SFF Reviews

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The Tiger’s Daughter: An epic tale of loss, faith, political intrigue, and forbidden love

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The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera

When I picked up The Tiger’s Daughter (2017), I didn’t know what I was getting into. Written as a long, dramatic letter between two old friends, it is an epic tale of loss, faith, political intrigue, and forbidden love. The Tiger’s Daughter is the debut novel from K. Arsenault Rivera, and set to be the first book in the series titled THEIR BRIGHT ASCENDENCY. The Tiger’s Daughter wends its way from the first time our heroes meet, over their entire lives, and up to the present — where one friend, the empress O-Shizuka, is reading said letter (the letter itself being the bulk of the book) from the other, Barsalayaa Shefali. Both are heirs to very different thrones and handle that knowledge differently — as befit their starkly different upb... Read More

The Blue Sword: Strong female lead, interesting moral conundrum

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Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley

This, my friends, is how young adult fantasy is done. In The Blue Sword, Robin McKinley has created a world out of whole cloth and polished it until it shines. Or in this case, until it is a dusty desert full of horse riding warriors, a dwindling magic, demon barbarians invading from the north, and civilized white men invading from across the ocean. McKinley is a master of prose, and this book has stood the test of time for almost 25 years now.

The Blue Sword is the story of Harry Crewe — don’t you dare call her by her given name of Angharad — who, upon the death of her parents, is sent to live at a fort on the Homeland frontier with her brother who is in the colonial ... Read More

Darkest Hour: This series is getting a bit more complex

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Darkest Hour by Meg Cabot

“You really have the most alarming way, Susannah, of getting yourself into scrapes.”

Darkest Hour is the fourth book in Meg Cabot’s MEDIATOR series. It’d be best to read the previous books, Shadowland, Ninth Key, and Reunion before picking up Darkest Hour. While each short book has a stand-alone story, the key characters are the same and there are some overarching plotlines including Suze’s crush on the ghost who live... Read More

The Hounds of Tindalos: Part one of a classic collection

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The Hounds of Tindalos by Frank Belknap Long

In my recent review of C. L. Moore’s Northwest Smith, I mentioned in passing that the author was a member of what has come to be known as the “Lovecraft Circle” — a group of authors who not only regularly corresponded with the “Sage of Providence,” but who were encouraged by Lovecraft himself to write to one another and critique their fellows’ work. Other writers in this loose-knit fraternity included Henry Kuttner (Moore’s future husband and collaborator), Robe... Read More

Port of Shadows: A disappointing return to a fan-favorite series

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Port of Shadows by Glen Cook

After nearly two decades, Glen Cook has finally returned to his beloved BLACK COMPANY series with an eleventh novel — Port of Shadows (2018) — set between books one and two (The Black Company and Shadows Linger, respectively). I loved this series when I read it ages ago and therefore approached news of a new addition with both excitement and trepidation, as I’ve had some bad experience with authors revisiting beloved series after a long absence. I wish I could say my excitement was rewarded, but unfortunately my trepidation turns out to have been... Read More

Paternus: Wrath of Gods: More myths in a faster blender

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Paternus: Wrath of Gods by Dyrk Ashton

Paternus: Wrath of Gods (2018) is the second book in Dyrk Ashton’s PATERNUS series, following Paternus: Rise of Gods. In that book Fiona Patterson and her would-be boyfriend Zeke were wrenched out of their fairly ordinary Ohio teenager lives and thrust into a war of gods — small “g” gods, actually the offspring of the Paternus of the title, whose past deeds form the basis of most human mythology. (It’s not a major plot point — at least, not yet — but at least two of these “gods” are perfectly sincere Christians. I’m not quite sure where Mr. Ashton is going with that, but I do hope to find out.)

