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All the Birds in the Sky: A likeable fable about magic and science

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Reposting to include Katie's new review.

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

All the Birds in the Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders, is a likeable book. The writing is fluent, filled with grace notes, witty observations and jokes that poke fun, but gently, at certain subcultures and stereotypes — mostly, the ones we all enjoy mocking from time to time.

Furthermore, in her Afterword, Anders says that if you don’t understand the story, she will come to your house and “act the whole thing out for you. Maybe with origami finger puppets.” So there’s that.

All the Birds in the Sky is one of small, newish category of fiction, one I don’t have a label for. It includes Robin Sloan’s Mr. ... Read More

Agents of Dreamland: An atmospheric, disturbing tale of horror from space

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Agents of Dreamland by Caitlín R. Kiernan

Caitlín R. Kiernan delivers another atmospheric, disturbing horror story with her novella Agents of Dreamland, published by Tor in 2017. Kiernan shifts between the tropes of secret agent thriller, creepy death-cult horror and Lovecraftian terror from space, as agents from two competing intelligence agencies try to parse a mass-murder atrocity that took place at Moonlight Ranch, on the banks of California’s Salton Sea.

Kiernan gets style points for including the Salton Sea. It’s a perfect metaphor for the idea of poisoned dreams and it functions well in this short work as an isolated place where a charismatic cult leader prepares his followers to be, well, I guess “transformed” would be the word.

The Sig... Read More

The Edge of Everything: For the perfect love, what would you be willing to lose?

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The Edge of Everything by Jeff Giles

It's not been the best year for Zoe. What with her father’s death in a caving accident, her neighbour’s disappearance and then the fact that she is brutally attacked with her younger brother in a cabin in the woods, it's fair to say things have been better. But with the arrival of the mysterious paranormal bounty hunter “X”, everything is about to change.

On the surface, The Edge of Everything might look like your average contemporary YA novel, but it is far darker than many readers will expect. The tortured (and suitably broody) X has been tasked with hunting those that have done evil deeds in their life. He then plays them their life events before brutally murdering them and sending their soul to hell. He is not supposed to reveal himself to anyone other than his victims, and when he reveals himself to Zoe, it is un... Read More

Caraval: Remember, it’s only a game

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Reposting to include Ray's new review.

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

I was so excited by the premise of Stephanie Garber’s Caraval (2017) that I listed it as one of my most anticipated books of 2017. Word has it that there are already plans to make Caraval into a film and I expect it is going to get a fair amount of hype. I can understand why and yet I find I cannot give it more than three stars. I will attempt to justify the reasons why.

Scarlett spent her childhood dreaming of the magical show called Caraval and its mysterious proprietor, Master Legend. Over the course of ten years she write him letters, begging him and his players to come to the small island where she lives with her sister, Tella, and her oppressive, violent father. Now grown-up and engaged to be married, Scarlett finally rece... Read More

Gilded Cage: The abuse of power by the super-powered

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Gilded Cage by Vic James

In the world of Gilded Cage (2017), there are those who are called Equals ― but there’s a deep divide between Equals, who have magical Skills, and the commoners, the Skilless, and they are decisively not equal. In England the Equals are both the aristocrats and the sole parliament, and they hold all the power, with the magical ability to enforce it.

One of the ways the Equals use their power is to require all commoners to spend ten years of their lives as slaves, known as slavedays. There are some interesting rules associated with this 10-year slavery law: there are advantages to doing it early in your life (such as the right to own a home, travel abroad, and hold certain jobs), you are required to begin them no later than age 55, and those under age 18 are to serve in the same place with their parents.

When 18-year-ol... Read More

Forest of Memory: Engaging if somewhat bewildering

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Forest of Memory by Mary Robinette Kowal

A story set in the future about an ‘authenticities’ dealer, Forest of Memory is set in a culture where everyone is connected by an omnipresent internet. The main character has a personal AI who is always listening and also recording and broadcasting the life of the protagonist. Mary Robinette Kowal then thrusts the main character into a situation where none of her technology works.

The premise of the tale interested me. In few words, Kowal has built a culture that is both rooted in today and wholly futuristic. It is believable and engaging, asking and answering: what if the internet connects us all, all the time? Its dream-like atmosphere and descriptions lend to the uniqueness of the tale, and made it a gripping setting.... Read More

Wintersong: Fervour and fairytale

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Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

Once upon a time fairytale retellings were a rare thing, but nowadays, everyone seems to be doing it. S. Jae-Jones' debut, Wintersong (2017), promises a tale of the Goblin King fused with Germanic folklore. So how does Jae-Jones' contribution to this over-saturated genre fare?

