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

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

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 polis... Read More

The Oracle Year: An exciting, fast-paced science fiction thriller

Reposting to include Jana's new review.

The Oracle Year by Charles Soule

OCTOBER 8: FOURTEEN BABIES WILL BE BORN AT NORTHSIDE GENERAL HOSPITAL IN HOUSTON. SIX MALE, EIGHT FEMALE.

One morning at about 5:00 am, Will Dando, a struggling young New York musician, abruptly awakes from a vivid dream. In his dream, a voice told Will 108 oddly specific and rather random predictions about the future, which he remembers verbatim when he wakes up. Some are potentially life-changing: warnings of the collapse of a major bridge and other disasters. Others may have a huge financial effect: a football game that will be won by the Jets by four points; a caution about a late freeze of crops in the southeastern United States. Still others are apparently mundane:
APRIL 24 – MRS. LUISA ALVAREZ OF EL PASO, TEXAS, PURCHASES A QUART OF CHOCOLATE MILK, SOMETHING SHE HAS NOT HAD IN TWENTY YEARS, TO SEE IF SHE STILL ... Read More

Storm Cursed: That old black magic

Storm Cursed by Patricia Briggs

Storm Cursed (2019), the eleventh book in Patricia BriggsMERCY THOMPSON urban fantasy series, kicks the series up a notch with some clashes with black magic witches, and no one is safe. Mercy, a coyote skinwalker and the shapechanger daughter of the god Coyote, is back in the Tri-Cities area of Washington state after her hair-raising adventures in Europe in Silence Fallen.

Storm Cursed begins with a seemingly tangential event: Mercy has tagged two of her husband Adam’s werewolf pack, firefighter Mary Jo and computer nerd Ben, to go on a goblin hunt with her, tracking down a goblin suspected of killing a policeman. She calls Larry, the goblin king who we ... Read More

Middlegame: Blood is thicker than alkahest

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire

Seanan McGuire brings together horror, alchemy, and fantasy in Middlegame (2019), a novel about ambition, power, creation, family, genius, and imagination. And because it’s a McGuire novel, there are also plenty of things that go bump in both the day and the night, a terrifying amount of corn, a refutation of pastoral/nostalgic Americana as viewed through the lens of classic children’s literature, and a battle-scarred old tomcat.

James Reed and his assistant Leigh Barrow ― a pair of rebel alchemists of the mad scientist type ― have been doing human experimentation for years, trying to make/breed (it's a combination of both) children who will embody the "Doctrine of Ethos" and have godlike magical powers. Because putting all this power in one person hasn’t worked, they split ... Read More

Atlas Alone: Planet Earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do…

Atlas Alone by Emma Newman

Emma Newman continues her PLANETFALL series with Atlas Alone (2019), which takes place after Planetfall, After Atlas, and Before Mars. In fact, two of Atlas Alone’s characters will be immediately recognizable to those who have already read After Atlas, and one of those characters, in particular, is key to creating Atlas Alone’s overwhelming claustrophobia, tension, and sense of impending doom. Some spoilers for After At... Read More

Upon a Burning Throne: “When elephants do battle, insects are crushed underfoot.”

Upon a Burning Throne by Ashok K. Banker

Ashok K. Banker crafts an intricate and wide-ranging world in Upon a Burning Throne (2019) the first volume in the BURNT EMPIRE SAGA. This novel alone covers the span of decades, touching on the lives of dozens of characters, implementing mythology and magic and carefully-plotted battles in equal measure. Gods, warriors, mystics, kings, and even the humblest of charioteers all have their parts to play in this nearly-700-page epic loosely based upon The Mahabharata, an ancient Indian epic poem that tells the story of a dynastic-succession war between two groups of cousins. Banker’s story is his own creation, however, and even with very little prior experience with the inspirat... Read More

Saint’s Blood: Another great romp mixing humor and grief

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Saint’s Blood by Sebastien de Castell

Saint’s Blood (2016) is the third in Sebastien de Castell’s GREATCOATS series, and as with the previous two (Traitor’s Blade and Knight’s Shadow), it’s both a lot of fun (really, a lot of fun) and deeply emotionally affecting. The series isn’t perfect, but it’s just so enjoyable and engaging that you just don’t mind the few flaws, and that continues with Saint’s Blood, which resolves its major story arc but also points at the very end to a fourth book. And I ... Read More

