4.5

Click on stars to FIND REVIEWS BY RATING:
Recommended:
Not Recommended:

Before Mars: Impossible to put down

Readers’ average rating:

Before Mars by Emma Newman

Emma Newman has done it again with her third PLANETFALL novel, Before Mars (2018). I ignored my usual daily reading goals and limits, I ignored a growing stack of paperwork, and I even ignored dinner because I was far more invested in Dr. Anna Kubrin’s declining mental state. What other reason could there be for her growing distance from reality? Why else would she be convinced that something nefarious is going on at her tiny, isolated Mars research station, when the other four scientists-in-residence and the station’s AI insist that everything is copacetic?

Interestingly, Before Mars seems to exist contemporaneously with Afte... Read More

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

Readers’ average rating: 

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 ENJOYS THE TASTE AS ... Read More

The Valley Of Creation: Clan brothers

Readers’ average rating:

The Valley Of Creation by Edmond Hamilton

One of the crowning events in the sci-fi/fantasy year 1948 was most assuredly the release of Jack Williamson’s 1940 novella Darker Than You Think as an expanded, full-length novel; it has since gone on to be acclaimed one of the greatest fictional books on the subject of lycanthropy ever written. In it, reporter Will Barbee learns that he is a primordial shapeshifter and, in one memorable sequence, runs through the night in the form of a wolf, relishing his exhilarating swiftness and grace. But this was not the only time in 1948 that the reader was presented with such a scenario. In the July issue of the 20-cent Startling Stories magazine that year, Williamson’s close fri... Read More

Senlin Ascends: Bizarre and delightful

Readers’ average rating:

Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft

Two years ago when we were involved with Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off, Senlin Ascends (2017) was one of the books that didn't make it to the final round (so we didn’t get to read it then). But Mark Lawrence read it, started talking about it on the internet, and it got picked up by Orbit Books. Hachette, the parent company of Orbit Books, just recently produced it in audio format and sent me a copy.

Thomas Senlin is a stuffy schoolmaster from a small town who just got married and is on his way with Marya, his new bride, to The Tower of Babel, a strange structure that ascends hundreds of feet in the air and whose top (if there is one) is obscured by clouds. Thomas has read ... Read More

Jupiter’s Legacy (vols. 1 & 2): Worth seeking out

Readers’ average rating: 

Jupiter’s Legacy (vols. 1 & 2) by Mark Millar, with art by the incredible Frank Quitely, tells the origin story of a new group of superheroes. It is told quickly and succinctly, switching between the early days and the present, years after the race of superheroes began. In the present, we meet the next generation of superheroes, and they have many problems dealing with superhero parents. Having a therapist seems to be expected when you are the child of a superhero. Mark Millar is known for his high-action, Hollywood-style comics. A lot happens in his stories, usually told in a five-issue arc, and you feel as if you’ve sat through the latest early summer blockbuster when you read one of his stories.

In Jupiter’s Legacy (Volume 1), the idealistic older generation is shown in contrast with the children who, though they... Read More

Olympus Bound: Smash the patriarchy

Readers’ average rating:

Olympus Bound by Jordanna Max Brodsky

Warning: some mild spoilers for both The Immortals and Winter of the Gods will be unavoidable.

In Olympus Bound (2018), Jordanna Max Brodsky concludes the OLYMPUS BOUND trilogy she began with The Immortals, featuring the Greek goddess Artemis living in modern-day New York City under various appellations, including Selene. As the books progressed, the remaining Greek gods dwindled in number, murdered or sacrificed in the name of an ancient and seemingly unstoppable cult. But now, Selene knows t... Read More

The Stone Girl’s Story: A heart of stone

Readers’ average rating: 

The Stone Girl’s Story by Sarah Beth Durst

High up in the mountains, in a marble house, live a stone girl and her animal friends, who are also carved from stone. In this world, magical symbols and marks carved into stone make the stone come alive, giving it the power to move above, see, speak and hear, think, and even fly. Mayka, the stone girl, and her family of living stone birds, rabbits, a cat, an owl and others, were all carved and brought to life by a kindly master stonemason. The marks tell their stories, and the stories give them life.