... Read More

Arabella the Traitor of Mars: Mars resists the British invasion

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Arabella the Traitor of Mars by David D. Levine

David D. Levine’s THE ADVENTURES OF ARABELLA ASHBY Regency fantasy trilogy wraps up in Arabella the Traitor of Mars (2018), which, appropriately, returns us to early 1800's colonial-era Mars, where all the action began in Arabella of Mars. The series is an engaging melding of Jules Verne-style retro science fiction with Horatio Hornblower-type naval battles in the air above Mars, with an intrepid young woman heroine. *Some spoilers for the first two books in ... Read More

The Five Sisters: A whimsical adventure from a master storyteller

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The Five Sisters by Margaret Mahy

You always know you're in for a magical, whimsical treat when reading something by Margaret Mahy, one of New Zealand's most best-loved children's authors. The Five Sisters (1997) is no exception, recounting the marvellous adventures of five paper dolls with linked hands.

On a hot summer day Sally entreats her Nana for a story, but instead watches as she folds a piece of paper and draws a doll with a crooked smile and strong running shoes called Alpha. But before the rest of the sisters can be coloured in, a kingfisher swoops down and snatches them up while Sally and her Nana are fetching lemonade.

The adventures that follow involve a near run-in with a lawnmower, an evil magician in the guise of a china pig, a playful breeze,... Read More

Hollywood Dead: Stark’s back in L.A, and nothing will be the same again

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Hollywood Dead by Richard Kadrey

“There’s dead and then there’s Hollywood dead and those are two very different things.
Dead is just dead. In the ground. Pennies on your eyes. A cold slab of meat and no slaw and definitely no dessert.
But Hollywood dead? That can be a lot of things. Yeah, you’re still a slab of meat, but now you come with curly fries and hot apple pie.”


James Stark, once known as Sandman Slim, is Hollywood dead when the 2018 book of the same name opens. Specifically, he has been brought back from the dead, but only partially. The tenth SANDMAN SLIM book brings us back from Hell to Los Angeles, but it’s not full circle; it’s a spiral, as it delves deeper into Stark’s death, life and destiny.

(This review may contain mild spoilers for earlier books.)

Eva Sandoval, a leader of the global-co... Read More

The Language of Thorns: Magical folk tales that stir the pot

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The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic by Leigh Bardugo

The Language of Thorns (2017) is a collection of six stories and novelettes by Leigh Bardugo, dark and lyrical folk tales set in her GRISHA universe, in the Russian-inspired country of Ravka and other nearby countries. These are stand-alone stories, unrelated to the specific characters and events in the GRISHA novels. This tales might be told on a dark night by a villager living in Ravka.

Bardugo’s stories, containing elements of both fantasy and horror, include elements of traditional fairy tales like “Hansel and Gretel,” “ Read More

The Hercules Text: Asks interesting questions in an uninteresting way

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The Hercules Text by Jack McDevitt

In the near future, NASA scientists pick up a signal from space that turns out to be a coded message (“The Hercules Text”) from an alien species. It originated a million years ago, so it’s unlikely that the aliens still exist, and even if they do they’re very far away, but the message tells us that (1) We are not (or were not) alone in the universe and (2) A million years ago these aliens were sophisticated enough to send this technologically advanced message.

These facts have profound effects on the scientists and other people involved with the NASA project. They are forced to re-think much of what they thought to be true and they need to work with the US government (and other nations) to decide how much of the information should be made public because some of it is dangerous. As you’d expect, there are differing and strongly-held opinions on ... Read More

Wavesong & The Stone Key: Still a long way to go…

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Wavesong & The Stone Key by Isabelle Carmody

Every book in Isabelle Carmody's THE OBERNEWTYN CHRONICLES is longer than the one before, which accounts for the splitting of the fifth volume into two parts. Though The Stone Key (2008) was originally published by Penguin as a singular book, American publisher Random House divided it into Wavesong and The Stone Key, turning the original volume into the fifth and sixth books in the series.

As I'm a New Zealander, I ended up reading the Australian copy of the book, so any American readers should consider this a review of Wavesong AND The Stone Key. By this poi... Read More

The Woods (Volumes 1-9): A wonderfully bizarre tale

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The Woods (Volumes 1-9) by James Tynion IV is a science fiction coming-of-age story that tells a wonderfully bizarre tale across thirty-six issues (four issues per volume). A school in our world gets transported to another planet or dimension, we’re not sure which. We also do not know who is behind this event or what their reasons are. This comic book series is as much an adventure story as it is coming-of-age, and even though adults — teachers and administration — get transported along with the kids, it is a group of high school students who take the lead, venturing away from the seeming safety of the school out into the unknown of The Woods.

