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Angelmaker: Zany mashup of thriller, doomsday device, and whimsy

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Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway

Angelmaker (2012) is Nick Harkaway’s second book, after his exuberant, clever, digressive and exhausting debut The Gone-Away World. It shares the same qualities with that wild and free-wheeling tale, with relentlessly clever dialogue, quirky and in-depth characters, an intricate but playful doomsday plot, more flashbacks than most readers can handle, and chock-a-block with clever and ironic observations of the weirdly-unique world he has created, and by extension our own less colorful one.

The story skips back and forth in time just like its predecessor, to a degree some readers will get irritated by, as we learn a great deal about the back s... Read More

The Serpent Sea: An exotic and beautiful fantasy world

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The Serpent Sea by Martha Wells

The Serpent Sea (2012) is the second of Martha WellsBOOKS OF THE RAKSURA following The Cloud Roads which you’ll want to read first (this review will contain spoilers for The Cloud Roads).

In the previous book we met Moon, a solitary Raksura (a humanoid species that can shape-shift into a scaly flying dragon-like creature) who lost contact with his people when he was a baby and had no idea what he was. Trying to hide among other humans, he was discovered by a member of the Raksuran Indigo Cloud court and presented to their queen as a consort. The Cloud Roads describes Moon... Read More

The Last Sun: A colorful, action-packed, if slightly ragged urban fantasy

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The Last Sun by K.D. Edwards

There is plenty to like in The Last Sun (2018), K.D. Edwards’ inaugural novel of THE TAROT SEQUENCE series. The story is set in New Atlantis, a city and an island in our world, but inhabited by the survivors of the original Atlantis. After a world-war with humans for reasons not given, the surviving Atlanteans settled in this spot. They interact with humans, but most of the action in this book takes place between feuding Atlantean family groups who name their clans or Houses after the Major Arcana of the Tarot.

Rune, our main character and first-person narrator, is the sole survivor of the House of the Sun. His house was massacred in a “raid,” a thing that Atlantean houses do to one another with surprising frequency and apparently... Read More

American Gods: Mixed opinions

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

This is a bad land for Gods... The old gods are ignored. The new gods are as quickly taken up as they are abandoned, cast aside for the next big thing. Either you've been forgotten, or you're scared you're going to be rendered obsolete, or maybe you're just getting tired of existing on the whims of people.

Shadow, just out of prison and with nothing to go home to, is hired to be Mr. Wednesday's bodyguard as he travels around America to warn all the other incarnations of gods, legends, and myths, that “a storm is coming.” There's going to be a battle between the old gods who were brought to melting pot America by their faithful followers generations ago, and the new gods of technology, convenience, and individuality.

That's the premise of Read More

Winter Tide: Great premise, but it drags

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Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys

I love the premise of Winter Tide. It's about a sister and brother (Aphra and Caleb Marsh) who were living in Innsmouth when it was invaded by the U.S. government in 1928 (a fictional town and event created by H.P. Lovecraft). The Marshes and their neighbors were descendants, and worshipers, of the Great Old Ones…. you know, like Dagon and Cthulhu. Paranoid, the government sent them to detention camps, keeping them there until the Japanese-Americans were released from the camps in 1946. Away from the ocean and their gods, only siblings Aphra and Caleb survived the experience.

Now the government wants their help. The cold war has begun and there is some intel suggesting the Russians are trying ... Read More

Belgarath the Sorcerer & Polgara the Sorceress: Great companion pieces

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Belgarath the Sorcerer & Polgara the Sorceress by David and Leigh Eddings

As a reviewer I find it a bit challenging to justify my review of these books; they are exactly what they say on the tin. If you like Belgarath and Polgara, you’ll like these books. If you don’t, you won’t. If you don’t know who they are, don’t read them (but you might consider THE BELGARIAD, which contains the background you would need).

If you’re like me and read book reviews just because, well, look! It’s something in print! Let’s read it! — please do read on and get a few of my thoughts. But the functional part of the review is already over.

As you might guess just from the titles, Belg... Read More

Daring: John Charming meets his makers

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Daring by Elliott James

This second novel in Elliott JamesPAX ARCANA saga begins with an amusing top-ten list of things that people who didn’t read the first book, Charming, “really ought to know” (it’s a great way to do a re-cap), then jumps into the story.

