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The Hounds of Skaith: Doing what all great sequels should

The Hounds of Skaith by Leigh Brackett

After a solid decade of no new fiction from the pen of Leigh Brackett, the so-called “Queen of Space Opera,” the author released, in 1974, the first volume of what would ultimately be called her SKAITH TRILOGY. But fortunately, her fans would only have to wait a mere matter of months before the sequel to the first book, The Ginger Star, was published. That second volume, The Hounds of Skaith, managed to accomplish what all great follow-up novels should: enlarge on the scope of the previous story, introduce new and fascinating characters, clarify and enlighten what had come before while at the same time weaving new plot threads, and leave the reader wanting still more. The book is a total success in that regard, and fans who had thrilled to Eric... Read More

Bitter Greens: Gorgeous historical novel blended with fairytale

Reposting to include Kelly's new review:

Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth is a marvelous re-telling of Rapunzel, woven together with historical fiction that gives the reader a glimpse into the life of Charlotte Rose de Caumont de La Force, the French noblewoman who first published the fairy tale. Forsyth, pursuing her doctorate in fairy-tale retellings in Sydney, originally published in this novel in her native Australia. It has just been released in the US.

Bitter Greens begins with the story of Charlotte, exiled from the court of Louis XIV, the Sun King, and locked in a nunnery. Through her narrative, we learn that she was a vivacious courtier whose passion and wit would not be contained. Early in the novel, her mother tells the young Charlotte that she could have been a troubadour; instead, as an adult, she h... Read More

Kingfisher: Enchanting to the last word

Kingfisher by Patricia A. McKillip

Knights dress in black and ride motorcycles, sorcerers and sorceresses run restaurants, and maybe your grandpa isn’t actually crazy. Such is the world in which Patricia A. McKillip’s Kingfisher takes place. Though it may begin with a deceivingly simple quest of a young man looking for his long-lost father, Kingfisher becomes much more than that very quickly. It ends up following the stories of four young people as they navigate their changing worlds and values as well as deftly interweaving their lives in surprisingly satisfying ways. I was leery (and a bit confused) at first, but Kingfisher delivers an enchanting tale of ancient-feeling magic in the modern day.

This isn’t a book in which you’re going to find in-dept... Read More

Lioness Rampant: A conclusion fit for a King’s Champion

Lioness Rampant by Tamora Pierce

Tamora Pierce takes the best elements of the three preceding SONG OF THE LIONESS books and polishes them to a fine sheen in Lioness Rampant, the final book of the quartet. She manages to pack swords-and-sorcery, a quest narrative, kind-hearted nobles and charming scoundrels, dastardly villains, truly affecting emotional arcs, and Alanna’s never-ending journey of self-discovery into a single volume without it feeling over-stuffed or slowing the narrative. Pierce’s skills as a writer were visibly improving as she worked on this series, and in Lioness Rampant, the reasons for her lasting and continued influence on the YA fantasy genre are obvious even when one considers how early in her career this quartet was published (1983 – 1988). This book, more ... Read More

The Secret of Sinharat & People of the Talisman: A wonderful double feature

The Secret of Sinharat & People of the Talisman by Leigh Brackett

Leigh Brackett, the so-called “Queen of Space Opera,” would have turned 100 years old on 12/7/2015, and to celebrate her recent centennial in my own way, I have resolved to read five novels featuring her most well-known character: Eric John Stark. Brackett, of course, was already something of a well-known commodity before her first Stark story appeared in 1949; she had already placed no fewer than 32 short stories and novelettes, beginning in 1940, in the various pulp publications of the day, thereby establishing herself as the most important female sci-fi author of the Golden Age (other than C.L. Moore, of course). Her Stark tales, all three of them, originally appeared in the pages of ... Read More

Between Two Fires: Epic, emotional, cross-genre fantasy

Between Two Fires by Christopher Buehlman

Between Two Fires by Christopher Buehlman is a hybrid fairy tale / fantasy / horror / historical fiction. These individual parts blend to create a fulfilling whole in a Canterbury Tales-style story of a fallen knight and spiritually lost priest who journey across France during the plague-ridden middle ages with an orphaned girl who's either an exceptionally special individual, a weird witch, or a gift (literally) from the heavens.

