Category Archives: TOR Books

All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries) by Martha Wells

All Systems Red Title: All Systems Red: The Murderbot Diaries
Author: Martha Wells
Publisher: Tor Books
ISBN: 978-0765397539
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

“All Systems Red” is such a brilliant novella that I wished it never ended, but it did and I was only too happy knowing there is a sequel which I can get to later. It is a space-thriller, a science-opera like nothing else you would have read before. At least I hadn’t earlier. Can a droid have emotions? Can robots think for themselves and be empathetic? Is that even possible? Martha Wells asks these questions in her first episode of The Murderbot Diaries (I love the name of the series by the way) and makes you think as a reader if something like this could be remotely possible in the near-future.

Our protagonist is SecUnit, an AI robot who is not only shy but also quite self-aware. The world is being run by corporates and everything needs to be approved by The Company. These androids belong to the Company and on a planet which is quite distant from ours, a team of scientists are conducting tests. SecUnit is a part of the unit that is conducting these tests. It hates humans and all it longs for is to be left alone. It also refers to itself as Murderbot (now you get the link?). And of course, a mission that isn’t theirs goes wrong and it is up to the scientists and Murderbot to work together to get to the truth.

I am overwhelmed by the writing of Wells. It doesn’t read as science fiction and it so does that you are confused what you are reading at some point, which to me is a great quality to have in a writer. The novella is also funny by the way, more so because of what Murderbot thinks and never says out loud. I found myself laughing in so many places and yet the pace of excitement never dies. The plot is tight and the conclusion doesn’t disappoint at all. Read it for sure! Get the second part as well. You would want to read it right after.

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A Conjuring of Light: A Novel (Shades of Magic) by V.E. Schwab

A Conjuring of Light Title: A Conjuring of Light: A Novel (Shades of Magic)
Author: V.E. Schwab
Publisher: Tor Books
ISBN: 978-0765387462
Genre: Fantasy Fiction
Pages: 624
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

And now to the last book in the Shades of Magic trilogy by V.E. Schwab, “A Conjuring of Light”. I was so taken in by the earlier two books that I had to read this one soon after I had finished the second one. The balance of Four Londons is clearly at stake in this one, after the black power rises so to say.

Might I also add, that contrary to popular opinion, this was my favourite book in the series, even though it was nothing short of a tome at six hundred plus pages. Just that the characters of Kell and Lila were fully developed in this one and you could so clearly see different shades to them, that I couldn’t help but hoot for the writing.

So here is a brief summary of the plot: An ancient enemy returns to claim a city, as a fallen hero tries very hard to save a kingdom, almost in ruins. And then there is the twist of Lila knowing magic but she doesn’t know how to control it. This is the part of the book that I loved the most. Schwab clearly knows how to spin a tale by bringing in a surprise element and enthralling the reader with it.

The entire excitement of four Londons being involved and equally so in the plot makes this one racier and almost on the edge of your seat fantasy thriller, so to speak. Yes, the writing seems dull in some places, but that was only a minor hindrance as far as I am concerned, given how much I enjoyed reading this one. Schwab clearly has ended the trilogy with precision, closed all open angles to the plot and has given us characters that I certainly would like to know more of, if there is a spin-off series, one which I am most certainly hooting for.

A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic, #2) by V.E. Schwab

A Gathering of Shadows Title: A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic, #2)
Author: V.E.Schwab
Publisher: Tor Books
ISBN: 978-0765376480
Genre: Fantasy Fiction
Pages: 512
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

After I finished reading, “A Darker Shade of Magic” I knew I wouldn’t be at peace till I finished the second and third parts of the trilogy and I did just that. I ate my way through the other two parts and was so not disappointed by them or by the end (which most people were by the way). A Gathering of Shadows is the second part of the trilogy and a lot has happened since the end of Book 1 (I will not give away any spoilers. Don’t worry). But how do I speak of this book without giving away something? I shall try not to.

The King and the Queen are not very pleased with Kell for something he did in Book One (You really must read the first book to find out what). But what I can say is that just like Hunger Games and the Games in Harry Potter, there is also something known as the Element Games introduced in this book, which is an important magical competition and everyone’s focus turns to it. While in another London, something dark and sinister is brewing.

The writing is as taut as ever but I was expecting more from this book. However, she did fulfill that wish in the third book (which I will review tomorrow). New characters were introduced in this one and the old ones stayed (some whom I loved and some not so much). Also, the relationship between Kell and Rhy was expanded in this one which I could not get enough of. The camaraderie between them is just superb.

