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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

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

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 have always been there. Jules’ territory... Read More

The Grey Bastards: Engaging action and characters but has trouble with language and tone

The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French

So let’s get this out of the way early with regard to Jonathan French’s The Grey Bastards, winner of the 2017 Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO) contest. (Kevin, who originally reviewed this novel for Fantasy Literature, rated it 7 stars out of 10; Tadiana DNF’d it because of the pervasive offensive content.) It’s foul-mouthed, has a good amount of graphic language (warning: I’m about to give a few examples. Seriously — bad words ahead), sex, and violence, and much of that is aimed in ugly fashion at women. There’s a heaping amount of “fuck’s” in the story (both the word and the act), but also a lot of “quim” and “cunt.” The women, save two, are whores, “bedwarmers,” or mothers who if young breastfee... Read More

Competence: Silly situations and frivolous fashions

Competence by Gail Carriger

I keep picking up Gail Carriger’s books because I really loved her FINISHING SCHOOL series, so I know it’s possible for me to connect with her work, but Competence (2018) is the third CUSTARD PROTOCOL book I’ve tried (after giving up on THE PARASOL PROTECTORATE from which this series spun off) and I’m realizing that it’s just not working for me. So, take my review with the proverbial grain of salt. If you’re a fan of THE PARASOL PROTECTORATE and THE CUSTARD PROTOCOL, just ignore my opinion and go purchase and read Competence. You’ll almost certainly love it.

In this installment, Primrose and the werecat get stranded on land for a bit while the rest of the crew of ... Read More

Metamorphica: The myths of Ovid’s Metamorphoses reimagined

 



Metamorphica by Zachary Mason

Zachary Mason, who retold Homer’s story of the wanderings of Odysseus in his well-received 2007 debut novel, The Lost Books of the Odyssey, takes on Ovid's epic narrative poem Metamorphoses in his latest work, Metamorphica (2018). Mason distills Metamorphoses’ over 250 Greek myths into 53 brief stories, including the tales of Arachne, Daedalus and Icarus, P... Read More

Space Opera: An overdose of whimsy and wonder

Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

This is the kind of review I always dread writing — so many people loved Space Opera (2018), either becoming brand-new Catherynne M. Valente fans or cementing their appreciation of her talent. I can see why they would like it, I really can. The novel bears all the hallmarks of a Valente project: an overabundance of whimsy and wonder, intricately wordy sentences that sometimes become whole paragraphs, an aggressively manic-cute species, and much more. And there’s the acknowledged, heavy debt owed to Douglas Adams’ ground-breaking novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; much of your pers... Read More

Tricks for Free: Left me unsatisfied

Tricks for Free by Seanan McGuire

Tricks for Free, (2018) Seanan McGuire’s latest in the INCRYPTID series, left me the least satisfied of the series books to date. I’ll get into what disappointed me later in the review. As is always the case with the series, there are plenty of things to enjoy and I’d like to talk about those first.

Tricks for Free is the second book featuring the “baby” of the Price family, Antimony, who usually goes by Annie. This synopsis may contain spoilers for Magic for Nothing, the first Antimony Price book.

Previously, Annie went undercover in England to infiltrate the Convenant, a ruthless association of monster hunters wh... Read More

King of Ashes: Feels a bit too “been there, done that”

King of Ashes by Raymond E. Feist

Back in the 1980s, like a lot of people, I was eagerly consuming Raymond E. Feist’s RIFTWAR SAGA, which began with Magician: Apprentice and continued onward through a host of novels. I loved Magician, though I have little memory of it, and read the next few books in the series, though eventually I lost track, whether that was due to lack of interest or not, I have no idea. But Feist ended RIFTWAR a few years ago and is now back with a new book — King of Ashes — and series — THE FIREMANE SAGA. And it’s a bit like being in 1980 all ... Read More

To Kill a Kingdom: …but to merely disable a deadly love affair

To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo

I loved the concept for this book. Siren princess (Lira) is punished by her power hungry Sea Queen mother for harboring a shred of "human" sentiment, and therefore, forced to seek the heart of a siren-hunting prince. Prince (Elian) casts about on the deep, in self-imposed exile from his own kingdom, vanquishing the world of the human killing sirens dominating the sea, and his only true home.