Wintersong centres around Elisabeth — or Liesl, as she's known — the unremarkable and “unlovely” eldest daughter of a musician. Like her father, music is the true love of her life, but it is her younger brother, the boy in the family, who gets to live out her dreams of becoming a musician, because of course, girls should be seen and not heard. Her sister, the beautiful Käthe, is too busy flouncing about town, flirting with anything that has a pulse, to see how much Liesl is suffering.
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A Criminal Magic: Suspenseful plot, great descriptions of magic

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Reposting to include Marion's new review.

A Criminal Magic by Lee Kelly

In A Criminal Magic, Lee Kelly creates a world in which the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution, ratified in 1919, banned sorcery rather than alcohol. Kelly combines remarkable creativity, imagination, and insight into the human condition, blending fantasy with history and ending up with a complex, entertaining, compelling novel.

Naturally, the passage of A Criminal Magic’s fictional amendment results in the same response as its historical analogue: sorcerers are thrust into the criminal underworld, brewing an illegal ruby-red elixir. This “shine,” as it’s known, is smuggled by gangsters into “shining rooms” across the country, fronted by legal liquor bars and raided by members of the Federal Prohibition Unit who... Read More

After Atlas: CSI: Future World

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After Atlas by Emma Newman

Emma Newman’s After Atlas (2016) is the pseudo-sequel to her first sci-fi offering, Planetfall (2015). As Kat explained in her review, Planetfall is about a colony of humans who left Earth to follow Suh, an alleged prophet who received a supernatural message giving her the coordinates of an unknown distant planet where she was supposed to travel to receive instructions about God’s plans for humanity. After Atlas takes place on Earth, almost 40 years after the ship left. No word has come from the colonists, but the world awaits the opening of a time capsule left behind by the crew.

Carmen left her husb... Read More

The Raven’s Table: Viking fans, horror fans and gamers will find plenty to like

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The Raven’s Table: Viking Stories by Christine Morgan

Christine Morgan’s work has appeared in various anthologies, such as History is Dead, a Zombie Anthology, and Uncommon Assassins. Her work is closely related to role-playing games and she is a dedicated gamer according to her website. The Raven’s Table: Viking Stories is a story collection of her Norse or Viking-themed works. The collection includes poetry, adventure, fantasy and horror in a couple of flavors. Five of the eighteen pieces are original to this collection.

Morgan’s work has its roots deeply in epic fantasy, and almost all of these tales are set during the Viking years. A couple take place in a locale that might be the Norse colonies in Labrador. Morgan’s language is right for an oral tradition, and several of the prose... Read More

Lost Souls: A novella for CAINSVILLE completists

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Lost Souls by Kelley Armstrong

Kelley Armstrong’s Lost Souls is that quintessential three-star book. There’s nothing wrong with it, but at the same time, it didn’t blow me away.

It’s a CAINSVILLE novella that falls between book three, Deceptions, and book four, Betrayals. If you haven’t gotten that far, you’re in for a slew of spoilers, so I would recommend waiting and reading it in sequence. At the end of Deceptions, Gabriel said something cruel to Liv, and now their friendship is on shaky ground.

That’s when Gabriel encounters a new, weird case. In an echo of an old urban legend, a spectral woman in white hitches a ride with a businessman. He i... Read More

The Guild Conspiracy: A good YA steampunk adventure

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The Guild Conspiracy by Brooke JohnsonPublished in 2016, The Guild Conspiracy, by Brooke Johnson, is the second book in the CHRONIKER CITY STORIES series. It begins about six months after the events of Book One, The Brass Giant. Petra Wade, a young woman fighting to be accepted as an equal in the Engineers Guild, continues her struggle while also waging an asymmetrical battle against Julian Goss, an engineer who has a terrifying view of a mechanistic future world and is willing to orchestrate a war to get it.

I liked The Guild Conspiracy much better than I liked The Brass Giant, mainly because any romance is in the backgr... Read More

The Burning Page: Lots of action but didn’t quite satisfy

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The Burning Page by Genevieve Cogman

The Burning Page (2017) is the third book in Genevieve Cogman’s THE INVISIBLE LIBRARY series, and it’s safe to say that a lot goes on in this book. I enjoyed it in the moment, but I was left unsatisfied on a couple of points. Even though there is a lot of activity in the book, I have to say that, for me, this was the least successful entry in this fun series so far.

Please note that on Amazon and other sites, my opinion is a minority. Most readers of this series are pleased with this book. So, as we say, your mileage may vary.