The emotionally driven backdrop is a beautifully diverse French countryside, absolutely decimated, both mentally and physically, by the Black Death. Humanity has been abused and tortured so completely and without relief that the very reasonable question of "is there a god, and if so, why is this allowed to happen?" rests on the lips of all but a f... Read More

The Fifth Season: Displays Jemisin’s stunning imagination

Reposting to include Stuart's new review:

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

I am awestricken by the imagination of N.K. Jemisin, but it isn’t just her wild vision of a seismically turbulent planet that makes The Fifth Season so successful. Jemisin depicts her strange and harrowing world through the old-fashioned tools of fine writing and hard work, done so well that it looks easy – transparent – to the reader.

The world of The Fifth Season, or at least one large continent of it, is shaking apart. Against this backdrop we follow three different stories set in three different time periods, one in the immediate aftermath of a catastrophe, two sometime earlier. The three storylines have themes and plot points that eventually converge, but the changes in narration let us as readers put together clues and see what’s going on even before some of the charac... Read More

Needle in a Timestack: Ten wonderful and wonderfully entertaining pieces

Needle in a Timestack by Robert Silverberg

Having read some two dozen novels by Robert Silverberg over the past couple of years, I recently decided that it was high time for me to see what the Grand Master has accomplished in the area of the shorter form. As if by serendipity, while shopping the other day at the Brooklyn sci-fi bookstore extraordinaire Singularity, I found a volume of Silverberg short stories that, as it’s turned out, has fit the bill for me very nicely. Released in 1966, Needle in a Timestack gathers 10 short tales together from the period 1956 – ’65, out of the 581 (!) short stories, novellas and novelettes that Silverberg has thus far given us. (Readers who are understandably dubious regarding that seemingly superhuman number are urged to go to the author’s Quasi-... Read More

Darth Vader: Vader by Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca

Darth Vader: Vader by Kieron Gillen (writer) and Salvador Larroca (artist)

Darth Vader (Volume One): Vader by Kieron Gillen is just as good, if not better than, Star Wars (Volume One): Skywalker Strikes by Jason Aaron, both of which came out recently from Marvel. Marvel now has the rights to the Star Wars comic books, and so they are reissuing quickly all the Star Wars comics that were put out over the years by Dark Horse. In addition to these reissues, they have started several new series. Most are short, four- or five-issue series, including ones about Princess Leia, Land... Read More

The Serpent: A gorgeous novella by Claire North

The Serpent by Claire North

In 17th century Venice, the young daughter of a wealthy merchant is married off to an older aristocrat wastrel who has lost his money by gambling. His habits continue after the marriage, and he is abusive, which makes her respond by becoming cold and aloof. In an attempt to provoke her, he drags her to a gameshouse, where he continues to lose his money on trivial games of chance and skill.

But she is intrigued by the exotic setting and the cosmopolitan players. She studies the games and is eventually invited to play. Because she shows great skill, and perhaps because of her unhappy situation, she is invited upstairs to the real Gameshouse which only a few people know about. Here players compete in high-stakes real-life situations. The world is their gameboard and real people are their pieces and cards.

The game she is given the chance to play involves the election of the new Doge... Read More

Manners & Mutiny: An exciting “finish”

Manners & Mutiny by Gail Carriger

Manners & Mutiny is the fourth and final installment in Gail Carriger’s FINISHING SCHOOL series for teens (though as you can see from my reviews, adults will enjoy this, too!). This has been one of my favorite fantasy series in the last few years, so I’m sad to see it end. Fortunately, Carriger’s most-loved characters tend to show up in her other series, which are all set in the same supernatural England.

Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Ladies of Quality is, literally, a finishing school. Its ladies are taught how to “finish” other people, presumably enemies of the queen. At this point, Sophronia, Dimity, Agatha and their friends are close to completing their studies. They have learned many important espionage and finishing skill... Read More

The Rising: Strong book two of an excellent series

The Rising by Ian Tregillis

I thoroughly enjoyed Ian Tregillis The Mechanical, the first book in his THE ALCHEMY WARS series, and I’m happy to say that book two, The Rising, continues the story in strong fashion, showing not a whit of sophomore slump.

The series is set in an alternative history world where Christiaan Huygens’ discoveries led to the Netherlands dominating the world via a mechanical army of “Clakkers.” The sole resistance is led by the French in North America’s “New France,” (old France has already been conquered) whose capital, Marseilles-in-the-West (Montreal) is under siege.

As with The Mechanical, Tregillis splits the story of... Read More

Barsk: A wonderfully thoughtful, imaginative work of science fiction

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. Even better, Schoen doesn’t forget to ground his issues in characters we can care about, preventing the novel from devolving into mere abstraction.

