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The Starless Sea: Visually spectacular

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

Given the success of her debut, it would be impossible to write about Erin Morgenstern's eagerly awaited follow-up without alluding to The Night Circus (2011). The bestseller accrued a mass following of 'Rêveurs' – the self-styled fanbase, named after the followers of the circus in the book. It inspired a formidable amount of tattoos and artwork on Pinterest, as well as being translated into thirty-seven languages, no less. It was always going to be a hard act to follow, but can Morgenstern live up to her own success?

The Starless Sea (2019) follows the tale of Zachary Ezra Rawlins, the son of a fortune teller enrolled at a graduate school in Vermont. Upon f... Read More

Waste Tide: Painfully thought-provoking but lacking in story

Waste Tide by Chen Quifan

Waste Tide (2019) by Chen Quifan (tr. Ken Liu) is a book that I wanted to like thanks to its compassionate exploration of its topical subject. And it’s certainly not a bad book by any stretch. But it also wasn’t a compelling book, and I found myself putting it down way more than is usual for me and being at least a little resistant to picking it up again each time.

The novel is set on the modern hell (a comparison made explicit — perhaps too much so — by a Dante reference) that is Silicon Isle, a giant electronics waste garbage dump/recycle and reclamation center, where the poor resident sorters are horribly, brutally exploited by a hierarchy of perpetrators: hyper-local gangs, a trio of powerful clans who divvy up the spoils and profits from the reclamation, and the developed nations and transnational corporati... Read More

Broken Homes: Changes the direction of the story

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch

Peter Grant, mediocre policeman and inferior wizard, is back. Broken Homes (2013) is the fourth instalment of Ben Aaronvitch’s PETER GRANT series, and the detective returns with his love of acronyms and Red Stripe. Once more under the supervision of DCI Thomas Nightingale, Peter, Lesley and (the newly initiated) thirteen-year-old Abigail, must police the supernatural elements of London’s crime scene.

The story opens with a series of seemingly unconnected crimes: a car accident, a body half-buried in some scrubland, a suicide and the theft of a magic book from a home of a famous architect. And the missing link? The Faceless Man, of course, the other recurring character and supe... Read More

Laughter at the Academy: A must for ardent fans

Laugher at the Academy by Seanan McGuire

Laughter at the Academy
(2019) is Seanan McGuire’s first short story collection as Seanan McGuire (apparently there is a Mira Grant collection). McGuire is amazingly prolific, and this expensive Subterranean Press anthology showcases that. In her foreword, McGuire tells us that she chose these specific stories because she loves them the most. The contents were published between 2009 - 2017. They all take place outside her “pre-existing universes,” as she calls them, but there are resonances with October Daye, the Wayward Children, and others. The collection lets us see the issues that preoccupy McGuire in her writing.

Many (most) of these tales ended up in antho... Read More

Supernova Era: A disturbing vision of a world of children

Supernova Era by Cixin Liu

Chinese science fiction author Cixin Liu has had a successful career in China for many years, winning China’s prestigious Galaxy Award nine times. But it wasn’t until 2014, when his 2007 novel The Three-Body Problem was first published in English, that he became well-known outside of Asia. Since then, some of his earlier novels, like Ball Lightning (originally published in China in 2004), have been translated and published in English. Supernova Era (2019, originally published in 2003 in Chinese, but written even earlier, in 1989) is one of Liu’s earlies... Read More

Fate of the Fallen: Has its issues but solidly enjoyable

Fate of the Fallen by Kel Kade

Fate of the Fallen is the first book in Kel Kade’s SHROUD OF PROPHECY series and makes for an enjoyable if meandering invitation despite some issues. It’s going to be pretty impossible to discuss what Kade does here without an early spoiler, though since the event happens only 40 pages into the nearly 400-page book, I don’t think it’s a huge deal. That said, you’ve been warned.

The novel opens by introducing two close friends: charming, roguish, master swordsman/fighter Matthias and his “brother” Aaslo, a shy unassuming semi-reclusive “Forester.” In short order the two learn that Matthias is the “Lightbane” — the prophesied chosen one who is literally the only thing stopping all life in this world from being wiped out —and that “Grams” is actually the High Sorceress who has been guarding Matthias as well as surreptitiously train... Read More

The Name of All Things: Shows nice improvement from book one

The Name of All Things by Jenn Lyons

The Name of All Things (2019) follows up Jenn Lyons’ debut novel The Ruin of Kings, though “follows” is a bit of a misnomer since the vast majority of the book actually takes place concurrent with its predecessor’s action. I had some issues with book one, mostly with the structure, and while some of that carries over, albeit in different fashion, I found The Name of All Things to be an improvement overall.

