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Where the Veil Is Thin: A mixed bag of fairies

Where the Veil Is Thin edited by Cerece Rennie Murphy & Alana Joli Abbott

Where the Veil Is Thin (2020), an anthology of stories about fairies and spirits, began as a Kickstarter. The project was successful, and the book is now widely available. Editors Cerece Rennie Murphy and Alana Joli Abbott have brought together a diverse group of authors with a wide variety of writing styles and approaches to the fae. While the tag line on the back cover says “These are not your daughter’s faerie tales,” some of the stories do read as if they might be intended for a youthful audience, while others are definitely not for kids. The stunning cover art is by Anna Dittmann.

The collection begins with a brief introduction by Jim C. Hines. In it, he... Read More

TRUEL1F3: The final battle for control of the Yousay

TRUEL1F3 by Jay Kristoff

Jay Kristoff’s TRUEL1F3 (2020) wraps up his YA dystopian LIFELIKE trilogy with a long buildup to an epic battle, set in a nuclear-blasted future version of the “Yousay.” Some humans have (presumably due to radiation-induced mutations) developed superpowers and are often treated as deviants by normal humans; most of our main characters, like Lemon Fresh (named after the detergent box she was found abandoned in as a baby) are in this group. Intelligent robots are everywhere and are bound by Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics … other than a rebel group of advanced "Lifelike" robots, who were treated years ago with a Libertas virus that reprograms them without the Three Laws.

Several of the Lifelikes have b... Read More

The Harbors of the Sun: A lackluster ending

The Harbors of the Sun by Martha Wells

The Harbors of the Sun (2020) is the fifth and final novel of Martha WellsBOOKS OF THE RAKSURA (or at least this part of the RAKSURA series). It won’t make any sense if you haven’t read the previous books, so please do that first. There will be some spoilers for the previous novels in this review.

The Harbors of the Sun begins where the previous installment, The Edge of Worlds, abruptly ended. The Raksura were on a quest with some groundlings. They had entered an ancient city and discovered a powerful artifact and were on a ship heading away from the city when they were betrayed and poisoned. The artif... Read More

Shadow Over Mars: The author is better than the book

Shadow Over Mars by Leigh Brackett

Shadow Over Mars (1944), also sometimes reprinted as The Nemesis from Terra, was the first full-length novel by space opera author Leigh Brackett. (“Full-length” is relative here, though, as Shadow Over Mars is quite short, only 145 pages in the edition I read.) It is currently in the running for a 2020 Retro Hugo for Best Novel.

The book begins with the hero, Rick, running through a Martian city, trying to evade the agents of the Terran Exploitations Company, who want to press him into slavery in their mines. He ducks into the home of an old woman, who prophesies that she has seen his “shadow over Mars,” and then promptly tries to kill him. The prophecy, which is interpreted to mean that Rick will become the planet’s... Read More

Mera: Tidebreaker: A fresh look at an oft-sidelined DC heroine

Mera: Tidebreaker by Danielle Paige & Stephen Byrne

This is one in a series of graphic novels starring DC heroines in their teenage years, not compliant with any comic-book continuity, but which are aimed at slightly younger readers who might be interested in some of the female characters to have appeared in the recent influx of superhero movies (other titles in the series include Catwoman, Raven and Harley Quinn).

Having enjoyed Aquaman starring Jason Momoa and Amber Heard, I picked Mera: Tidebreaker up on a whim to learn more about the character of Mera, since in the film she's mostly a supporting character. Here Mera is the teenage princess of the underwater city of Xebel, betrothed to a boy she doesn't fully love, and fighting against Atlantean rule.

When she discovers that her betrothed will inherit the Xebellian throne if he kills the current heir to Atlantis, Mera decide... Read More

A Book of Bones: A book too long for its story

A Book of Bones by John Connolly

2019’s A Book of Bones is the 18th book in John Connolly’s CHARLIE PARKER series. This series is dark, with a thriller plot steeped in supernatural elements. Over the years, we’ve seen Parker, his human helpers Louis and Angel, and his supernatural protectors Sam and Jennifer face a variety of entities. A Book of Bones seems to resolve most of the issues around a specific Not-God and an evil murderous cult called the Familists. The two nasty villains, a book collector named Quayle and a creepy woman called Pallida Mors — a play on “Pale Death” — return from the previous book, and Parker is on their trail.

Parker is giving evidence in a child sex-trafficking case in Texas when he is called away by his FBI connection, Special A... Read More

Light of Impossible Stars: A satisfying but not great conclusion

Light of Impossible Stars by Gareth L. Powell

Gareth L. Powell brings his EMBERS OF WAR trilogy to a satisfying conclusion with Light of Impossible Stars (2020). You’ll need to read Embers of War and Fleet of Knives first. There will be some spoilers for those novels in this review.