Half-werewolf John Charming gets involved with both halves of his heritage in Daring (2014). One part is the Knights who raised and trained him, have been hunting him for years, and are now a threat to John’s new friends. The other part is a werewolf clan that wants to teach John their ways and initiate him into the pack. As he learns more about both groups, he uncovers a plot that endangers the Pa... Read More

Catseye: Another otherworldly adventure by Andre Norton

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Catseye by Andre Norton

Andre Norton’s novels are always a good option when you’re in the mood for an exciting, fast-paced, imaginative, and family-friendly adventure story. This one stars Troy Horan, a young man who lives hand-to-mouth in a ghetto called The Dipple on the luxury planet of Korwar. He’s a refugee from his home planet of Norton which has now been commandeered as a military outpost. Back home, his family were herders and his father, at least, seemed to have some sort of empathetic bond with the animals he cared for. Troy, being young when he was on Norton, isn’t quite certain about the nature of that bond.

When Troy gets an unexpected job offer from the owner of an exotic pet emporium, Troy realizes that his heritage may be an advantage. On his first day of work, Troy indeed f... Read More

Arrow’s Flight: Talia goes on circuit

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Arrow’s Flight by Mercedes Lackey

Arrow's Flight is the second book in Mercedes Lackey’s VALDEMAR series. It was originally published in 1987 and has just now been produced in audio format by Tantor Audio. In the first VALDEMAR book, Arrows of the Queen, we met Talia, a young girl being raised in a repressive society who was chosen by a telepathic blue-eyed white horse to be one of the Kingdom's Heralds. She was whisked off to the academy where she began learning the skills needed to protect the kingdom. In her special role as Queens Own, Talia (despite her youth, lack of education, and inexperience in the world) gave the queen advice and help tha... Read More

The End of the Day: Before Death, meet Charlie

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Reposting to include Marion's new review.

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... Read More

The Diminished: The moon has two faces

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The Diminished by Kaitlyn Sage Patterson

A shattered moon, broken into two halves, is featured on the cover of The Diminished (2018), Kaitlyn Sage Patterson’s debut YA fantasy novel. It’s an apt symbol for the world created in this novel: the vast majority of people are born as twins, with a mystical emotional tie between them. The chapters alternate between the points of view of two sixteen year old characters at opposite end of society: defiant Vi, one of the diminished, and kindhearted Bo, the designated heir to the throne.

When one twin dies, sooner or later the other twin almost invariably falls into a profound and often murderously violent grief, unable to cope with life without their twin. Vi Abernathy is one of these surviving twins, called the diminished or (derogatively) dimmies; her twin Prudence died soon after birth. Though Vi h... Read More

Scourged: A weak ending to a great series

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Scourged by Kevin Hearne

Scourged (2018)is the ninth and final novel in Kevin Hearne’s IRON DRUID CHRONICLES. This has been a great series and I have looked forward to the release of each book as well as all of the related novellas and short stories. The IRON DRUID CHRONICLES is especially wonderful in the audio versions (Random House Audio) performed by the fabulous Luke Daniels. I'm absolutely certain I enjoyed them even more in audio than I would have in print format.

Scourged begins with Oberon, Atticus's adorable canine familiar, helpfully giving us a quick but detailed recap of the story so far. (Thanks, Oberon!) Then we get down to business. Ragnarok is finally here and Loki is letting loose all sorts of ... Read More

I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land: A disquisition on the value of all books

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I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land by Connie Willis

Jim is visiting Manhattan, doing publicity for his blog, Gone for Good, and hoping to sell it as a book to a publisher. The point of Jim’s blog, and his sincere belief, is that things dying out and disappearing ― payphones, elevator operators, VHS tapes, and books nobody cares about ― is part of the natural order, a sign that society doesn’t need these things any longer. If society changes its mind, they can always be brought back. Books are generally digitized, after all. Or so Jim asserts.

When a meeting with a publisher gets cancelled, Jim wanders the streets of Manhattan until a downpour of rain drives him into an old-fashioned bookstore, Ozymandias Books, which appears to deal in rare titles. Jim wanders through the shelves, bemused at the odd variety of obscure books that he sees.
Pr... Read More

Sky in the Deep: Axe-wielding star-crossed lovers

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Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young

Eelyn lives only to fight with her father, her best friend Mýra, and the rest of the Aska clan against their mortal enemies, the Riki clan. Every five years, the clans meet on the battlefield and do their very best to slaughter one another, then return home with the survivors to heal their wounds and train for another five years. Eelyn doesn’t question why the Aska are bound up in this eternal blood-feud; this is how things have always been, this is how they will always be, and the best death Eelyn can imagine is in battle against the Riki. Should she die ingloriously, however, or be captured as a slave, she will be denied entrance into the Aska afterlife, and will lose all honor.

