Want by Cindy Pon – A Cornerstone of YA Sci-Fi: Great Discourse, Thrilling Action, and Characters You Will Love

Xiaolong the pink axolotl, wearing a big glass helmet over her head as a cosplay of Jason Zhou from WANT by Cindy Pon.Xiaolong looks extremely excited today, though the big helmet she has over her head may have something to do with it.

“Hi friend!” she exclaims when she sees you, her voice slightly muffled. “Varian made this for me, especially since I read this book recently and loved it so much that I couldn’t stop talking about it.”

She pulls off the helmet, and shakes her head a little. “It was a little cramped inside there. My gills weren’t out and free. But that’s why I want you to read this book, friend! It’s important that we look after our environment, the thing that gives our magic life and power.”

She plops down, and holds a book out to you. “So, this book is called Want…

Text: Want by Cindy Pon. Image: An illustration of Jason Zhou, an Asian male, wearing a translucent helmet, with multi-coloured square lights reflecting on the helmet.
Blurb:

Jason Zhou survives in a divided society where the elite use their wealth to buy longer lives. The rich wear special suits that protect them from the pollution and viruses that plague the city, while those without suffer illness and early deaths. Frustrated by his city’s corruption and still grieving the loss of his mother, who died as a result of it, Zhou is determined to change things, no matter the cost.

With the help of his friends, Zhou infiltrates the lives of the wealthy in hopes of destroying the international Jin Corporation from within. Jin Corp not only manufactures the special suits the rich rely on, but they may also be manufacturing the pollution that makes them necessary.

Yet the deeper Zhou delves into this new world of excess and wealth, the more muddled his plans become. And against his better judgment, Zhou finds himself falling for Daiyu, the daughter of Jin Corp’s CEO. Can Zhou save his city without compromising who he is or destroying his own heart?

CW’s review:

Note: the following review is an edit and report of a review I wrote in my old book blog, Read Think Ponder.

It’s been two years since I read this book, and it’s still a book I think about often. Want has everything that you want in a science-fiction: powerful socio-political discourse about environmentalism and inequality, incredible characters, and is critical yet accessible. Set in the distant future, Want follows Jason Zhou and his friends who work together to bring down a corrupt organisation that perpetuates the inequality and poverty within Taipei. There are very few books that ever satisfy my sociologically-inclined and discoursing heart, but Want was such a book – and more.

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A Spark Of White Fire By Sangu Mandanna – Inspired By Mahabharata, A Lost Princess, Divine Intervention; Stunning From Start To Finish

TEXT: A Spark of White Fire by Sangu Mandanna. Background depicts a galaxy, with a cluster of white stars that form the shape of a crown, and spaceship flies across the screen.
Blurb:

In a universe of capricious gods, dark moons, and kingdoms built on the backs of spaceships, a cursed queen sends her infant daughter away, a jealous uncle steals the throne of Kali from his nephew, and an exiled prince vows to take his crown back.

Raised alone and far away from her home on Kali, Esmae longs to return to her family. When the King of Wychstar offers to gift the unbeatable, sentient warship Titania to a warrior that can win his competition, she sees her way home: she’ll enter the competition, reveal her true identity to the world, and help her famous brother win back the crown of Kali.

It’s a great plan. Until it falls apart.

My review:

Discovering new favourite books can sometimes feel like finally releasing a long breath – you’ve been waiting for it, you feel like life has returned to you, and you feel invigorated. The relief and satisfaction of discovering and reading A Spark of White Fire cannot be described by words. It is a science-fiction space opera, inspired by the Sanskrit epic, Mahabharata, and follows a lost princess who infiltrates the circles of those who stole her family’s crown, only to realise that they may not be as wicked as she once believed. I’m in awe, friends. A Spark of White Fire is thoroughly brilliant, and I hope my book review will convince you to pick up this new YA SF gem.

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On The Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis – [DNF] A Thoughtful and Diverse Sci-Fi That Was A Bit Too Slow For Me

Text in the center: On the Edge of Gone, Corinne Duyvis. Image: Depicts a girl wearing a jacket and a sling bag, on a dilapidated road, facing a city skyline, with spaceships flying up horizontally. Bottom right corner: Xiaolong the pink axolotl with an upside down flower hat at the center of a stamp, with the text "Review by CW, The Quiet Pond" around it
Summary:

January 29, 2035.

That’s the day the comet is scheduled to hit—the big one. Denise and her mother and sister, Iris, have been assigned to a temporary shelter near their hometown of Amsterdam to wait out the blast, but Iris is nowhere to be found, and at the rate Denise’s drug-addicted mother is going, they’ll never reach the shelter in time.

Then a last-minute encounter leads them to something better than a temporary shelter: a generation ship that’s scheduled to leave Earth behind and colonize new worlds after the comet hits. But each passenger must have a practical skill to contribute. Denise is autistic and fears that she’ll never be allowed to stay. Can she obtain a spot before the ship takes flight? What about her mother and sister?

