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The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn: A fun heist story

The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn by Tyler Whitesides

Ardor Benn and his friend and partner Raekon Dorrel are con artists. They live in a world where a substance called grit (extracted from dragon poo) has magical properties.

There are different types of grit, depending on what the dragon ate, and they can be used to create various magical effects. Drift grit, for example, lets the user float in the air like a helium balloon, and barrier grit creates a temporary invisible wall.

Ard and Raek are clever and resourceful, pulling elaborate cons using grit. Ard calls himself a “ruse artist extraordinaire” but deep down he knows that his lifestyle is unhealthy. His mother and the woman he loves think he’s dead and he’s too ashamed to let them know the truth.

When Ard and Raek get a dangerous job offer that would pay enough to let them retire from their lives of crime, they decide to take it. It will... Read More

The Artificial Kid: Early cyberpunk

The Artificial Kid by Bruce Sterling

Bruce Sterling’s 1980 novel The Artificial Kid wasn’t on my TBR list until Brilliance Audio published an audiobook edition a couple of months ago. I’m so happy to see these older science fiction novels being revived and made even more accessible to a new generation of speculative fiction readers. Last month I reviewed the new audio edition of Sterling’s first novel, Involution Ocean, also by Brilliance Audio. I hope we’ll be seeing more of his novels coming out in audio soon.

The Artificial Kid is Sterling’s second novel and, like Involution Ocean, it’s set on an imaginative world with fabulous scenery, has an unusual plot, contains ecological and evolutionary themes, and features bizarre c... Read More

The Unkindest Tide: Resolution for the Selkie/Roane subplot

The Unkindest Tide by Seanan McGuire

It’s probably inevitable that any long series, even one I enjoy as much as Seanan McGuire’s OCTOBER DAYE, will have books that just aren’t as great as some of the others. And I want to be fair; I’ve gotten really invested in the Amandine/Eira/August plotline, and it’s made me more impatient with the in-between books, so I want to make sure I’m not being too harsh. But even after thinking it over for a while, The Unkindest Tide (2019) was just kind of middling to me.

The Luideag calls in the favor Toby owes her, so that the Luideag can keep her own vow of resurrecting the Roane. This means that all the Selkies must gather at the Duchy of Ships, including Toby’s daughter Gillian. The Duchy of Ships is a pretty cool new setting, and I also hoped for... Read More

A Very Scalzi Christmas: The lighter side of Christmas

A Very Scalzi Christmas by John Scalzi

I spent part of Christmas Day 2020 reading A Very Scalzi Christmas (2019), a (mostly) humorous collection of short Christmas-themed pieces by, naturally, John Scalzi. As Marion so aptly commented in her review of Scalzi’s highly similar collection Miniatures, “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!’ ” It’s the same in this case, except with a few more serious pieces to offset the absurd and satirical ones.

Of the humorous pieces, I had two favorites: First, there’s “Jangle the Elf Grants Wishes,” in which Jangle’s boss, the head of the Department of Non-Mater... Read More

How the Multiverse Got Its Revenge: Princess Rory returns

How the Multiverse Got Its Revenge by K. Eason

Rory Thorne is back for another adventure in K. Eason’s How the Multiverse Got Its Revenge (2020). At the end of the first THORNE CHRONICLES novel, How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse, it looked like Rory was finished with politics. (“Does the multiverse really need more politicians?”)

Rory, Jaed, and their friends/bodyguards Zhang and Thorsdottir are currently working as privateers far away from civilization. Grytt and the Vizier are farming sheep on a remote planet.

They are all unaware of the revolutions and wars they sparked after the events of How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse Read More

How to Fracture a Fairy Tale: Grim undertones to Grimm

Reposting to include Skye's new review.

How to Fracture a Fairy Tale by Jane Yolen

One year after Tachyon Publications published The Emerald Circus, a collection of Jane Yolen's fantastical short stories based on various fairy tales and legendary people (both fictional and real), it has followed up with a similar collection, How to Fracture a Fairy Tale (2018). Like The Emerald Circus, this is a compilation of Yolen’s older, previously published stories, spiffed up with new author’s notes in which Yolen briefly discuss each story and how she “fractured” it with significant departures from its original source material. These end notes for each story also include a poem by Yolen that’s linked... Read More

The Bright and Breaking Sea: An entertaining sea-faring adventure

The Bright and Breaking Sea by Chloe Neill

Kit Brightling, who grew up in a home for orphaned girls, is now the captain of her own ship. She’s a good leader, has a great crew, and her magical ability to influence water makes her especially formidable.

