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Dreadful Sanctuary: The Norman conquest

Dreadful Sanctuary by Eric Frank Russell

As I have mentioned elsewhere, there are several writers who never seem to let me down, and in that elite group, English author Eric Frank Russell must surely be included. The Best of Eric Frank Russell (1978) was my initial exposure to this Golden Age great (reputedly, legendary editor John W. Campbell’s favorite contributor), and it was, for me, among the best of the 21 Best of… titles in the justly celebrated Ballantine series. I had also loved Men, Martians and Machines (1955), which can almost be seen as a warm-up for Star Trek; Read More

The Quantum Magician: A fun, light heist novel

The Quantum Magician by Derek Künsken

Derek Künsken’s The Quantum Magician (2018) is kind of like one of those summer movies where if where you don’t think too much about what is happening, and aren’t looking for deep, moving character studies, you’re more than perfectly happy to glide along the surface and enjoy the ride as things go boom. And though, like a number of those same movies, The Quantum Magician goes on a bit too long, for the most part I happily skated through. And yes, things did go boom.

We’re set centuries in the future when humanity has colonized the stars thanks to a set of stable wormholes left behind by a long-dead civilization. These gates are fiercely, jealously controlled by a small number of powerful, dominating groups such as the Congregate and the Anglo-Spanish banks. What kickstarts the action is when one “client” culture, the Sub-Sahar... Read More

One Word Kill: A tale of teens, time travel, D&D, and cancer

One Word Kill by Mark Lawrence

One Word Kill (2019) is a tale of 1980s British teenagers, time travel (bonus: with branching universes), Dungeons & Dragons, and cancer. As the first book in Mark Lawrence’s IMPOSSIBLE TIMES trilogy, it sets things up nicely, and we’re all three looking forward to the next two novellas.

We know that the first-person narrator of the story has cancer ― leukaemia, to be precise ― from the very first paragraph of the story. Fifteen-year-old Nick is something of a genius, though his smarts don’t show much yet except in his choice of reading material during chemotherapy sessions. He has a group of close friends with whom he plays Dungeons & Dragons every Saturday, which group has recently been augmented by the addition of ― gasps of a... Read More

Creatures of Want and Ruin: Original and entertaining

Creatures of Want and Ruin by Molly Tanzer

At first glance, based on the title and cover art, Molly Tanzer’s Creatures of Want and Ruin (2018) looks and sounds like it’s a sequel to her earlier novel Creatures of Will and Temper, but it’s not. The stories have different characters and settings, so I’m going to treat Creatures of Want and Ruin as a stand-alone novel.

During prohibition, Ellie West is a bootlegger in Amityville, a village on New York’s Long Island. Due to her father’s declining health and inability to work at his trade as a fisherman, her family struggles to make ends meet but is unwilling to accept charity. Ellie’s brother Lester, a smart young man wh... Read More

Clockwork Boys: A company of strangers begins a suicide mission

Clockwork Boys by T. Kingfisher

The plot of T. Kingfisher’s Clockwork Boys (2017) is of the “misfit company of strangers on a dangerous mission” type. Their country has been invaded by the so-called Clockwork Boys, nearly unstoppable, 10-foot-tall centaur-like creatures who are laying waste to the countryside. (I like the allusion to the out-of-control gang of boys in A Clockwork Orange.) The Dowager Queen has previously sent soldiers and spies to distant Anuket City, from which the Clockwork Boys regularly emerge, to investigate and try to stop these artificially created creatures, but these prior groups have all disappeared without a trace. So the Dowager has now landed on the idea of sending a group of criminals, perhaps ... Read More

Deep Roots: A successful sequel

Deep Roots by Ruthanna Emrys

Deep Roots (2018), a finalist for the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel, is the sequel to Ruthanna EmrysWinter Tide. This Lovecraft-inspired story is about a race of Americans living in the 1940s who worship, and are related to, the eldritch gods. They are long-lived and, when they eventually mature, they may grow gills and return to the sea.

Most of the People of the Water were exterminated or dispersed when the American government, spooked by their foreignness, rounded them up and put them in detention camps. As far as Aphra and her brother Caleb know, they are the only ones who survived.

Now, with the help of the FBI, Aphra and Caleb are trying to track down any lost re... Read More

Ahab’s Return: A well-crafted novel that didn’t quite compel

Ahab's Return: or, The Last Voyage by Jeffrey Ford

Ahab's Return: or, The Last Voyage (2018), by Jeffrey Ford, is a Locus finalist for fantasy novels, so one should keep that in mind while taking in this review, as I take a somewhat (though only somewhat) lesser view of the novel. Which happens to me surprisingly often with awards outside the Booker; probably something else to keep in mind.

