SFF Reviews

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It Happened at the Ball: 13 stories with ballroom settings

It Happened at the Ball edited by Sherwood Smith

This collection of thirteen (mostly) fantasy short stories and a novelette or two is tied together by their ballroom settings, whether it be the Almack’s Regency ballroom (where a group of young ladies happens upon an overly potent magical love potion in Marissa Doyle’s “Just Another Quiet Evening at Almack’s”) or a Civil War-era ball in Galveston, Texas (P.G. Nagle’s “A Waltz for May”). There are also some other themes that surface and resurface: masks and hidden identities, romance, and ― as editor and author Sherwood Smith freely admits in her foreword ― escapist wish-fulfillment. Here be faeries, vampires, thieves, pirates and lots of other intriguing ... Read More

Norwegian Wood: Murakami’s breakthrough novel

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Toru Watanabe is just another kid studying drama at university when he falls for his friend Naoko, who is in a relationship with another of Toru’s friends, Kizuki — until Kizuki commits suicide. Emotionally confused because she feels “split in two and playing tag with myself,” Naoko escapes to a mountain retreat, though not before sleeping with Toru. Watanabe pines for Naoko as he passes time in Tokyo with his friend Nagasawa. Nagasawa likes The Great Gatsby, and he has no trouble finding women to sleep with him — and with Toru, who feels disgusted with himself after these one-night stands. (Nagasawa, by the way, is in a relationship with Hatsumi, who is devoted to Nagasawa even though she seems too nice for him.) In the midst of these split loyalties and the emotional turbulence they cause, Watanabe meets Midori. Though she also has a boyfriend, Midori and Toru hit it off bec... Read More

Breach: A decent start to a Cold War fantasy series

Breach by W.L Goodwater

Breach (2018) is an interesting Cold War fantasy premise (think John le Carré with magic) that doesn’t quite fulfill its promise, though it’s a solid enough start to what is apparently going to be a series, COLD WAR MAGIC.

W.L Goodwater sets his novel in an alternate history where WWII was fought and won as in our own world (though with the Nazis apparently gaining more ground before eventually losing) with the exception that magic was wielded as a horrific weapon throughout, particularly by the Nazis, whose “research” into magic often involved Mengele-like methods. As in our world, Berlin was carved up into sectors and the Russians/East Germans built a wall, though this one is made out of magic rather than cement and brick.

Unfortunately, the wall is starting to fail (the titular “breach”), which on the surface sounds l... Read More

Nightflyers: Mystery and horror aboard a haunted spaceship

Reposting to include Marion's review of the new SYFY channel adaptation of Nightflyers. You can find it below our reviews of the novella.

Nightflyers by George R.R. Martin

Nightflyers was first published in 1980, won the Locus Award for best novella, and was nominated for a Hugo Award. It was made into an unsuccessful film in 1987. It’s recently been on people’s radars due to the upcoming SYFY series based on the novella. You can purchase it in several new (2018) formats including an illustrated edition, a story collection, and an audio version. I listened to the audio version, which was narrated by a... Read More

Criminal (Vol. 4): Bad Night: The twists and turns in plot are some of Brubaker’s best

Criminal (Vol. 4): Bad Night by Ed Brubaker

Jacob Kurtz is the focus of Bad Night, the fourth volume of Ed Brubaker’s wonderfully disturbing noir series Criminal. His job is writing the newspaper comic strip that shows up in Criminal (vol. 1): Coward. The comic, based on Dick Tracy, is entitled Frank Kafka, Private Eye, and it’s as puzzling as the stories written by Franz Kafka, after whom he’s named. Frank is put on cases that go nowhere with leads that could never result in understandable clues. As the comic opens, our cartoonist goes wandering the streets at night, as is his custom because of his constant insomnia. He goes into a diner and has an uncomfortable verbal exchange, a near-violent one, with the boyfriend of a woman named Iris, a red-headed woman who is this comic’s femme fatale.

The story’s tension begins immediately, as Jacob’s... Read More

Christmas Break!

We are on Christmas break with limited reviews/columns this week.

On Thursday we'll announce our favorite books of 2018.

We wish you a Merry Christmas!
(And for those who don't celebrate Christmas, we wish you a lovely holiday season!)

We hope you are able to have a joyful time with the people you love.

