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Emperor of the Eight Islands: Fascinating and lyrical

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Emperor of the Eight Islands by Lian Hearn

Emperor of the Eight Islands, by Lian Hearn, is the first book in a series of four, called THE TALE OF SHIKANOKO. The books are published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and all four will be issued in 2016 (April, June, August, September). The publisher has used this compressed release schedule before, most notably with Jeff VanderMeer’s AREA X trilogy.

The Emperor of the Eight Islands is not a long book, although quite a bit happens between its covers. We meet the character of Shikanoko, the “deer’s child,” although he has another name when his father dies mysteriously on a scouting trip. ... Read More

Dreams of Distant Shores: Seven fantastical stories

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Reposting to include Jana's new review.

Dreams of Distant Shores by Patricia McKillip

Dreams of Distant Shores is a collection of seven shorter fantasy works ― five short stories and two novellas ― and a non-fictional essay by one of my favorite fantasy authors, Patricia McKillip. Several of these works are reprints of stories originally published elsewhere; “Mer,” “Edith and Henry Go Motoring” and “Alien” are the only ones original to this collection, but since I had never seen any of these stories elsewhere, they were all doorways to new and enchanting worlds for me. This collection, where faeries and other fantastical creatures and beings intersect with commonplace people, sometimes rudely intruding in our world and sometimes luring us into... Read More

Sandman (Vol. 6): Fables and Reflections by Neil Gaiman

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review

Sandman (Vol. 6): Fables and Reflections by Neil Gaiman

Sandman: Fables and Reflections is a collection of nine separate stories that originally appeared in two separate groups plus an introductory short story and a lengthy Sandman Special about Orpheus and Eurydice. Basically, this collection is one of the most far-ranging and eclectic volumes available in the Sandman trade editions. The first grouping of stories about various emperors across time includes “Thermidor,” “August,” “Three Septembers and a January,” and “Ramadan” (Issu... Read More

When Worlds Collide: More than mere spectacle

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When Worlds Collide by Philip Wylie & Edwin Balmer

To look at the astronomical statistics, you would think that planet Earth is a sitting duck. In our teensy immediate neighborhood of the galaxy alone, there are over 14,000 asteroids zipping about, not to mention over 100 near-Earth comets. Asteroids of over one kilometer in diameter have hit the Earth, it is approximated, twice every million years during the planet’s history; those of five kilometers, every 20 million years. Every 2,000 years, it has been said, a chunk of space matter collides with or explodes over the Earth causing a 10-megaton blast, such as the one (size unknown) that fell over Siberia on June 30, 1908 – the so-called Tunguska event – which flattened almost 800 square miles of forest. And these are all relatively small pieces of whizzing space rock, mind you; comparative pebbles. What if another PLANET were to bring good o... Read More

Sandman (Vol. 5): A Game of You by Neil Gaiman

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review:

Sandman (Vol. 5): A Game of You by Neil Gaiman

One of the key points of A Game of You is that nobody is a stereotype, and nobody is what he or she seems on the surface, once you get to know the person. Every single one of us has glorious, weird, majestic, stupid, magical worlds inside us.*   –Neil Gaiman

Sandman (Vol. 5): A Game of You collects issues 32 through 37, skipping issues 29-31, which are collected in volume six of The Sandman. A Gam... Read More

The Salt Roads: Complex and rewarding

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The Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson 

Time does not flow for me. Not for me the progression in a straight line from earliest to latest. Time eddies. I am now then, now there, sometimes simultaneously.

Nalo Hopkinson published The Salt Roads in 2003. Originally the book was marketed as historical fiction, and sometimes as magical realism, if those categories matter. The concrete nature of the world-building and the attention to detail, especially in the sections set on the island of St. Domingue, make the book more grounded than you might expect in a story where, to all intents and purposes, a god is the main character. Somewhat ironically, the St. Domingue sections also contain most of the “fantastical” events.

