SFF Reviews

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Made Things: A whimsical magical fantasy with serious undertones

Made Things by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Adrian Tchaikovsky is an unusually versatile author. I never know what to expect from him — insect and shapeshifter fantasy, Iron Man-inspired science fiction, and Regency/Napoleonic historical fantasy are just a few examples — but I know it's going to be imaginative and intelligently written. The last work I read by him, Walking to Aldebaran, was science fictional horror with an unusual literary streak. In a nearly 180 degree turn, Tchaikovsky now offers up the novella Made Things (2019), a magical gaslamp fantasy involving living puppets and a heist.

Coppelia is a seventeen-year-old puppeteer, with enough magic to make her a g... Read More

Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal: A flawed but fun wuxia-fantasy…

Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal directed by Peter Pau

I always enjoy a good wuxia-fantasy, and Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal ticks the expected boxes of the genre: noble warriors, beautiful maidens, impressive stunt-work, a twisty-turny plot — but despite its length, it doesn’t quite have the emotional heft it should have.

The city of Hun is ruled by the lesser god Zhang Diaoxian, who protects its people from the demons of Hell by turning a simple scholar called Zhong Kui into a mighty demon-slayer. The two of them have kept Hell’s demons at bay for many years, but now the fifteenth of July approaches, a day in which the Earth is vulnerable from attack.

After the theft of the Dark Crystal from the underworld, and the arrival of Zhong Kui’s former lover – a mysterious maiden called Little Snow – to the city, Diaoxian gives his protégé an elixir that transforms him into a demon warrior, insisting that it’s the... Read More

The Name of All Things: Shows nice improvement from book one

The Name of All Things by Jenn Lyons

The Name of All Things (2019) follows up Jenn Lyons’ debut novel The Ruin of Kings, though “follows” is a bit of a misnomer since the vast majority of the book actually takes place concurrent with its predecessor’s action. I had some issues with book one, mostly with the structure, and while some of that carries over, albeit in different fashion, I found The Name of All Things to be an improvement overall.

The story opens shortly after the ending of The Ruin of Kings, with that novel’s main character Kihrin meeting Count Janel Teranon and her companion Brother Qown, who seek his help to kill a dragon. As Janel and Qown wait for a third compatriot,... Read More

Snow & Rose: Into the woods… Who knows what may be lurking?

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Snow & Rose by Emily Winfield Martin

Snow & Rose (2017) is a charming middle grade level retelling of the Snow-White and Rose-Red fairy tale with illustrations by the author, Emily Winfield Martin. Rose and Snow are the beloved eleven and nine year old daughters of a nobleman and his commoner wife, a sculptor. Rose has black hair and rosy cheeks, and is patient and gentle; Snow has white-blonde hair and icy blue eyes, and has a wilder and more adventurous personality. They have a fat grey tabby cat called Earl Grey (I adore that name! I want to adopt a grey cat now and name him Earl Grey) and had a large house with servants, a library with shelves that reached the ceiling, and a spectacular garden, half white flow... Read More

Star Wars: Kanan Vol. 2: First Blood: The backstory of Kanan Jarrus continues…

Star Wars: Kanan Vol. 2: First Blood by Greg Weisman

Star Wars: Kanan Vol. 2: First Blood is the second collection of comics in an ongoing series that details the mysterious past of Kanan Jarrus, a main character of the animated television show Star Wars Rebels who — as a teenage Jedi Padawan — managed to escape the purge that wiped the rest of the Order out. Having joined the Rebellion as part of the crew of the Ghost, Kanan now finds himself increasingly haunted by his past as he and his team-mates start visiting planets he inhabited while still known as Caleb Dume.

Set within the framing device of the Ghost crew watching over Kanan's unconscious body as it heals in a bacta tank, we delve back into the former Jedi's memories — and this time they're set further back in time than those of Read More

Dreadful Company: Greta goes to Paris

Dreadful Company by Vivian Shaw

Dreadful Company (2018) is the second book in Vivian Shaw’s warm-hearted DR GRETA HELSING series. It follows Strange Practice which, for best results, I’d recommend reading first. The stories are self-contained, but the characters’ relationships with each other evolve a bit throughout the series.

