SFF Reviews

Our most recent reviews are listed first. Use the tags to search for reviews of similar books.

WWWednesday; March 22, 2017

According to Haggard Hawks, the same way a flock of crows is called a murder, the poetic term for a group of salamanders is a maelstrom. And you can find many more cool collective nouns for animal groups here.

Awards:

This year’s Tiptree Award went to Anna-Marie McLemore for When the Moon was Ours.

Independent horror publisher Word Horde had a very good day at the This is Horror awards. John Langan’s The Fisherman Read More

The Wanderers: A wonderfully intimate, character-driven story

Readers’ average rating:

The Wanderers by Meg Howrey

The Wanderers
(2017), by Meg Howrey, focuses on a simulated mission (code name: Eidolon) to Mars more realistic than anything ever attempted before. Prime Space has chosen three exemplary, experienced astronauts (American Helen, Japanese Yoshi, and Russian Sergei) for a 17-month, fully immersive simulation in the Utah desert in preparation for the real thing two years later. We join the “journey” via their 3rd-person POVs, but are also given a broader view thanks to their family members (one might consider them “satellites” orbiting the main characters — always tied to them): Helen’s actress daughter Mireille, Yoshi’s robot-salesperson wife Madoka, and Sergei’s sexually-uncertain 15-year-old son Dmitri. We also get a POV from Luke, one of the “Obbers” — the Prime Space employees tasked with observing the crew an... Read More

The Evil Wizard Smallbone: Young readers will love this funny, exciting fantasy

Readers’ average rating:

The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman

What is it about Maine? Stephen King and John Connolly both write terrifying horror stories set there, and Delia Sherman places The Evil Wizard Smallbone, a middle-grade fantasy published in 2016, in Maine in the winter. That state must have a lot of magical juice.

The Evil Wizard Smallbone not only shares the horror of a Maine winter, it’s got an evil wizard, shape-shifting coyote-bikers, a small and somewhat magical town called Smallbone Cove whose residents have forgotten their own strange history to their peril, and a scrappy boy named Nick who stumb... Read More

Mr. Adam: The last fertile man on Earth

Readers’ average rating:

Mr. Adam
by Pat Frank

Pat Frank’s Mr. Adam (1946) is billed as “[o]ne of literature’s first responses to the atomic bomb,” and the uncertainty of the freshly-minted Atomic Age is palpable within the novel’s pages. With the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki still fresh in his mind, and within the minds of his readers, Frank crafted a cautionary tale regarding the dangers of nuclear power and its invisible, unstoppable effects on the future of mankind.

Steve Smith, intrepid journalist and recent veteran of the European theatre in WWII, quite literally stumbles through winter snow into the biggest story of his life: there are absolutely no maternity ward reservations booked in New York City after June 21. In fact, there are no reservations for maternity wards anywhere... Read More

Passing Strange: Simply irresistible

Readers’ average rating:

Passing Strange by Ellen Klages

Ellen Klages’ short novel Passing Strange (2017) is a beautiful, fantastical melding of history, romance, magic and revenge, set against a meticulously researched San Francisco of 1940. At just over 200 hundred pages, the story follows six women in the city, each one in some way an outcast. Add a present-day story frame that includes secret passages in Chinatown, pulp magazine covers of the 1940s, and an elaborate scam, and for many of us you have something irresistible.

I loved Passing Strange from the cover by Gregory Manchess. That wistful moonlit scene is central to the story in more than one way. Take a moment to study that cover before you open the book, and then, when you’ve finished, feel free to go back and savor it some more.

In the present day, Helen Young, a ... Read More

SFM: Barnhill, Clark, Goss, Smith, Polansky

Short Fiction Monday: Our weekly exploration of free or inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. We've found some excellent stories this week!

