Book Review | Lords of the Sith (Paul Kemp)

I’m slowly working my way through the canon Star Wars novels, and Lords of the Sith is my most recent read. I just finished it today, so here are some thoughts.

I’ll do my best to keep this review spoiler-free, though I may mention a few minor plot points or details as examples. Any major spoiler sections will be preceded by a warning.

General impression

Lords of the Sith was, in my opinion, a polarized book. There were aspects I really liked and aspects I really disliked. Generally speaking, I’d say it’s action-packed and simple (in a good way), but it also has some stand-out problems, which I’ll discuss in a bit.

What I liked

The simplicity: I don’t tend to enjoy reading books that get too wrapped up in complicated politics and subplots, and though Star Wars novels can easily lean that way, Lords of the Sith doesn’t. The plot is very simple: try to kill Darth Vader and Palpatine. There aren’t a whole lot of subplots, and those that do exist are more for character development than anything else.

Isval: without a doubt, Isval was my favorite character. She has, in my opinion, the strongest characteristics, and towards the end of the book, she’s the one I cared about most.

Vader’s scenes: one of my qualms about the SW films is that we rarely get to see Darth Vader perform at his full capability. For the most part, he just walks around and looks intimidating. Lords of the Sith, however, shows us just how much absolute demolition he’s capable of singlehandedly.

Twi’leks in the limelight: finally! Twi’lek oppression and enslavement during Imperial times has always been a factor in the SW universe, but this is the most up-close and personal representation of that civilization we’ve gotten to date. I’ve always thought Twi’leks as a people group deserved more recognition, and now they have it.

What I disliked

The pacing: okay, the book IS action packed, especially in the second half. But the pacing is…wonky. Despite all the hack-and-slash action, the plot takes a long time to get going, and every now and then the author throws in some random scenes that feel out of place. For example, in the third act, I had to trudge through three or four chapters (chapters!) of Vader and Palpatine fighting giant bugs. Entertaining for a few paragraphs, but dreadfully dull for twenty pages. It wasn’t even that relevant to the plot.

The predictable outcome: [MAJOR SPOILER ALERT IN THIS SECTION] Okay, one big problem shared by all Star Wars books is that we already know, generally speaking, what the outcome is going to be because of what we know from the films and t.v. shows. In Lords of the Sith, that’s a glaring flaw.

Here’s what I mean: the premise of the book is that Cham Syndulla and his friend/partner Isval want to assassinate Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine. The whole plot builds up towards a big showdown between those four major characters. Anyone in tune with the Star Wars universe can VERY easily guess how that ends. Vader and Palpatine survive, obviously, as does Cham, because we see him in Rebels. But it’s safe to assume at least one major character will die, so that leaves poor Isval. Before I’d made it 1/3 into the book, I’d predicted that Cham’s plan would go horribly wrong and that Isval would sacrifice herself to ensure his (and others’) escape. That’s exactly what happened. It stinks when your favorite character in the book is all but guaranteed to die by the end. R.I.P. Isval.

If you know much about Star Wars and you pay attention to patterns, Lords of the Sith is 100% predictable, which is too bad, because it nullifies a lot of the potential tension (which was definitely there).

Miscellaneous complaints: 

  • The character names felt a bit lazy (Pok? Goll? Eshgo? Crost? Really? I know these are Twi’leks and secondary characters, but even Aayla Secura had a cool name, for crying out loud!)
  • Palpatine’s dialog got on my nerves. Everything was ‘it seems’, ‘it would appear’, or ‘my old friend’. Seriously…everything. I know it’s consistent with his film character, but still. Annoying.
  • The back-cover blurb is misleading. Based on the summary, I expected Vader and Palpatine to crash-land on Ryloth in the first act, but then I discovered that the space-battle that causes the crash-landing fills about half the book. (Refer back to the wonky pacing). I also thought there would be a lot more conflict between the two Sith Lords, but on that front, I was a bit disappointed.
  • The author had a handful of phrases that he used over and over. Moving with preternatural speed, for instance. He used that exact wording at least five or six times, and those small things stand out as distractions.

My final rating: 3 out of 5 stars. I wanted to give it 3.5 (maybe even 4) for Isval’s sake, but I just couldn’t rate it that high with much honesty. I still enjoyed it and would recommend it to Star Wars fans, as long as you’re not too overhyped for it.

The Ideal 10 Star Rating System + Big Announcement!

At the end of this post I’ll be sharing an exciting announcement with you all, so be sure to get in on it!


