah and Seb also grow throughout the book. Though Hannah is initially thrilled with the coming of the trees, she is eventually faced with how cruel nature can be which forces her to come to terms with her views on nature. Seb initially starts out as a somewhat sullen teenager who is robbed of a life that was primarily defined by technology, but he really comes into his own. Eventually, the trio also meet the Japanese schoolgirl Hiroko, who had been on a school trip at the time of the trees arriving and has some formidable survival skills. Finally, there is the fox kit Yasuo, who is adorable. The Trees also introduces some antagonists, but they all have a human quality to them.

Speaking of qualities, the endless forest is not simply a collection of trees providing a stage for the cruelty of nature. There is a certain mystical aspect to the forest as well. It tends to change paths or direct the people wandering among the trees. It has hallucinatory qualities that are never quite fully explained, allowing the woods to remain mysterious and sometimes even eerie. The woods also cause the Kirin appear, who act like some sort of guide, and the whisplike Whisperers, whose purpose remains unknown for a large part of the novel. Even though The Trees is mostly apocalyptic with significant character building, the woods and the new creatures give it also a fairytale-like quality, albeit a very dark one. Nature is not only cruel, but also beautiful, and the two go hand in hand.

This brings me to the one negative point. Though the purpose of the Whisperers is revealed, and their presence looms over the narrative and the characters (or, more signficantly, Adrien), I feel a bit more could have been done with them or the mysterious eeriness of the woods. Regardless, The Trees is a character-driven novel with a lot of atmosphere and some beautiful and heartwarming scenes. It’s not as creepy or action-driven as most apocalyptic fiction, but if you don’t mind this is definitely worth a shot.

Horror: Scary Books for Halloween!

So, with Halloween around the corner, it’s time for some scary books! There are, of course, the classics such as Dracula or Frankenstein. You can’t go wrong with works by Edgar Allan Poe or H.P. Lovecraft, either. If you want something more modern, Stephen King has quite the list of scary books to choose from — I’m currently reading It myself. Still, there’s a lot more out there, and these horror novels certainly deserve a bit more time in the spotlight.

Without further ado: here’s a short list of scary books for Halloween!

BirdBox-JoshMalermanBird Box – Josh Malerman
This was definitely one of the most tense books I’ve read in my life. ‘Things’ that drive people mad and eventually lead them to commit suicide when they see them cause the world as we know it to end. People board up their houses and only dare to go outside blindfolded. This book follows two timelines: a pregnant woman immediately after the outbreak as she finds shelter, and the same woman trying to raise two kids as she prepares to leave their safe house. The scary part of this book is that the threat can’t be seen, which makes the characters nervous whenever they venture outside. Are the rustling leaves caused by the wind or something else? Do characters imagine a touch on their shoulder or did something really touch them? Bird Box has some very tense scenes that kept me on the edge of my seat.

HEX Thomas Olde HeuveltHEX – Thomas Olde Heuvelt
I’ve read the 2013 Dutch version of this novel (the ending was changed in the 2016 version when it was released in America), but it’s still a very well written horror book that is somewhat reminiscent of Stephen King’s work. You can read more about it in my review, but basically it’s about a witch haunting a small village. Her eyes and mouth have been sewn shut and she appears and disappears at will. When her eyes and mouth are opened, disaster is supposed to happen. No one can leave the village either way, though. The threat mainly stems from what the villagers perceive the witch to be, but having a lady with sewn eyes and mouth standing next to your bed, whispering words that drive you to suicide, is bound to be a scary experience.

