3

Click on stars to FIND REVIEWS BY RATING:
Recommended:
Not Recommended:

Embers of War: A pleasant but forgettable space opera

Embers of War by Gareth L. Powell

Embers of War (2018), which is a finalist for the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel, is the first book in Gareth L. Powell’s EMBERS OF WAR series. The story is set in the far future, after humans were welcomed into the Multiplicity.

In the prologue we meet Captain Sally (“Sal”) Konstanz and the sentient spaceship she captains, Trouble Dog. They belong to the House of Reclamation, an ancient organization that serves the Multiplicity by rescuing the crews and passengers of injured or stranded spaceships. Trouble Dog used to be a warship but after being ordered to nuke the planet Pelapatarn, killing a sentient forest and many people, Trouble Dog felt remorse and left the military.

Also aboard the Trouble D... Read More

Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune: Like a Chinese-American Hallmark movie

Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim

A bitter, ongoing quarrel with her mother about her career plans to be a chef led Natalie Tan to leave her San Francisco home in anger. Seven years of stubborn silence and globe-wandering later, Natalie is called home by a neighbor at her mother’s passing. She still deeply desires to be a chef and to have her own authentic Chinese restaurant, like her grandmother Qiao had done many years earlier, and now she’ll have the chance: Natalie has inherited her laolao’s (maternal grandmother’s) long-abandoned restaurant below their apartment. It’s still operable, though dusty and dirty, but their Chinatown neighborhood is fraying, with family-owned businesses dying and a steep rise in real estate prices causing Chinese families to move away.

A psychically-gifted neighbor returns Qiao’s old, handmade recipe book to Natalie, along with a prediction: if Natalie cooks three rec... Read More

Exile’s Valor: Important events occur, but there’s a lot of down-time

Exile’s Valor by Mercedes Lackey

Exile’s Valor (2003) is the sequel to Exile’s Honor (which is the best VALDEMAR novel I’ve read so far). Both of these books are prequels to Mercedes Lackey’s first VALDEMAR trilogy (HERALDS OF VALDEMAR). You should read Exile’s Honor before starting Exile’s Valor but you don’t need to read any other VALDEMAR novels in order to understand and appreciate Exile’s Valor.

Alberich, formerly an enemy of Valdemar, is now the weapons master of its heralds and is a chief advisor and bodyguard to queen Selenay. He also continues to en... Read More

If Tomorrow Comes: Pretty balanced between positive and negative aspects

If Tomorrow Comes by Nancy Kress

Nancy Kress’ Locus finalist If Tomorrow Comes (2018) follows up on Yesterday’s Kin, though works fine as a stand-alone. I hadn’t read Yesterday’s Kin, and thanks to the independent nature of If Tomorrow Comes, and some efficiently economical backstorying by Kress, I didn’t feel that lack at all.

Millennia ago, aliens took a group of humans from Earth and transplanted them to another planet, where they have since created a more peaceful, egalitarian, ecologically-responsible, and overall contented society than our own (though, as Kress is at pains to make clear, not utopian — they have crime, inequality, etc. — but they ena... Read More

Nyxia Uprising: A somewhat predictable end to an exciting series

Nyxia Uprising by Scott Reintgen

Nyxia Uprising (2019) is the fast-paced conclusion to Scott Reintgen’s NYXIA TRIAD YA sci-fi trilogy, an adventure with several teenage protagonists. It’s set both in space and on a distant planet called Eden that has two moons, an alien race called the Imago, and an abundant supply of nyxia, a malleable mineral with near-magical powers. These three books tell a single, unified story, and it’s impossible to appreciate this series without reading all of the books in order … and here is your obligatory spoiler warning for the earlier volumes, as I’ll briefly recap the tale thus far.

The first volume, Nyxia, had a Read More

Inspection: Here’s how to ruin your experience with this book

Inspection by Josh Malerman

Here’s how to ruin your experience with this book: Read the publisher’s blurb below, think it sounds sweet and thoughtful, and then order an audio copy that doesn’t have a book jacket containing quotes from Chuck Wendig and J.D. Barker. The publisher’s blurb goes like this:

J is a student at a school deep in a forest far away from the rest of the world. J is one of only twenty-six students, all of whom think of the school’s enigmatic founder as their father. J’s peers are the only family he has ever had. The students are being trained to be prodigies of art, science, and athletics, and their life at the school is all they know — and all they are allowed to know. But J suspects that there is something out there, beyond the pines, that the founder does not want him to see, and he’s ... Read More

Kingdom of Needle and Bone: Preachy, but interesting

Kingdom of Needle and Bone by Mira Grant

Lisa Morris, Patient Zero, is only eight years old when she contracts a mutated and vicious form of measles, infects hundreds of other people while visiting Disney World, and dies. The disease races across the planet, killing millions, because “the virus always spreads.”

