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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

Cast No Shadow: Good premise but weak execution

Cast No Shadow by Nick Tapalansky & Anissa Espinosa

Cast No Shadow, written by Nick Tapalansky and illustrated by Anissa Espinosa, is a mostly muddled graphic story that mixes the paranormal, teen romance/angst, and coming of age in a blend that never really coheres.

Greg Shepard is a boy born without a shadow in a small town whose mayor regularly tries to rejuvenate the town via a string of cheap tourist-trap draws (The World’s Biggest fill-in-the-blank). Being without a shadow is the least of his issues though:  his mother died when he was young, his father has a new girlfriend (Ruth) whom Greg refuses to engage with, he’s regularly annoyed by the mayor’s son, and adding insult to injury, his best friend Layla is dating said annoyance. When he and Layla visit the town’s abandoned and decrepit mansion, Greg meets Eleanor, the ghost of a former resident whom only Greg can see, and ... Read More

White Cat: A YA series with an interesting magic system

White Cat by Holly Black

White Cat (2010), the first book in Holly Black's The Curse Workers series, focuses on Cassel, a teenage boy born into a family of workers. Working magic is illegal, which means anyone born with the gift — his entire family — either works for the mob or as a con artist. Except Cassel, that is, because Cassel doesn’t have a gift. What he does have is strange dreams that make him sleepwalk, and end up in the strangest places, like on top of the dorms at his boarding school. If only he could figure out what was causing these dreams, he knows he would be okay. But what’s causing the dreams is even scarier than what is in them.

White Cat is quintessential Holly Black. You have intriguing characters, razor sharp di... Read More

Winds of Fate: Fairly average epic high fantasy

Winds of Fate by Mercedes Lackey

Winds of Fate (1991) is the first book in Mercedes Lackey’s MAGE WINDS trilogy which is, in terms of internal chronology, an early trilogy in her VALDEMAR series. The VALDEMAR universe currently contains dozens of novels and short stories. So far I have read only six of them, but I own several more which I’m planning to review for our readers here at FanLit.

The VALDEMAR books are best suited for readers who enjoy classic high fantasy. They’re filled with mages, orphans, princesses, magic swords, animal familiars, and flashy magic spells. In my middle-age, and with decades of fantasy reading behind me, I’m a little tired of these elements, so please keep that in mind when reading my reviews. It’s pretty hard for stories... Read More

Light Years: Deadly pandemic and New Age spiritualism make strange bedfellows

Light Years by Emily Ziff Griffin

Light Years (2017), Emily Ziff Griffin’s debut YA novel, explores a New York teenager’s coming of age and spiritual and emotional awakening in a world rapidly descending into chaos because of a deadly pandemic. Luisa Ochoa-Jones is an unusually bright 17 year old software coder, on the short list of finalists competing for a coveted fellowship offered by a brilliant tech entrepreneur, Thomas Bell. In her face-to-face meeting with Bell, Luisa demonstrates her prized software program LightYears, which scans the Internet for people’s emotional reactions to a video, news story or other content. But she’s concerned that she and her program haven’t sufficiently impressed Bell. Before the fellowship decision is announced, however, society begins to unravel as a flu-type illness descends. Accelerated Respi... Read More

Cloudbound: A disappointingly muddled follow-up

Cloudbound by Fran Wilde

Cloudbound is Fran Wilde’s 2016 sequel to her debut novel Updraft, and if its predecessor was a mixed bag whose balance tipped toward the positive, albeit not as much as one would wish, Cloudbound doesn’t fare quite so successfully, with the needle pointing slightly more toward the negative. Thanks to a continuingly inventive world-building and a somewhat predictable but still intriguing ending, I’ll forge forward to book three, Horizon, but it’s a more grudging decision than I’d prefer.

Warning: there will be inevitable spoilers for book one, beginning with the next paragraph! I’m also going to assume you’ve read book one (you really need to ... Read More

Tales of Falling and Flying: Not my cup of spacefaring squid

Tales of Falling and Flying by Ben Loory

Ben Loory’s collection Tales of Falling and Flying (2017) falls into that category of “just not for me” books, meaning this will be a relatively brief take on the collection. It’s the sort of writing where I can see where some people would enjoy it, can note the author’s talent, can acknowledge the wit and bright originality, but overall it just doesn’t do it for me. In this case, it begins with my being a tough audience for short stories, as I tend to prefer full, rich immersion in story and character — aspects too often lacking in most stories I’ve found. Loory’s tales double-down on this as they’re all pretty short, not quite Lydia Davis short but nearly: almost 40 stories in just over 200 pages. So it’s basically in and out and on to the next.