The titular character is indeed that Captain Ahab of Moby Dick fame, but what one should know off the bat is that one needn’t have read that classic American work to follow/enjoy Ahab’s Return. A good thing since not many have read it (including a number of those who say they have — you know who you are). Ford’s opening conceit is that Ahab actually survived his final ... Read More

The Cruel Prince: Starts a new YA series by Holly Black

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

When they were young, Jude and her twin sister witnessed the murder of their parents by their older stepsister’s father, Madoc. Feeling some responsibility for the girls, Madoc took all of them to live with him in the High Court of Faerie. Bullied by the fae nobles, and made to feel like a worthless mortal, Jude learned that’d she’d have to fight to survive. Now she’s scrappy, ambitious, clever, and an opportunist. But she still has a soft side.

It took me a while to warm up to The Cruel Prince (2018), the first novel in Holly Black’s THE FOLK OF THE AIR series for young adults. There are two reasons for that. The first is that Jude is pretty one-dimensional for a significant part of the novel. She is angry. Very angry. Angry about her parents’ murders, an... Read More

Half-Witch: Wonderfully creative though marred by plotting

Half-Witch by John Schoffstall

Appropriately enough, I’m of mixed mind about John Schoffstall’s Half-Witch (2018), which is itself about a young girl who is part one thing, part another, moving through a world that is also a kind of collage, a strange admixture of building blocks.

For most of her 14 years, Lizbet Lenz has been forced to flee one home after another as her lovable con-artist father finds yet another way to turn the residents against them. But when he accidentally causes a rain of mice, he is imprisoned by the powerful Margrave before they have a chance to flee, leading Lizbet to undertake a seemingly impossible quest to travel with a young witch over the never-crossed Montagnes du Monde in search of a magical talisman desperately sought by the Margrave.

The world Schoffstall creates is wonderfully creative and whimsically eclectic, set in a Holy Roman Emp... Read More

The Gone Away Place: A book that will linger in readers’ minds

The Gone Away Place by Christopher Barzak

Because of a stupid fight with her high school boyfriend, Ellie Frame cut school one day to took sorrowful refuge in a nearby faux lighthouse, where she falls asleep. What wakes her is a series of devastating tornadoes that rip through her small rural Ohio town of Newfoundland, killing nearly a hundred people, including Ellie’s boyfriend Noah and several of her best friends. Not all the dead are gone, however; some remain behind, visible to many of the town’s residents and especially their loved ones as they hover “in the grey place” between life and death. As Ellie tries to come to grips with the deaths of her friends and her own survivor’s guilt, she learns that not all the ghosts are benevolent, and finds out, as well, that she possesses the curious ability to free them from the grey place and send them onward by filming their most meaningful stories. Those stories make up a large chunk of Read More

Exile’s Honor: One of the best VALDEMAR novels

Exile’s Honor by Mercedes Lackey

Alberich had been an honorable, loyal, and effective officer in Karse’s army for many years until the day the Karsite sunpriests discovered that part of his success was due to the flashes of foresight he sometimes gets. When they attempted to burn him alive as a witch, Alberich was saved by a white horse that turned out to be one of the blue-eyed mind-speaking Companions of Valdemar, an enemy of Karse. Now Alberich is in Valdemar being trained as a Herald and, since he’s such a good fighter, he’s being groomed to be the Heralds’ next weapons master.

Alberich has a lot of adjusting to do because everything about Valdemar is different from Karse. It’s more comfortable, more tolerant, the government works better, and there is far more freedom and justice, even for Alberich, an immigrant who doesn’t speak the language well.

As Alberich continues to consider his new life and... Read More

Cross Fire: A good read for the young adults who will someday be our leaders

Cross Fire by Fonda Lee

Cross Fire (2018), which is a finalist for the Locus Award for Best Young Adult Novel this year, is the second book in Fonda Lee’s EXO series. You need to read the first book, Exo, before picking up Cross Fire. Please note that this review of Cross Fire may spoil some of the plot for Exo.

When we left Donovan Reyes in Exo, he had been devastated by some severe losses but his loyalty to SecPac was recovering, thanks to personal pain inflicted by the terrorists/freedom fighters and thanks to the kind attention of his SecPac friends, especially his best friend, Jet.

The terrori... Read More

Exo: An exciting YA SF thriller

Exo by Fonda Lee

A hundred years ago aliens defeated and colonized Earth. For the most part, humans now live in peace with the aliens. A minority of humans have been chosen to go through the aliens’ hardening process when they are young. This gives them a type of exoskeleton that makes them very hard to kill. These Exos constitute a military upper class and they look down on “squishies” — those humans who can’t be, or refuse to be, hardened.

