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The Witch Who Came in from the Cold: Spy vs. Spy in the city of a hundred spires

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The Witch Who Came in from the Cold by Lindsay Smith, Max Gladstone, Cassandra Rose Clarke, Ian Tregillis & Michael Swanwick

The Witch Who Came in from the Cold (2017) is a study in contradictions. It’s a collaborative novel that feels seamless despite the five contributing authors: Lindsay Smith, Max Gladstone, Cassandra Rose Clarke, Ian Tregillis, and Michael Swanwick. It was originally published in serialized form by Read More

Age of Myth: Well-wrought prequel to the RYRIA fantasy series

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Age of Myth by Michael J. Sullivan

With Age of Myth, Michael J. Sullivan begins a prequel series to his RYRIA CHRONICLES and RYRIA REVELATIONS series. The good news for newcomers to his books is that, since this series takes place about 3,000 years earlier, you don't need to be familiar with either of those series or the world of Elan to enjoy this new LEGENDS OF THE FIRST EMPIRE series, so I was in good shape. I know pretty much zero about the other Ryria books, except that many epic fantasy fans are very enthusiastic about them, but I really enjoyed Age of Myth and am anxious to start the next book in this series, Read More

The Prey of Gods: Two takes on this imaginative and compelling story

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The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden

The Prey of Gods (2017), by Nicky Drayden, takes a well-worn concept — what if gods walked among regular humans? — and breathes new life into it through her innovative uses of location, technology, mythology, and complex characters in this blend of real-world problems and fantastical situations.

Life is pretty great in futuristic Port Elizabeth, South Africa (so long as you’ve got money); people have access to genetically-engineered pets, personal robots with varying degrees of intelligence and capability, and solar wells that draw both energy and moisture from the air. When a long-forgotten demigoddess currently styling herself as Sydney sees an opportunity to restore her former glory and supremacy, just as a powerful new hallucinogenic hits... Read More

The Gauntlet: A celebration of family and culture

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The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi

Karuna Riazi has already made a name for herself on social media; if you’ve seen or used the widely popular Twitter hashtag #yesallwomen, you have Riazi to thank for it, along with her many other meaningful contributions to conversations about diversity, inclusivity, and representation in media. This year, her debut middle-grade novel The Gauntlet (2017) was published, and it is every bit as positive, well-crafted, and insightful as her non-fiction.

Birthdays ought to be a big deal for any child, but twelve-year-old Farah Mirza spends hers playing games with her little brother, Ahmad, rather than spending time with her friends Alex and Essie, or the family members who have also gathered at her Upper East Side home to celebrate. It’s part of being a good big s... Read More

Heroine Worship: Bridezilla: San Francisco S.O.S.

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Heroine Worship by Sarah Kuhn

Just three months have passed between the events of Sarah Kuhn’s Heroine Complex and Heroine Worship (2017), which is just about enough time for Aveda Jupiter (aka Annie Chang), San Francisco’s beloved superheroine, to go out of her mind with boredom. She’s not quite at climbing-the-walls or intentionally-setting-fires levels of stir crazy, but she seems pretty close. (Daily multi-hour breakfasts leading to afternoons filled with absolutely nothing would do that to anyone.) Demon activity has been nonexistent since the big battle at the end of Heroine Complex, which is great for the people of San Francisco, but bad for superheroes. Read More

End of the World Blues: Grimwood is a superb stylist

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End of the World Blues by Jon Courtenay Grimwood

Roger Zelazny, on top of writing a number of immensely popular books and stories, was one of the genre’s great stylists, with noir minimalism utilized in nearly all his works. He was likewise predictable for his main characters, often world-weary men with personal issues who find themselves facing situations they would rather avoid. I have come to think of Jon Courtenay Grimwood, who bases his fiction on these two same elements, as a successor to Zelazny, but significantly upgraded for the (post-) modern world. An exemplary text, his End of the World Blues (2006) possesses a sophisticated sense of noir that does not lack for eye-kicks (to borrow a phrase from Read More

Pebble In The Sky: One down, 500 to go…

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Pebble In The Sky by Isaac Asimov

In a now-famous interview, sci-fi legend Isaac Asimov once revealed how he avoided getting stuck with writer’s block. The hugely prodigious author would often be working at four or five books at the same time, with five typewriters arrayed side by side, and when he would get inextricably bogged down with one book, he’d simply move to the neighboring typewriter, and recommence work on that one! Thus, one can almost understand how it was possible for Asimov — who claimed, in his later years, to do nothing but write, eat, sleep, and talk to his wife — to rack up the almost superhuman tally of just over 500 books written before his death in 1992, in every subject category of the Dewey Decimal System (does anybod... Read More

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter: Monsters, men, and monstrous men

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The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss

In The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter (2017), Theodora Goss has created something really exciting and rewarding: a novel that pays homage to the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century works of speculative fiction which inform every standard the modern incarnation of the genre is judged by, and yet stands on its own as a twenty-first century creation.

