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The Brink: Superficial and implausible SF horror

The Brink by James S. Murray & Darren Wearmouth

Human monsters take precedence over the creature type of monsters in The Brink (2019), the sequel to last year’s SF horror novel Awakened. (Some spoilers for the first book are in this review, but are also in the publisher’s blurb for this book, so they’re nearly impossible to avoid.) Awakened was pulpy fun if you like SF horror and mysterious, murderous threats lurking beneath the surface of the earth. The Brink mostly gives us Albert Van Ness, a diabolical mastermind of dubious sanity who was apparently imported straight from an old James Bond movie. The creatures are still there, but in a diminished r... Read More

The Everlasting Rose: A disappointing sequel

The Everlasting Rose by Dhonielle Clayton

The Everlasting Rose (2019) is the sequel to Dhonielle Clayton’s The Belles, a novel that is a finalist for the Hugo and Locus Awards for Best Young Adult novel this year. I enjoyed The Belles despite some problems with characterization such as a boring romance and a totally over-the-top villain. If you haven’t yet read The Belles, but intend to, it’d be best to skip this review since I can’t help but spoil some of its plot here.

The Everlasting Rose picks up right where The Belles ends. Camellia, Amber, Edel and Remy have escaped the palace and are hiding in another ... Read More

Red Moon: Character and story fall victim to ideas

Red Moon by Kim Stanley Robinson

I’m a big fan of most of Kim Stanley Robinson’s output, especially his MARS trilogy, and so when I saw that he was out with a book entitled Red Moon (2018), with its echoes of said trilogy (Red, Green, and Blue Mars), that it had an AI character like Aurora, another favorite work of his, and that it came with a heavy dose of politics, which I’ve enjoyed in all his prior work, I was thinking all I was missing w... Read More

The War Within: Shows improvement, but it’s a pretty low bar

The War Within by Stephen R. Donaldson

I was sorely disappointed in Seventh Decimate, the first book in Stephen R. Donaldson's new series, THE GREAT GOD’S WAR. Luckily, the second book, The War Within (2019), shows improvement, but it’s a pretty low bar and so I can't say it’s enough to convince me the series is worth starting (at least at this point).

(Here is your warning that this review will contain spoilers for book one).

The War Within jumps a few decades into the future, with the countries now at a tenuous peace due to Prince Bifalt of Belleger having married Princess Estie of Amika, a turn of events that came about thanks to what Bifalt had learned at the... Read More

Sanctuary: A rather dull installment

Sanctuary by Mercedes Lackey

Sanctuary (2005) is the third book in Mercedes Lackey’s DRAGON JOUSTERS quartet. You need to read Joust and Alta first. There will be spoilers for those first two books in this review of the third.

Vetch has come a long way. When we first met him in Joust, he was the servant of a cruel master in his home country of Alta. One day he was picked up by a Tian Dragon Jouster named Ari and set to work as a dragon boy for his country’s enemy. Eventually he escaped with the dragon he secretly raised from an egg, flew back to his home country of Alta and, with the skills he ... Read More

The Municipalists: Has its moments

The Municipalists by Seth Fried

I loved the opening chapter of Seth Fried’s debut The Municipalists, writing “nice” several times in the margins just in the first few pages, as when the narrator, recalling his parents’ death when he was young, notes how the old grocery “seems to have forgotten him. The flat, glass storefront stares straight ahead without so much as a glimmer of recognition.” Unfortunately, that was the high point for me and the book, while it had its moments, eventually devolved into a bit of a slog.

In a world gone all in on urban living, Henry Thompson, an agent of the United States Municipal Survey organization and highly disliked by his peers, is forced to go into the field with a holographic AI partner to prevent a major terrorist attack in Metropolis, one seemingly being planned and carried out by a Municipal Survey chief gone rogue. Unfortunately, the AI (Owen) is more ... Read More

The Oathbound: Features a female sword-and-sorcery duo

The Oathbound by Mercedes Lackey

The Oathbound (1987) is the first book in Mercedes Lackey’s VOWS AND HONOR series, a trilogy in her larger VALDEMAR saga. You don’t need to be familiar with VALDEMAR before picking up The Oathbound.

