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The History of Gibbeting: Britain’s Most Brutal Punishment

The History of Gibbeting: Britain’s Most Brutal Punishment by Samantha Priestley

The History of Gibbeting: Britain’s Most Brutal Punishment (2020), by Samantha Priestley, is an interesting and somewhat informative, if overly long, look at the tradition of “hanging in chains,” as it was often called at the time.

Priestley offers up a general introduction to the practice followed by several sections: The Murder Act, The Making of a Gibbet, Infamy, Thieves and Pirates, That’s Entertainment, The Gibbet as Landmark, No Deterrent, The Decline of the Gibbet, A Modern Fascination.

The first looks at the impact of the 1752 law, which attempted to standardize the hodgepodge application of the gibbet. We also get a sense of the frequency of gibbeting (relatively rare), the crimes it was associated with (murder, piracy, and stealing the Royal Mail, mostly), and whether or not criminals were ever gibbe... Read More

The City & The City: Dumbing down & Fridging hamper this adaptation

The City & The City (TV Adaptation)

The City & The City is one of my favorite China Miéville books. I love the conceit of the nested cities, Beszel and Ul Qoma, and I love the voice of our narrator, the smart, world-weary and not-always-so-honest Tyador Borlu.

Amazon Prime offers a four-part adaptation of the book. All four episodes are directed by Tom Shankland, with Tony Grisoni, who was also credited as a writer, as one of the producers. China Miéville shared a writing credit. The series first aired on BBC2 in 2018.

The show stars D... Read More

A Broken Queen: Series is beginning to feel its length

A Broken Queen by Sarah Kozloff

A Broken Queen (2020) is the third book in Sarah Kozloff’s NINE REALMS series, with each book being published only a month apart, and to be honest, I sort of wish I’d waited for them all to come out and then reviewed the series as a whole, mostly because I feel I’ll just be repeating myself in this review, and, if things go as they have been, in the review of book four as well.

In that vein, mostly what I’ve been saying about the first two books (A Queen in Hiding and The Queen of Raiders) is that they’re readable enough, even somewhat enjoyable, but they leave me wanting more as a ... Read More

Leia: A fascinating look at a teenaged Princess Leia

Leia: Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray

The thing about STAR WARS tie-in books is that they can never contradict what happens in the films, which means they also can't have stakes that are particularly high. The big galaxy-shaping events have to be saved for the big screen.

So it makes sense that a lot of them come across as "filler" or "prequel" stories, which add details and background to things we already know have happened. In the case of Leia: Princess of Alderaan, we learn a bit more about Princess Leia in the year she turned sixteen: the trials she must pass to become future queen, her induction into the Rebellion, and her first love. None of it is hugely crucial, but it's always nice to spend a little more time with your favourite characters.

To be formally named heir to the throne of Alderaan, Leia must prove herself in the areas of body, mind and heart, which m... Read More

Come the Revolution: Sasha makes a great protagonist

Come the Revolution by Frank Chadwick

Come the Revolution (2015) is the sequel to Frank Chadwick’s How Dark the World Becomes (which you’ll want to read first).

Sasha Naradnyo survived the events of the previous book, but just barely. One of our favorite characters, however, did not survive. Now it’s a few years later. Sasha is the head of security for Tweezaa, the Varoki girl he was protecting in How Dark the World Becomes. Sasha and his wife, who is Tweezaa’s top advisor, are expecting their first child.

The story begins with a bang when Tweezaa’s shuttle is shot down with a missile. She has many enemies which include political rivals, her own relatives who are after the vast fortune she inherited, and Varoki citizens who are ... Read More

Batman: Nightwalker: A fun adventure with a young Bruce Wayne

Batman: Nightwalker by Marie Lu

Superheroes permeate nearly every facet of pop-culture these days, and someone at Penguin Books found a way to capitalize on that popularity: round up some successful YA authors and have them write original stories about the most famous DC superheroes while still in their adolescence (the heroes, not the authors).

Therefore the DC ICONS COLLECTION gives us new stories about Wonder Woman, Batman, Catwoman and Superman before they adopt their later personas, most of them no more than seventeen or eighteen years old at the time these tales are set.

Batman: Nightwalker (2018) tackles Bruce Wayne, fast-approaching his eighteenth birthday but still grappling with the loss of his parents. It's not an easy life despite his wealth, and he prefers to avoid th... Read More

A Pocketful of Crows: A short but evocative offering

A Pocketful of Crows by Joanne M. Harris

You're not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but how could I resist the artwork of Joanne Harris’ 2017 novel A Pocketful of Crows? The black background, the gold embossing, the stylized crow... I immediately snatched it up.

