Gemina (The Illuminae Files #2) by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff Review

Hang on while I work on my getting my breathing under control. I literally finished Gemina a few minutes ago and I am still trying to process what just happened. Illuminae was amazing but Gemina takes it further and is absolutely spellbinding. I could not bring myself to stop reading, especially the third act. This was one electrifying read. If you thought the stakes were high in Illuminae, then Gemina is a whole different ball game.

Like Illuminae, Gemina too is written in a similar fashion, that is, the story unfolds through chat logs, surveillance footage descriptions etc with one key and a very welcome addition, there are illustrations that feature most of the main characters. Like its predecessor, Gemina too is a long book but that length becomes irrelevant once you start reading it. The pace is so fast and the narrative so engaging that the time just whizzes past. Gemina is also exceptionally well-written. The really science-fictiony parts seem almost plausible and there is sense of ‘realness’ that’s always present. This is because Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff conducted a fair amount of research before jumping into writing this gem and wormholes and space-time are key parts of the narrative. Gemina is also very entertaining, it’s a fun book and it is as funny as it is heartbreaking. The banter between the characters is one of the most entertaining aspects of the book. Also, the surveillance guy’s commentary is hilarious. He’s possibly one of the most fun characters in the book.

Special shout-out to Marie Lu for the amazing sketches. They added to the experience of the book and I loved them. They were so beautiful. Here are some examples:

    

In Illuminae, we found out about the attack on Karenza, Gemina is about the fallout following those events, the plot thickens. Almost all of the action takes place aboard the Jump Station Heimdall and there were so many layers to the narrative that it was a wonder that it all made perfect sense and came together beautifully. It truly speaks to the writing and amount of care that went into crafting this complex story.

The other strength of the book are the characters. They are among the best realised characters that you are likely to come across. They are so well-written that it was easy to forget that they weren’t actually real and to get sucked into their world. Gemina also has a much larger cast of characters. There are our main characters; Hanna Donnelly and Niklas Malikov, then the secondary characters; Ella Malikova, Isaac Grant and Jackson Merrick and finally the Audit Team; there were quite a few notable characters there as well. To have so many characters with distinct personalities was no easy feat.

If you’re familiar with Illuminae and Jay Kristoff’s books, then you also know that body count is going  to be pretty high and no character is safe until the last page. Gemina was no different and people started dying fairly quickly and early on in the book. That surprised me for a bit because I didn’t expect it to happen so quickly. Things start off easy and calm but they don’t stay that way for too long. And once they get going, they don’t stop.

First up, Hanna and Nik. On the surface, these two couldn’t be more different, the former is the daughter of the Station Chief while the latter is part of a crime family and they were both amazing. Hanna was so resourceful and a force to be reckoned with. Every time someone underestimated her, they lived to regret it (if they lived at all) She soon became a painful thorn for the Audit Team and for the longest time they had no idea who they were dealing with. Every time she hit a roadblock, she found a way around it. I loved her because she was fierce and intelligent and she used both of those qualities in her favour. She made use of every advantage she had.

Nik was much the same, his life as a criminal actually came in handy since he didn’t believe in fighting fair. He gave as good as he got and he too was smart and cautious. Hanna and Nik, on their own were dangerous but together, they were even more so and someone the hijackers never accounted for.

I also loved the romance aspect. It was subtle and always in the background. Also, it grew through the course of the book and felt organic and earned. I also appreciated how healthy it was. They were honest with each other and worked well together, like a well-oiled machine.

But they would not have gotten very far without assistance from a certain hacker, Ella Malikova. I fell in love with her as soon as she stepped onto the page. She suffered from disability but you wouldn’t know that from how good she was at what she did. She was a hacker and another person the Audit team did not see coming. She became the eyes and ears for Hanna and Nik and guided them through the Jump Station and made sure they stayed safe. I fell in love with Ella, her snark and attitude were a breath of fresh air. Also, her nicknames for Nik were hilarious. I loved that she was not defined by her disability. Ella Malikova was a badass and anyone who disagrees has no idea what they’re talking about.

