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La Belle Sauvage: A companion to HIS DARK MATERIALS

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Reposting to include Katie's new review.

La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

I always find it a little nerve-wracking when an author returns to a successful series after a long time away. There's always the fear, for me at least, that one of two things is going to happen: either the author will be nostalgic about the original work to the extent that s/he makes the new book into a fawning tribute without substance, or the author will have changed enough in the time between installments that the magic is just gone. I'm happy to say, though, that Philip Pullman's new novel dispels both of those fears. La Belle Sauvage (2017) is, though not quite as much a game-changer as The Golden C... Read More

Sunrunner’s Fire: Not the end of the story

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Sunrunner’s Fire by Melanie Rawn

Sunrunner’s Fire (1990) is the third and final book in Melanie Rawn’s DRAGON PRINCE trilogy, but it is not the end of the story. The story continues in a second trilogy called DRAGON STAR. While the immediate tension of Sunrunner’s Fire is resolved by the end, there are looming issues that remain, making Sunrunner’s Fire feel like another middle book.

The story begins just after the end of the previous book, The Star Scroll (for which this review will contain spoilers) and moves us quickly through several years’ worth of significant events before settling in on the... Read More

Red Glove: Sacrifices the main plot for intriguing settings and secondary characters

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Red Glove by Holly Black

Following the events of White Cat, Red Glove (2011) finds Cassel, the protagonist of Holly Black’s series THE CURSE WORKERS, simultaneously dealing with no shortage of familial drama and direct fallout from his actions in the earlier installment. Red Glove is thus a direct continuation of the series that seeks to build upon the established characters, world, and particular circumstances revealed at the end of the first novel: with varying success.

Red Glove takes the time to let the reader engage more with the stand-out secondary characters of the series. Some of my favourites, like Cassel... Read More

Od Magic: A mild book

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Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Od Magic by Patricia A. McKillip

The city of Numis is home to the famous Od School of Magic, founded years ago by the legendary giantess Od. She’s apparently immortal, but appears only occasionally, and therefore the school lies in the hands of the king Galin and the wizard-headmaster Valoren, who demand strict obedience from its students. Any unorthodox magic is outlawed, any student that step outside the boundaries set for them are expelled. This is especially true of any student who goes wandering in the Twilight Quarter of the city: a neighborhood that comes alive only after dark, a place of wild and uncontrollable magic that the king is determined to stifle.

This is particularly true when two new faces arrive in Kelior. One in a simple gardener named Brenden Vetch, sent by Od herself to the school in order to take up... Read More

Orphan of Destiny: A clean and quick end to an entertaining trilogy

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Orphan of Destiny by Michael Spradlin

Believe it or not, I started reading this trilogy in 2010, and have only just managed to settle down with the final instalment. As such, my memories of the first two books, Keeper of the Grail and Trail of Fate, were a little fuzzy, though I did recall the general gist of the plot.

Tristan is a young Templar squire who has been charged by his master to find the Holy Grail and take it to a place of safety in Scotland. Having teamed up with Robard Hode (a young Englishman) and Maryam (an Arab assassin), he escapes the cliff-hanger of the previous book and finds himself back on English shores within the first few chapters.

From there the travell... Read More

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

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Reposting to include Jana's new review.

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 t... Read More

How to Stop Time: It isn’t you; it’s me.

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How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

How To Stop Time (HTST): So, do you want to, like, go out again next week or ...

ME: I’m, I’m sorry, but I don’t think, I don’t think this is going to —

HTST: Was it something I —

ME: No. No. It isn’t you; it’s me.

HTST: Not that old —

ME: No, really. Look, there are lots of nice readers out there for you. Millions.

HTST: Millions?

ME: Millions. Like, maybe even best seller millions. And book clubs. And —

HTST: Book clubs? You think?

ME: Definitely. And don’t be surprised if you find yourself a nice screenwriter either, someone who will like you for your good qualities, treat you right, and adapt you.

HTST: You’re not just saying that? Be honest with me.