It's a story based heavily on the traditions and holidays of medieval England, with chapters divided into months and snippets of various ballads and proverbs added throughout, both of which help lay the foundation of the story.

A shapeshifting wild girl of the forest meets by chance a highborn noble, and soon becomes infatuated by him. The feeling seems mutual, but after a whirlwind romance, reality sets back in and the girl is asked to leave the castle.

Naturally, a creature of the wild doesn't take rejection very we... Read More

Phalanxes of Atlans: A well-paired yet unconvincing double feature

Phalanxes of Atlans by F. Van Wyck Mason

A little while ago. I had some words to say about Capt. S.P. Meek’s 1930 novel The Drums of Tapajos, in which a band of American explorers discovers a lost civilization in the jungle wilderness of Brazil, comprised of the cultured and scientifically advanced remnants of the 10 Lost Tribes and Troy, uneasily coexisting with the barbaric remnants of Atlantis. The book was done in by a lack of convincing detail and exciting set pieces, as I reported. Well, now I am here to tell you of my most recent read, another offering from Armchair Fiction’s Lost World/Lost Race series; a book that suffers from one of the same problems that plague The Drums of Tapajos, even though its story line has been inverted. In this c... Read More

The Assassin’s Blade: Four short stories provide extra insight

The Assassin's Blade by Sarah J. Maas

Over the past few years I've been reading Sarah J. Maas's THRONE OF GLASS series, though thanks to my dislike of e-books, never got around to reading the five novellas that explored some of the early years in Celaena Sardothien's career.

Celaena is a famous assassin in the employ of Arobynn Hamel, the ruthless master of the Assassin's Guild. Though few have seen her face, Celaena already has a fearsome reputation despite her youth, and is recognized as Arobynn's protégé among the other recruits.

The five stories within The Assassin's Blade (2014) involve separate but connected adventures that are mentioned throughout the THRONE OF GLASS books, and shed insight as to how Celaena ended up where she is at the start of the first boo... Read More

King of the Dogs, Queen of the Cats: Uplifted dogs and cats

King of the Dogs, Queen of the Cats by James Patrick Kelly

In James Patrick Kelly’s novella, King of the Dogs, Queen of the Cats, we visit a backwater planet called Boon where humans live with uplifted dogs and cats.

Our protagonist, Gio Barbaro, is the clone of the man who created the government, called The Supremacy, generations before. Gio’s job is to maintain the family’s position and power in the senate.

The Supremacy, though, is losing control as dogs are walking off the job and cats are forming unions. The cats and dogs are just as intelligent as humans, but they’ve been relegated to boring and/or dirty menial jobs. They want more out of life, but the conservative Supremacy won’t recognize them as equal.

Another problem for the Supremacy is the looming clone cris... Read More

Tower of Dawn: The pieces are put in place for the penultimate instalment

Tower of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas

The penultimate book in Sarah J. Maas's THRONE OF GLASS series goes on an unexpected detour: instead of following Aelin Galathynius (the protagonist of the previous five books and a collection of novellas), Tower of Dawn (2017) focuses on supporting players Chaol Westfall and Nesryn Faliq, who have travelled to the southern continent and the city of Antica to try and enlist its armies to assist them in the coming war.

At this stage, there's no point reading unless you've already read the previous books. These aren't standalone novels, but different parts of an overarching story that need to be read chronologically in order to make sense. In this case, Chaol suffered a terrible injury at the conclusion of Read More

The Drums of Tapajos: A middling lost-world adventure

The Drums of Tapajos by S. P. Meek

As you may have noticed, over the past six months I have been dipping into Armchair Fiction’s current Lost World/Lost Race series of 24 novels, and with mixed results. One thing I have observed is that the best of this bunch — such as Frank Aubrey’s The King of the Dead (1903), Rex Stout’s Under the Andes (1914), John Taine’s The Purple Sapphire (1924) and Read More

The Alchemist’s Shadow: The monster in the maze… and in the puppet

Watch Hollow: The Alchemist’s Shadow by Gregory Funaro

The spooky adventures of Lucy and Oliver Tinker continue in The Alchemist’s Shadow (2020), a sequel to last year’s middle-grade haunted house novel by Gregory Funaro, Watch Hollow. The Tinker family — 11-year-old Lucy, 12-year-old Oliver, and their father — are settling in at the rural Rhode Island mansion, Blackford House, where they vanquished a supernatural foe in Watch Hollow. The Tinkers, originally the caretakers of Blackford House, now own the home, complete with its enormous clock that magically powers the house. At least, the Tinkers thought they owned the house, until the orphaned 12-year-old part-Japanese Kojima twins, Agatha and A... Read More

Terminal Alliance: Janitors to the rescue!