The Tea Master and the Detective: A Holmesian mystery in an Asian space habitat

The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard

The Tea Master and the Detective (2018), a novella nominated for both the Nebula and Hugo awards, is a delightful revisiting of the legendary Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson ... if both were Asian women, and Watson was a genetically modified human that is the brains and heart of a transport warship. It’s set in Aliette de Bodard’s UNIVERSE OF XUYA ― also nominated for a Hugo for Best Series ― a “timeline where Asia became dominant, and where the space age has Confucian galactic empires of Vietnamese and Chinese inspiration,” per the author’s website.

The Shadow’s Child, a mindship, is suffering from long-... Read More

Knight’s Shadow: Great characters enrich this second installment

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Knight's Shadow by Sebastien de Castell

I absolutely loved Sebastien de Castell's Traitor's Blade, first in his GREATCOATS series, having been immediately charmed by the utterly winning voice of its first-person narrator Falcio val Mond and its flamboyant Three Musketeers-like tone and narrative. So I was greatly looking forward to its sequel, Knight's Shadow. I'm pleased to say that while I had a few issues, for the most part I was wholly satisfied despite such high expectations.

The sequel picks up pretty much right after the close of Traitor's Blade and continues with the same basic goal: find a way to keep the king's thirteen-year-old heir Aline alive long enough... Read More

In the Land of Time: And Other Fantasy Tales: A Dunsany primer

In the Land of Time: And Other Fantasy Tales by Lord Dunsany

In In the Land of Time: And Other Fantasy Tales (1986), literary critic and editor S.T. Joshi has compiled a large collection of Lord Dunsany’s short fiction that spans fifty years and is representative of his entire oeuvre. As someone who is not well-acquainted with the writings of Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, the 18th Baron of Dunsany (1878-1957), I found this collection to be both an excellent resource and an enjoyable read. I especially appreciate the opportunity to listen to this in audiobook format, thanks to Tantor Audio who has recently released an audio edition which is 17 hours long and is beautifully narrated by Steven Crossley.

After giving us an informative introduction, Joshi has arranged Dunsany’s stories into six sections. The fi... Read More

The Deepest Blue: Love conquers all

The Deepest Blue by Sarah Beth Durst

Readers who have been anxiously awaiting more tales set within the lands of Renthia (and I am loudly, proudly one of them) are sure to be pleased by The Deepest Blue (2019), the latest from Sarah Beth Durst, which is billed as a stand-alone TALES OF RENTHIA novel and is set after the events of The Queen of Sorrow. The only true indicator of timeline is the appearance of one of my favorite people in all of Renthia, and though her contributions are critical to the overall plot, The Deepest Blue could easily function as a continuation of story for existing fans or an introduction for new readers.

This time, our story is set on the tropi... Read More

Station Zero: A superb conclusion to an excellent YA trilogy

Station Zero by Philip Reeve

With Station Zero (2019), Philip Reeve brings to an end the RAILHEAD trilogy begun with Railhead and Black Light Express, and if it’s not a perfect conclusion, it’s pretty darn close, leaving you at the end with a sense of satisfying, even gratifying, resolution tinged with a lingering bittersweetness that makes the final result all the more richly rewarding. With this Cosmic Railroad trilogy (not an official title) and his earlier PREDATOR CITIES/MORTAL ENGINES work, Reeve has served up three of the most inventive and compulsively readable YA series of the p... Read More

Tiamat’s Wrath: Choose your poison — heartbreaking or heart-stopping

Tiamat’s Wrath by James S. Corey

8 Reasons You Should Read Book Eight of THE EXPANSE Tiamat’s Wrath

1. It comes after the seven others you’ve already read. Let’s not overthink it.

2. Space battles! Magnestar battleships, plasma torpedoes, rail guns, body armor, antimatter weapons, overwhelming odds, strategery, space sieges, tricky orbital mechanics, ambushes and armadas, Bobbie doing crazy marine stuff, Alex doing crazy pilot stuff, things going boom (though silently ‘cause you know, space)!

