SFF Reviews

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

The Last Unicorn: Withstands the test of time

Readers’ average rating:

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

Peter S. Beagle’s classic The Last Unicorn (1968) turns fifty years old this year, and it’s remained in the public eye and continues to capture hearts like very few fantasies of its age. Like a fine tapestry, this gorgeous fairy tale weaves together unicorns and harpies, wizards and witches, dark-hearted kings and brave heroes. Its lyrical language is embellished with whimsical humor and given heft by bittersweet life lessons.

A shy unicorn keeps to herself in her lilac wood, where time passes slowly, if at all, and leaves remain grain and never fall. But one day overhears passing hunters grumbling that they must be in the forest of a unicorn (“Creatures that live in a unicorn’s wood learn a little magic of their own in time, mainly concerned with disappearing”) and that this unicorn must be the last one in the world... Read More

Criminal (Volume 1): Coward: Noir comics at their best

Readers’ average rating: 

In Ed Brubaker’s Criminal (vol 1): Coward, we get noir comics at their best. Until I first read the Criminal series about ten years ago now, I was still not persuaded that comics could be a great form of art. But once I read this series, I was convinced I should read more: I thought, if comics can be this good, then there must be many more out there like this one. And so my passion for comics began with the story of Leo, a thief who always has a meticulous plan of escape laid out before he will consider taking on a heist, and in the case of Coward, the heist will get his team five million dollars worth of diamonds from a police van carrying contraband. Leo, unfortunately, is known as a coward because of his escape plans. He is known as someone who runs away.

At the time we meet our cowardly lion, Leo has tried to stop being a part armed robberies be... Read More

Phoenix Unbound: Fantasy romance in a grim and gritty world

Readers’ average rating:  

Phoenix Unbound by Grace Draven

The Krael Empire is a brutal and corrupt kingdom, reminiscent of the Roman Empire, with leaders who are intent on expanding its borders by conquering its neighbors. Inside its borders, life is nightmarish for those of its people who get the short end of the stick … like Gilene and Azarion. Gilene is a young woman from a small village with a deep secret, known only to the other villagers. She has a magical affinity for fire, as well as the ability to create illusions, where she takes on the appearance of someone ― or something ― else. These powers come in handy each year when the Krael emperor and empress hold the Rites of Spring, forcibly collecting women from each village to be a “Flower of Spring.” The name glosses over the actual fate of these women: they spend a night being raped by the kingdom’s enslaved gladiators, and the next day th... Read More

The People’s Republic of Everything: An experimental collection

Readers’ average rating: 

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

The People’s Republic of Everything by Nick Mamatas

I don’t know if I simply wasn’t in the right mood for Nick Mamatas’ short-story collection The People’s Republic of Everything (2018), or if I’m not the right audience for his preferred themes and overall style, but this book and I just could not mesh.

There was one story, “Tom Silex, Spirit-Smasher,” which gripped my attention and had everything I look for in short fiction. The story focuses on Rosa Martinez, whose elderly grandmother might — through quirks of legality regarding her first marriage and the question of ownership of her first husband’s pulp publications — own the rights to a series of stories revolving around psychopomp... Read More

Untouched by Human Hands: Sheckley’s stories are sharp and insightful

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

Untouched by Human Hands by Robert Sheckley

After reading Robert Sheckley’s Dimension of Miracles, I was eager to read more of his work. That novel was intelligent, creative, thought-provoking, and entertaining. So I picked up Untouched by Human Hands, a collection of Sheckley’s short stories published in the 1950s in the various pulp magazines.

My edition is the audiobook produced by Skyboat Media and read by Gabrielle de Cuir, Stefan Rudnicki, and Harlan Ellison. It’s almost 6 hours long. The stories are:

"The Monsters" (Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine, March 195... Read More

Deathstalker: Rebellion: More of the same

Readers’ average rating:

Deathstalker: Rebellion by Simon R. Green

This review may contain spoilers for the first DEATHSTALKER book, Deathstalker.

Owen Deathstalker, Hazel d’Ark, Ruby Journey, Jack Random, and assorted others are still plotting rebellion against The Iron Bitch who rules the galactic empire. Everyone in this motley group has a different idea about how a galactic government should work, but they all agree that their empress must go, so they begin by hacking into the empire’s bank account and using the funds to instigate rebellions on a few different planets.

