Member Reviews

This book is FANTASTIC. A whipsmart take on on a trolley problem with exponentially rising stakes used as a moral wringer for a number of humans and aliens, it manages to be hilarious despite going through some depressing stuff and riveting while doing some really heavy lifting in a number of sciences and histories and a really mindboggling array of subjects that give the book so much nice texture and weight. I found it very hard to put down -- it just might be the kind of book that you should, in fact, allow yourself binge deep into the night and then have a hangover for a week after. I agree with a few of the early readers that the first part of the book that introduces Anna and Ssrin was my absolutely favourite -- it was such a firecracker -- so it took a while to adjust my expectations as the cast expanded, but it felt really rewarding throughout.

My thanks to Netgalley and Tor Dot Com for an early copy of Exordia. Thoroughly enjoyed and wholeheartedly recommend.

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Ahoy there me mateys!  This novel deals with first contact and I was so ready for it.  Sadly I abandoned ship at 48%.  The first 20% or so was great.  Anna is a survivor of genocide and a former refugee.  She lives in NYC and frankly has a rather uninspired life.  Until one day, she goes to Central Park and finds an alien that apparently only she can see.  I loved the entire set-up of Anna and the alien's relationship.  Of course two aliens are at war which leads to trouble for the humans.

After the excellent start, an alien artifact ends up being in Kurdistan, which just happens to be where Anna is from.  The alien goes to get the item and leaves Anna behind.  Anna gets drawn right back in.  Then the book turns into a military sci-fi where aliens are barely present, lots of nuclear bombs fall, and all the human factions are fighting with each other.  There are multiple POV switches and flashbacks which made me lose track of the narrative.  The massive info-dumps about "cool" science ideas and physics did not help and only substantially slowed down the pacing.  The many, many added characters were rather two-dimensional.  It was also strange in that it felt the story was supposed to take place in modern day but then randomly would talk about Obama as president.

I ended up getting more and more frustrated even though I wanted to see what the Space Empire was going to do about the renegade aliens.  Apparently this book was also expanded from a short story, ends on a cliff hanger, and is the first of a series.  Would I have gotten the answers I wanted if I continued reading?  Not sure but mateys this was sadly a slog.  Arrrr!

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This novel will take you on a strange ride!! The plot I felt was very intriguing and a lot of POV changes at times threw me off however I enjoyed the fantasy scifi mix!

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This review was made possible via an ARC through NetGalley

Exordia by Seth Dickinson is a science fiction story where a young Kurdish woman, Anna, meets an alien, Ssrin, with eight snake heads. Their chance encounter in a park reveals that nobody but Anna can see Ssrin in her natural form and Ssrin comes to live with Anna. Ssrin is learning everything she can about humanity, becoming more and more familiar with pop culture as time goes on. The alien culture is fascinating and was probably my favorite part.

When Ssrin is discovered by others, the novel switches more to a very grounded military story that switches POV and takes its time. There’s a lot of characters that get introduced and the narrative takes breaks to add more depth to the world and characters and forcing the reader to ask a lot of questions about what is happening on the page.

I would recommend this to fans of military sci-fi and of slower paced science fiction with aliens.

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Exordia is your one-stop shop for first-contact sci-fi novels full of physical and metaphysical mindbending, along with an (un)healthy amount of Alien-esque body horror, neatly wrapped up by a good ol' fashioned extinction-event apocalyptic threat. 

Cover Image for Exordia by Seth Dickinson (courtesy TorDotCom)Many in the SFF community will already be familiar with Seth Dickinson's work, the fantastic dark fantasy series The Masquerade (popularly referred to as The Baru Cormorant series) which has generated quite the cult stir among the grimmer, darker side of fantasy literary consumers for its savage take on hegemonic tyranny and the lengths to which a hyper-intelligent "protagonist" will go to throw off the yoke of the colonizers, sometimes at disastrous costs. 

Along with many others, I too was salivating for any news of new material in the The Masquerade universe, or any news at all from Dickinson, having been silent for a few years owing to personal health reasons. So when Exordia was announced, I approached it with cautious optimism, having liked Dickinson's dense writing style and bleak worldscapes.