The epigraph — “Here be monsters” — and a subsequent recorded exchange between Mary and Catherine set the scene: The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter is a collaborative effort, though by whom and for what purpose is not immediately plain. First we are introduced to Mary Jekyll, recently orphaned daughter of Dr. ... Read More

Barsk: A wonderfully thoughtful, imaginative work of science fiction

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Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Barsk: The Elephant’s Graveyard by Lawrence M. Schoen

When I put in my ARC request for Lawrence M. Schoen’s new novel Barsk, all I knew about it was that the setting involved a group of worlds inhabited by a variety of anthropomorphic space-faring animal species, with the main focus on elephants (thus its subtitle: The Elephant’s Graveyard). C’mon. El-e-phants in Spaaaaaccce! How could I resist? But Barsk is much more than a funny-but-cool premise; it’s a thoughtful, moving, and provocative exploration of a host of issues, including but not limited to memory, history, free will, and power. Eve... Read More

Wytches by Scott Snyder

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Wytches by Scott Snyder (writer) and Jock (artist)

Wytches by Scott Snyder is the horror book I never thought I would enjoy. I just do not like being frightened by the literature I read, and yet, I enjoyed every page of this tense story. In Wytches, a single-volume put out by Image, Snyder creates his own unusual tradition of Witches in a small town in New Hampshire. I read the entire volume cover to cover without any awareness of time passing.

Before the events of the book, Sailor, a high school student and only child, suffers bullying from Annie, another teenager... Read More

Firebrand: Evil has many faces

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Firebrand by A.J. Hartley

Firebrand (2017) is the second of A.J. Hartley’s STEEPLEJACK series, following shortly after 2016’s Steeplejack and continuing the story of Anglet Sutonga, a young woman with a very strong sense of justice and a knack for finding herself in trouble. Firebrand builds on the events of Steeplejack, and as a result, this review will contain very mild spoilers for Steeplejack.

Firebrand takes places three months after Steeplejack’s ending, providi... Read More

Steeplejack: A good detective story blended with biting social commentary

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Steeplejack by A.J. Hartley

I knew Steeplejack (2016) was a YA thriller/mystery before picking up my review copy, but I wasn’t expecting it to be as solidly-written and entertaining as I ultimately found it to be. A.J. Hartley has not only created a compelling heroine and a richly imaginative world, but also multiple schemes driving the plot which depend on (and drive) social unrest that strikes extremely close to home in places.

Our story begins in the glorious city of Bar-Selehm, a metropolis which is geographically and culturally reminiscent of Johannesburg, South Africa; white Feldesland colonialists inhabit the upper echelons of power, brown-skinned Lani perform menial labor and live on the outskirts of town, and dark-skinned Mahweni generally live in the surrounding ... Read More

Cibola Burn: The flagship space opera series

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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 al... Read More

Abaddon’s Gate: A great ride!

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Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Abaddon’s Gate by James S.A. Corey

After reading the first two books in James S. A. Corey’s EXPANSE series, Leviathan Wakes and Caliban’s War, I came to book three, Abaddon’s Gate, with some pretty solid expectations. How did Corey (really Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) 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
a nice balance of shoot-em-up action, political fighting, and personal conflicts: check, check, and check
a 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 Read More

Thick as Thieves: The theft of a slave

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Thick as Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner

Note: This review contains some spoilers for the second book in the QUEEN'S THIEF series, The Queen of Attolia.

In Thick as Thieves (2017), the long-awaited fifth book in Megan Whalen Turner’s QUEEN’S THIEF series, the setting shifts away from the peninsula where Eddis, Attolia and Sounis are, to another country in this world, the Mede Empire, which has long been nursing not-so-secret plans to conquer and annex the peninsula. Kamet is a valuable secretary and slave to Nahuseresh, former Mede ambassador to Attolia and neph... Read More

White Hot: Turning up the heat

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White Hot by Ilona Andrews

Note: this review contains some spoilers for the first book in this series, Burn for Me.

In White Hot (2017), the second book in Ilona AndrewsHIDDEN LEGACY urban fantasy series, we return to a magical version of Houston, Texas, where some people (typically the rich and powerful) have inheritable magical powers. Nevada Baylor is from a not-particularly wealthy family that runs a private investigation firm, but she and some other members of her family have magical powers that are suspiciously strong for a family with no reputation at all as magic users. Actually, Nevada is a rare truthseeker: she not only knows when others are lyin... Read More

Return to the Stars: In H’Harn’s way

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Return to the Stars by Edmond Hamilton

For those readers who thrilled to the exploits of 20th century Earthman John Gordon in the futuristic galaxy of 202,115, in Edmond Hamilton’s first novel, The Star Kings (1949), the wait to find out just what might happen next would prove to be a long one. Ultimately, though, their patience was rewarded with Hamilton’s much-belated sequel, Return to the Stars (1969). Unlike the original novel, which was released all at once and comprised the entire 9/47 issue of Amazing Stories magazine, the sequel was what is known as a fix-up novel, having as its provenance four separate stories that Hamilton skillfully cobbled together into one cohesive... Read More

Tyrant’s Throne: A near-perfect close to a great series

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Tyrant’s Throne by Sebastien de Castell

De Castell turned to Kest. “How would you rate our chances?”