The story focuses on two heroines who suffered traumatic events, re-made themselves, and are on separate quests for revenge. Tarma is a clanswoman from a nomadic tribe that got wiped out by raiders. She became an elite warrior and has sworn to avenge her people. Kethry fled an abusive marriage, went to magic school, and became an extremely powerful sorceress. She has a sword named Need (those familiar with other VALDEMAR novels may recognize it) that compels its master to go to the aid of... Read More

Fearless: Second verse, same as the first

Fearless by Sarah Tarkoff

Sarah Tarkoff follows up her debut YA novel Sinless with Fearless (2019), the second installment in the EYE OF THE BEHOLDER trilogy. I didn’t enjoy Sinless and this trilogy’s middle book didn’t get its hooks in me either, carrying over a lot of the issues I had with book one and creating some entirely new ones that don’t bode well for the trilogy as a whole.

Grace Luther remains preternaturally lucky, which is a good thing for this series, because otherwise her ineptitude and impetuousness would make for a very short book with a swift and unpleasant ending. She’s currently employed by the Prophet Joshua and his Guru, Samuel, as an undercover agent ... Read More

Kingdom of Exiles: Fae fantasy and sentimentality

Kingdom of Exiles by S.B. Nova

Here we have the tale of Serena Smith, blacksmith’s daughter exiled from her puritan-like settlement and then kidnapped by fairies and sold in the Kingdom of Aldar, which has much worse political problems than the oppressive community from which she’s taken. The difference is, she finds a way of making a difference — a thing she could not do in her human home.

I feel like this kind of fairy story is a bit at war with itself. Kingdom of Exiles (2017) bills as a feminist tale and means to make Serena fierce and self-actualizing, but there are at least as many times when the story can’t be served by this kind of persona and it falls into sharp conflict with its own ideals. Women ought to be playing heroic roles, but human power is never as good as fairy power in this story. When humans are amplified with magic, we’re again, not talking about feminine power. What is it... Read More

The Echo Room: Begins better than it ends (or middles)

The Echo Room by Parker Peevyhouse

In The Echo Room (2018), which is sort of a Groundhog Day meets The Maze Runner, Parker Peevyhouse takes on one of the most difficult narratives for an author — the time loop story. Unfortunately, while Peevyhouse has her moments, the time loop comes out victorious.

The story opens up intriguingly enough, when Rett Ward wakes up in a strange and seemingly abandoned building with no memory of how he got there, blood on his clothes, and a scar across his head. Equally disconcerting is that someone else, a girl named Brynn, is trapped in there with him, also with no memories and also with a scar. The two explore the place warily, neither sure if they can trust the other (Brynn, seeing the blood on Rett’s clothes, has good reason to be suspicious), ... Read More

Deathstalker: Rebellion: More of the same

Deathstalker: Rebellion by Simon R. Green

This review may contain spoilers for the first DEATHSTALKER book, Deathstalker.

Owen Deathstalker, Hazel d’Ark, Ruby Journey, Jack Random, and assorted others are still plotting rebellion against The Iron Bitch who rules the galactic empire. Everyone in this motley group has a different idea about how a galactic government should work, but they all agree that their empress must go, so they begin by hacking into the empire’s bank account and using the funds to instigate rebellions on a few different planets.

Nobody likes the empress, but she still has loyal supporters who protect her. These people are either too scared to cross her, or they are benefiting financially from their relationship with her. Also, there’s been a recent and credible threat of an alien ... Read More

The Valley of Shadows: Doesn’t hold up to the rest of the series

The Valley of Shadows by John Ringo & Mike Massa

My experience with authors who write in another author’s world has been mixed. On the good side you have the work that Janny Wurts did with Raymond Feist in the EMPIRE CYCLE. On the less impressive side you have The Valley of Shadows (2018). This is the fifth installment in the BLACK TIDE RISING series and takes a tangential track describing what happens with Tom Smith, the corporate security guru, Australian Special Forces stud and brother to Steve Smith, the main protagonist in the entire series.