Her older brother, Iri, died while fighting the Riki five years previously, so when Eelyn sees him fighting alongside the Riki, she becomes obsessed with determining whether ... Read More

A Wild Sheep Chase: In search of lost things, including a sheep

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A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami

I’ve seen Haruki Murakami’s A Wild Sheep Chase casually described as postmodern, as surreal, and as magic realism. Though it was published in 1982 (and translated into English in 1989), and though the main character is not a private investigator, I nevertheless think of it as a weird private investigator novel. Private investigators are often associated with thrillers, their novels can play with the expectation that the detective will solve the case, and/ or they can create a noir atmosphere that the hero inhabits on the reader’s behalf. A Wild Sheep Chase works mostly like these last two types of private investigator stories.

A wild goose chase is an exercise in futility, but perhaps a wild ... Read More

Will Do Magic For Small Change: Interesting characters, great ideas, and theater arts

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Will Do Magic For Small Change by Andrea Hairston

Andrea Hairston’s 2016 novel Will Do Magic for Small Change spills out across traditional fantasy subcategories like the foamy head of a beer. There are urban fantasy elements, historical fantasy, science fiction and coming-of-age themes in this tale, which is set alternately in 1987 and the turn of the 20th century. And while I don’t think there is a subgenre called “performance magic” or “theater magic” yet, when there is, this book will be a seminal example because the love of the theater and performance runs all the way through it.

In 1987, Cinnamon struggles to find acceptance. She is African-American, tall for her age (fourteen), heavy, super-smart and a motor-mouth in a very particular way. She wants to sing and act on stage and she’s gifted, but racism and sexism blo... Read More

Unbury Carol: Many interesting parts that didn’t quite fit together for me

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Unbury Carol by Josh Malerman

Unbury Carol (2018) is billed as a Weird West story, and Josh Malerman has staged it in a world that has the trappings of the mythical American West — stagecoaches, outlaws, “triggermen” and a perilous Trail the outlaws ride. Malerman’s prose is elegant and he manages to create, at least with the character of Sheriff Opal, an authentic sense of rhythm and regional speech. Moments of bizarre imagery startled me and captured my imagination. Overall, though, the many intricately carved pieces just didn’t fit into a congruent whole for me.

Carol Evers is a wealthy heiress in the frontier town of Harrows. She has been married to Dwight Evers for about twelve years. Carol has a condition that drops her into deep comas, so deep that she appears to be dead. Her heart beats once a minute and she may draw two breaths... Read More

Guardian of the Crown: Struggles against middle-book syndrome

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Guardian of the Crown by Melissa McShane

Guardian of the Crown (2017), the second book in Melissa McShane’s SAGA OF WILLOW NORTH fantasy trilogy, picks up where the first book, Pretender to the Crown, left off. (It’s necessary to read that book first, and this review will contain some unavoidable spoilers for Pretender.) Willow North has left her homeland of Tremontane in company with her ex-fiancé, Kerish, and the rightful king of Tremontane, Felix Valent. Felix, who is only eight years old, is an orphan after his father was murdered by his brother Terence, who usurped the throne. Now Willow and Felix are in a neighboring land, Keri... Read More

Snow City: A disorienting, intermittently interesting, destination

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Snow City by G.A. Kathryns

G.A. Kathryns’ independently-published novel Snow City (2017) is a story about a ghost, narrated by a kind of a ghost. The POV character Echo Japonica creates Snow City in her mind as a preservation mechanism responsive to the terror she experiences in a dystopian reality. The fantastical part of this creation is that she inhabits her imagination physically, along with a ghost. And the living is not too bad until her creation doesn’t turn out to be as safe and warm as her conscious mind had hoped.

The narrative begins with, for me, much too much exposition, and even when the story launches in earnest, it flies like a pelican — heavily, beating broad wings madly to hold itself up.

There is honest creativity here, however, and some nice moments, interesting characters, and quite a bit of heart. Reader... Read More

La Belle Sauvage: A companion to HIS DARK MATERIALS

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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 Compass, still a fantastic novel in its own righ... 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