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Superman: Dawnbreaker: An inconsequential look at pre-caped Superman

Superman: Dawnbreaker by Matt de la Peña

In comparison with the other three books in the DC ICONS COLLECTION, I'm afraid I have to say that Superman's entry is not the best. As with the others, it explores the adolescence of a famous superhero before he or she donned a mask and cloak, and in this case, focuses on farm-boy Clark Kent realizing that strange things are happening in his rural hometown of Smallville.

Along with his best friend Lana Lang (reimagined for the first time as a would-be reporter) Clark gradually becomes aware of a sudden corporate interest in the farms of Smallville, and a spate of missing Mexican workers. The arrival of Lex Luthor and the two squabbling sons of philanthropist Montgomery Mankins doesn't feel like a coincidence, and for the first time Clark begins to utilize his abilities in the attempt to ... Read More

Keeper of the Winds: Not for me, but perhaps for some teen readers

Keeper of the Winds by Jenna Solitaire & Russell Davis

The cover of my ARC of Keeper of the Winds (2020) shows it co-authored by Jenna Solitaire and Russell Davis. This edition is a reimagining and slight updating of a book originally published in 2006. Its author was Jenna Solitaire. Davis come up with the conceit of an imaginary author, narrating her own adventures as she discovers that she is the Guardian of a strange set of magical spirit boards, at least four of which control the elements. Now, fourteen years later, with a new publisher, Davis is revisiting the DAUGHTER OF DESTINY series and substantially rewriting them, although he says in his afterword that this one faces the fewest plot changes of the original quartet.

The series is marketed to YA, with a 19-year-old protagonist, as she discovers her supernatural abilities and interacts with t... Read More

The Lost Future of Pepperharrow: Left me wanting

The Lost Future of Pepperharrow by Natasha Pulley

I found Natasha Pulley’s The Watchmaker of Filigree Street entirely charming even if I didn’t fall wholly in love with it. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the same positive response to the sequel, The Lost Future of Pepperharrow (2020), which felt meandering and surprisingly flat to me, despite some solid moments.

It’s half a decade after the events of The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, and after a brief time in Russia and London, Pulley shifts the vast majority of her story to Japan in the late 1800s (with flashbacks to earlier times in the country). Keita Mori, clockmaker and clairvoyant who can “remember” possibl... Read More

Strange Exit: Muddled plot and mostly flat characterization

Strange Exit by Parker Peevyhouse

Decades after the Earth was destroyed by nuclear war and its aftermath, a group of teens aboard an orbiting spaceship meant as a refuge are stuck in a VR stasis while their ship falls apart around them. Only if all them “wake up” and exit the VR simulation will the ship allow them to leave. One girl, 17-year-old Lake, has made it her mission to return again and again into the sim, despite the danger of getting stuck in there, to wake those still “living” there. She’s joined by her younger sister Willow in the form of a sim “figment” (her sister is lost in real life) and a young boy, Taren, whom she recently awakened, as they race against time to save the teens and the ship.

Such is the premise of Parker Peevyhouse’s 2020 YA novel Strange Exit. The premise is in... Read More

Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water: We are interested in what Kaftan does next

Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water by Vylar Kaftan

Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water is a 2019 novella by Vylar Kaftan. The story opens with two characters, Bee, our narrator, and Chela, in jeopardy in a very unusual setting, and takes us places we did not expect.

Bee is trapped in a unique and horrifying prison: a cave complex on a planet far from Earth. She has one companion, Chela, and they have banded together to brave the dangers of the caves: the risk of drowning, narrow tunnels that could trap and suffocate a prisoner, deep shafts and large predatory insects. They have never seen another prisoner. The wardens leave boxes of goods with a guiding beacon for them to find. The boxes contain food and other necessary supplies, and sometimes a whimsical item like a postcard. It’s often a race to get to the boxes before the insects find them, and the boxes, their arbitrary placement and the str... Read More

Children of the Night: Not rewarding enough

Children of the Night by Mercedes Lackey

Children of the Night (1990) is the second novel in Mercedes Lackey’s DIANA TREGARDE trilogy, following Burning Water. Each of the novels can stand alone, so you don’t need to read Burning Water first. In fact, it could be argued that this one is a better starting place because it’s set earlier in Diana’s life and we learn more about her in this novel. I should mention that though this series is a trilogy, there are also several short stories about Diana that can be found in magazines or collections.