LettheRightOneIn-johnajvidelindqvistLet the Right One In – John Ajvide Lindqvist
A vampire novel done right, taking place in Stockholm, Sweden. Twelve-year-old Oskar is bullied, but when a girl moves in the apartment next to his, he ends up befriending his strange new neighbour who only comes out at night. In the mean time, people are gruesomely murdered; their corpses are emptied of blood. This book is creepy, has some very unsettling and even disturbing scenes, but the evil and creepiness doesn’t stem from the novel’s resident vampire. No, humans are actually the source of disturbing creepiness. It’s also one of the better portrayed romances between a vampire and a human, just don’t expect the sparkly teenage love kind of romance. The main characters are very well written and the atmosphere is amazing.

sladehouse_davidmitchellSlade House – David Mitchell
The entrance to Slade House opens only once every nine years, and only under certain conditions. People who are lonely or different make for easy victims, so in several short stories the house’s residents ensnare their victims, playing off their desires, fears, and emotions. These short stories combine in an overarching plot that spans several decades, and it’s definitely interesting to learn more about the two residents of Slade House. The ending can be a little anticlimactic, but the excellent first few sections definitely make it worth checking out, especially because it’s a little different from the usual haunted house story. It’s bizarre, creepy, and a little different from ‘usual’ horror. The victims themselves are very well written as well. Apparently, it takes place in the same universe as The Bone Clock, but it’s definitely possible to read Slade House without having read Mitchell’s previous works.

Here we are, my recommendations for Halloween. What about you guys? Any horror novels that are definitely worth checking out? Feel free to leave their titles in the comments — I might check them out myself.

Bookish Villainy’s Guide to Arthurian Fiction

With all my mentions of Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur in previous posts, you might have gathered that I have a thing for Arthuriana. I’m not a romantic type, but when reading bits and pieces of this text during my first year as an English major, the adventures of knights still struck a chord in me.

Ever since, I began reading more books about King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table, and there’s a lot of it out there. Some are great, some not so much, and there’s a ton in-between. So, where do you start? Well, you can start anywhere. I’ve started with Le Morte D’Arthur, but you can also start with something more modern. It’s up to you and whatever sparks your interest.

But what about the original text?
Well, here’s the thing with Arthurian fiction — and a lot of folk tales, legends, and mythology, for that matter — there is no original text. These tales used to be told orally, which meant that storytellers would change things depending on their audience or memory — or even their interpretation. It’s only later that these tales were written down and began taking a more ‘definitive’ shape, but even then there is a lot of variety between these sources. It’s a matter of interpretation.

lemortedarthurmalory

There are a couple of famous old texts worth mentioning, however. I’ve already mentioned Le Morte D’Arthur, which is probably the most influential on what we know as Arthurian fiction today. It gives a very solid basis on the events, characters, and recurring themes of chivalry, courtly love, and morality. Unfortunately, it’s not a very easy read — I daresay that it’s even a bit tedious to get through simply because Malory doesn’t have a very nice and fluid writing style. There’s a lot of repetition and lists you’ll have to slodge through which can get quite long-winded. There is also Chrétien de Troyes’ Arthurian Romances, which is a bit easier to read, but it’s unfortunately unfinished. It does offer more detail about certain famous tales, such as ‘The Knight of the Cart’ (which, by the way, can be credited with the first appearance of Lancelot). The Vulgate Cycle is also a major source, but a bit tricky to acquire. Finally, there is The History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth, but only the last couple of pages deal with Arthuriana. It’s still interesting to read because of the story of Merlin and Vortigern, and the text also serves as a starting point for a lot of the later texts. And it has giants.  Needless to say, you should take the ‘history’ part with a grain of salt…

51gUAtquKjL

Anyway, because there is no real ‘original text’, there are a lot of different interpretations and sources. The texts discussed in the previous paragraph are very Christian, but the legend has its Welsh and Briton roots as well. These influences, as well as more historical angles, can be found in more modern adaptations. Even outside of religious, historical and cultural contexts, focus and genre tend to vary a lot as well. A story can be a traditional ‘knight saves damsels in distress’-stories or Arthur himself keeping the Saxons at bay. It can be a coming-of-age story of whatever character is the focus — each story different in their portrayal of famous characters and events. Mordred is or isn’t the villain, and the same goes for Morgan le Fay and Morgause. There are the traditional romances, incestuous romances, and even romances on the LGBT-spectrum. There are even gender swaps, such as a female Arthur and Mordred in the Japanese Fate-franchise. I’ve even heard of a high school romance, though that doesn’t pique my personal interest. The point is, however: as long as you can justify it, it probably qualifies as Arthurian fiction. I personally think that’s one of the fun things about Arthuriana: the different forms the characters and events will take, and there are a lot of creative interpretations out there.