When the future of the human race is at stake, whose lives matter most?

My review:

It is with mixed feelings that I share with you my DNF review of On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis – a book that I was really looking forward to reading ever since I had heard about it but unfortunately did not gel with my tastes in pacing.

Set in 2035, On the Edge of Gone follows biracial and autistic teen Denise on the day the comet is scheduled to hit the earth. Separated from her sister, stuck with her drug-addicted mother, and, by chance, is given respite in a ship intended to colonise other planets, full of passengers with skills that give them a place on the ship. Denise, who is autistic, fears that she will never secure a place – and thus may face the harsh landscape of a post-apocalyptic earth.

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Ignite the Stars by Maura Milan – An Excellent YA Sci-Fi with Social Discourse, Helmed by Three Brilliant & Realised Characters

Text in the center:

Summary:

Everyone in the universe knows his name. Everyone in the universe fears him. But no one realizes that notorious outlaw Ia Cocha is a seventeen-year-old girl.

A criminal mastermind and unrivaled pilot, Ia has spent her life terrorizing the Olympus Commonwealth, the imperialist nation that destroyed her home. When the Commonwealth captures her and her true identity is exposed, they see Ia’s age and talent as an opportunity: by forcing her to serve them, they will prove that no one is beyond their control.

Soon, Ia is trapped at the Commonwealth’s military academy, desperately plotting her escape. But new acquaintances—including Brinn, a seemingly average student with a closely-held secret, and their charming Flight Master, Knives—cause Ia to question her own alliances. Can she find a way to escape the Commonwealth’s clutches before these bonds deepen?

My review:

I’m still in awe. Going into Ignite the Stars, I had a feeling that I would like it, but I had no idea that I would love it. It follows Ia Cocha, a teenage criminal mastermind and genius pilot who is captured by her enemy and is forced to work for their military academy. While she plots her escape, she meets two others at the academy that will change her life and its trajectory forever. It has so much to offer and boasts some incredible elements that readers will love: discourse on social and political issues relevant to today, found family, female friendships, and a slow-burn enemies-to-lovers romance.

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A Thousand Beginnings and Endings edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman – Asian Diaspora Authors Re-imagine Their Favourite Folktales

Xiaolong the pink axolotl, wrapped up in a fluffy green blanket while reading a book, with her purple hat peeking out under the blanket.The last time you visited the Pond, Xiaolong was under her blanket, her eyes glued to the book she was reading. (It looked like she hadn’t gotten out of bed yet!) “Friend, you know I always love talking to you but I’m reading this really, really good book right now and I want to finish this book so I can tell you all about it. Come back later?”

Ah yes, you understand that feeling of a good book all too well. A few days have indeed passed now, and you find yourself pretty excited to hear what Xiaolong has to say about her latest read.

However, when you find Xiaolong, paper and books are at by feet, and she looks like she is hard at work looking for something. When she hears you approach, she smiles her big smile, but she doesn’t look excited, like she normally does. Instead, she looks like she’s thinking about something from a long, long time ago.

Xiaolong the pink axolotl, wearing an upside-down purple flower hat, sitting on the ground with papers and books around her. “Hi friend,” she says in an unusually quiet voice when you sit down across from her. “I finally finished the book. And I loved it! But, it got me thinking a lot about where I come from.” She pauses. When you look a little bit closer at the papers scattered around her, you see illustrations of axolotls, runes, and long paragraphs in tiny print. “I’d like to tell you about it one day, but maybe not today, because you’re here to listen about my new book, right?”

And when you nod, her eyes light up, her big grin is back, and she jumps to her feet. Although you can’t wait to hear about this book, you can’t help but feel a little curious about Xiaolong’s past. Maybe she will tell you one day if you continue visiting.

“So!” she begins, hugging the book to her chest. “This is an anthology, and it’s called A Thousand Beginnings and Endings…”

Text: A THOUSAND BEGINNINGS AND ENDINGS edited by Ellen Oh, Elsie Chapman.

Summary:

Star-crossed lovers, meddling immortals, feigned identities, battles of wits, and dire warnings. These are the stuff of fairy tale, myth, and folklore that have drawn us in for centuries.

Fifteen bestselling and acclaimed authors reimagine the folklore and mythology of East and South Asia in short stories that are by turns enchanting, heartbreaking, romantic, and passionate.

A mountain loses her heart. Two sisters transform into birds to escape captivity. A young man learns the true meaning of sacrifice. A young woman takes up her mother’s mantle and leads the dead to their final resting place. From fantasy to science fiction to contemporary, from romance to tales of revenge, these stories will beguile readers from start to finish.

My review:

A Thousand Beginnings and Endings is an anthology of fifteen short stories inspired by Asian mythology and folklore, retold and reimagined by diasporic Asian authors. From Chinese to Filipino to Punjabi, the anthology is diverse in itself – from the cultures and mythologies represented, the genres ranging from science-fiction, fantasy, and contemporary, to the themes explored – and all are told from the author’s distinct voice and perspective.

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