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Cibola Burn: This series is one of the best things going now

Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey

In my review of the third EXPANSE novel from James S.A. Corey (actually a collaborative effort from Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck), I said this:
How did Corey do, based on strengths I highlighted in reviews of the first two books?

fluid prose: check
likable characters: check
mostly strong characterization: check
humor that runs throughout: check
nice balance of shoot-em-up action, political fighting, and personal conflicts: check, check, and check
quick pace that had me knock of a 500+ page book in a single setting: check
a feel (in a good way) of old-time sci-fi along the likes of Heinlein or Asimov: check
a ratcheting up of tension and stakes: check and check
a sense of risk thanks to not all the characters making it to the end? check
... Read More

The Ship of Ishtar: A fantasy for the ages

The Ship of Ishtar by Abraham Merritt

The Ship of Ishtar, one of Abraham Merritt's finest fantasies, first appeared in the pages of Argosy magazine in 1924. An altered version appeared in book form in 1926, and the world finally received the original work in book form in 1949, six years after Merritt's death.

In this wonderful novel we meet John Kenton, an American archaeologist who has just come into possession of a miniature crystal ship recently excavated "from the sand shrouds of ages-dead Babylon." Before too long, Kenton is whisked onto the actual ship, of which his relic is just a symbol. It turns out that the ship is sailing the seas of an otherdimensional limboland, and manned by the evil followers of the Babylonian god of the dead, Nergal, and by the priestesses of the Babylonian fertility goddess, Ishtar. A f... Read More

Cleopatra In Space: Target Practice by Mike Maihack

Cleopatra In Space (Book 1): Target Practice by Mike Maihack

If you've read the excellent Zita books and are looking for a similar title, Cleopatra in Space: Target Practice is the graphic novel you're looking for. Just like Zita, Cleopatra is a young, independent, intelligent girl who, though stuck in space, manages to enjoy the adventures that fate has set before her. Cleopatra is a fifteen-year-old girl in Ancient Egypt who goes exploring with her friend, a boy named Gozi. They find a tomb, and in a reversal of classic adventure books, the girl is the brave one who goes in first and finds the one particular... Read More

Red Rising: Will probably be on my top ten list this year

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

In Pierce Brown’s debut novel, Red Rising, humanity lives in a strictly hierarchical society, with the various castes marked by colors: Golds at the top, Reds at the bottom, Pinks for pleasure, Yellows for bureaucrats, etc. Darrow, a young Red, who mines beneath the surface of Mars for Helium-3, has always accepted the hierarchy as it has been drummed into him, until events cause him to see things differently. Eventually, he is set on a path whereby he will seek to undermine the Golds’ power and spark a revolution of Reds. If, that is, he can stay true to himself and his mission even as he infiltrates the Gold society. Because of the many twists in the novel, that pretty much all I’m going to say about plot.

Usually I like to start with the positives of a novel. But despite the fact that I’m pretty sure Red Rising will end up in... Read More

The Magician’s Land: Read this trilogy

The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman

I didn’t immediately fall for Lev Grossman’s MAGICIANS trilogy. The first book, The Magicians, I thought had a lot of potential, was smartly written and was doing interesting things with the fantasy genre, but its problems in pacing and balance were a distraction, and, I confess, my frequent dislike for the main character Quentin Coldwater, also kept me from fully embracing the novel. Those problems disappeared in the follow-up, The Magician King, which I listed in my top ten fantasies of that year. Now Grossman is out with the final volume — The Magician’s Land. I don’t know if it is as strong as The Magician King, but if not, the difference is slight. Even better, The Magician’s Land not only satisfactorily concludes the story, but in... Read More

The Widow’s House: A consistently excellent series

The Widow’s House by Daniel Abraham

I have to hand it to Daniel Abraham; the guy takes some risks. In his first series, the absolutely masterful LONG PRICE QUARTET (read it if you haven’t), he had metaphor as the central conceit — a bit subtle and certainly less flashy than what most probably expect in a fantasy series. In his current series, THE DAGGER AND THE COIN, he makes banking one of the core action threads. Yes, I said banking. And yes, I said action. In fact, in the latest book, The Widow’s House, banking is perhaps THE pivot point of the story. I don’t how he does it, but not many authors, perhaps none, can, as he has done, have one banker explain to another banker what is basically the creation of a paper monetary system and have the reader thrill at the possibility of what that means to the plot. Yes, I said thrill.

Of course, Abraham doesn’t rely ... Read More

A Boy and A Girl by Jamie S. Rich

A Boy and A Girl by Jamie S. Rich (writer) and Natalie Nourigat (artist)

I was certainly surprised by this story. I’d seen it on Comixology before, but I'd passed it up. However, I decided to give it a chance after reading Natalie Nourigat's wonderful comic book Between the Gears, a coming-of-age autobiography about her senior year at the University of Oregon. I knew I liked her art, and just for that reason alone, I enjoyed A Boy and A Girl. It has the same style, with a touch of futurism, but Nourigat's main strength is on show here again: She has the ability to draw the same characters again and again an... Read More

Rogues: A diverse and satisfying collection

Rogues edited by George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois

Rogues, a short-story anthology by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, is a marvelously diverse collection of stories and genres, tied together by those scoundrels, those tricksters, those rascals, those rogues that you can't help but love. I listened to it on audiobook and loved the experience, especially because a few of the readers were actors from Game of Thrones.