ME: I’m not just saying it. I am... Read More

Empire of Storms: The series is kicked up another notch

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Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas

The fifth book (not counting the prequel novellas) in Sarah J. Maas's THRONE OF GLASS series is easily twice as long as the first book, but has one thing in common: half the story is a really good action-fantasy-adventure, and the other half is an overwrought "love" story.

In the case of Throne of Glass, the bad half was more to do with frivolous teenage angst impinging on what was otherwise a pretty serious fight-to-the-death tournament, but here it's the fact that nearly the entire cast of characters are caught up in rather melodramatic romances.

Love in YA fiction is usually (albeit accidentally) depicted as lust, angst, or a dire comb... Read More

Heir of Fire: Opens up more plots, introduces more characters

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Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas

This is the third book in Sarah J. Maas's THRONE OF GLASS series, detailing the journey of Celaena Sardothien throughout the fantasy world of Erilea; specifically her ongoing struggle to use her assassin's training to pursue justice throughout the land. Given that she's in the employ of the corrupt King of Adarlan, this requires a fair bit of subterfuge and deceit, for as we learned at the end of the previous book, Celaena is actually the lost queen of Terrasen and the heir to its throne.

In a reasonably good twist on the usual fantasy clichés, it turns out that Celaena knew her true identity all along and was simply keeping it a secret. Now sent on a mission to assassinate the rulers of Wendlyn, Celaena is instead discovered by a fae nobleman called Rowan and... Read More

The Glass Town Game: A strange, unsettling and deeply personal project

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The Glass Town Game by Catherynne M. Valente

Any book by Catherynne M. Valente contains both the unexpected and the unsurprising. You can always anticipate clever wordplay, a sense of whimsy, and prose that just stops short of purple, but in regards to content all bets are off. She can write anything, from a Wild-Western Snow White, to a brand new take on Arabian Nights, to a sci-fi, alt-history space opera mystery.

And in this case, the plot of The Glass Town Game (2017) almost defies description. Four children, who just happen to be Charlotte, Branwell, Emily and Anne Brontë (yes, THOSE Brontës), are being sent away to boarding school when a mysterious train pulls up and whisks them away to Glass Town. Astonishment reigns since this is the imagi... Read More

Markswoman: A mostly-solid debut

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Markswoman by Rati Mehrotra

Markswoman, the 2018 debut from Rati Mehrotra, is mostly a YA fantasy novel with a post-apocalyptic Earth background and sci-fi elements sprinkled in for flair. It’s an ambitious undertaking, and though it doesn’t always succeed, the characters and their world are interesting and Mehrotra’s prose is compelling.

Kyra, an orphan newly initiated as a Markswoman in the Order of Kali, has spent the majority of her life training as an elite warrior and learning to wield her kalishium blade — a short sword which has telepathic abilities. The Order took her in after her entire family was slaughtered, and has trained her in various deadly arts under the tutelage of their leader, Shirin Mam. But dissent swells in the ranks, led by the ambitious Mistress of Mental... Read More

The Star Scroll: A mild epic fantasy

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The Star Scroll by Melanie Rawn

The Star Scroll (1989), the second novel in Melanie Rawn’s DRAGON PRINCE trilogy, picks up fourteen years after the end of the first novel, Dragon Prince. You’ll want to read Dragon Prince before starting The Star Scroll. This review will contain spoilers for Dragon Prince.

Life has been pretty easy for Prince Rohan, his wife Sioned, and their son Pol since Rohan beat Roelstra, the evil High Prince, and claimed his throne for Pol fourteen years ago. Rohan and Sioned have become rich, thanks to a secret never-ending supply of wealth that is related to... Read More

A Taste of Honey: An unusual and fascinating world

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Reposting to include Marion's new review.

A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson

Another 2016 Nebula nominee today, this time for best Novella. A Taste of Honey (2016) is set in the same world as a previous work by Kai Ashante Wilson, The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, which I confess I have not read (it’s not necessary for the understanding of this story, though it may provide some useful background to the setting and its institutions).

