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Lord Kelvin’s Machine: A steampunk adventure with time paradoxes

Lord Kelvin’s Machine by James P. Blaylock

James P. Blaylock returns to Victorian England in another steampunk adventure with scientist Langdon St. Ives and his nemesis, Dr. Ignacio Narbondo. Lord Kelvin’s Machine contains three related stories which each feature a fictional infernal device created by inventor Lord Kelvin. I listened to the excellent audio version which was produced by Audible Studios, is just over 8 hours long, and is narrated by Nigel Carrington.

In the prologue of Lord Kelvin’s Machine, Dr. Narbondo murders Langdon St. Ives’ beloved wife Alice which throws St. Ives into a funk. Part 1, titled “In the Days of the Comet” begins a year later. St. Ives has been depressed since Alice di... Read More

Horrible Monday: The Keeper by Sarah Langan

The Keeper by Sarah Langan

Bedford, Maine, is a town with one industry: the paper mill. It’s been poisoning the water and air for generations, and workers have all sorts of physical complaints from breathing sulfur and other toxic fumes, but if anyone thought about it, they’d know that the recent closing of the mill probably dooms their town.

But no one’s thinking about the mill and the town’s economy. Instead, they’re all focused on Susan Marley. She’s a silent, beautiful woman in her mid-20’s who lives in squalor, turning a trick now and then to stay supplied with Campbell’s tomato soup, which she eats straight out of the can. She appears nightly in just about everyone’s nightmares, making her a sort of literary ghost of Dickens’s Jacob Marley.

One of the people most haunted by Susan is her sister, Liz. Liz is in high school, and is planning to put Bedford behind her as soon as possible and nev... Read More

The Digging Leviathan: Dreamy, peculiar, and sweet

The Digging Leviathan by James P. Blaylock

The Digging Leviathan is the first book in James P. Blaylock’s LANGDON ST. IVES/NARBONDO series. I’ve been reading these out of order, which doesn’t seem to matter. The books have some overlapping characters, settings, and/or concepts, but each stands alone. The Digging Leviathan features two teenage boys, Jim Hastings and Giles Peach, who are living on the coast of Southern California during the mid-20th century. Each is a dreamer and each has his own “issues” involving his father.

Jim lives with his uncle Edward St. Ives (who, I’m assuming, is a direct descendant of Langdon St. Ives, the eccentric Victorian scientist who stars in several of the books in this series) because Jim’s mother is dead and his father is insane. (Or is he?) Most of the time Jim’s father lives in a mental hospital, but when he ma... Read More

Inheritor: Characters and drama reign supreme

Inheritor by C.J. Cherryh

Something must be done about the art decorating the covers of C. J. Cherryh’s unheralded FOREIGNER series. No offence to Michael Whelan, Dorian Vallejo, or any other of the artists who’ve been chosen to provide cover art, but their Golden Age depictions of alien life simply do not suit the temper of the books. Shame on DAW. Cherryh writes with subtlety and sensitivity regarding intercultural relations that the comic book renderings of guns and fantasy animals simply fail to parallel. Making matters worse, the crowd willing to buy the books based on such art will more than likely end up disappointed. The books’ focus on character and societal development toward peace and cultural understanding is far from scene after scene of gun fights and explosions. Like placing a scantily clad Barbie doll with elf ears and flaming sword o... Read More

Magician: Master: Fascinating world and characters hampered by lazy plot

Magician: Master by Raymond E. Feist

Magician: Master is the second book in Raymond E. Feist’s widely acclaimed RIFTWAR saga. In Magician: Master, we follow the life of Pug four years after he is captured by the Tsurani and enslaved in the Empire of Kelewan. Pug’s homeland, Midkemia, and his new home, the Empire, remain locked in a deadly war that is gradually weakening both worlds. Though Midkemia’s elves and dwarves and still fighting valiantly, the conflict is slowly tilting in the favor of the Tsurani, especially since Kelewan’s black robed sorcerers joined the fray. Meanwhile, the Midkemian king has passed away and the throne is left to Prince Lyan, who feels honor bound not to accept the crown. What’s more interesting is Tomas’s love story with the elf queen Aglaranna, which is hindered by his internal conflict with the Dragon Lord. All in all... Read More

The Gold Coast: A very possible, but unpleasant, future

The Gold Coast by Kim Stanley Robinson

The Gold Coast is the second book in Kim Stanley Robinson's Three Californias trilogy in which he presents three radically different future Californias. Where The Wild Shore showed us a post-apocalyptic society, The Gold Coast is more or less a continuation of where most people assume we’re heading at the moment: California, or at least the part that isn’t covered by freeways, is slowly turning into a gigantic mall.

A synopsis of The Gold Coast is pretty hard, since we get a lot of different points of view. The central character is Jim McPherson. Jim is the son of a defense contractor. His family is well-to-do and he moves in fashionable circles, but he's not a happy man. For one thing, he... Read More

Covenant’s End: Widdershins discovers that you can’t go home again

Covenant’s End by Ari Marmell

Thieves seem to be “in” this decade, and Ari Marmell’s Widdershins, from the COVENANT series, is one of the most popular in YA. In Covenant’s End, Widdershins returns to her home city, only to discover that there have been drastic changes while she has been away. Some are huge and affect the entire city. Some are personal, shifting the fault lines in Shins’ heart.