There were times, yes, many times when the narrative prose was lyrical and immersive and it drew me right in to this commercially quite popular story. Regrettably, that voice was inconsistent. In the main, I think this is due to imperfectly executed dual POV.

It’s hard to do dual POV well. Lira’s voice was by far the stronger of the two. Prince Elian had narrative responsibility for the “rag tag” crew’s assembly and much of their dialogue. And this brings up another opportunity missed. ... Read More

The Armored Saint: Reads as a very long prologue

The Armored Saint by Myke Cole

In Heloise’s land, the foremost rule of the Order is clear: “Suffer no wizard to live.” For the exercise of magical powers, it is said, will open a portal to hell through the eyes of the wizard, allowing devils to come through and wreak destruction among men. But all sixteen year old Heloise can see is the oppression of the religious Order, which allows its Sojourners and Pilgrims to bully and oppress the common people. Anyone even suspected of using magical powers, or protecting those who have such powers, is immediately executed by the flail- and chain-bearing Order members, who act in the name of the Emperor.

Heloise Factor lives with her parents in the small medieval-type village of Hammersdown, where families are named for the father’s profession: Factor, Trapper, Fletcher, Grower, and so forth. Heloise’s best friend Basina Tinker comes from a family of metalworkers, who form metal ox ... Read More

The Lady of the Rivers: The protagonist lacks the magic of her ancestors

The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory

The Lady of the Rivers (2011) begins with the capture of a young French maiden. She wears a man's cap and breeches, and tells her captors that she is following the voices of angels. When our narrator, Jacquetta of Luxembourg, calls her Joan, it quickly becomes apparent that Gregory has opened her novel with the capture of the legendary Joan of Arc. Moments in history don't come much more momentous than this one, and it marks the first trial Jacquetta must overcome, in era full of intrigue, alchemy and political suspense.

Dramatic as the opening is, therein lies its problem: Jacquetta merely plays witness to the greater moments of history, and her role of passive observer continues throughout the novel. Whilst Joan of Arc awaits trial in a fifteen-year-old Jacquetta's household, she reads Joan's cards. Jacquetta is descended from Melusina, the water goddess, and i... Read More

Song of Blood & Stone: What if the author had loved the whole story?

Song of Blood & Stone by L. Penelope

Originally, L. Penelope published Song of Blood & Stone under her own publishing house, Heartspell. In 2016, it earned attention from the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off (SPFBO), where a team of prominent fantasy book bloggers evaluate 300 enlisted fantasy titles and review the very best of them. Song of Blood & Stone was so popular St. Martin’s Press picked it up and is now publishing it mainstream with a few changes.

This book is a self-made success. L. Penelope sent it out into a massive vat stuffed with dross and chaff and it rose organically out of obscurity because readers loved it. And I’m torn, because I want to champion it, too, but I'm sorry, I can’t do it.

Song of Blood & Stone is a ... Read More

School for Psychics: Yet another school for magically-gifted youngsters

School for Psychics by K.C. Archer

Theodora “Teddy” Cannon is hiding her short black hair and slight build under a long blonde wig, weighted underwear that adds thirty pounds, and cheap flashy clothing. It’s all in an effort to fool the security personnel and facial recognition software at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. There she plans to parlay her $5,000 bankroll (from selling her car) into enough money to pay back the $270,000 she owes to Sergei Zharkov, a vicious Vegas bookie, and her adoptive parents, who know Teddy has been living an aimless and trouble-strewn life but are unaware that she’s stolen $90,000 from their retirement account to make a partial payment to Zharkov. Teddy knows she has the talent to “read” other card players almost faultlessly ― it’s led to her being banned from all the casinos on the Strip ― and is confident that she can win big at Texas Hold ’Em if she isn’t spotted and kicked out. Her plan is wo... Read More

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

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 trilogy, which captured the 1980s ... Read More

Tess of the Road: A tough start, a solid if meandering rest

Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman

This is the third book I’ve read by Rachel Hartman set in her fictional word. I absolutely loved the first, Seraphina, and was greatly disappointed by the second, Shadow Scale. Unfortunately, Tess of the Road (2018) falls more toward the latter than the former, making for another disappointing foray into this setting.