As mentioned,... Read More

Star Wars: Skywalker Strikes by Jason Aaron and John Cassaday

Star Wars (Volume One): Skywalker Strikes by Jason Aaron (writer) and John Cassaday (artist)

Marvel now has the rights to the Star Wars comics, so they’ve been reissuing all the old Dark Horse collections and launching into several different series. In fact, there are so many new ones that I’m not even sure how they are all connected. But the two you need to know about are Star Wars (Volume One): Skywalker Strikes by Jason Aaron and Darth Vader (Volume One): Vader by Mark Waid, which I’ll be reviewing separately. These two titles are fantastic. Up until now, I’ve been a fan of the films only, never having read any other Star Wars novels or comics, but given all the hype around these new series, I’ve taken the plunge. And I’m glad I’ve done so. If you, too, are only a casual fan of Star Wars, this series is for you as well. Other than having seen Episode IV, you don’t need to hav... Read More

The Scorpion Rules: The price of peace

Reposting to include Jana's new review:

The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow

Sit down, kiddies. Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, humans were killing each other so fast that total extinction was looking possible, and it was my job to stop them.

Well, I say “my job.” I sort of took it upon myself. Expanded my portfolio a bit. I guess that surprised people. I don’t know how it surprised people — I mean, if they’d been paying the slightest bit of attention they’d have known that AIs have this built-in tendency to take over the world. Did we learn nothing from The Terminator, people?

So begins Erin Bow’s new young adult dystopian novel, The Scorpion Rules, with Talis, the snarky but cold-hearted artificial intelligence overlord of the eart... Read More

Perchance to Dream: A wonderful new collection from Penguin Classics

Perchance to Dream by Charles Beaumont

If the name “Charles Beaumont” strikes a familiar chord with you, it is likely because you have seen that name in the opening or end credits of any number of popular entertainments. Beaumont was the screenwriter for the 1958 sci-fi shlock classic Queen of Outer Space, The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, and the Roger Corman films The Premature Burial, The Intruder (featuring William Shatner’s finest performance ever, sez me), The Haunted Palace and The Masque of the Red Death. More likely, however, you have seen his name at the ending of various episodes of the classic television program The Twilight Zone; Beaumont contributed 22 screenplays to the series, more than his buddies Richard Matheson (15) and (the very recently departed) George Clayton Johnson (5)... Read More

Redemption in Indigo: Clever and heartwarming retold folktale

Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord

Redemption in Indigo (2010) by Karen Lord is a beautiful, sly, innovative book that is doing much more than it seems to be on the surface. The frame story is the folktale of Ansige the glutton. Lord’s retelling takes Paama, a skilled cook and Ansige’s estranged wife, as its protagonist. At the beginning of the book, she has left Ansige and returned to her own family to decide what she’ll do next. But after missing his wife’s constant attention to his endless appetite, Ansige comes looking for her. In typical folktale logic, he is humiliated three times, tricked by djombi (who are spirits or deities), before leaving Paama in peace.

But where the folktale ends, Lord’s novel really begins. Because after Ansige leaves, Paama is left with the Chaos Stick, a magical artifact th... Read More

A Stir of Echoes: Matheson’s first supernatural outing

A Stir of Echoes by Richard Matheson

Richard Matheson is an author who never seems to let me down. The first two novels that I read by the man, I Am Legend (1954) and The Shrinking Man (1956), are superb and highly original sci-fi creations, and both have been memorably filmed. (I seem to be in the distinct minority in preferring the 1964 U.S.-Italian coproduction The Last Man on Earth, starring Vincent Price, over 1971’s The Omega Man, featuring Charlton Heston, although neither quite does justice to the I Am Legend original. The Incredible Shrinking Man, of course, filmed in 1957 with Matheson’s screenplay and starring Grant Williams, is one of the finest science fiction outings of the ‘50s.)

... Read More

Ink and Bone: Is a life worth more than a book?

Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine

Imagine a world in which the Library of Alexandria still existed, a world in which all of that accumulated knowledge and human history was still accessible to any literate person. That sounds pretty amazing, right? What most people might not take into account, however, is how drastically different that world would be from our own with the benefit of said knowledge and the attendant power given to its keepers. Ink and Bone, the first volume of a planned YA duology by Rachel Caine, explores the ramifications of the Great Library’s continued existence and its effect on the course of human society. Readers who expect this to be a light, happy tale would do well to remember the old adage about the corruption potential of absolute power.