Mayka and her friends live an isolated and contented life. Any harm or danger is far away in the valleys below them … except the danger of time. Their beloved Father, the stonemason, died many years ago, and gradually the magical marks etched on Mayka and her stone friends are wearing away and breaking. Harlisona the rabbit can’t speak any mo... Read More

Assembling the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Essays on the Social, Cultural, and Geopolitical Domains

Readers’ average rating:

Assembling the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Essays on the Social, Cultural, and Geopolitical Domains (ed: Julian C. Chambliss, William L. Svitavsk, Daniel Fandion)

Assembling the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Essays on the Social, Cultural, and Geopolitical Domains (2018) edited by Julian C. Chambliss, William L. Svitavsk, and Daniel Fandion is a collection of 15 essays examining the Marvel films, in particular how they “represent, construct, and distort American culture.” The essays vary in the level of “academese” employed, and also for me varied in how far they stretched their given premises, but taken as a whole this is an intellectually stimulating and rewarding anthology.

The editors have divided the book into three sections, the titles and descriptions given below:

Section I: The Cultural Context of the Transme... Read More

Dreadful Sleep: Some kind of ultimate pulp mash-up

Readers’ average rating:

Dreadful Sleep by Jack Williamson

At the end of my recent review of Jack Williamson’s 1933 novel Golden Blood, which initially appeared as a six-part serial in the pages of Weird Tales magazine, I mentioned that the author had later placed another serial in that same pulp publication, and that I meant to seek it out. Well, I am here to tell you MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! That later serial, Dreadful Sleep, was a three-part affair in the March - May 1938 issues (although it didn’t cop any front-cover illustrations, as had Golden Blood, the great Virgil Finlay did contribute drawings for the interior spreads), and I was happy to lay my hands on what I h... Read More

Game of Thrones and the Medieval Art of War: Excellent examination of how realistic Martin’s world is

Readers’ average rating:

Game of Thrones and the Medieval Art of War by Ken Mondschein

Game of Thrones and the Medieval Art of War
(2017), by Ken Mondschein, is just what he himself labels it: “an entire book on the rather nerdy and troublesome subject of how medieval warfare is reflected in a fantasy book series.” It’s also an extremely informative and often entertaining one, and in addition does the service of “rebut [ting] the pop-culture Middle Ages as a Jurassic World of resurrected straight white male barbarians out of a Frazetta painting.” Whether you’re a fan of the TV series or of medieval-era fantasy, an aspiring writer of said fantasy, or someone interested in delving into the actual history, Mondschein offers up an erudite and well-written book to meet your needs, one that hits a welcome sweet spot on the spectrum from academia to popular writing.

The chapters inc... Read More

La Belle Sauvage: A companion to HIS DARK MATERIALS

Readers’ average rating: 

La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

I always find it a little nerve-wracking when an author returns to a successful series after a long time away. There's always the fear, for me at least, that one of two things is going to happen: either the author will be nostalgic about the original work to the extent that s/he makes the new book into a fawning tribute without substance, or the author will have changed enough in the time between installments that the magic is just gone. I'm happy to say, though, that Philip Pullman's new novel dispels both of those fears. La Belle Sauvage (2017) is, though not quite as much a game-changer as The Golden Compass, still a fantastic novel in its own righ... Read More

Norse Mythology: A master storyteller relays the myths he loves

Readers’ average rating:

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman makes no secret of his love of Norse mythology and folklore. It shows up over and over in his fiction (Sandman, American Gods, Odd and the Frost Giants to name a few); and he has mentioned his love of the stories in interviews and essays. In Norse Mythology (2017), Gaiman puts his distinctive narrative voice in service to this mythological cycle and tells us the tales of the beginnings of ... Read More

Delilah Dirk and the King’s Shilling by Tony Cliff

Readers’ average rating: Comment Reviews for this post are disabled. Please enable it first

Delilah Dirk and the King’s Shilling by Tony Cliff

Where Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant was a rip-roaring and fun introduction to a feisty heroine and her faithful companion, Tony Cliff takes a slightly melancholic turn in Delilah Dirk and the King’s Shilling, which is no less fun, but provides a welcome depth of understanding into Ms. Dirk and Mr. Selim, both as individuals and as a pair.

