SFF Reviews

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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children: It’s not the X-Men without Wolverine

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

If there is one genre in young adult fiction that has been egregiously overdone at this point, it’s… well, actually, can’t tell a lie, it’s paranormal romance. But a close runner-up is the “Teens with Powers” genre that’s rocketed to prominence in recent years, particularly after a certain book series involving young wizards and their magical school. The formula is generally much the same: there’s a secret society of magic-users who organize themselves in some sort of refuge from a dangerous world where they have an equally magical enemy. The inevitably teenage or tweenage protagonists are at first under pressure to simply conform and leave the problems to the adults, but must soon take matters into their own hands to indulge teenage hormones and face their nemeses in glorious magical combat. This isn’t to say it’s a bad formula (indeed, many auth... Read More

Darknesses: Not great but solid and well-paced

Darknesses by L.E. Modesitt Jr

Note: We're rebooting this review, which was originally published in 2008, to include information about the just-released audio version.

First off, though this does stand as in independent story in what is called THE COREAN CHRONICLES, it will make a lot more sense to you and you'll be a lot more invested in the characters if you read the first book ahead of time. Darknesses returns to the same main character, Alucius, who remains as in the first a reluctant soldier caught up in battles and politics he'd rather not wage, preferring to set down his sword and his strange Talent and return home to be a herder with his new wife. This book roams further afield than the first book as Alucius is sent to various locales (helps to periodically check the map to keep all his travels and the stratagems behind them straigh... Read More

He Who Shapes: A short rich read from one of the strongest voices in SF

He Who Shapes by Roger Zelazny

In the mid to late ‘60s, the sci-fi world was Roger Zelazny’s oyster. Possessing an abundance of fresh ideas delivered with a deft hand, the author took the genre by storm — This Immortal, Lord of Light, and Creatures of Light and Darkness gained notable attention and won awards. Published amidst these unique novels was, however, a book of an entirely different range and frequency. More personal and cerebral than mythic or heroic, The Dream Master (1966) instead features Zelazny’s interests in the psyche, subconscious, and to a small degree, spiritualism. The novel is based on the novella He Who Shapes, which Zelazny would later state is his preferred version and is the subject of this review.

He Who Shapes is the story of Dr. Charles Rend... Read More

Jala’s Mask: Interesting world-building in this YA fantasy

Jala’s Mask by Mike & Rachel Grinti

I enjoy reading fantasy that stems from a different folkloric basis than the one I grew up in. Middle European, British, Native American and Asian fantasy tropes have been done a lot, so Jala’s Mask, by Mike & Rachel Grinti was a refreshing change.

Jala has grown up in a society similar in some ways to our Polynesian one. Her people can magically shape ships from the material that forms the reefs around their islands. They gather wealth by raiding the mainland. The Five Islands and One are ruled by a king and queen, but except for the One island, where sorcerers are exiled, each island is controlled by a particular family. Jala is part of the Bardo clan. The new king, Azi of the Kayet, is looking for a wife, and Jala’s father is sure she will be chosen. This seems unlikely, because Azi’s Kayet uncle doesn’t trust the Bardo, but Jala’... Read More

The Spider: A prequel to the ELEMENTAL ASSASSIN series

The Spider by Jennifer Estep

The Spider, the tenth book in Jennifer Estep’s ELEMENTAL ASSASSIN series is actually a prequel in which we learn about Gin’s life and training before she became the infamous assassin, The Spider. Readers who haven’t been following the series could read The Spider with no problem, but they’d be missing a lot of the Easter Eggs that Estep leaves for her fans.

