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A Beginning at the End: Personal struggles in a post-apocalyptic world

A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen

A Beginning at the End (2020) is set in a near-future world where, in 2019, a deadly worldwide pandemic kills some five billion people, including seventy percent of the U.S. population. Johanna Moira Hatfield, a teenage pop music star known as Mojo, tired of being browbeaten by her stage father, Evan, uses the sudden panic at her Madison Square Garden concert to disappear into the crowd in search of a new life.

Six years later, in San Francisco in 2025, MoJo has a new name, Moira Gorman, a job, and a fiancé who she’s not really in love with, but he represents stability in a society that’s still fragile and unstable, as well as safety from her father, who’s still looking for his MoJo. Moira’s wedding planner, Krista Deal, has a somewhat similar backstory: Krista faked her own death years ago to escape her drug-addicted, dysfunctional mother. Wedding planning isn... Read More

A Hole in the Sky: An audio-only story by Hamilton

A Hole in the Sky by Peter F. Hamilton

Hazel, who’s 16, lives on a huge starship called Daedalus. It left Earth around 900 years ago with plans to terraform a new habitable planet. But when they arrived, they found a nearly sentient species that they didn’t want to disturb, so they decided to try another planet. A few decades later, citizens who were disgruntled about that decision mutinied and, in the battle, much of their knowledge and technology was destroyed.

Now, 500 years later, most of the people of Daedalus live in separate primitive farming communities where they work hard to eke out an existence. To protect resources, those who can’t work and adults over age 65 are “recycled.”

When Hazel’s brother has an accident that prevents him from working, he and Hazel run away. That’s how they find the “cheaters” — the old people who escaped from the villages and hide in the forest so they won’t... Read More

The Bone Maker: A solid novel

The Bone Maker by Sarah Beth Durst

There’s a point almost exactly halfway through Sarah Beth Durst’s latest novel, The Bone Maker (2021), where the author teases us that the book we’ve been reading just might go in a completely different direction, prompting me to write in my notes, “Love this.” And then, well, it didn’t. Instead, as if the inertia were too great, we’re shortly steered back into a well-worn fantasy story, which, despite being mostly satisfying — with some moments that rose above that level and a few that pulled it below — had me wishing I could have gone back to that moment fifty-three percent of the way in and chosen the plot less traveled.

Twenty-five years ago, Kreya led her crew of magic-users (husband Jentt and friends Zera, Stran, and Marso) to victory in the Bone War, when an evil bone m... Read More

The People’s Republic of Everything: An experimental collection

Reposting to include Skye's new review.

The People’s Republic of Everything by Nick Mamatas

I don’t know if I simply wasn’t in the right mood for Nick Mamatas’ short-story collection The People’s Republic of Everything (2018), or if I’m not the right audience for his preferred themes and overall style, but this book and I just could not mesh.

There was one story, “Tom Silex, Spirit-Smasher,” which gripped my attention and had everything I look for in short fiction. The story focuses on Rosa Martinez, whose elderly grandmother might — through quirks of legality regarding her first marriage and the question of ownership of her first husband’s pulp publications — own the rights to a series of stories revolving around psychopomp Tom Silex. The character work is strong, the ... Read More

A History of What Comes Next: Good concept, weak execution

Reposting to include Tadiana's new review.

A History of What Comes Next by Sylvain Neuvel

Sylvain Neuvel’s A History of What Comes Next (2021) has both an intriguing premise and a potentially tense conflict at its core, but due to some issues with structure and style, the execution didn’t allow the book to achieve its potential.

Two women, Sara and her daughter Mia, are sort of Space Race Zeligs (look him up, youngsters), inserting themselves in key times and places to push humanity toward the stars. To that end, we see Mia go undercover in Germany at the tail end of WWII to spirit Wernher von Braun and key assistants to the US as part of Operation Paperclip (a real mission). Later, the two move to Russia where they jumpstart the Russian space program in the (correct) belief that it wo... Read More

Winterkeep: Return to a favorite series not fully successful

Winterkeep by Kristin Cashore

Winterkeep
(2021) is the fourth book set in Kristin Cashore’s GRACELING REALM fantasy world, the prior novels being Graceling, Fire, and Bitterblue. The first was a five-star, best-of-the-year choice for me, and Fire was nearly as good. The third book was a bit of a drop-off, though not far. Unfortunately though, Winterkeep continues that downward trend, leaving me, I confess, more than a little disappointed, though the book does end well.

In the past, Cashore has eschewed the traditional sequel mode of following the ... Read More

A Thousand Ships: Familiar stories with a feminist focus

A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

In A Thousand Ships (2021), Natalie Haynes takes the events of the Trojan War — along with what led to it and what followed — and offers them up in familiar form but a form as viewed/experienced through different eyes: those of the women from both sides who experienced as much if not more of the war’s horrors even if (save for one point-of-view) they didn’t actually fight in it.

Haynes frames her story through the voice of Calliope, who, as an unnamed poet (Homer, one assumes) calls upon her to be his muse, wonders, “How much epic poetry does the world really need ... these stories have all been told, and countless times. Can he really believe he has something new to say?” Regardless, Calliope does engage, though perhaps not as the poet desired: “I’m offering him the story of all the women in the war. Well, most of them.” And in short o... Read More

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