The same seems to go for names, though.

With all that out of the way, here are some recommendations of Arthurian fiction. If you really want to start with an old and famous text, I’d say go with Le Morte D’Arthur for reasons I’ve already mentioned, but if you want something else? Keep reading, because below is a list of Arthurian fiction that I feel are excellent.

43545The Once and Future King by T.H. White
This is also quite a famous book (Disney’s Sword in the Stone has been based on its first story), but I do feel that it’s important to mention. It deals with familiar themes of chivalry and knighthood. To be fair, I almost gave this one up. I felt the first two stories were a bit too whimsical and even childish to my liking, but by the end of the second story its tone picks up a lot. It’s almost as if the story and its themes mature as the book progresses. The fourth and final story, ‘Candle in the Wind’, is actually amazing and has one of the best endings I’ve read in fiction. Ever. There’s a fifth story, ‘Book of Merlyn’, but it was published posthumously. It wasn’t included in my copy and I don’t even dare to read it because I fear it will ruin the book’s beautiful ending.

Gawain-and-the-Green-Knight-tolkienSir Gawain and the Green Knight
This is actually a medieval chivalric romance poem, but I love it. It’s about my favourite character, Sir Gawain, who embarks on a quest and finds himself conflicted between chivalry, honour, temptation, and his nature. The most famous modern translation is by J.R.R. Tolkien himself, but it is actually written by an anonymous medieval poet. There are a lot of different interpretations about this poem, ranging from Christian, Feminist, Postcolonial and even homoerotic views.  Its ambiguity is very interesting, but what I like so much about this text is that Gawain is portrayed in a human way without necessarily taking away from his knightly virtues.

fdaa13c5-f644-4036-8a49-4a1dc2cf03fdimg100The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell
The first installment of The Warlord Chronicles, this is actually a more gritty and historical take on the Arthurian legend. In this trilogy, Arthur is an idealistic warlord capable of keeping the invading Saxons at bay. Some characters such as Nimue play a bigger role in this rendition, while more famous characters are dramatically changed, placed in the background or even removed altogether. It’s a very compelling story told from the point of view of a soldier under Arthur’s command with interesting characters. This trilogy has my favourite portrayal of Guinevere ever.

The-Crystal-CaveThe Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart
The first installment of a series, the first three starring Merlin. The Crystal Cave is a coming of age for Merlin as he deals with his powers and the politics surrounding Arthur’s ancestors. The books afterwards deal with Merlin orchestrating Arthur’s birth and ascension to the Throne. The setting is very detailed, and I like the roman and pagan influences. The only downside is that the portrayal of gender in this book series is…a bit of a product of its time, in a way. The fourth book in this series, The Last Enchantment, is also worth checking out, by the way, because it has a great and layered portrayal of Mordred. The fifth one was a bit disappointing, though.

692969The Road to Avalon by Joan Wolf
If you like romance, this is probably the most interesting book on this list for you. It’s about the forbidden romance between Arthur and his half-sister Morgan le Fay (incest happens a lot in Arthurian fiction, especially between these two). What I especially liked was the portrayal of Arthur himself, which is far less perfect and idealistic than what he sometimes turns out to be. Morgan’s portrayal is a bit bland by comparison, however, but she definitely isn’t terrible. I also like how Mordred’s innocence in this book is in stark contrast to the usual interpretations of Arthur’s illegitimate son.

buriedgiant_ishiguroThe Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
Wait…what? This is probably the more loosely defined Arthurian book on this list, but I do count it as one (even though I hadn’t expected it when I began reading it). It’s actually a very calm story about an elderly couple looking for their son in a post-Arthurian setting, with some mythical/magical realism thrown in, such as mist that causes amnesia. Gawain makes an appearance, and Arthur himself is mentioned, but the Arthurian legend is not the focus in this story. Still, I wanted to include this because it’s a bit different from what you’d usually expect on a list of Arthurian books. That, and it’s a wonderful and interesting story that’s a bit unusual. Just don’t expect a typical fantasy.