Lasiren, or Ezili,... Read More

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

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Saint’s Blood
by Sebastien de Castell

Saint’s Blood 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 have no complaints about that a... Read More

Dancer’s Lament: A prequel the way it should be done

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Dancer’s Lament by Ian Cameron Esslemont

Prequels can be tricky things for authors. One obvious obstacle is that being a prequel, the story is robbed of at least some of its natural narrative tension, as readers already know that this or that character will not die, that this or that battle will not be won. Authors also run the risk of having painted themselves into narrative corners via the original work — this character has to do A to end up at C, this thingamabob has to appear because it’s the signature thingamabob of Character X and so on. In weaker prequels, it all feels very mechanical, as if the author just traced the lines backward and dutifully filled in the obvious and necessary plot points, character appearances, and portentous arrivals of requisite talismans. Even the author who successfully navigates all the prequel pitfalls can end up losing, à la an army of irate fans com... Read More

The Spider’s War: Brings a great series to a more-than-satisfactory close

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The Spider’s War by Daniel Abraham

I thought Daniel Abraham was one of the best writers working in the craft when I first read A Shadow in Summer nearly ten years ago, and the rest of that series, THE LONG PRICE QUARTET did nothing to dissuade me of that first impression. Nor has what followed over the years, which includes the ongoing EXPANSE science fiction series (co-written with Ty Franck) and the fantasy series, THE DAGGER AND THE COIN, which wrapped up this spring with The Spider’s War, bringing to an end another great series in unsurprisingly excellent fashion. I’m going to assume you have already read the previous books and so won’t bother recapping/explaining previous events or characters.

The Spider’s War picks up s... Read More

Injustice: Gods Among Us (Year One, Volume One) by Tom Taylor

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Injustice: Gods Among Us (Year One, Volume One) by Tom Taylor

DC often puts out comic books that are connected to their video games, and I generally ignore them because 1. I don’t play video games because they give me migraines and 2. Most video game-related comics are just not that good. However, I started hearing a lot of good things about Tom Taylor’s Injustice: Gods Among Us, so I gave it a chance. It turns out, all that was said about Injustice is true, and apparently, it just keeps getting better after this first volume. So far, they’ve put out seven trade collections of Injustice: Year One (Volumes One and... Read More

Unearthly Neighbors: A hugely satisfying novel of first contact

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Unearthly Neighbors by Chad Oliver

The conventional wisdom for aspiring writers has long been “Write what you know,” a piece of advice that Cincinnati-born author Chad Oliver apparently took to heart. Greatly interested in the field of anthropology, Oliver, over the course of seven novels stretching from 1952 - ’76, as well as four collections of short stories, eventually carved out a place for himself as one of the leading lights in that curious subgenre known as anthropological science fiction. And the author was hardly a dabbler in his chosen scholarly field. In 1961, he wrote a doctoral thesis (under his real name, Symmes Chadwick Oliver) entitled Ecology and Cultural Continuity as Contributing Factors in the Social Organization of the Plains Indians (you can purchase it in book form on Amazon, if that title doesn’t intimi... Read More

A Plague of Demons: The dogs of war

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A Plague of Demons by Keith Laumer

Though little discussed today, back in the 1960s, Syracuse, N.Y.-born Keith Laumer was a hugely popular sci-fi author, largely by dint of his series featuring interstellar ambassador/mediator Jaime Retief, a series that began in ’63 and ultimately comprised some 18 novels and books of short stories. Somehow, I managed to miss the entire Retief bandwagon back when, and only recently realized that I still had not read a single Laumer book from any of his major series — the Retief series was just one of many — or even any of his stand-alone books. On a whim, I selected his 1965 offering A Plague of Demons, which was released as the author turned 40; a stand-alone novel that The Science Fiction Encyclopedia deems the best of his “taut, extremely efficient sf thrillers,” and one that Scottish cr... Read More

The Firework-Maker’s Daughter: Another wonderful tale for children

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The Firework-Maker’s Daughter by Philip Pullman

The Firework-Maker’s Daughter is a short children’s book written by Phillip Pullman and it’s a little gem. Pullman pulls off a perfect recipe of magic, adventure and pure fun in this sparkling little fairy tale.