The story opens shortly after the ending of The Ruin of Kings, with that novel’s main character Kihrin meeting Count Janel Teranon and her companion Brother Qown, who seek his help to kill a dragon. As Janel and Qown wait for a third compatriot,... Read More

The Water Dancer: Sharply moving but also oddly distant

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates is, of course, supremely well-known, and justifiably so, for his non-fiction, whether that be his essays/columns, or his long-form works such as We Were Eight Years in Power or Between the World and Me. Now he’s out with his first fiction work, The Water Dancer (2019), a blend of realism and the supernatural set in the antebellum period. While Coates’ already-documented strengths as a writer are evident, particularly on a sentence level, the book does suffer from typical debut novel issues, though it still carries an emotional power in many places.

The novel opens in pre-Civil War Virginia, specifically on the dying Walker plantation of Lockless whose master has two sons. One is his white son by marriage, Maynard: a feckless, vulgar, ignorant young man whose many flaws are in star... Read More

Naondel: Pushes the boundaries of YA

Naondel by Maria Turtschaninoff

Naondel (2016) is the second book in Maria Turtschaninoff’s RED ABBEY CHRONICLES series, but it’s not a sequel; it’s a prequel. Set many years before the events of Maresi, Naondel tells the story of the women who, fleeing their own oppression, founded the Red Abbey as a sanctuary for themselves and others. It is set in what seems to be an amalgam of several Asian cultures, and we see glimpses of other parts of Turtschaninoff’s world as well.

If I didn’t know anything about Naondel before I started it — if I didn’t know it was the follow-up to a young adult novel that won a prize for youth literature — I w... Read More

The Red Magician: A moving story about the Holocaust

The Red Magician by Lisa Goldstein

Winner of the National Book Award, Lisa Goldstein’s The Red Magician (1982) is such an unusual fantasy novel. I read it because Tantor Audio has just released the first audio edition of the book.

As the story begins, a young girl named Kisci is growing up in a small, isolated Jewish community in Eastern Europe. Her family’s rabbi is visiting Kisci’s home and expressing his displeasure at the way Kisci’s school is teaching Hebrew as if it were a common language. When Kisci’s father refuses to obey the rabbi’s command to remove his children from the school, the rabbi, who has some magical abilities, sets a curse on the school and its students’ families.

Soon after, a visitor named Voros appears in the village and Kisci’s family extends their hospital... Read More

The Wild, Wild Planet: Colorato e fantasioso

The Wild, Wild Planet directed by Antonio Margheriti

The mid-1960s was a very interesting time for Italian sci-fi on the big screen. In September '65, future giallo legend Mario Bava gave the world the artfully done Planet of the Vampires, a film whose set design, it has been suggested, very possibly influenced the look of the movie Alien over a decade later. In December '65, director Elio Petri delivered the film that is, for this viewer, the best of the Italian sci-fi bunch to this date, The 10th Victim, based on the short story "Seventh Victim" by Robert Sheckley. Starring Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress, the film remains a knockout more than half a century later. Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, director Antonio Margheriti, once again working under his alias of Anthony Dawson, was working on a string of relatively low-budget fi... Read More

Wayward: We are all just prisoners here

Wayward by Blake Crouch

Wayward (2013), the second book in Blake Crouch’s WAYWARD PINES trilogy, picks up right where book 1, Pines, left off. I'll avoid THE major spoiler for Pines, but minor ones are inevitable, and if there was ever a series where you absolutely need to read the books in order, this one is it. Ethan Burke is the newly-minted sheriff of the small town of Wayward Pines, Idaho (population 461), the prior sheriff having come to an eyebrow-raising end (after reading a few of the flashback scenes in Wayward, one becomes more sympathetic to the urge to dispose of former sheriff, Pope).

Having survived a life-and-death battle with The Powers That Be that control all aspect... Read More

The Queen’s Gambit: Short, fast, fun, and sexy

The Queen's Gambit by Jessie Mihalik

I’m surprised by how much I enjoyed The Queen's Gambit (2017), the first novella in Jessie Mihalik’s ROGUE QUEEN series. It’s about Samara, the queen of a nation that stayed independent in a war between two powerful galactic empires. But, without allies to trade with, the people of Queen Samara’s Rogue Coalition are practically starving.

To earn some money for her country, Samara decides to attempt to rescue emperor Valentin Kos from the Quint mercenaries who are holding him captive, and then to collect a reward from the Kos Empire for his safe return. Things are going as planned until Samara is sold out by her partner. Now she’s in just as much trouble as the emperor is…


The Queen's Gambit
is short,... Read More

Emergency Skin: A fun story with a serious message

Emergency Skin by N.K. Jemisin

A single spaceman arrives on Earth (which he calls "Tellus," a Latin word similar to Terra) on an important mission from a far-off planet that was colonized by a group of rich white men who left Earth centuries ago. The spaceman, as well as the collective AI that was implanted in his brain and constantly speaks to him in his mind, expected to find a world completely barren of life, decimated by climate change and toxic pollution. What they actually find is far different, and both the man and his chatty AI have huge problems adjusting to this new reality.