Donovan Reyes, the son of the Prime Liaison to the aliens, is an Exo. One of his jobs is to patrol his city, flushing out and arresting any dissidents who remain. When a raid goes wrong and Donovan is captured by a rebel group, his father refuses to negotiate with the terrorists. Donovan’s whole life is turned upside down and his loyalties are challenged.

Exo (2017), the first book in Read More

The Belles: Exciting despite characterization problems

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

The history books say that the God of the Sky married the Goddess of Beauty and their children populated Orléans. But when Beauty started spending all her time with their children instead of her husband, Sky cursed the people of Orléans, giving them “skin the color of a sunless sky, eyes the shade of blood, hair the texture of rotten straw, and a deep sadness that quickly turned to madness.” So, Beauty created the Belles, special girls who have magic that can bring beauty and joy back to the people of Orléans.

Camellia and her five sisters are Belles. They’ve been training and practicing all their lives and now, on their sixteenth birthday, they are on their way to Orléans to be honored and assigned their Belle duties. Camellia knows that she is the most creative and gifted of her sisters and she expects to be named as the queen’s Favorite, which means that she’ll get to live in the pa... Read More

Soulbinder: This time, Kellen must go it alone

Soulbinder by Sebastien de Castell

In the first three books of Sebastien deCastell’s SPELLSLINGER series, Kellen, son of a powerful Jan’Tep sorcerous family and follower of the Argosi way, has been able to count on a loyal and powerful support network. Reichis, a squirrel-cat, is thieving and verbally abusive, but fierce and faithful. Ferrius, an Argosy traveler, has taught Kellen much about the power of magic and of life. In Soulbinder (2018), the fourth book of six planned, Kellen finds himself alone, forced to rely only on his own resources.

(This review may have mild spoilers for the previous books.)

Kellen carries a demonic infection called shadowblack. At the end of Charmcaster Read More

Buzzkill: A superhero joins AA

Buzzkill by Donny Cates (writer), Mark Reznicek (writer), and Geoff Shaw (artist)

Buzzkill, collecting all four issues of the mini-series, is a funny superhero parody by Donny Cates and Mark Reznicek, with art by Geoff Shaw. I sought it out because Donny Cates is one of my favorite new writers, with great titles like Redneck from Image and the insane Marvel title Thanos Wins, which features a cosmic Ghost Rider who is a resurrected Frank Castle, The Punisher. Buzzkill is about a superhero trying to get sober. He eventually ends up with a sponsor who is a Doctor Strange parody. Together, they get this retired superhero the help he needs.

Buzzkill opens with our hero, Ruben, in a self-help group trying to get assistance as he decides to quit all drinking and drugs. Unfortunately, we find out, that is whe... Read More

Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword: Charming and quirky

Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword by Henry Lien

Peasprout Chen and her little brother Cricket have been chosen by the dowager empress to represent their province at the Pearl Famous Academy of Skate and Sword in the famously beautiful city of Pearl. In exchange, the mayor of Pearl has sent two of his children to Shin, the poor rural area where Peasprout and Cricket grew up.

The Chen siblings were chosen because Peasprout is the best wu liu competitor in her entire province. She’s a celebrity there. But when Peasprout arrives at their new school, her classmates are not impressed. Right away, Peasprout and Cricket don’t fit in. They don’t have fashionable clothes or extra skates. Peasprout sets out to prove herself as the best in her class while she tries to protect her little brother, not nearly as accomplished in the martial art, from bullies.

Peasprout is a great skater, but she’s at a major ... Read More

The True Queen: A tad too familiar, but very well done

The True Queen by Zen Cho

Zen Cho continues her SORCERER ROYAL series with The True Queen (2019), the first follow-up to Sorcerer to the Crown. Technically, The True Queen could be read as a stand-alone or as an introduction to the series, and that was the spirit in which I read it, though I often found myself wishing I had read this book second rather than first; the series takes place in a definite chronological order, with events in Sorcerer to the Crown affecting character status and actions in The True Queen in such a way that, despite Cho’s careful implementation of exposition, left me feeling a bit at sea. Other readers may not ha... Read More

Children of The Lens: The not-so-epic conclusion to one of the greatest space operas

Children of The Lens by E.E. “Doc” Smith

Although Books 3, 4 and 5 of E.E. “Doc” Smith’s famed six-part LENSMAN series followed one another with 1 ½ to two years of time in between each, and with story lines that picked up mere seconds after their predecessors, Book 6 would eventually differ in both respects. The author’s final installment in what has been called one of the greatest of all space operas originally appeared around 5 ½ years following Book 5’s serialization. Like Books 3 - 5 (Galactic Patrol, Gray Lensman and Second Stage Lensman Read More

Sea of Silver Light: An exciting but too-long finale

Sea of Silver Light by Tad Williams

Sea of Silver Light (2001) finally concludes Tad Williams’ imaginative and very long OTHERLAND quartet. You must read the previous three books, City of Golden Shadow, River of Blue Fire, and Mountain of Black Glass first. There will be spoilers for those books in this review.