I think that Mike Massa must have done a lot of the writing because there is a different feeling to the prose that long-time fans of Read More

A Nameless Witch: Trips along merrily without any pretensions

A Nameless Witch by A. Lee Martinez

This silly little tale is about a beautiful witch who doesn’t have a name. When she was young she was taken in by an old ugly witch who educated her in magic spells and other witchiness. Part of her education involved learning how to make herself appear ugly with sloppy clothes, hair coverings, and warts, because nobody trusts a beautiful witch.

After the death of her mentor, the young nameless witch was on her own, though she acquired a few companions: an enchanted broom, a troll, and a demonic duck. After they settled into a friendly village, a brave knight came along and warned them that a goblin horde was approaching. The witch, her companions, and the knight teamed up to defeat the goblins and an evil magician who had plans to remake the world. During the process, the witch realizes she’s got the hots for the knight, but she worries she may eat him alive since she is starting to have so... Read More

Proposal: A MEDIATOR novella that can be skipped

Proposal by Meg Cabot

Fans of Meg Cabot’s MEDIATOR series thought it was over back in 2005 with Twilight, but in 2016, Cabot published this novella as book “6.5” before publishing another full novel (Remembrance) that year. This review will have some spoilers for the series, so please don’t read further if you intend to read MEDIATOR.

Suze is now in college and Jesse is in med school. Theirs is a long-distance relationship, so Suze is not expecting to see Jesse on Valentine’s Day. Instead, she’s dealing with some young ghosts who want revenge on their killer. So, when Jesse shows up to surprise her, she’s kind of busy.

The earlier stories in this series are better ... Read More

Twilight: This is not the Suze we know and love

Twilight by Meg Cabot

Twilight (2006) is the sixth novel in Meg Cabot’s MEDIATOR series. The first five books are Shadowland, Ninth Key, Reunion, Darkest Hour, and Haunted. I’ll assume you’ve read them (though, as I explain below, I think you could have skipped Haunted).

Twilight continues... Read More

Haunted: More teenage drama than plot

Haunted by Meg Cabot

Haunted (2003) is the fifth novel in Meg Cabot’s MEDIATOR series. You’ll want to read the previous books first: Shadowland, Ninth Key, Reunion, and Darkest Hour.

In my review of Darkest Hour I said that the series was getting more complex after we meet a guy named Paul (super rich and super hot, of course) who is al... Read More

Under the Pendulum Sun: I’m looking forward to Ng’s NEXT book

Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng

Laon Helstone is a British missionary to Arcadia, the recently discovered land of the fae. Laon hasn’t been heard from for a while, so his sister Catherine sets out to find him, travelling alone (but with the approval of the Catholic church) to Arcadia. When she arrives at the house where Laon has been living, she finds out that he hasn't been seen there in quite a while, but is expected home soon.

As Catherine waits, she befriends a couple of the house’s residents and learns that the fae aren’t too interested in hearing the Gospel. Most don’t see themselves as needing salvation. Catherine also spends time studying the journals of the first (mysteriously deceased) missionary to Arcadia. They may contain important secrets about the nature of the universe and God’s relationship to the fae.

There’s a lot to like in Jeanette Ng’s debut novel, ... Read More

The Snail on the Slope: “Entirely inaccessible to the general reader”

The Snail on the Slope by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky

Chicago Review Press and Blackstone Audio have been translating and reprinting some of the Strugatsky brothers’ works and they’ve sent me review copies. I read Monday Starts on Saturday several months ago but never managed to write a review, which I feel terrible about because I really liked that book. I will try to review it soon.

Being familiar with their style -- which is bizarre, ironic, visually arresting, and funny -- I figured I’d like The Snail on the Slope (1968), too. Not so, but it was a close thing. I loved each individual sentence that the Strugatskys composed, and even some complete scenes, but when everything was put together, I could make no sense of it. The Snail on the Slope is the most incom... Read More

Long Hot Summoning: Diana tackles an evil shopping mall

Long Hot Summoning by Tanya Huff

Long Hot Summoning (2003) is the third and final book in Tanya Huff’s KEEPER’S CHRONICLES. It’s advisable to read the first two books, Summon the Keeper and The Second Summoning first.