Greta has been asked to present a paper at a medical conference in Paris. She travels to the City of Lights with her vampire friend Lord Ruthven and, on one of the evenings, they plan to attend the opera. As they get ready, Greta notices a little monster in her sink at the hotel and knows that this type must be summoned, meaning that there is a practitioner in Paris.
... Read More

Aylmer Vance: Ghost-Seer: 8 marvelous tales featuring an Edwardian ghost buster

Aylmer Vance: Ghost-Seer by Alice & Claude Askew

As I have said elsewhere, this reader has long been a sucker for the Victorian/Edwardian ghost hunter. Previously, I had enjoyed the exploits of Algernon Blackwood’s John Silence — who had tackled, in the author’s five-story collection of 1908, a haunted house, a French town peopled by shape shifters, an Egyptian fire elemental, devil worship, and a nontraditional werewolf — and William Hope Hodgson’s Thomas Carnacki, who had gone up against, in the six-story collection of 1913 that was expanded to nine stories 35 years later, haunted abodes, a ghostly horse, weird noises, spectral daggers and maggots, a haunted ship, and a soul-sucking swine mon... Read More

Sabbath: It’s strange. It’s interesting.

Sabbath by Nick Mamatas

I don’t always agree with Nick Mamatas or his views on humanity, but I think he is one of the most interesting writers working right now, and Sabbath (2019), while it’s strange, is definitely interesting. The story behind the story is interesting and a little strange too. Sabbath (2019) is a novelization of a graphic novel called Sabbath: All Your Sins Reborn, by Matthew Tomao, which does not seem to be well known or much admired on the internet.

Mamatas writes a book that has some wonderful, hallucinatory prose, gallons of gore, a passel of severed heads, attack poodles, several actiony set-pieces and social observations as astringent as shot of cold gin. To crib a line from the Buffy-spinoff Angel, who doesn’t love... Read More

Strange Practice: Great premise, bland plot

Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw

Greta Helsing, a 34 year old doctor, has a discreet medical practice in modern London. Her life’s mission is to study, help, and heal all of the supernatural creatures that most of the world is unaware of and would view as monsters if they did learn about them. As you might expect, this gets her into all sorts of weird situations that have been documented in Vivian Shaw’s DR GRETA HELSING series.

In this opening volume, we meet a couple of Greta’s best friends: Lord Ruthven, an ancient vampire who lives in a large gracious mansion in London, and Fastitocalon, a math-loving accountant’s assistant with COPD who can read minds and happens to be a demon.

When a brooding guilt-ridden vampyre named Sir Francis Varney (of the penny-dreadful called Varney the Vampyre) s... Read More

The Water Dancer: Sharply moving but also oddly distant

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates is, of course, supremely well-known, and justifiably so, for his non-fiction, whether that be his essays/columns, or his long-form works such as We Were Eight Years in Power or Between the World and Me. Now he’s out with his first fiction work, The Water Dancer (2019), a blend of realism and the supernatural set in the antebellum period. While Coates’ already-documented strengths as a writer are evident, particularly on a sentence level, the book does suffer from typical debut novel issues, though it still carries an emotional power in many places.

The novel opens in pre-Civil War Virginia, specifically on the dying Walker plantation of Lockless whose master has two sons. One is his white son by marriage, Maynard: a feckless, vulgar, ignorant young man whose many flaws are in star... Read More

A Little Hatred: Everything I’m looking for in a fantasy novel

A Little Hatred by Joe Abercrombie

You have never heard me gush over a novel by Joe Abercrombie, but times have changed and gushing will now commence. A Little Hatred (2019) is fabulous. It’s got everything I’m looking for in a fantasy novel.

A Little Hatred is the first book in Abercrombie’s new fantasy series, THE AGE OF MADNESS. It’s set in the same world as his FIRST LAW series (The Blade Itself, Before They Are Hanged, Last Argument of Kings... Read More

Briar Rose: Fairy tales and trauma

Briar Rose by Jane Yolen

In the 1980s, Terri Windling created the FAIRY TALE SERIES, a collection of stand-alone retellings for adults, featuring some of the best writers in the field. The series continued into the early 2000s and spans a wide variety of styles, tones, and interpretations of the tales. Jane Yolen’s Briar Rose (1992) was the sixth in the series and combines its fairy tale with an all-too-real historical horror. It won the Mythopoeic Award in 1992, and was nominated for the Nebula.

Becca, the heroine, is a young Jewish woman who grew up being told fairy tales by her grandmother, Gemma. Becca’s favorite was Sleeping Beauty, though Gemma didn’t tell it in the standard way. Now Gemma is dying, and on her de... Read More

The Moon Terror: A wonderfully pulpish double feature

The Moon Terror by A.G. Birch

During my first, recent visit to London, besides doing all the typical touristy things, I also happened to visit several of the very fine bookstores that the great city currently offers. The used-book stores on Charing Cross Road were especially interesting to me, but I also stopped in at Forbidden Planet (so much better than the Forbidden Planet store here in NYC), the mammoth independent bookstore called Foyles, and, of course, the Waterstones on Piccadilly. It was at this gigantic bookstore, supposedly the largest in Europe, where I found the volume in question, The Moon Terror, by A.G. Birch. It was not a hard sell for me; as soon as I read that this short novel originally appeared in the pages of Weird Tales magazine, I purchased it on the spot. As it turns out, this novel made its debut in the May and June 1923 issues of “The Unique Magazine”; th... Read More

The Line Between: Apocalyptic thrills and doomsday cult chills

The Line Between by Tosca Lee

The Line Between (2019) is a chilling and believable take on what happens when a long-extinct disease emerges from the frozen tundra in Alaska. Apparently free-range hogs will eat almost anything, including a disease-infested caribou carcass exposed by the melting permafrost (nod to global warming here). The prion-based disease promptly teams up with a modern flu virus. Invariably fatal cases of rapid early-onset dementia ensue.