Lila is the daughter of the talented firework maker Lachland. All Lila wants is to become a true firework maker herself, but to do so she must make the perilous journey to the fire-fiend Razvani and bring back some Royal Sulphur. What’s worse, she sets off before her father can tell her the one thing she’ll need to survive Razvani’s flames. Luckily Lila has good friends in the form of Hamlet, the talking white elephant, and his special minder Chaluk, who follow Lila in hot pursuit, bumping into goddes... Read More

Too Like the Lightning: An ambitious speculative novel

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Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer

Ada Palmer’s debut novel, Too Like the Lightning, is an absorbing, exhausting, and complicated work of science fiction literature. This is not the kind of book you can read in bits and pieces and quickly pick up the plot threads after watching a couple of nights of TV. Once you jump in, it’s best you stay focused, allow her world to wash over you and trust that Palmer’s taking you a worthwhile ride.

It’s the 25th century, the church wars are long over, and society is in relative balance. We’re reading the government-edited recounting of something of political, cultural, and pan-global significance. The narrative of Mycroft Canner is largely first-hand, but some elements are witnessed through trackers that allow him to see and hear events through a device attached to individuals. And some ev... Read More

Career of Evil: J. K. Rowling casts a different kind of spell

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Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)

Though they are a far cry from the HARRY POTTER series, J. K. Rowling’s CORMORAN STRIKE novels still possess the same storytelling magic. Rowling’s ability to capture an audience, to evoke a character so vivid they become real, triumphs in her crime series.

Sending a leg to the office of Coromoran Strike is surely the most conspicuous way to get the detective’s attention. Strike is famously an amputee himself, and when he realises the leg is accompanied by a note bearing the lyrics tattooed on his mother’s body, there can be no doubt that this is a personal attack. And the fact that the leg is addressed to his assistant Robin? The attack was meant to hit the detective where it hurts.

This is St... Read More

Eifelheim: Magnificent SF combining science, history, and historical fiction

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Eifelheim by Michael Flynn

Eifelheim is one of those transcendent science fiction stories where an author is able to treat very human and Earth-bound issues with a well-reasoned and fascinating gloss of aliens and science. Author Michael Flynn's alien mythos and capabilities are believable and seamlessly integrated into the very real history of plague-era Germany.

I picked up Eifelheim because I love a good story of first contact. I find myself continually drawn to the classics in this science fiction genre, but also the classic tales of first contact of the very terrestrial kind: human exploration and discovery. Both Hernán Cortés and his first Aztec meetings as well as Pizarro and the Incas hold special fascination for me, as do much of that era... Read More

Thursdays with the Crown: The magical Castle Glower, now with teleporting feature

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Thursdays with the Crown by Jessica Day George

Thursdays with the Crown is the delightful concluding half of a two-part story begun in Wednesdays in the Tower, which is necessary to read first. Hence, this review will necessarily contain some spoilers for Wednesdays.

In this third installment in Jessica Day George’s middle grade CASTLE GLOWER series, Princess Celie, her brother Rolf, sister Lilah, and friends Pogue and Prince Lulath, have been magically transported by their capricious castle to an unfamiliar land where the castle was originally built, along with two towers of the castle and Celie’s griffin Rufus. After spending a cold night sleeping on the floor of one of the towers, the friends... Read More

Feersum Endjinn: An eclectic far-future science fantasy

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Feersum Endjinn by Iain M. Banks

Sometimes a book has so many incredible elements that it defies easy summary. Compound that with the fact that it shares themes with some of your favorite genre classics, and that it is written by the incredibly-talented Iain M. Banks, and you have the recipe for a very unique reading experience. As I read the story, I was forcibly reminded of some classic books in the genre, particularly Arthur C. Clarke’s The City and the Stars, Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker, Read More

