Book Review – ‘Nil on Fire’ (#3 Nil) by Lynne Matson

An all-stakes battle with teens pitted against a sentient island in a pocket universe.

Genre: Y/A, Science Fiction, Adventure

No. of pages: 416

Despite Rives and Skye’s attempt to destroy Nil, the island remains. And back in this world, Nil won’t let Skye go. Haunted by a darkness she can’t ignore, Skye wrestles with Nil nightmares that worsen by the day and threaten to tear her apart. As Skye fights to keep her mind intact, she realizes that to finally break free of Nil, she must end Nil’s vicious cycle once and for all—and she can’t do it alone.

Who are Nil’s new arrivals? Who will return to the island? And who will survive in the end? In this final installment of the Nil series, the stakes have never been higher.

Losing isn’t an option, but winning will cost Skye everything.

I have so many feelings about this fantastic concept – sentient portals abducting teens and depositing them in an alternate pocket universe to survive Island-style, and try and find a way home again before their time runs out.

I appreciated the narrative around colonisation and erasure of aboriginal culture underlying ‘Nil on Fire,’ but I still don’t think it was handled as delicately as it could have been, but the representation and exploration of the Polynesian culture was a big plus for me. So too was the diversity – many cultures and languages represented in the characters, yet still no getting a chance to lead the narrative.

Unfortunately there were drawbacks in this concluding novel of the Nil trilogy. This felt long, facts kept getting repeated and I did not like the direction the last instalment in this series took us. I struggled a bit with the narrative, losing interest many times, the characters started to feel more two-dimensional despite the hell they were being put through. The deaths were shrugged off a little at the end. It was just disappointing for me.

There are multiple perspectives in ‘Nil on Fire’ we follow Skye, Rives, and a schizophrenic omnipresence of Nil (the island) and the story picks up pretty much right after the events ending in the second book in the series ‘Nil Unlocked.’ I did like how we got all the characters from the first two novels in this final book of the trilogy, facing off against the island itself, and the mythology behind its creation. This concluding novel does offer explanation and wrap up the series well, but it was the mythology that did not sit well with me. It was a little too fantastical. Nil is a great series and the premise had me hooked… I would have loved this to stick to a more science fiction route than it had – given the alien consciousness presence and the alternate pocket universe. The precedence had been set. Otherwise maybe the series should have taken the more mystical route and leave the mythology grounded in the Polynesian culture. The philosophy of the Nil series felt like a jumbled mish-mash of both elements and lacked conviction.

As we are dealing with established characters, who have already run the gauntlet, there is limited space for them to develop further. In that sense we get the main cast helping secondary characters grow from their own experience. I guess that is another factor that separated from the narrative. I kept getting bored with too much detail, repetition, and short chapters jumping from perspective to perspective. The narrative didn’t sit long enough with a character for me to really get sucked into the Nil universe, or form strong emotional connections with the cast. ‘Nil on Fire’ is banking on the reader already having forged those bonds in the first two novels to carry you through this finale.

Lynne Matson has a great writing style for setting the scene and world building, I loved her descriptions of the island and its mysterious sway on the teens. She is also great at character development from the previous novels. I’d like to read something from her told in first person with no switches in perspective and see how that affects my reading experience.

So this was a mixed bag of feelings for me. I loved getting to meet all the characters again, and have the mystery solved… I just didn’t like the direction it took.

Overall feeling: *nose-dive*

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Nil Unlocked’ (#2 Nil) by Lynne Matson

Island survival with a sci-fi twist.

Genre: Y/A, Science Fiction, Adventure

No. of pages: 448

On the island of Nil, the rules are set. You have exactly 365 days to escape—or you die. Rives is now the undisputed Leader of Nil City, but keeping the City united is tougher than ever.

Raiders have grown bolder, supplies are dwindling, and non-human inhabitants have taken a turn toward the deadly. New arrivals cause rifts within the City, putting the Search system at risk, and calling everything Rives knows into question. Desperate for answers, he teams up with the only other person searching for them: Skye, a new arrival with a mysterious past of her own. Soon the duo find themselves locked in a desperate race to save all the residents of Nil—and possibly destroy the island forever. But at what cost? And who will pay the price?

