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Charming: Contemporary fantasy with a strong but vulnerable hero

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Charming by Elliott James

John Charming doesn't know exactly what he is. Well, he knows he’s a descendant of the Knights Templar, a group that’s under a geas to slay supernatural creatures who violate the Pax Arcana (a secret treaty the Knights made with the elves), but when his mother was pregnant with him, she was bitten by a werewolf. The werewolf blood gives John supernatural powers, something that’s anathema to the Knights. They trained him when he was young, but when his powers manifested, he was ostracized, and now some Knights are even hunting him, so he has to hide.

That’s how John Charming ended up as a bartender in a backwoods bar in a small Virginia town. He was satisfactorily flying under the radar until a beautiful six-foot-tall blonde showed up one night. John reluctantly gets pulled into her ragtag team of monster hunters who are trying to flush out a nasty nest of... Read More

The Prisoner of Limnos: Another chapter in Penric’s life

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The Prisoner of Limnos by Lois McMaster Bujold

The Prisoner of Limnos (2017 print, 2018 audio) is another of Lois McMaster Bujold’s PENRIC AND DESDEMONA novellas. It is a direct sequel to Mira’s Last Dance, so I’d recommend reading that (and its prequels) first.

Penric and Nikys, the widow Penric is in love with, are safe at court in Orbas when Nikys gets an encrypted letter stating that her mother has been taken prisoner by political enemies in Cedonia.

To his delight, Nikys comes to Penric for help, and the two set off for Cedonia to bust mom out of jail. This will involve Penric dressing up like a woman (again), using his chaos ... Read More

The Outlaws of Mars: Road to Xancibar

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The Outlaws of Mars by Otis Adelbert Kline

Those readers who had been charmed by Otis Adelbert Kline’s swashbuckling sci-fi adventure The Swordsman of Mars would not have long to wait before they were treated to that novel’s follow-up thrill ride. While that first interplanetary pastiche of author Edgar Rice Burroughs had appeared as a six-part serial in the January 7 to February 11, 1933 issues of the weekly Argosy magazine, the follow-up, The Outlaws of Mars, appeared as a seven-parter, in that same pulp’s 11/25/33 to 1/6/34 issues. As had been the case with the first novel, Read More

Arrows of the Queen: Engaging heroine in an interesting world

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Reposting to include review of new (2018) audio version produced by Tantor Audio.

Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey

Talia is not like normal 13-year-old girls. She likes to read adventure stories and she fantasizes about being a Herald for the queen of Valdemar. She does not want to get married to one of the dreary men in her patriarchal village. So, when a Companion — one of the blue-eyed white horses who belongs to a Herald — shows up without a rider, Talia is happy to help him find his way home and stunned to learn that she’s been chosen to be trained as a Herald at the academy.

Published in 1987, Arrows of the Queen is Mercedes Lackey’s first novel and the first in her popular Valdemar series. This is a coming-of-age tale in which a naïve and wide-e... Read More

The Swordsman of Mars: Solid OAK

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The Swordsman of Mars by Otis Adelbert Kline

A few weeks back, I had some words to say about a book that was supposedly a major inspiration for Edgar Rice BurroughsJOHN CARTER OF MARS series, particularly the first two of the 11: A Princess of Mars (1912) and The Gods of Mars (1913). The book was Edwin L. Arnold’s Gulliver of Mars (1905), and anyone who’s read it must be forcibly struck by the similarities between the two authors’... Read More

Penric’s Fox: Another murder mystery for Penric

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Penric's Fox by Lois McMaster Bujold

Penric's Fox is the third (according to internal chronology) novella in Lois McMaster Bujold’s PENRIC AND DESDEMONA series, a spin-off from her well-decorated FIVE GODS trilogy. Each of these novellas is essentially a chapter in Penric's story and I assume that someday they'll be combined together in one volume.

This particular story takes place after the events of Penric and the Shaman, so I would recommend reading it after that story and before Penric’s Mission. While visiting the capital cit... Read More

Good Morning, Midnight: Your book club might enjoy this

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Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton

Lily Brooks-Dalton’s general fiction novel, Good Morning, Midnight (2017), is literary in nature but uses speculative elements to contemplate isolation, hope, despair and human connection. The book has beautiful prose, especially in some of the descriptions of the arctic, and interesting insights into human nature, but it was not a completely satisfying book for me. In a few places, the hand of the author can be seen forcing events in order to make the story work, and some of these tropes, particularly the literary ones, felt too familiar. Still, it’s worth checking out for the writing alone.

