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The Promise of the Child: Ambitious but confusing space opera

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The Promise of the Child by Tom Toner

The Promise of the Child (2015), an ambitious space opera that spans centuries and multiple planetary systems, begins with a prologue set in in fourteenth century Praha (Prague), where Princess Eliška, married to King John of Bohemia, meets with a man named Aaron to discuss his help with her son’s ill health. The story then jumps to AD 14,647 … but we will meet Aaron (“the Long-Life”) again.

In this distant future, humanity has spread to many worlds and "prismed" into many vastly different races, including giants (the Melius, who can change their skin color at will, and who inhabit Earth, now known as the Old World), a fairy-like race known as the Oxel scouts, and others in between. Overseeing all of the Firmament empire is a small, powerful group of humans known as the Amaranthine, who are virtually immortal due to ... Read More

A Bridge of Years: Time travel to 1962

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A Bridge of Years by Robert Charles Wilson

Tom Winter tried to find solace in a bottle when his wife left him. He lost his job and concluded that 1989 was a pretty tough year. Now, Tom is trying to make a go of it in Belltower in the Pacific Northwest. His brother has set him up with a job as a car salesman, and he has bought a house. Life seems pretty mundane, until Tom realizes that the house is a time machine that leads to New York in 1962.

Published in 1991, Robert Charles Wilson’s A Bridge of Years is his first time travel novel, but it’s the third one I’ve read by him. Here, the traveler wanders through a tunnel from one time/location to another. There is no dial for Tom to turn to 11 or to 1924 or to the future. (This is not to say that the tunnels are... Read More

Flame in the Mist: In this forest, there is no place to hide…

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Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

We meet our protagonist, the rather precious Mariko, being carried roughly through the forest in her palanquin. Next thing she's the target of an attempted assassination. So begins our tale of magic, samurai and deception in Flame in the Mist's ancient, feudal Japan.

Mariko is on the way to the Imperial Palace to meet her betrothed when her convoy is attacked. At just seventeen years old, she has little say in such minor matters as her future husband. What's more, this is a political move set to cement her family's social standing. So when her convoy goes up in flames (along with everyone in it except Mariko), her first thought is for her family's honour. She reasons that if she can find out who exactly tried to murder her and why, she can save her family face and return home without having to marry the emperor's son. She murders... Read More

The Kill Society: There are parts of Hell even Sandman Slim hasn’t seen

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The Kill Society by Richard Kadrey 

The Kill Society (2017) is the ninth SANDMAN SLIM book, even if Stark prefers to go by Stark now, rather than the name he was given when he fought in the arena in Hell. Hell is not the eternal absence of God, or some theoretical dimension of punishment; it’s a county, a landscape. And Stark, alive or dead, is very familiar with it. In The Kill Society, Kadrey takes Stark, and us, on a tour of a previously unseen area of Hell, the Tenebrae. Even Stark is not very familiar with the desert-like stretch of Tenebrae with its mummified ghost towns. He’d prefer to be in Pandemonium, the capital, but he has no choice, because he’s been captured by a charismatic, mad soul who calls himself The Magistrate, and his caravan of killers called the horde.

(This review... Read More

Dead Man’s Hand: Companion to Ace in the Hole

Dead Man’s Hand edited by George R.R. Martin

This review will contain mild spoilers for the previous WILD CARDS novels.

Dead Man’s Hand (July 1990), the seventh WILD CARDS novel, was published merely six months after the previous novel, Ace in the Hole (January 1990). Supposedly, Martin had planned for the stories in each to be combined into only one novel but his publisher (Bantam Books) said it would be too long, so it was divided into two books. Only two writers, John Jos. Miller (who created Chrysalis) and George R.R. Martin, contributed to Dead Man’s Hand, in contrast to the five authors involved with Ace in the Hole. The result is a ti... Read More

The Field of Swords: Caesar abroad

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The Field of Swords by Conn Iggulden

Conn Iggulden’s The Field of Swords (2005) follows a Caesar who is no longer young. Though he is still eminently capable and still driven to work day and night in pursuit of glory, he is exhausted rather than energized by his work in Spain. Naturally, the real story begins when he returns to Rome to form an alliance with Pompey and Crassus.