The story starts when adult Gin (the one we know and maybe love) is talking to her boyfriend Owen at The Pork Pit. (Gin and Owen are back together, a reunion I missed since I haven’t yet read book nine because I don’t own an audio copy, my library doesn’t have it, and I’m not willing to buy it.) A box of blue roses arrives at The Pork Pit without a card, but Gin knows exactly who they’re from. The memory induces Gin to tell Owen about her trainin... Read More

Rise of the Terran Empire: Transitions from the Commonwealth to the Empire

Rise of the Terran Empire by Poul Anderson

Rise of the Terran Empire is the third in a series of seven books collecting all of Poul Anderson's writings in the Technic civilization setting. The stories are presented by internal chronology and in this book we have reached the boundary between the two eras Anderson set most of these stories in: the time of the Polesotechnic league (Nicolas van Rijn and David Falkayn) and the era of the Terran Empire (Dominic Flandry). The previous two books contained quite a few pieces of short fiction but this third tome includes two full novels with room left over for four shorter works. One of these, “Sargasso of Lost Starships,” originally published in Planet Stories, appears for the first time in book form, so if you are a completist this is a must have.

The collection opens with the 1977 novel Mirkheim. It features both Falkayn an... Read More

Deadly Sting: A museum heist is a nice change of scenery and pace

Deadly Sting by Jennifer Estep

Deadly Sting is the eighth book in Jennifer Estep’s ELEMENTAL ASSASSIN series. Anyone who has made it to this point in the series probably doesn’t care what I have to say about it, so I’ll make this short.

Gin and Owen are taking a break from each other after the events of the last book, Widow’s Web, so Gin accompanies Finn to a fancy party at an art museum on an island where Mab Monroe’s stuff will be on display for all the wealthy folks in Ashland to see. Soon after she arrives, she encounters two big problems. One is that she discovers Mab had a couple of Gin’s family’s runes in her possession! Gin wants them back. The other problem is that Owen is at the party with another woman. How distressing!

While Gin’s sulking in the bathroom, a group of giants murders a woman who looks like Gin and takes all... Read More

Hide Me Among the Graves: Quality time with that whacky Rossetti family

Hide Me Among the Graves by Tim Powers

Hide Me Among the Graves is Tim Power’s sequel, twenty-five years later, to The Stress of her Regard. I liked it better than its predecessor, but some of the same problems plagued this otherwise interesting read.

Instead of wandering all over Europe, Hide Me Among the Graves sticks pretty close to 1860s London, following the fortunes of a widowed veterinarian, John Crawford, and the artistic, poetic and strange Rossetti family, particularly Christina and her brother Gabriel Dante. Those pesky ageless vampiric creatures, the nephalim, are back to stir up trouble, and this time one of them wants to create an earth tremor that will destroy London.

When Christina Rossetti was fourteen, her father tricked her into awakening one of the nephalim, who took the shape of Christina’s uncle John Polidori. Pol... Read More

Willful Child: Erikson’s Star Trek parody

Willful Child by Steven Erikson

Let’s start with what needs to be said when reviewing a book like Steven Erikson’s Willful Child, a full-bore parody/homage to Star Trek: The Original Series. One, humor is wholly subjective. I, for instance, have never understood the allure of Adam Sandler. My wife, meanwhile, has never understood why I find Airplane funny (I could go on and on with that list, but one will suffice). So one person’s rib-splitting, laugh-out-loud bit will be another person’s “meh.”  Second, humor is tough. As the line goes, “dying is easy, comedy is hard.” So, that being said, what about the book?

As mentioned, Willful Child takes on the classic Trek series and makes no, ahem, “Bones” about it. After a quick little prologue, this is the opening of Chapter One:  “Space. It’s fucking big. These are the voyages of th... Read More

Widow’s Web: This formula seems to be working for Estep

Widow’s Web by Jennifer Estep

Widow’s Web is book seven in Jennifer Estep’s ELEMENTAL ASSASSIN series. I wasn’t too impressed with book six, By a Thread, but I continue to read the series because I’ve already purchased most of the books at Audible and, even though I recognize the problems with the plot and the writing, the truth is that I like Estep’s setting and characters well enough that I don’t mind reading the books in order to get them reviewed for FanLit. Based on the high marks the series gets at GoodReads and Amazon, I’m guessing that many readers are perfectly happy to overlook the little “issues” I’ve mentioned in previous reviews. Clearly, the formula is working for Estep.