Boy, does Exordia have spades of that… 
Exordia is a different beast of a book than The Masquerade, and should be evaluated as such, even though many of the stylistic approaches transfer. This is a "standalone" (rumbles of further entries?!) first-contact sci-fi novel set in an alternate present-day, where a member of the alien race Khas makes contact with one of our human protagonists, Jiyan "Anna", and apocalyptic shenanigans ensue. 

Exordia's first act focuses on the first contact between the futuristic hydra-like serpentine alien Ssrin and our Kurdish refugee wastrel, Anna. Act 1 heavily delves into the philosophical side of sci-fi with themes of parallel universes driven by narrative thought, and toys with the idea of deterministic fate and destiny. A novel take on first-contact stories, elevated by Dickinson's masterful prose, the buddy-cop relationship between Anna and Ssrin shines through and sets the stage for a truly fun ride, ending on a great philosophically dark cliffhanger.
Sadly, this is where most of us (almost me included) had among the biggest tonal whiplashes in recent memory. The subsequent acts yoink us completely into a different theme, scale, setting, and tone, catapulting us into wartorn Kurdistan, where Ssrin has to protect his vested interests against a greater antagonist, while humanity is caught in the crossfire. 

While Exordia excelled in its "philoso-babble", it really began to crumble under the weight of its subsequent "techno-babble". As someone hardened in consuming copious amounts of esoteric "sci-fi physics" thrown at me, Exordia egregiously dumps large sections of dense "scientific" exposition, in a way that grinds the narrative momentum to a near-halt, distracting the reader from the overarching story, and taking us further away from the urgency of the basic threat setup.

Dickinson expands the character roster with a diverse, yet ultimately distracting cast of characters, the machiavellian warhawk who would stop at nothing "for the greater good", the shining paragon of virtue to balance him, the autistic savant scientist, a counterbalance scientist, a near fanatic pilot, and Anna's mother, to add just enough "real world" war-is-hell gravitas to the story. While these characters do have their moments, a big part of me really feels like Exordia really struck gold in its first act with its buddy-cop motif and struggled under the weight of its own expansion.

What Exordia excelled at is delivering dense dread by hardwiring enough hyperviolence in a non-chalant way to express just how weak our human flesh is against interstellar threats. Where the book began to stumble was when Dickinson reveled in his enjoyment of adding expositional complexity at the expense of writing a tight concise story. The narrative cannot withstand its self-importance. At the end of many lengthy descriptions of space-time manifolds and black-hole powered thrusters, it honestly felt like Dickinson was patting himself on the back at being the smartest person in the room after a particularly complex (yet ultimately boring) info-dump. 

From a thematic standpoint, Exordia plays with many different philosophical "grand questions", but the largest theme centers around "the greater good". Dickinson throws so many examples of committing nefarious acts in the service of "the greater good", with both the megalomaniacal Clayton and Anna wrestling with their past demons in this context and all the ethical conundrums such situations create. However, these situations feel heavy-handed at the world-ending scale that Exordia deals with and surprisingly feel more contrived than intriguing. 

As a side note, Exordia treats nuclear weaponry like breadcrumbs, I lost count of how many nukes were dropped during the runtime of this story, and it became almost… comical. 
Credit where due, it is crystal clear that Dickinson went above and beyond when it comes to due diligence when it comes to creating a solid framework when it comes to re-creating "accurate" military and spy jargon, his philosophical and scientific expositions, while tedious, felt well constructed, and consistent. This takes an immense amount of effort to collate and requires tremendous collaboration with field experts, and for that, he must be truly commended.

Sadly, Exordia falls away from greatness in its pursuit of being bigger than it is. There is an immensely violent, bleak, thought-provoking, fun, and rewarding story in Exordia. Unfortunately, it is buried under so many layers of flabby complexity, that the final product felt bloated.

If you can withstand its weight, Exordia will reward you.

