Queen’s Shadow by E.K. Johnston, narrated by Catherine Taber

Written by the #1 New York Times best-selling author of Ahsoka!

When Padmé Naberrie, “Queen Amidala” of Naboo, steps down from her position, she is asked by the newly-elected queen to become Naboo’s representative in the Galactic Senate. Padmé is unsure about taking on the new role, but cannot turn down the request to serve her people. Together with her most loyal handmaidens, Padmé must figure out how to navigate the treacherous waters of politics and forge a new identity beyond the queen’s shadow.

I bought a hardcover copy at Celebration Chicago last year and I downloaded the audiobook, because Catherine Taber (the voice of Padmé on The Clone Wars) narrates. I read along as I listened.

I loved this book. This might not be a book for every Star Wars fan because it is way more political than the novels we’re used to. There aren’t any big battle scenes and no lightsaber fights, but if you love Padmé, then this is a book to read/listen to.

So I loved this book for many reasons. The friendships between Padmé and the handmaids were great. It was wonderful to see what their strengths were and what their interests were outside of their duties.

The transition from being queen to becoming a senator and navigating the different political arenas was so well done. I especially like seeing Padmé learn how she had to change her demeanor, make allies, and learn how to shed the negative image people had about her. She had to get out of the shadow of what she did to Chancellor Vellorum as queen.

I loved the inclusion of the press articles because image is everything in the public eye.
Besides character image I loved the descriptions of her clothing. Practical armor hidden in style.

Minor spoilers below, but not really if you know a lot about Star Wars.

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Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron by Alexander Freed

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The first novel in a new trilogy starring veteran New Republic pilots!

On the brink of victory in a brutal war, five New Republic pilots transform from hunted to hunters in this epic Star Wars adventure. Set after Return of the Jedi, Alphabet Squadron follows a unique team, each flying a different class of starfighter as they struggle to end their war once and for all.

The Emperor is dead. His final weapon has been destroyed. The Imperial Army is in disarray. In the aftermath, Yrica Quell is just one of thousands of defectors from her former cause living in a deserters’ shantytown–until she is selected to join Alphabet Squadron.

Cobbled together from an eclectic assortment of pilots and starfighters, the five members of Alphabet are tasked by New Republic general Hera Syndulla herself. Like Yrica, each is a talented pilot struggling to find their place in a changing galaxy. Their mission: to track down and destroy the mysterious Shadow Wing, a lethal force of TIE fighters exacting bloody, reckless vengeance in the twilight of their reign.

The newly formed unit embodies the heart and soul of the Rebellion: ragtag, resourceful, scrappy, and emboldened by their most audacious victory in decades. But going from underdog rebels to celebrated heroes isn’t as easy as it seems, and their inner demons threaten them as much as their enemies among the stars. The wayward warriors of Alphabet Squadron will have to learn to fly together if they want to protect the new era of peace they’ve fought so hard to achieve.

Part of a Marvel and Del Rey crossover event, Alphabet Squadron is the counterpart to Marvel’s TIE Fighter miniseries, which follows the exploits of Shadow Wing as they scheme to thwart the New Republic.

I got this paperback as a giveaway at a New York Comic Con panel.

This Alphabet Squadron Trilogy is Disney’s version of the excellent X-Wing Series by Michael A. Stackpole and Aaron Allston.

Alphabet Squadron is a long book because there is a lot of set up. Everyone, with the exception of Hera Syndulla, is a new character. It took me awhile to get into it because I had a hard time keeping the characters straight at first. I could have used a dramatis personae.

Overall I really did enjoy this novel. The slow development of the characters and the progression of them learning to get along were well done, as was the PTSD. This was a darker story than I remember the X-Wing series being.

I really liked the inclusion of Hera Syndulla in the novel, but since this was published a year after the series finale of Rebels, where is her son Jacen? There was no mention of him at all and at this point in the timeline he would be a young boy. Maybe Freed was not allowed by Lucasfilm to mention Jacen Syndulla? Maybe Jacen will be mentioned in the sequel? If I ever get to see Alexander Freed at a convention or book signing I am going to ask this.

The descriptions of the final space battle were really well done. I did not have any trouble comprehending the action taking place. I often find it hard to concentrate on battle scenes, but not this time.

Apparently there are tie in Marvel comics to this series, but unless I can borrow those from the library I am just going to stick to reading the novels.

4 out of 5 Squadrons.

Favorite Quotes:

Page 235: “Because when innocents die in war, there should be a point to it.”…”Because if you can’t even begin to explain what good you’re doing by fighting, you’re fighting on the wrong side.”

Page 424: She wished she were a better creature. That her metamorphosis would soon be complete, and that she could emerge as something bright and wondrous, shedding the atrocities of her life.
For now, however, she was what she was.
She readied herself for slaughter.

Bonds of Brass by Emily Skrutskie

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A young pilot risks everything to save his best friend–the man he trusts most and might even love–only to learn that he’s secretly the heir to a brutal galactic empire.