We revisit the island of Nil following a new protagonist Skye – whose father is obsessed with the myth of the island after his brother was taken by the portals to Nil in their childhood and kept a journal of his experiences. Our second perspective is that of Rives, who was introduced in the first novel of the franchise.

I enjoyed this a little better than the debut because we get more of the mythology and reasoning behind the behaviour of the island, the portals, and the carvings on the island. It is still an all-out survival game against all manner of beasties and the elements, but this felt more grounded in a concept for me.

Nil Unlocked’ also touches on an interesting theme of white colonisation and interference with the natural order of things, and the slow eroding of native/aboriginal beliefs and culture. Even though there is a large representation of races and languages that get taken by the portals to Nil, it is still a predominately white and American presence. That in itself urked me – looking at the land mass and population distribution across the planet, if the capturing of teens abducted to Nil, white Americans should be a minority. There is also still a bit about the mythology that has gaping holes in the way things happen, how it came to exist, it really feels like we’re just scratching the surface. I’m hoping there will be answers in the last book of this series ‘Nil on Fire.’

If you were hoping the series would follow the protagonists from the debut ‘Nil,’ Charley and Thad, we do get a few scenes with Charley which adds to the plot, however, Thad is still missing in action. I’m sure we’ll get some resolution in the final instalment.

The action scenes, survival stories, and group dynamics are really well crafted in this collection. Lynne Matson has got some serious writing chops. The thing that let me down the most was we weren’t given enough to ground the story in plausibility in connection to the mythology of the franchise. The tone of this aspect is much different in ‘Nil Unlocked’ as it was in ‘Nil.’ I am curious to see where this all goes; it will either be a great reveal, or could crash and burn…. That’s what my thinking is at this point in time about this series. Great concept, but not enough introduced at the beginning to really hook a reader. Compared to series like ‘Maze Runner,’ ‘The book of Ivy,’ ‘Monument 14,’ and ‘Not a Drop to Drink,’ where the landscape and circumstances may change from book to book, but the core drive and motivation of the characters don’t in relation to the mythology/politics/climate of the story. It’s a little touchy-feely stuff, but it’s just the impression I get – though a small one impacting the novel overall.

Where Charley was more an everyday girl and needed to rely on her island mates to survive – though her analytical skills about the nature of the island proved her a savant, Skye has been a trained survivalist. Trained specifically for Nil. Which made ‘Nil Unlocked’ feel more of a trope than its predecessor.

The chapters are short and alternate between Skye and Rives. We also get heavy amounts of excerpts of Skye’s Uncles journal – all to unravel the mysteries of Nil and ultimately leading the pair to a plan that could turn the existence of Nil on its head. It is definitely a high-stakes read that kept me glued to the page. Really, great pacing and intrigue from start to finish.

I want to reserve whether I’ll recommend this until after I read ‘Nil on Fire.’ Matson has a great writing style which is more suited to the YA demographic, and I love the themes she introduces in the material.

Overall feeling: Dancing while on fire.

© Casey Carlisle 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

#bookquotes

The Wayward Children collection has got me into reading fantasy again. I love how the metaphor of portals for other worlds in this instance plays with the concept of predetermination… sometimes our fate is decided no matter what path we chose.

I don’t know if that a good thing or a bad thing? I always say we make our own future.

Book Review – ‘Twilight Heart’ (#7 Harbinger P.I.) by Adam Wright

Sorceresses, witch portals, Excalibur… things are getting interesting.

Twilight Heart (#7 Harbinger P.I.) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal, Detective

No. of pages: 214

From Goodreads:

How do you mend a broken heart?…

Put it back into the sorceress it came out of.

There’s only one way to lift Mallory’s death curse and Alec will do anything to save his friend.

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I’m starting to sit on the fence with this series. While it falls under the category of ‘guilty pleasure’ for me – entertaining, easy, quick read full of action; Wright’s writing is not evolving, and each subsequent sequel is feeling episodic, repetitive and serialized.