Diana Tregarde reluctantly writes insipid romance novels (but not enough to make a living at it) and, since she's a witch and a G... Read More

Knight of the Silver Circle: An improvement, but still left me wanting

Knight of the Silver Circle by Duncan M. Hamilton

I gave a “didn’t recommend” to Duncan M. Hamilton’s Dragonslayer, noting that while it had some good pacing and a smooth, easy flow to it, that the story and characters were both a bit overly familiar and flat. Despite my rating though, when the sequel, Knight of the Silver Circle (2019) appeared, I picked it up, figuring it would be a pretty quick read and somewhat curious as to whether there had been any improvement. The good news is the answer was yes, while the less good news is many of the same issues from book one are still in place. Note there’ll be some unavoidable spoilers for book one to follow.

Knight of the Silver Circle ... Read More

The Future of Another Timeline: Interesting, but ultimately didn’t satisfy me

The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz

The Future of Another Timeline (2019) was a miss for me, which surprised me given how much I enjoy this writer. Many people on Amazon give it high ratings, so, as we say, your mileage may vary.

There are five-time machines embedded in the earth’s crust in Annalee Newitz’s 2019 novel. These objects, growing out of prehistoric rock, may be machines, or sentient entities, or some kind of strange natural occurrence, but they react to certain rhythmic sounds by sending a person back in time … and allowing them to return to their present.

The Machines are awesome.

The book follows two characters, Beth in a 1992 timeline that isn’t quite ours, and Tess from a 2022 that is upstream from Beth. Tess is an approved time traveler, who, usi... Read More

Last Ones Left Alive: Bleak and painful

Last Ones Left Alive by Sarah Davis-Goff

Orpen is a young woman who lives with her mother and Maeve, her mother’s partner, on an island off the coast of Ireland. As she is growing up, as far as Orpen knows, they are the only humans left alive. Orpen wants to go to the mainland to see if she can find any other people, and to search for the legendary female paramilitary force that is rumored to be fighting the skrake, vicious zombie-like creatures that hunt and kill humans. Her mother and Maeve warn her against this, but finally Orpen finds the opportunity to set out on her quest. She will need all of the survival and fighting skills that her two mothers taught her.

As Orpen journeys through a bleak and desolate (but sometimes beautiful) landscape, she uses flashbacks to very gradually enlighten us about the world and why she began her quest. We also gradually become aware of the horrible origins of the skrake. We witness Orpen’... Read More

Randomize: Dazzling science doesn’t make up for a mundane plot

Randomize by Andy Weir

Nick Chen is an IT guy on a mission: when quantum computers become available to consumers, he tries to convince the managers at the Babylon Hotel and Casino where he works to shut down their keno lounge, knowing that quantum computers can quickly crack the random-number generators of the keno game system. When he fails to persuade them, he uses his override passwords to shut down the keno game, which quickly gets the attention of Edwin Rutledge, the head of the casino. Eventually convinced by Chen’s arguments, Rutledge authorizes Chen to buy the casino its own quantum computer for $300,000 (“We fight quantum with quantum”).

A couple of days later, a new QuanaTech quantum computer is delivered and installed by a salesman, Chen sets up airtight security systems around it, and all is now well with the Babylon keno game … or, perhaps not. It turns out that the QuanaTech salesman is married to a brilliant... Read More

Blossoms and Shadows: Readers might not find what they are looking for

Blossoms and Shadows by Lian Hearn

Japan in 1857 is in turmoil. Internal divisions mean the country is on the brink of civil war, whilst after centuries of isolation, the country has also opened its doors to the west. In the midst of this instability, Tsuru, a doctor's daughter, wishes to study medicine, but the only expectation her father has for her is to marry.

After the hugely successful TALES OF THE OTORI series, Lian Hearn returns with a very different kind of novel in Blossoms and Shadows (2010). The evocative setting of Japan is still used as a backdrop, but this story is a historical one, largely without the fantastical elements of the Otori series.

Tsuru has harboured an interest for medicine sin... Read More

Cheshire Crossing: Works better in print than audio

Cheshire Crossing by Andy Weir

Before Andy Weir became famous by writing The Martian, he used to post fanfiction and webcomics on his website. After he was famous, publishers got interested in his pre-Martian work.

One of his webcomics has now been published by Ten Speed Press under the title Cheshire Crossing (2019). It’s a mash-up of Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and The Wi... Read More

Grail of Stars: The fourth and final adventure

Grail of Stars by Katherine Roberts

Grail of Stars (2014), the fourth and final book in Katherine Roberts's PENDRAGON LEGACY, sees the daughter of King Arthur Pendragon go in search of the last of the Four Lights that can restore her father to life and banish her evil cousin Mordred once and for all: the Grail of Stars.