When we left Captain Sal, she had just brought a few new crewmates aboard Trouble Dog: Captain Johnny Shultz, who lost his ship to ferocious dragon- and crab-like aliens; one of his crew with whom he had just begun a romantic relationship; and Lucy, the ship’s avatar in human form. Captain Sal had also just suffere... Read More

City of Lies: Appealing characters in this debut

City of Lies by Sam Hawke

Sam Hawke’s debut novel, City of Lies, is the first book in her POISON WARS series. It features two protagonists, Jovan and Kalina, who are brother and sister. They work for their friend Tain, a young man who has suddenly become the Chancellor of their country after his uncle was poisoned. As the Chancellor’s proofer, Jovan tests everything Tain eats or drinks. He knows how to detect most poisons, he’s inoculated against many of them, and he carries the antidotes. With a successful poisoner on the loose, Jovan’s job is more important than ever.

Kalina is trained in diplomacy, so her job is to advise Jovan in his interactions with his people and their enemies. This has also suddenly become an essential duty because an army has arrived at the gates a... Read More

Watermark: Mythic fiction with lush prose

Watermark by E. Catherine Tobler

Watermark (2014), by E. Catherine Tobler, is the story of Pip, a kelpie who is cast out of the Otherworld of the fae and into the human realm. Before that, she was being held in a tower in iron chains. She remembers very little before that; she doesn’t know what she was being punished for, or why she now finds herself in the town of Peak, Colorado, or why there was a dead girl lying next to her when she got there.

I first tried to read Watermark a few years ago and had trouble getting into it. I recently decided to give it another shot and … yet again had trouble getting into it. The early chapters of the book are confusing and sometimes frustrating, as Pip doesn’t know what’s going on and no one else will tell her either. The story moves quick... Read More

A Choir of Lies: A book I enjoy thinking about

A Choir of Lies by Alexandra Rowland

I enjoy thinking about A Choir of Lies, Alexandra Rowland’s 2019 novel, more than I enjoyed reading it. I usually like stories where the writer plays textual games, whether the story is epistolary, based on ephemera, uses marginalia, or even footnotes, upon which A Choir of Lies relies. I like stories that explore the nature of stories, and storytellers, which A Choir of Lies does. Rowland employs the clever turn of phrase and creates interesting characters. Still, with a 450-page book, in the first 171 pages nothing much happens. Reading the numerous footnotes against that backdrop was exhausting.

A Choir of Lies follows Ylfing, who was apprenticed to the Master Chant,... Read More

The Monstrous Citadel: A fun, lively summer read

The Monstrous Citadel by Mirah Bolender

2019’s The Monstrous Citadel is the second book in Mirah Bolender’s fantasy trilogy THE CHRONICLES OF AMICAE. This review may contain mild spoilers for the first book, City of Broken Magic. In this world, the main characters, called Sweepers, function like the people in an old British series called UXB, disarming undetonated magical weapons left over from an ancient war. Some of the magical infestations are like Japanese kaiju, and all require confinement in some kind of container.

Laura and Okane are Sweepers in Amicae, trained under the eccentric and controversial Sweeper Clae Sinclair. In the aftermath of City of Broken Magic Read More

Time Patrol: Classic time travel stories by Poul Anderson

Time Patrol by Poul Anderson

Between 1955 and 1995 Poul Anderson published a series of short stories, novelettes, novellas, and novels, about the Time Patrol, a secret group of people from all over the world whose job is to protect the world history we know. They jump up and down the timeline, making sure that terrorists and other disruptors don’t use time travel to remake history to suit their own malign purposes. Or any purposes, actually. Their goal is to keep history the same, even with all its evils, so as not to accidentally wipe out human civilization so that we can eventually evolve into the Danellians, a post-human species that is highly invested in making sure history doesn’t change.

Though there are many Time Patrol agents, the one we see most often in these stories is Manse Everard, an American man who was recruited by the ... Read More

Ancestral Night: Asks interesting and relevant questions

Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear

Haimey Dz grew up in an all-female community that she thinks of as a cult. After a bad experience involving a girlfriend, Haimey leaves her home, joins the Synarche, finds a business partner, has her body adjusted a bit (has her feet turned into another pair of hands), and starts a rescue and salvaging business.

Now Haimey and her partner, along with Singer, the sentient AI that drives the ship, travel through space, finding distressed or wrecked spaceships and either saving them or, if it’s too late, salvaging stuff. When we join them, they’re heading toward the source of a signal that seems to come from a ship that was lost a long time ago. Upon arrival, Haimey makes some unsettling discoveries and acquires some technology that somebody else wants. Now they’re being chased by pirates, including a really sexy one that Haimey knows she needs to stay away from.

