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The Testaments: A worthy return to Gilead

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is a great book, deservedly earning its accolades as a masterpiece and a contemporary classic as it brilliantly weds her substantial gifts as both a poet and a prose writer in the service of one of the most potentially powerful genres, dystopian literature. Her sequel, The Testaments (2019), is not a great book. But it is a good one (and really, Atwood has more than one great book to her credit, let’s not get greedy). Fair warning, spoilers ahead for those who have not yet read The Handmaid’s Tale and one kinda-sorta spoiler (explained below) for The Testaments.

The Testa... Read More

The River South: Beautiful and challenging

The River South by Marta Randall

Iset, nicknamed Shrug, is the daughter of Kieve Rider, the heroine of Marta Randall’s Mapping Winter. Please note that this review contains some spoilers for Mapping Winter.

The River South (2019), the second RIDERS GUILD book, picks up Iset’s story starting when she is thirteen. This isn’t a warm and fuzzy mother-daughter relationship. Kieve left Iset with the Guild as an infant, and now has been missing for many years. The novel opens with a kidnapping or assassination attempt on Iset as she’s holed up in one of her favorite hiding places.

This attack draws the attention of the Lord of Kyst and his lover, Daenet, who ar... Read More

Under the Andes: Rex Stout shines in his second novel

Under the Andes by Rex Stout

Because author Rex Stout is so closely associated with his most famous fictional character, housebound detective extraordinaire Nero Wolfe, fans may find it hard to believe that the Indiana-born writer ever wrote anything else. And that, I suppose, is understandable, seeing that between 1934 and 1975, Stout came out with no fewer than 33 novels and 40 or so novellas featuring one of crimedom’s most well-known sleuths. But just as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote in many other genres besides the one featuring Sherlock Holmes, so too did Stout: 13 non-Wolfe novels and 44 short stories in the thriller, mystery, historical adventure, lost world/lost race, and even romance genres, to be precise. And thanks to Armchair Fiction’s current 24-volume LOST WORLD/LOST RACE series, readers may now expe... Read More

Chronin Vol. 2: The Sword in Your Hand

Chronin Vol. 2: The Sword in Your Hand by Alison Wilgus

Chronin Vol. 1: The Knife at Your Back introduced readers to Mirai Yoshida, a wise-cracking time-traveling university student who became stranded in the city of Edo (current-day Tokyo) just before Japan’s Meiji Restoration period. Posing as a male ronin and running errands for the locals has kept her alive and fed, but she was never intended to spend years living in the past, and the danger that her multiple secrets could be exposed is very real. While acting as bodyguard for Hatsu, who works in a local tea shop and needs protection on her way along the Tokkaido Road to Kyoto, Mirai encounters new and familiar faces — not all of whom are pleased to be in her presence.

As Mirai quickly discovers, other time-travelers have used this futuristic technology to... Read More

Court of Fives: The dangers of imperialism, racism, and ambition

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Court of Fives by Kate Elliott

Kate Elliott has a well-deserved reputation for writing excellent science-fiction and fantasy for adults. Her characters, world-building, and societies are not only entertaining but well-crafted. It seems only natural that, at some point in her career, she would try her hand at Young Adult fiction. The result is Court of Fives, the first in a planned fantasy trilogy which is sure to appeal to younger readers as well as Elliott’s established fan base. While I’ve seen the novel described as “YA meets Game of Thrones,” Elliott herself has said, “I prefer Little Women meets American Ninja Warrior,” which is far more relevant to my personal interests (and a more unique combination). Read More

The King of the Dead: Brazil nuts

The King of the Dead by Frank Aubrey

As I have written elsewhere, Armchair Fiction’s current 24-book Lost World/Lost Race series is a godsend for all readers who enjoy this particular subgenre of fantastic literature, as jump-started and popularized by English author H. Rider Haggard in the mid-1880s. I’ve recently written about two of these 24, David DouglasThe Silver God of the Orang Hutan and John Taine’s The Purple Sapphire, and now would like to offer some words about another of these terrifically en... Read More

Three Laws Lethal: Exciting, fascinating, and timely

Three Laws Lethal by David Walton

Best friends Tyler and Brandon are building a new ride-hailing service that uses autonomous vehicles. Their software is spectacular, especially with the secret AI algorithm developed by Naomi, one the two sisters they’ve partnered with. When a tragedy occurs during their public media demo, all of their plans and hopes are dashed and the college friends all go their separate ways. Within a few years, Tyler and Brandon become competitors and their feud gets ugly, leading to more tragic accidents and even murder.