 


“Probably Still the Chosen One” by Kelly Barnhill (Feb. 2017, free at Lightspeed, $3.99 Kindle magazine issue)

Eleven year old Corinna discovered a strange metal door in the cupboard under the sink of her home, which is a portal to the magical land of Nibiru, where she is hailed as their Princess, their Chosen One. After spending a year and a day in war-torn Nibiru, where she learned swordfighting, battle tactics and survival skills fighting wit... Read More

Magic of Blood and Sea: Boundless freedom awaits on a wave-tossed ship

Readers’ average rating:

Magic of Blood and Sea by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Magic of Blood and Sea (2017) combines two of Cassandra Rose Clarke’s novels, The Assassin’s Curse (2012) and The Pirate’s Wish (2013), into one volume. Originally, these novels were published by Strange Chemistry, the YA branch of Angry Robot Books, but the imprint went defunct (as sometimes happens) and the publication rights to their various books were scattered to the four winds. In this particular case, Saga Press swooped in to save the day, and not only did The Assassin’s Curse and The Pirate’s Wish get a shiny new re-packaging, but two oth... Read More

Greatmask: A satisfying conclusion to a rewarding trilogy

Readers’ average rating:

Greatmask by Ashley Capes

Greatmask (2016), the third and final book in Ashley Capes's BONE MASK TRILOGY successfully brings each character's arc to a satisfying conclusion and wraps up all the disparate subplots — while still leaving room for the promise of new adventures on the horizon.

Anaskar has been invaded by the blue-cloaked Ecsoli; they now control all three tiers of the city, from the seaside docks to the lofty palace where King Oseto is held captive. Would-be rebels hide in the back alleys and taverns, slowly building up a resistance and waiting for an opportunity to fight back. Among them is Flir, whose preternatural strength seems useless against the powers of the Ecsoli, and who doesn't know who to trust among her own people.

Meanwhile, Sofia Falco and her father make the journey back toward Anaskar... Read More

The Mighty Zodiac Volume 1: Starfall by J. Torres

Readers’ average rating: 

The Mighty Zodiac Volume 1: Starfall written by J. Torres,  Corin Howell (illustrations), Maarta Laiho (color), Warren Wucinich (letters)

The Mighty Zodiac has a wonderfully cosmic and original premise — the death of a constellation leads to the fall of six stars from the skies and the freeing of the Rabbit Army from the moon. Or as it is put early on:
When the Blue Dragon died, he left the eastern skies vulnerable. Without another dragon to immediately take its place and ascend into the position of the Guardian of the East, six stars fell out of heaven . . . Darkness fell across the region like no one had seen before. The darkness drew out dark creatures with dark designs!
Soon it’s a race between the heroes (the anthropomorphized ani... Read More

Dragonwatch: Revolt of the Fablehaven dragons

Readers’ average rating:

Dragonwatch by Brandon Mull

Fans of Brandon Mull’s FABLEHAVEN middle grade fantasy series now have a chance to revisit that world with Dragonwatch (2017), the first book in his new FABLEHAVEN ADVENTURE series. In the world of FABLEHAVEN, mythical beings like fairies, centaurs, dragons and demons actually exist, living in hidden, protected sanctuaries where most humans are unaware of their existence. Even if you enter a preserve, unless you drink the milk of a magical milch cow, fairies look like dragonflies or butterflies, nipsies seem to be mice, satyrs appear as goats, and so on.

In the original FABLEHAVEN series, Kendra and her younger brother Seth helped protect their grandparents’ estate, Fablehav... Read More

All Flesh Is Grass: Flower power

Readers’ average rating:

All Flesh Is Grass by Clifford D. Simak

In the 1966 3-D movie The Bubble, later rereleased as Fantastic Invasion of Planet Earth, an impenetrable and transparent dome of unknown origin encases a small American town, trapping its residents inside. Forty-three years later, in Stephen King’s doorstop best seller of 2009, Under the Dome, another American town, Chester’s Mill, is similarly and mysteriously ensnared. Beating both these projects to the punch, however, and a possible inspiration for both of them, was Clifford D. Simak’s 10th novel, All Flesh Is Grass. The book... Read More

This River Awakens: Beautifully dark and very challenging

Readers’ average rating:

This River Awakens by Steven Erikson

Pretty much all you have to do is say Steven Erikson and I’m there. This River Awakens (2012) is far different from anything most people will think of when they hear the author’s name. It’s not set in a secondary world. It’s not epic fantasy. There isn’t a huge war or expanding empire in the core of the book. From what I understand, This River Awakens was Erikson’s first book and it’s more fiction and urban fantasy than anything else. While it is far different than typical Erikson, it is still glorious.