At first, the adults try to take charge, and the initial conflict is between adults and students, but as our main group heads out into the woods, escaping from adult supervision, we get to watch over a period of a few years as these teenagers grow into youn... Read More

The Fall of Gondolin: A welcome addition to Christopher Tolkien’s close looks at his father’s work

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The Fall of Gondolin by Christopher Tolkien

Last year, when Christopher Tolkien published Beren and Lúthien, an exploratory history/retelling of one of his father’s three “great tales” of the First Age, he noted that due to his 93 years of age, “it is (presumptively ) my last book in the long series of editions of my father’s writing.” That parenthetical qualifier turned out to be a good idea, as here we are a year later, and he’s back with The Fall of Gondolin. With this text, along with Beren and Lúthien, and the prior publication of The Children of Húrin, the three great tales have all been published in stand-alone format, and it is... Read More

Buying Time: Immortals running for their lives

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Buying Time by Joe Haldeman

Dallas Barr is a Stileman — one of the few humans who’ve paid a million pounds and given up all their assets to have their bodies rejuvenated. These folks need the process repeated every decade or so, so they spend that decade earning the money needed for the next treatment. To keep the Stilemen from gaining too much wealth and power, they’re required to give up their assets each time. This leads to the funding of many philanthropic initiatives around the world.

When Dallas and his girlfriend Maria discover a conspiracy affecting the Stileman Process, they are forced to run for their lives. If they can’t shake their pursuers and don’t solve their problem in time, their immortality will run out.

Joe Haldeman’s Buying Time Read More

Ninth Key: Decent fantasy entertainment for older teens

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Ninth Key by Meg Cabot

Ninth Key is the second book in Meg Cabot’s MEDIATOR series about Suze, a high school student who can interact with restless ghosts. She helps them settle their affairs on Earth so they can move on to wherever they’re supposed to go (she doesn’t know what happens after they leave Earth). In Shadowland, the first MEDIATOR book, Suze and her mom had just moved from New York to northern California so her mom, a widow, could marry a widower with three sons. None of the family knows about Suze’s ability to see ghosts.

Upon arrival in California, Suze discovers the ghost of a hot guy names Jesse in her bedroom. He’s been dea... Read More

Dogsbody: Another gem from the mind of Diana Wynne Jones

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Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones

My usual response to reading any book by Diana Wynne Jones is: "how does she come up with this stuff?" This is swiftly followed by bewilderment (especially in the wake of Harry Potter) that nobody has ever adapted any of her work, despite the fact her stories would make for excellent on-screen entertainment.

Dogsbody (1975) is no exception. It begins by introducing the immortal Dog Star Sirius, who is in serious trouble with his peers. Accused of murder and theft, Sirius is sentenced to life on Earth as a mortal dog, where he is sentenced to die after his considerably shortened lifespan. He has only one chance at redemption: he can return to his celestial home only if he tracks down the mysterious stolen Zo... Read More

WWWednesday: August 29, 2018

Hugos:

File770 looks at instances of 3-in-a-row (threepeat) winners and finds that in the novel/novella categories N.K. Jemisin has pulled off a “first.”

Here’s the text of Jemisin’s acceptance speech.

The UK Guardian approves of Jemisin’s threepeat. Deeper into the essay they seem to imply that her characters aren’t rounded, and that is not correct.

Conventions:

Have I mentioned recently that I love Read More

Under the Pendulum Sun: I’m looking forward to Ng’s NEXT book

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Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng

Laon Helstone is a British missionary to Arcadia, the recently discovered land of the fae. Laon hasn’t been heard from for a while, so his sister Catherine sets out to find him, travelling alone (but with the approval of the Catholic church) to Arcadia. When she arrives at the house where Laon has been living, she finds out that he hasn't been seen there in quite a while, but is expected home soon.

As Catherine waits, she befriends a couple of the house’s residents and learns that the fae aren’t too interested in hearing the Gospel. Most don’t see themselves as needing salvation. Catherine also spends time studying the journals of the first (mysteriously deceased) missionary to Arcadia. They may contain important secrets about the nature of the universe and God’s relationship to the fae.