While set in the same world and in roughly the same timeline as the first books (it covers a lot of ground thanks to flashbacks, so there’s both overlapping and later events), and sharing as well some of the same characters in minor roles, Tess of the Road Read More

Revival: King channels Lovecraft

Revival by Stephen King

Revival is a very modern Stephen King novel that channels H.P. Lovecraft at his cyclopean best. His key characters are bold, if not as colorful as some of his best work, and his themes are of familiar and well-trodden King territory. Often hammered by critics (professional and amateur alike) for his weak endings, King builds up to a conclusion that is strong and memorable. It’s monstrous, dark and creepy as hell. It’s pure Lovecraft and beautiful in its austerity.

Revival is a story about religion and anti-religion; a story about belief and the loss of belief … and an inability to believe. Jamie Morton and Pastor Charles Jacobs orbit around each other their entire lives. Jacobs opens Mo... Read More

The Diviners: YA supernatural horror

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 her mouth, and thinks she's smarter than everyone else around her, including her parents. Evie also has the ab... Read More

The Hazel Wood: Not quite enough magic to enchant

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 grandmother, Althea Proserpine — the famous and ... Read More

The Maze Runner: Not as gripping as it could be

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

The Maze Runner (2009) is a young adult read that zips along, mostly keeping the reader’s interest. James Dashner’s new novel is relatively suspenseful, but never as gripping as it could be due to weaknesses in detail and character.

The Maze Runner starts off strongly. Thomas is riding upward in a creaky old elevator, seemingly forever. Details have been wiped from Tomas’ memory, so he has no idea of where he’s coming from or where he’s heading. In fact, he has no idea who he is save for his name. When he arrives, it’s in a place known as “The Glade,” a relatively large open area bounded by towering stonewalls and populated by a group of boys, all of whom arrived as he did and with their memories wiped as well. Beyond the stone walls lies a huge maze whose walls move every night and whose corridors are overrun wit... Read More

Winds of Fury: Better than previous book, but that’s not saying much

Winds of Fury by Mercedes Lackey

I read Winds of Fury (1993) because I owned it at Audible and had already reviewed the previous books in this MAGE WINDS trilogy (Winds of Fate and Winds of Change). I haven’t been enthusiastic about the story or the characters thus far, so if you have enjoyed them, you should ignore this review because it won’t be helpful. If you haven’t read those books yet and are trying to decide whether to read them, perhaps my review will be helpful.

When we left our heroes in Winds of Change, they had been trained up in their magical abilities and, at the very end of the book, fought the evil wizard Mornelithe Falconsbane. But... Read More

Tremontaine Season One: Magic can’t always be re-created

Tremontaine Season One by Ellen Kushner, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Malinda Lo, Joel Derfner, Patty Bryant, Racheline Maltese & Paul Witcover

Serial Box is another way to consume entertainment, pairing the pleasure of episodic television with the joy of a well-written book. Serial Box provides original works of written fiction in the form of a “season,” 10-16 chapters or episodes, released weekly. Like television, they use the metaphor of a “writers room,” and each work is produced by a team of writers, rather than an individual writer. It’s an interesting concept. Serial Box is the first to admit that serialized work is not new (Charles Dickens, anyone?), but it’s a nice use of current technology. Their serials can be read as text or listened to pod-cast style.

Tremontaine was one of the first series Serial Box offered. Read More

Rapture: Starts off strong but then stumbles

Rapture by Matt KindtCafu, Roberto De la Torre

Rapture
is a Valiant omnibus collection of issues 1-4 to collect the entire story arc written by Matt Kindt and drawn by Cafu. I loved the artwork for the most part, and the story began well enough, but events quickly began to feel too rushed and too slightly developed, making for an overall disappointing read, though it’s possible those more familiar with this world and these characters might have a more positive response.

The story opens with a young girl, Tama, working her way in the Deadworld through a series of traps and riddle tests and the lik... Read More