Claire’s sister Diana has just graduated from high school and is off on her first summoning. It leads her to the local indoor shopping mall, where she discovers that evil forces are quietly infiltrating the mall, where they hope to gradually create a segue into our world. Diana is the strongest keeper alive, but even she is not confident enough to take on the mall problem by hers... Read More

The Parafaith War: Interesting premise, too many problems

The Parafaith War by L.E. Modesitt Jr

In our far future, a young man named Trystin Desoll is a soldier in the long war that his high-tech civilization has been fighting with the Revs, a society of religious zealots. The Revs, who are outgrowing their own planet, believe that the Eco-Techs are sinful because they use brain implants and other technology to improve their bodies. Therefore, the Revs think it’s permissible for them to wipe out Trystin’s civilization, and they’ve been trying to do this for decades.

Trystin is rising rapidly in the Eco-Tech military. He’s smart and courageous, but he also feels like he has an extra burden to prove himself because, being blonde and blue-eyed, he looks a lot more like the Revs than the dark-haired, dark-eyed people of his own society.

All this — his intelligence, bravery, and coloring — make Trystin the perfect spy. When his nation realizes there’s no way they ... Read More

Sidney’s Comet: A too-ambitious debut

Sidney's Comet by Brian Herbert

A lot of Brian Herbert's bibliography consists of collaborations with other authors. There is Man of Two Worlds, written in collaboration with his father Frank Herbert, the Dune sequels, written with Kevin J. Anderson, and a couple of books written with Marie Landis. I haven't read Man of Two Worlds yet, although I do own a copy signed by Brian Herbert. I have read a stack of the Dune sequels, which range from entertaining to horrible, and I can't say I liked Hellhole, set in a universe created by ... Read More

The Second Summoning: Some great characters, but a little too silly

The Second Summoning by Tanya Huff

Note: This review will contain mild spoilers for the previous book, Summon the Keeper.

I was entertained by Tanya Huff’s first KEEPER’S CHRONICLES novels, Summon the Keeper, about a woman named Claire whose job, as a Keeper, is to travel around closing evil holes in the fabric of the universe when they pop up around Canada and the US. In Summon the Keeper, Claire and her talking cat (Austin) were “summoned” to a bed & breakfast which was endangered by a portal to Hell that had opened in the furnace room. I liked the B&B setting, the cat (I’ve never met... Read More

The Freeze-Frame Revolution: Doesn’t feel complete

The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts

Having never read one of Peter Watts’ novels before, I thought a short novel like The Freeze-Frame Revolution (2018) would be a good place for me to start. After all, I like science fiction, generation-style ships, rogue AIs, and solid narratives about mutinous crews. Watts delivers on those elements and many more, but the story never really coalesced for me, and I had trouble connecting with the narrator.

Over the last sixty million years, Sunday Ahzmundin and the rest of the Eriophora’s crew have been traveling the galaxy, harvesting usable materials from asteroids and whatnot and turning those materials into wormhole gates. The ship’s AI, known as Chimp, wakes... Read More

The Anubis Gates: A very generous book

The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers

Tim Powers' fourth novel, 1983's The Anubis Gates, is a book that I had been meaning to read for years. Chosen for inclusion in both David Pringle's Modern Fantasy: The Hundred Best Novels and Jones & Newman's Horror: 100 Best Books, as well as the recipient of the Philip K. Dick Memorial Award in 1984, the book came with plenty of good word of mouth, to say the least. And, as it turns out, all the ballyhoo back when was fully justified, as this really IS ... Read More

The Eterna Files: Couldn’t entice me to move on to book two

The Eterna Files by Leanna Renee Hieber

Just after President Lincoln’s assassination, his wife Mary sets a governmental task force to find a cure for death, thus setting in motion the plot of The Eterna Files (2015) by Leanna Renee Hieber. Seventeen years later, the science team working on the Eterna Compound is mysteriously murdered, as is a parallel team in England, where Queen Victoria wants Britain, not America, to be the first to discover an answer to mortality. Both countries seek to find out what happened to their teams, as well as learn what the other nation has or has not discovered. In America, sensitive Clara Templeton is the main protagonist, helped by a small group of fellow paranormals, including her mentor, a powerful senator who has raised her since when her parents were killed. On the other side of the po... Read More