SFF Reviews

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The Wizard of London: Strangely jumbled

The Wizard of London by Mercedes Lackey

The Wizard of London is the fifth of Mercedes Lackey’s stand-alone novels in her ELEMENTAL MASTERS series of fairytale retellings. It’s so loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” that you probably won’t even notice the few similarities. There’s an ice queen, but the theme of The Wizard of London (if there is one, which I doubt), has nothing to do with the theme of “The Snow Queen.”

The story starts when a little girl named Sarah arrives from Africa (where her parents are missionaries) at a London boarding school that is known to educate and train the children of Elemental mages. There she finds an ethically and religiously diverse cast of excellent teachers and attendants. She also befriends a young street urchin named Nan whose mother is a neglectful drug addict. Together Sarah and Nan... Read More

To Live Again: Silverberg in the full flush of his considerable power

To Live Again by Robert Silverberg

By the time Robert Silverberg released To Live Again in 1969, he had already come out with no less than three dozen science-fiction novels and several hundred short stories, all in a period of only 15 years! The amazingly prolific author had entered a more mature and literate phase in his writing career in 1967, starting with his remarkable novel Thorns, and by 1969 was on some kind of a genuine roll. Just one of six sci-fi novels that Silverberg came out with that year (including the Nebula-winning Nightwings and my personal favorite of this author so far, Downward to the Earth), To Live Again initially appeared as a Doubleday hardcover and, surprisingly, was NOT nominated for a Hugo or Nebula award. To t... Read More

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE: THE FAUST ACT by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE (Vol. 1): THE FAUST ACT by Kieron Gillen (writer) and Jamie McKelvie (artist)

IMAGE is THE publisher to watch these days, and THE WICKED + THE DIVINE by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie is further proof that, outside of your canonical superhero stories, IMAGE is where you’ll most likely pick up stories written for the mature adult, both male and female. IMAGE has taken the promise of VERTIGO and made it a reality, and all the best writers and artists, even the ones still working for MARVEL and DC, take time off to put out their dream projects with the hands-off editors at IMAGE. Consider this list: SAGA, VELVET, THE FADE OUT, DREAM MERCHANT, COPPERHEAD, SEX CRIMINALS, PRETTY DEADLY, DEADLY CL... Read More

The Stress of Her Regard: The minority report; I just didn’t like this book.

The Stress of Her Regard by Tim Powers

Tim Powers published The Stress of her Regard in 1989. It was nominated for a world Fantasy Award in 1990. It did not win, but it won a Mythopoeic Award that same year. For many people, this is their favorite Tim Powers novel, and they describe it with words like “seductive” and “immersive.”

I fully understand that I am in the minority here, but I didn’t like it.

There are several things to admire about this book. There are some things I liked. Then there are things I disliked, and finally, there is one thing I hated. I will try to cover my points in that order.

What I admired:  The creation of the mysterious, attractive and deadly creatures who have fed on us throughout history is brilliant. If Powers gives them too many names; the lamia, “Lilith’s children,” succubae, muse, nephalim, a... Read More

Phoenix and Ashes: A Cinderella story about PTSD

Phoenix and Ashes by Mercedes Lackey

Each of Mercedes Lackey’s ELEMENTAL MASTERS novels is a stand-alone fairytale retelling. Some of the novels have overlapping characters, but you can read these books in any order. The fourth book, Phoenix and Ashes, is a mostly pleasant Cinderella story set in England during The Great War. Maya, the Indian doctor from The Serpent’s Shadow, is a minor character. I listened to Michelle Ford narrate the audio version of Phoenix and Ashes (Audible Studios). She is perfect for this tale.

Unlike some of the other ELEMENTAL MASTERS stories, Phoenix and Ashes stays pretty close to the source material; you can tell this is a Cinderella story. Eleanor Robinson’s father is killed during WW1 and Eleanor is left living in the house she grew up in with her socially-c... Read More

The Affirmation: Literary science fiction does not get much better

The Affirmation by Christopher Priest

I’ve heard Christopher Priest’s 1981 novel The Affirmation described as regressive, an ouroboros eating its own tail, a Moeibus strip. While there is undoubtedly an M.C. Escher quality to the book — a blurring of reality — the beginning and end are simply too different to form a contiguous whole reverting back on itself. They’re opposite ends of a spectrum in fact, and the appeal of the novel is immersing one’s self in the subjective reality Priest slowly unwraps and getting lost in the world of memories as a result.

The true nature of The Affirmation requires thought; the easy part is relaxing throughout the journey. Priest patiently and precisely lays down the text — words like railroad ties on a Sunday train ride to the country — the story moving effortlessly along. The sublime prose lulls the reader into the deceivingly mu... Read More

Cthulhu Haiku and Other Mythos Madness: A delightfully dark anthology

Cthulhu Haiku and Other Mythos Madness  edited by Lester Smith

The works of almost fifty authors are collected in this delightfully dark anthology of Cthulhu Haiku and Other Mythos Madness, which includes, other than Haiku, short- to medium-length poetry and about ten short-short stories in the horror genre; however, most of these short horror works are in the tradition of or comment on the tradition of H.P. Lovecraft, as the title makes clear. I think any fan of Lovecraft should check this book out. It’s a fun read. And it’s often a funny read as well. Consider the haiku tradition in English of writing the poems in a three-line, 5-7-5 syllable pattern. And then note that Necronomicon has five syllables! That word is just begging to be the first line of a haiku:



​​ Necr... Read More

Orca: Brust is still playing around with voice and structure

Orca by Steven Brust

Orca is the seventh book in Steven Brust’s VLAD TALTOS series. It’d be best to stop here if you haven’t read the previous books. We don’t want to spoil anything, do we?