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Thank you to Netgally and the publisher for a free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Having loved Baru Cormorant (which I wish Dickinson had finished the series before publishing this), I REALLY wanted to love this book as well. Especially considering that sci-fi is my favorite genre, I was so excited that he was writing a sci-fi book. However, this was disappointing to me.

As many other reviewers have stated, the beginning of this book is extremely different from the rest of the book. The first 25% where Anna and the serpent alien are holed up together in NYC, is confusing, but I found it more enjoyable than what the book devolves into, which is a standard military sci-fi/first contact with aliens, "let's nuke them", story. I did not enjoy reading about all of these American military men's guilt about killing people in the Middle East. I understand that Dickinson was trying to show how messed up the American military institution is and how we should definitely not be inserting ourselves into the rest of the world under the guise of "helping" people, which I wholeheartedly agree with. But sadly, the execution did not work for me.

Despite the book having intense, world-ending stakes, it felt incredibly slow to get through. I was also confused why a white man was mainly writing from the POV of a Kurdish woman.

While this book did not entirely work for me, it was very scientifically accurate, which I appreciated. I liked the serpent aliens. I thought it was a realistic look at how a first contact situation could go.

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I was expecting something closer to Severance and just couldn't get over the constant descriptions of Ssrin. I don't think I'm interested in an alien love story.

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I've read and loved The Masquerade by Seth Dickinson before and Exordia is quite the departure. Except for the obvious genre differences, the writing style in Exordia differs as well.

I thought the characters in Exordia all had some messed up histories, histories that I don't think was addressed to my satisfaction, There were conversation that I think should've been that weren't. I think this owes to the rather fast pace of the novel where something is constantly happening or something is revealed.

I loved the mystery of the alien artifact and how that mystery unfolded through the book. Questions like what is the artifact and why does it affect humans the way it does were answered within the novel. And the aliens themselves were terrifying but honestly made for an interesting race. It wasn't your average humanoid aliens, they were entirely different appearance-wise and socially.

Overall I found this a really good read. Not my perfect read because it was a bit too fast paced for my taste and the writing was occasionally hard for me to follow, but good nonetheless.

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Thank you to NetGalley and Tor for providing me an eARC to review!

Unfortunately this just really wasn't up my alley. The first 40 pages or so was completely incomprehensible (say it with me - being inaccessible does not make a book good or smart!), and then it took a 'military thriller' turn which just isn't my genre at all.

It's obvious Dickinson has done his research, but it also just feels like he's desperate to show you how much of it he's done, cause he really crams it all in there! It also at times was reminding me of what I didn't like about Tress of the Emerald Sea, where I felt it kind of read like "hey I'm a man but I'm woke to women's struggles!!".

I think this is for a very specific audience - maybe fans of Ascension, Chris Hadfield and Blake Crouch would enjoy, but sadly I am just not in this group.

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Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I want to state up front that I did DNF this book at page 53/686 (beginning of Act 2) after realizing this was not the book for me.

I enjoy reading Fantasy and Sci-Fi. I read nearly all genres. The pacing in Act 1 and the character, SSrin, were captivating and actually kept me wondering if I should continue. Dickinson is clearly gifted as a writer. I simply struggled with some of the plot aspects that seemed randomly inserted. I also had trouble with the existential philosophy behind the Exordia and the Aresteia overshadowing the plot - too much too soon. It was like drinking from a firehose, making it difficult to digest. Much of the plot seemed to push a shock-and-awe factor without validation. These reasons, of course, are subjective preferences. I fully believe there is an audience to eat this book up!

This was my first Seth Dickinson book and I have heard his previous trilogy is masterwork.

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I feel really torn on this one. On the one hand, I LOVED LOVED LOVED the first part of the book set in New York. The weirdness of a giant snake alien eating turtles, the vague homoeroticism of the cozy holes-up-with-Ssrin vibes…. I was eating that up.

So when the book shifted to a more generic alien-invasion military response type novel, I have to say I was disappointed. I put it down for a while, tried to come back, put it back down, came back again. I think Dickinson is doing something great with his character writing but this book doesn’t know what it wants to be, exactly. I did enjoy the ending & I’m glad I stuck it out but the middle was a slog.