Terminal Alliance by Jim C. Hines

The people remaining on a devastated Earth have been turned into zombies by a virus accidentally unleashed by one of their own scientists. Fortunately for some humans, a race of aliens known as the Krakau have figured out how to genetically engineer humans without the virus. Thus, about 10,000 humans still live, but rather than return to Earth to be cannibalized by their own species, they choose to work for the Krakau who saved them. The Krakau are benevolent overlords; they have even preserved the records of as much of Earth’s civilization as they could so that their human fosterlings can have their own culture.

One of these humans is Marion “Mops” Adamopoulos who leads a team of janitors on one of the Krakau spaceships. When the ship is attacked by the Podryans, an aggressive alien species, a series of mishaps incapacitates their Krakau leaders and leaves Mops in charge of the ship. With h... Read More

Black Leviathan: Starts decently but becomes too scattered

Black Leviathan by Bernd Perplies, translated by Lucy Van Cleef

Vengeance is a tale as old as a time, and female characters have been killed in order to set male characters off on a protagonist’s journey since well before there were refrigerators (almost before there was ice). But it takes a particularly audacious ambition to use Moby Dick as an explicit inspiration for a coming-of-age fantasy set in a world where sky ships hunt dragons and one captain becomes maniacally obsessed with killing one such dragon. And for a little while there I was thinking Bernd Perplies, author of Black Leviathan (2020) (translated in the US by Lucy Van Cleef), might be able to match execution to ambition. But while the story ends up being relatively entertaining, issues toward the close and an overall surface-level narrative had the execution falling short.

The story opens with a... Read More

The Last Day: A decent techno-thriller

The Last Day by Andrew Hunter Murray

The Last Day (2020), by Andrew Hunter Murray, is a sci-fi thriller, though to be honest I found both elements (the science and the thrills) to be a bit slight and while it’s a highly readable work, I’d call it moderately engaging or tense.

The book opens some decades after “The Slow” (or “The Stop”), when the Earth’s rotation gradually declined then halted altogether, plunging half the planet — the “Coldside” into uninhabitable cold and darkness and the other half into a baking sunlit zone. The UK found itself in the goldilocks zone and is one of the lucky few places on the planet that is relatively habitable, though it keeps itself going only by a ruthless rejection of refugees, a staunch coastal defense, and a move to a totalitarian regime. Even so, despite the government’s propaganda, people can sense that things seem to be fal... Read More

A Longer Fall: Weird West collides with Deep South

A Longer Fall by Charlaine Harris

Charlaine Harris’s GUNNIE ROSE series has already merged Old West, Russian magicians (called “grigori” in a nod to Rasputin), and alternative history; the setting is mid-twentieth century North America, in which the United States has fractured into multiple nations, including the “Holy Russian Empire,” with Tsar Alexei at its head, taking over what used to be California and Oregon. In A Longer Fall (2020), the second book in the series, the pre-civil rights era deep South gets pulled into the mix. Lizbeth Rose, a 19-year-old gunnie (gunslinger), is traveling by train with her new security crew from Texoma, the Texas region Lizbeth calls home, to Louisiana. Their crew of five is in charge of transporting and protecting a crate that contains ... well, they don't know, but it's vastly ... Read More

Battle Mage: An engrossing epic fantasy with dragons

Battle Mage by Peter A. Flannery

2017’s Battle Mage, by Peter A. Flannery, is an epic fantasy adventure, a coming-of-age story set against a backdrop of war and some political treachery. It’s filled with magic and dragons. I reeled that off like I didn’t have to think about it at all, but in fact that capsule description emerged after a Twitter conversation with Flannery himself.

Battle Mage was in my AtomaCon swag bag. The title and the cover looked like military fantasy to me, which is not one of my favorite subgenres. I would have read it anyway, because 1) I do try to read outside of my self-imposed borders and 2) dragons! While troop movements and battle scenes play a large part in this long story, the book is not genuinely military fantasy, and military purists will no doubt roll their eyes the fourth of fifth time our handful of young heroes treat or... Read More

The Secret Commonwealth: It’s complicated

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman (Ray  Jana)

With the release of La Belle Sauvage, readers were finally able to return to the universe of Philip Pullman's HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy after a seventeen year wait. The story was a prequel to the original trilogy (though Pullman described the new series not as a sequel, but an 'equel.') Being only a baby, it was not Lyra who took centre stage in that novel, but a young boy called Malcolm Polstead, who used his boat La Belle Sauvage to rescue Lyra from a terrible flood and an even more terrible man in pursuit.