That’s not to say some of these stories don’t have concepts or endi... Read More

Twisting the Rope: A sequel to Tea With the Black Dragon

Twisting the Rope by R.A. MacAvoy

Twisting the Rope (1986) is a sequel to R.A. MacAvoy’s Tea With the Black Dragon. It’s recommended, but not necessary, to have read Tea With the Black Dragon first.

It’s been five years since Martha Macnamara met Mayland Long at the hotel in San Francisco. They’ve been together since. Martha is now approximately 55 years old and Mayland appears to be around the same age, but we don’t really know how old he is. He has secrets.

Martha, an exellent violin player, has put together a folk band that travels around playing traditional Irish tunes. Mayland manages the band, collecting their earnings and taking care of expenses and othe... Read More

The Queen of Swords: A disappointing step backwards in the series

The Queen of Swords by R.S. Belcher

R.S. Belcher’s first two Weird West books set in Golgotha, Nevada (The Six-Gun Tarot and The Shotgun Arcana) were hot mess cacophonies of fantasy tropes, characters, source elements, and the like — huge Sunday brunch all-you-can-eat buffets where lifting a lid off of one of those big metal serving bins might reveal zombies, bat-people, cannibals, a primal evil, primal evil’s minions, Mormon artifacts, mythos from just about anywhere or anywhen, martial-arts-wielding female assassins, a hundreds of years old pirate called “Gran,” and more. Lots more. Neither book should have worked, and yet both did, skating just on... Read More

The Man Who Used the Universe: Unlikable protagonist makes it hard to enjoy

The Man Who Used the Universe by Alan Dean Foster

I picked up Alan Dean Foster’s The Man Who Used the Universe because it was just released in audio format. It’s a stand-alone science fiction novel, set in the far future, about a man named Kees vaan Loo-Macklin. Kees is a brilliant tactician who is building a career and an empire for himself. When we first meet him, he’s the lackey of a local crime boss, but we watch for years as he works his way up, gaining riches and power as he rises. He even forms a trading alliance with a hated alien species called the Nuel.

But there are two strange things about Kees vaan Loo-Macklin. One is that he seems to form no real bonds with any individual human or alien. He doesn’t seem to care about anyone. The other, perhaps most surprising thing, is that his motive for g... Read More

Indestructible Man: 300,000 volts of fun

Indestructible Man directed by Jack Pollexfen

Oh, what a wacky film experience I had over the weekend: the 1956 Lon Chaney, Jr. outing Indestructible Man! This movie was originally shown as part of a double feature for the kiddies back when, paired with one of my favorite sci-fi shlock adventures ever, World Without End, for one truly mind-boggling afternoon at the movies. In the film in question, Chaney plays a criminal named Butcher Benton, who, after a botched robbery, has been sentenced to the gas chamber. He is indeed put to death, but soon after, his body is sold to a scientist (Robert Shayne, who most viewers will remember from his role of Inspector Henderson on TV's Adventures of Superman, and whose work I recently enjoyed in the 1953 film The Neanderthal Man) who is doing experiments regarding a cancer cure.

Benton's body is shot up with drugs and exposed to around 300,000 volts of juice, which treatmen... Read More

In Search of Lost Time: A Robin Hood character steals life and memories rather than gold

In Search of Lost Time by Karen Heuler

Hildy, who’s been experiencing odd gaps in her awareness, is hit with the news that she has cancer of the Tempora, a (made-up) part of the brain where the body experiences time. Her chemotherapy has an odd side effect: Hildy can now see auras around people in the form of colorful mists and vapors. What’s more, she finds that she can pull away bits of aura from other people and inhale it. It gives her the feelings and memories from the person she took the bit of aura from. An old person has a thin aura that gives her a sense of duty and money worries; a younger person’s aura makes her feel exhilarated.

When she begins hanging around a playground to surreptitiously capture part of babies’ auras in jars, she’s confronted one day by a man who accuses her of stealing time. He informs her that there’s a market for stolen time; dying people who are down to their final days are anxious f... Read More

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet: Like watching Barney & Friends while eating cotton candy

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Becky Chambers self-published her debut novel The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet in 2014 after a successful Kickstarter campaign. It was picked up and published by Harper Voyager the next year and since then has been included in all sorts of “best of” lists and nominated for major awards. People I trust love this book and I can see why. I don’t love it, and I’ll explain why here, but I encourage you to try it out for yourself (if you haven’t already) and let me know what you think. There are lots of things to like about The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. It’s just not my thing. It had too little tension, action, and plot for me. It was just too sweet.

Running away from her secret past, Rosemary Harper takes a job as a clerk on the Wayfarer, a spaceship with a diverse crew. Ashby, ... Read More