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DNF 25%

Oof, I really struggled with the quippy tone in act one, but after that it became more a straight up “modern(ish)day US Military investigating crashed alien ship” story, which was worse for me, because that’s not a subgenre I would ever pick up. I could see growing to enjoy Ssrin the longer we spent with her, but the setting switch up in Act Two means she’s not around during that, so I obviously don’t know what happens with her character after that.

I think this would be good match for people that like speculative military action stories, and/or people who enjoy Scifi-y first person shooter games.

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This book was ambitious. It had a great start of first contact being at a turtle pond in Central Park. The mundaneity of it was fantastic. That is about where the story starts going off the rails. There's quite a bit of alien terminology, which took a hit to wrap my head around. Then the military gets involved and pages and pages of army jargon that could have been trimmed. The same could be said for the astro/physics. I think maybe 50 pages could have been cut and then the story may have been a bit more streamlined. That said, even the characterization and the motivations are a bit murky. There's this whole idea of free will and predetermination and how they both happen and therefore everything is already going to happen and all of your choices are the only choices you can make. The end also drags and then also ends on a cliffhanger. I love The Masquerade, but this seemed messy and overwrought.

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Grateful to Netgalley/the publisher for giving me a chance to read beyond the first section, which I would have read as a preview and been encouraged to buy the full book. This saved me some money.

This book was so promising in the first (checks) 7%, but then it becomes a complete and utter slog. Characters are pretty much interchangeable. The weird, fun, unique first contact story that started the book is completely dropped in favor for a generic scifi invasion story full of characters I didn't care about. They spouted math and science exposition in a way I'm sure the author thought made him seem smart but just made the book drag on and on.

I wish I knew why the author spent so long on that first section just to waste it. So much potential just dropped in favor for Soldiers and Government Operatives Doing a Mission and an incredibly odd obsession with name-dropping Obama at random points. I felt like I was gearing up for a great read. Instead it was just a bait and switch.

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This is my first Seth Dickinson's book that I've read. I heard that the last trilogy (if I'm not wrong), so many people love the trilogy and I want to try to read a book by him too.

I saw the book cover and read the description and I really like the idea of the story and it sounds interesting and I'm hoping that I would like this book. But seems like I had too much expectation for this book or maybe I'm too dumb at science, because the more I read the book the more I can't get into it because it has too much info? over-explanations? and whenever I read the book it feels I take so much time in it and being dragged by it, may be it is just me, I didn't really enjoy the writing. I also didn't really like the characters because it doesn't really have personality or development. I know there'll be people who love this book and I understand it, especially if you really love "pure" sci-fi". In conclusion, this book is isn't for me.

Thank you Netgalley and Tor Publishing Group for the advanced copy of this book for review consideration. All my opinions are my own.

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I want to punch an American wall.

They call it cuteness aggression, the urge to be violent when in the presence of something so adorable that you’re at a loss of what to do, and while this book was anything but cute, it’s the only thing that I find describes this phantom itch in my brain that I don’t know how to scratch. I want to throw this book across the room. I want to snap it in half. I want to beat it with a stick. I absolutely loved every second of it.

Let me preface this review by saying this book invoked a feeling within me similar to cuteness agression, for lack of a better term. I want to throw it across the room. I want to snap it in half. I want to beat it with a stick. I absolutely loved every second of it.

This is me writing in the heat of my excitement after having just finished this masterpiece. It's me genuinely throwing a tantrum because I'm angry there aren't any pages left for me to read (it has 800+ words on my ereader so it's not by any means a short read, I'm just whining). Treat this review like you would a teenager's diary full of feelings and thoughtless scrabbles and passionately caps-locked shitty handwriting. It's me throwing up my feelings, essentially.

Exordia is a perfect blend of accurate (I can't stress this enough, it's SO ACCURATE) science, action that stripped my vocabulary down to yeah's and uh-huh's in social settings, and really well-written characters.

