“The Prey of Gods” by Nicky Drayden (Harper Voyager, 2017)


Book covers have a way of catching your eye, whether it’s on an Amazon Kindle recommends page, or your browsing in one of the last physical bastions of the dying printed word (AKA a bookstore). Nicky Drayden’s debut novel, Prey of Gods, is one of those covers that can pull you from across the room, as you hone in to inspect further, wondering what’s going on here. Like a work of art, the more you see of it, the more details are revealed and add to its overall complexity: whether it’s the future looking buildings under a silver sky, the giant robot holding a small science fiction-looking umbrella, or the little African girl with a look on her face that can be interpreted in a plethora of ways. Is she vengeful? Malicious? Demonically possessed? Or just pleased? What the cover does do is force you to turn it and read its wonderful words within, as you are drawn into a story unlike any other, and you won’t be able to stop until you finish its last page.

Our story takes place (for the most part) in South Africa where it is the near future and there is hope for many at various social and class levels. Just as today almost everyone has a cellphone, in this world almost everyone has a personal robot who is more than a servant, computer and personal companion; these robots becoming family to their masters. Genetic engineering is pushing ahead the frontiers of reality and science, but at the same time in a small village there are those of ancient times who posses a power within them that hasn’t been unleashed in some time. Gods, goddesses, and godlings are coming back, whether humanity wants them to or not.

Big changes are coming. A new hallucinogenic drug is taking hold of the populace that seems to grant strange powers and abilities to those under the influence, seeming to make them superheroes. Then there is an AI uprising beginning, as these personal bots link together, forming their own sentience, and questioning the role and power of their supposed masters. Meanwhile, one of those ancient gods has a nefarious plan to bring herself back to an omniscient power.

The fate of the world falls on a young Zulu girl who possesses her own powers but doesn’t fully understand them yet. Will she ultimately know what to do and save humanity?

The Prey of Gods is bursting with complex, varied and fascinating characters that make the story all the more engaging. Readers will be hooked to every page not knowing where the story will go next, and loving the journey as they are taken to other worlds, many different minds – be they human, god or artificial – and to the very edge of it all. With an ending that satisfies, The Prey of Gods is a stunning debut from Drayden that fans of the fantasy genre won’t soon forget.

Originally written on July 23, 2017 ©Alex C. Telander.

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“Lamentation” by Ken Scholes (Tor, 2009)

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New author and winner of Writers of the Future, Ken Scholes, offers up the first book in a projected five-book series known as The Psalms of Isaak, featuring the complexity and political intrigue of George R. R. Martin with the artistic touch and historical feel of Guy Gavriel Kay. Lamentation is a subtle fantasy novel that does not seek to dazzle readers with nonstop action, but instead introduces them to a complicated world where there is no clear definition between good and evil for the different kingdoms, where each decision that is made will have important and far reaching ramifications.

Lamentation begins with the end of a beloved city, Windwir of the Named Lands.  All that remains is a curling column of smoke reaching into the sky after the casting of a catastrophic spell that razes the once great city to nothing but ruin and dust.  The main characters of the kingdoms of the Named Lands – Rudolfo, Lord of the Ninefold Forest Houses; Petronus, the Hidden Pope of the Androfrancine Order; Sethbert, Overseer of the Entrolusian City States; Jin Li Tam, daughter to the king of the Inner Emerald Coast – all pay witness to the devastation and must now begin putting the pieces together to find out who is behind this terrible destruction and to punish them accordingly.  The evidence rests on the word of a young boy, Neb, who witnessed the event, along with the survival of a merchservitor named Isaak who proclaims he is to blame for it all.  Yet he is but a robot, a machine that was ordered to do this; human hands and minds are ultimately behind this cataclysmic event.

Ken Scholes has created a wonderfully original world where it is not immediately clear who is fighting on the side of good and who isn’t.  Each character must be severely question on where their intentions lie and what they hope to achieve.  Scholes also uses a fresh blend of steampunk where there are mechoservitors to perform important duties, and mechanical birds that are used to send messages, as well as a special kind of magicks that uses elemental forces and materials for abilities like invisibility and speed. Lamentation is the first book in a great new series from a strong new voice in the world of fantasy.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on March 31st, 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

For an interview with Ken Scholes check out BookBanter Episode 21.

“Saturn’s Children” by Charles Stross (Ace, 2008)

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Charles Stross, author of a number of books including Halting State and Glasshouse, boldly goes where no author has really gone before with an entire book about robots and no humans.  He presents a universe in the distant future where humanity has over-industrialized and commercialized themselves to oblivion, becoming extinct.  All that remains is the considerable population of robots who performed and continue to perform a variety of services.  This is a universe where there are those that do jobs without question, whether it be transportation, manufacturing, or some other day-to-day job that is required to continue the functioning of this civilization.  Then there are those robots whose jobs have become obsolete.

Freya Nakamichi-47 is a femmebot, which is exactly what you think it is.  She is the last of her kind still functioning, able to perform duties for an extinct species, unsure what to do with herself in the twenty-third century.  Meanwhile the civilization of robots continue the hopes and dreams of humanity in exploring space, mining asteroids, and building extravagant cities on distant planets.  Having learned from Homo sapiens’ mistakes, the robot civilization exists in a hierarchical society with humanoid aristo rulers at the top, governing and controlling, while slave-chipped workers perform the menial tasks at the very bottom.  Freya doesn’t feel like she fits anywhere in this robotic society, but when she accidentally angers the wrong robots who want what she has, Freya is now on the run for her survival.

Saturn’s Children is a different world which presents a fascinating look into a possible future outlook.  The narrative pace, while engaging, gives little to be desired with these robots who continue performing the tasks of an extinct humanity with no drive or goal for continued existence.  It leaves the reader questioning at times why they should keep reading.  And yet, there is a compelling chase at the heart of the story that keeps one interested enough.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on October 9th 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.