Shins carries a tiny god, Olgun, in her head. Olgun provides insight, but he can also boost Shins’s strength and power a bit, and provide small miracles. When the duo return to their home city of Davillon, they discover that she might not be the only one who has this kind of arrangement. Shins is up against her old rival Lisette, and Lisette has grown frighteningly powerful. To survive, and defeat Lisette, Widder... Read More

The Autumn Republic: A good but not perfect conclusion

The Autumn Republic by Brian McClellan

As a military fantasy fanatic, I found Brian McClellan’s The Autumn Republic to be a good but not perfect conclusion to his POWDER MAGE series. With The Autumn Republic, we follow Taniel’s and Tamas’ journey to save the city of Adro not only from invading armies, but from the gods themselves. General Ket is arrested and General Hilanska is a traitor to Adro.  Although Inspector Adamat wants to retire from his work for Tamas, he is repeatedly dragged headlong into the politics of the capital. Ka-Poel, continuing her fight with the gods, is captured. Will she be able to hold back the deities that desire Adro’s demise? All in all, Brian McClellan’s characters come together to from a compelling and intriguing war story punctuated by political intrigue and godly interference.

The characters have always been a ... Read More

California Bones: A fun fantasy caper with inventive magic

California Bones by Greg van Eekhout

The fantasy heist or caper novel, a la Oceans Eleven, has become a bit of a thing lately, and Greg van Eekhout’s California Bones is a thoroughly enjoyable entry in the sub-genre, with the requisite impregnable vault, witty banter, hard-nosed villains, and the like, in addition to a relatively unique magic system. It’s a good introduction to this multi-book series and having just finished book two, you can rest assured there isn’t any drop-off going forward (if anything, I actually liked Pacific Fire a little better).

The setting of California Bones is Los Angeles, but an L.A. in an alternate world, one where Southern and Northern California are their own kingdoms, separate from the United States; where L.A.’s notorious freeways are replaced by a canal system, and where some people ar... Read More

The Galaxy Game: A worthy sequel to The Best of All Possible Worlds

The Galaxy Game by Karen Lord

The Galaxy Game is Barbadian author Karen Lord’s third novel, following the critically acclaimed and award-winning Redemption in Indigo and last year’s well-received The Best of All Possible Worlds.

Something I want to get out of the way right from the start: while it’s not stated anywhere on the book’s cover, The Galaxy Game is the sequel to The Best of All Possible Worlds. I very much wish this had been made more clear from the onset, not for me (as I’ve read The Best of All Possible Worlds) but for any unsuspecting readers who haven’t. The book takes place in the same fictional universe, a few years after the conclusion of the first novel. More significantly, s... Read More

Horrible Monday: Equoid by Charles Stross

Equoid by Charles Stross

Equoid is a novella set in Charles StrossLAUNDRY FILES world. It isn’t necessary to have read any of the LAUNDRY FILES novels, but you’d probably get a little more out of Equoid if you first read at least the first two novels, The Atrocity Archives and The Jennifer Morgue. This story takes place after the events of the fourth novel, The Apocalypse Codex, and before the events of the fifth novel, The Rhesus Chart.

Bob Howard is a computational demonologist who works for the Laundry, the secret British agency that helps keeps the world safe from the eldritch horrors that lurk in another dimension. When curious mathematicians and physicist... Read More

Half a King: A new series for Abercrombie

Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

What happens when you are born crippled in a medieval world? What if your physical impairment is sufficient to leave you always at a disadvantage to others? How do you survive? In Half a King, the first book of Joe Abercrombie’s SHATTERED SEA series, those questions are answered in exciting and realistic ways.

Yarvi is a Prince of the ruling family of Gettland, one of the nations that surround the Shattered Sea. He has found his niche studying to become a Minister, a quasi-monk adviser to the ruler. His brilliant mind makes up for the half-formed arm and hand that he was born with. As the son of King Uthrik and with a strong, physically capable older brother, Yarvi won’t need to rely on the traditional sources of martial prowess to survive.

When King Uthrik is killed and his heir with him, Yarvi is thrust into the unwelcom... Read More

A Memory of Light: It could have been better, but I’m still applauding

A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson

If Robert Jordan lived in his own fantasy universe, I have to think he’d be the sort of fellow who would ask for the biggest damn sword he could heft. Not because it was practical, or even practicable at times, but because he thought it was just awesome that way. THE WHEEL OF TIME series is, at its core, Epic Fantasy carried to its furthest logical extreme. Isn’t that the only real point we can take away from this? Jordan, never content with one mythology or legend, decided to pour them all into a single body of work. His mission was to compile nearly every trope and plot element that Epic Fantasy had to offer, set the stage for the biggest conceivable struggle he could dream up, and then blow it all to kingdom come and drop the microphone on the whole subgenre. It’s meant, I thin... Read More

EDGE: The World Before Us by Aislinn Hunter

The World Before Us by Aislinn Hunter

[In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.]

The World Before Us
, by Aislinn Hunter, has at its core two roughly similar mysteries. One occurred almost 20 years ago when the main character, Jane Standen, was only fifteen and acting as a nanny for William Eliot and his five-year old daughter Lily. While in Jane’s care, Lily suddenly disappeared at the gardens of the Farrington country estate. A little more than a hundred years earlier, another girl, a young woman known only as N— went missing in roughly the same area, her disappearance noted in the records of the near... Read More

Ozma of Oz: Charming third installment

Ozma of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Ozma of Oz is the third book in L. Frank Baum’s OZ series. We all know what happened in the first book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. In the second book, The Marvelous Land of Oz, a boy named Tip accompanied several strange characters on a quest to help restore Princess Ozma to the throne of Oz. Dorothy, who was back in Kansas, didn’t appear in The Marvelous Land of Oz.

Ozma of Oz begins as Dorothy Gale (we didn’t know her last name until now) is with Uncle Henry on a ship heading to Australia. A storm blows up and washes Dorothy over the side. (It seems to me that Dorothy has an uncanny ability to attract deadly storms. Perhaps she should change her last name.) She manages to stay ... Read More

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