Ettian Nassun’s life was shattered when the merciless Umber Empire invaded. He’s spent seven years putting himself back together under its rule, joining an Umber military academy and becoming the best pilot in his class. Even better, he’s met Gal Veres–his exasperating and infuriatingly enticing roommate who’s made the Academy feel like a new home.

But when dozens of classmates spring an assassination plot on Gal, a devastating secret comes to light: Gal is the heir to the Umber Empire. Ettian barely manages to save his best friend and flee the compromised Academy unscathed, rattled both that Gal stands to inherit the empire that broke him and that there are still people willing to fight back against Umber rule. As they piece together a way to deliver Gal safely to his throne, Ettian finds himself torn in half by an impossible choice. Does he save the man who’s won his heart and trust that Gal’s goodness could transform the empire? Or does he throw his lot in with the brewing rebellion and fight to take back what’s rightfully theirs?

I got this ARC from the Book Wizard at New York Comic Con 2019.

They story starts off with a lot of action and interesting characters. The middle lags a bit and it wasn’t until the last hundred pages or so that it became a page turner. Also, with the coronavirus quarantine happening I had a whole day to finish the last 100 pages.

The story is packed with tropes (star-crossed lovers, fake dating, there’s only one bed,etc.) but even so, it was all fun. I really liked that it wasn’t instant-love between Ettian and Gal. They have known each other from 2.5 years, so we already in the middle of them pinning for one another.

 

The rest of the review has some spoilers. So beware.

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Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett

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Sancia Grado is a thief, and a damn good one. And her latest target, a heavily guarded warehouse on Tevanne’s docks, is nothing her unique abilities can’t handle.

But unbeknownst to her, Sancia’s been sent to steal an artifact of unimaginable power, an object that could revolutionize the magical technology known as scriving. The Merchant Houses who control this magic–the art of using coded commands to imbue everyday objects with sentience–have already used it to transform Tevanne into a vast, remorseless capitalist machine. But if they can unlock the artifact’s secrets, they will rewrite the world itself to suit their aims.

Now someone in those Houses wants Sancia dead, and the artifact for themselves. And in the city of Tevanne, there’s nobody with the power to stop them.

To have a chance at surviving—and at stopping the deadly transformation that’s under way—Sancia will have to marshal unlikely allies, learn to harness the artifact’s power for herself, and undergo her own transformation, one that will turn her into something she could never have imagined.

I picked this up at NYCC when I took the Book Wizard Quiz at the Penguin Random House booth. You were asked a few questions on the tablet and then your answers dictated which book you received. I can’t remember the questions or answers when I got Foundryside, but I would say that the Book Wizard was right! I really enjoyed Foundryside.

At first it took me some time to get used to the terminology, but Robert Jackson Bennett does a good job of explaining scriving. I really liked the imaginative mix of magic with science and what I loved was the mysterious mythology. I can’t wait to see what the next book reveals about the ancient and unknown history of the world Bennett created.

Besides the incredible world building, the fully developed characters really drew me in. They were complex and compelling. I loved the way their relationships developed and I was rooting for the good guys. Some of the characters were so funny. I love Clef’s personality, and I especially loved the conversations he had with Sancia. Another character who made me laugh was the Mountain.

The action is a page turner. Reading those scenes was easy to picture in my head. I can so see this becoming a TV series or movie.

Thank you Book Wizard for giving me a new world that intrigues my imagination. I am anticipating the sequel in 2020.

4 out of 5 Keys.

Dark Age by Pierce Brown **WARNING!**WITH SPOILERS**

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For a decade Darrow led a revolution against the corrupt color-coded Society. Now, outlawed by the very Republic he founded, he wages a rogue war on Mercury in hopes that he can still salvage the dream of Eo. But as he leaves death and destruction in his wake, is he still the hero who broke the chains? Or will another legend rise to take his place?

Lysander au Lune, the heir in exile, has returned to the Core. Determined to bring peace back to mankind at the edge of his sword, he must overcome or unite the treacherous Gold families of the Core and face down Darrow over the skies of war-torn Mercury.

But theirs are not the only fates hanging in the balance.

On Luna, Mustang, Sovereign of the Republic, campaigns to unite the Republic behind her husband. Beset by political and criminal enemies, can she outwit her opponents in time to save him?

Once a Red refugee, young Lyria now stands accused of treason, and her only hope is a desperate escape with unlikely new allies.

Abducted by a new threat to the Republic, Pax and Electra, the children of Darrow and Sevro, must trust in Ephraim, a thief, for their salvation—and Ephraim must look to them for his chance at redemption.

As alliances shift, break, and re-form—and power is seized, lost, and reclaimed—every player is at risk in a game of conquest that could turn the Rising into a new Dark Age.

The #1 New York Times bestselling author of Morning Star returns to the Red Rising universe with the thrilling sequel to Iron Gold.