Gradually Haimey... Read More

Destroy All Monsters: Aims high but doesn’t quite hit

Destroy All Monsters by Sam J. Miller

It’s interesting reading Sam J. Miller’s Destroy All Monsters (2019) with Akwaeke Emezi’s Pet still fresh in my mind. Both novels deal with child abuse and the question of what a “monster” is. Clearly, these themes are out there in the zeitgeist, and they’re resonating with readers; both books have been named Locus finalists in the Young Adult category.

Destroy All Monsters alternates between two points of view: high school best friends Ash and Solomon. Ash is an aspiring photographer on the trail of a group that’s been committing hateful acts of vandalism around town. Solomon is struggling with a mental illness and sees the world through ... Read More

Revenger: An entertaining YA space opera

Revenger by Alastair Reynolds

“If the Ness sisters had a brain cell between them, they’d be back in Mazarile, taking needlecraft lessons from a robot.”

Sisters Adrana and Fura Ness have run away from home, joining the crew of a spaceship captained by a man named Rackamore. Their job on the ship is to use a skull to listen in on chatter that gives them clues about things going on in the universe, such as the location of other ships, gossip, and information about “baubles” that are about to open. They relay these messages to the captain who takes the ship to a bauble so that others on the crew can enter it and collect ancient treasures before it closes again. Everyone on the ship apparently has some genetic affinity for their job.

What the sisters don’t know, before it’s too late, is that Captain Rackamore is being pursued by a pirate named Bosa who is the most feared person in space. She’s le... Read More

Batgirl Vol. 3: Summer of Lies (Rebirth): A collection of Batgirl stories

Batgirl Vol. 3: Summer of Lies (Rebirth) by Hope Larson & Chris Wildgoose

The third volume of Hope Larson's Batgirl run actually includes three separate stories, though the last is the longest and definitely the best. They're a nice mix of Barbara Gordon tackling old-school villainy and more contemporary issues, with her usual combination of bright-eyed enthusiasm and cutting-edge technology.

In "Troubled Waters" Barbara is investigating a haunted public swimming pool, in which several swimmers have seen a strange purple energy. Along with the over-enthusiastic host of a ghost hunting reality show. It's a short but fun tale that is totally lifted from Fred's backstory on season three of Joss Whedon's Angel, but also showcases Barbara's intelligence and mystery-solving skills.

"The Truth About Bats and ... Read More

A Skinful of Shadows: A captivating read

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge

Here in the UK, Frances Hardinge is everywhere. Her new book, A Skinful of Shadows (2017), was plastered all over the London underground in the run-up to its publication, thrusting Hardinge into the mainstream.

I heard Hardinge talk about A Skinful of Shadows at a local bookshop and she admitted that she’d felt some pressure when writing. I can’t help wonder if this pressure somehow seeped into the novel as she wrote.

Like all of her books, A Skinful of Shadows is an adventure. There’s a plucky heroine, plenty of ghastly enemies and best of all, murderous ghosts. But the story lacked the originality of her previous work and felt alto... Read More

Legends of the Sky: Strong emotions, interesting politics, weird pacing

Legends of the Sky by Liz Flanagan

Legends of the Sky by Liz Flanagan, first published in the UK in 2018 as Dragon Daughter and reprinted in the US in 2019, is set on the island nation of Arcosi. Dragons have long been extinct on Arcosi, but still play a powerful symbolic role in the culture. (For what it’s worth, I like the UK title better! I think it more effectively conveys both the importance of dragons and the revelations about long-lost family that the heroine, Milla, will experience.)

Milla is a young servant girl who witnesses a murder. The killer doesn’t find the prize they were looking for, but Milla does—a bag containing four dragon eggs. In time these eggs come to the attention of the Duke, who wants control of them to increase his power, but it turns out that dragon hatchlings bond strongly to one person and cannot thrive without that person. O... Read More

The Ghosts of Sherwood: Too short, but has good heroic characters

The Ghosts of Sherwood by Carrie Vaughn

The Ghosts of Sherwood (2020), a novella by Carrie Vaughn, was for me a frustrating story, with several strong aspects but also some elements that drove me crazy, leaving me overall disappointed but hopeful for its follow-up, The Heirs of Locksley.