Kit works for Queen Charlotte, a benevolent monarch who doesn’t quite feel secure on her own throne. That’s because there are rumors that its previous occupant, the exiled emperor Gerard Rousseau, has been secretly corresponding with disgruntled nobles and may have plans to return with an army and/or a secret weapon.

Queen Charlotte asks Kit and her crew to investigate the rumors and some suspicious activities that may be associated with Gerard’s plans. The queen also assigns Kit a new partner — a nobleman named Rian Grant who, because he’s a veteran, has some expertise that may be helpful in Kit’s mission.

Kit hates Rian Grant immediately,... Read More

Dead Man in a Ditch: This series continues to be average

Dead Man in a Ditch by Luke Arnold

Dead Man in a Ditch (2020) is the second book in Luke Arnold’s FETCH PHILLIPS ARCHIVES. It follows The Last Smile in Sunder City in which we met “man for hire” Fetch Phillips who, out of guilt for his role in the event that destroyed magic in the world, works only for the magical creatures who are now suffering and feeling threatened.

Fetch has a couple of investigations going on in this installment. An elderly elf has asked him to find out who killed her husband. Meanwhile the police investigator has asked him to investigate a seemingly unrelated crime — a murder that looks a lot like it was done with magic though, supposedly, magic has disappear... Read More

Storm Breaking: A satisfactory ending

Storm Breaking by Mercedes Lackey

The final book in Mercedes Lackey’s MAGE STORMS trilogy is Storm Breaking, which should be read after Storm Warning and Storm Rising. (Expect mild spoilers for those books in this review.)

In the previous books, we met some new characters, former enemies of Valdemar, who have now become allies and are working with our Valdemaran friends to stop the mage storms that threaten to destroy their entire world. At the end of both Storm Warning and Storm Rising, they had managed to temporarily delay the destruction, but now th... Read More

The Last Smile in Sunder City: Let’s give Fetch some more time

The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold

Fetch Phillips is a “man for hire” in Sunder City, a place that used to be full of magic until The Coda — the day the magic disappeared. Now all of those magical creatures — elves, wizards, gnomes, faeries, dragons, etc. — are left without the source of their livelihood and longevity and they are quickly deteriorating. Humans in Sunder City are suffering, also, because magic fueled the lights, heat, and other sources of comfort.

Fetch feels guilty about all of this. That’s because, as we gradually learn throughout his story, humans are responsible for destroying the magic. That’s also why Fetch doesn’t work for humans. He wants to help the creatures whose lives have been ruined by his kind.

Fetch’s current case involves finding a missing vampire who teaches at a local private school. Soon he discovers that one of the vampire’s students, the daughter of... Read More

A Stitch in Time: A time-slip romance with ghosts

A Stitch in Time by Kelley Armstrong

A Stitch in Time (2020), by Kelley Armstrong, is a time-slip romance with ghosts. Bronwyn Dale has just inherited the old family home on the English moors. When she visited the house as a girl, she discovered she could pass back and forth between her own time and the Victorian era, and fell in love with a boy, William, who lived in the past version of the house. But her uncle died tragically, and Bronwyn was institutionalized for talking about William, and she went on with her life thinking she’d imagined him.

Now she’s thirty-eight and widowed, and needs to decide what to do with the house. When she returns to take stock, she finds that the time-slip and William are still there and very real. Meanwhile, she’s also having some eerie encounters with ghosts in her own ti... Read More

To Hold Up the Sky: A bit too cool and hard sci-fi for me

To Hold Up the Sky by Cixin Liu

In my review of Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem, I stated I thought the novel had gone on too long and noted that while it wrestled with “a lot of big ideas … I just wished such questions had been surrounded by richer characterization and a defter writing style.” It turns out I had pretty much the exact same reaction to Liu’s recent collection of short stories, To Hold Up the Sky (2020).