These sobering events are seen through the eyes of twenty-two-year-old Wynter Roth, who, as the story begins, is escaping/being kicked out of her apocalyptic cult in rural Iowa. It's a combination of both: she did want out, but the method and timing were taken out of her hands, and she’s deeply torn because her older sister Jaclyn and her four-year-old niece Truly are still locked into the New Earth cult's life. Plus, Wynter has spent fifteen years ... Read More

The Refrigerator Monologues: A herald of change?

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente

In her Afterword, Catherynne M. Valente lays out the inspiration for 2017’s collection of linked short stories The Refrigerator Monologues. Valente was inspired partly by the work of comics writer Gail Simone, who created and popularized the term “Women in Refrigerators” as a way to describe women cape-and-mask heroes, and how they are treated in conventional comics. As for structure, Valente looked toward Eve Ensler’s groundbreaking theatrical work The Vagina Monologues. To no small extent, though, Valente was galvanized into writing this collection because of her anger at how Gwen ... Read More

Nimona: A fun, colourful and heartfelt fantasy tale

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

I picked up Nimona (2015) after recognizing that writer/illustrator Noelle Stevenson was also the showrunner of Netflix’s rebooted She-Ra, and becoming interested in what she worked on in the past. As it happens, if you enjoyed She-Ra then you’ll probably like Nimona as well (and visa-versa) as there are many similarities in style, character, depth and tone.

Ballister Blackheart returns home to his evil fortress one day to discover a perky young girl waiting for him, insisting that she’s his newest sidekick. Introducing herself as Nimona, he’s a little doubtful about her youth and bloodthirsty streak, but soon won over by her mysterious (and very useful) shapeshifting abilities.

In his ongoing vendetta against the heroic Ambrosius Goldenloin, Nimona proves herself to be a very able ally, not only in her destructi... Read More

The New Voices of Fantasy: A diverse and worthy collection

Reposting to include Skye's new review.

The New Voices of Fantasy edited by Peter Beagle

This collection of nineteen fantasy short works, edited by Peter Beagle, is definitely worthwhile if you like speculative short fiction. Many of them left an impact on me, and a few are true standouts. These stories are by relatively new authors in the speculative fiction genre and are all fantasy; otherwise there's no discernable overarching theme.

These stories have almost all been published previously over the last seven years, and several of them are Hugo or Nebula winners or nominees. While a dedicated reader of online short fiction can find many of these short works in free online magazines, it’s convenient to have them gathered together in one volume with other stories that aren’t as readily available.

A brief summary ... Read More

The October Man: A good introduction to RIVERS OF LONDON

The October Man by Ben Aaronovitch

My friends here at FanLit love Ben Aaronovitch’s RIVERS OF LONDON / PETER GRANT series. I haven’t read any of the novels yet, so when The October Man (2019), a related stand-alone novella, was recently released, I thought it might be the perfect place to jump in.

I was right. Though familiarity with the novels might have made things a little easier, I found The October Man to be both perfectly understandable and enjoyable.

The story stars Tobias Winter, a secondary character from the RIVERS OF LONDON / PETER GRANT series (as I understand it). Tobias, an investigator, is called to the quaint town of Trier in one of Germany’s famous wine regions. He is there to investigate a murder that look... Read More

Midnight Riot: A blast from start to finish

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Midnight Riot (aka Rivers of London in the UK) by Ben Aaronovitch

Peter Grant is a constable-in-training in London’s police force. At the end of his probation period, it looks like he’s in line for a long career of boring desk work in the Case Progression Unit, but that all changes when he draws the luckless duty of guarding a crime scene overnight where, earlier that day, a headless body was found lying on the street. While Peter is freezing his heels off in the cold London night, he is approached by possibly the crime’s only witness — who also happens to be a ghost…

Peter is swiftly recruited into a secret department that focuses on the supernatural and magical, and apprenticed to the mysterious Thomas Nightingale, the leader and only other active member in this centuries-old department. Peter begins the long process of learning... Read More

Winterwood: Atmospheric but glitchy winter tale

Winterwood by Shea Ernshaw

Nora Walker is all alone in the world. Her whole family are rumored to be witches, which sets her apart from other kids her age. Her grandmother is dead, and her mother is something of an absentee parent. And now that winter has set in at Jackjaw Lake, all the tourists are gone, leaving behind only Nora in her cottage and the residents of the nearby camp for delinquent boys. Nora’s isolation increases still further when a storm drops four feet of snow on the area, cutting off the roads and knocking out the phone lines.