When I picked this up, I was most excited to hear two stories in particular: "How the Marquis Got His Coat Back," by Neil Gaiman, and "The Lightning Tree," by Pat... Read More

The Humanoids: A great novel

The Humanoids by Jack Williamson

The late 1940s was a period of remarkable creativity for future sci-fi Grand Master Jack Williamson. July '47 saw the release of his much-acclaimed short story "With Folded Hands" in the pages of Astounding Science-Fiction, followed by the tale's two-part serialized sequel, And Searching Mind, in that influential magazine's March and April 1948 issues. Darker Than You Think, Williamson's great sci-fi/fantasy/horror hybrid, was released later in 1948, and 1949 saw the publication of And Searching Mind in hardcover form, and retitled The Humanoids. "With Folded Hands" had been a perfect(ly downbeat) short story that introduced us to the Humanoids, sleek black robots invented by a technician named Sledge on planet Wing IV. The ro... Read More

Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone: A fascinating pilgrimage

Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone by Ian McDonald

Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone is a fascinating short novel by Ian McDonald. At the beginning of the story we meet Ethan Ring, who’s feeling conspicuously tall and red-headed as he chants in a Buddhist temple. Ethan and his friend, a famous Japanese manga artist, are on a bicycle pilgrimage in Japan. Neither of them knows what kind of demons the other is struggling with, and neither does the reader at first, but as they journey on, their stories come out and even though each man’s tale is different, they realize that both of them are searching for redemption and peace.

Many stories deal with a hero’s search for redemption, but Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone is unique. The setting is a neo-feudal Japan where tech corporations are the fiefdoms and gangs of armed vigilantes threaten citizens’ peace and security. This is jarringly j... Read More

Horrible Monday: The Chosen Seed by Sarah Pinborough

The Chosen Seed by Sarah Pinborough

Note: This review contains spoilers for the first two books in the FORGOTTEN GODS trilogy. The review of the first of the books in the trilogy, A Matter of Blood, is here; the review of the second, The Shadow of the Soul, is here.

The first two books of Sarah Pinborough’s ... Read More

The Oversight: One of the best audiobooks I’ve read this year

The Oversight by Charlie Fletcher

Charlie Fletcher, previously best known for his Middle Grade STONEHEART trilogy, makes his adult debut with The Oversight, the first book in his OVERSIGHT trilogy. I listened to Hachette Audio’s version read by the illustrious Simon Prebble, an Audie-winning narrator who always brings out the best in the books he reads.

The story is set in a supernatural Victorian London where five gifted people who call themselves The Oversight attempt to protect the world from the paranormal baddies that live in another dimension and are trying to break through. The Oversight used to be a much larger group, but sometime in the past they were decimated by an event that is related to us bit by bit throughout the story. As long as there are at least five people (a “hand”) left, the border between worlds will stand, but the group is now so... Read More

The Crimson Campaign: A wonderful sequel

The Crimson Campaign by Brian McClellan

War is hell. That is true on many different levels, and each individual copes with it differently. Brian McClellan’s The Crimson Campaign is a journey into hell from four perspectives — each character’s hell no less terrible than the others’.

Tamas is the acknowledged tyrant, military leader,and  instigator of the overthrow on the Kingdom of Andro when his group of crack powder-mages killed the King and his royal cabal of Privileged (extremely powerful users of magic). Tamas has been through hell, fighting war after war until finally the murder/execution of his wife leaves him with just one goal left: revenge. Fighting the armies of Kez is something he knows well, but losing battles to them is not. When a bold, risky maneuver fails and leaves him trapped with an elite but relatively small group of soldiers behind enemy lines, Tamas has to find a way to save them. Watching... Read More

Barbarian Lord by Matt Smith

Barbarian Lord by Matt Smith

Barbarian Lord is an excellent story for both kids and adults, particularly fans of Icelandic Sagas and Nordic Mythology, which Matt Smith has clearly studied and for which he has an obvious passion. This book would be perfect for introducing kids to this mythological world; however, it's not merely a retelling of classic Nordic tales, though some of them are certainly incorporated. Rather, Barbarian Lord is a unique combination of all these and more, even a bit of Tolkien and He-Man, Smith acknowledges in the back of the book.

The story of Barbarian Lord starts with a listing of his family lineage, including some animals, which lends mystery to Barbarian Lord's strength and leadership. T... Read More

The Great Glass Sea: A fine literary novel with a solid SF premise

The Great Glass Sea by Josh Weil

It’s difficult to write a comprehensive yet succinct critique of a work by someone who understands storytelling from the bones outward, who writes unsentimentally about a place he loves and uses exquisite language while doing it. That’s my particular challenge with Josh Weil’s literary novel The Great Glass Sea.

I’m reviewing The Great Glass Sea for our Edge of the Universe column because the springboard for the story is an audacious SF what-if: What if orbiting space mirrors could provide 24 hours of light to an agricultural area on earth? What if endless acres of farmland could be sheltered from the elements of winter under huge greenhouses, a sea of glass, and crops could be grown year round? This is the starting point of Weil’s thoughtful, elegiac novel about Russia, his lyrical character study of two broth... Read More

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