There’s a lot to like in Jea... Read More

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day: A brief, but tender, ghost story

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Reposting to include Tadiana's new review.

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire

Seanan McGuire’s novella Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day (2017) is a sensitive tale of love, loss, and regret — the kind that haunts people, turns them into ghosts, makes them flee thousands of miles from their homes, makes them linger somewhere long after it’s time for them to leave.

In 1972, Jenna Pace’s older sister Patty committed suicide in New York City, far away from her family home in Mill Hollow, Kentucky. Jenna, wracked with grief, ran out into a freak thunderstorm and tumbled into a ravine, where she died. Because her life ended before it was supposed to, though, Jenna remains in the living world as a ghost, able to make her body corporeal or in... Read More

Starless: A sensitive portrayal of diverse characters

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Starless by Jacqueline Carey

For all of his life, young Khai has been training to be the “Shadow” protector of Zariya, the youngest daughter of his nation’s king. Nobody knows why the gods have decreed that Zariya, a politically unimportant princess, needs a protector, but the role as her shadow should be relatively easy. Nevertheless, Khai has trained hard and hopes he is ready for the role. When he arrives at the palace to finally meet his charge, Khai is surprised to discover that Zariya is not the kind of princess he envisioned and this is not going to be an easy assignment after all. Khai will be tested beyond what he thought was possible.

In many ways, Starless (2018) feels like so many other epic fantasies I’ve read, except that it’s written in Jacqueline Carey... Read More

The Descent of Monsters: Creeping, inexorable dread

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Reposting to included Marion's new review.

The Descent of Monsters by J.Y. Yang

Every page of J.Y. Yang’s newest TENSORATE novella, The Descent of Monsters (2018), carries a pervasive and steadily-increasing sense of dread. But when the primary character announces straight off that “You are reading this because I am dead,” it’s hard not to wonder how and why that comes to pass, and which event will be the one which ends Tensor Chuwan Sariman’s life.

Note: It will help to read The Black Tides of Heaven and The Read Threads of Fortune before beginning The Descent of Monsters Read More

SFM: Roanhorse, VanderMeer, Theodoridou, Moore & Kuttner, Divya

Short Fiction Monday: Our 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.

“Welcome to Your Authentic Indian ExperienceTM” by Rebecca Roanhorse (2017, free at Apex Magazine, $2.99 Kindle magazine issue)

Accolades have been pouring down on this 2017 SF short story, which won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, and is also a Sturgeon Award nominee, a Locus Recommended Short Story, a Apex Magazine Reader’s Choice Winner. Additionally, Rebecca Roanhorse won the Hugo’s John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. On my first... Read More

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom: Murder and mayhem at Disney World

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Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow

I picked up Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (2003) because it’s set in one of my favorite places in the universe: Walt Disney World. I grew up less than an hour’s drive from the Magic Kingdom, so I’m intimately familiar with the park and, though I’m now middle-aged, I never get tired of visiting. I love the idea of a far-future science fiction story set inside my favorite theme park.

Jules is a man who’s over 100 years old but looks to be in his 20s due to rejuvenation techniques and the ability to back yourself up with a clone. In this immortal post-scarcity society, people pretty much do what they want as long as they have enough “whuffie” — a kind of social credit that’s based on their current reputation. Jules (and others of his ilk) live inside Disney World and operate the same rides that... Read More

Castle in the Stars: The Moon King: Artwork raises the overall result

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Castle in the Stars: The Moon King by Alex Alice

Castle in the Stars: The Moon King is the second installment of Alex Alice’s graphic story involving a 19th Century space race between the two hostile nations of Prussia (led by Bismarck) and Bavaria (ruled by “Mad” King Ludwig. Book one tells of the attempt to prove the existence of “aether,” a substance that along with flight would potentially be a nearly limitless source of energy. The first book ended on a cliffhanger, with the prototype space vehicle unexpectedly taking off with more on board than expected. The Moon King (2018) picks up right afterward, with the vehicle entering space and then, thanks to sabotage, landing on the moon rather than returning to Earth. This version of our moon ... Read More