We also hope you'll have time to spend with some wonderful books. Read More

European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman: Meandering across the continent

European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss

With so much to recommend about The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, from Theodora Goss’ fresh takes on nineteenth-century novels and characters to the inventive way she brought all of them together, I had extremely high hopes for its first sequel, European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman (2018). And while it was great to have the Athena Club back together again, the overall tone and pace of this novel were so different from its predecessor, so committed to following the glacial speed of a contemporary railway journey across Europe (twice, no less), that it was surprisingly easy for me to take reading breaks. However, the fin... Read More

THE CORPORATION WARS: Dissidence, Insurgence, Emergence

THE CORPORATION WARS by Ken MacLeod

My preference is to review the books in a series Individually, but I find myself so busy at the moment that I don't have much time for writing reviews. And in the case of THE CORPORATION WARS by Ken MacLeod, I don't feel that there's much distinction between the individual novels and it makes sense to review the series as a whole.

THE CORPORATION WARS is a trilogy that consists of the books Dissidence, Insurgence, and Emergence. The story is set in the far future when Earth-based prospecting corporations vie for interstellar resources and use robots, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality two mine planets and fight wars.

At the beginning of book 1, Dissidence... Read More

The Echo Room: Begins better than it ends (or middles)

The Echo Room by Parker Peevyhouse

In The Echo Room (2018), which is sort of a Groundhog Day meets The Maze Runner, Parker Peevyhouse takes on one of the most difficult narratives for an author — the time loop story. Unfortunately, while Peevyhouse has her moments, the time loop comes out victorious.

The story opens up intriguingly enough, when Rett Ward wakes up in a strange and seemingly abandoned building with no memory of how he got there, blood on his clothes, and a scar across his head. Equally disconcerting is that someone else, a girl named Brynn, is trapped in there with him, also with no memories and also with a scar. The two explore the place warily, neither sure if they can trust the other (Brynn, seeing the blood on Rett’s clothes, has good reason to be suspicious), ... Read More

Abbott: Elder gods and tough reporters in 1970s Detroit

Abbott by Saladin Ahmed & Sami Kivela

BOOM! Studios has released the trade edition of the first series of the period dark fantasy Abbott (2018), words by Saladin Ahmed and art by Sami Kivela. Set in 1972, the story follows Elena Abbott, a reporter for the Detroit Daily. Abbott may not be the paper’s only woman reporter, but she is probably its only Black reporter and definitely the only Black woman reporter. Currently, she is in trouble with the paper’s owners for her accurate expose of the police murder of a Black teenager. She is sent to cover the mutilation of a police horse. To further punish her for her stand against police lawlessness, the paper has taken away her photographer and given Abbott a camera. This is a status hit that her white male competitors immediately comment on.

To ... Read More

Eternity’s Wheel: A nice introduction to SF for tweens

Eternity’s Wheel by Neil Gaiman & Michael Reaves & Mallory Reaves

This review will contain spoilers for the previous two INTERWORLD books, InterWorld and The Silver Dream. You need to read those books before starting Eternity’s Wheel or you'll have no idea what's going on.

After discovering in the last book, The Silver Dream, that Hex and Binary are working together to destroy the universes, Joey finds himself back on Earth and not able to get back to InterWorld because it’s being chased by Hex. Though cut off from his fellow Walkers, Joey is determined to fight for his universe’s future, so he focuses on recruiting new agents and building up an InterWorld ba... Read More

Criminal (Vol. 3): The Dead and The Dying: Does not disappoint

Criminal (Vol. 3): The Dead and The Dying by Ed Brubaker


The Dead and The Dying, the third volume in the Criminal series by Ed Brubaker, continues the noir tales that began in volume one. In this series, we get the background on a few characters we’ve already met in the previous two volumes, and we are reminded that in the world of noir, the meaner you are, the more likely you are to end up on top, at least in the criminal underworld. The Dead and The Dying gives us three stories: One about Gnarly Brown, a heavyweight turned bartender, and about Sebastian Hyde, Gnarly’s friend and heir to his father’s criminal empire; one about Teeg Lawless, a pretty criminal down-on-his luck and in debt to dangerous ... Read More

The Razor: Comfortably familiar

The Razor by J. Barton Mitchell

Reading J. Barton Mitchell’s The Razor (2018) was a lot like going to the cinema with friends to see a big-budget blockbuster of a sci-fi/horror flick: there are some interesting settings and explosive plot developments, tough-as-plasteel characters gradually reveal inner hearts of gold, shadowy figures make dubious deals while our heroes struggle valiantly against impossible odds, and the ending sets up the possibility for more of the same. It’s entertaining, even if there’s nothing all that earth-shattering, and it was relaxing to spend a few afternoons indulging the part of my brain that loves seeing stuff go boom.