But can the man still fulfill his mission? If he succeeds, he’s been promised a beautiful pale (read: Aryan) skin when he returns home. On his planet, everyone except those in the highest class of society wears a featureless, high-tech artificial skin called a composite. But this man’s composite has the ability, in an emergency, to turn into huma... Read More

The Hills Have Spies: A good introduction to Lackey’s VALDEMAR universe

The Hills Have Spies by Mercedes Lackey

If, like I was, you’re utterly unfamiliar with Mercedes Lackey’s hugely popular and wide-ranging VALDEMAR series and the various interconnected novels set within that kingdom, The Hills Have Spies (2018) is a good entry point. The narrative flow is familiar in a retro, 1980s kind of way, evoking the fantasy genre I immersed myself in during my adolescence, with an appealing and likeable main character, various clever animal companions, a dastardly villain who spends most of the novel off-page, and just enough tension to keep me turning the pages to the comfortable, heartwarming conclusion.

Peregrine is the oldest of three children born to Mags (Herald Spy of Valdemar) and Amily (the King’s Own Herald), and Perry and his siblings have spent their chil... Read More

Frostfire: A good MG adventure with lots of derring-do

Frostfire by Jamie Smith

Frostfire (2019), by Jamie Smith, is a middle-grade fantasy set in the mountainous land of Adranna. Adranna lies in the shadow of the great peak of Aderast, and all of its magic comes from the shimmering glacier that flows from it. A handful of young people are chosen each year to climb to the glacier and claim a small piece of it, a frostsliver, which gives them special abilities and marks them as people of importance in Adranna’s society.

Sabira is a fourteen-year-old girl who has been chosen to receive a frostsliver. The novel opens as she is making her climb. The narrative then flashes back to the previous year, when Sabira’s brother Kyran was chosen. Tensions have been growing with the neighboring nation of Ignata, and after an Ignatian raiding party attacked Sabira’s family, everything started going wrong for Kyran. Now he is missing, and Sabira is det... Read More

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club: Twelve dancing princesses meet the Roaring Twenties

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine

As far as fairy tale retellings go, mingling the tale of The Twelve Dancing Princesses with the 1920's New York speakeasies makes a lovely kind of sense. The prohibition, the dance halls, the high society – it all fits perfectly with the story of twelve princesses who sneak out of their rooms every night, much to the bewilderment of their father when he sees their worn-out shoes every morning.

Genevieve Valentine transports the familiar beats of the story to a Fifth Avenue townhouse in the Roaring Twenties, in which the daughters of wealthy magnate Joseph Hamilton are kept in captivity, seen by no one but themselves. He was eager for a son of course, but his wife died after twelve girls (including two sets of twins).

This leaves Josephine, the firstborn... Read More

Priest of Lies: Is Tomas going down the wrong path?

Priest of Lies by Peter McLean

Priest of Lies (2019) is the second book in Peter McLean’s WAR FOR THE ROSE THRONE. You’ll need to read the first book, Priest of Bones, first. This review will have some spoilers for that first novel.

It’s been six months since the events that happened at the end of Priest of Bones. Tomas is now married to Elsa, the Queen’s Man who has been (unbeknownst to the rest of the Pious Men) directing his behavior in service of the crown. The marriage is a sham and Tomas has soured on Elsa after the explosion that she orchestrated killed hundreds of people in his city. He isn’t sure (and neither am I) that it was necessary or wise. He also does... Read More

The Nightjar: Promises more and better to come

The Nightjar by Deborah Hewitt

Deborah Hewitt’s The Nightjar (2019) is one of those debut novels that in many ways feels like a first novel, with all the issues that may conjure up, but that despite those issues leaves you eager to see where the author goes with her next novel.

Hewitt starts off with a gripping, chilling prologue, then shifts to present-time London where Alice Wyndham receives an odd gift that precipitates her being flung into a long-running conflict between a species of people with special abilities, most of whom live in an alternate near-copy 1930’s-style London (called The Rookery), and a secret society (unfortunately known as the Beaks) who seeks to destroy them. There’s also a death-cult trying to instigate a world-ending apocalypse thrown into the mix for good measure. Alice herself, she learns, is one of those who can perform “magic.” More precisely, she ... Read More

The Woman Who Rides Like a Man: Jennifer Lawrence of Arabia

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

The Woman Who Rides Like a Man by Tamora Pierce

The Woman Who Rides Like a Man is the third volume of the SONG OF THE LIONESS quartet and the weakest volume of the series. Tamora Pierce makes a good effort of exposing Alanna (and thus, the reader) to some of the varying peoples and customs within the Tortallan kingdom and its neighboring countries, but relies too much on the White Savior trope, and the entire book suffers as a result. As I’ve said before, readers should start with the first book, Alanna: The First Adventure and work forward, though Pierce does a great job of summarizing key events from previous books.

