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A Place Called Armageddon: Deftly written historical fiction

A Place Called Armageddon by C.C. Humphreys

“I am Constantine Palaiologos, emperor, son of Caesars. I am a baker, a ropewright, a fisherman, a monk, a merchant. I am a soldier. I am Roman. I am Greek. I am two thousand years old. I was born in freedom only yesterday. This is my city, Turk. Take it if you can.”

In C.C. Humphreys’ novel A Place Called Armageddon, it’s 1453, and the Byzantine Empire is an empire only in name. Its last bastion is Constantinople and the brilliant, arrogant young sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Mehmet II, has his sights set on it, set on completing his father Murad’s work in eliminating his Greco-Christian foes once and for all. Murad was everything his son was not — statesman, soldier, commander — and Mehmet’s accession to the throne saw him immediately shadowed by his father... Read More

The Magician’s Land: The trilogy that keeps on giving

The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman

May contain spoilers for The Magicians and The Magician King

When we first met Quentin in The Magicians, he had it all: he’d graduated from the magical college of Brakebills, he was with Alice (kind and lovely and talented Alice), and he’d managed to get into the magical land of Fillory. He was also an insufferable asshole. Now, in the final instalment of Grossman’s MAGICIANS trilogy, Quentin has pretty much hit rock bottom. Not only has he been exiled from Fillory, but also from Brakebills, where he’d held a post as professor. Yet strangely he is at his most likeable and noble yet. The Magician’s Land will tie the loose ends of Quentin’s tale as he finally figures out what he believes is worth fighting for.

The story opens in a bookshop. Quentin h... Read More

Chimes at Midnight: Knocked my socks off

Chimes at Midnight by Seanan McGuire

I have enjoyed Seanan McGuire’s OCTOBER DAYE urban fantasies, but a few of her more recent novels in the series seemed to introduce too many characters and bring too many different magic systems into play. However, the latest two novels, Chimes at Midnight and The Winter Long (which I’ll review soon), have knocked my socks off with tight plotting and memorable characters. Now I once again find myself impatient for the next one to arrive, and annoyed that the September 1 publication date is so far away.

In Chimes at Midnight, Toby is working with her team — her lover, Tybalt, the local King of Cats; May, Toby’s Fetch; Jasmine, May’s shapeshifting lover; Quentin, Toby’s squire; and Raj, Tybalt’s heir — to hunt for goblin fruit. Goblin fruit is no problem for pure-blooded... Read More

Noise: A Lord of the Flies for our modern times

Noise by Darin Bradley

Tell me if this doesn't sound like a dream come true for those who regularly visit survivalist forums: In the near-future, the United States experiences a collapse of its economic institutions, which leads to the collapse of every social institution mankind has built to function as a society. All order has been destroyed, and from now on your survival against the challenges of nature, both human and not, depends on nothing but yourself. The classical dog-eat-dog world is in session.

Hiram, the protagonist in Darin Bradley's debut novel Noise, has spent his formative years immersed in the group narratives that he and his friends have created through playing Dungeons & Dragons, defeating monsters and rescuing the disadvantaged, as knights are wont to do. But for Hiram, being a knight wasn't something he was when you were transported into an imaginary world; it was his identity. Th... Read More

The Time Hoppers: Headache-free time travel

The Time Hoppers by Robert Silverberg

This longtime sci-fi buff has a confession to make: Some time travel stories leave me with a throbbing headache. Not that I don’t enjoy them, mind you; it’s just that oftentimes, the mind-blowing paradoxes inherent in many of these tales set off what feels like a Mobius strip feedback loop in my brain that makes me want to grab a bottle of Excedrin. Thus, it was with a bit of decided trepidation that I ventured into Robert Silverberg’s The Time Hoppers, but as it turns out, I needn’t have worried. Silverberg is amongst the most lucid of science fiction imaginers, and here, even when setting forth those inevitable temporal paradoxes that come with all time travel stories, he does so clearly, and in a way that gave this reader no problem whatsoever.

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The Very Best of Kate Elliott: An excellent display of talent and range

The Very Best of Kate Elliott by Kate Elliott

Kate Elliott is a prolific writer, producing over twenty fantasy and science fiction novels and several highly-acclaimed short stories in the last three decades. This year alone will see the publication of not only The Very Best of Kate Elliott, a collection of twelve short stories and four essays, but also two new novels: Court of Fives and The Black Wolves, and Elliott shows no signs of slowing her output in the future. Thus it was with some prickliness that I began reading The Very Best of Kate Elliott, thinking that the title would prove to be ambitious at best (and disappointingly superlative at worst).

The introduction provides insight into Elliott’s progression from young reader to mature writer of fi... Read More

Zed: A Cosmic Tale by Michel Gagné

Zed: A Cosmic Tale by Michel Gagné

Michael Gagné’s Zed: A Cosmic Tale is an artistic wonder that was over a decade in the making. It’s a fast read, but it’s one you’ll want to look through multiple times because the art is unique and stunning: It doesn’t look anything like what you think of when you hear the words “comic book.” Gagné’s art is extremely stylized with a large number of full-page panels or pages with only a few large panels. Though it’s in black-and-white, I hardly even noticed: It felt like it was in color because there were so many shades of gray used.

The story is seemingly simple, yet compelling because we are led to feel compassion for our you... Read More

Invader: Builds upon the foundation laid by Foreigner

Invader by C.J. Cherryh

While the first book in C. J. Cherryh’s FOREIGNER series, also titled Foreigner, took its time in establishing Bren Cameron’s character and the dilemmas he faced attempting to adapt to a culture entirely foreign to him, Invader wastes no time. Picking up precisely where Foreigner left off, Bren is in the hospital suffering from injuries he sustained in the previous book. Though he goes on the mend, life does not get any easier. The spaceship which suddenly appeared at the end of Foreigner threatens to disrupt the tentative peace which the treaty between the atevi and humans had created.