A few years into their adventures, Delilah and Selim are content to wander through the sun-dappled countrysides of Portugal, Spain, and France, doing odd heroic jobs like reuniting children with their loving families. But the Napoleonic War between England and France can’t be avoided forever; quite by accident, Delilah finds herself accused by Major Jason Merrick of commi... Read More

The Black Flame: Looooooooong live the princess!

Readers’ average rating: Comment Reviews for this post are disabled. Please enable it first

The Black Flame by Stanley G. Weinbaum

Although Kentucky-born sci-fi author Stanley G. Weinbaum is today considered a seminal writer in his chosen field, his actual career was, sadly, an exceedingly brief one. After making a huge splash with his short story “A Martian Odyssey,” featuring the truly alien, ostrichlike Tweel, in the July ’34 issue of Wonder Stories, Weinbaum shifted into high gear, creating some two dozen short pieces and three novels before succumbing to cancer in December ’35, at the age of 33. His entire career, thus, spanned a mere 18 months. I had previously enjoyed The Best of Stanley G. Weinbaum... Read More

Verdigris Deep: Be careful what you wish for

Readers’ average rating:

Verdigris Deep by Frances Hardinge

A glance back at former reviews of Frances Hardinge’s work reveals that I have overused the word “weird.” Hardly the nicest word, and yet I meant it as a compliment. It’s a testament to my struggle to pinpoint what it is that makes Hardinge’s books stand out. Nevertheless, stand out they do.

Verdigris Deep (2008) is a weird book and, once again, that’s meant as a compliment. Ryan, Josh and Chelle get stranded in a forbidden village when they miss their bus home. Finding they have no money for the next bus they resort to pinching coins from an old wishing well hidden in the wood. What they don’t know is that the well is inhabited by an angry well spirit who doesn't react well to having her coins stolen. ... Read More

Tarnished City: Powerful social commentary and engaging characters

Readers’ average rating:

Tarnished City by Vic James

As much as I enjoyed Vic James’ 2017 debut novel, Gilded Cage, I thought there were a few missteps and odd choices, and I wasn’t sure what that meant for the second book in her DARK GIFTS trilogy, Tarnished City (2018). I am pleased to report that Tarnished City blew all of my expectations out of the water, improving on the first novel in every possible way and preparing readers for world-shaking consequences with a true nail-biter of a cliffhanger ending. (There’s very little hand-holding here, so I do recommend reading the books in close sequence if you’re at all fuzzy on previous details.)

T... Read More

Gilded Cage: The abuse of power by the super-powered

Readers’ average rating: Comment Reviews for this post are disabled. Please enable it first

Reposting to include Jana's new review.

Gilded Cage by Vic James

In the world of Gilded Cage (2017), there are those who are called Equals ― but there’s a deep divide between Equals, who have magical Skills, and the commoners, the Skilless, and they are decisively not equal. In England the Equals are both the aristocrats and the sole parliament, and they hold all the power, with the magical ability to enforce it.

One of the ways the Equals use their power is to require all commoners to spend ten years of their lives as slaves, known as slavedays. There are some interesting rules associated with this 10-year slavery law: there are advantages to doing it early in your life (such as the right to own a home, travel abroad, and hold certain jobs), you are required to begin t... Read More

Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Leiutenant by Tony Cliff

Readers’ average rating:

Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Leiutenant by Tony Cliff

I’m often told that adventuring isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, but Tony Cliff’s Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant reinforces what my younger self believed wholeheartedly: Adventuring is awesome, if a little lonely. You get to travel the world, collect treasure, and meet interesting people (who sometimes want to kill you). But even the attempted killing adds to the zest of the adventurer’s life!

Delilah Dirk is daring and brave, with the wits to get herself out of any bad situation (even if she can’t always avoid getting trapped in said bad situation to begin with) and a host of tricks and gadgets at her disposal. In her own words, she:

...is the master of forty-seven different sword-fighting techniques ... which she’s used, on different occasions, to defeat twe... Read More

Golden Blood: Durand of Arabia

Readers’ average rating:

Golden Blood by Jack Williamson

I’d like to tell you about a terrific book that I have just finished reading. In it, a 2,000-year-old Arabian woman, living her immortal existence in the heart of an extinct volcano after being endowed by a mysterious force of nature, waits patiently for the reincarnation of her dead lover to reappear to her. “Hold on,” I can almost hear you saying. “I know that book … that’s She!” And if that is indeed your reaction, a gold star for you, my friend, for being familiar with one of the most classic, and indeed seminal, works of fantasy literature of the past 150 years. But no, it is not to H. Rider Haggard’s 1886 classic that I refer to here, but rather to a work that came out almost a full half cen... Read More