3. Moving reunions of people who have been separated far too long, from each other and us readers. Yep, I choked up.

4. All those quiet spaces in between the battles that have always elevated this series above its competitors. Moments of intimacy between characters or of introspection by a single character, either type often reflecting on the... Read More

A Memory Called Empire: A richly layered debut

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

Arkady Martine’s A Memory Called Empire (2019) is one of the more ambitious books (and certainly debuts) I’ve read in some time, an ambition well within the author’s reach, it turns out. Richly layered, backgrounded with vividly intriguing world-building, nicely paced in the way it moves and unfolds, and filled with complex, engaging characters, it’s pretty much everything one can ask for in a book.

Most of the setting takes place on the capital world of the Teixcalaanli Empire, an aged (and aging), vast and powerful multi-system empire of wealth, technology, and “civilization” (as opposed to the barbarians outside its realm). The “Stationers,” so-called because they are bound not to a planet but to “one of the oldest continuously inhabited artificial worldlets,” have managed to retain their independence despite their proximity.... Read More

The Iliad: An excellent graphic version of the classic tale

The Iliad by Gareth Hinds

Gareth Hinds makes a lot of good decisions in his graphic version of Homer’s The Iliad (2019), both in terms of art and narration, resulting in a book that’s easy to recommend both to young adults and also educators/parents who want to slip a little classical knowledge into their kid’s comic book.

Two of those good decisions involve cleverly incorporating each major hero’s initial into their helm or breastplate and ignoring the historical reality, and portraying the two sides in uniform garb so as to more easily distinguish one from the other. Given the number of characters, and an avalanche of names, anything that helps to separate Greeks from Trojans and tell Achilles from Agamemnon is a boon to the reader. The art is clear and vivid throughout, working hand in hand with the text to clarify, expand, emphasize, and enhance. It’s all well done, but my ... Read More

The Test: The cost of citizenship in a near-future world

The Test by Sylvain Neuvel

Since I fell in love with Sylvain Neuvel’s giant robots and sardonic narrator in Sleeping Giants, I’ve been curious to see what he would write next. The Test (2019) is an excellent novella, quite different from THE THEMIS FILES trilogy, though some similar themes are touched on and there are similarities in the narrative technique.

I went into reading The Test totally cold, without reading even the blurb ― just knowing that Neuvel wrote it was good enough for me to spend my $3.99 on the Kindle version ― and I strongly recommend doing that. But if you want a little more information about the novella’s setting and merits, this review does t... Read More

Galactic Patrol: Book 3 of one of the greatest space operas

Galactic Patrol by E. E. “Doc” Smith

After almost 500 pages of back story … after a history of the conflict between the superraces of Arisia and Eddore that stretches back 2 billion years, and includes glimpses of Earth’s lost continent of Atlantis and the Holy Roman Empire … after at least six major space battles, explorations of any number of bizarre worlds, a look at how the Galactic Patrol was formed and how the mysterious, Arisian artifact known as the Lens was obtained by the Patrol … after campaigns against drug smugglers, dirty politicos and space pirates … after all of this and much more, E. E. “Doc” Smith’s legendary LENSMAN space opera finally begins in earnest, in Book 3 of the six-part epic, Galactic Patrol.

As I mentioned in my reviews of the first two books, Read More

Marvel 1985: A realistic superhero story

Marvel 1985 by Mark Millar

In Marvel 1985, Mark Millar tells us the story of comics coming to real life. Young Toby Goodman sees the Red Skull one day, and wonders if his eyes might be deceiving him, but after he sees a few more Marvel characters, he realizes that the super-villains from the Marvel Universe are invading our reality. He encounters the Hulk at one point, but mainly it’s the bad guys coming to his small town: Ultron, the Blob, Sandman, and many more villains appear and begin to kill indiscriminately. But things really seem bad when the planet-destroying Galactus shows up. We begin to wonder who the mastermind is behind this invasion.

Why is this story so good? Because it’s grounded in the reality of a young boy’s daily struggles: Toby’s parents are divorced, and he doesn’t like his stepdad. He seems to get enjoyment only by escaping through comics, going to the comics shop, and han... Read More

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter: We like it

Reposting to include Skye's new review.