Nobody likes the empress, but she still has loyal supporters who protect her. These people are either too scared to cross her, or they are benefiting financially from their relationship with her. Also, there’s bee... Read More

Lies Sleeping: The newly-promoted wizarding detective returns

Readers’ average rating:

Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch

Peter Grant, our favourite semi-competent detective cum wizard-in-training, returns in Lies Sleeping (2018), the seventh book in Ben Aaronovitch’s RIVERS OF LONDON series. The Faceless Man has been unmasked and is on the run, and it is now up to Peter and the inimitable Detective Chief Inspector Nightingale (slash last officially sanctioned English Melvin the Wizard) to apprehend him.

(Fair warning: some spoilers for preceding books will follow.)

London is once more under threat and there can only be one man behind it. Readers will remember that the Faceless Man was finally unmasked as Martin Chorley, who, in true Vader-style, managed ... Read More

The Monster Baru Cormorant: An intellectually stimulating read

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

The
Monster Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

The
Monster Baru Cormorant (2018) by Seth Dickinson is one of those push-me-pull-me books. I admired it more than I enjoyed it. I found it stimulating rather than engaging. I thought it overly talky but liked the level of intellect in the conversation. I could reason out the characters’ assumed emotional states (I think), but never really felt them. I was pushed. I was pulled. Inevitable spoilers (some big ones) for book one, The Traitor Baru Cormorant ahead.

After a brief scene that will make a lot mo... Read More

SFM: Palmer, Schultz, Gregory, Goh, McKee

Short Fiction Monday: Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories we've read that we wanted you to know about.

“Thirty-Three Percent Joe” by Suzanne Palmer (2018, free online at Clarkesworld, $2.99 Kindle magazine issue)

Science fiction humor is very hard to pull off, and rarely works for me. This Suzanne Palmer story is a radiant exception. Palmer hits a grand-slam with a human soldier who has 33% of his body replaced with smart parts, including a heart, one arm, part of the lower intestine and a spleen. An implanted Central Control Unit manages all of the implants, and their mission is to keep Joe alive. There are a couple of problems. One is that, while Joe is a good s... Read More

A Town Divided by Christmas: A humorous mix of science and romance

Readers’ average rating: 

A Town Divided by Christmas by Orson Scott Card

The scientific method collides with southern small town culture and a local mystery in Orson Scott Card’s charming and insightful novella A Town Divided by Christmas (2018). Two post-doc academics ― Dr. Delilah (Spunky) Spunk, an economist, and Dr. Elyon Dewey, a geneticist ― are sent to Good Shepherd, North Carolina to do a genetic and sociological study. The hope is that by studying a relatively genetically isolated population, they can prove or disprove the theory that certain people carry a “homebody marker": a genetic tendency to remain in their native community or return to it. Spunky, the more personable of the two, is charged with interviewing the townspeople and convincing them to give genetic samples; Elyon (“that mo... Read More

The Valley of Shadows: Doesn’t hold up to the rest of the series

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

The Valley of Shadows by John Ringo & Mike Massa

My experience with authors who write in another author’s world has been mixed. On the good side you have the work that Janny Wurts did with Raymond Feist in the EMPIRE CYCLE. On the less impressive side you have The Valley of Shadows (2018). This is the fifth installment in the BLACK TIDE RISING series and takes a tangential track describing what happens with Tom Smith, the corporate security guru, Australian Special Forces stud and brother to Steve Smith, the main protagonist in the entire series.

I think that Mike Massa must have done a lot of ... Read More

Batman: Year One: Worth reading and rereading

Readers’ average rating:

Reposting to include Brad's new review.

Batman: Year One by Frank Miller

Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986) completely reinvented Batman as an angry and bitter older man coming out of retirement to stem a rising tide of crime in Gotham City alongside Police Commissioner Jim Gordon. This was a dark vision of a complex and troubled soul driven to fight crime to avenge his parent’s senseless death, and it resonated with a new generation of readers and gained comics greater credibility among mainstream readers. Just one year later Miller produced a four-part story arc called Read More

Diamond Fire: Wedding-related trials for the sister of the bride

Readers’ average rating:  

Diamond Fire by Ilona Andrews

Nevada Baylor is getting married to Connor Rogan, and when Rogan’s mother Arrosa shuts down their plans for a small and simple wedding, insisting on a full-scale formal wedding, a couple of things happen. Nevada inexplicably gets incredibly fussy and controlling about the wedding details, firing two wedding planners, and her beleaguered 18 and 16 year old sisters Catalina and Arabella decide that the only feasible option is to handle the wedding planning themselves. And a large crowd of Rogan’s Spanish relatives on his mother’s side descends on Mrs. Rogan’s Texas mansion for a few weeks’ stay before the wedding. The half of those relatives who descend from her father’s second wife are already hostile, and matters only get worse when everyone is cooped up together in the same home, however large and luxurious.