Mattimeo: Jacques perfects his formula

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Mattimeo by Brian Jacques

Mattimeo is the third REDWALL novel written by Brian Jacques, and contains all of the elements which have come to define the series in the minds of fans: noble heroes, dastardly villains, young animals who mature into budding heroes, lengthy descriptions of food, mysterious riddles, and dual plots which see the residents of Redwall Abbey defending its red sandstone walls against invaders while the principal hero-characters journey far afield. Subsequent books do jump around quite a bit within the series’ chronology, but Mattimeo takes place “eight seasons” after the events of Redwall and features Matthias the Warrior Mouse, his wife Cornflower, and their son Mattimeo in prominent roles.... Read More

Red Rising: An engaging debut

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Reposting to include Marion's new review:

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 positiv... Read More

The Halfling and Other Stories: Eight marvelous tales from the “Queen of Space Opera”

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The Halfling and Other Stories by Leigh Brackett

The Halfling and Other Stories gathers together eight tales, of varying lengths, that Leigh Brackett, the so-called “Queen of Space Opera,” wrote between the years 1943 and ’57. The collection initially appeared as an Ace paperback in ’73, but it was the second edition, released in ’83, that this reader was fortunate enough to lay his hands on. This is a generous collection of over 300 pages of Brackett’s work, and for the most part, the stories reveal Brackett at the very peak of her form.

The anthology, however, does not begin with its strongest selections. “The Halfling” itself, a novelette (7,500 - 17,500 words) that first appeared in the February ’43 issue of Astonishing Stories, is a minor ... Read More

Railhead: Imaginative and entertaining from beginning to end

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Railhead by Philip Reeve

If the idea of a heist aboard a sentient train traveling at faster-than-light speeds appeals to you; if said heist involves assumed identities, the theft of a very old and valuable artifact, and a criminal thumbing his nose at a family-run corporation/empire; if you like believable romance and honest-to-goodness fun, then Philip Reeve’s latest YA novel, Railhead, is for you. (If none of that appeals to you, read on anyway: I may be able to change your mind.)

In a galaxy filled with novelties like sentient trains who travel at faster-than-light speeds on specially crafted rails through K-gates stationed on nearly a thousand worlds and moons, Zen Starling is a light-fingered teen who lives with his mother and older sister Myka; their mother suffer... Read More

Every Heart a Doorway: An enchanting novella

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Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

It seems like there are many tales around today that strive to explain the ‘after’ in ‘happily ever after’, with varied results. Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway is one such story that had me riveted from the first. This novella appears to be the first in a plan for more stories in this world, and as an introduction it does an excellent job.

Every Heart a Doorway concerns the lives of those girls and boys (but mostly girls, as explained in the novella) who found passageways to other worlds and then came back again. These are your Alices and Dorothys, young people who found and were found by worlds that wanted them. Specifically, this novella concerns those children and teens who came back ... Read More

Sin City (Vol. 3): The Big Fat Kill by Frank Miller

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Sin City (Vol. 3): The Big Fat Kill by Frank Miller

The Big Fat Kill is the third volume in Frank Miller’s SIN CITY series, featuring Dwight McCarthy, Marv, and the ladies of Old Town delivering justice with extreme prejudice to some very deserving goons. It’s another celebration of violent revenge against some pretty reprehensible people, so it goes down fairly easily. It’s also the most creative storyline of the first three volumes, and is featured as the middle segment of the first Sin City movie.

The story begins with four drunken men banging on the door of Shellie (Brittanie Murphy), on... Read More

The Best of Planet Stories, #1: A marvelous collection from an underappreciated pulp magazine

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The Best of Planet Stories, #1: edited by Leigh Brackett

Beginning in 1937 and continuing on for a good dozen years, the pulp magazine Astounding Science-Fiction, under the editorship of John W. Campbell, was the most dominant and influential publication in its field. But that is hardly to say that it didn't have competition for readers' attention (and their 20 cents) at the newsstands. Planet Stories, which published its first issue in 1939 and folded in '55 after 71 issues, was one such, but whereas Campbell's magazine specialized in seemingly realistic tales with an emphasis on technology and hard science, Planet Stories' main stock in trade was unabashed space opera; melodramatic adventure stories of lost civilizations, stalwart heroes, beautiful princesses and suchlike. Not for nothing does Read More