11-H37, aka The Razor, is a prison planet tidally locked in orbit around a red giant star. The hemisphere facing the star is constantly blasted by radiation and is, therefore, uninhabitable; the hemisphere facing away is a frozen wastela... Read More

Deliver Me From Eva: A flabbergasting thrill ride

Deliver Me From Eva by Paul Bailey

Once again, I am indebted to Stephen Jones and Kim Newman’s excellent overview volume Horror: 100 Best Books for alerting me to the existence of a great read that I probably would never have run across without their assistance. In this case, the novel in question is Paul Bailey’s Deliver Me From Eva, which was chosen for inclusion in that volume by no less a figure than Forrest J. Ackerman — former editor of the beloved magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland, renowned literary agent, and legendary collector of horror and sci-fi movie memorabilia — himself. The book, Ackerman tells us, was one that he first read upon its initial publication in 1946, but had never forgotten, and any reader of this absolutely flabbergasting thrill ride will surely understand why.

Paul Bailey, I should perhap... Read More

Astounding: Four men who, despite their flaws, helped form science fiction

Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction by Alec Nevala-Lee

The Golden Age of Science Fiction is generally pinned to the decade from 1939 to 1950, and while a host of people contributed in various ways, pretty much everyone agrees that if one could point to a single dominating figure it would John W. Campbell, editor of Astounding Science Fiction, the pre-eminent magazine for science fiction at the time. In Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction (2018), Alec Nevala-Lee explains how Campbell, and the trio of quite different authors who made up his highly influential stable of writers, came to have such outsized influence and then, for Campbell, how it was lost over the decades to follow.
Read More

The Vampire Diaries 2: The Fury & The Reunion

The Vampire Diaries: The Fury & The Reunion by L.J. Smith

This is the second bind-up for THE VAMPIRE DIARIES. The Fury and The Reunion were originally published as two separate books; in fact, The Reunion was published some time after The Fury, which effectively closes the trilogy begun with The Awakening and The Struggle). In The Fury Elena, alongside her friends Bonnie and Meredith, struggles to control her nature and discover the source of the evil Power that is haunting Fell’s Church. She knows that the only way it can be defeated is if the two vampire brothers Stefan and Damon can put alongside their lifelong enmity and work together. In The Reunion Fell’s Church is once again being terrorised b... Read More

Never Home Alone: A fascinating look at the creatures who share our homes

Never Home Alone: From Microbes to Millipedes, Camel Crickets, and Honeybees, the Natural History of Where We Live by Rob Dunn

Never Home Alone: From Microbes to Millipedes, Camel Crickets, and Honeybees, the Natural History of Where We Live (2018) is a mouthful of a title. Which is only appropriate as abundance is one of the major themes Rob Dunn highlights in this utterly fascinating book. The rich, fecund abundance of life not of the world “out there” (though that, too) but the world “in here,” where we live — our homes. How rich and fecund? How about 80, 000 species of bacteria and archaea, tens of thousands of fungi species, and thousands of species of arthropods, along with a number of rodents. All found in a biological survey of a thousand Raleigh homes. And those are our uninvited guests. Dunn doesn’t ignore the ones we bring in willingly — our dogs and cats (who themselves bring in a host of hitchhikers). ... Read More

Fire & Heist: An easy contender for Best YA of 2018

Fire & Heist by Sarah Beth Durst

I’d only previously read Sarah Beth Dursts QUEENS OF RENTHIA series, so I was excited to have the chance to read Fire & Heist (2018), her latest YA novel. I never know whether an author whose adult work is enjoyable will write well for a young adult audience — or vice versa — but I’m pleased to be able to report that Durst is clearly adept at writing for any age group, and particularly so for nerdy readers.

Sky Hawkins is the kind of leading character many readers would love to hate. She comes from a family who “owned at one time a fleet of Aston Martins and [gave] the gardener his own Tesla,” and readily acknowledges that she might seem like just another “poor little rich girl” in Aspen, Colorado who deserves “the world’s smallest ... Read More

The Girl with the Dragon Heart: Creating your own story

The Girl with the Dragon Heart by Stephanie Burgis

Stephanie Burgis follows up last year’s award-nominated middle grade fantasy The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart with The Girl with the Dragon Heart (2018), the second book in her TALES FROM THE CHOCOLATE HEART series. The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart followed the escapades of Aventurine, a chocolate-loving young dragon enchanted into the shape of a young girl. The focus now shifts to Aventurine’s friend Silke, a dark-skinned girl with short black curly hair. More importantly, Silke is also brave, quick-thinking and fast-moving, and has a great talent for creating stories, including her own.