Meanwhile, as Naomi continues to develop her algorithm, she makes some exciting but unsettling discoveries about what her artificial intelligence can do and she has to make some hard decisions about what she’ll do with the information she learns.

It takes a while for David Walton’... Read More

Kellanved’s Reach: Esslemont hits his peak

Kellanved’s Reach by Ian Cameron Esslemont

Kellanved’s Reach concludes Ian Cameron Esslemont’s PATH TO ASCENDANCY, his prequel series of MALAZAN books (as opposed to Steven Erikson’s prequel series of MALAZAN books) and while three is the classic book number in fantasy series, I personally wouldn’t mind if he snuck in another volume or two between this and Night of Knives, the next book chronologically in the series’ events.

The tale picks up not long after Deadhouse Landing,... Read More

Revenant Gun: Saving the best for last

Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee

The finale to Yoon Ha Lee’s MACHINERIES OF EMPIRE trilogy, Hugo-nominated Revenant Gun (2018) tells the story of what remains of the Hexarchate ten years after Kel Cheris/Jedao threw it headfirst into civil war. On one side of the war, the Protectorate attempts to reunite the former Hexarchate and restore its violent calendrical (magic) system. On the other side of the war is the Compact, Cheris’s newborn state founded on a completely different calendrical system that simultaneously ends the gory human sacrifices of the Hexarchate and grants its subjects a higher level of individual choice and control over the system’s calendrical effects. As the conflict has waged on over the past decade, Cheris/Jedao has vanished on a secretive mission, their existence a mystery even to their strongest allies in ... Read More

This Is How You Lose the Time War: Great blend of style, structure, and imagination

This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone



 

To: Reviewer

Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone are coming out with a new book — This Is How You Lose the Time War — and I was wondering when you would finally get around to reviewing it.

Reader



To: Reader

Contrary to what you apparently think, we reviewers don’t get the pages as the writers compose them. Plus, we do have lives. That said, I’d already requested an early copy because Gladstone... Read More

A Spectral Hue: Weird in the best possible way

A Spectral Hue by Craig Laurance Gidney

I don’t know how to categorize Craig Laurance Gidney’s 2019 novel A Spectral Hue. It has an eerie, otherworldly story, and it’s published by a noted small horror press, but I didn’t think it was horror. I didn’t think it was fantasy either. And maybe categories don’t really matter for this slim novel that gave me a genuinely original reading experience.

Gidney’s story is set in a small town, a village really, nearly surrounded by marshlands, in Maryland. Many escaped or emancipated enslaved people ended up in Shimmer, working as crab fishers or taking other jobs associated with the water. There is an entity in the marsh, and some people are sensitive to it. Whether they are drawn to the somewhat rare marsh bell orchid flower, with its pink-purple flowers, or something else, they began to create things. Hazel Whitely, an enslaved woman, made strange qui... Read More

Poe Dameron Vol. 4: Legend Found: Who doesn’t like a space heist?

Star Wars: Poe Dameron Vol. 4: Legend Found by Charles Soule & Angel Unzueta

The fourth volume in the POE DAMERON series, which details the early conflict between the (still fledging) Resistance and First Order forces, really starts to line things up with the opening act of The Force Awakens in this issue — specifically, the search to find Lor San Tekka, an intergalactic explorer who may have clues to finding the location of Luke Skywalker.

Played by Max von Sydow in the movie, we’re introduced to him here breaking into a high security vault in order to study an ancient Jedi artefact. When he’s arrested for his crime, it’s up to General Leia, Poe Dameron and the rest of Black Squadron to pull off a daring long-con to rescue him.