The year is 2025. Alexandria’s Great Library has sp... Read More

The Sandman: Overture by Neil Gaiman & J.H. Williams III

Reposting to include Marion's new review:

The Sandman: Overture by Neil Gaiman & J.H. Williams III

Most monthly comics come out, well, monthly, but DC decided to drag out The Sandman: Overture and release it every other month, and that seemed reasonable given how long it takes for J. H. Williams III to create his exquisite artwork. However, the comic ended up taking a full year longer than announced — from October 2013 to October 2015. After the first three issues, I quit reading because I just couldn’t stand the anticipation. As of this week, however, nobody needs to wait again. All six issues of The Sandman: Overture have been completed ... Read More

Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Book vs. film

Invasion of the Body Snatchers by Jack Finney

Although Don Siegel’s 1956 film Invasion of the Body Snatchers has long been a favorite of this viewer — it is, most assuredly, one of the genuine sci-fi champs of the 1950s — it was only very recently that I finally got around to reading Jack Finney’s source novel. The occasion was Simon & Schuster’s 2015 release of the book’s 60th anniversary edition, with a most interesting foreword by author Dean Koontz. Actually, Finney’s novel had originally appeared serially in 1954 in Collier’s, a “slick” magazine of that era (as opposed to a “pulp” magazine), under the shorter title The Body Snatchers — the Milwaukee-born author was 43 at the time — and in book form the following year. The Siegel film, apparently, lengthened the title so as to avoid confusion with the 1945 Boris Karloff film The Body Snatcher Read More

Slade House: Come on in!

Slade House by David Mitchell

I may have to give up my long-held identity as someone who doesn’t enjoy reading horror, because I have really enjoyed some horror novels lately. David Mitchell’s latest, Slade House, is a sort of haunted house-slash-mystery story told over several decades, in several different voices, and it was delightful.

The book begins with a young boy, Nathan, who visits a house down narrow, twisting Slade Alley with his mother. The gate is set in the wall of the alley, and when he enters, he has the sense of entering a lovely, secret paradise of a place. He and his mother are fed and he meets another child, Jonah, a playmate and new friend for him. Their game of Fox and Hounds turns bizarre and unreal, but Nathan's mother dismisses it as his imagination. She sends him up a set of stairs, into an attic ro... Read More

The Hunt for Vulcan: Wonderful exploration of the search of the hidden planet

The Hunt for Vulcan: How Albert Einstein Destroyed a Planet, Discovered Relativity, and Deciphered the Universe by Thomas Levenson

With recently-demoted-from-the-planetary-ranks Pluto in the news lately thanks to the New Horizons probe, it’s a good time to recall when the solar system, rather than shrinking, used to be larger by one planet. That would be the planet Vulcan, which for decades was listed as lying just inside the orbit of Mercury. Why did people think Vulcan existed? More interestingly perhaps, why did so many people think they actually saw it? And what eventually convinced the scientific community that it wasn’t there? That’s the story of The Hunt for Vulcan by Thomas Levenson, and the answer to that third question lies in the book’s subtitle: How Albert Einstein Destroyed a Planet, Discovered Relativity, and Deciphered the Universe. Read More

The Philosopher Kings: Surprises and philosophy, with a touch of Greek mythology

The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton

My jaw remained open whilst I read the last pages of Jo Walton’s The Just City, and for a little while afterwards. Released earlier this year, Walton’s first novel in a new trilogy saw the start of a story whose foundational ideas are so wild, so daring, that only an author with the fullest grasp of her talent could even think of trying to wrestle with them, let alone to actually subdue and then use them to write an engaging story.

In that novel, scholars and philosophers from different times and places are selected by the goddess Athene to build the ideal society depicted in Plato’s famous dialogue, The Republic. To accomplish that, she gifts them multiple robots from the future whom we later learn are able to develop self-awareness. Those same schola... Read More

Retribution Falls: Everything I wanted from a tale about sky pirates

Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding

Confession: I love pirates. Stories with pirates in them have captivated me for as long as I can remember (and I’ll blame my family for sitting me in front of such movies as Muppets Treasure Island and The Princess Bride) and continue to bring me great joy. With this in mind, you can imagine how excited I was when I found a pirate story by one of my favourite authors, Chris Wooding. Retribution Falls is everything I could have asked for from a swashbuckling tale: there are old foes, daring escapes, dirty jobs, betrayal, heartbreak, and breathtaking battles. Also, in a fashion I have grown to love, Wooding delivers a myriad of things that I didn’t ask for but absolutely wanted. If it wasn’t already apparent, I loved this story about flying pirates.

Darian F... Read More