I had to sit with this novella for a while after finishing; mainly to make sense of how I felt about it, or if I even understood it enough to form a valid rating. But ultimately, that was the problem I had with this story. The premise sounded great, but ultimately the quest isn’t all that inspiring, and many times I had to re-read sentences to understand what was happening, just for the author to have moved on to another topic in the next sentence, making for jumbled paragraphs and a reading experience where I never once felt really enmeshed in the story. And while the book deservedly gets praise for how it blends traditional epic fantasy prose with modern day vernacular, I personally found the shifts to be rather jarring. It’s clear that the author set out to craft a really vivid and rich world for the reader to get swept up in, only to make it really uninviting by burying it in a murky and obscure narrative.
This is the first reimagining of “The Nightingale” I’ve read, so I wasn’t too familiar with the original Hans Christian Anderson version going in. But the author did provide the original short story at the end of the novella, which was a lovely touch as it let me better see how this version and the original connected without spoiling anything. In the original, you have the Emperor of China who covets beautiful things; his gardens are impeccable, as are his palace and clothes. So, when he hears tale of a nightingale whose songs far surpass the beauty of the royal palace, he has to have such a prize for himself… I won’t say what happens next because I don’t want to give spoilers, but Williams does a wonderful job expanding on the short story by weaving in some courtly intrigue, and the plight of Kari, who needs to find a new purpose in life when she learns she will not be taking over the family business. There’s magic, too, but honestly, I don’t consider anything but the Nightingale itself to be a source of magic in this novella.
After the events of “Artificial Condition”, everyone’s favorite failed mass murdering robot is determined to find the evidence his original crew of favorite humans needs to bring down GrayCris, the corporation that so rudely tried to have them killed. But Murderbot doesn’t actually want to go back and face its humans. It’s much happier helping from afar, with no more interaction with stupid humans thank you very much! Which of course is a plan that goes up in flames in a spectacular way very early on its quest to get answers for Dr. Mensah.
I read “Artificial Condition” in a day as another buddy read. After “All Systems Red” it was impossible for me and my friend not to want to pick the second book up in the Murderbot Diaries immediately. It was a fantastic decision! Even though Murderbot’s favorite humans from the first book are not in this one, new characters more than make up for it, especially in a story that shows how much more “human” Murderbot is becoming. Honestly, for a book and premise primarily around robots and constructs, I was not expecting this many feels.
I read this novella in one day as part of a buddy read and let me tell you: that was an awesome decision. I went in knowing I was probably going to like the first book in the Murderbot Diaries, I just was not prepared for how much. In this short book, we follow a SecUnit who has gone rogue, the master of its own decisions. But it still has to pretend to be shackled to its original programs to the human’s it’s contracted to protect so they don’t realize that self-dubbed Murderbot is autonomous, and enjoys watching endless amounts of entertainment, and not talking to them. At least until a mysterious entity tries to get Murderbot’s humans killed. Then all bets are off.
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