SFF Reviews

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The Diviners: YA supernatural horror

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Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

The Diviners by Libba Bray

The Diviners is a 2012 YA fantasy in the supernatural horror genre, and the first book in THE DIVINERS series by Libba Bray.  At a birthday party in Manhattan in the 1920's, a group of partying teenagers decides to play with a Ouija board. They promptly do several things they're really not supposed to do, like failing to make the spirit controlling the board say good-bye (is this really a thing?), thereby unleashing the spirit of a dead serial killer on the world.

The second chapter of The Diviners introduces our main character, Evie O’Neill, from Ohio. She's an insolent and self-centered seventeen-year-old who likes to party hard and drink too much gin. Evie spouts 1920’s slang almost every time she opens ... Read More

Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Leiutenant by Tony Cliff

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Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Leiutenant by Tony Cliff

I’m often told that adventuring isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, but Tony Cliff’s Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant reinforces what my younger self believed wholeheartedly: Adventuring is awesome, if a little lonely. You get to travel the world, collect treasure, and meet interesting people (who sometimes want to kill you). But even the attempted killing adds to the zest of the adventurer’s life!

Delilah Dirk is daring and brave, with the wits to get herself out of any bad situation (even if she can’t always avoid getting trapped in said bad situation to begin with) and a host of tricks and gadgets at her disposal. In her own words, she:

...is the master of forty-seven different sword-fighting techniques ... which she’s used, on different occasions, to defeat twe... Read More

Bright Thrones: Whatever happened to Bettany?

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Bright Thrones by Kate Elliott

The Bright Thrones novella (2017) ties up some loose threads left after the conclusion of Poisoned Blade, the second book in Kate Elliott’s COURT OF FIVES trilogy. In the middle of that novel, Jessamy reunites briefly with her twin sister, Bettany, who appears to be in servitude to a famous foreign doctor, Lord Agalar. Very little about their strange situation is explained at the time, and circumstances drive the sisters apart just when it seems that a reunification (though certainly not a reconciliation) might be possible.

Most of Bright Thrones takes place before Bettany and Jes meet up at the royal f... Read More

Steal the Stars: Lacks cohesion and internal logic

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Steal the Stars by Nat Cassidy based on a podcast by Mac Rogers

Steal the Stars is a 2017 podcast (created by Mac Rogers) and subsequent novelization (written by Nat Cassidy) which centres around forbidden love between coworkers. In a world where the United States is controlled by a vague and sinister corporation, an alien has crash landed off the Pacific coast, and scientists are running out of funding to unlock the secrets of an extraterrestrial; the central plot may be the least interesting aspect. Frustratingly, we don’t get much else — the world lacks depth and the plot wears thin. In the end, the potential for an interesting multi-media experience was sullied by an unimaginative and thin story.
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City of Stairs: A glorious, mind-bending mash-up

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

City of Stairs is a glorious, mind-bending mash-up; part second-world fantasy, part political thriller and part murder mystery. Shara Thivani and her “secretary” Sigrud are my two new favorite action heroes.

Robert Jackson Bennett once again, has taken a conventional sub-genre and made it original, creating an experience that reads like an actual sociological thriller set in another, magical world.

Shara Thivani is a junior ambassador from the Saypuri islands – at least, that is her cover. She comes to Bulikov, the City of Stairs, on the Continent, to investigate the murder of Saypuri citizen and her friend, Professor Pangyui, who was found beaten to death in his office in the Bulikov University.

Relations... Read More

The House of Hades: Percy and Annabeth traverse the Underworld

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The House of Hades by Rick Riordan

It's been nearly two years since I read the last book in Rick Riordan's five-part THE HEROES OF OLYMPUS series — not because I wasn't enjoying it; I simply got swamped by my never-ending To Be Read pile. But I'm back, and eager to finish what I started!

