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The Dragon Lords: False Idols: Liberal amounts of blood and wine, but not much fun

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The Dragon Lords: False Idols by Jon Hollins

I rather liked Jon Hollins’ 2016 novel The Dragon Lords: Fool’s Gold. It was fun, it had heart, it was surprisingly insightful, and it was chock-full of wordplay and schemes in addition to epic battles and blood. Its 2017 sequel, The Dragon Lords: False Idols, inherited a lot of those traits but comes up short on the fun that previously enchanted me.

The situation is rather more serious this time around: our merry band of adventurers is scattered across the south and south-eastern reaches of Avarra, spending their vast fortunes or trading on their newfound fame and power, until the human prophets of a dragon-worshippi... Read More

The Moons of Barsk: Not as good as book one but leaves you excited for book three

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The Moons of Barsk by Lawrence M. Schoen

I was a big fan of Lawrence M. Schoen’s first entry in this series, Barsk: The Elephant’s Graveyard, and therefore was excited to pick up its sequel, The Moons of Barsk (2018). I have to admit to being somewhat disappointed, but despite suffering from a bit of a second-book slump, The Moons of Barsk does move the big story arcs along while broadening/deepening some characterization, and so hasn’t lessened my interest in seeing where both story and character go moving forward.

For convenience’s sake (mine, not yours) I’m going to simply reuse my description of Barsk’s universe from my revi... Read More

The Book of Peril: Trouble with magical illusions

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The Book of Peril by Melissa McShane

Abernathy’s Bookstore is a powerful oracle, used by the community of mages to answer important questions and foretell the future. Its proprietor, Helena Davies, is a critical part of the bookstore’s oracular function: she takes augury slips of paper with questions on them from customers, wanders among the bookshelves until she finds a book that glows to her eyes, and sells the book to the customer as the answer to their question. The price for the augury is conveniently and magically printed inside the book on the title page, along with the customer’s name. It works great … until suddenly it doesn’t.

The trouble begins when the book that glows for a particular customer’s question has the wrong customer’s name magically printed inside of it. When the next request for an augury comes in, Helena finds three glowing books on the she... Read More

The Paradox: So much to admire, but definitely a middle book

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The Paradox by Charlie Fletcher

The Paradox (2015) is the second book in Charlie Fletcher’s OVERSIGHT trilogy. I loved the audiobook version of the first book, The Oversight, when I read it four years ago. Despite its crawling pace, I loved it for its grungy Victorian setting. The audiobook narration by Simon Prebble, an award-winning superstar of the audio world, was so spectacular that I titled my review “One of the best audiobooks I’ve read this year” and I said that I’d be picking up The Paradox as soon as it was available.

But, alas, when Read More

Earth to Dad: A sweet story about loss, grief, and friendship

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Earth to Dad by Krista Van Dolzer

Eleven-year-old Jameson O’Malley lives with his mother, Mina, at Base Ripley, in a version of Minnesota that would be unrecognizable to current-day residents: there are regular monsoons, category six tornadoes are commonplace, and spending more than a few moments outside without a protective solar-resistant jacket will lead directly to sun poisoning. A deeply introspective and solitary child, Jameson’s passion is his JICC (Jameson’s Interplanetary Communication Console), a device his astronaut father helped to build before embarking on the long voyage to Mars, and which they use to send short videos to one another on a regular basis.

As Earth to Dad (2018) begins, a new family has just moved into Jameson’s neighborhood, and he’s immediately drawn to the d... Read More

The Future is Blue: Life, and this collection, is like a box of chocolates

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The Future is Blue by Catherynne M. Valente

Fans of Catherynne M. Valente who especially love her line-by-line prose will be pleased with her 2018 story collection, The Future is Blue. Fifteen of Valente’s shorter works are showcased here. The title piece is a novelette. The similarity they share is the priority of narrative voice and prose above other story elements, even those of character and plot.

I recommend that readers who love Valente’s prose consider this book as a box of gourmet chocolates, rather than a meal. It is possible to overindulge on Valente’s fascinating and fantastical conceits if you try to read this one sitting — and since it’s a story collection, you don’t have to.