Now the Rogan fami... Read More

Spinning Silver: We all love this

Readers’ average rating:

Reposting to include Taya and Nathan's new reviews.

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Let’s get this out of the way early. Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver (2018) is not perfect. It’s a little overlong, with a bit of a pacing issue about two-thirds of the way through. Beyond that, other problems include ... no, wait. I forgot. There are no other problems. And I lifted up each and every page to check under them. Zip. Nada. Nothing. So yeah, the biggest problem with Spinning Silver is kind of like the problem you have when the waiter brings out your chocolate cake dessert, and it’s a little bit bigger than you were planning on. Oh, the humanity.

My marketing info calls this a “retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin fairytale,”... Read More

A Nameless Witch: Trips along merrily without any pretensions

Readers’ average rating:

A Nameless Witch by A. Lee Martinez

This silly little tale is about a beautiful witch who doesn’t have a name. When she was young she was taken in by an old ugly witch who educated her in magic spells and other witchiness. Part of her education involved learning how to make herself appear ugly with sloppy clothes, hair coverings, and warts, because nobody trusts a beautiful witch.

After the death of her mentor, the young nameless witch was on her own, though she acquired a few companions: an enchanted broom, a troll, and a demonic duck. After they settled into a friendly village, a brave knight came along and warned them that a goblin horde was approaching. The witch, her companions, and the knight teamed up to defeat the goblins and an evil magician who had plans to remake the world. During the process, the witch realizes she’s got the hots for the knight, but she worries she may eat... Read More

Proposal: A MEDIATOR novella that can be skipped

Readers’ average rating:

Proposal by Meg Cabot

Fans of Meg Cabot’s MEDIATOR series thought it was over back in 2005 with Twilight, but in 2016, Cabot published this novella as book “6.5” before publishing another full novel (Remembrance) that year. This review will have some spoilers for the series, so please don’t read further if you intend to read MEDIATOR.

Suze is now in college and Jesse is in med school. Theirs is a long-distance relationship, so Suze is not expecting to see Jesse on Valentine’s Day. Instead, she’s dealing with some young ghosts who want revenge on their killer. So, when Jesse shows up to surprise her, she’s kind of busy.

The... Read More

La Belle Sauvage: Our different opinions

Readers’ average rating: 

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

I always find it a little nerve-wracking when an author returns to a successful series after a long time away. There's always the fear, for me at least, that one of two things is going to happen: either the author will be nostalgic about the original work to the extent that s/he makes the new book into a fawning tribute without substance, or the author will have changed enough in the time between installments that the magic is just gone. I'm happy to say, though, that Philip Pullman's new novel dispels both of those fears. La Belle Sauvage (2017) is, though not quite as much a game-changer as The Golden ... Read More

The Loved Dead and Other Tales: The story that saved Weird Tales

The Loved Dead and Other Tales by C.M. Eddy, Jr.

Sometimes, it seems, a little notoriety can be a good thing. Take, for example, the case of the legendary pulp magazine Weird Tales. Though famously cash strapped for most of its 32-year run, during its earliest days, in 1923, things looked especially bleak for the nascent publication. On the very brink of bankruptcy, editor Edwin Baird decided to purchase, against his better judgment, a story by a Providence, Rhode Island-born writer named C.M. Eddy, Jr.

Eddy had already had a few of his weird tales released in the pages of Weird Tales, but this latest one was a real envelope pusher, dealing as it did with the highly distasteful and borderline taboo subject of necrophilia. But Baird did indeed print the story, the now-classic tale “The Loved Dead,” with the result that the Richmond, Indiana PTA tried to shut the magazine down completely! The ... Read More

The Gates of Eden: Interesting ideas about evolution and species diversity

Readers’ average rating:

The Gates of Eden by Brian Stableford

Lee Caretta is a geneticist who has been sent, along with a xenobiologist, to the newly discovered planet of Naxos to investigate the mysterious deaths of the first exploratory team to arrive on the planet. As far as anyone knows, there are no sentient species on Naxos, but Lee and his colleagues will learn that there is life on Naxos, and it is strange and dangerous.

But it’s not only the new planet that is hostile. There is some political and personal intrigue going on, too, and it might be just as deadly. Lee will be hard-pressed to discover the planet’s secrets, as well as the humans’ secrets, before it’s too late.

