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Half a Crown: The most optimistic, but weakest, book of the trilogy

Half a Crown by Jo Walton

(Warning: may contain spoilers of the two previous books.)

In the foreword to Half a Crown, Jo Walton says that she is by nature an optimistic person and that’s why she wrote the SMALL CHANGE series (which she refers to as Still Life with Fascists). Half a Crown, the final book in the trilogy, is admittedly more optimistic that the first two. Sadly, in several ways it’s the weakest of the three, although still worth reading.

The final book is set in 1960, more than ten years into the repressive fascist regime of Prime Minister Mark Normanby. Peter Carmichael is now the head of the Watch, Britain’s Gestapo. Within the Watch, Carmichael and his lieutenant Jacobson, the agency’s “model Jew,” run the clandestine Inner Watch, an underground railroad that sends Jews and other people deemed ... Read More

Supreme Power: Powers and Principalities by J. Michael Straczynski

Supreme Power (Vol. 2): Powers and Principalities by J. Michael Straczynski

In this volume, the shinola hits the fanola. Turns out alien superbeings don’t like being lied to or manipulated in the way they were raised . . . Who knew?! In Powers and Principalities, the second volume of Supreme Power, Hyperion now knows that the government sponsored fiasco that he calls his childhood was all just a scam so the U.S. of A. could have a super-weapon in its back pocket. He’s not impressed. Add to that the awakening of a possibly schizophrenic super-woman who wants to help Hyperion take over the world and the fact that the government’s only other superhero, Joe “Doc Spect... Read More

Sourcery: Wizardry vs. Sourcery

Sourcery by Terry Pratchett

Sourcery begins as Ipslore the Red is about to die — or, more accurately — it begins as Death is coming to collect Ipslore’s soul. Wizards can see Death, so some plan to negotiate terms before departing.

Ipslore is an eighth son and a wizard. Banished from Unseen University for marrying and having children, Ipslore manages to create a magic staff for his own eighth son, a newborn he has named Coin, just before he dies. Coin, being the eighth son of an eighth son, is not just a wizard — he’s a sourcerer. And instead of dying, Ipslore transfers his being into the staff, cheating Death, so that he can guide Coin’s destiny.

What’s the difference between a sourcerer and a wizard? It’s not that sourcerers are more powerful than wizards so much as wizards are not particularly powerful at all. Sourcerers are powerful like gods. According to the L... Read More

Morningside Fall: A good book for gamers

Morningside Fall by Jay Posey

(Warning; May contain spoilers of the earlier book, Three.)

Before I sat down to write my review of Morningside Fall, the second book in Jay Posey’s LEGENDS OF THE DUSKWALKER series, I had to go back and re-read my review of book one, called Three. I enjoyed Three, but I had a lot of the same problems that I had with Morningside Fall, and I have to say I was less satisfied with this second volume.

When Morningside Fall opens, eight-year-old Wren has been made Governor of the city of Morningside. He has vanquished the villain through high-tech stuff (Wren is basically a Magical Child). His mother, Cass, who was killed, had been r... Read More

The Quantum Thief: Unique and interesting, sometimes confusing

The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi

As an avid fan of high/epic/military fantasy, I generally don’t find myself reading much sci-fi. That said, The Quantum Thief has definitely convinced me that I should insert some more space opera into my to-read shelf. On the whole, The Quantum Thief turned out to be a highly promising novel that leaves me wanting more. The premise of the book is interesting, and the setting has some fantastical elements that feel delightfully unique. Furthermore, the storyline was highly engaging and suspense kept pulling me on throughout the novel, while the prose is adequate, if not particularly spectacular. However, The Quantum Thief has a few weaknesses that prevent me from loving it.

The first book of the JEAN LE FLAMBEUR series, The Quantum Thief is Hannu Rajaniemi’s Read More

Blood Will Follow: A small step backwards

Blood Will Follow by Snorri Kristjansson

In my review of Snorri Kristjansson’s first Viking book, Swords of Good Men, I pointed to how the action was generally a positive but issues of pace, POV, and characterization made the book fall somewhat short (I gave it three stars). Now his follow-up, Blood Will Follow is out, and while it improves in some areas, some flaws still carry over while the action has become, I thought, less compelling. I’m still giving this one three stars, but it’s a bit more shaky. Warning: spoilers for book one to follow.

Swords of Good Men introduced a Scandinavian setting set during a time of upheaval. Young King Olav is sweeping through spreading Christianity via the sword and trying to wipe out the old gods, who understandably don’t take kindly to the attempt and find themselves some proxy humans. The town of Stenvik be... Read More

Brilliance of the Moon: A slightly anti-climactic finale

Brilliance of the Moon by Lian Hearn

With a complicated web of back-story set up and a return to familiar characters that we’ve seen develop, it goes without saying that Brilliance of the Moon should be the gripping climax of a trilogy that has thus far moved from strength to strength. The third and final instalment of the TALES OF THE OTORI series, the book has many loose ends to tie up, not to mention a certain prophecy that needs fulfilling. Across the Nightingale Floor and Grass for his Pillow were always going to prove tough acts to follow, and unfortunately Brilliance of the Moon doesn’t quite live up to its predecessors’ standards.