This was a rollercoaster!!! So much happens and I had so many emotions as it unfolded.
I have had a book hangover this last week, unable to move on, and have been spending lots of time on the Facebook DA discussion page while trying to come up with a non-spoiler review.

I am failing to come up with one. So buckle up, Howlers. This is going to be long and only for those who have read the book.

I’ll separate the review by the character POVs.

 You have been warned about SPOILERS!

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Pierce Brown Dark Age Discussion at Barnes and Noble August 7, 2019

I got to Barnes and Noble Union Sq at 9 am to get my bracelet. I arrived just as the store opened and I saw the queue of people waiting outside filing in. So I followed the line inside and it was very swift. People went in, picked up Dark Age at the front table and went straight back to the check out. I already had my book purchased from b&n online so I just showed them the receipt.

Then I went to work and got back to B&N around 5:15-5:30ish.

I decided to record the whole thing because I was (and still am) exhausted. I had spent the past several days reading as much and as fast as I could. About 130-150 pages a day. I was still 100 pages shy of finishing during the event.

It didn’t start until 7PM and I was reading up until it started. So yea, I recorded the whole thing because I wasn’t sure how much I would remember from being so tired and also, it makes it easier to write this if I have the video to look back on.

There are some breaks in the video. I tried to break it when people were laughing, but then Pierce would say something funny and I’d miss his one liners. But other than that I think the editing is almost seamless.

Highlights:

The beginning Pierce and Peter discuss their method of writing, how they outline and the layering of their drafts.

Pierce then discusses where Darrow and the Republic stands in the second trilogy, and was it all worth it.

17:15 – That is some Star Wars Sequel Trilogy shade right there. 😉 How the ST dishonors the sacrifices and accomplishments of the OT characters. I totally agree!

18:45 Lyria’s lack of agency but how her POV shows the disillusionment of the Rising.

21:00 Pierce talks about Roman history and Greek history.

25:00 The release date delays and how he kept going on and on with Ephraim’s POV. LOL

27:50 The order in which he wrote the POVs. Darrow, Lysander, Ephraim, Mustang then Lyria (or Lyria then Mustang.)

28:50 About the story having multiple POVs and climaxing at the same time. The innuendo is hysterical.

31:00 Audience Q&A begins.

51:00 Hysterical moment: The question about Mustang being inspired by his mother so how does he write sexual scenes about her?

53:11 The sexual innuendo about what the razors (swords) look like. The gift that keeps on giving. LOL

Around 56:00 – The TV show!

So since I was in the front row I didn’t have to wait long to have my books signed. When I got up there he remembered me (blushes) and then I asked if while writing does he find himself having to reread the pervious books to remember what he wrote.

He answered, “All the time.” That he will reread sections and use control find but would love if the fans built up the wiki pages.

I said that I wanted to do a whole reread of the saga and make an encyclopedia book. He encouraged that idea.

(Funny enough, when I finished reading the next evening I did catch a blooper! He didn’t check a name!)

We took a photo together and then he asked where my sister was. I told him she was at a class. He said to “send her my love” as he pounded his heart. How sweet is he?

So my very spoiled review is coming. I am still processing that mountain of a book. It will take a few days to write. I have no idea what to say in a non-spoiler review. It would be nothing but Servo-like profanity because it was a whirlwind!

Review of Iron Gold – the audiobook.

Iron Gold By: Pierce Brown
Narrated by: Tim Gerard Reynolds, John Curless, Julian Elfer, Aedin Moloney

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I last read Iron Gold back in January of 2018. This week I listened to the audiobook for the first time to refresh my memory for Dark Age (coming out this Tuesday).

I have heard mixed reviews about the new voices. Some say that Lysander’s voice is too low and that he doesn’t do different voices for different characters speaking. Some say Lyria’s is too whiny and others say she has great emotion.

Here are my thoughts:

Tim Gerard Reynolds, as always, is perfect for Darrow’s POV. I have no complaints.

The voice of Lysander, Julian Elfer, was what I imagined a Gold like him to sound. Kind of stuffy and pompous. Something was off with the volume. His parts sounded lower and I’d turn up the volume. It is true that he doesn’t do many variations for the voices and it’s hard to tell who is saying what. Actually at 25% in I started reading along on my ebook.

Lyria, Aedin Moloney, has the accent I imagined her to have, but like the narrator for Lysander, she didn’t have much range for doing the different voices. Especially for Ephraim and Holiday. I will say though that I think she got the emotion of Lyria right: the anger and sadness.

After TGR the narrator for Ephraim, John Curless, was second best. John Curless is the only one to return for Dark Age. He really got the tone of Ephraim and was able to do more of a variety of voices. I really liked his accent for Volga and The Duke of Hands.

Listening to Iron Gold to refresh my memory was a smart decision. I forgot some details, but my feelings from the review I wrote in 2018 have stayed the same.

So excited for Dark Age! I’ll read the ebook first, then listen to the audiobook, and I will review both. I’ll reserve judgment for the new voices, though I think I will miss Julian Elfer and Aedin Moloney. I got used to them.