There was also a mole aboard Heimdall, helping the BeiTech crew and I had my suspicions early on about this person’s identity and very pleased to know that I right. The BeiTech Crew was also not to trifled with, they made that point soon after boarding the Station. They were ruthless, efficient and a very formidable adversary. Sadly, they had no idea what they had signed up for. I liked the way they were written. They all had such distinct personalities and quirks.

Illuminae had a deadly virus while Gemina had the Lanima. I leave it up to you to decide which was worse. Personally, I’m going to go with the latter, they were way worse. They were creepy and just very unsettling.

I strongly recommend reading either a paperback or a hard cover version of the book. Trust me, there is no comparison between a physical copy and the digital version. The book is so well-designed and it complements the story beautifully. Reading a digital copy will just not do it justice.

Gemina is every bit as amazing as Illuminae and I can’t wait to read the third instalment. It is exceptionally well written with an excellent cast of characters. The story is complex and layered and it is intelligent. I am currently going through withdrawal having finished it not too long ago. Gemina is a must read and must be read immediately. I loved every minute I of this insane ride, I only wish it had lasted longer…

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Trapped In Silver (Eldryn Chronicles #1) by Emily Sowden Review

Honestly, there were times when I wanted to hit my head against the wall while reading this gem. It was excruciatingly bad. The pace was all over the place which was often confusing. The main character had crippling nightmares in the beginning and then in the middle, the author forgot about them so they disappeared. The other characters were badly written, giving you no real clue about the kind of people they were. The writing felt superficial at best.

Oh and let’s forget that the book is so damn slow. The world-building was virtually non-existent. I don’t know why I do this to myself. Please, avoid like the plague!

Iron Fist Season 1- Part 2 – Characters

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Finn Jones as Danny Rand a.k.a Iron Fist was an absolute disaster. The scenes with him were just awful. His acting was painful to watch and he simply didn’t have it in him to carry the entire show on his shoulders. The show was best when it focused on other characters, which explains why the list of those characters kept growing. His action scenes weren’t any better, they felt clumsy and nothing short of amateurish . His casting was probably the worst decision the producers made. His character wasn’t any better. He was probably the least consistent character I have ever come across. He was sweet one moment and a jerk the next. He also did not understand the concept of personal space. When Colleen told him to leave her dojo, he refused, he also hijacked her class and assaulted a student. These were not the actions of a ‘hero’.

What struck me about him was that he often behaved like a teenager throwing a tantrum every time he got upset. Even his interactions with Joy and Ward, especially initially, displayed a lack of basic common sense. He does as he pleases without any regard for the consequences and doesn’t stop to think about the people who have to face those consequences.

The other thing that struck me about him was just how clueless and stupid he was, frustratingly so. He had no idea who The Hand actually were, or how to fight them or even how to control his own powers. For someone who had been training their entire lives to fight, he was woefully unprepared. He got beat up so often, it was a wonder anyone was threatened by him. Often the only way he could win was when he unleashed the Iron Fist. If you have  to keep relying on your superpower to beat up common thugs, then clearly, you needed more practice. His fight scenes also lacked any kind of impact or grace, they often looked like a lot of uncoordinated arm-flailing. They were unimpressive with a distinct lack of intensity.

As far as casting a Caucasian blonde actor for the character is concerned, well for those saying that the character is Caucasian in the comics is hardly reason enough for this bland and dull casting choice. Iron Fist first appeared in 1974 when there were very few (if any at all) superhero characters of colour. This show presented the opportunity to cast an Asian actor to play a superhero in a leading role and break stereotypes but sadly the makers shied away from that. The only example I can think of is Daisy Johnson from Agents of Shield played by Chloe Bennett. That’s it, just one and it’s disappointing.