Look. I'm picky. I usually only read books if I can relate to the main character, which means they're almost always female, and if they aren't women I gaslight myself into believing they are anyway, which is easy enough if it's in first person--don't ask me what I thought of the Percy Jackson series (the daughter of Poseidon really is great, isn't she?). And they're usually gay. But Seth Dickinson managed to somehow make me give more than two shits about a middle-aged white man named Erik.

This is not to say there aren't many great female characters included in this story, because there are. The first chapter starts out with Anna's POV, a brutally honest, fucked-up, snarky Kurdish woman with walls stacked on top of walls. Her backstory and how it ties into her character, her relationship with others, with her mom, is nothing short of incredible.

Then there's autistic STEM lesbians. They're great. I loved their dynamic and the inclusion of their romance made me adore this book all the more. Chaya is so cool and Aixue makes me want to drop my major and study mathematics.

Clayton and Eric. I've seen reviews mention they didn't enjoy their POVs or simply found them boring. I can't disagree more. Eric's devotion to do good purely because it's the right thing to do, no matter how stupid, rivals Clayton's sober calculative mindset. I like the word that's used to describe them: Rath. I want to be Erik's definition of a hero, but I also want to be as smart and cunning as Clayton is in dire situations. Is Erik too naive? Is Clayton too detached? It's not that far a leap to imagine what their rath can do.

Every character was there to drive the plot, the mystery, further. And that's where Exordia really shines. I cared more about solving this spaceship's purpose, its workings, than I cared about anything else. I read Aixue's explanations like I would my uni textbooks, slowly and deliberately. I'd reread them until I thought I understood them well enough, as if an exam was waiting for me at the end of it. Her discussions with other professors, her mathematical explanations, the physics involved. Even the neuroscience aspects were incredibly accurate, making the neurobiology student in me froth at the mouth. And that's also why I understand the 1-2 star reviews I've seen floating on top.

Because this book is complicated. I'm someone who keeps school and reading for fun separate. At least, I thought I was before discovering Exordia (I'm adding more "hard sci-fi" books to my shelf as we speak--I feel like a baby tasting sugar for the first time). There's many pages worth of just physics and numbers and explanations, and I almost put the book down at the start of act 2 because I really didn't feel like exercising my brain at 2 AM, but I'm so glad I kept going. The science jargon starts to make sense around act 3, and I felt excited when I began to really understand what Blackbird is and does, and why the aliens want it so badly. I never believed in souls, but the science made me reconsider that souls are essential, and that in and of itself made me adore this story. The research itself was also very accurately depicted, and I half expected the author to include the product numbers of the various ThermoFisher equipments he added in. I'm planning on rereading it for the science only, because it's THAT well done.

If you're not someone that enjoys that sort of thing, well-researched pages filled with calculations, philosophical debates about choices and souls and being human, characters fleshed out to the point of grieving their loss when reaching the last page, this book isn't for you. But don't knock it 'till you try it.

I'm planning on adding my favorite quotes when the book is out on shelves. I've already preordered the hardcover and I am definitely rereading this. Is it too soon to say this might be my favorite book I've ever read? I don't know, but I'm saying it anyway. 10/10.

Thank you to Netgalley, Seth Dickinson and Tor Publishing Group for the ARC!

Song on loop: Sorcery - The Toxic Avenger - if you're someone who likes to listen to music while reading, this song fits so well with the context of this book in my opinion. I've read this in 7 days, hours of listening to this song on loop, and I didn't get sick of it once. My next year's Spotify wrapped is set in stone.

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There is so much to like about Exordia. So much. And you will have a lot of time to find things to like, because it is a long one. I won't sit here and tell you "oh it felt shorter than it was!" because it didn't. The thing is, there is a lot shoved into one book, and it feels that way, and it isn't necessarily a bad thing! Let us discuss all this, and you can make your own determinations, yeah? Great.