We start from where Grass for his Pillow left off: Takeo and Kaede have just been married in secret and it is now up to them to unite the Three... Read More

Ship of Fools: This dated award winner still has some influence

Ship of Fools by Richard Paul Russo

Richard Paul Russo published Ship of Fools in 2001 and it won the Philip K Dick Award for that year. I read it when it came out but only remembered two or three scenes from it (powerful scenes, though, I should say). The re-read surprised me and maybe disappointed me slightly. One thing seems clear. In 2001 Russo was playing with concepts that would show up in later writers’ work with regularity in the intervening fourteen years; the “generation ship” and the idea of  a social and economic underclass is addressed by Brenda Cooper in her YA series RUBY’S SONG, and more pointedly in the graphic novel and movie Snowpiercer. I think Russo even influenced Joss Whedon, because ... Read More

Edge: The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

[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.]

I don’t usually include photos of a book I’m reviewing, except for the cover, but part of the charm of Murakami’s odd little novella, The Strange Library, is its exquisite packaging. The book is published by Borzoi Books, an imprint of Knopf well known for unusual packaging, and they had a lot of fun with this one.

The Strange Library opens like a stenographer’s pad, at first. And then you turn the first page and you’re reading a conventional western book. Well, kind... Read More

Superheroes Anonymous: A light, fun twist on superheroes

Superheroes Anonymous by Lexie Dunne 

Superheroes Anonymous by Lexie Dunne follows the adventures of Gail Godwin, otherwise known as Hostage Girl, in a world where superheroes and villains exist as celebrities and fodder for gossip websites. A Chicago reporter, Gail — or Girl, as her friends call her — is constantly kidnapped and held hostage by supervillains and subsequently saved by Blaze, one of the most popular heroes. The gossip columnists speculate that Blaze’s identity is Jeremy, Girl’s real-life boyfriend, but she doubts it. However, when Jeremy breaks up with her and moves to Miami, Blaze leaves Chicago for Miami. With no hero to save her, Girl is captured yet again and injected with a serum that gives her superpowers of her own.

With this event, Girl is formally inducted into the underground realities of being a superhero. She learns the real-world identities o... Read More

The Lost Boy by Greg Ruth

The Lost Boy by Greg Ruth

Beautiful artwork makes up for a derivative story, but some “homage” should be acknowledged

Middle grade readers who like The Amulet will probably enjoy Greg Ruth’s graphic novel adventure, The Lost Boy, published by Scholastic. This is a conventional tale, enlivened with beautiful black and white artwork that looks like it’s done in pencil. I have to admit that the cover immediately sucked me in.

Nate Castle has just moved to a new house in a new town, a town filled with tree-lined streets and very curious birds. While he is exploring the house he finds a 1960s-vintage tape recorder hidden i... Read More

The Queen of the Tearling: A book I enjoyed in spite of the problems

The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Imagine this as the plot for a fantasy novel: After the Queen’s death nearly twenty years ago, a weak regent has been ruling the kingdom. A group of corrupt guards come up with a plan to depose the regent and install a figurehead queen they control. They search the kingdom and find the least-qualified-for-queenship girl possible; a bumpkin raised in complete isolation who is educated in “the classics” but knows or understands nothing about current events, basic economics or politics. The guards scoop her up to be their puppet, but they don’t know that their bumpkin is under the influence of a powerful magical artifact. Once the reach the capital, the girl, influenced by the artifact, does things that destabilize this badly weakened country even further. To their horror, the guards discover that they can’t control their puppet, who is now installed as a legitimate ruler.

This Read More

The Mist-Torn Witches: Fun but forgettable

The Mist-Torn Witches by Barb Hendee

The Mist-Torn Witches is a book that kind of leaves me torn. In some aspects, it’s a really great fantasy book and in others it just lacks… something. The Mist-Torn Witches is a rather short, fun little murder mystery with some magic thrown in for good measure. It’s the kind of fantasy that is a lot of fun to read, but ends up being not quite so memorable.

The two main protagonists in The Mist-Torn Witches are sisters, Celine and Amelie. Celine earns their money by pretending to be a seer and her sister Amelie is the tom-boy, protector of the two. She can kick ass and take names. The plot really starts running when it becomes apparent that two princes are vying for power over their area. One of them is shadowy and presented as being almost unbelievably evil. The other is a haunted ghost of a man who, in contrast... Read More

Heritage of Cyador: Follows the pattern

Heritage of Cyador by L.E. Modesitt Jr

Heritage of Cyador is the eighteenth book in L.E. Modesitt Jr’s SAGA OF RECLUCE and is the immediate sequel to Cyador's Heirs. It continues the story of Lerial, the second son of the Duke of Cigoerne. This is a typical Modesitt novel, which means it follows the pattern of having different political parties wrangling back and forth with each other until a hero is forced to use his magical skills in some unique and unexpected way to save the day. It's formulaic to be sure, but if you happen to like this pattern, you will enjoy the story.

The continent of Hamor is comprised of competing nation-states. The different rulers are often misled into equating their own ego and lust for power with what is best for their nation. The result is a constant state of at least minor warfare with countries probing each other back and forth l... Read More

Suicide Kings: Surprising depth

Suicide Kings edited by George R.R. Martin

Suicide Kings is the third part in the latest reincarnation of the long-running WILD CARDS series. Together with Inside Straight and Busted Flush it forms the Committee trilogy. I guess you could consider this trilogy WILD CARDS the next generation. These books are meant to be an entry point for new readers. Like most of the previous novels, Suicide Kings is a collaborative effort. This volume is written by six authors — Daniel Abraham, S.L. Farrell, Victor Milán, Melinda M. Snodgrass, Caroline Spector and Read More

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