Good Morning, Midnight follows two characters who are about as far apart spacially as one can imagine. Augustine is an astronomer who has remained behind at an arctic observatory site... Read More

The Gone-Away World: Relentlessly ironic, digressive, and clever

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The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway

The Gone-Away World (2008) is a post-apocalyptic comedy/tragedy about our world before and after the Gone-Away Bombs have wiped up out much of humanity and the world we know. It is about Gonzo Lubitsch and his nameless best friend, who work for a special crew that is assigned to put of a fire along the Jorgmond pipeline, which produced the special material “Fox” that can eliminate the Stuff, the matter that is left over after gone-away bombs have removed the information from matter so that it no longer can form coherent form and structure. Stuff takes on the shape of the thoughts of people near it — nightmarish monsters, ill-formed creatures, and “new people.” Nightmares become real, and the world itself is a nightmare of sorts.

And very soon after the story begins, we are wrenched back into Gonzo and his friend’s ... Read More

Brothers in Arms: Adds a new facet to the Vorkosigan character

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

Brothers in Arms by Lois McMaster Bujold

This is Marion's review of The Vor Game, Brothers in Arms, and Mirror Dance

Miles Vorkosigan is nearly a dwarf, with bones as brittle as fine porcelain, and he is a Vor, one of the elite, the son of the Imperial Regent. The Vor, and everyone on Barrayar for that matter, are terrified of mutation because of their history, and Miles looks like a mutation even though he isn’t one. During the middle books of this series, Miles finds a way to serve his planet while succeeding in space, where for the most part people judge achievement more than physical appearance.

Miles cannot escape his Barrayaran heritage, however. In The Vor Game, he must rescue his cousin and planetary emperor Gr... Read More

Fire Dance: Lovely prose and worldbuilding, but left me wanting more

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Fire Dance by Ilana C. Myer

Readers who were enthralled by Ilana C. Myer’s 2015 debut novel, Last Song Before Night, will be pleased to know that they can expect more of what they enjoyed in the sequel/companion novel, Fire Dance (2018). Myer’s prose is rich and imaginative, and her worldbuilding is multi-layered. For my own part, I think that many important details wouldn’t have made sense to me if I hadn’t read Last Song Before Night first, but readers who begin these books with Fire Dance may feel otherwise.

After a terrible storm, the Archmaster of the Academy of Poets is found alone in his room, dead. The r... Read More

Jessica Jones Season Two: A stuttering start but gets there in the end

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Jessica Jones Season Two

Let’s face it, Jessica Jones’ season two was always going to suffer, at least from the outset, in comparison to season one for one simple reason: it was going to be pretty much impossible to come up with anything like the combination of Killgrave and David Tennant — an incredibly compelling villain played by an actor who so wonderfully (if one can use that word) and seductively inhabited that character. And there’s no doubt season two feels that lack of a compelling villain (one fully realizes how large a hole Tennant’s absence creates when he briefly returns in what I’d say was probably the best episode of the season).

In fact, it isn’t until halfway through the season that the show even comes close to trying to replace Tennant’s adversarial role, leaving Jessica and friends to muddle through an investigation of IGH and possibly-related murders that all f... Read More

The Android’s Dream: More like The Fifth Element than Bladerunner

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The Android’s Dream by John Scalzi

The Android’s Dream (2006) is one of John Scalzi’s earlier books, and a stand-alone rather than part of a series, so I couldn’t resist given the obvious Philip K. Dick reference in the title. I decided to go into this one without knowing anything about the plot or reading any reviews at all. I know Scalzi’s humor and style from the OLD MAN’S WAR series, Redshirts and Lock In, and I love the audio narration of Wil Wheaton, so I figured I’d give it a try. I was also surp... Read More

I See By My Outfit: From New York to San Francisco by Scooter

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I See By My Outfit by Peter S. Beagle

Published in 1965, Peter S. Beagle’s I See By My Outfit is an American motorscooter travelogue. Beagle and his friend, Phil, ride from New York to St. Louis and then head west to San Francisco.