Princess Rhianna is joined by her best friend Elphin from the Island of Avalon, the newly knighted Sir Cai who wields the Lance of Truth, and Arianrhod, the former maidservant of Morgan le Fay, who still bears the marks of her cruelty. Rhianna herself is in possession of her father's sword Excalibur, the Sword of Light, as well as the Crown of Dreams, which holds all the wisdom of the land's former rulers. Now she must use these gifts to seek out the Grail, even as rumours grow... Read More

Salvation Day: Multiple issues, some bright spots

Salvation Day by Kari Wallace

In the prologue to Kari Wallace’s debut adult novel, Salvation Day (2019), we witness the fate of the huge spaceship House of Wisdom after a biological weapon killed every member aboard except for a 12 year old boy named Jaswinder Bhattacharya, whose mother engineered his escape.

Now it’s a decade later and Jaswinder is a young man, well-educated, talented, and famous for his survival. A group of cultish separatists who are angry at the way they’ve been treated by Earth’s government plan to kidnap Jaswinder so they can gain access to House of Wisdom and get away from Earth. Their terrorist team is led by Zahra, the daughter of the man who released the virus. But when Jaswinder and the terrorists enter the ship, they make some discoveries that endanger the entire population of Earth.

To put things bluntly, S... Read More

Esbae: Where’s Hermione Granger when you need her?

Esbae by Linda Haldeman

I love fantasies set at colleges, so when I heard about Linda Haldeman’s Esbae: A Winter’s Tale (1981), I had to track it down and read it. The titular Esbae is a spirit who is found wanting by some greater power, and cast down to earth. It attaches itself to an awkward college student, Sophie, and is caught up in a magical battle between good and evil.

The three main human characters are all to be found in Dr. Leo Ernst’s history class. (We know that this is fantasy, because even after an ice storm, everybody goes t... Read More

The House on Parchment Street: A ghost story from a developing fantasy writer

The House on Parchment Street by Patricia McKillip

I probably would never have known about The House on Parchment Street (1973) were I not such a huge fan of Patricia McKillip's fantasy stories, and while browsing her name on a library search engine, this title popped up. It was obviously one of her earliest published works, so I was willing to give it a go.

The House on Parchment Street is profoundly different from her later stories, which are not only told with dense poetic-prose, but focus more on fantasy worlds and creatures. This is a fairly straightforward ghost story, with equally straightforward prose, about a girl called Carol Christopher who travels from America to stay with her cousin Bruce, Aunt Catherine, and Uncle Harold in a small English village.

Carol a... Read More

The Invasion: This Hugo finalist has some issues

The Invasion by Peadar O’Guilin

The Invasion (2018), a finalist for the 2019 Hugo Award for Best Young Adult Novel, is the sequel to Peadar O’Guilin’s The Call, which you’ll need to read first. (This review will spoil some of the plot of that first novel.) Once again I listened to the audiobook version (Scholastic Audio) which was nicely performed by Irish actor Amy Shiels.

At the end of The Call, our hero, Nessa, had been changed by the Sidhe. They made her fireproof. Because of her crippled legs, nobody expected Nessa to survive her Call, so now she’s un... Read More

The Last Tsar’s Dragons: Less than the sum of its parts

The Last Tsar’s Dragons by Jane Yolen & Adam Stemple

The Last Tsar’s Dragons (2019) is frustrating, both as a reading exercise and in retrospect, when I think about how universally lauded Jane Yolen is and that Adam Stemple, her son, is a well-regarded author in his own right. So take a master storyteller and her progeny, begin with the political tar pit that was the Russian court in the last days of the Romanovs, and add revolutionaries and literal fire-breathing dragons into the mix…

What should, by all expectations, be a fascinating story meanders between various viewpoints, skips through its timeline with no clear indications as to when events are occurring with relation to one another, and makes... Read More

PERfunctory AfFECTION: Far from perfect

PERfunctory AfFECTION by Kim Harrison

Three years ago Meg, a talented artist who also works as a university art instructor, was in a bad car accident. She was driving and her boyfriend, the passenger, was badly injured. Since then she’s dealt with PTSD, high levels of anxiety, and overwhelming guilt. She has also had trouble recovering after her mother’s death and this has led to depression. Meg is pretty messed up and has trouble teaching her classes, making friends, and coping with life in general.