Now in the latest addition to the series, The Secret Commonwealth Read More

Sweep of the Blade: Planet of the Vampires

Sweep of the Blade by Ilona Andrews

With Sweep of the Blade, the fourth installment in Ilona AndrewsINNKEEPER CHRONICLES series, there is a new main character: Maud, sister of Dina, the previous main character and the innkeeper of this light SF series. We met Maud in the prior book in this series, One Fell Sweep, when Dina convinced Sean the werewolf and Arland the vampire — these are both alien races, by the way, though distantly related to humans — to help her rescue Maud and her five-year-old half-vampire daughter Helen from the desert prison planet Karhari. In the first few chapters of Sweep of the Blade, Andrews retells these scenes from Maud’s point of view.

Ar... Read More

The Bard’s Blade: A solid enough first book that left me wanting more bite

The Bard’s Blade by Brian D. Anderson

The Bard’s Blade (2020), by Brian D. Anderson, is the first book of THE SORCERER’S SONG trilogy and as such it’s a perfectly serviceable fantasy, a comfortingly welcome invitation into a new series. If that seems a bit like damning with faint praise, that’s because while the novel goes down easily and smoothly, I can’t say there’s anything that makes it particularly stand out. I’d say it’s the vanilla flavor at a Ben and Jerry’s, save that vanilla is actually my favorite flavor. Maybe it’s a peanut-butter sandwich. It satisfies, it fills that need in your stomach, assuages your hunger, but you won’t be grabbing someone in the grocery store while they’re shopping and telling them, “You really have to try a peanut-butter sandwich!”

The story opens in Vyla... Read More

The Bronze Skies: Another adventure in the undercity

The Bronze Skies by Catherine Asaro

The Bronze Skies (2017) is the second book in Catherine Asaro’s MAJOR BHAAJAN series. In the first book, Undercity, we met Bhaajan, a private investigator who recently retired from military service. When she is hired by the royal family to track down a runaway prince, she must descend into the grimy tunnels under the capital city of Cries. This is where the lowest cast of citizens live — in the city’s underbelly — and this is where Bhaajan grew up before escaping into the military. As Bhaajan searches for the prince, it’s easy to draw parallels between the class system of Cries and our own world’s socioeconomic hierarchies.

In The Bronze Skies Read More

Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water: We are interested in what Kaftan does next

Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water by Vylar Kaftan

Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water is a 2019 novella by Vylar Kaftan. The story opens with two characters, Bee, our narrator, and Chela, in jeopardy in a very unusual setting, and takes us places we did not expect.

Bee is trapped in a unique and horrifying prison: a cave complex on a planet far from Earth. She has one companion, Chela, and they have banded together to brave the dangers of the caves: the risk of drowning, narrow tunnels that could trap and suffocate a prisoner, deep shafts and large predatory insects. They have never seen another prisoner. The wardens leave boxes of goods with a guiding beacon for them to find. The boxes contain food and other necessary supplies, and sometimes a whimsical item like a postcard. It’s often a race to get to the boxes before the insects find them, and the boxes, their arbitrary placement and the str... Read More

Empress of Forever: Thrilling space opera, but it is science fiction?

Empress of Forever by Max Gladstone

Max Gladstone’s Empress of Forever (2019) is definitely space opera. In a far distant future, tech genius, entrepreneur and loner Vivian Liao travels from planet to planet and system to system trying to find an advantage in a losing war against an all-powerful space empress. Viv, who is plucked by that same empress out of her our-present-day life (and planned rebellion), draws to herself the usual strange pack of uneasy allies in this battle. The book is complicated, fascinating, fast-paced, and star-and-planet hopping. I’m not sure it’s science fiction.

Viv Liao is a titan of tech, a brilliant, quirky creator who has made billions of dollars and finally, become a threat to the wrong people. On the night of her birthday party she flees, enacting her own personal plan for a... Read More

Dragonfly: Adventure-filled fantasy and romance for younger readers

Dragonfly by Julia Golding

A political marriage has been arranged between 16-year-old Princess Taoshira (Tashi) of the Blue Crescent Islands and 18-year-old Prince Ramil (Ram) of the country of Gerfal. They're separated by a few hundred miles, a couple of other countries in between theirs, and a world of cultural differences. Both Tashi and Ram are completely appalled by the idea of the match, and it doesn't get any better when they meet up, as Tashi’s government sends her to Gerfal to meet and wed Ram. But their countries need an alliance to fight against an aggressive and brutal warlord, Fergox Spearthrower of Holt (one of those in-between countries), and the marriage is needed, in the views of their rulers, to cement their alliance.

Tashi, frightened, takes refuge in stiff formality; Ram gets wasted and does his best to put Tashi off with his rude and uncouth behavior. They're off on a horse ride that Ram's father, the king o... Read More