I’ve always been pretty vocal about my dissatisfaction with Amazon’s five-star rating system for books, the main reason being that five stars seriously limits the flexibility I’m able to have while expressing my opinions. So I decided to take matters into my own hands and construct a template for a ten-star rating system.

Currently, Amazon suggests the following criteria:

1 Star = I hate it

2 Stars = I don’t like it

3 Stars = It’s okay

4 Stars = I like it

5 Stars = I love it

Yuck. So…basic. So pessimistic. It sounds more like one of those convenience YA protagonists monologuing about her crush than a respectable review system. Does anyone even follow those criteria? I don’t.

Allow me to propose the following ten-star reviewing method:

1 Star = I read two chapters, burst a blood vessel, and fed the book to my pet turtle Franklin II.

2 Stars = I read three chapters, got a headache, and shook my head disapprovingly in Franklin II’s general direction.

3 Stars = I finished the book, but frankly, Franklin II is more interesting. And he’s a turtle. He doesn’t do anything. And his food smells weird.

4 Stars = The book’s okay for some light entertainment if I’ve got nothing better to do. Unfortunately, Franklin II and I had a game of marbles scheduled for today, so I won’t be reading much. Franklin II is bad at marbles. This could take some time.

5 Stars = I don’t regret spending a few bucks on the ebook. I enjoyed the general story, but there wasn’t anything remarkable about it. I might recommend it to Franklin II, since, being a turtle, his literature standards are fairly low, but he’s more of a mystery novel chap.

6 Stars = It’ll probably find a spot on my shelf, assuming the cover looks nice. Franklin II is irrelevant now. He can’t even see the shelf.

7 Stars = I quite enjoyed the book. I tried to have a meaningful discussion about the character development with Franklin II, but he was chomping on a lettuce leaf quite rudely, so I got mad and left.

8 Stars = Hmm, impressive. This book really stands out, possibly enough to earn a spot near the top of the shelf, where over time it’ll acquire a Franklin II-esque aroma. Gross. Franklin II stinks.

9 Stars = I read this book out loud to Franklin II after I’d finished it. We both teared up at the end. I’ve never seen Franklin II get so emotional. It was a beautiful bonding experience.

10 Stars = This book is extraordinary. Franklin II and I built a shrine for it, and on the second Tuesday of each month, we spend ten minutes in contemplative awe in front of it. Sometimes we even split a potato chip.

I hope the King of Amazon sees this post and takes the necessary steps to make my method official. In the meantime, Franklin II escaped his tank again. Gotta go find him.


Okay, now for the big announcement!

After a week or so of careful consideration, consultation, and calibration, I’ve decided to start a Wattpad account and serialize one of my backburner novels. Whaaat? Yes. I know. I think the earth just shifted on its axis. Here’s a fancy shiny thing for you to look at and be amazed:

wattpad cover copy

A band of escaped slave children face a world that wants them back in chains…or dead. Their struggle for survival begins in the uncharted wilderness and ends in a city ready to tear itself apart.

Placeholder cover art by yours truly. 

So why take this project to Wattpad? Several reasons. I’ve been puttering away at the manuscript for the better part of five years now, never really prioritizing it, so I figure this will be a good way to stick with it and finish it. It’s also the only novel I’ve written that doesn’t follow a developed outline, so a weekly chapter system fits perfectly. Third, The Broken City of Crows is longer and more ‘traditional’ fantasy than what I usually write. Why not try something different for it? Lastly, I really like the idea of getting feedback from readers as we progress through the story.

The first two chapters of The Broken City of Crows are already posted on Wattpad. Go read them here and tell me what you think! Any shares, tweets, or promotional smoke signals are greatly appreciated as well.

From here on out I’ll be posting single chapters every Friday or Saturday (depending on which works better for potential readers). And yes, I’m still writing Where the Woods Grow in Flames, don’t worry!

Anyways, I’m really excited to try this out. I don’t have super high expectations, but I’m curious to see how far we can go! Any support from you guys means the world to me, so let’s get going. Come along, Franklin II. We’ll be late!


Have a great day, friends!

Book Review | Star Wars: Aftermath

Star Wars: Aftermath is the third consecutive SW novel I’ve read this year. Previously, I had read A New Dawn and Ahsoka, both of which I greatly enjoyed. Aftermath, however, blows them both out of the water in terms of clench-worthy plot points and beautiful character arcs.

Don’t worry. This review is spoiler-free!