Okay, so you should recall that Vlad Taltos, everyone’s favorite Jhereg assassin, is wanted by his organization because he betrayed them in order to save his wife from the executioner’s ax (or whatever implement the executioners in Dragaera use). Vlad has given up his territory and is on the run. In the last book, Athyra, he met a boy named Savn who helped him defeat a necromancer. Because Savn used a Morganti weapon to kill the bad guy, Savn is now witless, and he’s been that way for a year. Feeling responsible for Savn’s condition, Vlad finds a woman who may be able to heal him. In return, Vlad will try to find and stop the person who is trying to get the wom... Read More

Wicked: A challenging revisionist take on the Wicked Witch of the West

Wicked by Gregory Maguire

After finally seeing the Broadway musical I felt it was well past time to track down Gregory Maguire's Wicked (the inspiration for the musical, which by this stage has probably eclipsed the book in popularity) and read for myself the origin story of the Wicked Witch of the West.

Anyone who comes to the book out of a love for the musical is probably in for a nasty shock. Though the musical had its share of darkness and a bittersweet ending, it was generally a very light and comedic production that focused on the friendship between Elphaba and Glinda. Maguire's novel on the other hand is filled with violence, sex, murder and grotesquery, delving into the question of what makes a human being evil and whether or not they can escape their preordained fate.

Elphaba is born to missionary parents in lower-east Munchkinland, with unexplained green skin and ... Read More

Athyra: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

Athyra by Steven Brust

Athyra is the sixth book in Steven Brust’s VLAD TALTOS series. If you haven’t read the previous books, you should probably skip this review until you’ve read Phoenix so that I don’t spoil its plot for you. I’m listening to Bernard Setaro Clark’s narration of the audio versions (Audible Studios) of VLAD TALTOS. Athyra is 8.5 hours long on audio, though I increased the playback speed, as I always do, so it was shorter than that for me. Bernard Setaro Clark’s narration continues to be excellent and I recommend the audio format for this series.

I mentioned in my review of Phoenix that Vlad had come to a turning place in his life. Because of what he did in that story, Vlad has left Adrilankha and is n... Read More

Seven Footprints to Satan: Marvelous entertainment

Seven Footprints to Satan by Abraham Merritt

Readers of Abraham Merritt's first four novels — The Moon Pool, The Metal Monster, The Face in the Abyss and The Ship of Ishtar — may feel a little surprised as they get into his fifth, Seven Footprints to Satan. Whereas those earlier fantasy masterpieces featured exotic locales such as the Pacific islands, the Himalayas and Peru; extravagant purple prose, dense with hyperadjectival descriptions; and living light creatures, metallic sentient cubes, a lost semi-reptilian race and battling gods, Seven Footprints to Satan Read More

The Grendel Affair: Popcorn isn’t a bad thing

The Grendel Affair by Lisa Shearin

The Grendel Affair is a sort of hybrid police procedural/governmental sort of book with a quirky main character who is easy to laugh with (and at), but also easy to sympathize with. Makenna is one of those characters that will probably seem rather cookie-cutter, and she is in many ways, but she’s endearing despite that. She has a quip for just about everything. She seems to have a knack for getting herself into ridiculous and unpredictable situations, and she’s also very pretty. It’s all the things that most authors write into their urban fantasy characters, but despite all of that, she’s a lot of fun, and most importantly, she makes mistakes, and those mistakes often propel the plot.

Supernatural Protection & Investigation is one of those super-secret agencies that is out to police all of the nasties that the humans can’t know about. Again, that is fairly... Read More

The Iron Trial: A mixed bag, but entertaining enough

The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

I listened to The Iron Trial, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare on audiobook, narrated by Paul Boehmer. It tells the story of Callum Hunt, or Cal, a boy who enrolls in a magical boarding school, makes friends, irritates teachers, and finds out he's been marked from birth by the greatest enemy the magical world knows. Sounds familiar, right?

I read a lot of complaining reviews about this Middle Grade book, all accusing The Iron Trial of being a Harry Potter rip-off. Cassandra Clare is, after all, the woman who got her start by writing Harry Potter fan-fic. This is not Harry Potter fan-fic, though, any more than Star Wars is Joseph Campbell fan-fic.

Th... Read More

Phoenix: A turning point in Vlad’s story

Phoenix by Steven Brust

Phoenix, the fifth novel in Steven Brust’s VLAD TALTOS series, is a turning point in Vlad’s story. By the end of this book, his life will have changed drastically. The story begins as Vlad is stuck in a situation that he might not be able to get out of alive. In desperation, he calls on Verra, his patron goddess, for help. She saves him (or so it appears), and in return she demands that he sail to the island kingdom of Greenaere and assassinate its king. Vlad can’t refuse, and so he goes. This sets off a series of events that eventually lead to a Teckla revolution in Adrilankha. During all the turmoil, both Vlad and his wife Cawti, a member of a rebel group, are captured and rescued more than once, and both have reason to believe they don’t have much longer to live. The usual crew is there to help, though, including Kragar (Vlad’s assistant), Loiosh and Rocza (his jhere... Read More

The Lies of Locke Lamora: Couldn’t put it down

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

The Lies of Locke Lamora introduces the reader to a world of politics, intrigue, history, and thieves. Locke is the leader of a particular gang (The Gentlemen Bastards) who don’t play by the rules — not even the ones set out by the king of the underground. Before this can even begin to get them into trouble however, there are other things in the works for them. It is a story of deceit, betrayal, blood, life, and inevitable revenge that keeps you turning pages until the bitter end.

I couldn’t put The Lies of Locke Lamora down. It’s a common saying, but I found this book so enthralling for so many reasons that it became my constant companion until I had read it through (twice).

The characters are well thought out and developed people. Every single character, whether they are around for two paragraphs or twenty chapters,... Read More

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