The Gates of Eden (1983) is an entertaining, tense, and pretty quick read. I was interested in the planet’s ecology and I wanted to know what killed the exploratory team. Lee h... Read More

Bridge of Clay: The saga of five abandoned brothers, and a mule

Readers’ average rating:

Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak

In the beginning, there was one murderer, one mule and one boy, but this isn't the beginning...

Thus opens Markus Zusak's Bridge of Clay. Zusak has previously said that this novel has been two decades in the making and that, alongside being the follow-up to the wildly successful The Book Thief, meant that this story was always going to have its work cut out for it. It tells the tale of five feral brothers that have had to bring themselves up in a family saga of love and loss and tragedy that spans the lifetimes of multiple generations, and household pets.

The brothers themselves are self-named 'barbarians.' The story is narrated by Matthew, the eldest, the sole earner of the household inherited fr... Read More

Witch Creek: I was disappointed, but fans may love it

Readers’ average rating:

Witch Creek by Laura Bickle

I was disappointed in Laura Bickle’s 2018 contemporary fantasy Witch Creek. To be fair, this is the second book in a series and I haven’t read Nine of Stars. (There are also two prequels to this series.) It’s possible I would appreciate this book more if I knew more of the background.

Since I haven’t read Nine of Stars, I may give one or two mild spoilers for that book without realizing it.

Witch Creek opens with a powerful, shockingly realistic passage in which we see our protagonist, Petra Dee, in the aftermath of a chemo treatment for leukemia. The treatments have robbed her of her vitality. It’s unclear whether they are beating the disease. Petra decides to leav... Read More

Saga (Vol. 9): The most shattering volume to date

Readers’ average rating: 

Saga (Vol. 9) by Brian K. Vaughan (writer) & Fiona Staples (artist)

It’s been nine months since I read Vol 8 of Saga, which is something special. It’s the only comic series that I follow, and the characters are as vivid, complicated, lovable, despicable, cruel, and conflicted as any I know. This is a space opera that tackles the most difficult and relevant topics of our own society, doesn’t hesitate to shock readers, flip the script, and most frightening of all, doesn’t hold back from killing off major characters that we are deeply invested in. It’s a cruel message, that even the best people trying to just live their lives and maintain their ideals can be snuffed out by those with less scruples, and that those that have used violence in the past can rarely escape the consequences, even after having turned to a peaceful path. This volume will leave you stunned, g... Read More

Umbertouched: A satisfactory duology, and mercifully, not a trilogy (GIVEAWAY!)

Readers’ average rating:

Umbertouched by Livia Blackburne

GIVEAWAY: The publisher has graciously offered to give one copy of Umbertouched to one commenter. Limited to United States zip codes, please. The winner will be chosen at random.

Livia Blackburne’s second novel in the ROSEMARKED duology, Umbertouched (2018) follows the story of plague-infected Zivah and -recovered Dineas as they escape imperial quarantine to return to their tribe and village, prepare them for imperial attack, and try to widely expose the rogue physician who had used the plague to deliberately infect imperial troops.

Tension between Dineas and Zivah remains consistent and credible, despite Zivah’s having restored his memory... Read More

Deathstalker: Too much like NIGHTSIDE

Deathstalker by Simon R. Green

The galactic empire is ruled by a brutal empress, a woman who terrorizes both the peasants and nobles who bow down to her. She’s the kind of ruler who decorates her palace with the tortured bodies of her dead enemies. Or she brainwashes them, augments their bodies and, as she sits on her Iron Throne, requires them to sit naked at her feet and protect her. Or, if she’s feeling merciful, she summons them to her throne room and, when they board her personal subway car to make the journey, has them gassed. They call her The Iron Bitch. She’s really mean.

One of her most recent targets is Owen Deathstalker, a quiet and studious young man who is the last “Deathstalker,” a lineage with a genetic gift that allows them to turn on a power “boost” when fighting an enemy. Owen wants to be a historian, not a rebel like his father, but the empress doesn’t like what he’s studying. When she strips ... Read More

Killing Commendatore: For long time Murakami readers

Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami

What is the best way into Haruki Murakami’s new novel, Killing Commendatore (2018)?

This is a late novel from an aging novelist (Murakami is 69 years old) who has perhaps lost the vitality that carried his greatest novels. In fact, I gave up on 2013’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by the end of the first chapter. It seemed like a re-tread, something I could return to later or never. I was therefore pleased when I found that I had once again fallen under the spell of a Murakami novel with Killing Commendatore. The story begins when a talented but mostly bored portrait artist learns that his wife wants a divorce. He travels briefly around Japan before settling in a borrowed mountain home. There, he finds a yearn... Read More