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Assail: Ties up some loose plot threads and raises entirely new questions

Assail by Ian C. Esslemont

Once upon a time one could speak of the “upcoming conclusion” to the tales of the Malazan Empire, the multi-volume shared world series by Steven Erikson and Ian C. Esslemont. But with Erikson currently writing the second book in his prequel trilogy, and both he and Esslemont contracted for more books set in this world, it’s best nowadays to perhaps muse on “resting points” rather than “conclusions.” And so it is with Esslemont’s sixth book, Assail, billed as bringing to “a thrilling close” the “epic story of the Malazan Empire,” but which also, even as it ties up some loose plot threads, raises entirely new questions. And that’s fine; even with my admittedly mixed response to Assail, I... Read More

Out on Blue Six: Really bizarre

Out On Blue Six by Ian McDonald

Courtney Hall is a cartoonist because that’s the job she’s been assigned by the tyrannical government agencies that dictate all of the details of everyone’s life — where they live, who their friends are, who they marry, what job they do. The goal of the government, which consists of such agencies as the Ministry of Pain, the Compassionate Society, and the Love Police, is to analyze every citizen’s genes and personality so that they can be assigned to the lifestyle that will minimize their pain and maximize their happiness, thus creating a populace that is obedient and compliant. The government assures that its dictates are adhered to by monitoring all activity and censoring criticism.

Most people seem content in the Compassionate Society because they like being pain-free, doing a job that they love (even if they’re not good at it) and being married to people who they’re compatible with... Read More

Tendeleo’s Story: A companion to McDonald’s CHAGA novels

Tendeleo’s Story by Ian McDonald

Tendeleo’s Story is a short companion novel to Ian McDonald’s CHAGA series which is about an alien tropical plant-like life form that drops from space and lands in several equatorial regions of Earth. The first CHAGA novel, Evolution’s Shore, follows Irish reporter Gaby McAslin as she documents the biological, societal, and political changes that occur in Kenya as the Chaga descends from Mount Kilimanjaro and overruns Nairobi. In Kirinya, the second book, Gaby joins the people who have decided to (or been forced to) live in the Chaga rather than fleeing northward to safety. Meanwhile, a subplot follows Dr. Shepherd, one of Gaby’s lovers, who is studying and trying to figure out the purpose, mechanisms, and creator of the Chaga.

Tendeleo’s Story does n... Read More

The Silent Blade: A Drizzt novel only in name

The Silent Blade by R.A. Salvatore

The Silent Blade is in every regard an improvement over the LEGEND OF DRIZZT’s preceding installment, Passage to Dawn. The plot is tighter, the characterization is subtler, and – stressing this point most of all – the prose has taken leaps and bounds forward. However, this is also the installment of THE LEGEND OF DRIZZT that finally convinced me that the series has not only jumped the shark, but is doing Evel Knievel motorcycle flips over whole tanks of great whites.

Previously, on Drizzt and Friends, the demon Errtu finally (!) managed to return to the mortal plane and gain possession of the crystal shard. At last granted his heart’s desire, Errtu was primed and ready to doom the earth to a living hell. Except he wasn’t, because Drizzt and his crew came bustling in like grumpy border patrol officers and spanked him straight back to the netherworld f... Read More

Warlord: Satisfying resolution (but not the end of the story)

Warlord by Jennifer Fallon

Warlord is the last book in Jennifer Fallon’s WOLFBLADE trilogy which is a prequel to her DEMON CHILD trilogy and part of her HYTHRUN CHRONICLES. Like its predecessors, Wolfblade and Warrior, it’s a huge sprawling epic (26 hours on audio). The story starts immediately after the tragic events of Warrior (which you really must read first). Marla is still the wealthiest and most powerful woman in the country, but she has taken a major hit and, in some ways, feels alone, despite her large family.