After the events in The Masked City, Irene has been busted down to probatio... Read More

American Gods: Mixed opinions

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Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

This is a bad land for Gods... The old gods are ignored. The new gods are as quickly taken up as they are abandoned, cast aside for the next big thing. Either you've been forgotten, or you're scared you're going to be rendered obsolete, or maybe you're just getting tired of existing on the whims of people.

Shadow, just out of prison and with nothing to go home to, is hired to be Mr. Wednesday's bodyguard as he travels around America to warn all the other incarnations of gods, legends, and myths, that “a storm is coming.” There's going to be a battle between the old gods who were brought to melting pot America by their faithful followers generations ago, and the new gods of technology, convenience, and individuality.

That's the premise of Read More

Miniatures: Like pistachios; you won’t stop with one

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Reposting to include Bill's new review:

Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi by John Scalzi

Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi (2016), is a collection from John Scalzi, published by Subterranean Press. Sub Press cleverly chose only one blurb for the back cover, from Kirkus reviews: “Often verging on the silly, but on the whole, quite amusing.”

That was a stroke of marketing genius on the part of Sub Press because this collection of works does verge on the silly. It jumps the border of silly. It tap-dances and cartwheels through the world of silly, shrieking “Wheeeee!” the whole time until the end, where there is one serious piece. As a journalist, a columnist, and a long-time blogger, Scalzi works well in... Read More

Nine of Stars: An intriguing start to a new trilogy

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Nine of Stars by Laura Bickle

Nine of Stars (2016), Laura Bickle's dark and fantastical tale of an alchemist's daughter in Wyoming, is attempting to cast a wide net as far as its readership goes. It is billed as both the third instalment of the DARK ALCHEMY trilogy, as well as the first book in the WILDLANDS series, which readers can jump straight into. What's more, it's a fantasy-cum-crime-cum-romance, so it should in theory be ticking a lot of boxes for a lot of readers. Jana and Ray have once again joined forces in this review, so in the interest of clarity, we've marked Jana's contributions in black whilst Ray's are in blue.

Jana: Petra Dee is a geologist living in the small town of Temperance, Wyoming; she spends her days taking ro... Read More

The Gates of Evangeline: A compelling outsider main character

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The Gates of Evangeline by Hester Young

The Gates of Evangeline (2015) by Hester Young is a domestic thriller set in Louisiana. I’m reviewing it here because it has a supernatural element: Charlotte, the main character, who goes by Charlie, starts having dreams or visitations from children. At least one of the children is dead; others are, or were, in danger. These visitations lead Charlie, whose young son died suddenly, to the plantation house called Evangeline, and the thirty-year-old mystery of the disappearance of two-year-old Gabriel Deveau.

The Gates of Evangeline is Young’s first novel. I made a mistake when I started it; some pages clung together and I started with Chapter One instead of the Prologue. The opening paragraphs of Chapter One are gripping and heart-rending, as the bereaved Charlie struggles to fi... Read More

The Tempestuous Voyage of Hopewell Shakespeare: A fun, diverting read from a solid author

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The Tempestuous Voyage of Hopewell Shakespeare by Sophie Masson

I've always enjoyed Sophie Masson's books; to put it simply, her stories are imaginative and her prose is elegant. The Tempestuous Voyage of Hopewell Shakespeare is no exception, (though it's not one of my favourites of hers) inspired by Shakespeare's The Tempest and Twelfth Night, and containing all that those titles imply: adventure, romance, mystery, magic, mistaken identity, and of course — a voyage that ends in a shipwreck upon the shores of an exotic island.

According to her author's note, the name of the protagonist derives from her sister-in-law's anecdote about teaching Shakespeare with texts published under the imp... Read More

Shadowed Souls: One way to audition a new Urban Fantasy series

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Shadowed Souls edited by Jim Butcher & Kerrie L. Hughes

Shadowed Souls is an invitational anthology edited by Jim Butcher and Kerrie L. Hughes. Butcher is the author of three fantasy series: THE DRESDEN FILES, THE CODEX ALERA, and THE CINDER SPIRES. Hughes is an established short fiction writer who has edited several anthologies including Chicks Kick Butt, Westward Weird, and Maiden Matron Crone.

The theme of Shadowed Souls is, “good isn’t always light and evil isn’t always dark,” and the eleven stories here showcase main characters — often from the writer’s series — who struggle not to give in to the monster within... or to keep it contained. W... Read More

A Crucible of Souls: A solid if somewhat familiar entry in the fantasy genre

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A Crucible of Souls by Mitchell Hogan

A Crucible of Souls by Mitchell Hogan is the first book of a trilogy that runs over pretty familiar ground in the coming-of-age fantasy genre and rarely rises above average in its telling, but has a likable enough main character and an intriguing enough plot to keep the reader satisfied.