To speak generally of the collection, Liu offers up a lot of intriguing thought experiments and creates some truly evocative imagery. Unfortunately, these strengths were, for me, mostly outweighed by a paucity of engaging or compelling characters, a lot of heavily talky exposition in nea... Read More

Storm Rising: Enemies become allies

Storm Rising by Mercedes Lackey

Storm Rising is the middle book in Mercedes Lackey’s MAGE STORMS trilogy which is part of the VALDEMAR saga. You’ll want to read the first book, Storm Warning, first. (There will be spoilers for that book in this review.) You don’t have to read any of the previous VALDEMAR books, but it would be helpful to read the MAGE WINDS trilogy, even though it’s (in my opinion) an inferior story.

The mage storms continue to increase across the land, wreaking havoc and endangering the entire world. Not only are there numerous natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes, but there are mutated animals preyin... Read More

Storm Warning: New characters bring some life to this story

Storm Warning by Mercedes Lackey

Storm Warning is the first book in Mercedes Lackey’s MAGE STORMS trilogy which is part of the VALDEMAR saga. MAGE STORMS can be read without reading other VALDEMAR novels but, because it features many characters from other trilogies, it would be best to read it directly after reading the MAGE WINDS trilogy (Winds of Fate, Winds of Change, Winds of Fury).

I was not a fan of MAGE WINDS. I didn’t care for the c... Read More

Pirates of the Timestream: Jason Thanou meets Captain Morgan

Pirates of the Timestream by Steve White


Jason Thanou is back in action in Pirates of the Timestream (2013). In this third novel in Steve White’s TEMPORAL REGULATORY AUTHORITY series, Jason is again sent back in time to witness important historical events.

In the previous two novels, Blood of the Heroes and Sunset of the Gods (which it would be helpful, but not necessary, to read first), Jason and his colleagues had discovered that the Temporal Regulatory Authority they work for is not the only institution that owns a time-travelling device, and that an evil cult of future transh... Read More

Yellow Jessamine: A paranoid antiheroine in a dissolving city

Yellow Jessamine by Caitlin Starling

Having thoroughly enjoyed Caitlin Starling’s 2019 novel The Luminous Dead, I was very happy to learn that I wouldn’t have to wait long to read more of her work.

Yellow Jessamine (2020), Starling’s new novella, is completely different from The Luminous Dead but similarly features creepy atmosphere, a background of family trauma, and relationships filled with dysfunctional tension and longing.

Evelyn Perdanu is a wealthy woman in the city of Delphinium, a city that is slowly dying now that its surrounding empire has fallen to a coup. Evelyn is involved in shipping, and is also an herbalist specializing in “fixes to unfixable probl... Read More

Deal With the Devil: Didn’t distinguish itself enough

Deal With the Devil by Kit Rocha

If I’m told that a new series is titled MERCENARY LIBRARIANS, that sets up certain expectations in my mind — namely, that librarian-ing is going to feature prominently in the introductory novel, or at least be a driving force behind the primary plot. And while the treasure-trove of the Rogue Library of Congress is how the heroine of Deal With the Devil (2020) is enticed into making a deal with the leader of a mercenary squad known as the Silver Devils, Kit Rocha spends far more time and attention on set pieces cobbled together from any handful of post-apocalyptic dystopian movies and television shows.

Furthermore, Nina’s job title doesn’t encompass her actual responsibilities: she’s more of a community organizer, and from all evidence, a damn good one. In her corner of Atlanta, she and her friends Maya and Dani ensure that people... Read More

The Memory of Souls: A mixed bag

The Memory of Souls by Jenn Lyons

I’ve had a mixed reaction to Jenn Lyons’ series since book one, The Ruin of Kings, so it seems only appropriate that I had two different reactions to book three, The Memory of Souls (2020), with a lot of frustration and annoyance to the first half of the book and a greater appreciation and enjoyment in the second half. All of which leaves me still up in the air in terms of recommending what will turn out to be a relatively lengthy series. Inevitable spoilers for books one and two to follow.