I was often struck by how different the world was in the 1960s. In many ways, the absence of mass media and the Internet makes America seem smaller, like you truly could find people who would wonder about the mysteries of New York City. Beagle more than once mentions that cops especially monitor them because they look like two bearded menaces. To be honest, I often wondered if he was exaggerating these claims, but perhaps my view of people who ride scooters cross country has been unduly influenced by the movie Read More

The Tangled Lands: Great concept, varied execution across four novellas

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The Tangled Lands by Paolo Bacigalupi & Tobias S. Buckell 

The Tangled Lands is a shared-world collection of four novellas, two each written by Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias S. Buckell. The setting is the faded remains of the once-great Jhandpara Empire, whose glory had relied on wondrously powerful magic. The dying remnants of once-glorious empires litter the fantasy canon (think the faded glory of Gondor —or Numenor before Gondor — or the seedy world of Lankhmar), but in The Tangled Lands, the old trope is given new life thanks to the sharp ecological / environmental metaphor that lies at its core.

The Jhandapra Empire had once been a grandly magnif... Read More

Cetaganda: A murder mystery in space

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

Cetaganda by Lois McMaster Bujold

Cetaganda (1996) is the ninth novel that Lois McMaster Bujold published in her popular VORKOSIGAN SAGA but, chronologically, the story takes place earlier in the sequence, between The Vor Game and Ethan of Athos. If you’re new to this series, I (and the author) recommend reading these novels in order of internal chronology which is how we have them listed here at Fantasy Literature. I read some of them out of order because of how they were presented in the Baen Omnibus editions and I regret that. The story flows much better if you read them chronologically. (Still, though, any order is better than not reading them at all — this is a great series!)

In Cetaganda Read More

Tomorrow’s Yesterday: Unearthing a true obscurity

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Tomorrow’s Yesterday  by A.M. Stanley

I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb in making the following sweeping statements about a certain book that I just read, A.M. Stanley’s Tomorrow’s Yesterday: You have never heard of this book, or of its author. You’ve never read anything about the book, either in print or online. This, my friends, is a lost book; one that, since its initial publication in 1949, has plummeted stone-like to the bottom of the literary pool. Not just a book that is currently out of print but is easily researchable ― there are tens of thousands of those ― but rather, a book for which virtually no information is to be had at all. Even the usually infallible Internet Speculative Fiction Database offers no help when it comes to this volume, and indeed, I do believe that this review here may well constitute the only substan... Read More

Godslayer: The bad guys’ story

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Godslayer by Jacqueline Carey

I loved the unique world, loveable characters, unusual plot, and sumptuous prose I discovered in Jacqueline Carey’s KUSHIEL books. Most of these elements are also present in her THE SUNDERING duology but, as I mentioned in my review of the first installment, Banewreaker, I found the book easy to admire and hard to love. With its formal style and remote, larger-than-life characters, it reads more like a myth than a story. If you’re in the mood for that type of tale, I’d recommend this duology.

Godslayer is the end of the story started in Banewreaker. (So you‘ve got to read Banewreaker Read More

The Vor Game: Mixes space opera with political drama

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

The Vor Game by Lois McMaster Bujold

This is Marion's review of The Vor Game, Brothers in Arms, and Mirror Dance. Kat's comments about The Vor Game are at the bottom.

Miles Vorkosigan is nearly a dwarf, with bones as brittle as fine porcelain, and he is a Vor, one of the elite, the son of the Imperial Regent. The Vor, and everyone on Barrayar for that matter, are terrified of mutation because of their history, and Miles looks like a mutation even though he isn’t one. During the middle books of this series, Miles finds a way to serve his planet while succeeding in space, where for the most part people judge achievement more than physical appearance.

Miles cannot esca... Read More

Roadmarks: The Road must roll

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Roadmarks by Roger Zelazny

Roadmarks (1979) is a fragmented, experimental type of novel, tied together by a Road (with a capital R) that leads to all times and places and alternative timestreams in our world’s history, for those who know how to navigate it (a certain German named Adolph briefly pops up in an early chapter, eternally searching for the timeline where he won). The other constant is the character of Red Dorakeen, who has been traveling the Road for years, trying to find something, or somewhen. Sometimes he's in company with Leila, a woman with precognitive talents. He’s also generally accompanied by one of two sentient AIs in the form of books, called Leaves (of Grass) and Flowers ( Read More

The Overneath: And assorted interesting stories

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The Overneath by Peter S. Beagle

It must be hard to be a literary icon, late in your career. You’ve ascended the literary heights and amassed an adoring following who still expect you never to repeat, and even improve upon your previous genius with each new work. But I’m not sorry for Peter S. Beagle, nor his latest short story collection The Overneath, which came out in November of 2017.