Rome considers itself the greatest city in the world, but, to our eyes, it is consumed by corrupt political intrigue in search of power and recognition, its enemies are tortured and slowly executed in public, and its people are entertained by merciless spectacle. Julius is the hero of this text, but he is not given contemporary attitudes. He enjoys the spectacle, the fame, and the glory of Romeo a... Read More

A Taste of Honey: A love story with a very particular style

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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, Lucrio, from Dalucan. The story moves through time, alternating ... Read More

The Death of Kings: Julius comes into power and loss

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The Death of Kings by Conn Iggulden

Julius is a young soldier. He fights in northern Africa, but he is not in command. Still, he is very well trained, is charismatic and trusts his instincts, and he is beginning to learn what it means to command and why he loves everything Rome stands for. He is confident, idealistic, and capable, a potent combination that leads to many victories. By the end of the novel, he will deal with Spartacus and Sulla, pirates, and senators who wish him ill. He will taste true power, love, and loss.

Published in 2004, Conn Iggulden’s The Death of Kings, the second of four entries in the EMPEROR series (after The Gates of Rome), is... Read More

THE DESCENDANTS: The conflict between good and evil Disney characters shifts to the next generation

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The Isle of the Lost, Return to the Isle of the Lost Rise of the Isle of the Lost by Melissa de la Cruz

Disney’s THE DESCENDANTS series of interrelated middle grade books (fairly easy chapter books) and television musical movies follows the adventures of the children of all of your favorite Disney animated film characters ― both the ones you love and the ones you love to hate. In this series, all of the villains from the various animated films were banished years ago to an isolated island called the Isle of the Lost. The island was then enclosed in a magical force field, an impenetrable dome that keeps the villains locked inside and all magical power locked outside. The Isle of the Lost is a rundown, grimy and unhappy place, while the non-wicked Disney characters live it up in the lovely nearby kingdom of Auradon, ruled over by Beauty and a no-longer... Read More

Seeker: Seek and you shall find

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Seeker by Veronica Rossi

Warning: Will contain some spoilers for the previous book, Riders.

Readers of the explosive finale to Veronica Rossi's Riders will remember the fate the four horsemen of the apocalypse came to: Daryn sealed War (our hero Gideon) in a dark dimension with Samrael, the last surviving demon of the Kindred. Now, plagued with guilt, it's up to her to rescue him in Seeker (2017).

Whilst Daryn's role in Riders was shady at best — she was unable to adequately explain why she was forcing Gideon to round up the other horsemen of the apocalypse — we find out that she is a Seeker: she gained Sight and the ability to see the future. But she has made a fatal mistake: Gid... Read More

The Regional Office is Under Attack: Lots to like but overall frustrating

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The Regional Office is Under Attack
by Manuel Gonzales

As I kept reading The Regional Office is Under Attack (2016) by Manuel Gonzales, whipsawing back and forth between being impressed and being annoyed, I found myself pulling for Gonzales to pull it off, and it was a near thing. In the end, I think I come down on the side of the novel frustrating somewhat more than it delights, though it leaves me intrigued to see what Gonzales comes up with next.

The titular office is an agency that, according to their own sign (written in light-blue calligraphy), is:
Uniquely positioned to Empower and Strengthen otherwise troubled or at-risk Young Women to act as a Barrier of last resort between the survival of the Planet and the amassing Forces of Darkness that Threaten, at nearly every turn, to Destroy it.
Employed to that end are a trio of Or... Read More

Riders: Can you outrun destiny?

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Riders by Veronica Rossi

Eighteen year old Gideon Blake has waited his whole life to become a US Army ranger, but when his whole life comes to an abrupt end, those dreams can no longer become a reality. Instead, he finds himself wearing a mysterious metal bracelet he can't remove and most certainly not as dead as he should be. Gideon discovers that he is, in fact, living out (ahem) his true destiny: he has been reincarnated as one of the horsemen of the apocalypse, War.

Gideon should have died. Waking up instead with a metal bracelet he can't remove, and the ability to affect the behaviour with his own rage (using said metal bracelet) he realises something is amiss. He does what would come naturally to all twenty-first century teens: he Googles it. When the results come up with nothing short of super hero websites, he laughs it off.