The stories included are:

“The Futu... Read More

Paternus: Rise of Gods: All the myths ever, stuffed into a speeding blender

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Paternus: Rise of Gods by Dyrk Ashton

Paternus: Rise of Gods (2016) is described in the first line of its Amazon page as being “American Gods meets the X-Men,” which isn’t a bad five-and-a-hyphen word summary, really. By the time you get to “Sumerian/Akkadian/Greek/Aztec/Norse/etc./etc./etc., gods are really all the same people and they’re the children of a guy who’s like Ego from Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2,” you’ve more than lost in brevity and wit what you’ve made up for in accuracy. Still, gaining in accuracy is worth something, and since I have more than five words of space available, well, that’s my one-sentence summary of the background of the book. The central conceit of the story is that the divine figures of human history are the ch... Read More

Elysium Fire: Solid sequel to The Prefect

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Elysium Fire by Alastair Reynolds

Elysium Fire (2018) is the sequel to Alastair ReynoldsThe Prefect (now renamed Aurora Rising to designate it as part of the PREFECT DREYFUS series), a complex and detailed police procedural set in the Glitter Band of his REVELATION SPACE series, set before the Melding Plague that destroyed the 10,000 orbitals that sported every conceivable political system, all run by real-time neurally-based electronic democratic voting systems that allow citizens to weigh in on each issue and decision on how to ru... Read More

The Surgeon of Souls and Other Tales of Terror: Second chances and cosmic do-overs

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The Surgeon of Souls and Other Tales of Terror by Robert Leslie Bellem

In my last two book reviews, I discussed a pair of characters who were amongst the most popular during the era of the pulp magazine: The Spider, who was featured in 118 novels that appeared in The Spider magazine from 1933 - ’43, and Doc Savage, who appeared in no fewer than 181 novels in the pages of Doc Savage Magazine from 1933 - ’49. Today, however, I am here to discuss still another pulp character, but one who does not enjoy anything near the renown of those other two. That character is Dr. Zarkov, the self-styled Surgeon of Souls, one of the many pulp-era characters created by the remarkably prolific, Philadelphia-born author Robert Leslie Bellem... Read More

Season of Storms: A WITCHER prequel

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Season of Storms by Andrzej Sapkowski

“The story goes on. The tale never ends.”

For those of us who can’t get enough of Geralt of Rivia (better known as The Witcher), Andrzej Sapkowski offers Season of Storms (2013 in Polish, 2018 in English), a stand-alone prequel novel. This would be a fine place to start for WITCHER newbies, though its story is not one of the better ones. I recommend starting with The Last Wish and coming back to Season of Storms once you’ve become a fan. I have a feeling that many WITCHER readers appreciate this novel more for its feelings of nostalgia than for the actual story... Read More

Chaos Choreography: This one is really fun

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Chaos Choreography by Seanan McGuire

This review will contain spoilers for the first two INCRYPTID books, Discount Armageddon and Midnight Blue-Light Special.

Seanan McGuire’s INCRYPTID series (which currently includes eight novels and numerous shorter works) follows the adventures of the Prices, a family who used to belong to the Covenant, a rigid group of monster-hunters whose mission it was to eradicate all supernatural creatures from the face of the planet. A couple generations back, ... Read More

Frogkisser!: A weighty quest in a fairy tale-mashup world

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Frogkisser! by Garth Nix

Anya is an orphaned young princess, about twelve or thirteen years old, and a bookworm (as many of the best princesses in literature seem to be). She and her fifteen year old sister Morven are orphans under the dubious care of their stepmother, a botanist who is enthusiastic about plants but completely uninterested in and uninvolved with the girls, and Duke Rikard, their stepstepfather (which is what you get when your stepmother remarries after your father dies). Morven is supposed to be crowned as the queen when she turns sixteen in three months, but she’s far more interested in handsome princes than in ruling. This suits Duke Rickard just fine: he’s a black-hearted sorcerer who’s intent on making his control of the Kingdom of Trallonia permanent.