I’m not going to go much into plot details as to call it labyrinthine or Byzantine would be an understatement (ma... Read More

Hex Hall: Tropey but fun

Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins

Hex Hall (2010) is Rachel Hawkins’s debut novel, a young adult paranormal boarding school story.

Sophie Mercer is half-witch and half-mortal, but lives alone with her single human mother and knows little about her magical father. After wrecking her high school prom with a disastrous spell, Sophie is sent to Hecate (nicknamed Hex) Hall, a school for delinquent magical beings.

In her human school, Sophie was outcast for her witchy powers. At Hex Hall, her magic is not at all unusual, but the social hierarchy is no less daunting. Sophie quickly runs afoul of the in-crowd: befriending her roommate, Jenna, who is ostracized for being a vampire and suspected of murder; turning down the elite girls’ offer of coven membership; and developing a crush on the queen bee’s boyfriend, Archer.

A series of near-deadly attacks begins taking ou... Read More

The Bone Ships: Slow start, spectacular end

The Bone Ships by R.J. Barker

Joron Twiner, an ineffective drunkard with low self-esteem, is the shipwife (captain, basically) of Tide Child, a bone ship made of the bones of a supposedly extinct species of sea dragons. When we meet Joron, he’s in port, sleeping off the booze, when a fierce woman named Lucky Meas attacks and easily subjugates him. As the new shipwife of Tide Child, with Joron as her second-in-command, she plans to whip the pathetic crew into shape and to redeem the reputations of both Tide Child and herself.

When Tide Child is given orders to chase down the rumored sighting of a sea dragon and secretly work with enemies to escort it to safety, Joron wonders who his new commander is really loyal to. After acquiring a new crew of mostly prisoners and outlaws, Joron and the Tide Child set off on a (slightly) Moby-Dick-like adventure which will involve dangers that come f... Read More

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

Reposting to include Tadiana's new review.

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... Read More

The Second Star: Strong first half marred by final third

The Second Star by Alma Alexander

At one point while reading Alma Alexander’s The Second Star, I wrote a marginalia note hoping the book wasn’t going to go where I feared it might. Some chapters later, it turned out that was indeed our destination, and I have to confess I was sorely disappointed. That said, Alexander’s novel has an excellent, compelling premise and a quite strong first two-thirds, and I think the vast majority of readers will enjoy the book to that point. After that, one’s mileage will vary.

Two centuries ago, humanity sent out its first interstellar starship, the Parada, propelled by an experimental drive. When all communication was lost, the six crewmembers were assumed dead and that failure kept humanity safely close to home for hundreds of years, until recently, when a second... Read More

The Empire’s Ghost: A solid start

The Empire’s Ghost by Isabelle Steiger

The Empire’s Ghost (2017) is the first novel in Isabelle Steiger’s PATHS OF LANTISTYNE series. I was sent book two to review and while I don’t often review books whose predecessors I haven’t read, The Rightful Queen looked intriguing enough that I went back and read The Empire’s Ghost.

Long ago, the empire of Elesthene encompassed the entire continent. But the Empire, as empires are wont to do, eventually faded, along with magic, into mere legend, and the continent is fractured into several kingdoms. But now, Elgar, the Imperator of one such kingdom (Hallarnon), home to the Empire’s old capital of Valyanrend, seeks to bind the continent under one-person rule again, waging war via armies and other means against the other kingdoms.

Arrayed against him (bea... Read More

The Beautiful: A vampire novel set in New Orleans

The Beautiful by Renée Ahdieh

It’s 1872 and Celine Rousseau, who’s seventeen years old, has just arrived in New Orleans with several other girls who will work in a convent until they can make matches with respectable young men in the city. Celine is from Paris, where she made gowns for the upper class. She had to flee Paris, and her father, after a tragic event that she won’t talk about.

The work at the convent is boring, but Celine has found a new best friend — Pippa from England — and she’s fascinated by the sultry city of New Orleans, especially after she and Pippa meet a group of gorgeous and mysterious young people in the upstairs room of an elite restaurant. Celine is drawn to their beauty, sophistication, and power, especially to the young man named Sébastien Saint Germain, who seems to be their leader, as well as the richest boy in the city. It’s obvious that Sébastien is also attracted to Celine, but she ... Read More

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