First Impression

I actually read about ten full pages before even realizing it was all present tense writing. Now, normally present tense novels drive me up the wall, but this was different. I didn’t mind it at all, and I think that says something about Wendig’s skills.

Which brings me to my next first-impression point: the writing style. Simply put, Wendig isn’t a fan of complete sentences. His style is clipped and concise, as if he were crafting each individual sentence to deliver an appropriate amount of punch. Trust me, it works brilliantly.

Plot

Several of the reviews I read prior to getting the book complained that the plot moved too slow. I honestly don’t see how people reach that conclusion. Not once did I get bored or put the book down because of pacing problems.

I think my favorite aspect of the plot is that we get to see multiple immediate subplots (Norra’s return home, Wedge’s capture, Rae’s plans, etc.) converge into one grand boom of events. You don’t see how they all fit together at first, but by the time things start falling into place, you’re definitely invested.

Plus, you get everything you’d want out of a Star Wars story: space battles, flying stunts, stormtrooper chases…no lightsabers, though. Which I’m okay with. This isn’t a Jedi story.

Characters

Man oh man, I love this cast of characters. Each character has such a tangible development arc as their own individual stories gradually merge into one common lane. I mean, when a Rebel pilot, her black-market-selling-droid-building son, a bounty hunter, an ex-Imperial loyalty officer, and a reprogrammed Separatist battle droid join forces, you know you’re going to have a good time with them.

Favorite character? Norra Wexley by a mile and a half. Her arc is so complete, so perfect. She’s not a Jedi. She’s not a force wielder at all. Sometimes she even doubts if she should be a pilot. But her loyalty to her son and her cause, her perseverance, and her willingness to sacrifice for the people she loves makes her an absolute legend in my Star Wars book.

Least favorite character? I’m gonna cheat here: I don’t have one. Honestly, though. Not even the bad guys. Rae Sloane is fantastic and relatable, even as the main antagonist. I appreciate the fact that there’s no great-evil-Sith-villain type character. I will say, however, that Temmin makes some pretty stupid decisions, and he sometimes gets aggravating, but he’s a rebellious teenager so at least it fits his character. I can’t dislike him too much, all things considered.

 


I ordered the next book in the trilogy, Aftermath: Life Debt the same day I finished Aftermath. I can’t wait for it to get here.

My rating: get-five-star-reviews

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely. If you’re a Star Wars fan, this seems like a no-brainer to me. I’ve said before that I usually prefer prequel-era story arcs, but Aftermath may be one of my favorite Star Wars ‘chapters’ ever. You should get this book.

In the meantime, have a great day!

Book Review | Star Wars: A New Dawn

Spoiler-free review: 4.5, considering my pre-established love for the characters. I bought the book because I wanted to read the story of how Kanan and Hera met. On that premise, it certainly delivered, and it further solidified Hera in particular as one of my favorite Star Wars characters. Two issues kept me from giving it 5 stars, however:

a. Frequent backstory drifts bogged the plot down a bit too frequently (but halfway through the book I figured out when/where to skim, so it’s not a huge deal).

b. The plot itself wasn’t super innovative. Bad guy wants to blow something up, good guys need to stop him. But the book, for me at least, was never really about the plot. It was about the characters. The plot could’ve been about rice farming and I still would’ve read it.

Favorite character: Hera Syndulla
Least favorite character: probably Skelly (sorry…just obnoxious).
Standout line: “Okadiah! Tell [Hera] about me!”
“A fine pilot, an occasional humanitarian, and a somewhat tolerable houseguest. Marry him, my darling!”


Now, is it greedy of me to really want a book (or two) about Kanan and Hera’s adventures together leading up to Rebels? I’ll sit here waiting for that to happen. In the meantime, have a great day!

Book Ratings: What’s Your Criteria?

Today’s post is a quick barfing of my thoughts on Amazon’s five star rating system, specifically when it applies to books.

I’ve finished a handful of books recently, and each time I go to review one of them on Amazon or Goodreads, I feel so limited by the five-star system. How can 1-5 stars accurately represent my reaction to something as complex as a novel, a novella, or even a short story?

I don’t think it can. I would much rather work with a 1-10 star system. I know Amazon will probably never do that, because, on a base level, their review system works. It’s just frustrating sometimes.

Here’s the criteria I follow when deciding how many stars to give a book I’ve recently read:

one-star-rating

One star reviews are harsh. I’ve never actually given a book a one star review before. To me, one star books are those that lack any sense of objective creative dignity. In other words, if I feel the author put any sort of effort into their product, I’ll be very reluctant to give it a one star rating.