They’re got all the pieces in place: the lie, the misdirection, the inside man, but the return of the cunning Agent Terex throws a spanner in the work... Read More

The Listener: An exciting and emotional drama with a great setting

The Listener by Robert McCammon

Robert McCammon’s The Listener (2018), a finalist for this year’s Locus Award for Best Horror Novel, takes us to New Orleans during the Great Depression. There we meet:

Pearly, a good-looking huckster selling over-priced fakely-engraved Bibles to poor and grieving widows
Ginger LaFrance, a sexy and completely unscrupulous grifter who is tired of her current partner in crime and ready to choose a new one
Donny, Ginger’s violent and crazy nephew
Curtis Mayhew, a young black man who earns a decent wage as a redcap with the Union Railroad
Orchid, Curtis’s mother, a woman who feels that her health has been declining since the death of her husband years ago and who worries about her sons’ insistence that he can hear voices in his head
Nilla and Ja... Read More

Recursion: A mind-bending, time-amending techno-thriller

Recursion by Blake Crouch

Recursion (2019) begins with a dual timeline in alternating chapters, a familiar literary approach, but then splinters into razor-sharp time shards as the characters deal with the explosive consequences of a new technology relating to personal memory.

In November 2018, detective Barry Sutton attempts to prevent a woman from jumping from the 41st floor of a New York City tower. The woman, Ann, tells him she has False Memory Syndrome (FMS), a new affliction in which a person remembers an entirely different past for themselves, like their memory branched at a certain point in the past. The memories, though vivid, are in shades of gray. Ann’s conviction that she’s lost a life in which she had a happy marriage and a nine-year-old son was so compelling that she searched for ― and found ― the man she remembered marrying, who said he didn’t recognize her, though Ann is convince... Read More

Swarm of Locusts: Excellent book in an original, wonderful series

Swarm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse

I pull my knees to my chest, feeling myself irrationally offended at being rejected by a sentient casino.

Rebecca Roanhorse’s second THE SIXTH WORLD book, Storm of Locusts (2019), continues to deliver on the promise of Trail of Lightning. Maggie, a Navajo monsterslayer (or now, as some call her, Godslayer) ventures outside the magical walls of the Navajo reservation to stop a magically enhanced terrorist from destroying it. She also mourns the loss of Kai Arviso, the son of a god, who helped her in the first book. Maggie now carries the Lightning Sword, but she doesn’t know how to activate it.

Maggie takes a bounty hunter job wit... Read More

The Hunger: Taut and tense historical horror

The Hunger by Alma Katsu

The Donner Party tragedy — a horribly-gone-wrong 1846 emigration to California that ended with half the emigrants dead and the survivors having to resort to cannibalism — would hardly seem to need a ratcheting up of the horror via the addition of the supernatural. But that’s just what Alma Katsu has done in her Locus-nominated novel The Hunger (2018). And honestly, I’m still not sure I needed the supernatural aspect because Katsu has created an entirely compelling, immersively suspenseful account of this harrowing journey just out of the more mundane characters and environment.

The Hunger opens with a prologue, which is really a looking ahead in time, as a rescue group sent out in April of 1847 to find the “last known survivor of the Donnor Party tragedy”... Read More

The Young Unicorns: Set in 1968, it’s a story as distant as a Jane Austen novel

The Young Unicorns by Madeline L’Engle

Madeline L’Engle published The Young Unicorns in 1968. It features the Austin family, who were introduced in L’Engle’s 1960 novel Meet the Austins. In The Young Unicorns, the scientific, artistic Austin family has moved from a small rural Connecticut town into New York City. They live in Morningside Heights in Manhattan, a stone’s throw from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, which figures prominently in the story.

The Young Unicorns has no overlap with the WRINKLE IN TIME quartet except for one specific character mention, but it shares concerns and themes. This book, published for young adults, deals with science, spirituality and morality, and within its pages the ... Read More

Thanos Wins: A great story about Marvel’s ultimate villain

Thanos: Thanos Winsby Donny Cates (writer), Geoff Shaw (artist), and Antonio Fabela (colorist)

Donny Cates tells one of the best stories of Thanos in Thanos Wins. The book collects Thanosissues #13-18 and Thanos Annual#1, and because it starts at issue #13, I have avoided the book, not having read issues #1-12 (though I mean to since they are by one of my favorite writers, Jeff Lemire). However, a friend recommended I skip #1-12 and jump straight to this collection because it is a standalone, self-contained story. I pass on the same recommendation to you: If you have any interest in Thanos or are a fan of Donny Cates, then you will like this book.

Many people have now heard of the Cosmic Ghost Rider, a new character in the Marvel Universe, and there is a good collection by Cates called the Cosmic Ghost Rider; however, this character was created by Cates in Read More

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