Enter Daryn. Daryn explains to our unwit... Read More

Royal Bastards: Being a bastard blows (apparently)

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Royal Bastards by Andrew Shvarts

Royal Bastards
(2017) marks the newest addition to YA epic fantasy — a genre that seems to be having a bit of a moment. We meet Tilla, our plucky young heroine and bastard to the Lord Kent, and her half-brother Jax, swigging wine on the palace roof and watching the arrival of the visiting Princess Lyriana. Despite their royal blood, the bastards are worlds apart from the legitimate royals, though all that may be about to change…

A great feast marks the welcome for Princess Lyriana, but she shocks Tilla and her fellow bastards by sitting at their table, instead of with the highborns. That night, Tilla leads Lyriana and her fellow bastards on an evening escapade, but they find themselves witnessing a crime and a plan to start another Great War. Now Tilla and the ... Read More

Lucifer, Volume One: Cold Heaven by Holly Black

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Lucifer, Volume One: Cold Heaven Written by Holly Black  and Drawn by Lee Garbett and Stephanie Hans

Vertigo’s Lucifer, Volume One: Cold Heaven is a murder mystery and a family saga. Released in 2016, it is the point where Holly Black takes over writing the saga of Lucifer Morningstar. Lucifer left his assignment as ruler of Hell to confront his father (God) and then left this universe completely, giving it to the daughter of Archangel Michael to caretake. Now he’s back, weakened and wounded. Another angel, Gabriel, is on his trail, accusing him of murdering The Presence, or God. Since Lucifer didn... Read More

A Storm of Wings: Strange, outlandish, blurry

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

A Storm of Wings by M. John Harrison

A Storm of Wings is the second part of M. John Harrison’s VIRICONIUM sequence. Viriconium has been at peace for eighty years after the threat from the north was eliminated, but now there are new threats to the city. Something has detached from the moon and fallen to earth. A huge insect head has been discovered in one of the towns of the Reborn. The Reborn are starting to go mad. Also, a new rapidly growing cult is teaching that there is no objective reality. Are the strange events linked with the cult’s nihilistic philosophy? And what will this do to Viriconium’s peace? Tomb the dwarf and Cellur the Birdlord, whom we met in The Pastel City, set out to discover the truth.

A Storm of Wings... Read More

Sealskin: Atmospheric but troubling

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Sealskin by Su Bristow

“Do you think, if something starts wrong, it can come right in the end?” Late in Sealskin, the protagonist Donald asks this question, and each reader’s answer to it will likely shape how they feel about the novel as a whole.

So, selkie legends (and similar animal-bride myths; sometimes it’s a swan or a fox instead) are kind of My Thing, and as soon as I heard of Su Bristow’s new release, I wanted to read it. I found it well-written and atmospheric, but I had problems with it as well. At this point I need to drop a spoiler warning; it’s impossible to discuss my qualms without giving some things away. This is an event that happens on page 6 and is central to the plot. I'll let you decide whether or not to read it. If you want to, highlight the follo... Read More

The Dispatcher: An interesting premise that made us think

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Reposting to include Marion's review of Subterranean Press's new hardback edition.



The Dispatcher by John Scalzi

A weird thing has happened in our world. Suddenly, people who are murdered can come back to life. Nobody knows why. It doesn’t happen when people die naturally — only when they’re murdered. To take advantage of this new death loophole, the job of Dispatcher has been created and Tony Valdez is one of them. His job is to murder people so they can end up in their own beds a few hours before they died. For example, in one scene we see Tony murder a man who is about to die on the operating table and in another we see him shoot a woman who just got hit by a bus. Dispatchers occasionally do less savory jobs, too, such as shooting injured stuntmen on movie sets so the studio won’t get su... Read More

The Girl of Ink and Stars: A pretty debut that cries out for a little more

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The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

The Girl of Ink and Stars (2016; published in the U.S. as The Cartographer’s Daughter) is Kiran Millwood Hargrave's debut novel. It tells the story of Isabella, a girl of 13, who lives with her father (Da) and her chicken (Miss La) on the island of Joya. Though Da was once a cartographer who travelled the globe making maps, Joya is now under the control of the despotic Governor Adori and all travel is forbidden. What's more, only part of the island is accessible while the "Forbidden Territories" are cut-off by forest and populated by the "banished". Isabella and her Da can only connect to the outside world through the exquisite maps for which they share a passion, passed down from father to daughter.