Lisa’s Aunt Isabella, a pediatrician who feels guilty about Lisa’s death, goes on a crusade to protect those who haven’t yet been exposed to the virus. Her pediatric clinic is targeted by anti-vaxxers, but she continues to champion — and try to explain — herd immunity. Then her youngest sister discovers something even more terrifying than the obvious initial effects of the new virus, making Isabella change course and launch an elaborate plan that may not be entirely ethical but just may save the human race.

Mira Grant Read More

Planetfall: An SF exploration of mental illness

Planetfall by Emma Newman

Planetfall, the first science fiction offering from Emma Newman, 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. Suh and her best friend Ren, a brilliant geneticist and engineer, gathered a team of like-minded believers and they landed on the planet 22 years ago. After “Planetfall,” Suh disappeared into “God’s City,” where she continues to live and send yearly messages and instructions to the rest of the colonists. All is going well until a visitor arrives and claims to be Suh’s grandson. His presence threatens the colony’s peace and it’s up to Ren, the story’s protagonist, to pr... Read More

Alta: Multiple plot problems, but I want to know what happens next

Alta by Mercedes Lackey

Alta (2004), the second book in Mercedes Lackey’s DRAGON JOUSTERS quartet, starts where Joust left off. Vetch, formerly a slave and more recently a “dragon boy” in the land of his enemies, has escaped with the dragon he raised from an egg. They are now in Alta, the land of his birth, which has been occupied by Tia, the land he just escaped from.

Vetch (now called by his real name, Kiron) arrives with much knowledge about how Tians train their jousters, and about how to best raise and train dragons. He hopes to meet the right people and convince them to try his training methods so that, in the future, Alta will be better prepared to win their country back. He worries a bit that so... Read More

The Chaos Function: No matter how bad things seem, they can always be worse

The Chaos Function by Jack Skillingstead

Jack Skillingstead’s latest novel, The Chaos Function (2019), has a fairly straightforward premise: a young journalist accidentally receives the ability to shift reality from one possible timeline to another, though not without disastrous consequences. The first time she performs this shift, it’s purely by accident, though that doesn’t make the new future any less grave. Each time she shifts to another possible timeline without returning to the original, the consequences become more and more dire, until she is left with a terrible choice: return reality to its intended course or watch the entire world destroy itself.

At its heart, it’s a gripping conceit, and watching the various permutations of reality spin farther and farther out of control was enough to keep me turning the pages to see how things could possibly become more dire. What sta... Read More

That Ain’t Witchcraft: A standard entry in this entertaining series

That Ain’t Witchcraft by Seanan McGuire

The crossroads have always been a place of power and magic, a place where humans could go to make bargains. In the late 15th century, though, the nature of those bargains changed, becoming cruel and tricky, often with deadly results for the humans. In Seanan McGuire’s That Ain’t Witchcraft (2019), Annie Price and her incryptid friends must confront the crossroads to help an ice sorcerer (and get back Annie’s magic, which the crossroads are holding as collateral), all the while dodging Leonard, the loyal heir to the leadership of the Covenant of St. George, a deadly organization intent on destroying all the incryptids on earth. Once again, Annie must function without the help of the loyal and wonderful Aeslin Mice.

After Annie and her boyfriend Sam, who is a furi, a ... Read More

In Evil Times: Exciting and entertaining, despite the problems

In Evil Times by Melinda Snodgrass

In Evil Times (2017) is the second book in Melinda Snodgrass’s IMPERIALS saga. You’ll want to read The High Ground first. (Expect spoilers for that novel in this review.)

At the end of The High Ground we left Tracy (smart low-class scholarship student) in despair when his friend/nearly lover Mercedes (heir to the imperial throne) ditched him for a more suitable (noble) match. Poor Tracy.

After enduring his graduation ceremony and Mercedes and Boho’s wedding, Tracy is assigned to a spaceship at a much lower rank than his higher-class fellow students. As he goes about his duties for his empire, he keeps getting passed ... Read More

A Hawk in the Woods: Monsters may be scary, but it’s family that’ll get you

A Hawk in the Woods by Carrie Laben

Abby Waite, a moderately successful internet celebrity, is diagnosed with a terminal disease. The prognosis, even with treatment, isn’t good, so Abby decides it’s time to break her twin sister Martha, serving a twenty-year sentence for murder, out of prison, and go to the family cabin in Minnesota. It should come as no real surprise that the prison-break is the easiest thing to accomplish in A Hawk in the Woods (2019), by Carrie Laben, a road-trip-family-reunion-horror-story inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Thing on the Doorstep.”