The House of Hades is the fourth book in the series, following on with the overarching story of seven young heroes working together to combat the rising power of Gaia, the ancient and bloodthirsty Earth Goddess intent on releasing her giant offspring into the human world. They have a prophecy to guide them but deadline to meet — and at the conclusion of the last book, The Mark of Athena Read More

Golden Blood: Durand of Arabia

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Golden Blood by Jack Williamson

I’d like to tell you about a terrific book that I have just finished reading. In it, a 2,000-year-old Arabian woman, living her immortal existence in the heart of an extinct volcano after being endowed by a mysterious force of nature, waits patiently for the reincarnation of her dead lover to reappear to her. “Hold on,” I can almost hear you saying. “I know that book … that’s She!” And if that is indeed your reaction, a gold star for you, my friend, for being familiar with one of the most classic, and indeed seminal, works of fantasy literature of the past 150 years. But no, it is not to H. Rider Haggard’s 1886 classic that I refer to here, but rather to a work that came out almost a full half cen... Read More

Empire of Storms: The series is kicked up another notch

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Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas

The fifth book (not counting the prequel novellas) in Sarah J. Maas's THRONE OF GLASS series is easily twice as long as the first book, but has one thing in common: half the story is a really good action-fantasy-adventure, and the other half is an overwrought "love" story.

In the case of Throne of Glass, the bad half was more to do with frivolous teenage angst impinging on what was otherwise a pretty serious fight-to-the-death tournament, but here it's the fact that nearly the entire cast of characters are caught up in rather melodramatic romances.

Love in YA fiction is usually (albeit accidentally) depicted as lust, angst, or a dire comb... Read More

The Hazel Wood: Not quite enough magic to enchant

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The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

The Hazel Wood (2018) is one of those novels whose reputation precedes it. Authors and critics alike are singing the book's praises, dubbing it mesmerising, creepy, captivating. It promises to be a dark and twisting fairytale in the vein of Caraval and The Bear and the Nightingale, but can Melissa Albert's debut live up to its own hype?

Alice and her mother have moved from place to place for as long as she can remember. Whenever they settle anywhere too long, sinister things begin to happen, so they've spent Alice's childhood trying to outrun the bad luck that constantly hounds them. But when Alice's grandmo... Read More

Starlings: A worthwhile journey into a writer’s mind

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Starlings by Jo Walton

I’m honestly not quite sure of how to review Jo Walton’s 2018 collection of short stories, Starlings. As a fiction read, it left me greatly wanting, with many of the stories (there are also poems and one play, but more on those later) feeling undeveloped, slight, and too one-note, so that most frequent reaction was “nice idea, but ...” with the “but” mostly signifying a response that really wasn’t a response. And so what’s the problem, you might be thinking. You didn’t respond to most of the stories; give it a bad review. Which is a nice idea, but ...

And here’s the thing. Each story is followed by a brief afterword explaining where the premise arose, or what Walton’s intentions were, or where it was published (or not) or how much ... Read More

The Midnight Front: A compelling blend of demonology and history

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The Midnight Front by David Mack

The European theatre of WWII has been used as a staging device for so many forms of modern entertainment media that it’s hard to believe David Mack could find anything new or interesting to write about it in The Midnight Front (2018). And yet, he managed to come up with an angle I’ve never seen, implement it in a thoroughly researched and imaginative way, and open the door for subsequent books to examine the aftershocks of WWII throughout subsequent decades. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m impressed.

Oxford University-educated Cade Martin is set to leave London and head back to America with his parents, despite some mysterious warnings from a man who accosts them just before boarding their ship. Just a few days later, their ship i... Read More

A War in Crimson Embers: “All roads lead to war,” they say…

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A War in Crimson Embers by Alex Marshall

Fair warning: if you haven’t read the previous two novels in Alex Marshall’s CRIMSON EMPIRE trilogy, A Crown for Cold Silver and A Blade of Black Steel, you aren’t going to have any understanding for what’s happening in A War in Crimson Embers (2017). It’s vitally important that these books are read in order!

At the close of A Blade of Black Steel, the members of the new Cobalt Company were, largely, scattered to the four winds. Sullen of the Horned Wolf Clan, Princess-tur... Read More

Binti: The Night Masquerade: This conclusion is hopeful and triumphant

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Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor

Without giving any spoilers I must say that with Binti: the Night Masquerade (2018) Nnedi Okorafor triumphantly delivers a solid, hope-filled ending to this powerful and original story. As you may recall, Binti: Home ended on a cliffhanger, and while our main character endures even more trials and hardships in this third installment, she finds a way to embrace her gifts and her physical changes while remaining true to herself.