Kest rifled through the manuscript. “We’ll get four and five-star reviews and show up on a dozen Best of the Year lists, after which you’ll get one, no two, major nominations. People will be very sad it’s over and will repeatedly beg you for more. Falcio will appear on five or six ‘Best Characters in a Series’ lists, which won’t do much for his humility, I hate to say.”

“I’ll have you know I have the best humility of anyone.”

“My point exactly. I’ll get a Top 10 mention on a list of Best Swordsperson in a fantasy work, but poor Brasti will almost certainly be forgotten, unless someone makes a list of ‘Characters Who You Only Remember as ‘That Other Guy.’”

Brasti glanced up from polishing his bow.
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Black Dog: YA werewolf fantasy with a Latino spin

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Black Dog by Rachel Neumeier

Black Dog (2014) is a YA urban fantasy that takes the werewolf shapeshifter subgenre and puts some unusual spins on it. The teenage Toland siblings, 15½ year old twins Natividad and Miguel and their 18 year old brother Alejandro, have been orphaned in their Mexico home by a mass attack of enemy black dog shapeshifters led by their father’s long-time enemy. Alejandro is a black dog, Miguel is a normal human, and Natividad is what is known as a "Pure," one of the rare girls born with magical powers, including the ability to cast protective spells and to quiet the wild shadow that is an inseverable part of those who are black dogs.

When their Mexican mother and American father both die in the attack, the three siblings follow their father’s last instructions: leave Mexico and travel all the way to Vermont, where there is a strong p... Read More

River of Teeth: Bear in mind, please, that this isn’t a caper

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River of Teeth
by Sarah Gailey

River of Teeth (2017) is Sarah Gailey’s first novella-length work, and if the idea of a gonzo queer alt-history hippo extravaganza doesn’t immediately set your imagination aflame, then perhaps rich character work and a thoroughly convincing atmosphere will do the trick. Beyond that, there’s a caper (which Mr. Winslow Remington Houndstooth would like everyone to know is an operation) and a whole lot of revenge to be had.

Let’s travel back in time, shall we? Back to America in the late 19th-century, when a portion of the lower Mississippi River was dammed off and given over to a terrifying population of feral hippos, the kind who enjoy noshing on a human’s viscera; a time when women and genderfluid individuals of various races had a little more equality with the white men around them; a time when ri... 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

Chocky: Wyndham goes out on a high note

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Chocky by John Wyndham

Following the publication of 1960’s Trouble With Lichen, fans of the hugely popular English sci-fi writer John Wyndham would have to wait a good solid eight years for his next novel to be released. During that time, the author limited himself to the shorter form, coming out with 10 stories. One of those short stories was “Chocky,” which initially appeared in the March ’63 issue of the legendary American magazine Amazing Stories, which had been started by author and editor Hugo Gernsback back in 1926. Wyndham later expanded “Chocky,” and the result was his final book to be published before his untimely passing. As had so many other of the author’s previous works, the no... Read More

Certain Dark Things: I thought I was tired of vampires; then I read this

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Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

I’ve gotten tired of vampires. All too often, their social models are those of decadent, louche aristocrats with their courts and their bloodsucking royalty, or mafia-like crime lords. There isn’t much new about the process of drinking blood, either; they host a demon; or they are demons, or they have a virus. (Yawn.) I didn’t think anyone could make vampires interesting for me again until I read Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Certain Dark Things. Her vampires are crime lords, but not mafia; they run narco-cartels, and Certain Dark Things (2016) tells a story about a vampire and her human sidekick in a way that is gritty, romantic, action-y and new.

Moreno-Garcia’s story choices range from the R... Read More

Deadly Class (Vol. 1): Reagan Youth by Rick Remender (An Oxford College Student Review!)

In this new column, I’ll be featuring comic book reviews written by my students at Oxford College of Emory University. Oxford College is a small liberal arts school just outside of Atlanta, Georgia. I challenge students to read and interpret comics because I believe sequential art and visual literacy are essential parts of education at any level (see my Manifesto!). I’ll be posting the best of my students’ reviews in this column. Today, I am proud to present a review by Njeri Thomas. 

Njeri Thomas is a freshman pursuing a degree in psychology with the intent to go to medical school. She calls Houston, Texas home and loves reading, theater, and art. In the future, Njeri wishes to become a child psychiatrist and possibly an actress.

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Deadly Class (V... Read More

Brimstone: The Queen of Southern Gothic delivers again

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Brimstone by Cherie Priest

Brimstone (2017) is a throwback to some of Cherie Priest’s earlier work in theme and in setting. The story takes place in Florida, this time in Cassadaga, a real town which, like Lily Dale in northern New York, was founded by spiritualists. Cassadaga still exists and still draws the public for psychic readings, classes and attempts to contact deceased loved ones. In Brimstone, Alice Dartle comes to Cassadaga to learn about her own psychic gift, and Tomas Corderos flees there in an attempt to escape a terrifying spirit of fire, which soon puts the whole town in danger.

The book is set in 1920; both World War I and Prohibition play their parts in the story. What I loved best were the two main characters and their contra... Read More