Both Waite daughters have powers. They are orphaned, and now that they are out on the road, it seems that they have attracted the attention of various horror-style predators. The story alternates between the weird road trip and flashbacks to ... Read More

Smoke & Summons: The city outshines the characters

Smoke & Summons by Charlie N. Holmberg

Charlie N. Holmberg’s latest novel is Smoke & Summons (2019) volume one of the NUMINA TRILOGY, in which a mysterious girl flees from magical slavery, girl meets boy, boy turns out to be a skilled thief with a troubled past and a heart of gold, boy helps girl avoid capture, feelings grow between them, and so on.

The girl in question is Sandis, and the boy (well, mid-twenties adult man) is Rone. Sandis has been in slavery for the last four years of her life, after being kidnapped and then sold to Kazen, a sadistic old man whose hobbies include keeping a bunch of teenagers in a deep-underground dungeon where he commits illegal acts of occultism. Sandis and the others like her are ritualistically-bound vessels into which magical spirits known as num... Read More

Oathblood: Stories about Tarma and Kethry

Oathblood by Mercedes Lackey

Fans of Tarma and Kethry shouldn’t hesitate to pick up Oathblood (1998), a short story collection featuring all of Mercedes Lackey’s tales about the female sword and sorcery duo. A couple of these stories appeared in The Oathbound and Oathbreakers, the other two books in Lackey’s VOWS AND HONORS series (part of the larger VALDEMAR saga), but most did not (though published elsewhere previously).

In these stories we witness the event that set Tarma on her quest for revenge (and, wouldn’t you know, it involves a gang rape, a common feature in Lackey... Read More

Queen of No Tomorrows: Atmospheric writing in a story of LA Noir-weird

Queen of No Tomorrows by Matt Maxwell

Matt Maxwell’s 109-page novel (I’d call it a novella), Queen of No Tomorrows (2018), mixes American tentacular-weird with LA Noir, flavoring the story with bits of pot-smoke-fueled punk imagery of the 1980s. It is a story that thrives on shadows.

Cait MacReady works as a book restorer for the Los Angeles Public Library. On the side, she locates rare, exotic occult volumes for discerning customers… or, when the books are unavailable, creates them herself. She is an expert forger, and when Queen of No Tomorrows opens we learn that Cait has created her first original book, which she has named The Smoking Codex. Cait feels as if she practically channeled the book; she wrote the text as if in a dream and doesn’t know where the inspiration for the artwork came from. It is a masterpiece and she is proud of it. Now s... Read More

The High Ground: Entertaining space opera

The High Ground by Melinda Snodgrass

In the far future, humans have expanded into the universe and left Old Earth behind. But some old institutions still remain: slavery, patriarchy, the Roman Catholic church, a hereditary monarchy, and an aristocracy that descended from today’s Fortune 500.

The current emperor has nine daughters and no sons. In order to keep the crown in his family, he changes the law to allow women to enter The High Ground, the military academy (required for ascension to the throne). Thus, his teenage daughter Mercedes, along with a couple of her retainers, will be the first women to enter The High Ground. Her father has charged her to become an officer and to find a military husband who will help her when she becomes empress.

On the other side of town, a very smart boy named Tracy, the son of the emperor’s tailor, has won a full scholarship to The High Ground. He doesn’t want to be a soldie... Read More

The Bedlam Stacks: A charming historical fantasy

The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley

After her enchanting debut, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, Natasha Pulley returns with another multicultural Victorian adventure, this time in the form of a quinine expedition to the deepest, darkest corners of Peru.

The Bedlam Stacks (2017) follows the escapades of Merrick Tremayne, whom we initially meet in the bucolic backwaters of Cornwall. He is living under the good grace of his brother, Charles, after sustaining a leg injury working as an agent-cum-smuggler for the East India company. His mother has been committed to the madhouse (society being a little less politically correct in 1859 than today). Both Merrick's brother and mother are keen for him not ... Read More

Oathbreakers: Better than the first book

Oathbreakers by Mercedes Lackey

Oathbreakers (1989), the second book in Mercedes Lackey’s VOWS AND HONOR series, is much better than the first book, The Oathbound. You probably don’t need to read The Oathbound first, unless you want the backstories on the main characters.