The book opens with a horrifying dreamlike sequence that Binti experiences while out in the desert with Mwinyi, an Enyi Zinariya tribesman. Binti... Read More

Saga (Vol. 8) by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples

Saga (Vol 8) by Brian K Vaughan (writer) & Fiona Staples (artist)

It’s been six months since I read Vol 7 of SAGA, and after moving to London last summer we recently popped into Forbidden Planet in Soho, and that store is an absolute treasure trove of SF comics, books, and other fan goodies. There are so many enticing comics on offer there, you could spend your entire salary in one wild shopping spree. When I saw Vol 8 of SAGA with Wild West cover art among the new releases, I knew I had to have it.

SAGA is my favorite comic series, because it is always pushing the envelope in terms of content, themes, gorgeously assured and sometimes shocking artwork, and characters so charming, honest and flawed that you can’t help but cheer for them. If you like intelligent, snarky, sometimes profane space opera with a vast cast of star-crossed lovers, bounty-hunters, humanoid robots, t... Read More

Pretender to the Crown: It takes a thief…

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Pretender to the Crown by Melissa McShane

Pretender to the Crown (2017) follows the adventures of Willow North, a professional thief who’s always been a lone wolf type of personality. Willow has an inherent magical talent for sensing worked metals: she both sees it ― even in total darkness and through walls ― and feels it. It’s a particularly handy talent for a thief, since she can see where metal jewelry is hidden and when guards with swords are approaching. Anyone with a strong magical talent is required by law to study to become a mage or “Ascendant,” but Willow holds such bitter feelings against Ascendants, who are typically arrogant and abusive, that she hides her talent and uses it for burglary instead.

Willow’s life as a thief gets upended when her former fiancé Kerish, who s... Read More

Queen of Shadows: More intrigue and adventure for Aelin and her allies

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Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas

I have to admit I'm still not completely sold on Sarah J. Maas's THRONE OF GLASS series, though the fact I'm still reading must mean the pros outweigh the cons. There's been a pattern to my reading experience: every second book has been an improvement on its predecessor, which means I wasn't too impressed by Throne of Glass, was pleasantly surprised with Crown of Midnight, felt rather lukewarm about Heir of Fire, and returned to my former enthusiasm with Queen of S... Read More

Future Home of the Living God: Good, but bleak. Really, really, bleak.

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Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

It’s winter. It’s cold. Our government is a mess. If you’re looking for a flight from reality, a pleasant escape, or a cozy book that offers comfort, do not reach for Louise Erdrich’s 2017 novel Future Home of the Living God. It’s not that book.

On the other hand, if you’ve been wondering what an update of the Margaret Atwood classic The Handmaid’s Tale might read like, or you just love Erdrich’s prose and keen eye for detail, Future Home of the Living God... Read More

Heir of Fire: Opens up more plots, introduces more characters

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Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas

This is the third book in Sarah J. Maas's THRONE OF GLASS series, detailing the journey of Celaena Sardothien throughout the fantasy world of Erilea; specifically her ongoing struggle to use her assassin's training to pursue justice throughout the land. Given that she's in the employ of the corrupt King of Adarlan, this requires a fair bit of subterfuge and deceit, for as we learned at the end of the previous book, Celaena is actually the lost queen of Terrasen and the heir to its throne.

In a reasonably good twist on the usual fantasy clichés, it turns out that Celaena knew her true identity all along and was simply keeping it a secret. Now sent on a mission to assassinate the rulers of Wendlyn, Celaena is instead discovered by a fae nobleman called Rowan and... Read More

Darkness Falling: Searching for home… in between fighting aliens and politicians

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Darkness Falling by Ian Douglas

Ian Douglas’s hard science military space opera adventure series, ANDROMEDAN DARK, picks up where the story left off in the first book, Altered Starscape. The colony spaceship Tellus Ad Astra has been hurled four billion years into the future, when our Milky Way galaxy is slowly colliding with the Andromeda galaxy, where a nearly irresistible force called the Dark Mind or the Andromedan Dark holds sway. The Andromedan Dark is intent on expanding its reach and assimilating all intelligent life forms with which it comes in contact ― voluntarily or involuntarily.