This River Awakens was re-released in 2012 after initially being published in 1998 under Erikson’s pen name of Steve Lundin. I love reading author’s works that are t... Read More

Hold Back the Night: Not for the faint of heart

Readers’ average rating:

Hold Back the Night by Pat Frank

Hold Back the Night (1951; 2017) is the third of Pat Frank’s classic Cold War-era novels receiving a re-issue from Harper Perennial, after Mr. Adam (1946; 2016) and Forbidden Area (1956; 2016). Originally published during the Korean War, Hold Back the Night finds inspiration from the very real events which occurred during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir and tells the story of a single group of U.S. Marines. Frank’s intimate descriptions of military life during wartime, especially the differences separating enlisted men and their commanding... Read More

Dark Integers and Other Stories: Humanism and hard science

Readers’ average rating:

Dark Integers and Other Stories by Greg Egan

Though the count may not be high (five stories all told), Greg Egan’s Dark Integers and Other Stories packs a theoretical punch, quite literally. Novellas and novelettes only, the 2008 collection is filled with the author’s trademark hard science speculation. The selections were published between 1995 and 2007; one pair of stories is set within the same universe as his 2008 novel Incandescence, another pair within a near-future Earth setting, and the fifth is set on a water world. The quality of this collection is contentious, and certainly those who appreciate abstract theorizing will enjoy it the most.

The following is a brief summary of the five pieces:

“Luminous” (1995): In a sho... Read More

Galactic North: Reynolds excels at shorter lengths

Readers’ average rating:

Galactic North by Alastair Reynolds

Having read all the full-length novels in Alastair ReynoldsREVELATION SPACE series, I knew I’d eventually get to his shorter works set in the same dark and complex universe. The main novels are Revelation Space, Redemption Ark, Chasm City, Absolution Gap, and The Prefect. Reynolds has produced a ... Read More

Warm Bodies: Romeo and Juliet and zombies

Readers’ average rating:

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

In Warm Bodies (2010), our world has been overrun by the zombies, and the few humans who are left are fighting a rearguard action. They huddle in walled enclosures, sending out occasional armed expeditions for food and supplies. Regular school classes have fallen by the wayside, replaced by classes and demonstrations on how to best kill a zombie permanently (head shots).

R is a zombie who doesn’t remember his past life, except that his name maybe started with the letter R. He can speak a few syllables, more than most of his zombie companions, and think complex thoughts that his tongue can’t share. R and hundreds of other zombies live in an abandoned airport, going on group hunts to the city to try to find food, in the form of humans. When they eat the brains of the Living, they experience fragments of the human’s memories, and it... Read More

Never Let Me Go: A quiet exploration of the human condition

Readers’ average rating:

Reposting to include Ray's new review.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

[In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.]

Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go is about clones, but don’t get your hopes up. This is an unconventional clone story.

That’s right. There aren’t any mad scientists, nor are there any daring escapes. There isn’t even a sterile cloning facility run by a ruthless villain. So forget about a daring infiltration scene in which the sterile cloning facility is shut down from within.

Ther... Read More

Black City Demon: This creepy, magical Prohibition-era Chicago comes to life

Readers’ average rating:

Black City Demon by Richard A. Knaak

Black City Demon (2017) is the second BLACK CITY SAINT adventure of 1930s ghost-hunter Nick Medea, who is really Georgius, or Saint George, and who is sixteen hundred years old. Currently living in Chicago, Nick, who is also the guardian of the Gate between our realm and Faerie, combats human evil and the worst of the Faerie influences that come through the Gate. He has very few people he considers friends, but several allies he can’t completely trust... and a strong, beautiful woman who is the current incarnation of the princess he loved when he was Georgius.

Richard A. Knaack’s historical urban fantasy series delves into the history of Chicago and provides a different spin. In Read More

Another Castle: Grimoire by Andrew Wheeler

 

Readers’ average rating: 

Another Castle: Grimoire Written by Andrew Wheeler, Illustrated by Paulina Ganucheau, Lettered by Jenny Vy Tran

Another Castle: Grimoire is a solid enough graphic story, better suited for younger readers than older ones due to its relatively simple story and characterization, though even aimed at that audience I would have liked to have seen a bit more depth and writing craft.