Two-star-rating

I assign two star ratings to 99% of the books I simply don’t enjoy (I try to be objective. If I don’t enjoy a book for purely subjective reasons, I probably won’t bother reviewing it). My motives for giving a book two stars include consistently poor editing, subpar plot or character development, or if it’s just a boring story.

3-stars

Three star ratings are where I have the most issues, because I feel there should be a much bigger gap between two stars and three stars. To me, three stars mean I liked the book. I finished it and I was entertained. Maybe there were a few mistakes, and maybe it wasn’t my favorite book ever, but there were no glaring faults to make me quit.

I think writers generally get discouraged by three star ratings because they’re perceived negatively. But for a bit of perspective, on a ten star rating system, these books would earn 6-7 stars from me. That doesn’t sound too bad, does it?

four-stars_0

For the aforementioned reasons, I generally skip straight to four star ratings if I like a book (a ten star system would give me a lot more flexibility, though).

Four star books are properly constructed and edited, and they rise above the base entertainment factor. Maybe there’s a character I really like, or a plot twist that caught me by surprise, or a subplot I was genuinely engaged in. They may not be perfect: a few typos here and there, or the occasional weak character or plot point. Those are all relatively minor issues that I can overlook as long as the main plot and the protagonist keep me turning pages.

get-five-star-reviews

I give books five stars quite rarely. For a book to get five stars, it has to meet all the qualifications of a four star book (see above), but it also has to impact me. That’s the determining factor for me. Impact. Whether it’s emotionally, intellectually, or personally, a story has to really hit me hard for me to give it a full five stars.


I know rating books is an incredibly subjective process. I’m definitely not saying my criteria should be the rule.

How do you decide how many stars to give a book? Is your thought process similar to mine? Totally different? Let me know in the comments!

In the meantime, have a great Monday.

 

Sunday Book Review – The Ocean At The End Of The Lane

This weekend’s book review post is going to be a bit different than usual.

It’s been a few weeks since I last posted a Sunday Book Review, but I have a legitimate excuse. Originally, my intent was to review an indie book each weekend (and that’s still the goal, for the most part). However, as some of you saw on Twitter, a couple weeks ago I discovered a used English bookstore in downtown Barcelona, so I simply had to go. Twice. Possibly three times.

For less than twenty euros I picked up a beautiful copy of the complete Lord of the Rings trilogy, along with Fragile Things, Neverwhere, and the Ocean At The End Of The Lane, all by Neil Gaiman.

How am I supposed to set those books on the shelf and not read them? Before discovering this wonderful little place tucked away in a smelly side street behind some random cathedral, I was reading As The Crow Flies, by Robin Lythgoe, and believe me I was enjoying it. But…but…Neil Gaiman, people!

Now, a week or two later, I’ve finished The Ocean At The End Of The Lane and Neverwhere and am 100 pages into The Fellowship Of The Ring. I still fully intend to finish ATCF and review it, but I’m a reader before I’m a blogger, so I’m allowing myself this divergence.

That being said, I simply cannot withhold a review of The Ocean At The End Of The Lane, even if it’s not an indie book. So, here we go! Don’t worry, no spoilers here.


oceanatthe

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane

by Neil Gaiman

Genre according to Amazon: contemporary fantasy.

Length (print): 243 pages.

How I found it: by hunting down every Neil Gaiman book ever written.

Blurb (dust jacket): 

It began for our narrator forty years ago when the family lodger stole their car and committed suicide in it, stirring up ancient powers best left undisturbed. Dark creatures from beyond this world are on the loose, and it will take everything our narrator has just to stay alive: there is primal horror here, and menace unleashed–within his family and from the forces that have gathered to destroy it.

His only defence is three women, on a farm at the end of the lane. The youngest of them claims that her duckpond is an ocean. The oldest can remember the Big Bang.

My thoughts

Simply put, this book is amazing. Here are some of it’s greatest strengths (in my opinion):

  1. A lovable narrator/protagonist for whom you cheer from the first sentence. He’s so well developed that it wasn’t until a few days after finishing the book that I realized we never actually find out his name.
  2. Intense and sometimes dark scenes/moments told oh so efficiently and innocently from the eyes of a seven-year-old.
  3. An ending that left me with water coming out of my face and that little ache in my chest that only comes at the end of such a book.
  4. Can easily be read in 1-2 sittings, due to both its brevity and its pacing.
  5. An appreciation for mystery and the unknown (not everything gets spelled out clearly; I will probably re-read just for that reason).
  6. The cover. I know it’s just a cover…but come on. It’s gorgeous.
  7. A perfect blend of fantastical and magical elements with tangible, mundane places and habits from the author’s own childhood.
  8. Did I mention the emotion-overflow-inducing ending?

Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors, so I’m a bit biased, but I honestly don’t know if there was anything in this book that I didn’t like. I will, however, point out that there is one instance of (merely mentioned) nudity and one (separate) instance of sexual implications. Both have their part in the plot and are told very briefly from the perspective of the seven-year-old narrator, so there is nothing explicit or unwarranted. The book may look like a children’s story, but I wouldn’t consider it so, nor would the author, in my understanding/reading of his own take on the story.

My rating: 5/5 stars. 

(It’s a no-brainer)

Once again, this review is just my opinion. Yours may differ, and that’s fine! My plan is to finish As The Crow Flies by next weekend and thus get back on track with indie reviews. For more reviews and other posts, be sure to subscribe!

Sunday Book Review – Vastian Lore

Welcome back to Sunday Book Review! Today I’m giving my thoughts on a novella I just finished reading: Vastian Lore, by S.C. Gregory.

vastianlore

 

Vastian Lore, by S. C. Gregory

General Information

Genre according to Amazon: dark fantasy.

Length (print): 107 pages.

How I found it: giveaway announcement on the author’s blog.

Amazon blurb:

Sometimes taking the job means betraying family…
Turns out, Norarl is fine with that, once he accepts his whole life has been a lie.
His half-sister wants him dead. His twin brother would be only too happy to help her succeed, but they also want more than just his murder.
Arius and Zadraal will do everything in their power to free an army whose sole purpose is to destroy all life not like their own.
The only problem?
To break the magical seal on the Gate of N’sumenel requires the sacrifice of an Earthbound Elemental.
The real test will be if Norarl cares enough about his new-found allies to fight alongside them.

Amazon Rating: 5 stars (1 customer review) at the time of post publication.

My Thoughts

Caution: potential minor spoilers ahead, though I’ll do my best to not reveal the ending.

First impression: I was excited to receive my copy of Vastian Lore in the mail. I’d heard about it and read some of Gregory’s other work, but I wasn’t terribly familiar with this novella specifically.

Strengths

  1. The plot: simply put, Vastian Lore starts in the middle of the action and never gets boring. It’s a fast-paced story with a good balance of action and dialogue.
  2. Character development: character arcs often feel shoe-horned in such short works, but not so with Vastian Lore. Specifically, I loved Leso’s development from less-than-friendly stranger to likeable ally.
  3. The dialogue: I can’t think of a single moment during the story in which the characters are nice to each other, and that’s what makes the dialogue so fun. This unlikely group of allies is forged through insults, bickering, and a healthy dose of sarcasm.
  4. Names: I’m pretty picky when it comes to names. If I don’t like a character’s name, it bugs me for the whole story. But I honestly thought the author’s choice of names worked really well.

The best: in my opinion, Vastian Lore’s strongest point is the blend of everything you’d expect to see in a fantasy story (magic, swords, knives, and dangerous creatures) with consistently entertaining banter between the characters.

My favorite line:

“…After you stabbed me, you evil cow.”

Weaknesses

  1. There were a few formatting issues that may be exclusive to the paperback (I haven’t seen the ebook, and I know firsthand how much of a pain Createspace formatting can be). This led to some confusing paragraph transitions, but nothing worth making a stink over.
  2. There were times when the places, people, or creatures mentioned were hard to keep track of. Being a short novella, I know space is limited, and S. C. Gregory handled it very well, but I think five-ten pages more of context would’ve cleared up some muddled areas.

 


 

Conclusion: Vastian Lore is a fast-paced, entertaining story that blows open the doors to a big, big world. Strong characters and intriguing plot elements, while at times overwhelming, will keep you turning (or swiping) pages. I’m looking forward to S. C. Gregory’s work-to-come.

My final rating: 4/5 stars

You can find out more about author S. C. Gregory on her website.

Note: the story is pretty violent, especially towards the end. Lots of stabbing going on.

Note 2: I received Vastian Lore from a free giveaway (thanks again!). However, this review is not part of any deal or exchange. The content and thoughts are simply my opinion. Yours may vary, and that’s fine!