These novels are tending towards being entirely plot driven. No character development. Still the secondary characters are used as tools to service the main character and drive the plot forward. I was trying to figure out what it was that was bothering me so much about this writing style, and then it hit me: the novel reads like a Cliff’s notes version of itself. Not enough time is spent on the meaty parts of the story (where we have opportunities for the characters to grow and change from the adversity they face) and in between these scenes is longer than necessary with descriptions of menial facts. I wanted more world building, more ambience. I’d like to see Wright dwell in the key plot points, turning points, and conclusion of the novel. ‘Twilight Heart’ felt a bit rushed.

BUT. Having said all that, the saving grace is that the material is quite entertaining. I love all the paranormal goings-on… though lately is getting a bit scattered. And you can read the entire book within 2-3 hours.

Angel Heart

I will say that Wright’s writing has improved – I’m not getting the repetition of typical phrases that cropped up a lot in previous novels. The language is engaging and he can insert humour in the perfect spots. I just wish he’d allow the story to unfold organically. I get a real sense of the author guiding the story along. He’s got all the tools to write an outstanding novel in this genre – I just wonder if he’s putting undue pressure on himself to churn out a certain number of novels in a year?

While sticking to the now established pattern of solving one key crime/mystery per novel, and dropping breadcrumbs of others in the last page or two of another, I feel a little cheated. Again we could get more exploration of the new clues and mysteries. Have them scattered throughout the novel to build a momentum so that when the teaser for the next novel is delivered it packs a punch. Leaves the reader with anticipation. Instead it feels like a ‘Oh by the way… The End’

I also found more grammatical errors that could have been picked up with a read-through.

So while I am enjoying these novels, I’d only recommend them to their niche demographic, and, if Wright doesn’t start developing his storytelling methods, I’m going to get bored and abandon his books completely.

Overall feeling: Fun, but it’s getting a little meh…

Twilight Heart (#7 Harbinger P.I.) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Twilight Heart (#7 Harbinger P.I.) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Nil’ (#1 Nil) by Lynne Matson

Bought this book for the island survival aspect, stayed for the action and mystery.

Nil (#1 Nil) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Science Fiction

No. of pages: 384

From Goodreads:

On the mysterious island of Nil, the rules are set. You have one year. Exactly 365 days–to escape, or you die.

Seventeen-year-old Charley doesn’t know the rules. She doesn’t even know where she is. The last thing she remembers is blacking out, and when she wakes up, she’s lying naked in an empty rock field.

Lost and alone, Charley finds no sign of other people until she meets Thad, the gorgeous leader of a clan of teenage refugees. Soon Charley learns that leaving the island is harder than she thought . . . and so is falling in love. With Thad’s time running out, Charley realizes that to save their future, Charley must first save him. And on an island rife with dangers, their greatest threat is time.

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I went into this without knowing much about the Nil universe other than it was a survival adventure for a group of teens on a tropical island. I certainly did not expect the sci-fi twist, which I found delightful and set up an interesting premise. This book felt like a mash-up of ‘The Maze Runner’ and ‘Beauty Queens.’

I got a little worried with the dual perspectives, it is usually a note that gives a lot of repetition in the narrative, but ‘Nil’ managed to dodge this pitfall expertly.

There was a little bit of a slow start. The world building took a little bit of time to erect with such a large cast of characters, and the rules of the island inhabitants… and the island itself. It is well worth persevering. I’ve read slower, I think because we learn about the world through ‘show’ more than ‘tell’ it slowed the pace a little. But it’s the kind of writing that I prefer. ‘Nil’ definitely captured my imagination.

Protagonist Charley, an athletic, 6-foot, awkward teenage girl awakening naked on a strange island was a great premise. She really works at finding herself, and her place on the island. I loved how her unique perspective of the island, and its reason for being, adds something new to the story. I love how the attributes she found embarrassing about herself were the things that gave her advantages in this hostile environment.

The constant ticking clock for all the characters added an urgency that really upped the pacing and kept me engaged right to the last page.

Thad, the love interest, was all things hunky hero that you’d expect. The leader, the rescuer. Though he didn’t embody that stereotype completely. He gets to live outside those initial impressions, and lets Charley deconstruct a few of these aspects on her own terms and grow as a person. It was great to read about his doubt and insecurities.