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Thankfully, there were some bright spots in this otherwise dismal offering. Colleen Wing was an absolute delight to watch. She was easily one of the best parts of the show and what kept me coming back. She was everything Danny should have been. She was kickass, supportive and protective of those she cared about, she was cautious, she was complex. She was flawed. And I loved that about her. I loved that she didn’t take bullshit from anyone, even Danny. I loved her camaraderie with Claire and would have loved to see more interactions between her and Joy. If you replaced Danny Rand with Colleen Wing, the show immediately improves. She was a hero worth rooting for. I loved the way Jessica Henwick played her. She made her tough but always with a touch of vulnerability. The character works to a large extent because of Henwick’s performance. I do hope that we get a Colleen/Misty team-up. Honestly, both Colleen and Henwick deserve better than what this show offered them.

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Now, onto the Meachums. I didn’t quite know what to make of them in the first few episodes and that was largely due to the poor writing. The writers could not decide what to do with Joy in particular. Joy was so poorly written that it was a wonder that any of her motivations made sense. Props to Jessica Stroup for playing her in a way that made her sympathetic and also made sure that the audience saw the steel under her skin. She was just as tough as Colleen but in a different way. She kept the company running when Ward was having a meltdown and Danny was too busy mucking things up. I loved that she was ambitious. There still aren’t too many ambitious women portrayed on television in a positive light. I loved that about her. She was good at her job and earned the respect of those she worked with by working hard. Out of everyone working at Rand, she was the most deserving of the power. And yet, in the end, she didn’t even get to have her photograph next to Ward and Danny. That was a gross omission.

Tom Pelphrey as Ward Meachum, the tortured and tormented brother was also interesting to watch. His was an internal struggle between the path that his father had laid out for him, versus what he wanted for himself and the two didn’t necessarily align. It was interesting to see him get his sense of self back as the show progressed.

One of the things that the show did well in the initial episodes was set-up Ward and Joy as an unbreakable unit and that was fun. I would have loved for the show to explore that further, sadly that didn’t happen either. The end with Joy possibly turning evil was also just lazy writing and complete character assassination on the writers’ part. Throughout the show, Joy was the one with the conscience, who struggled to balance the needs of the company with her innate goodness. She honestly wanted to help Danny knowing she didn’t have to. She truly loved and cared for Ward even when he was pushing her away. She even confronted her father when he framed Danny and didn’t back down. This was someone who always spoke about getting people arrested when everyone around her was talking about killing them. This was not the woman who would sit across someone she barely knew and speak about eliminating Danny. Danny who sacrificed himself to The Hand to save her and her father. It made no sense. It will also be a repetition of what Harold already did to Danny. We’ve already had the Meachum-betrays-Rand storyline, there’s no need for a repeat, it wasn’t that great the first time. What would make sense is if she decided to help Danny for everything he did for her. If you recall, she and Danny were really close when they were younger and shared a bond, she was the first to believe he was Danny (with the exception of Hogarth) and she helped him, even going against her brother to do so. She wouldn’t just turn on him, it makes no sense. Her distrust of her brother makes more sense considering just how much he lied to her. I’m hoping that these are things that are addressed in the future season, if it does get renewed.

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Claire Temple was back and boy was she a breath of fresh air. Rosario Dawson was amazing as the nurse who always gets pulled into the drama of these people with superpowers. Though, I don’t know why she kept forgetting Jessica Jones every time she name dropped people with special abilities. Not cool, Claire. Then there was Carrie-Ann Moss as Jeri Hogarth and she was a welcome addition as well. Her attitude and dry humour was deeply appreciated.

Danny Rand should have been the MVP of the show, instead, he was a liability. He was a frustrating character and it was clear that the writers had no idea what to do with him. I’d love to see more of Ward and Joy (minus the character assassination please), more of Colleen (though she should just get her own show, Daughters of the Dragon with Misty Knight. If Punisher can get his own series, why not her?) Also, two women-of-colour heading their own show, how can that be a bad thing?

Iron Fist Season 1- Part 1 – Overall Thoughts

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And so Season 1 of Iron Fist comes to an end. The final show leading up to the Defenders was a mixed bag of opportunities lost and potential that was never fully exploited. The show has been mired in controversy pretty much since the beginning. The casting of the titular character, Iron Fist a.k.a. Danny Rand by Finn Jones was met with backlash for not casting an Asian actor, but more on that later. Add to that, the early reviews for the shows were far from positive and put a huge dampener on the excitement for the show.