Most striking, to me, is that Beagle manages each new tale with a distinct, and yet perfectly effortless narrative voice. No problem with that whole repetition worry. There is none here. His narratives roll out rich in otherworldly wonder.

He does revisit the unicorn theme in this collection with both Chinese “Kao Yu” and Near Eastern inspired “My Son Hey... Read More

Armageddon 2419 A.D.: Passing the buck

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Armageddon 2419 A.D. by Philip Francis Nowlan

I would imagine, at this point, that you have previously heard of the fictional character named Buck Rogers. And indeed, dating from his initial comic strip appearance in January 1929, and proceeding on to radio shows (starting in 1932, Buck Rogers was radio’s very first sci-fi hero), a 12-part film serial (starring the former Olympic swimming medalist Buster Crabbe), several TV adaptations, video games, and comics, the character has been fairly ubiquitous for almost 90 years now. To be sure, Buck’s comic strip was so very popular in the early ‘30s that it spawned, in January 1934, a rival sci-fi strip starring Flash Gordon, a character that Crabbe would also portray in three fondly remembered film serials.

But unlike Flash, Buck had, as his actual provenance, a literary background. That predecessor, you see, was one Anthony Rogers, who ... Read More

Hidden Huntress: Avoids the usual pitfalls of the middle book in a trilogy

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Hidden Huntress by Danielle L. Jensen

The second book in Danielle L. Jensen's THE MALEDICTION TRILOGY continues the complex political intrigue between the powerful trolls who live beneath the mountain and the eighteenth-century humans who dwell on the surface. In the first book, Stolen Songbird, a truce was attempted by an arranged marriage between Tristan, the heir to the troll kingdom, and Cecile, a kidnapped opera singer. Their union was prophesied to dissolve the magical barrier that keeps the trolls beneath the earth, one put in place by the witch Anushka hundreds of years ago — but the trolls still remain imprisoned.

As so often happens in YA books, the dislike and mistrust... Read More

Tempests and Slaughter: The education of young Numair

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Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce

With Tempests and Slaughter (2018), Tamora Pierce launches a new series set in her beloved Tortall universe, which includes over twenty books. Pierce backtracks several years to relate the youthful experiences of Arram Draper, who plays a key role in other TORTALL books, particularly the IMMORTALS series, as the powerful mage Numair.

When Tempests and Slaughter begins, Arram is a ten year old boy, just beginning a new year at the School for Mages, part of the Imperial University of Carthak. Arram is much younger than most of his schoolmates at his level, and he feels the age difference keenly; in fact, he claims to be eleven, but that does little to narrow the social gap. ... Read More

Shards of Honor: Fall in love with the Vorkosigans

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

Editor's note: This is Marion's review of Shards of HonorBarrayar, and The Warrior’s Apprentice. Kat's comments about Shards of Honor and Tadiana's and Stuart's reviews are below.

Do you like fancy military uniforms? Shiny spaceships that blow things up? Brooding aristocrats with hulking stone castles and dark secrets? Snappy comebacks and one-liners? Voluptuous women warriors? Swords and secret passages? Surprising twists on standard military tactics of engagement?

If you answered “Yes” to three or more, check out the VORKOSIGAN SAGA. Lois McMaster Bujold started this series in the mid-80s. The Vorkosigan books start out as space opera, even having... Read More

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock: Fascinating and fun

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The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

Most people imagine the enchanting, scantily-clad beauties of fairytale when they think of mermaids, but Imogen Hermes Gowar offers an entirely different creature in her debut, The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock. Readers will find no glittering scales or flowing hair here. Tipped as one of the most hotly anticipated books of 2018, the story promises to be one curiosity and obsession.

It is a cold September evening in 1785 when Mr Hancock finally gets the long-awaited knock on the door of his London home; he has been waiting for news of his ship, which he fears has sunk or disappeared. Yet the news he receives is far from expected: the ship’s captain has sold the vessel, and bought in its place a mermaid. When he pulls a gnarled, dead creature from his sack, Mr Hancock cannot believe he's lost his enti... Read More