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 orph... Read More

The Kingdom of Copper: Strong follow-up to The City of Brass

The Kingdom of Copper by S.A. Chakraborty

I thoroughly enjoyed S. A. Chakraborty’s first book The City of Brass, which was at its core just a good story. I’m happy to report that the follow-up, The Kingdom of Copper (2019), is even better, continuing the captivating narrative but also deepening its exploration of the more serious themes that were apparent in book one but not fully mined. Fair warning: some unavoidable spoilers for the first book to follow. I’m also going to assume you’ve read The City of Brass and so won’t go into too many explanations of people/settings.

The Kingdom of Copper picks up not long after the events of Th... Read More

The Hod King: You need to be reading this series!

The Hod King by Josiah Bancroft

If you haven’t read Senlin Ascends and Arm of the Sphinx yet: Please stop here and go get them. I recommend Hachette Audio’s versions because they are absolutely brilliantly performed by John Banks. Read the rest of this review at your own risk — there will be mild spoilers for Senlin Ascends and Arm of the Sphinx in my review.

I am so conflicted. For some reason I just assumed that Josiah Bancroft’s BOOKS OF BABEL was going to be a trilogy and that The... Read More

The Thief of Forthe and Other Stories: The successor to Robert E. Howard

The Thief of Forthe and Other Stories by Clifford Ball

If I were to ask 1,000 people what the words “Clifford Ball” meant to them, those to whom it meant anything, I have a feeling, would reply that the Clifford Ball was the first weekendlong concert bash that the jam band Phish ever held, back in August ’96, in Plattsburgh, N.Y. Fewer, perhaps, would know that the provenance for the name of that shindig was the aviation pioneer Clifford Ball, whose moniker the Phish folks thought would be a cool and punny handle for their event. But it is not of these two Clifford Balls that I would speak here, but rather of another: Clifford Ball the author, whose claim to fame today is his being the first writer to continue on in the sword-and-sorcery tradition after the suicide of Robert E. Howard in 1936. If you have not previously heard of Clifford Ball the w... Read More

The Sapphire Goddess: A very fine and long overdue collection

The Sapphire Goddess: The Fantasies of Nictzin Dyalhis by Nictzin Dyalhis

Unless you have perused the pages of the dozen or so Weird Tales anthologies that have been released over the past 50-plus years, odds are that you have not come across the name “Nictzin Dyalhis.” But during the 15-year period 1925 - 1940, Dyalhis was extraordinarily popular with the readers of that legendary pulp magazine, despite the fact that he only had eight stories published therein during that decade and a half. And of those eight, four were voted by the readers as the most popular of the issues in which they appeared, and five of them copped the front-cover illustration. This reader had previously encountered three of those tales in various anthologies, had loved them all, and was curious to read more. The only problem was, an anthology of Dyalhis’ work had never been compiled, until the fine folks at DMR released, this past summer, ... Read More

Wild Seed: Two African immortals battle for supremacy in early America

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Wild Seed by Octavia Butler

Wild Seed (1980) was written last in Octavia Butler’s 5-book PATTERNIST series, but comes first in chronology. The next books, by internal chronology, are Mind of My Mind (1977), Clay’s Ark (1984), and Patternmaster (1976). Butler was later unsatisfied with Survivor (1978) and elected to not have it reprinted, so I will focus on the main four volumes. Wild Seed is an origin story set well before later books and can stand on its own. It’s one of those books whose basic plot could be described in just a few paragraphs, but the themes it explores are deep, challenging, and thought-provoki... Read More

Deliver Me From Eva: A flabbergasting thrill ride

Deliver Me From Eva by Paul Bailey

Once again, I am indebted to Stephen Jones and Kim Newman’s excellent overview volume Horror: 100 Best Books for alerting me to the existence of a great read that I probably would never have run across without their assistance. In this case, the novel in question is Paul Bailey’s Deliver Me From Eva, which was chosen for inclusion in that volume by no less a figure than Forrest J. Ackerman — former editor of the beloved magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland, renowned literary agent, and legendary collector of horror and sci-fi movie memorabilia — himself. The book, Ackerman tells us, was one that he first read upon its initial publication in 1946, but had never forgotten, and any reader of this absolutely flabbergasting thrill ride will surely understand why.

Paul Bailey, I should perhap... Read More