Hablet, the Fardohnian king, is planning to take advantage of Hythria’s weakness while the country is recovering from a plague and while their high prince, Lernen, a useless wastrel, is still ruling. Hablet is massing his army for an invasion and hoping that... Read More

The January Dancer: A very good space opera

The January Dancer by Michael Flynn

The January Dancer is a very good space opera… I wish it had tipped over into great. There is a lot going on here to love: a sufficiently deep future history created through the liberal use of allusion that references any number of existing earth cultures (heavily relying on Celtic and cultures from the Indian subcontinent) along with some pretty swell creations of Flynn’s own (the Hounds, ‘those of Name’, the Terran Corners, the Rift, the People of Sand & Iron, etc.) in which the diaspora of humanity has settled across the cosmos, making use of an intriguingly pseudo-scientific explanation for FTL travel; a cast of varied and interesting characters of disparate parts coming together, as though by chance, to solve the mystery of a powerful pre-human artifact; and perhaps most of all the well-crafted prose of Michael Flynn that provides a certain shine to what might have be... Read More

Warrior: It’s Dynasty with swords and magic

Warrior by Jennifer Fallon

Warrior is the second installment in Jennifer Fallon’s WOLFBLADE trilogy, a prequel to her DEMON CHILD trilogy. Both trilogies make up the HYTHRUN CHRONICLES. In the first book, Wolfblade, which you’ll definitely want to read before picking up Warrior, we were introduced to Marla Wolfblade, sister to Lernen Wolfblade, the High Prince of Hythria. When we first met Marla, she was a bubble-headed blonde teenager dreaming of marrying a handsome warlord. At the end of the very long (600 pages, 25 hours in audio format) story, Marla had become a cynical and savvy politician and the most powerful woman in Hythria, thanks to her dwarf slave and a series of unfortunate politically-motivated disasters including adultery, betrayals, kidnappings, and assassinations.

Warrior... Read More

Mistborn: Liked it, didn’t love it

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

I didn’t love Brandon Sanderson’s epic fantasy Mistborn, but I liked it a lot. I enjoyed the brisk action sequences, especially the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon-style combat scenes, where Sanderson’s magically-enhanced characters, the Allomancers, leap and soar about in defiance of gravity.

In Sanderson’s fantasy universe, some gifted people can access magical powers by ingesting a tiny bit of certain metals. They then rapidly metabolize or “burn” the metal and it provides them with powers. Most of the Allomancers are from the line of the nobility, but there wouldn’t be a story if they all were, and Mistborn follows primarily the growth of Vin, an orphaned street urchin attached to a gang of thieves. Vin doesn’t know she is an Allomancer.

The plot of the story is an attempt to stage a rebelli... Read More

The Robots of Dawn: Connects Asimov’s ROBOT and FOUNDATION books

The Robots of Dawn by Isaac Asimov

The Robots of Dawn is the third book in Isaac Asimov’s trilogy about investigator Elijah Bailey and his robot sidekick R Daneel Olivaw. In the first book, The Caves of Steel, the pair met and solved a murder mystery on Earth. In this far-future Earth, a fearful populace lives in domed cities and never ventures outside. In the second book, The Naked Sun, Elijah faces his fears and actually leaves Earth to solve a murder that occurred on a planet that has such low population density that the inhabitants have evolved a disgust for their fellow humans. When Elijah returns to Earth, he’s determined to use his new-found courage to inspire others to go outside the domes and even think about leaving Earth someday. He thinks that colonizing other planets is the only way that the human race on Earth can survive.

In this final... Read More

Fables: Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham

Fables (Vol. 1): Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham (author) and Lan Medina (artist)

Snow White is having a rough week. It is only a few days away from Rememberance Day, Fabletown’s big celebration and fund-raiser. As the deputy mayor, she is in charge of the event. The Beast, of Beauty and the Beast, is reverting to his non-human form, and she must decide if he will be exiled from New York City and sent upstate to the “farm,” where the non-human immigrants from her home reality live. Her ex, the smarmy, philandering Prince Charming, is back in town. Now, Fabletown’s sheriff, Bigby Wolf, brings her bad news about her sister. Rose Red’s apartment is dripping with blood – Red’s blood – and she is missing.