Duke Rickard is also given to transforming unlucky servants and hapless princes into frogs. Morven asks Anya t... Read More

Quest of the Spider: These books are like bonbons

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Quest of the Spider by Lester Dent

I have just reacquainted myself with six dear old friends. As I mentioned in my FanLit minibio (below), back in high school, this reader just could not get enough of the adventures of Doc Savage and his five faithful associates, eagerly devouring four dozen of the Doc Savage paperbacks that Bantam books released in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. These paperbacks were hugely popular back in the day and are now highly prized collectible items, not only for the stories themselves, but for the beautifully rendered cover illustrations that James Bama created for well over 100 of them. Eventually, though, I tired of reading the Doc Savage novels, as a certain formulaic sameness started to become evident in them (and indeed, years later, I learned that author Lester Dent did have a chart hanging on his office wall, delineating what was to happen by certain... Read More

Weaver’s Lament: The Industrial Revolution and social upheaval with magic

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Weaver’s Lament by Emma Newman

Weaver’s Lament (2017) is Emma Newman’s second novella in her INDUSTRIAL MAGIC series. The first one is Brother’s Ruin. Both stories feature Charlotte Gunn, a young woman from a respectable family who is hiding several secrets; she is secretly an illustrator of popular fiction and she is secretly magical, having clandestine meetings with a magus to learn to control her abilities. In the first story, Charlotte used her abilities to enhance her older brother’s lesser skill and get him accepted into the Royal Society (who pays the family of nascent magi a pretty penny).

Now Charlotte and her family are financially comfortable. She wants little more than to marry her diligent fiancé George, but brother Ben summons her to Manchester, where he is working. Ben and another magic... Read More

The Lost Plot: Kai and Irene must save the Library! Again!

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The Lost Plot by Genevieve Cogman

The Lost Plot (2017) is the fourth book in Genevieve Cogman’s INVISIBLE LIBRARY series. Committed to the Library’s mission to maintain the balance between chaos and order, Irene Winters and her student, Kai, end up in a world in a Prohibition timeline, as they track down a Librarian who has violated the Library’s neutrality by assisting an agent of Order (a dragon).

To put it simply, if you enjoyed the other INVISIBLE LIBRARY books, you will enjoy this one. It has book humor, lavish use of the magical Library language, dragons, Fae, double-crosses, predicaments, chase scenes and action scenes galore, culminating in a suspenseful interrogation sequence in the royal court of a Dragon Queen.
... Read More

Stories of the Raksura, Volume 2: More tales that enhance Wells’ world

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Stories of the Raksura, Volume 2: The Dead City & The Dark Earth Below by Martha Wells

Note: This review will contain mild spoilers for the RAKSURA novels.

Here is the second volume containing the novellas and short stories written by Martha Wells to accompany her BOOKS OF THE RAKSURA. I really enjoyed the first volume, Stories of the Raksura, Volume 1. I liked the tight and focused nature of the novellas and short stories and thought they were actually, for that reason, better than the novels.

Stories of the Raksura, Volume 2 (2015) contains:

The Dead City — (RAKSURA story #0.3, published in 2017, takes place before Read More

Robot Titans of Gotham: Robots and bats and mutants, oh my!

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Robot Titans of Gotham by Norvell Page

In my recent review of the anthology volume Rivals of Weird Tales, I mentioned that one of my favorite stories therein was the novella-length “But Without Horns,” which was written by Norvell Page and first appeared in the June 1940 issue of Unknown magazine. I also expressed a desire to read some of Page’s many tales dealing with his most famous character, the Spider. Well, I am here to tell you: Mission accomplished! Thanks to the fine folks at Baen Publishing, two volumes of Spider tales have been released for modern-day audiences, and this reader was fortunate enough to pick up the first, 2007’s Robot Titans of Gotham, which c... Read More

Summerland: Solid plotting, but left me a bit cold

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Summerland by Hannu Rajaniemi

Hannu Rajaniemi’s Summerland (2018) is what you might get if you took the setting/premise of Kevin Brockmeier’s The Brief History of the Dead and gave it to John le Carré to turn into a novel, though I’d argue it’s lacking a bit in the character depth and emotional touch of those two authors.

Summerland is basically an espionage/counter-espionage novel set in late 1930s Britain, who is involved in a proxy-war with Russia (led by a sort of over-soul known as “The Presence”) via the Spanish Civil War, while Stalin, as a Russian dissident, is playing his own power games amidst the chaos. What truly set... Read More

The Siren Depths: Best book in the series so far

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The Siren Depths by Martha Wells

Book three in Martha WellsBOOKS OF THE RAKSURA is The Siren Depths (2012). (By the way, the novels’ titles are only vaguely related to the plot, I’ve noticed.) If you've loved this series so far, I feel certain that you will love The Siren Depths. In my opinion, it's better than both of the previous books (The Cloud Roads and The Serpent Sea).