The story follows the adventures of Princess Misty, daughter to the king of Beldora and, like many a princess in the old stories, a reluctant prospective bride. Her impending marriage to Prince Pete is meant to unite two kingdoms and hopefully allow them to st... Read More

SPFBO Final Round Reviews part 1

In Mark Lawrence's Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off, ten SFF review blogs joined forces to read 300 self-published fantasy novels. Each blog read ten books and chose one to advance to the top ten. The book that we advanced was Kaitlyn Davis's The Shadow Soul (here's our review) and we gave it a score of 5 out of 10 on Lawrence's scale. We are currently reading the remaining top ten SPFBO books. Here is our review of four of them. We'll get the last five books done soon.



The Path of Flames by Phil Tucker (read by Bill and Terry, given a score of Read More

Wintersong: Fervour and fairytale

Readers’ average rating:

Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

Once upon a time fairytale retellings were a rare thing, but nowadays, everyone seems to be doing it. S. Jae-Jones' debut, Wintersong (2017), promises a tale of the Goblin King fused with Germanic folklore. So how does Jae-Jones' contribution to this over-saturated genre fare?

Wintersong centres around Elisabeth — or Liesl, as she's known — the unremarkable and “unlovely” eldest daughter of a musician. Like her father, music is the true love of her life, but it is her younger brother, the boy in the family, who gets to live out her dreams of becoming a musician, because of course, girls should be seen and not heard. Her sister, the beautiful Käthe, is too busy flouncing about town, flirting with anything that has a pulse, to see how much Liesl is suffering.
Read More

Skyborn: Fun MG series comes to a satisfying end

Readers’ average rating: Comment Reviews for this post are disabled. Please enable it first

Skyborn by Lou Anders

Lou Anders concludes his THRONES & BONES trilogy for middle graders with Skyborn, which follows Frostborn and Nightborn.

Skyborn begins as our three young heroes have just lost one of the Horns of Osius which are able to control wyverns and dragons. To free these creatures from the empire that controls them, they must travel to Thica to find and destroy the horn.

Our heroes couldn’t be more different from each other. Karn is the human son of a w... Read More

A Criminal Magic: Suspenseful plot, great descriptions of magic

Readers’ average rating:

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

A Criminal Magic by Lee Kelly

In A Criminal Magic, Lee Kelly creates a world in which the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution, ratified in 1919, banned sorcery rather than alcohol. Kelly combines remarkable creativity, imagination, and insight into the human condition, blending fantasy with history and ending up with a complex, entertaining, compelling novel.

Naturally, the passage of A Criminal Magic’s fictional amendment results in the same response as its historical analogue: sorcerers are thrust into the criminal underworld, brewing an illegal ruby-red elixir. This “shine,” as it’s known, is smuggled by gangsters into “shining rooms” across the country, fronted by legal liquor bars and raided by members of the Federal Prohibition Unit who... Read More

After Atlas: CSI: Future World

Readers’ average rating:

After Atlas by Emma Newman

Emma Newman’s After Atlas (2016) is the pseudo-sequel to her first sci-fi offering, Planetfall (2015). As Kat explained in her review, Planetfall is about a colony of humans who left Earth to follow Suh, an alleged prophet who received a supernatural message giving her the coordinates of an unknown distant planet where she was supposed to travel to receive instructions about God’s plans for humanity. After Atlas takes place on Earth, almost 40 years after the ship left. No word has come from the colonists, but the world awaits the opening of a time capsule left behind by the crew.

Carmen left her husb... Read More

The Complete Cosmicomics: Cosmic tales of the universe’s origins

Readers’ average rating:

The Complete Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino

Along with his brilliant Invisible Cities (1972 in Italian, 1974 in English), one of Italo Calvino’s most enduring creations was his series of whimsical and erudite stories inspired by the origins of the universe and scientific principles, labeled Cosmicomics (1965 in Italian, 1968 in English). They are narrated by a mysterious being called Qfwfq, who tells of the Big Bang and the time before that when the universe was a single point without space or dimensions. Qfwfq has a refreshingly frank and humorous attitude towards such momentous moments as the birth of our universe, the origins of life, the extinction of the dinosaurs, the first animals t... Read More