Everything changes when Nora ventures into the oldest, spookiest part of the woods on the full moon and finds Oliver Huntsman, a boy who went missing two weeks ago from the camp. She helps him recover from hypothermia and takes him back to the camp, but in the process learns that there is more to the story than just one boy getting lost in the woods. Another boy died the same night, and ... Read More

Lost and Found: Looking out for those who are lost

Lost and Found by Orson Scott Card

Fourteen-year-old Ezekiel has a special power. Not a superpower; though, just a small power: he’s drawn to lost items — hair scrunchies, toys, and even bikes — combined with the innate knowledge of who the owners are and where to go to return the items, and a strong compulsion to return them. Unfortunately, this hasn’t worked out so well for Ezekiel: everyone thinks he stole the things and returned them for the attention or a reward. He’s got quite a file with the police by the time he’s a teenager, and that, combined with his mother’s tragic death when he was four, has made Ezekiel an embittered social pariah. Ezekiel’s actual last name is Bliss, but in his own mind he calls himself Ezekiel Blast.

So when Beth, a tiny classmate with proportionate dwarfism, insists on joining him on his lonely walk to and from school, he actively tries to discourage her overtures of friendship. An... Read More

A Song for a New Day: Celebrates the thrill of live rock music

A Song for a New Day by Sarah Pinsker

Luce Cannon was a rising rock star, traveling with a new band and doing live shows all over the country, until a rash of deadly terrorist attacks, and the threat of more to come, caused the American government to criminalize large public gatherings.

Now, instead of live concerts, musicians and their fans meet virtually, with the fans wearing hoodies equipped with technology that allows them to safely experience the perception of being with others at a show. But Luce and like-minded artists never bought into this concept and aren’t willing to sell their souls to StageHoloLive, the big corporation that produces these events in “Hoodspace.”

Working out of her parents’ home, Rosemary Laws provides customer service for Superwally, an internet superstore that sells StageHoloLive (SHL) merchandise. Rosemary’s job isn’t bad — it’s secure and appealingly gamified — but ... Read More

The Future of Another Timeline: Interesting, but ultimately didn’t satisfy me

The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz

The Future of Another Timeline (2019) was a miss for me, which surprised me given how much I enjoy this writer. Many people on Amazon give it high ratings, so, as we say, your mileage may vary.

There are five-time machines embedded in the earth’s crust in Annalee Newitz’s 2019 novel. These objects, growing out of prehistoric rock, may be machines, or sentient entities, or some kind of strange natural occurrence, but they react to certain rhythmic sounds by sending a person back in time … and allowing them to return to their present.

The Machines are awesome.

The book follows two characters, Beth in a 1992 timeline that isn’t quite ours, and Tess from a 2022 that is upstream from Beth. Tess is an approved time traveler, who, usi... Read More

Hellboy: Darkness Calls: Hellboy battles Baba Yaga

Hellboy (Vol. 8): Darkness Calls by Mike Mignola (writer), Duncan Fegredo (artist), and Dave Stewart (colorist)

A man trapped behind a wall calls on Hectate and binds her to do his will. Hellboy’s horns, broken off by him in a previous story, are recovered for some unknown purpose. And Hellboy, drinking by a fire safely at a friend’s home, mourns the loss of his mentor. When he goes for a walk, the action begins. And thus starts Darkness Calls, expertly drawn by Duncan Fegredo and colored by Dave Stewart. You do not want this volume to be your first exposure to Hellboy since it picks up many threads from multiple previous stories.

Hellboy is confronted by various creatures who want different things from him: The witches, whose power on earth is waning, want him to be their king, a role Hellboy has repeatedly refused, and Baba Yaga seeks revenge for Hellboy’s taking out her eye. Baba Yaga’s men are... Read More

Naondel: Pushes the boundaries of YA

Naondel by Maria Turtschaninoff

Naondel (2016) is the second book in Maria Turtschaninoff’s RED ABBEY CHRONICLES series, but it’s not a sequel; it’s a prequel. Set many years before the events of Maresi, Naondel tells the story of the women who, fleeing their own oppression, founded the Red Abbey as a sanctuary for themselves and others. It is set in what seems to be an amalgam of several Asian cultures, and we see glimpses of other parts of Turtschaninoff’s world as well.

If I didn’t know anything about Naondel before I started it — if I didn’t know it was the follow-up to a young adult novel that won a prize for youth literature — I w... Read More