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Hive Monkey: This fun, fizzy concoction is not completely satisfying

Hive Monkey by Gareth L. Powell

Hive Monkey is the second book in Gareth L. Powell’s ACK ACK MACAQUE series, originally dubbed a trilogy but now, apparently, fated to be a quartet. The eponymous monkey, who likes cigars, rum and flying a refurbished WWII Spitfire, plays a large role in this book, gleefully wreaking mayhem on the bad guys. His sidekicks, Victoria Valois, journalist-turned-airship-captain, K8, plucky girl hacker, and Paul, a hologram, also have roles to play as they battle the colonized drones of an evil hive-mind.

It all gets very exciting, so I was baffled to start Chapter One with a boring, stereotypical character, William Cole. Cole is a meth-addled science fiction writer. He opens the book by standing on a wharf looking at scenery and mourning his dead wife ... Read More

The Dark Water: The story switches from SF thriller to lost world fantasy

The Dark Water by Seth Fishman

The Dark Water is the sequel to last year’s The Well’s End, a fast-paced and suspenseful YA SF thriller that I enjoyed despite its reliance on several well-worn teen themes. To discuss The Dark Water, I’ll have to spoil a little of the plot of The Well’s End, so if you’re planning to read that novel, you may want to stop after the next paragraph.

The Well’s End was written in first person from the perspective of Mia Kish, a nationally-ranked swimmer who attends an elite boarding school. When Mia was a toddler, she fell down a well and was eventually rescued as the world watched on CNN. (This story was inspired by Baby Jess... Read More

Shadow Games: The Black Company regroups

Shadow Games by Glen Cook

It’s been so long since the Black Company left Khatovar that the annals of that time are lost. Now, the campaigns in the North against the Dominator and the Taken — powerful sorcerers that vied against one another for world domination — destroyed everything but a handful of the Company’s soldiers. It’s time to regroup.

Croaker, a former physician and Company annalist, is now the Company’s Captain. The Company retains its history and its merciless tactics. Its two wizards, Goblin and One-Eye, are still alive, and they still hate each other. And then there’s Lady. Lady had been one of the Taken, but she has now lost her power. There might be something between Lady and Croaker, but they have to take care of their responsibilities before they can figure out whether their shared attraction can turn into a relationship. Looking at his exhausted troops, Croaker decides to return to the distant Sout... Read More

The Fortress in Orion: Things go too smoothly in this space-opera heist

The Fortress in Orion by Mike Resnick

The Fortress in Orion is the first book in Mike Resnick’s DEAD ENDERS series. Colonel Nathan Pretorius is a decorated hero in the Democracy’s twenty-three year war with the Traanskei Coalition. Just as he is recuperating from his last mission, Pretorius is given a new assignment, one that seems impossible. It means infiltrating the heart of one of the Coalition’s best-defended fortresses and substituting an imposter for an important Coalition member. Early in the book, the odds of success are given as three percent. Later, they rise to six or seven percent.

Despite the military costuming, The Fortress in Orion is basically a heist or a caper story. Instead of The Dirty Dozen, think A-Team, Ocean’s 11-13 or Leverage. Pretorius assembles the generic heist team: the Strong Man, the Saf... Read More

Tolkien and the Great War: An exploration of Tolkien’s early influences

Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth by John Garth

Tolkien and the Great War is an obviously well-researched book that goes into explicit (at times I must admit tedious) detail on J.R.R. Tolkien’s involvement in World War I and its possible impact on his then-current and later writings. We begin by observing Tolkien’s earliest close friendships formed at St. Edward’s Grammar School under the auspices of the “TCBS” (an acronym for Tea Club, Barrovian Society) where the core group of Tolkien, Christopher Wiseman, Robert Gilson, and G.B. Smith became close artistic confidantes, encouragers and critics of each other’s work. Convinced that they were a group that would change the world with their work, their dreams were turned to harsh reality with the advent of “the war to end all wars”.

We spend the majority of Tolkien and the Great War following ... Read More

The Whispering Swarm: Incandescent prose gives way to boredom

The Whispering Swarm by Michael Moorcock

“… There was Blackfriars Bridge and the rich waters of the river, marbled by rainbow oil, poisonous and invigorating, buzzing like speed. What immune systems that environment gave us! It was an energy shield out of a science fiction story. The city lived through all attacks and so did we. Our bit of it – almost the eye of the storm – was scarcely touched. I grew up knowing I would survive. We all knew it.”

Michael Moorcock is one of Those Names in the SFF field. Larger than life, striding across the 1960s in his velvets, lace and plumed hats with his rock-and-roll band, his British accent, his Eternal Champion and a plethora of sex partners, he and his colleagues created “the New Wave” movement. In The Whispering Swarm, Moorcock revisits those years and his earlier life, growing up in London during and after World War II. At ... Read More

Victory of Eagles: Darker than the previous novels

Victory of Eagles by Naomi Novik

(Contains slight spoilers for Empire of Ivory)

Victory of Eagles is the fifth instalment in Naomi Novik's TEMERAIRE series. I thought the previous four books had ups and downs but in general they are fun, fast reads. The fourth book, Empire of Ivory, had a very promising end, so I was rather looking forward to reading this. I guess Victory of Eagles mirrors the series as a whole in that it has its ups and downs but is generally enjoyable.

