I managed to pick up the pace on my reading so it hasn't been a month since the last review!
First up Age of Assassins
by RJ Barker. As I've said, I prefer my heroes a bit on the older side these days because I am and I enjoy reading about characters who aren't driven by teenage emotions. You Die When You Die
was a pretty good book but the teenaged protagonist was a chore to read sometimes. That said, here we are with another book about a young teenager trying to figure out this grown-up thing. This is complicated by the fact that he's being raised and trained by Merela, a professional assassin.
The book's setting has a Dark Sun
vibe, people can use magic but it draws on life force so if you want to do a big magical spell, you can, but a huge section of land will become barren and lifeless. Luckily, you can reverse that. Unluckily, you reverse it by spilling blood onto the "sourlands" magic leaves behind. So there's a pogrom out for people talented in magic and pretty rough existence for everyone else.
Girton, our hero, and his master infiltrate a castle on a mysterious mission. The mysterious mission is a set-up. The local queen needs an assassin to prevent another assassin from killing her son. The queen has plans for her son to take over not just the local kingdom but to marry into the High King's family and take over from there. The son is a jerk and not terribly popular and the grandson of the previously deposed king is around. So there's intrigue aplenty.
Girton, of course, is just an apprentice so he winds up doing a lot of grunt work and even when he finds the important clues, he doesn't realize it until Merela puts it together. That's not to say he's stupid or incompetent (he doesn't kill without reason, but he does kill), just that he's a teenager and there's a lot he still doesn't know. It's a bit like a Nero Wolfe mystery in which Archie does a ton of running around and then Nero just looks up from his chair and tells you the solution.
All in all, it was an ok book. I'm curious to try the next one in the series, but I wasn't super blown away by it. Certainly a good source for plots in a LARP or RPG.
Next I read Sea of Rust
by C. Robert Cargill and it's probably one of the better books of fiction I've read this year. Not terribly literary, but It really sucked me in and held my attention with good characters, dialog, world-building, pacing, and even the deeper themes it touches on.
In this book, the robots rose up and killed all of mankind (and most of the life on the planet). The story follows Brittle, a service robot who used to work for humans and now scours the Sea of Rust, the upper Midwest of the US where the freebots try and eke out a living. Freebots? Oh yes, because after the robot uprising, the giant mainframe AIs said "download yourself to our servers and let us use your body. join the One. resistance is futile". For the most part, resistance has been pretty futile and robots who don't want to be part of one of the major mainframes are out in places like the Sea of Rust trying to keep their heads down and keep a supply of spare parts handy.
Brittle does a lot of this -- she follows malfunctioning bots out into the wild and when they shut down, she loots them for parts -- either parts she needs or parts she can trade to get what she wants. Coming home from a successful mission, she gets ambushed. She survives but gets injured in the process and now she needs to secure a new core for her model or she'll go mental as well. About this time one of the mainframes makes a major push into the Sea of Rust.
The book alternates a bit between Brittle's narrative about what's going on and Brittle describing the rise of the AIs and their overthrow of the humans. That sometimes annoys me (it seems like your padding the page count), but it was pretty well done here. Although the book plays out like a robot Western or Noir, there are quieter moments where robots probe interesting philosophical questions that lead you down very different and very similar paths when your a robot and not a biological being. Oh, and yeah, Brittle is a she and why that is so is one of the interesting questions they deal with.
It was a solid book and I highly recommend it.