If you’ve read the previous three books in the OTHERLAND quartet, I don’t need to convince you to read Sea of Silver Light. I’m sure y... Read More

Sky Without Stars: Do you hear the people sing?

Sky Without Stars by Jessica Brody & Joanne Rendell

Street-smart Chatine Renard spends her days scrounging for trinkets, or sometimes liberating them from their owners directly, and committing other crimes while dressed as a boy so that she can’t be forced to sell her blood, a nominally-legal vocation which might bring good money in the short-term but is sure to kill her within a few years. Alouette Taureau is a sweet, dangerously naïve girl brought up in near-seclusion under the watchful eyes of her kind father and the Sisters who hide belowground, protecting valuable books and other information smuggled from Earth during the Last Days, when nations fled their home planet and made their way to the twelve planets within the System Divine.

Then there’s Marcellus Bonnefaçon, who has a promising career as an officer ahead of him, regardless of his father’s banishment to the prison-moon of Bastille and his childhood govern... Read More

The Wolf in the Whale: A bit of a mixed bag

The Wolf in the Whale by Jordanna Max Brodsky

Jordanna Max Brodsky switches gears ever-so-slightly in her novel The Wolf in the Whale (2019), continuing her examination of old-gods-in-diaspora from her OLYMOUS BOUND series while taking a step back in time — a little over a thousand years from present day — and exploring the story of an Inuit shaman who finds herself at the nexus point between her people and the first band of Vikings to set foot on North American soil. It’s an interesting and well-researched story, and though the slow pace might put off some readers, I encourage them to stick it out to the finish.

Omat is born into complicated circumstances: according to tradition, her late father’s soul will be passed into her newborn body, along with his name, and their tiny Inuit c... Read More

Imposters: A semi-successful return to the world of UGLIES

Impostors by Scott Westerfeld

Scott Westerfeld has long been one of the best YA authors going, with multiple stories well worth a read, including the UGLIES, LEVIATHAN, and MIDNIGHTERS series, all of which are top-notch. And his SUCCESSION sci-fi series, more adult in nature, is absolutely great. So a new title from him is big news, made even bigger when we learn it’s a return to his beloved UGLIES trilogy. Honestly, it’s hard to live up to that sort of expectation, and unfortunately, I have to say title one in the new series, Impostors (2018), doesn’t do so. That’s not to say it’s a bad book; it just doesn’t reach the same level as Westerfeld’s other work. And even with that said, I’m pretty sure younger readers, its target a... Read More

Traitor’s Blade: Full of adventure and derring-do

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Traitor’s Blade by Sebastien de Castell

Traitor’s Blade is the first installment in Sebastien de Castell’s GREATCOATS series and is an interesting blend of genres — like The Three Musketeers with classic fantasy. At the core it is about a young man whose heart is broken and who has found meaning in defending ideals that are greater than himself.

An oft-used, but nonetheless compelling storyline in fantasy is the abuse of power by the nobility. Whether it’s something as simple as overtaxing and overworking the lower classes or some of the more heinous examples where the Nobles rape, murder and torture with seeming impunity, the concept remains that power unchecked corrupts. Falcio Val Mond has had his fill of exactly this sort of thing. As a young husband his experiences have riven his soul and created in him a desire for justice that... Read More

Joust: Quite entertaining despite the problems

Joust by Mercedes Lackey

Vetch’s family used to own land in Alta, but when they were invaded and occupied by Tia, Vetch’s father was killed and the rest of his family became serfs. Vetch, who was taken away from his mother and sisters, is now the servant of a horrible fat and lazy man who’s pretty much the worst master you can imagine. (All of Mercedes Lackey’s bad guys are really really bad!)

When a Tian dragon jouster named Ari notices Vetch’s plight, he rescues him and takes him as his own servant. Now Vetch is a dragon boy, feeding and cleaning up after his new master’s dragon. In the process, he learns everything there is to know about caring for dragons and his new circumstances are comfortable and far superior to his previous enslavement. However, Vetch is treated like a serf by the other dragon boys and, worse, he fee... Read More