Since the Play store had a dearth of new titles worth paying for, I decided to catch up on my Tor books - which have been languishing on my SSD for too long now. I started by finishing the four books I have of Martha Well's Murderbot series and wrapped up by finishing Seanan McQuire's Wayward Children series.
The Murderbot series is a fun, if short, romp narrated by a somewhat neurotic cyborg "SecUnit". However, for a character who self-identifies as a murderbot, it does very little actual murdering - which is sort of the point. The series arc is centered around the SecUnit discovering its own humanity amongst its advanced processing and innate ability to hack things around it. The four books turned out to be a pretty fast read, as they are fairly fast paced.
My only real complaints are that Well's pulls her punches a lot and that the four books I read really could have been one book. I suspect this is due to the books being targeted for the young adult audience. The ending of the fourth book really felt like an ending, while the endings of the first three books felt more like the end of a solid chapter or section - leaving me feeling like the books had been split apart just to be able to charge extra.
The other issue is related to the soft-pedaling of the story. I can't say a whole lot, as my own writing suffers the same issue at times, but the author seems intent in only killing off or permanently damaging minor characters or genuine villains. This issue definitely improves as the story develops, but it never quite goes away. Things seem to always go well for the protagonist, even when there is an obvious twist. Still, watching the Murderbot begin to wrap its "head" around existing as something other than a "slave" was enjoyable.
Although I got the books for free through Tor, I would have been happy paying for them, and I may still buy the remaining two books in the series.
The second series was a bit different. Each book felt like a book, even though they were very short. They each had definite beginnings and endings. However, I was continued surprised to find that, despite my initial assumption, Every Heart a Doorway was actually the first book - even though it feels like Down Among the Sticks and Bones should have come first. Had I not read the latter book first, I would have been very lost as I read the former.
Now, while many of the complaints I read about the first book, Every Heart..., were, IMHO, silly, there were a few legit complaints. However, none of them prevented me from enjoying the book. I love McGuire's paraphrases of classic children's stories and horror movies with a "realistic" bent. The idea of consequences following fantastical tales and adventures is a great premise, and I definitely took a shine to these. They are much more honest approaches to the classic fairytale - fairytales for young (and young at heart) adults.
Where I would fault the author, especially for the first book, is in cutting out so much length that the story feels unsupported. This is also why I actually checked twice to make sure the order was correct. The second book really feels like it should be the first book, and having read it as the first book, I would suggest that order. As it is, McGuire never really explains the premise of her books well in the first book on its own. Worse, she is both trying to introduce this alternate world AND tell a murder mystery at the same time. The result is that she doesn't really do either justice.
Even for a school like Eleanor West's, I imagine that the students would begin boxing up a victim's things quite so soon, and that is just the start of the unrealistic responses due to what feels like a need to "make time". I feel the first book should have been no less than twice as long to adequately cover the ground attempted.
The rest of the books, while not terribly long either, focus on a single story, and as a result, read much better. We finally begin seeing the nuances in these characters rather than merely seeing them as stand-ins for concepts. They develop a personality, a soul of sorts. Sure, having read the first book, you know the ending already. However, just because you know the ship sinks at the end doesn't make Titanic any less interesting to watch. The same is true of the books in this series.
Still, even the rest of the books could stand to be a little longer and flesh out the characters a bit more fully. I don't think this ruins the stories at all, and they are great little morality plays at times, but it does take a bit of the shine off at times.
Now, that said, I really enjoyed all of them. By the last book, Come Tumbling Down, the author had clearly gotten her sea legs for the series. It was well written, and hit most of the high points. It was, perhaps, a bit anticlimactic, but I have to remind myself that these are YA books.