I read a lot of the reviews and still decided to watch the entire season and it was apparent from the beginning that the reviewers had not been exaggerating. The entire initial arc of the show was a mess. Everything from the pacing to the character motivations and development from one episode to the next was chaotic and made no sense. There were times when it felt like the writers of the show had been working in isolation without reading what had been written for the previous episodes. It was almost as if the characters were suffering from multiple personalities disorder.

I am not going to get into a synopsis for the show save for the gist; Danny Rand, one of the heirs to a huge corporate empire, presumed dead for 15 years comes back to reclaim his place. The first few episodes were painful to watch because of the sheer stupidity of the character. He was honestly surprised when people a)didn’t believe that he was indeed Danny Rand and b) thought he was insane when he started talking about the more unconventional aspects of the monastery. The show also couldn’t quite decide on the route it wanted to take. Did it want to focus on the corporate end of things or on the Hand and set them as the primary antagonists. Sadly, they never figured it out which is why the entire season was a hotchpotch of everything they could think of.

One of the early criticisms of the show was that there were too few fight sequences and we instead spent more time in the boardrooms and corporate offices. I’m going to disagree with that particular criticism because the corporate end of the show was the more interesting part. The fight sequences, and I’m talking about the ones that featured Danny, were excruciatingly bad. Another mistake on their part was the Harold Meachum reveal. They did that in the very first episode. They should have kept the audience in the dark about him for a little longer, or at the very least, not spelled everything out from the beginning. The audience knew from the get-go that he was bad news and therefore could not be trusted, where’s the suspense in that? Though as a character, he was decent. Sadly, he too turned into a stereotype at the end.

To be fair, the show did improve in leaps and bounds by episode 9 and episodes 11, 12 and 13 were actually pretty good but it was too little too late. Also, Danny Rand remained a problem and a major weakness.

The real strength of the previous Marvel/Netflix shows had been the complexity of the antagonists like Wilson Fisk, Kilgrave and Cottonmouth. They were all complicated, layered characters which was what made them so fascinating. There was no such complexity to be found here. Also, when did Madam Gao join the Hand, didn’t she help Daredevil fight against them? When did she have this change of heart? The Hand was nothing more than a faceless organisation and a dull and predictable one at that.

The tone and theme of the show were chaotic and inconsistent as well. I believe this particular problem stemmed from the fact that the writers simply did not know who and what they wanted Danny Rand to be. Was he going to join the corporate world or fulfill his destiny and destroy The Hand? These questions remain unanswered till the end of the show. If you don’t know the chief motivator of your primary character, it is impossible to craft a narrative arc around him that makes sense and is coherent. All of the protagonists in the previous Netlfix/Marvel shows had a personal journey that made sense, their motivations were sound. Once you know what motivates your character, you can craft obstacles that they must overcome and watching them overcome said obstacles and be better for it is its own reward. That was missing in Iron Fist. The audience doesn’t know what motivates him because he himself doesn’t know. The previous Netflix/Marvel shows had a coherent vision that was missing here and the show was much worse for it.

As far as renewal is concerned, it could honestly go either way. While the critics as well as a large number of viewers hated the show, it has done well financially. Another season could give the writers the opportunity to fix some of the problematic elements that plagued this season. But if they learn nothing, then it’s just going to be more of the same, which would be a shame.

Till Death by Jennifer L. Armentrout Review

This was absolutely pedestrian, everything from the plot to the writing. There was nothing about it that stood out. The writing even felt poor in places. The plot was slow and kind of just plodded around. The end was predictable and there was so much build up that it’s likely that you’ll guess the big reveal before the actual reveal, which takes the wind out of the sales as far as shock value is concerned.

Then there were the characters. JLA could have focused more on Sasha and her PTSD and trauma, and while there were parts where it comes up, it’s not detailed enough and all too soon, it becomes about the guy, Cole Landis. For once, I actually liked the guy. He was sweet, gentle and protective without being overbearing. So points for that at least. But Sasha herself was so bland that she didn’t really hold my interest. Then there were all those instances where Sasha kept mooning over Cole and getting distracted by how amazingly good looking he was. He was beautiful, we get it, I don’t see why the reader has to be bludgeoned on the head by being told the same thing over and over again. That kind of writing just makes me roll my eyes.