After Laurence's decision to deliver the cure for the dragon disease that struck Britain in Empire of Ivory to the French, thereby undoing a deliberate attempt by the British to infect the French dragons, he is put... Read More

Storm Front: Things can only get better…

Storm Front by Jim Butcher

Despite having missed the bandwagon by more than a decade, I am finally reviewing the opening novel of THE DRESDEN FILES: Storm Front. And not without a little caution, for the series has a hardcore fan following and is now a benchmark in urban fantasy with almost cult status. In an interview, Butcher said he was trying to write the perfect story, the one that makes you laugh and cry, and end the book with a glowy satisfied feeling. I was not left feeling glowy or satisfied, but hey — Butcher did say he’s still searching for that perfect story. Maybe it’ll crop up somewhere along the next fifteen novels in the series…

Harry Dresden is a professional wizard, as it says in his ad in the yellow pages. He finds lost items and carries out paranormal investigations, and, for more vanilla requests, consults and advises, too. Read More

Her Fearful Symmetry: Needed more substance than the ghosts

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

Two sets of twins, a disillusioned husband, a grieving boyfriend, one ghost. The lives of Her Fearful Symmetry’s characters are as tangled as they sound, in a drama that will play out amongst the tombstones of Highgate Cemetery. A sticker on the front reminds potential readers that Niffenegger is the author of The Time Traveler’s Wife. Yet let that be the first and last time Niffenegger’s debut novel is mentioned. Her Fearful Symmetry is described as a ‘delicious and deadly ghost story,’ and should be judged in and of itself.

We open with the death of Elspeth Noblin. She and her (substantially younger) boyfriend, Robert, had, until her death, lived in two separate flats next to Highgate cemetery. Shortly before her death, Elspeth wrote to her twin sister Edie, who lives in America,... Read More

The Immortals of Meluha: The best part is the unusual setting

The Immortals of Meluha by Amish Tripathi

The Immortals of Meluha, by Amish Tripathi, is the first of a trilogy set in ancient (about 1900 B.C.) India detailing the conflict between the Meluha empire (the Suryavanshi) and their sworn enemies , the Chandravanshis, who seem to have allied themselves with the horrid demon-like Nagas. What gives the hugely outnumbered Meluha hope is their vastly superior technology (including a special cocktail that greatly extends life) and the arrival of the prophesied “Neelkanth,” in the form of a young man named Shiva.

That last name should indicate to you that we’re working in the milieu of myth here, and demons and gods make some brief appearances throughout. The focus is on Shiva becoming acclimated to the idea that he is “the one” once he’s found and brought back (the Meluhas have been searching for the prophesied one systematically, knowing he would come from an o... Read More

Dracula adapted and illustrated by John Green

Dracula adapted and illustrated by John Green

Dracula is not a easy novel to abridge, especially when one is trying to compact it to the size of a graphic novel and at the same time aiming it at a middle-grade audience, and to be honest, I can't say this version, adapted and illustrated by John Green, succeeds all that well.

One problem is that transitions are often awkward and abrupt. For instance, we cut from a panel telling us that Jonathan realizes “his only chance of escape was to scale the castle wall,” which sets the reader up for several expectations of what’s to follow: we expect to see Jonathan still in the castle trying to get out and we expect to see him climbing u... Read More

Royal Airs: Not as good as Troubled Waters

Royal Airs by Sharon Shinn

Royal Airs is the second book in Sharon Shinn’s ELEMENTAL BLESSINGS series. I loved the first book, Troubled Waters, which was a light romantic fantasy that told the story of Zoe Ardelay, a young woman who was brought to the royal court of Welce to be the fifth wife of its king. She discovered that she had power over the element of water and, using the personality traits that her water spirit gave her, she successfully navigated the dangers of the court and found true love. I’ll be reading that book again someday.

Royal Airs takes place after the events of Troubled Waters, but it can stand alone. Many of the characters overlap, but this is a separate story, not a direct sequel. In Royal Airs we become acquainted with more of the princesses of the five fami... Read More

The Three-Body Problem: Interesting, but not often enjoyable

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu

The Three-Body Problem
, by Chinese author Cixin Liu, has some wonderfully evocative images and ideas and as well offers up a rare look inside his home country for many of us. It is often, therefore, an interesting book. From my experience though, “interesting” did not translate often enough into “enjoyable,” and the novel ended up being a bit of a slog for me to finish.

The book opens up with a powerfully vivid scene set during the Cultural Revolution as we watch a weary physics professor, Ye Zhetai, being battered by the Red Guards during yet another “Struggle Session”:
Other victims wore tall hats made from bamboo frames, but his was welded from thick steel bars. And the plaque he wore around his neck wasn’t wooden, like the others, but an iron door taken from a laboratory oven. His name was written on the door in striking black l... Read More

Vacant: My least favorite book in my current favorite urban fantasy series

Vacant by Alex Hughes

Vacant is the fourth book in Alex Hughes’ MINDSPACE INVESTIGATIONS. I absolutely loved the first three books, Clean, Sharp, and Marked (read my reviews) and this has been my favorite series for the past couple of years. Marked was my favorite book of 2013. However, I didn’t like Vacant as well and I hope (and expect) that this is just a minor setback in the series.

The most compelling element of the MINDSPACE INVESTIGATIONS series for me is all about the main character, Adam, and his fight with addiction. It is visceral and written so well that I can almost feel Adam’s pain as he craves something he knows will destroy him.

Adam ... Read More

The Paper Magician: Mildly entertaining

The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

The Paper Magician
, by Charlie N. Holmberg, has a nicely original premise and a unique heroic quest, but the overall impact is marred by a trite romance, a somewhat flat main character, and a sense that it all goes on a bit long.

In this world, magic users “bond” to a particular material — rubber, metal, plastic — and work with that material (and only that material) the rest of their lives. Ceony Twill has just graduated from magic college (thanks to an anonymous sponsor) and been assigned, much to her dismay, to become a “Folder” — one who specializes in paper magic. Apprenticed to full magician Emery Thane, she is just starting to learn that maybe paper magic isn’t as dull/bad as she feared, when Thane is suddenly attacked and left for dead, his heart stolen from him by an Excisioner — a blood magician. Ceony finds herself having to journey thr... Read More

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