At its heart, A Taste of Honey is a love story between two men from different lands — wealthy nobleman, Aqib, from Olorum (where the story is set), and battle-hardened warrior... Read More

Dragon Prince: Now on audio!

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Dragon Prince by Melanie Rawn

Melanie Rawn’s DRAGON PRINCE trilogy is finally being produced in audio format by Tantor Audio. The series begins with Dragon Prince (1985) and follows the inhabitants of a continent divided into several princedoms and ruled by a nasty and ruthless High Prince who has 17 bratty daughters but no male heir.

At the beginning of Dragon Prince, the prince of the desert region of the continent is killed while dragon-hunting and is succeeded by his son Rohan. Rohan’s youth and bookish nature do not inspire much confidence from his subjects and the High Prince and other princes assume they can take advantage of him. (There are some women in the family, including Rohan’s strong and competent older sister... Read More

Altered Starscape: Military SF with a smorgasbord of imaginative physics

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Altered Starscape by Ian Douglas

Altered Starscape (2016) has its jumping off point (literally) in the year 2162. Humanity has been in contact with other galactic races for thirty-eight years, and still feels itself at a disadvantage in comparison with the many more advanced races. Earth’s government has entered into an alliance with some of those alien civilizations, receiving FTL travel capabilities, fusion power and other advanced technology in return for promised assistance in a vaguely understood alien war. Now the massive colony starship Tellus Ad Astra (“Earth to the stars”), carrying over a million people and AIs, is traveling to the Galactic Core on a cultural union mission.

The mission gets ripped off course when catastrophe strikes, resulting in the starship’s encountering the powerful black hole at the Galactic Core. When the dust s... Read More

Banewreaker: Beautiful but remote

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Banewreaker by Jacqueline Carey

They say there are two sides to every story. In Banewreaker, the first book in Jacqueline Carey’s THE SUNDERING duology, we hear the story of the sundering of the world from the perspective of the dark side.

Satoris is one of the shapers of the world, seven sibling gods who crafted the creatures of the world and gave them their various gifts. When Satoris was too generous with the gifts he bestowed upon humans, his siblings attacked him and started a war that sundered the world. The humans, with their dearth of understanding, blame Satoris for their plight. Thus, for centuries, he has lived in isolation in his castle called Darkhaven with some servants, including a few men — his generals — whom he has given the gif... Read More

Raw Spirit: The search for Scotch

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Raw Spirit by Iain Banks

In Raw Spirit (2003), Iain Banks (Iain M. Banks to science fiction readers) and his friends journey in search of the perfect dram.

It would not be wise to approach this book for an overview of Scotch, how it’s made, and how to drink it. One part stunt memoir, one part travelogue, and one part wide ranging digressions, Raw Spirit is really held together by Banks’ love of Scotch and of hanging around with his buddies. In essence, this means that they tour around Scotland in fast cars, they travel to midge-infested islands to look at distilleries, and, generally speaking, eat until they’re stuffed and drink until they’re loaded. There’s a section of recommended books for further reading, the table of contents is quite... Read More

Point Blank: Alex Rider is back (in more ways than one!)

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Point Blank by Anthony Horowitz

I read the first book in the ALEX RIDER series (Stormbreaker) several years ago, and since I enjoyed it so much, I've no idea why it's taken me this long to get to its sequel: Point Blank, named for the elite boarding school high in the French Alps. Here the troubled sons of millionaires are sent in order to be tutored in isolation, away from any bad influences, though MI5 is concerned when two of the students' fathers are found dead in unusual circumstances. Surely it can't be a coincidence?

They decide to send in Alex Rider, the nephew of deceased agent Ian Rider, who has previously been used to infiltrate an organization that only a teenager could explore without attracting undue attention. Trained by MI5 and given a ... Read More

Artemis: Andy Weir’s moon phase

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Reposting to include Bill's new review.