As the novella opens, Meg’s psychiatrist has put her in an experimental drug study. Almost immediately, Meg feels much, much better, almost suspiciously so. Within days of starting the new medication, Meg has even made some new friends, something that had previously been all but impossible. Her boyfriend, though, suspects the drug causes hallucinations and delusions and that Meg has too quickly become wholly dependent on it. The... Read More

The Fever King: A queer future world

The Fever King by Victoria Lee

It's the 22nd century, and North America is divided into several different countries in the aftermath of a worldwide disaster. A plague that first hit back in the early part of the 21st century killed ― and continues to kill ― almost every person who get infected with the virus. Those few who survive become “witchings,” developing a variety of magical powers as a result of the virus’s presence in their body.

Noam Álvaro is a bisexual teenage refugee from Atlantia, now living in the West Durham slums of the more well-developed country of Carolinia. He’s the son of a Jewish mother and a Hispanic father (thus ticking as many boxes as I’ve ever seen for diversity representation in a single character). When Noam survives a plague outbreak that kills his father and most of the people he knows, he emerges with unusually potent magical powers over technology that make him highly valuable to th... Read More

Crown of Feathers: Too familiar for me

Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto

If you like Anne McCaffrey’s DRAGONRIDERS OF PERN series and are looking for more of the same — elite society of beast-riders with a telepathic/empathic link between human and animal — then Nicki Pau Preto’s YA debut novel Crown of Feathers (2019), the first in a series of the same name, might be worth your time. If you’ve read enough of this type of book to pick out key plot points and character developments from seven leagues away, though, there won’t be much here to surprise you.

Veronyka and her older sister Val were orphaned as children by the war racking their country and raised by their grandmother until her recent death, at which point Val took responsibility for the pair. The two teenagers are desperate to join the ranks of the fabled Phoe... Read More

Damsel: A disturbing feminist allegory in fairy tale form

Damsel by Elana K. Arnold

Damsel
(2018) has an absolutely gorgeous cover, one of the loveliest I’ve seen, with a glowing title wound about with vines, bleeding hearts and other flowers. But on closer examination there’s something just a little bit off about the cover image. An anatomically correct heart. A golden spur with a myriad of sharp points. A dragon’s pointed tail. It’s a bit disturbing. And it’s an apt metaphor for the contents of Elana K. Arnold’s book, where the fairy-tale details initially mask an allegorical story that is far, far darker.

Prince Emory is on a quest, a traditional rite of passage in his kingdom: He is traveling to the gray lands to conquer a dragon, rescue a beautiful young damsel, and bring her back to his kingdom to be his wife, as his father and forefathers have done before him. The hazards of his journey to the dragon’s lair and his tension-f... Read More

The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump: Very punny

The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump by Harry Turtledove

David Fisher is an inspector for the Environmental Perfection Agency (EPA), a bureaucracy in charge of regulating the industrial by-products (pollution) caused by using magical spells in an alternate America where most of the technology is based on magic or the actions of any deities or demons that people believe in. For example, the telephones work because there are imps that relay messages back and forth, salamanders produce heat, and vehicles are actually flying carpets.

One night, David gets a frantic call from a superior who tells him that there’s some unusual activity at a spell dump north of this world’s version of Los Angeles. A spell dump is where companies and other entities guard the spells they devise so they can keep them secret, and so any dangerous by-products of the magic are contained.

When David visits the spell dump, he notices some oddities... Read More

Slan: A classic and Retro-Hugo winner

Slan by A.E van Vogt

Slan, by A.E. van Vogt, is considered a classic science fiction novel. Published in 1940, Slan, by nature, feels old-fashioned and obsolete, especially in the technological sense, but it tells a story that is entertaining and intense, at least until the end.

We meet our protagonist, Jommy Cross, when he’s a young boy who is running from the police who have just killed his mother. Jommy is a Slan, a race of genetically-engineered super-humans who are stronger and smarter than normal humans and who can read minds and speak to each other telepathically. They are identifiable by the gold-colored tendrils that hang down the sides of their heads, like antennae. At one point in our world’s history, the Slan had almost conquered humans, but their numbers were few and humans ... Read More

The Dragon Lords: Bad Faith: Attack of the 50 ft. clay-footed god

The Dragon Lords: Bad Faith by Jon Hollins

Bad Faith (2018) concludes the DRAGON LORDS trilogy Jon Hollins began with Fool’s Gold, a rollicking heist story that more than earned its comparisons to The Guardians of the Galaxy and The Hobbit. The trilogy’s second volume, False Idols, answered some lingering questions I’d had, but also took the series down a darker and more meandering path. Bad Faith continues that darker and carelessly blood-drenched tone while questi... Read More