Caldan is a young orphan raised by monks in a relatively secluded monastery that typically educates the wealthy children of the empire. When an incident occurs between one of those wealthy entitled youth and Caldan, he is expelled from the monastery by the monks, who give him a pair of powerful (and possibly dangerous) heirlooms left to him by his parents. The monks also reveal that what Caldan had been told about his parents’ deaths wasn’t quite the full truth. Determined to make his way in the world, and maybe find out more about his pa... Read More

Do Elephants Have Knees and Other Stories of Darwinian Origins: Sometimes convoluted, thoroughly informative

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Do Elephants Have Knees and Other Stories of Darwinian Origins by Charles R. Ault, Jr

In Do Elephants Have Knees and Other Stories of Darwinian Origins (2016), Charles R. Ault, Jr. takes a unique path to explaining the complexities of evolution, using children’s books such as Morris the Moose, Treasure Island, Diary of a Worm and others as springboards to discussing Charles Darwin’s path to discovery, from his time as an insatiably curious child to his adventure-filled twenties to the twilight years he spent focused on the lowly (though not to him) earthworm.

The focus is, as the title notes, on origins, and so we learn about the early ancestors and evolutionary route to those elephants (yes, by the way, they do have knees), whales, tetrapods, and p... Read More

Last Song Before Night: A debut from an author with tremendous potential

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Reposting to include Kevin's new review.

Last Song Before Night by Ilana C. Myer

Last Song Before Night (2015) is the debut novel from Ilana C. Myer, and while many aspects of the work shine — detailed world-building combined with protagonist backstory and development — they come at the expense of antagonist development, prose ranging from lovely to overly ornate, and, most importantly, the plot of the novel itself.

The novel ranges far and wide, but at its crux, there is a woman named Lin who seeks to achieve the impossible by becoming a female poet, forbidden in the land of Eivar for reasons that are never satisfactorily explained. It comes across as nothing more than a deliberate authorial obstacle intended to make Lin’s against-the-odds journey that much more difficult and her successes that much sweeter. Acade... Read More

The Dispatcher: Interesting premise that’s hard to believe in

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The Dispatcher by John Scalzi

A weird thing has happened in our world. Suddenly, people who are murdered can come back to life. Nobody knows why. It doesn’t happen when people die naturally — only when they’re murdered. To take advantage of this new death loophole, the job of Dispatcher has been created and Tony Valdez is one of them. His job is to murder people so they can end up in their own beds a few hours before they died. For example, in one scene we see Tony murder a man who is about to die on the operating table and in another we see him shoot a woman who just got hit by a bus. Dispatchers occasionally do less savory jobs, too, such as shooting injured stuntmen on movie sets so the studio won’t get sued for damages.

When one of Tony’s fellow Dispatchers disappears, a policewoman asks him to help with the investigation. Tony is reluctant, but she is persuasive and he get... Read More

Ice Like Fire: Winter’s been saved — but not for long

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Ice Like Fire by Sara Raasch

When I reviewed Snow Like Ashes, the first book in the SNOW LIKE ASHES series (back when I was a FanLit newcomer), I complained of a lack of depth to the world that Sara Raasch created. In some ways, its sequel Ice Like Fire (2015) gave me what I desired; I was pleased that the world of Primoria is explored and developed in this book. But where one issue was partly solved, others were thrown up. Once again I found a story with plenty of potential that, if looked at in any depth, felt incomplete.

Interestingly, Raasch starts her acknowledgements by saying that “sequels are hard”. She admits that this second book hurt and that s... Read More

Angel Catbird by Margaret Atwood

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Angel Catbird by Margaret Atwood, Johnnie Christmas & Tamra Bonvillain

For a literary giant who is approached with a seriousness that borders on reverence, Margaret Atwood is perfectly willing to have fun and write whatever she wants. Sometimes that is clearly genre-tinged; sometimes it is darkly humorous, and sometimes it’s a graphic novel for children about a superhero who is part human, part cat and part owl. And that’s the premise of Angel Catbird, Volume 1.

Atwood’s story and words are illustrated by Johnnie Christmas and colored by Tamra Bonvillain. (I do wonder whether at least one of those surnames is a pseudonym.) Christmas’s images have a simple, comic-strip look to them. With a few exceptions, they reminded me of Kid Beowulf by Alexis Farjado. They’re at least in that style. Bonvillain nicely mixes color palettes... Read More