A War in Crimson Embers: “All roads lead to war,” they say…

Readers’ average rating:

A War in Crimson Embers by Alex Marshall

Fair warning: if you haven’t read the previous two novels in Alex Marshall’s CRIMSON EMPIRE trilogy, A Crown for Cold Silver and A Blade of Black Steel, you aren’t going to have any understanding for what’s happening in A War in Crimson Embers (2017). It’s vitally important that these books are read in order!

At the close of A Blade of Black Steel, the members of the new Cobalt Company were, largely, scattered to the four winds. Sullen of the Horned Wolf Clan, Princess-tur... Read More

Iron Gold: A fantastic return to the universe of RED RISING

Readers’ average rating:

Iron Gold by Pierce Brown

I was a big fan of Pierce Brown’s RED RISING trilogy, so I was thrilled to hear he was going to continue the story with a new trio of books. And I’m happy to report that the first book in that new series, Iron Gold (2018), delivers the goods.

[Fair Warning: there will be of necessity spoilers for the first three books, so if you haven’t read those (and you should) I strongly recommend going no further in this review.]

RED RISING at its stripped-down core was the typical Downtrodden Rebels Against a Tyrannical State (DRATS!) story, though executed with atypical flair and complexity. One of the complicating factors, and one of my favorit... Read More

Superwomen: Gender, Power, and Representation

Readers’ average rating:

Superwomen: Gender, Power, and Representation by Carolyn Cocca

In Superwomen: Gender, Power, and Representation, Carolyn Cocca turns a sharp eye on gender (along with race and class) in the world of superheroes, looking through the lens of several female heroes in particular. These are, in order:

Wonder Woman
Batgirl
The women of Star Wars: Padem Amidala, Leia Organa, Jaina Solo
The X-Women (especially Jean Grey and Storm)
Buffy
Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel

The structure allows a sort of best of both worlds exploration. Since Cocca moves chronologically, we get a sense of the grand sweep of change (or sadly, either the lack thereof or its glacial pace). But we also get to bore in on details thanks to the chapter-by-chapter focus on a single character, an aspect often lost in ... Read More

A Taste of Honey: An unusual and fascinating world

Readers’ average rating: 

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson

Another 2016 Nebula nominee today, this time for best Novella. A Taste of Honey (2016) is set in the same world as a previous work by Kai Ashante Wilson, The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, which I confess I have not read (it’s not necessary for the understanding of this story, though it may provide some useful background to the setting and its institutions).

At its heart, A Taste of Honey is a love story between two men from different lands — wealthy nobleman, Aqib, from Olorum (where the story is set), and battle-hardened warrior... Read More

The Power: Simple concept, compelling read

Readers’ average rating:

Reposting to include Bill's new review.

The Power by Naomi Alderman

One thing’s for sure, The Power (2016 in the UK, Oct 2017 in the US) demands attention. Margaret Atwood has given it her blessing and I’ll eat my hat if The Power doesn’t have its own Netflix series sometime soon. Naomi Alderman could well be the next big name in subversive, feminist fiction.

The Power asks — what would happen if all women could physically dominate men? Over five years, Alderman answers that question and the answer is explosive, bloody, wild and thought-provoking.

One day, across the globe, fifteen-year-old girls realise they have electrical power in their fingertips. For some of them it... Read More

Creatures of Will and Temper: A Wilde pastiche

Readers’ average rating:

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Creatures of Will and Temper by Molly Tanzer

Molly Tanzer took quite a bit of inspiration from Oscar Wilde’s classic 1891 novel The Picture of Dorian Gray for her 2017 novel Creatures of Will and Temper, and yet manages to make her story far more unique than simply gender-switching some characters and tossing in modern-sounding references to changing social mores.

Evadne Gray and her younger sister Dorina are completely different — Evadne loves fencing above all else, while Dorina nurtures dreams of someday becoming an art critic — so being forced to take a trip to London together, with Evadne acting as Dorina’s chaperone, is cause for tremendous friction between the two. Th... Read More