Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb
Robin Hobb's FARSEER series well earned its current classic status, and any serious reader of fantasy had to be thrilled to hear that Fitz, one of the genre's most beloved characters, would be returning in a new series. I certainly was. But I was also curious, and, I confess, a bit nervous, about how her evolution in storytelling, especially as displayed in her SOLDIER'S SON and RAIN WILDS series, might play out in a long-delayed return to an old favorite. After all, in those works, I had to admit that said evolution — which I described as Hobb seemingly "exploring just how much plot she needs in her novels to actually have a ‘story,' as if she’s feeling her way to as quiet and minimalist a style (in terms of action, not language) as possible" — had left me thinking she had carried the experiment (if such it was) a bit too far for my liking. So what would ... Read More
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Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb
Jack in the Green by Charles de Lint
Maria Martinez works as a maid in an upscale gated community. One day while she’s cleaning an upstairs bedroom, she glances out the window and notices a gang burglarizing the house next door. One of the gang members is a girl who used to be her best friend and another is a cute red-headed green-hoodied boy who catches Maria’s eye. Maria doesn’t call the police. Why should she? It’s not her house, they’re not her neighbors, and therefore it’s not her business. Later, when she runs into the burglars at the skating rink, Maria meets them and gets seduced into their world. It turns out that the gang has an admirable agenda — they steal from the rich and give to the poor. And they’ve got some magical help.
I love the Robin Hood legends and I love what I’ve read by Charles de Lint, so I should have really loved the novella Jack in the Green, de Lin... Read More
The Humanoids by Jack Williamson
The late 1940s was a period of remarkable creativity for future sci-fi Grand Master Jack Williamson. July '47 saw the release of his much-acclaimed short story "With Folded Hands" in the pages of Astounding Science-Fiction, followed by the tale's two-part serialized sequel, And Searching Mind, in that influential magazine's March and April 1948 issues. Darker Than You Think, Williamson's great sci-fi/fantasy/horror hybrid, was released later in 1948, and 1949 saw the publication of And Searching Mind in hardcover form, and retitled The Humanoids. "With Folded Hands" had been a perfect(ly downbeat) short story that introduced us to the Humanoids, sleek black robots invented by a technician named Sledge on planet Wing IV. The ro... Read More
A Vision in Velvet by Juliet Blackwell
Juliet Blackwell’s WITCHCRAFT MYSTERIES hasn’t let me down. This is a solid series with a fun setting and great characters. Tantor Audio’s versions read by Xe Sands are terrific and I’m certain that her narration adds a lot to my enjoyment. Honestly, I’ve got a bit of a voice crush on her. I wouldn’t think of reading these books any other way.
In A Vision in Velvet, the sixth installment, Lily’s vintage clothing store is thriving, she has made friends with her neighbors on Haight Street, and she’s got a steady romance going. Life is pretty good. But, of course, soon enough Lily manages to get wrapped up in another murder mystery. This one involves a trunk full of old clothes, a velvet cape, a dying tree in Golden Gate Park, some scientists, psychedelic frogs, The Crucible, and an ancient curse. The mystery ge... Read More
Neverwas by Kelly Moore, Tucker & Larkin Reed
OK, first things first. What a beautiful cover!
The book graced by this lovely cover is Neverwas, the sequel to Amber House by mother-and-daughters team Kelly Moore, Tucker Reed, and Larkin Reed. In the previous book, teenaged Sarah Parsons altered the past to save the lives of her younger brother and her aunt.
As Neverwas begins, it becomes clear that Sarah changed more than just that. The entire United States is different from the one we live in — in fact, there is no United States per se, but several loosely connected countries, and Amber House is situated in one where racial segregation still exists. Meanwhile, in Europe, Nazis reign. “WTF?” you might ask. What did Sarah do in the past that messed up the entire world this badly?
That’s the question Sarah ... Read More
A Plunder of Souls by D.B. Jackson
Just last week while on vacation out west, my son and I were discussing what were the greater obstacles to our enjoyment of books and what elements allowed for those obstacles to be overcome. One of my observations was that while a strong plot will rarely overcome poor characters for me, if you give me good characters, I can overlook more than a few plot flaws. Who knew how prophetic that conversation would be? For upon my return home, I found waiting for me a copy of D.B. Jackson’s A Plunder of Souls, the third in his historical fantasy series set in pre-Revolutionary Boston. At the series’ center lies beleaguered thieftaker/conjurer Ethan Kaille, and it was Kaille’s still-engaging voice that managed to ease me past, if not blind me to, the several plot issues in the novel.
The year is 1769 and tensions are high: British soldiers have been stationed in the city an... Read More
Sepulchre by Kate Mosse
Judging from her review, Kat obviously wasn’t such a big fan of Kate Mosse’s Sepulchre! But perhaps her report coloured my own reading of the novel, for though I went in expecting the worst, I instead found myself quite enjoying it.
Sepulchre is the follow-up to Mosse’s best-selling novel Labyrinth, but I found that it was far superior in terms of pacing and plotting. As with Labyrinth, the story is divided into two storylines, one set in 1891, the other in 2007. The chapters alternate between these two periods, following the adventures of Leonie Vernier in the past, and Meredith Martin in the 21st century.