“A Gathering of Shadows” is a fitting sequel to the series and I am glad I read it in a row after “A Darker Shade of Magic”, soon followed by the final part of the trilogy, “A Conjuring of Light”. A brilliant series in my opinion.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

A Darker Shade of Magic Title: A Darker Shade of Magic
Author: V.E. Schwab
Publisher: TOR Books
ISBN: 978-0765376466
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 416
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I have always been wary of reading fantasy and high-fantasy at that. In my mind, there are so many plots and sub-plots to follow that I lose track of all of them and then the names in these books – almost difficult to remember and recall when needed. I would always have to go back and see where did I encounter a particular character and what happened to them. However, that doesn’t deter me to read fantasy novels, that I want to or the ones I have loved before of a certain author. It takes me time to finish it, or the series but I do get around anyhow. This time though, “A Darker Shade of Magic” by V.E. Schwab – the first book in the Shades of Magic trilogy surprised me. I started and finished it in almost a span of three days and that’s saying lot, giving I was reading multiple books at the same time.

“A Darker Shade of Magic” is about multiple Londons and magic. These are parallel Londons – The Grey, The Red, The White and once upon a time, there was The Black London as well. And at the center of all of this is Kell – one of the last Antari – magicians with a rare ability to travel between these Londons. Before I say anything further about the book, let me say something about the author and her writing style. Schwab doesn’t spoon-feed the plot to you. She doesn’t explain anything right at the beginning. You are not served, so to say. You need to figure things as a reader. Now back to the book: Kell is not only a messenger of Red London (belonging to the Royal Family) but he is also a collector of trinkets and often risks bending some rules to collect these. We don’t know much about Kell till of course the plot unfurls and then you cannot wait to know more about him.

By the time you have almost gotten into Kell’s part, you meet Lila Bard – the thief so to say in Grey London and is far more enthusiastic than the greyness and gloom of this London. The story then becomes very interesting when Kell’s and Lila’s path cross (of course that’s a given), given Lila wants an adventure and Kell perhaps needs something else which he isn’t aware of. And before you know it, it is up to them to save all of the worlds from the deadliest enemy of them all.

Schwab’s writing is quick. She doesn’t waste them. You get to know about the characters by their actions, not as much as the author telling you about them. So, there is more showing, which is how it should be. Kell and Lila of course are multi-faceted and layered, and at the same time, you know exactly how they will react at times – you are that comfortable with them as a reader. You come across some really bad-ass villains which you will come to hate and the idea is that they just want to reintroduce vitari magic (you will learn of this as well) in all of Londons, thereby keeping them open to immense destruction. The characters are excellent. The plot is without any loop-holes and brilliantly conceptualized. More than anything, the writing is super. I cannot wait to finish the trilogy.

Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation. Edited & Translated by Ken Liu

Invisible Planets Title: Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation
Edited and Translated by Ken Liu
Publisher: TOR Books
ISBN: 978-0765384195
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

I love science fiction and when it came from China, somehow it became even more special and I don’t know why. I guess I do. I think because of living in the conditions that they have and do, the Chinese write some brilliant sci-fi stories. I’ve read a couple in the past and absolutely loved them. I also think reading other genres from other lands just broadens your world-view, even if it is science-fiction, because hey it is after all rooted in reality. Invisible Planets takes readers of English outside their comfort zone and introduces us to futures imagined by people whose lives are vastly different from ours. To me, that was the most rewarding thing about reading this anthology.

Invisible Planets has it all – dystopia, western science-fi, science opera (thank God not too much of it), futuristic for sure, and stories also by Liu Cixin whose The Three-Body Problem was a brilliant piece of science fiction which I urge everyone to read.

Some stories of course stand out and some not all that much. My personal favourites were: The Year of the Rat by Chen Qiufan about young men trying to control mutant rats (this might give some sleepless nights), then there’s also Ma Bayong’s The City of Silence which almost reminded me of the times that we are living in (more so in India where freedom of expression is going away day by day) and was quite a chilling tale at that. Another story that stood out for me was Folding Beijing – which is all about money, money and more money and how it impacts the future. Taking Care of God again presents a very unique vision of the world. I will not say more about this short story as the title also gives something away.

Invisible Planets is a fantastic anthology. It is edited brilliantly by Ken Liu and for one it will introduce readers to new Chinese authors who have an uncanny flair for science fiction which is not only unique, but also very literary at the same time.