As Darkness Falling (2017) begins, the burning questio... Read More

The Glass Town Game: A strange, unsettling and deeply personal project

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The Glass Town Game by Catherynne M. Valente

Any book by Catherynne M. Valente contains both the unexpected and the unsurprising. You can always anticipate clever wordplay, a sense of whimsy, and prose that just stops short of purple, but in regards to content all bets are off. She can write anything, from a Wild-Western Snow White, to a brand new take on Arabian Nights, to a sci-fi, alt-history space opera mystery.

And in this case, the plot of The Glass Town Game (2017) almost defies description. Four children, who just happen to be Charlotte, Branwell, Emily and Anne Brontë (yes, THOSE Brontës), are being sent away to boarding school when a mysterious train pulls up and whisks them away to Glass Town. Astonishment reigns since this is the imagi... Read More

The Only Harmless Great Thing: A poetically imaginative work of social fiction

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The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander

Brooke Bolander’s The Only Harmless Great Thing (2018) is a lyrical, often moving, and sometimes searing novella that sets itself in an alternate reality that entangles two historical events: the public electrocution of Topsy the elephant at Coney Island in 1903 and the “Radium Girls” scandal in the early 1900s. That the two events were not simultaneous as in the novella is only part of the “alternate” part of this alternate reality. More central to the plot is the fact that elephants in this world are sentient.

The plot itself, which has two time strands, is relatively simple. In the early strand, Regan, a young radium girl already dying from the radiation she’s been exposed to in her job painting watch dials, trains a young elephant, Topsy, to replace her, both of them knowing what th... Read More

Mixed Up: Stories and cocktail recipes; both are intoxicating

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Mixed Up edited by Nick Mamatas & Molly Tanzer

Mixed Up (2017) is an anthology of cocktail-themed flash fiction and cocktail recipes, edited by Nick Mamatas and Molly Tanzer. The stories, like the drink recipes, are grouped by type and theme. I thought the editors took the most liberal view of “flash” here, because I think some of these works might run to 1200 words or slightly over, and I think of flash as topping out at 1,000 words. I don’t think there is a hard and fast threshold, and certainly the spirit of flash fiction (see what I did there?) is met.

Nick Mamatas says in his introduction to the stories that this is conceived as an old-fashioned “all-stories” magazine. The tales in the book includ... Read More

The Sky is Yours: I wrestled with this literary SF novel

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The Sky is Yours by Chandler Klang Smith

I wrestled with this review for Chandler Klang Smith’s 2018 novel The Sky is Yours from the first paragraph. I wanted to refer to it as a “zeitgeist novel.” After I wrote that, I glanced at Wikipedia and decided that, as Inigo Montoya says to the Sicilian in The Princess Bride, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” So, I’ve decided that The Sky is Yours is not a zeitgeist novel. It’s more self-conscious than that. It is a novel of the zeitgeist, using a future-dystopia to comment on the values, concerns and fears of modern living.

The Sky is Yours is about the future the way William Gibson’s SPRAWL Read More

Iron Gold: A fantastic return to the universe of RED RISING

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Iron Gold by Pierce Brown

I was a big fan of Pierce Brown’s RED RISING trilogy, so I was thrilled to hear he was going to continue the story with a new trio of books. And I’m happy to report that the first book in that new series, Iron Gold (2018), delivers the goods.

[Fair Warning: there will be of necessity spoilers for the first three books, so if you haven’t read those (and you should) I strongly recommend going no further in this review.]

RED RISING at its stripped-down core was the typical Downtrodden Rebels Against a Tyrannical State (DRATS!) story, though executed with atypical flair and complexity. One of the complicating factors, and one of my favorit... Read More

Monster Hunter: Siege: In which Owen learns a lot about himself

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Monster Hunter: Siege by Larry Correia

Monster Hunter: Siege is the sixth novel in Larry Correia’s MONSTER HUNTER INTERNATIONAL (MHI) series. If you’re a fan of Correia but haven’t read MHI, I can tell you that you’ll love it, so go back to Monster Hunter International and start there. If you’re totally new to Larry Correia and you’re not sure if MHI is for you, please read my review of Monster Hunter International — I th... Read More