What I Enjoyed:

I will admit, this story really grew on me. I was interested from the start, because the first chapters do a great job of capturing the reader's attention. We meet Anna, who is presently being accosted by an alien. Obviously, that's intriguing stuff. Also, Anna has a very compelling backstory: survivor of Kurdish genocide, having to make her own way in America, appropriately gruff yet witty. She certainly drew my interest, and I'll be honest, I was a bit leery to veer from her point of view.

However, the other characters were (mostly) equally compelling in their own right. Without giving too much away, I adored the complex questions about humanity and what is worth saving that the author posited. Each character has a very different moral compass (and you will likely find yourself agreeing with certain folks more than others, depending on your moral compass), and as always, finds themselves to be the hero of their own story. Who is right? That's for you to decide, I suppose, but all sides do a phenomenal job of arguing their points to the reader.

The stakes are, as you can imagine, impossibly high. The alien beings don't particularly give a damn what any of our Earthly humans want. They see themselves as "superior" beings, which of course brings more thought provoking questions to the surface. There is a lot of action, a lot of difficult and morally ambiguous choices, and a lot of science/math that went a bit over my head, but not in a way that made the book unreadable. There are also a lot of humorous and heartfelt moments that really allow the reader to connect with the characters and world, which of course makes knowing what happens all the more desirable.

What I Struggled With:

Honestly the only downside here? It took me a loooong time to finish this one. And that isn't necessarily a bad thing, because I did enjoy it. But some of the chapters were over forty minutes long, and that... is maybe fine for some people, but it makes my brain kind of angry? Add to it, it is very science-y. More science/math than the average lay reader will understand, that's for sure. So you have to be invested in the story, is my point, because if you get lost, I cannot imagine it is easy to find your way again. So to recap: because of the above good stuff, it is worth it to read this, and I don't regret finishing it, not at all. But do be prepared going in.

Bottom Line: It's a lot, but it's worth it, especially if sci-fi (and especially aliens) are your jam.

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I received a ARC of this. I think the thing I love about Dickinson is that he is curious about the world and it’s reflected in his ability to create not only plot but also characters. Two thirds in I came to believe Exordia is excellent. I love books that are built word by word, sentence by sentence, and paragraph by paragraph until they crest over me and I come above the wave finally seeing the full picture of the book and getting a fuller picture of the world. I think Dickinson knows that the way to invest readers in a difficult plot and difficult world is to make sure the characters are moving the plot along themselves, not the author, and by making them compellingly messy and complex. They tow the line between real and part of a fictional world.

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Firstly, I would like to thank Netgalley for gifting me this book in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Trigger warnings: genocide, fratricide, murder, racism.

Having said that, when I first realized Seth Dickinson was writing another book, I went absolutely insane. It is no secret I adored The Masquerade series (*coughs* still waiting on the finale). Exordia, as far as I know, is a "fun" book: a book that was written while Baru was still in progress.

Sadly, this "fun" book didn't do it for me. I was excited to see how Dickinson would write in a totally new genre. The start, as most reviewers have mentioned before me, was an absolute bomb. It was fun. Just imagine finding an alien eating turtles (sadly for them) in the middle of New York? Yeah.

I was excited, I was positive that in time, I would enjoy it, just like I did with Baru. After all, it does talk about colonialism (including a Mexican character, yay!), power and moral dilemmas. It also features several LGBT characters and in general, I can tell research was put into it.

However, there were a few things that didn't do it for me, including:

-Extremely long, dragged, and detailed explanations that frankly flew over my head. So, if you're new into sci-fi, or terrible at science (like me) just think about it before committing.
-Following what was said before: extremely long talks about procedures and military talk. I get it was probably for the sake of realism, but…
-In my opinion, and compared to his other books, characters were way weaker in terms of personality and development. Which I feel was because scientific explanations were prioritized.

Nevertheless, the ending… WAS AMAZING! This is why I like Seth Dickinson's books.

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Give me the first part of this book by itself, and this would have been a five star read. It was offbeat and humorous, and really intriguing. Sadly after that it lost me completely as Anna becomes a side character and we lose her perspective on things. From then on it’s more military and the tone lost everything that had me interested at the start.

Note: arc provided by the publisher via netgalley in exchange for honest reviews

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