Silke, an ... Read More

SAGA Volume 3: This series is so addictive!

SAGA Volume 3, Issues 13-18 by Brian K. Vaughan (author) & Fiona Staples (illustrator)

This highly original space opera romance is incredibly popular, and for good reason. Anyone who has read Saga Vols 1 & 2 will undoubtedly be fans of star-crossed lovers Alana & Marko, who come from opposing sides of a galactic war, Marko’s sharp-tongued mother Klara, freelancer assassin The Will and his lie-detecting cat, and Marko’s ex-fiance Gwendolyn. Not to mention the difficult-to-hate Prince Robot IV and all the other bizarre creations of Vaughan and Staples. The authors have continued to breath life into their fresh, genre-bending blend of space opera, romance, family drama, and chase amid a galactic war tale with an amazingly effortless sense of humor. What I like most about this series is their willingness to go off on weird story tangents without losing the momentum of the larger story.

Witho... Read More

Fear: Hubbard’s classic horror thriller demands to be read at a breakneck pace

Fear by L. Ron Hubbard

The professional reputation of Nebraska-born writer L. Ron Hubbard, it seems to me, has taken a double hit since his heyday in the 1940s. Hubbard, of course, was the founder of the cultish sect known as Scientology, and ever since the release of his initial article on Dianetics in the May 1950 issue of John W. Campbell’s Astounding Science-Fiction, and the founding of the group two years later, his name has been unavoidably linked to this oft-maligned pseudoreligion. And then there was the notorious film version of Hubbard’s 1982 doorstop of a novel Battlefield Earth, featuring Scientologist John Travolta in a picture that most viewers seem to have found dreadful, if not laughable. (Full confession: I have never read the... Read More

Bright Ruin: Rebellion against magical tyranny

Bright Ruin by Vic James

"Fear was the superpower they all possessed. And unlike Midsummer’s monsters, there was no limit to the number of people they could control with it."

Vic James wraps up her hard-hitting DARK GIFTS fantasy trilogy with Bright Ruin (2018), which picks up right where the second book, Tarnished City, left off. This series is set an alternative version of our world where a minority, called the “Equals,” has powerful magical gifts. What they are supposed to be “equal” to is a good question, since ― in England and several other countries ― they have used their powers to cruelly oppress the non-magical majority. Among other abuses, all “Skilless” are forced to sp... Read More

The Penelopiad: A razor-sharp retelling

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

It is Alicia Ostriker, in her wonderful collection of essays Dancing at the Devil’s Party, who writes “the true poet is necessarily the partisan of energy, rebellion, and desire, and is opposed to passivity, obedience, and the authority of reasons, laws and institutions.” Daring to deconstruct one of the most dearly held myths of the Western world, Margaret Atwood’s 2005 The Penelopiad is certainly a tango step or two with the one with the pitchfork tail. Taking The Odyssey and turning it on its head, from comedy to tragedy, Atwood gives readers Penelope’s side of the story.

Narrated from Hades, The Penelopiad is a recounting of Penelope’s life from beyond the grave. Atwood utilizes not only The Odysse... Read More

Legendary: If you like The Cheesecake Factory, this book might be for you

Legendary by Stephanie Garber

Legendary (2018) is the second novel in the CARAVAL trilogy. The third novel, Finale, is due out in May of 2019. I entered this series midstream, after sisters Donatella (Tella) and Scarlet have escaped their father’s controlling grip and freed themselves from the hold of their first Caraval competition. Now Tella is about to dive back into the stream for the sake of a debt she incurred in Caraval. This time she has to find the name and true identity of Legend, the grand master of the Caraval show. The only way she can do that is to enter and win. At the same time, she is trying to find clues to the whereabouts of her mother, who mysteriously disappeared when she was a young girl.

The CARAVAL series has been very wel... Read More

Once Upon a River: Starts off strong but then then becomes too tame

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

Diane Setterfield offers up a great premise and a heaping sense of atmosphere in her newest novel, Once Upon a River (2018), but while the book offers up plenty of satisfying moments, I felt it fell short of its potential and was also somewhat marred by Setterfield’s lack of trust in her readers, though both of those complaints are admittedly more subjective than my typical criticism, so more than usual, one’s mileage may vary here.

As for that wholly engrossing premise, the book opens on the winter solstice in the late 19th century with a man stumbling into The Swan, an inn on the Thames known for its storytelling. In his hands is a young girl, seemingly dead, an assumption confirmed by the local nurse, Rita Sunday. But not much later, the girl miraculously comes back to life, though unable to speak. Who she is, where she came from, and how she ... Read More