Moon, a Raksura (shape-shifting human/dragon) who used to be a lost orphan, is finally starting to feel comfortable in his new home with the Indigo Cloud Rak... Read More

Sufficiently Advanced Magic: Amazing LitRPG world that hijacks the plot line

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Sufficiently Advanced Magic by Andrew Rowe

Sufficiently Advanced Magic (2017) took 2nd place in SPFBO 3, which wrapped up last week. The book is a strong addition to the highly popularized LitRPG subgenre, though Rowe avows it is not strictly LitRPG. I am not a follower of the subgenre, but this book has enjoyed such runaway popularity over the past year, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

Introducing Corin Cadence, resident of a world where people can earn magical enchantments by progressing through magic towers where they encounter tests of strength, judgment and combat skill. If all goes well, the goddess grants the challenger an attunement, including a magical skill, and safe exit of the tower. If all goes poorly, challengers die ... get lost ... imprisoned ... or some other unpleasantness.

Corin’s primary motive in life is to enter... Read More

An Unkindness of Ghosts: Impressive debut novel

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An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

An Unkindness of Ghosts (2017), by Rivers Solomon, is a book that a lot of people will absolutely love unconditionally, a lot of people will love even as they hate reading large parts of it, and that will leave some people (cough cough this reviewer) a bit cold, which they will softly note while they keep their eyes down and move quietly for the exit. Despite falling into that last category, I’d still recommend Solomon’s debut novel for its stark depiction of a slave society that has too many echoes of our own world despite the sci-fi setting and for its diverse set of characters.

The novel is a generation ship story, with the premise that the society sent out into space on the ship Matilda was a slave-based one (or regressed to one, it’s not wholly explicit, though I believe it’s the former), with the u... Read More

Thunderhead: A tug-of-war between forward momentum and backsliding

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Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman

Neal Shusterman follows up Scythe, which introduced readers to a mostly-perfect futuristic world in which death isn’t permanent (until it very much is) with Thunderhead (2018), the second installment in his ARC OF A SCYTHE trilogy. Regrettably, I won’t be able to discuss anything about Thunderhead without spoiling some of Scythe’s details, so consider yourself warned and/or prepared.

Rowan Damisch and Citra Terranova are no more — at least, as far as the rest of the world is concerned. Rowan has taken his fight ... Read More

New York 2140: KSR imagines a future NYC

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New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

Kim Stanley Robinson is among the best there is at hard science fiction; he can write characters who feel like real people and give you ideas that keep you thinking well after you’ve set the book down. Unfortunately, New York 2140 (2017) is not up to the mark of his best work; fortunately, that still leaves plenty of room for it to be enjoyable and thought-provoking.

New York 2140 is, among many other things, a love letter to New York, or, as it is known in 2140, SuperVenice; the chapter titles and a number of references throughout (Archy and Mehitabel, anyone?) reference the city’s past (and, from our point of view, fut... Read More

The Overneath: And assorted interesting stories

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Reposting to include Jana's new review.

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 b... Read More

LIFEL1K3: Star-crossed lovers in a post-apocalyptic cyberpunk world

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LIFEL1K3 by Jay Kristoff

Jay Kristoff’s YA post-apocalyptic novel LIFEL1K3 (2018) stars seventeen-year-old Eve as its tough, fauxhawk-sporting protagonist. Eve is a gifted mechanic who lives with her grandfather, her only relative, in a post-apocalyptic island version of “Kalifornya” called the Dregs. She has a cybernetic eye and a memory drive (“Memdrive”) implanted in the side of her head, with silicon chips behind her ear that give her fragmentary memories of her childhood and supply her with other useful life skills. Eve’s secret pastime ― at least it’s secret from Grandpa ― is engaging in robot deathmatches to fund Grandpa’s anticancer meds. Eve’s besties are a feisty redhead named Lemon Fresh, whose name comes from the box in which she was found abandoned as ... Read More