Tarma and Kethry are a female sword-and-sorcery duo. Tarma, a swordsmaster, is the last remaining member of her clan after they were obliterated by raiders. Kethry became a powerful sorceress after escaping an abusive arranged marriage. The women have become sworn sisters and they plan to revive Tarma’s clan after starting a sword-and-sorcery school. For now, they are working as mercenaries, tryi... Read More

Mahimata: Concludes the ASIANA duology with more questions than answers

Mahimata by Rati Mehrotra

Rati Mehrotra follows up her YA debut, Markswoman, with Mahimata (2019), the other half of her ASIANA duology, a bubbling cauldron of fantasy, science fiction, post-apocalyptic Earth, and telekinetic metal forged into guns and swords. Brief, but unavoidable spoilers for Markswoman will follow; I’ll keep them to a minimum.

Kyra, still gravely wounded from her battle with Tamsyn, carries much doubt and anger both as a result of what she learned about Tamsyn during their duel and how Kyra ended that duel. The Order of Kali’s elders have spent the past few months since then in conference, and have arrived at a decision: Kyra will be named Mahimata, the le... Read More

Early Riser: Solid enough but has pacing issues

Early Riser by Jasper Fforde

Jasper Fforde offers up his trademark sardonic wit in his new novel Early Riser (2019), though it’s more chuckle-worthy than laugh out loud and has several issues that relegate it to the category of a lesser Fforde. I was, to be honest, a bit disappointed, at least partly because I so love much of his earlier work, but despite that disappointment, the book still manages to (just) tip on the side of being a worthy read.

Early Riser is set in a world (limited to Wales for the novel’s plot) where the human race hibernates through each brutal winter, save for a stalwart group who does all the necessary work to keep the world working and the sleepers alive. This isn’t some recent apocalypse; in this universe, winters have always been far worse than our own, i... Read More

Breach of Containment: Doesn’t live up to the advertisement

Breach of Containment by Elizabeth Bonesteel

This third novel in Elizabeth Bonesteel’s CENTRAL CORPS series needs to be read after you’ve finished the previous novels, The Cold Between and Remnants of Trust.

When publishers make promises such as “a page-turning hybrid combining the gritty, high-octane thrills of James S. A. Corey and the sociopolitical drama of Ann Leckie” I just can’t help but point out when the book doesn’t deliver. I have enjoyed Elizabeth Bonesteel's CENTRAL CORPS novels enough to continue the series when I already have the audiobooks loaded onto my phone, and I was multi-tasking by doing a jigsaw puzzle at the same time, but that’s about it. I object... Read More

The Ruin of Kings: A solid series starter with some structural issues

The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons

Jenn LyonsThe Ruin of Kings (2019) is the first of a five-book series, A CHORUS OF DRAGONS, that didn’t fully win me over but did do just enough to keep me reading through its 500-plus pages and end up sufficiently intrigued to move on to the sequel when it eventually arrives. I just wish I could have written “excited to move on to” rather than “sufficiently intrigued.”

The novel’s structure is a bit complicated. Two narrators (Kihrin and Talon) are each recording the tale of how Kihrin ended up in prison with Talon as his jailor, alternating narration (Talon’s in third person, Kihrin’s in first). Each, however, picks up the story in a different part of the past and then moves forward chronologically, so we have two time-lines set in the past and a “current” timeline with the Kihrin and Talon telling their stories. I... Read More

Remnants of Trust: Some improvements, but still kinda bland

Remnants of Trust by Elizabeth Bonesteel

Remnants of Trust (2016) is the second novel in Elizabeth Bonesteel’s CENTRAL CORPS trilogy. If you haven’t yet read The Cold Between, you should read it first. This review may contain spoilers for that first novel.

Elena and Greg were appropriately court-martialed for their actions in The Cold Between and, instead of prison, their ship Galileo was given a low-level assignment in a backwater sector of space. This partially restored my faith in their military structure, but Elena and Greg suspect that there is a secret segment of the military (called Shadow Ops, actually) that may be manipulating th... Read More

City of Broken Magic: Enjoyable

City of Broken Magic by Mirah Bolender

Mirah Bolender’s debut novel, City of Broken Magic (2018), is an enjoyable book, with an interesting magical system and a main character, Laura, who matures as the story progresses. Physical descriptions of the city of Amicae, where Laura lives, and the various settings for action sequences, are nicely done. I’d recommend this book for a long, rainy afternoon, or a snow day — it’s an entertaining way to spend a few hours.

Laura Kramer is an apprentice Sweeper. Sweepers deal with the “monsters” who infest the broken or drained magical amulets everyone in the city (and all neighboring cities) use. The monsters eat magic; magic is in everything, including people, which means they eat us. Laura is the main Sweeper’s, Clae Sinclair’s, senior apprentice and his onl... Read More