Pushing the ball up-court, Cherry winds Cameron’s tension even tighter in Invader. As if the ... Read More

Lord of Emperors: All about the prose and characters

Lord of Emperors by Guy Gavriel Kay

With Lord of Emperors, Guy Gavriel Kay brings his THE SARANTINE MOSAIC duology to a brilliant conclusion. The sequel to Sailing to Sarantium, Lord of Emperors continues to follow the life of Caius Crispus (Crispin), a mosaicist from the fallen Western empire who is called to Sarantium. Although Crispin repeatedly notes that he is but a mere artist, he is dragged into the world of the court and political intrigue against his will. As a mosaicist, Crispin often must walk the line between offending members of the court and helping them, all the while laboring on his mosaic in Valerius’s new church, what’s essentially Kay’s equivalent of the Hagia Sophia.

Indeed, much of Kay’s world is the functional equivalent of the Byzantine Empire under Justinian I. To any student of history, the parallels shou... Read More

Palace of Stone: Not your typical princess tale

Palace of Stone by Shannon Hale

Palace of Stone is a sequel to Shannon Hale’s excellent Newbery Honor-winning Middle Grade novel Princess Academy. You’ll definitely want to read Princess Academy first, and to avoid spoilers, you should read it before you read this review. So, if you haven’t read Princess Academy yet, go away and read it now. (Then come back, please.)

In Princess Academy, we met the poor hard-working uneducated families of Mount Eskel who survive by mining and carving linder, a valuable type of stone that they export to lowlanders. Their culture was changed when it was determined by lowlander priests that the next princess should come from Mount Eskel. To get the girls up to snuff, a “Princess Academy” ... Read More

The Sculptor by Scott McCloud

The Sculptor by Scott McCloud

In his newest work, The Sculptor, Scott McCloud explores a bevy of philosophical and pragmatic questions with regard to art, a partial listing of which might include:

What is it for?
Who is it for?
What makes a “successful” artist? Is it critical acclaim by a few? The popular opinion of the many? How big of an audience defines success? Can it be an audience of one? What if that one is the artist, the self alone?
What sort of sacrifices can/should one make for his/her art?
What sot of compromises?
What is the reward of art? What is the cost?
When does creation stray into destruction?

Weighty, meaty questions indeed. And important ones. Not just to the titular sculptor or his comic writing creator but to artists of all sorts as well as to the culture at large (I like to think so at least). But ... Read More

Karen Memory: A purely fun mashup of steampunk and Weird West

Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear

Readers, Elizabeth Bear will be visiting us next Thursday, Feb 12 and will be giving away a copy of Karen Memory.

If — like me — you find steampunk to be a problematic genre, take heart: Elizabeth Bear has created the cure, and it is called Karen Memory. This is a rollicking good story, full of period-appropriate details and flights of fancy, nefarious plots, honest romance, and women who say things like “I gotta get to my sewing machine” and mean it as a call to arms.

Our heroine is Karen Memery, a “seamstress” who works in Madame Damnable’s Hôtel Mon Cherie, located in Rapid City, Washington Territory. Rutherford B. Hayes is president, the Klondike Gold Rush is in full swing, and pilots steer gaudy airships through the sky. “Seamstress” ... Read More

Maggie the Mechanic by Jaime Hernandez

Maggie the Mechanic: The Love & Rockets Library — Locas Book 1 by Jaime Hernandez

Love and Rockets is a series of comics that started in the 1980s. It was written by three brothers: Gilbert, Jaime, and Mario Hernandez, and the brothers each created their own storylines, tracing a set of characters over a period of time, even allowing their characters to age and develop and change appearance, a too-rare technique employed in the world of comics, where most characters are ageless and timeless.

The first run on the series lasted fifty issues and ran from September 1982 to 1996. The series featured two main sets of stories: Gilbert’s Palomar stories, which take place in a fictional city in Latin America, and Jaime’s stories, which take place in the fictional Hoppers, California (based on Oxnard, California where the Hernandez brothers grew up). The Hoppers 13 Read More

To Honor You Call Us: Surprisingly good military science fiction

To Honor You Call Us by H. Paul Honsinger

The term “military science fiction” has, at times, been misused. The military part of the science fiction gets lost, and in essence you have something that loosely approximates combat in the future. To Honor You Call Us, book one of H. Paul Honsinger’s MAN OF WAR series, is not cut from that cloth and it was almost shockingly good.

Max Robichaux is a young Union Space Navy Lieutenant with a history. He’s made mistakes in the past, both in terms of his military career and some extracurricular activities. The great thing about Max is that he is not afraid to fight and take chances. The bad thing about Max is that he is willing to take chances.

The human race is engaged in a war with an alien species known as the Krag, a zealot race determined to exterminate us because of an insult to their faith. The war has raged for many yea... Read More

City of Masks: A promising start to a new fantasy trilogy

City of Masks by Ashley Capes

Whenever I see the words "book one" or "first in a series" on the cover of a book, I'm always a little leery about whether or not it's going to end on a cliff-hanger. There's a difference between a trilogy that's essentially just one story divided into three parts, and a trilogy that's composed of three relatively self-contained tales.

As the first in THE BONE MASK TRILOGY by Australian poet Ashley Capes, City of Masks is enough of its own story to leave you satisfied, with just enough plot-threads left over for the next book to continue. So if you're like me and have an aversion to cliff-hanger endings, rest assured that you won't find one here.

In keeping with the trifold theme, there are three major POV characters at work in City of Masks, each with their own distinct storyline. Though two of these ... Read More

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