Leonie knows that something is wrong when her brother Anatole insists on secrecy in planning thei... Read More
Letter 44 (vol one): Escape Velocity by Charles Soule and Alberto J. Alburquesque
I've just found a real gem in my stack of books to review: Letter 44: Escape Velocity by Charles Soule is a must-read for science-fiction fans. Saga by Vaughan is the first current comic title I usually recommend to fans of SF. Luckily, I now have another current title to recommend right along with Saga. Letter 44: Escape Velocity has equally compelling character development and perhaps even ... Read More
Batman and Robin (vol 4): Requiem for Damian (New 52) by Peter J. Tomasi
DC did a soft reboot of their universe almost three years ago. It's called the New 52, and Batman and Robin by Peter J. Tomasi is one of my favorite books, particularly volume one, which I liked so much I taught it in my college English class. Overall, the entire series has been incredibly consistent. Even if you didn't know that Batman has a son named Damian who is the most recent Robin, you can still read and enjoy this series because it deals with significant themes and not just with superhero action. Volume one deals with Damian's coming of age in his rebellion against his father, as well as Bruce Wayne's trying to figure out how to be a loving authority figure to his young son. In events just previous to volume four, unfortunately, poor Damian died... Read More
In Winter’s Shadow by Gillian Bradshaw
In Winter’s Shadow is the final book in Gillian Bradshaw’s DOWN THE LONG WIND trilogy, an elegantly written historical fantasy about King Arthur that’s inspired by the Welsh legends. While the first two books, Hawk of May and Kingdom of Summer, have focused on Gwalchmai (Sir Gawain), this last novel is written from Gwynhwyfar’s perspective. You certainly don’t need to read the previous books to fully appreciate In Winter’s Shadow, but if you’re a fan of the time period or the legends, you’ll probably want to read Hawk of May and Kingdom of Summer at some point. They are lovely historical stories.
In In Winter’s Shadow, Gwynhwyfar gives us some of the history of the Roman Empire... Read More
Creatures of Light and Darkness by Roger Zelazny
In the early part of his career, and in an indirect sense throughout it, Roger Zelazny combed Earth’s cultures, religions, and legends for story material. His brilliant Lord of Light and This Immortal riffing off Hindu/Buddhist and Greek mythology respectively, he established himself as a writer who combined the classic themes of myth and legend with more modern, imaginative tropes of science fiction and fantasy. His 1969 Creatures of Light and Darkness is no exception.
Egyptian myth and cosmology is the source material for Creatures of Light and Darkness, an epic tale of warring gods where space and time have little meaning — or all the meaning, if the story is viewed as a whole. Stakeholders in universal power, Osiris, Set, Anubis, Isis, and a variety of other deities from E... Read More
Thorn Jack by Katherine Harbour
For us readers of a certain age, “Tam Lin” and “college” in the same sentence are going to remind us of Pamela Dean’s quirky retelling. But other than profuse quoting of poetry, Dean’s Tam Lin and Katherine Harbour’s Thorn Jack are not much alike and don’t really invite comparisons. You might also think of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight a time or two, as a few of the story’s bones are similar, but I never once felt like I was reading a Twilight copy while reading Thorn Jack — which goes to show you tropes need not be poison if woven into a good tale. What Thorn Jack reminded me of, more than an... Read More
Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone by Ian McDonald
Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone is a fascinating short novel by Ian McDonald. At the beginning of the story we meet Ethan Ring, who’s feeling conspicuously tall and red-headed as he chants in a Buddhist temple. Ethan and his friend, a famous Japanese manga artist, are on a bicycle pilgrimage in Japan. Neither of them knows what kind of demons the other is struggling with, and neither does the reader at first, but as they journey on, their stories come out and even though each man’s tale is different, they realize that both of them are searching for redemption and peace.
Many stories deal with a hero’s search for redemption, but Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone is unique. The setting is a neo-feudal Japan where tech corporations are the fiefdoms and gangs of armed vigilantes threaten citizens’ peace and security. This is jarringly j... Read More
On this day in 2012, Sally Ride passed away from pancreatic cancer. She was the youngest American astronaut to travel to space, the third woman in space, and a total badass. Lift a glass to Sally Ride today.
The Red Queen questions Alice
Writing, Editing, and Publishing:
Kate Bernheimer writes this essay for NPR on the predicament of immigrant children in the US, and the timely value of fairy tales for today’s young readers. “These aren't escapist fantasies; they're stories of kids facing unimaginable terror,” she writes about Maria Tatar’s collection of Grimm fairy tales.
James A. Moore recalls his childhoo... Read More
The Spectral Link by Thomas Ligotti
Subterranean Press has issued two original stories by Thomas Ligotti in a special edition volume titled The Spectral Link. Ligotti is best known for a brooding, gothic style of psychological horror that avoids slashing, gore and disgusting body fluids for a deep, dark, almost spiritual sense of wrongness. He delivers that creepy sense of wrongness in both these tales.
Ligotti’s prose is masterful, as is his control of tone. Tone is not as easy to manage as people might think; very often an historical story or an epic fantasy founders for me when the author slips into modern-day diction, or a gloomy, gothic tale suddenly sprouts a sentence that reads like it came right off of Facebook. Ligotti does not make these errors. Each word, sentence and paragraph is crafted to draw you in, leading you along a downward spiral of otherness and disconnection. Read More