Any other great Arthurian books you feel I’ve missed? Do feel free to share them in the comments!

Review: Champions: At Fire’s End by Charlotte Jain

atfiresend_charlottejainChampions: At Fire’s End
(Champions #1)
Charlotte Jain

Publisher: N/A
Publishing year:
 2017
ISBN: 9780992586935
Language: English
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Rating: 1.5/5

Note: I’ve received a free e-copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This did not influence my review in any way. 

The Titan and the Olympians are at war. To resolve this endless battle, four mortals are given the power to control the elements so they can fight amongst themselves. Teenagers April and Kyle are two of these Champions. Controlling fire and water respectively, they must uncover the identities of the other two Champions and fight them to the death. Unfortunately, with their powers taking a heavy toll on their bodies, time is running out.

This book begins with a note on the mythology in the Champion series, stating that the author has been inspired by Greek and Roman mythology, but that the mythology is freely adapted. The Immortals are named after various Greek gods. Athena embodies wisdom, Hades is Lord of the Underwold, and the twins Apollo and Athena wield bows. These similarities are superficial. Still, I believe it is necessary to point this out; it’s not so much a twist on modern mythology as the synopsis promises, but simply characters sharing names and some other superficial traits. I wish I was able to tell more about these characters, but unfortunately, they are just there. Three of them guide the main characters, but the others don’t leave a lasting impression other than being uncaring Immortals. This feels like a wasted opportunity.

Which brings me to the other problems of At Fire’s End: it was very unpolished. The plot gets right into the action, which on itself wouldn’t be a problem if there wasn’t so much confusion. The exposition doesn’t happen until halfway in the story, when Kyle and April finally inform the other two Champions of their predicament, which is way too late. Though the characters go to a normal modern school, the world isn’t fleshed out either. Considering the world represents the stakes, the lack of fleshing out eliminates the urgency. What are the effects of the war on the population? Are there other supernatural creatures than the Furies they fought? If so, why weren’t they mentioned until they appeared? Why weren’t the Furies mentioned until they appeared? Where did they come from? The story was scattered and there was barely any foreshadowing, which leads to terrible pacing and the feeling things happened just because.

Even the main characters aren’t fleshed out well, which makes it difficult to care about them or their struggle. Their interactions seem overly dramatic and forced, which is underlined by the big chunks of speeches the characters blurt out in the middle of supposedly intense situations. Disregarding the issue of ‘time and place’: character exposition happens almost solely in these speeches. Despite the drama, the characters still remain shallow. I never got a real sense of who they were, what they were like, and how they would develop or change throughout the story. There was a lot of telling, but no showing. Kyle was supposed to be cunning, but I never once saw a situation where this cunning quality was displayed. Instead, Kyle makes some very rash and illogical decisions, which even disproves what we’ve been told.

The story was told through the POV of both Kyle and April, but their voices were not distinct at all. The other two Champions, Kim and Noah, barely got any exposition or development; again, they were just there to be the other Champions. I couldn’t help but wonder: why should I care about these characters? This is, unfortunately, a fatal flaw.

That is not to say that there wasn’t some promise. I did like the aspect of the characters genuinely struggling with their powers; that these powers were taking a toll on their bodies and that the characters had to be trained. The idea itself is also interesting enough, but the execution makes for a tedious and confusing read. If the pacing would be fixed, the setting and characters fleshed out more, and the story overall be more polished, then Champions: At Fire’s End would be a lot more engaging.