In this seventh installment, Gin and her friends are back in Ashland Tennessee after a disastrous vacation during which Gin saved another damsel in distress, s... Read More

Dreamer’s Pool: The perilous business of being female in fantasy

Dreamer’s Pool by Juliet Marillier

Those who have read Juliet Marillier before know the drill: She produces exceptionally readable and endearing fantasy set in the medieval and ancient British Isles, revolving around women, myths, and magic. I adored Daughter of the Forest for its loving recreation of my absolute favorite fairy tale as a kid (the Six Swans).[1] The other SEVENWATERS books went by in a blur of kings and curses because I was on vacation and had to get through the entire series before my Mom left with her duffle bag of paperbacks.

Dreamer’s Pool is still about women, magic, and ancient Ireland. So if you liked SEVENWATERS, there’s no need to fear that Marillier is now writing about werewolf romances in Prague or... Read More

Yesterday’s Kin: Tries to do more than it actually does

Yesterday’s Kin by Nancy Kress

Yesterday’s Kin, by Hugo and Nebula award winning author Nancy Kress, is a first-contact story set in a not so distant dystopian future. We follow Marianne Jenner, a geneticist who is celebrating a recent career breakthrough — the discovery that all human beings are descended from a common female ancestor — when she is unexpectedly called to a meeting set up by the secretive aliens that have landed recently in New York Harbor. Not understanding why, of all people, the aliens have asked her to be part of the first visiting committee to speak with the aliens, she quickly discovers that there is a surprising link between the aliens and her recent discovery.

That link, however, is secondary to why the aliens have chosen to allow, for the very first time, people to visit their base. There is an incoming interstellar spore cloud that will infect and kill every human bei... Read More

The Time Axis: Exciting, but not fully satisfying

The Time Axis by Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore

Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore's sole novel of 1948, The Mask of Circe, was a very way-out excursion in the fantasy realm, and in early 1949, the pair followed up with an equally way-out piece of hard sci-fi. The Time Axis, which initially appeared in the January '49 issue of "Startling Stories," finds science fiction's foremost husband-and-wife writing team (my apologies to Damon Knight and Kate Wilhelm!) at the top of their game, but perhaps giving their seemingly limitless imagination too free a rein. The book is well paced, finely and at times humorously written, exciting and colorful, but ultimately, unfortunately, not fully satisfying.

The story here concerns the "nekron," a shadowy whatz... Read More

By A Thread: Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy!

By a Thread by Jennifer Estep

Stop here if you’re planning to read Jennifer Estep’s ELEMENTAL ASSASSIN series and haven’t read books one through five yet. This review is for book six, By a Thread, and will contain spoilers for the earlier books.

In the previous book, Spider’s Revenge, Gin Blanco (as the title implies) took care of Mab Monroe, her nemesis and the crime boss of Ashland Tennessee. At this point, Estep’s fans have got to be wondering “now what’s Gin gonna do?” It seems like her life is set; she’s got an awesome boyfriend, she’s reunited with her sister, business is booming, and her enemy is dead. But life still isn’t easy for Gin. With Mab gone, all sorts of bad people have been trying to take Gin out and she just can’t get a break. So Gin, Bria, Owen, and Finn pack up and go on vacation to the town were Bria grew up in a fost... Read More

Jaran: A truly charming tale

Jaran by Kate Elliott

Kate Elliott is best known as an epic fantasy writer. Her books are powerful and sprawling. Her characters are well developed and emotionally intense. Her writing pulls it all together so perfectly. She’s an author that, no matter what flaws I might find with her books, I always tend to enjoy. Jaran is no different. It’s not a perfect novel, but it’s mighty enjoyable, despite that.

Jaran is billed as a SciFi, but it’s really an epic fantasy book with hints of SciFi thrown in to make things interesting. Jaran starts with Tess in a futuristic galaxy and she ends up on a very behind-the-technological-times planet. She’s highly placed in the governmental order of things, as her brother is an important Duke who has been fighting for human rights against the alien Chapalii. Tess stands to inherit all of that, but her discomfort with the position... Read More

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