Feel free to skip this..

Nevernight (The Nevernight Chronicle #1) by Jay Kristoff Review

Nevernight by Jay Kristoff was as different from The Lotus Wars trilogy as possible with some key similarities; the characters and their fates, but more on that later. My reading of this book was regularly interrupted so this review will be shorter than usual.

The writing took some getting used to. It is still funny and sharp but it definitely takes time for the reader to acclimatise. In the beginning, I almost gave up reading it because the writing felt jarring but thankfully, after a point, I got used to it and then could focus on other important things like the plot and the characters.

Jay Kristoff painted a rich and vibrant world, one that is perpetually bathed in light, courtesy of the three suns that orbit this strange planet. The residents enjoy a short period of absolute darkness known as Treudark when all three of the suns set for a limited time. The various locations like the city of Godsgrave, the Ashkahi wastelands and the Red Church were so incredibly detailed that they felt real.

It was the same with the characters. Jay Kristoff has a gift for creating amazing and complex characters. Even his protagonists are problematic and far from perfect. The antagonists leave you feeling torn between liking and hating them. Of course, that’s not true for the main bad guy. Those guys are just plain evil but unfortunately, also very resilient and hard to kill.

But if you’ve read The Lotus War trilogy then you’re familiar with Kristoff’s love for causing immense pain to his readers by making sure that they fall in love with the characters and then pulling the rug from under their feet. So, to cut a long story short, I knew that Kristoff was going to tear my heart out and I still fell for it. Before I knew it, I was incredibly invested in these characters and their stories. Everyone from the students to the teachers were so nuanced. And Kristoff was not shy about killing off characters. No character is safe in his world.

Among the students, I loved Tric, Ashlinn and Carlotta and among the teachers there was Aalea, Spiderkiller, Naev and strangely enough, Cassius. But my favourite (excluding Mia) would have to be Ashlinn. She was funny, irreverent and completely bonkers and I loved her. Also, she was pretty explicitly gay so more points to Kristoff for that. Her scenes with Mia were among the most entertaining and I loved their friendship. Even though they were competitors, they were always supportive of each other.

Then there’s Mia, our protagonist. She has a lot of rage and darkness in her. Some of that has to do with the very nature of her powers, I guess, but the rest has everything to do with what happened to her family. She nurses that pain till it’s sharp enough to kill. She’s not your usual tortured soul, she has no compunction about doing what needs to be done to obtain her objective and she is dogged in her pursuit. She’s not exactly likeable but that works for her because she’s not meant to be, she’s not rainbows and sunshine, the exact opposite actually. But that’s not to say that she has no standards, she has few rules but she sticks to those no matter what and I admire her for that. I am looking forward to Mia discovering more about herself and making the full use of her powers.

Also, I have a feeling that Mia is bisexual. Of course, it isn’t spelled out but if you read carefully, there are definitely signs. Also, this is only the first book, Mia is still learning about herself and her powers, why not also learn more about her sexuality? I’d be happy if she is canonically bisexual and has a female love interest in the next book (and hopefully make it to the end of the series in one piece)

Now, for some reason, there are places where Nevernight is marked YA Fiction/Fantasy and it isn’t. The violence is very graphic and bloody and the sex scenes, those were pretty explicit as well, so definitely not for young readers. But the tone of the writing definitely fits with the contents of the book.

Nevernight is dark in both its plot as well as its main characters. But it is not without its moments of levity and dark humour. Its conclusion is also oddly satisfying despite all the bloodshed. This review isn’t exactly short but it isn’t nearly as coherent as I wanted it to be. At some point in the future, probably before I start reading book 2, I will reread it and hopefully, this time without all the interruptions.

P.S. – If possible, read a paperback or the hardbound copy of the book, trust me, it reads way better than the ebook version.