Artemis by Andy Weir

Life in Artemis, the only human city on the moon, is rough for Jasmine Bashara, a 26 year old delivery person, smuggler, and would-be tourist guide. She fails her EVA (extravehicular activity) Guild exam in, literally, breathtaking fashion; she’s somewhat estranged from her welder father, to whom she owes a huge personal debt; she’s living alone in a tiny, claustrophobia-inducing capsule room; she barely gets by on her payments as a porter (supplemented by some judicious smuggling activity). But Jazz wouldn’t want to live any other place ― certainly not on Earth ― and she’s determined to make a success of her life, with no help from anyone.

So when Trond Landvik, one of the wealthiest people on the moon and a regular customer for Jazz’s smuggled luxuries, offers her a million “slugs” (m... Read More

Vallista: Vlad gets trapped in a mysterious mansion

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Vallista by Steven Brust

Everyone’s favorite Jhereg assassin is back in Vallista, Steven Brust’s fifteenth VLAD TALTOS novel. If you’re not familiar with this series, don’t start here. Get a copy of Jhereg and read the books in publication order (which is not, by the way, the same as the internal chronological order, but that’s okay). Let me recommend the audio versions produced by Audible Studios and read by Bernard Setaro Clark. He does such a great job capturing Vlad’s sarcastic personality and the amusing dialogue between Vlad and Loiosh, the reptilian familiar who rides around on Vlad’s shoulder.

If you’re reading this, I’ll assume you’re a fan... Read More

The Crystal Heart: An interesting retelling of a familiar tale

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The Crystal Heart by Sophie Masson

I've always enjoyed Sophie Masson's books, and it would seem she's written something of an unofficial trilogy based on the stories of Rapunzel (The Crystal Heart), Cinderella (Moonlight & Ashes) and Beauty and the Beast (Scarlet in the Snow). All of them are based on old familiar fairy tales, but take the opportunity to flesh out the characters and expand the tales into fully-fledged adventures, till they bear very little resemblance to their original sources.

In this case, it's easy to forget that The Crystal Heart is based on Rapunzel, as after establishing the existence of a youn... Read More

Phule’s Paradise: Silly but fun

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Phule’s Paradise by Robert Asprin

Phule’s Paradise is the second book in Robert Asprin‘s screwball comedy series called PHULE’S COMPANY. These are being released in audiobook format by Tantor Audio with excellent narration by Noah Michael Levine. You’ll want to read the first book, Phule’s Company, before picking up Phule’s Paradise.

In Phule’s Company, we met Willard Phule, a mega-billionaire who, as a punishment, was assigned to captain the Space Legion’s company of “losers and misfits” that was guarding a swamp on a backwater planet. (Don’t ask why a mega-billionaire would want to ... Read More

The Cuckoo’s Calling: Rowling makes a break without forgetting her roots

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Reposting to include Ryan's new review.

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)

Early in 2013, a new murder mystery came out. Written by an author named Robert Galbraith, The Cuckoo’s Calling was set in England and featured an army veteran detective with a prosthetic leg (he was injured saving other soldiers in Afghanistan), a strange family and an unusual name; Cormoran Strike. A few months later, through a series of different sources, it was revealed that “Robert Galbraith” was a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling, who wanted to publish her first murder mystery without having it connected in any way to her globally-famous, history-making, best-selling series of YA fantasy best-sellers.

Sorry that whole anonymous thing didn’t work out for you, Ms. Rowling. Read More

Owlknight: A satisfactory ending to Darian’s Tale

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Owlknight by Mercedes Lackey

Owlknight (1999) is the final story in Mercedes Lackey’s DARIAN’S TALE. This trilogy is part of her huge VALDEMAR series, but it can stand alone just fine. However, don’t start here. The first book is Owlflight and the second is Owlsight. Expect a few spoilers for those books in this review.

As Owlknight begins, a couple of years after the events of the previous novel, all is going well for Darian and Keisha. Thanks to their actions, their people have befriended the barbarians who appeared to be a... Read More

A Skinful of Shadows: Weird but not weird enough

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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 orig... Read More