The romance between these two felt a bit insta-lovey. I would have liked have read more of a build and a rocky start. So it did feel a bit cheesy and tropey in that respect.

Nil (#1 Nil) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Contra to that, ‘Nil’ is brutal. Matson is not afraid to pile up the body count – and any character is fair game. I really did not know who was going to make it through to the end. This air of uncertainty, of living in the now, adds some great tension and had me hooked.

Nil’ reads more like a romance with a survival setting. Upon finishing, while satisfied with the resolution of major plot points, the mystery of the island remains unsolved. And I am keen to read on in this trilogy to discover what Nil is all about. Though it looks like the sequel ‘Nil Unlocked’ is dealing with different protagonists.

There was a contrived element that urked me. Like some big Game Master was pulling the strings. Whether this was intentional, and the role of the island itself, or the author setting up the storyline, it’s something that resonated with me in a slightly negative way.

I think if there was a touch more explanation about the island, a little less romance, less of the trope, this would have been a 5 star read. It is still a bonza read. I loved the adventure and the mystery of the island, the challenges to survival, and how visceral the challenges were. Definitely up there with my recommended books. Can’t wait to work out the mystery of Nil in the remainder of the trilogy.

Overall feeling: Not too shabby

Nil (#1 Nil) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Nil (#1 Nil) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – Earth Star by Janet Edwards

Jarra – that girl has to fake it until she makes it!

Earth Star Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Science fiction

No. of pages: 374

From Goodreads:

18-year-old Jarra has a lot to prove. After being awarded one of the military’s highest honours for her role in a daring rescue attempt, Jarra finds herself – and her Ape status – in the spotlight. Jarra is one of the unlucky few born with an immune system that cannot survive on other planets. Derided as an ‘ape’ – a ‘throwback’ – by the rest of the universe, Jarra is on a mission to prove that Earth Girls are just as good as anyone else.

Except now the planet she loves is under threat by what could be humanity’s first ever alien contact. Jarra’s bravery – and specialist knowledge – will once again be at the centre of the maelstrom, but will the rest of the universe consider Earth worth fighting for?

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I began this series last year in October after some serendipity scrolling titles on Goodreads. This sequel one-ups the debut (Earth Girl) and still manages to indulge in all elements of sci-fi without our lead character stepping foot off Earth soil. And I can’t wait to tackle the next in this series later in the year.

I liked Jarra better in this instalment, she is more confident and ready to accept her destiny. The plot line felt a little contrived, forcing the situation to make Jarra indispensable, and many of the mechanisms in the story adding to that were eye-roll inducing. You could really feel Janet Edwards shaping the path of the novel rather than Jarra experiencing her narrative organically. But nonetheless, I really enjoyed it, much like I would an after school special.

The story is unique, and even with the author pulling the strings for much coincidence, remained true to its core predicament – there was no ‘cop out’ and magical discoveries to change the story and make it more sensational. Which I felt added to the tension throughout, making it a real page turner.

We still get more of the site excavation and its unusual technological advances that were present in the first book, and Jarra gets to use her knowledge and military background (well, faux background) to her strengths. As well as seeing some expanded group dynamics and see her stepping outside of the school environment.

Earth Star Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

There is still some lingo (and slang) which felt unnecessary, and many of the secondary characters lacked depth. But Edwards writing style possesses an easy flow that allows you to delve into the new world and enjoy the pace and action. With a few comical moments to lighten the narrative, I found I was hoping for more, and with any luck we’ll see the characters returning in the third book of the series, Earth Flight, and embellish this fun read. But overall an easy and entertaining read to spark imagination.

Earth Star still managed to surprise me, some plot twists I could see a mile away, and others came out of nowhere – so it’s not totally predictable. Still a series I’d recommend to a young adult audience with a love for science fiction. I loved the additional threat… or benign threat… that is woven into the series – masterful!

Earth Star Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Overall feeling: Pretty cool!

 Earth Star Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

Earth Star Book Review Pic 05 by Casey Carlisle

Critique Casey by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.