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Delilah Dirk and the King’s Shilling by Tony Cliff

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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!

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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…

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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

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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

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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

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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,... Read More

The Power: Simple concept, compelling read

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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

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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

Unsong: Celestial spheres and whale puns

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Unsong by Scott Alexander

Sometimes, you pick up a book expecting to know what’s in it, and expecting that you’ll like it, and your expectations are met and everyone goes home happy. This scenario is at least good, often excellent, sometimes superlative, and by this time in my book-reading life that’s usually what I get.

But there’s a peculiar kind of pleasure in picking up a book which you have no expectations for, good or bad, putting it down after the first chapter, and saying, “I don’t know what’s going on here, but I think I like it.”

Scott Alexander’s Unsong (2017) fell into that category for me, and that’s a big part of what makes it one of my favorite books this year.

Unsong is set in a world which... Read More

The Bear and the Serpent: A battle for a throne; a war for survival

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The Bear and the Serpent by Adrian Tchaikovsky

The Bear and the Serpent (2017), an epic shapeshifter fantasy set in a Bronze Age type of era, is the sequel to 2016's The Tiger and the Wolf. It follows the continuing adventures of a young woman named Maniye, who has an unusual dual heritage that allows her to instantly shapeshift into Wolf (her father’s people) and Tiger (her mother’s). Now Maniye has been gifted a third form by the gods, called a Champion: a massive wolf/tiger/bear hybrid creature that's a serious threat in battle. Maniye has gathered a warband of Wolves around her, those who didn’t fit well in the rigid clan structure of their Wolf tribe. She and her Wolf group, along with a few other stray shapeshifters, are following Asmander of the River Lord (croc... Read More

Mandelbrot the Magnificent: An almost-mystical origin story

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Mandelbrot the Magnificent by Liz Ziemska

Prior to reading this novella, what I knew about the mathematician Benoît Mandelbrot would have fit into an embarrassingly small thimble (with plenty of room to spare). I identified fractal shapes simply as “tessellations on steroids” and my only reference point for a “mandelbrot” was a delicious cookie.

But thanks to Liz Ziemska, I have a much greater appreciation for Mandelbrot’s work in his field, as well as the passion and determination that sustained him through his years in Nazi-occupied France. Mandelbrot the Magnificent (2017) blends real and imagined history with high-level mathematical equations and principles, and the result is a lovely little “psuedobiography.”

In his ow... Read More

Dark Melody of Madness: The Supernatural Novellas of Cornell Woolrich

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Dark Melodies of Madness: The Supernatural Novellas of Cornell Woolrich by Cornell Woolrich

Because New York City-born author Cornell Woolrich so excelled at tales of suspense, crime, murder and noirish mayhem, there might be some who find it hard to believe that he could also excel in the arena of horror. But those who have read Woolrich’s truly frightening novel of 1945, Night Has a Thousand Eyes, which combines the occult, clairvoyance, death and predestination into one tasty chiller, already know how capable he could be in that field. And if any further proof were ever needed to bolster the argument, we now have a beautiful new collection from the fine folks at Centipede Press — Dark ... Read More

Persepolis Rising: The Rocinante crew discuss their options

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Persepolis Rising by James S.A. Corey

(Some of these lines are direct quotes from Persepolis Rising (2017), the seventh book in James S.A. Corey’s series THE EXPANSE.)

Holden looked at Naomi over the cloud from his coffee. “I think it may be time for us to do something else. For me to do something else, anyway.”

Naomi stopped eating and looked up at him. “Walk me through it.”

“Pirates. Martians. The Protomolecule. The OPA. Gates to a thousand worlds. Dead men talking in my head. Belters. Earthers. Colonists. Ancient alien artifacts.”

“We’ve seen a lot, yeah.”

“We have. And I’m just not sure I have it in me to handle the same number of POVs I used to. I’m feeling ... old.... Read More

Middle-Earth: From Script to Screen: Building the World of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit

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Middle-Earth: From Script to Screen by Daniel Falconer

Getting a glimpse behind the scenes of a favorite film is always exciting — it’s rather like pulling the curtain back and, rather than seeing a humdrum old snake oil salesman, actually discovering a great and powerful wizard. David Falconer’s Middle-Earth: From Script to Screen gives credit to the several hundred wizards hard at work re-creating and re-inventing J.R.R. Tolkien’s LORD OF THE RINGS novels and The Hobbit into two sets of visual feasts.

Everything from aerial photography, to miniaturized or life-size sets and props, to CGI artistry went into those six films, and each page of this guide pays ... Read More

Chimes at Midnight: We love this series!

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Reposting to include Kelly's new review.

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’... Read More

The Beautiful Ones: The true magic is that of the human heart

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The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s 2017 novel The Beautiful Ones is an historical romance, a comedy of manners set in an alternate world. This world has the social mores and the esthetic of Europe’s Belle Époque (the late 19th century). Certain people in the world of The Beautiful Ones have telekinetic abilities, but while these abilities do play an important part in the story, this is not a story of magic unless it’s the magic of the human heart.

Hector Auvray is a “talent,” one who can move objects with his mind. While he is neither gentry nor aristocracy, he has amassed a great deal of wealth from his years of performing. Hector has returned to the city of Loisail to confront the love of his life... Read More

After Atlas: CSI: Future World

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Reposting to include Jana's new review.

After Atlas by Emma Newman

Emma Newman’s After Atlas (2016) is the pseudo-sequel to her first sci-fi offering, Planetfall (2015). As Kat explained in her review, Planetfall is about a colony of humans who left Earth to follow Suh, an alleged prophet who received a supernatural message giving her the coordinates of an unknown distant planet where she was supposed to travel to receive instructions about God’s plans for humanity. After Atlas takes place on Earth, almost 40 years after the ship left. No word has come from the colonists, but the world awaits the opening of a time caps... Read More

Chew (vol. 1) by John Layman

Chew (vol. 1) by John Layman (writer) & Rob Guillory (artist) (An Oxford College Student Review!)

In this column, I feature comic book reviews written by my students at Oxford College of Emory University. Oxford College is a small liberal arts school just outside of Atlanta, Georgia. I challenge students to read and interpret comics because I believe sequential art and visual literacy are essential parts of education at any level (see my Manifesto!). I post the best of my students’ reviews in this column. Today, I am proud to present a review by Arden Godfrey:

Arden Godfrey is a freshman at Oxford College of Emory University and is pursuing a double major in Psychology and German Studies with the intent to go to medical school for the Genetic Counseling program. She hails from Birmingham, Al... Read More

La Belle Sauvage: A masterful return

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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

The Hounds of the Morrigan: A lesser known children’s classic

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We'd like to introduce new reviewer Taya Okerlund. Welcome, Taya!

The Hounds of the Morrigan by Pat O’Shea

The Hounds of the Morrigan (1985) is an overlooked classic in children’s fantasy. A gem of a book published before the children’s fantasy readership exploded. (The classics are sometimes underappreciated by a readership who discovered children’s fantasy with Harry Potter.)

Consider Pidge, the sober-minded boy who unwittingly frees the evil Olc-Glas serpent from his prison within the pages of an old manuscript. As a consequence, Pidge is charged to recover a stone — a stone stained red with the Morrigan’s own blood. With it, Pidge can destroy Olc-Glas before he u... Read More