The entire SONG ... Read More

Priest of Bones: A brutal beginning

Priest of Bones by Peter McLean

Tomas Piety, a foul-mouthed army priest who recently promoted himself to captain after the death of the former captain, is on his way home with his second-in-command, Lieutenant Bloody Anne, and some of their soldiers. The war is over and Tomas is looking forward to returning to Ellinburg, his hometown, where he owns several small businesses such as taverns and brothels.

Actually, to call Tomas a businessman is slightly generous. In fact, he’s a mob boss and much of his wealth comes from selling protection to those who are weaker. He can be savage when necessary but, generally, he’s a nice guy who cares for the people he feels responsible for, including the citizens of his town. The men who work for him in Ellinburg are known as the Pious Men and Tomas has invited his remaining veterans to join them. (I’m not sure why they didn’t go back to their own hometowns.)

When Tomas and... Read More

Dark Age: This series is starting to feel its length

Dark Age by Pierce Brown

Dark Age (2019) is Pierce Brown’s fifth installment in his Homeric-styled RED RISING space opera, and it comes pre-loaded with many of the set scenes fans have come to expect: major space battles, desperate fights against overwhelming odds, brutal deaths and torture scenes, labyrinthian scheming, verbal volleys nearly as nasty as the physical ones (though with less decapitation), great names, the slaughter of millions, painful introspection. It’s all here and all handled with the same effectively, skillfully bombastic style as the prior four novels in the series.

Which is both the strength and weakness of this latest episode. On the one hand, all of those story elements, combined with Brown’s stylistic gifts, are what have made this series so compulsively readable. On the other hand, for the v... Read More

Crown of Dreams: Things get tough for Rhianna and her friends

Crown of Dreams by Katherine Roberts

Crown of Dreams (2013) is the third book in Katherine Roberts's four-part PENDRAGON LEGACY series, which details the quest undertaken by Princess Rhianna — daughter of Arthur Pendragon and his queen Guinevere — to find the Four Lights that might save the city of Camelot and restore her father back to life.

Already she has two of the four Lights in her possession: the Sword of Light and the Lance of Truth, the latter of which is now carried by her champion Sir Cai. Other allies include her fairy friend Elphin from the Isle of Avalon, her maid Arianrhod, who was once a servant to the witch Morgan le Fey, and the wizard Merlin, currently trapped in the body of a small hunting hawk. Then there are the Knights of the Round Table, including Sirs Bors, Bedieve... Read More

Lance of Truth: Rhianna’s adventure continues

Lance of Truth by Katherine Roberts

Lance of Truth (2012) is the second book in Katherine Roberts's four-part story about the daughter of King Arthur Pendragon, and her quest to find the Four Lights (Sword of Light, Lance of Truth, Crown of Dreams and Holy Grail) that might restore her father to life and bring peace to Britain.

Princess Rhianna has lived her whole life on the enchanted isle of Avalon, but after learning of her parentage upon the death of King Arthur, she journeys to the mainland with her friend Elphin in order to claim the throne of Camelot. Having already found Excalibur, the Sword of Light, she now plans to retrieve the Lance of Truth, currently in possession of the disgraced Sir Lancelot.

But Lancelot is himself missing, on a search for Queen Guinevere in the northern lands. ... Read More

Sword of Light: A new spin on Arthurian legend

Sword of Light by Katherine Roberts

Rhianna has lived her entire life on the idyllic island of Avalon, never knowing her parents or seeing anything of the world beyond the isle. But the truth comes out in Britain's darkest hour, when the wizard Merlin arrives on Avalon's shore with the body of King Arthur Pendragon, slain in battle by his nephew Mordred and missing his sword Excalibur.

Rhianna learns she is the secret daughter of Arthur and Guinevere, hidden from the world at birth and now rightful heir to Camelot's throne. It's a lot for a young girl to absorb, but when she realizes that hope for the future lies with her finding the Four Lights (the sword of light, the lance of truth, the crown of dreams and the holy grail) that could reunite the kingdom and restore her father to life, she can't wait to leave home and fulfil her rightful destiny.

Naturally it's easier said than done. She's lived a sheltered life, a... Read More