Leg... Read More

Emphyrio: One of Vance’s more ideological pieces

Emphyrio by Jack Vance

After establishing himself as a writer of short fiction, Jack Vance began to shift toward novels in the 1960s. Given more space (ha!) to create, his unique voice rounded into form and imagination, and the decade can be marked as the upswing of his career — particularly given the exclamation point the TSCHAI: PLANET OF ADVENTURE series places on the end. Tucked neatly in the middle of the publishing of these four novels, however, is a stand-alone novel: Emphyrio. Interestingly, the title is not taken from the name of a locale or culture, as is usual with Vance, but from a legend innate to the tale. Singling it out further, the book is one of Vance’s more ideological pieces; there are ominous elements of socialism and the value of historical knowledge is expanded. The capricious storytelling, vivid setting, and resourceful hero remain classic Vance, however.

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Horrible Monday: We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory

We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory

Imagine that, like the hapless characters in movies like The Hills Have Eyes and Wrong Turn, you and a group of friends were captured by cannibals. You were kept alive while choice cuts of you were “harvested”, and you alone survived. Imagine that you were the victim of a sadistic abductor who flayed the flesh of your arms and legs and carved images onto your bones. Imagine that you alone survived the rising of the Elder Gods in your home town. What would you do? Who would you talk to? Would you even be sane? That’s the premise of We Are All Completely Fine, a novella by Daryl Gregory, published by Tachyon Press.

Dr. Jan Sayer has drawn together a talk-therapy group made up of sole survivors of supernatural attacks. On the surface it seems as if the doctor has just hit on... Read More

The Naked Sun: Entertaining murder mystery

The Naked Sun by Isaac Asimov

The Naked Sun is the second of Isaac Asimov’s books about police detective Elijah Baley and the humanoid robot R. Daneel Olivaw. Asimov wrote the first book, Caves of Steel (reviewed by Steven), as the answer to John W. Campbell’s challenge to create a science fiction murder mystery. Asimov succeeded, of course, and chose to give us another installment. You don’t absolutely need to read Caves of Steel before reading The Naked Sun, but it’d probably be a little easier if you did. The Naked Sun takes place a couple of years after the events of Caves of Steel, in some far-future Earth after humans have created and evolved separate cultures by settling other planets.

Eli... Read More

The Ocean at the End of the Lane: A book about childhood and memory

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

“When they leave, they leave bemused, uncertain of why they came, of what they have seen, of whether they had a good time or not.”


The best way for me to describe Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane is in Gaiman’s own words. The quote is from a different book of his, American Gods, and he’s describing Rock City. I’ve been to Rock City, and the description fits, but it also fits my experience of The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

Our middle-aged protagonist has returned home for a funeral. We don’t know the man’s name, though there’s an outside possibility it’s George. We don’t know who died, though it almost has to be one of his parents. He gets sidetracked, driving down the lane where he once lived, and where his childhood friend Lettie Hempstock live... Read More

Sepulchre: For better or worse, exactly what you’d expect from Mosse

Sepulchre by Kate Mosse

Judging from her review, Kat obviously wasn’t such a big fan of Kate Mosse’s Sepulchre! But perhaps her report coloured my own reading of the novel, for though I went in expecting the worst, I instead found myself quite enjoying it.

Sepulchre is the follow-up to Mosse’s best-selling novel Labyrinth, but I found that it was far superior in terms of pacing and plotting. As with Labyrinth, the story is divided into two storylines, one set in 1891, the other in 2007. The chapters alternate between these two periods, following the adventures of Leonie Vernier in the past, and Meredith Martin in the 21st century.

Leonie knows that something is wrong when her brother Anatole insists on secrecy in planning thei... Read More

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