As the titles make clear, Vaughn is working in Robin Hood territory here. More precisely, she picks up the story many years later. Robin of Locksley and his wife Marian live on the edge of Sherwood Forest with their three children: Mary, John, and Eleanor (in that order) and have thrived in relative peace after Robin oh-so-painfully swore fealty to King John after the death of King James. While bowing the knee gave him influence within the power circle of the kingdom, allowing him to protect not just his ... Read More

Interference: Cultures collide on an alien world

Interference by Sue Burke

The small colony of humans on the planet Pax, who left Earth a couple of hundred years earlier, have established a cooperative relationship with at least some of the sentient plant life on Pax, as well as a group of nomadic aliens called the Glassmakers, as related in Semiosis. Their technology now is more Stone Age than Information Age (Pax is deficient in metals). So it’s out of the question to return to or even communicate with Earth, which is 55 light years away. But Earth hasn’t forgotten about Pax.

In this sequel, Interference (2019), a scientific expedition of thirty people from Earth makes plans to travel to Pax to see what has become of the colony there. Different members of the expedition have varying reasons for going, ranging from scientific curiosity to a desire to escape t... Read More

Blood of the Heroes: Exciting, educational, slightly sexist

Blood of the Heroes by Steve White

Tantor Audio is publishing Steve White’s JASON THANOU (TEMPORAL REGULATORY AUTHORITY) series in audiobook format, so I tried the first book, Blood of the Heroes, originally published in 2006. It’s not great literature, but it’s diverting and even educational (which I can appreciate).

Jason Thanou is a retired agent of the Temporal Regulatory Authority (TRA), an organization that, among other things, monitors and protects academics who use time travel in their studies. He’s been called back to the service for the agency’s most ambitious project yet. He is asked to accompany a couple of scholars to 1628 BC where they will watch the Minoan eruption and its aftermath. Jason’s tired of shepherding pompous academics through time, but when he finds out that... Read More

Strange Love: Light-hearted alien romance

Strange Love by Ann Aguirre

“This whole alien abduction thing isn't the worst thing that has ever happened to me.”

Ann Aguirre’s Strange Love (2019) isn’t the type of book I normally read, so keep that in mind. I picked it up because the publisher of the audiobook, Tantor Media, offered me a review copy of their recently released edition (April 2020) and I thought it would be nice to try something different.

The story is about an alien named Zylar who wants to marry but has been unsuccessful in the marriage challenges and is about to be relegated to a life of bachelorhood doing a menial job for his tribe if he doesn’t succeed in the next annual Choosing.

Zylar thinks he’s found a suitable mate from another planet (and species) but, on his way to meet her family and ... Read More

Providence: Feels meaningless and hopeless

Providence by Max Barry

Seven years ago, previously unknown aliens attacked and destroyed the crew of a human spaceship. The brutal event was recorded, so all of humanity has seen it. Ever since, Earth has been at war with these “Salamanders.”

The latest war ship to be developed and deployed against the salamanders is the Providence. It’s equipped with artificial intelligence that takes care of most of the shipboard tasks but is crewed by four humans who’ve been appointed after an arduous selection process. To keep the public support, the crew maintains active social media profiles. This is an important part of their jobs. The crew members of the Providence are:

Gilly, the computer programmer, is the youngest of the crew and the only one with no military background.
Talia, the Life Officer, is responsible for the mental health of the crew. She is constantly role-playing and branding herse... Read More

Stories of Your Life and Others: Eight carefully crafted stories

Reposting to include Tadiana's new review.

Stories of Your Life: And Others by Ted Chiang

In his review of Ted Chiang’s brilliant short story collection Stories of Your Life and Others (2002) in The Guardian, China Miéville mentions the “humane intelligence [...] that makes us experience each story with immediacy and Chiang’s calm passion.” The oxymoron “calm passion” is an insightful and ingenious way to describe these stories because of the way it hints at their deft melding of the most solid of hard science fiction concepts with an often surprisingly gentle, hu... Read More

Darth Vader and the Ninth Assassin: Darth Vader goes on a mysterious mission

Darth Vader and the Ninth Assassin by Tim Siedell & Stephen Thompson

I noticed with interest that this volume was published in 2013, meaning it just missed out on being an official part of the new Disney canon. Yet despite being relegated to what’s now called Star Wars Legends, Darth Vader and the Ninth Assassin still fits into the new continuity (minus one small detail at its conclusion) that can be read as a straightforward standalone story.

The head of a vast mining operation vows revenge on Darth Vader after the death of his only son and heir. Having already sent eight assassins to kill the Emperor’s apprentice, he now goes in search of more lethal assailants, one that can guarantee to bring him Vader’s head.

Meanwhile, Vader manages to prevent another assassination attempt on the Emperor, one that very nearly succeeds despite their combined power in the Force. Realiz... Read More