One day, Isabella's life is thrown into adventure when a girl in h... Read More

Stories of Your Life and Others: Eight carefully crafted stories

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Reposting to include Stuart'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 surpris... Read More

The End of the Day: Before Death, meet Charlie

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The End of the Day by Claire North

“I am the Harbringer of Death,” Charlie explains countless times to airport security, friends of friends, nurses, doctors, strangers in bars, passengers on trains. Because before Death, comes Charlie: sometimes as a courtesy and sometimes as a warning, but always before. Meeting people from every possible walk of life, Charlie discovers what it is to be human in The End of the Day, a genre-defying tale.

When we first meet Charlie he’s somewhere in Central America, trying to locate an old woman called Mama Sakinai. He explains to a mule driver that he is the Harbringer of Death. He is here to bring Mama Sakinai some whisky. Sometimes Charlie comes to mark the end of the world, or a world. In this case, he is marking the end of an era: Mama Sakinai is the last person who knows the ancient language of her tribe — i... Read More

All the Birds in the Sky: A likeable fable about magic and science

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Reposting to include Katie's new review.

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

All the Birds in the Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders, is a likeable book. The writing is fluent, filled with grace notes, witty observations and jokes that poke fun, but gently, at certain subcultures and stereotypes — mostly, the ones we all enjoy mocking from time to time.

Furthermore, in her Afterword, Anders says that if you don’t understand the story, she will come to your house and “act the whole thing out for you. Maybe with origami finger puppets.” So there’s that.

All the Birds in the Sky is one of small, newish category of fiction, one I don’t have a label for. It includes Robin Sloan’s Mr. ... Read More

Agents of Dreamland: An atmospheric, disturbing tale of horror from space

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Agents of Dreamland by Caitlín R. Kiernan

Caitlín R. Kiernan delivers another atmospheric, disturbing horror story with her novella Agents of Dreamland, published by Tor in 2017. Kiernan shifts between the tropes of secret agent thriller, creepy death-cult horror and Lovecraftian terror from space, as agents from two competing intelligence agencies try to parse a mass-murder atrocity that took place at Moonlight Ranch, on the banks of California’s Salton Sea.

Kiernan gets style points for including the Salton Sea. It’s a perfect metaphor for the idea of poisoned dreams and it functions well in this short work as an isolated place where a charismatic cult leader prepares his followers to be, well, I guess “transformed” would be the word.

The Sig... Read More

The Edge of Everything: For the perfect love, what would you be willing to lose?

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The Edge of Everything by Jeff Giles

It's not been the best year for Zoe. What with her father’s death in a caving accident, her neighbour’s disappearance and then the fact that she is brutally attacked with her younger brother in a cabin in the woods, it's fair to say things have been better. But with the arrival of the mysterious paranormal bounty hunter “X”, everything is about to change.

On the surface, The Edge of Everything might look like your average contemporary YA novel, but it is far darker than many readers will expect. The tortured (and suitably broody) X has been tasked with hunting those that have done evil deeds in their life. He then plays them their life events before brutally murdering them and sending their soul to hell. He is not supposed to reveal himself to anyone other than his victims, and when he reveals himself to Zoe, it is un... Read More

Caraval: Remember, it’s only a game

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Reposting to include Ray's new review.

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

I was so excited by the premise of Stephanie Garber’s Caraval (2017) that I listed it as one of my most anticipated books of 2017. Word has it that there are already plans to make Caraval into a film and I expect it is going to get a fair amount of hype. I can understand why and yet I find I cannot give it more than three stars. I will attempt to justify the reasons why.

Scarlett spent her childhood dreaming of the magical show called Caraval and its mysterious proprietor, Master Legend. Over the course of ten years she write him letters, begging him and his players to come to the small island where she lives with her sister, Tella, and her oppressive, violent father. Now grown-up and engaged to be married, Scarlett finally rece... Read More

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

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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 them no later than age 55, and those under age 18 are to serve in the same place with their parents.

When 18-year-ol... Read More