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Metamorphica: The myths of Ovid’s Metamorphoses reimagined

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Metamorphica by Zachary Mason

Zachary Mason, who retold Homer’s story of the wanderings of Odysseus in his well-received 2007 debut novel, The Lost Books of the Odyssey, takes on Ovid's epic narrative poem Metamorphoses in his latest work, Metamorphica (2018). Mason distills Metamorphoses’ over 250 Greek myths into 53 brief stories, including the tales of Arachne, Daedalus a... Read More

Dawn of Wonder: An ambitious plot with a moon-shooting character arc

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Dawn of Wonder by Jonathan Renshaw

I’d wanted to read Jonathan Renshaw’s 2015 self-pub Kindle Unlimited enrollee for several months. Dawn of Wonder sports upwards of 3700 Amazon reviews with an average rating of 4.6 stars — a rare feet for any well-established author, much less a self-publishing up-start. But it’s also a whopping 710 pages long, so you see my hesitation.

But enough wind-up. I read it.

The first sixth of the novel gripped me. Thirma peasant Aedan of Misty Vales lives in a medieval world of war and political intrigue, including well-organized cross-border human trafficking campaigns that can target anyone, though the higher born, the better. Our hero possesses a shrewd and calculating mind that could track a hawk, but he’s also a deeply wounded young boy who can collapse into helplessness when challenged. T... Read More

Noir: It’s noir, it’s Moore; what else can I say?

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Noir by Christopher Moore

At the first sentence of this review I’m having trouble because: “Christopher Moore’s 2018 novel Noir is a hard-boiled detective story set on San Francisco’s mean streets…” only it’s not quite, okay, so, “Noir is a darkly funny comedy set in 1947 San Francisco, following cops and wise guys and…” only it’s not quite, or not only, so maybe: “Noir is a dark comedy set in 1947 with corrupt cops, sexy dolls, men in black, space aliens with a kinda-criminal bartender main character and this horrible little kid…”

Okay. Fine. It’s by Christopher Moore. By now you should know what you’re getting into.

Sammy Tiffin works at Sal’s, a seedy bar. One night he comes in to f... Read More

Iron and Magic: An exciting spin-off from the KATE DANIELS series

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Iron and Magic by Ilona Andrews

Since Magic Bites was first published in 2007, the husband-and-wife writing team known as Ilona Andrews has developed a devoted fan base in the urban fantasy genre with their KATE DANIELS series. But all good things must come to an end, and when Magic Triumphs, the tenth novel in that series, is published in August 2018, the Andrews team has announced that it will be the end of that series. But they’ve left themselves some welcome loopholes: their new IRON COVENANT series, beginning with Iron and Magic (2018), will be a comfort to readers who will miss Kate Daniels. It's set in the same world, and man... Read More

Brief Cases: Adventures of Harry Dresden and his friends

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Brief Cases by Jim Butcher

Magic is well and good, but bullets are often swifter.

Brief Cases (2018) is a collection of a dozen short stories set in the world of Harry Dresden, a private investigator and talented wizard living in Chicago. Harry is the main character in most of the stories, but not all; a few other characters in Jim Butcher’s DRESDEN FILES universe get their chance to relate their adventures in their own voices.

This is the case with one of my favorite stories, the first one, “A Fistful of Warlocks,” set in the American Old West in the late 1800s, long before Harry Dresden’s time. Anastasia Luccio is a wizard and a Warden of the White Council o... Read More

Stories of the Raksura, Volume 1: Stories that deepen Wells’ world and characters

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Stories of the Raksura, Volume 1: The Falling World & The Tale of Indigo and Cloud by Martha Wells

Martha Wells has written several short stories and novellas set in the world of her BOOKS OF THE RAKSURA. They’ve been collected in two volumes called Stories of the Raksura and I’ve read both of these volumes. Volume 1, which collects the novellas The Falling World and The Tale of Indigo and Cloud as well as the short stories “The Forest Boy” and “Adaptation,” is the best of these and, in fact, I think these shorts were better than the novels, making Stories of the Raksura, Volume 1 my favorite RAKSURA book.

Here’s a description of each story in t... Read More

A Shadow All of Light: The shadows grow on you

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A Shadow All of Light
by Fred Chappell

A Shadow All of Light (2016) is a collection of linked, chronological stories by Fred Chappell that add up to a full-length narrative if not a seamless novel. Some individual stories are stronger than others, and I would have liked more of a full sense of place, character, and culture, but I enjoyed the underlying magic system, the main character, and how the structure built up over time to a decent climax.

Our narrator is Falco, a country boy from an area of “small, muddy farms” who has run away to the big city (the port of Tardocco) and seeks to apprentice himself to the legendary shadow thief Maestro Astolfo. When they first meet, Astolfo calls Falco a “bumpkin,” a “sneak,” a “hot-blood lazybones,” a “rustic Lumpfart,” an “imbecile,” and a “lunatic.” And of course he takes him ... Read More

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart: A delicious blend of adventure and chocolate

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The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis

A young, golden-eyed dragon named Aventurine is chafing at the restrictions her family has placed on her: dragons aren't allowed outside of the caverns until they're 40 or 50 years old, when their wings are strong enough for flight and their scales have hardened enough to protect them against arrows and swords. Aventurine's mother encourages her to "find her passion" in studying history, math or philosophy, but Aventurine just wants to go explore and be free. How can she not, with a name like Aventurine?

So one day she sneaks out of their caverns. When she finds a stray human on their mountain she thinks she's in luck: bringing a delicious human back to the cavern will surely impress her family! The human is suitably terrified of her and Aventurine is about to pounce when … wait ... what's that delicious-smelling food he’s cooking... Read More

Luna: Wolf Moon: Fighting over dust and sunlight

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Luna: Wolf Moon by Ian McDonald

Luna: Wolf Moon (2017) continues the saga Ian McDonald began in Luna: New Moon, which explored the power struggles between the Five Dragons, five powerful families controlling certain areas of influence on Earth’s moon. Each family, in turn, adheres to a national identity which dictates how they do business, what sort of business they do, and who they’re most likely to (figuratively and literally) stab in the back at the nearest opportunity while simultaneously marrying their offspring to one another in attempts to gain influence or construct gossamer-thin alliances. If crazy-rich people behaving badly is your thing, then I have very good news for you, because Read More

The Delirium Brief: The Laundry’s in big trouble

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The Delirium Brief by Charles Stross

The Delirium Brief, which is a finalist for the 2018 Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel, is the eighth novel in Charles StrossLAUNDRY FILES. Don’t even bother with it if you haven’t read most of the previous novels — you’ll be totally lost. (And, of course, my review of this installment will contain some spoilers for the previous books.)

For decades the Laundry, a heretofore unknown British government agency, has been protecting its citizens (and others around the world) from the eldritch horrors that exist outside our universe. In modern times, the way these entities usually breach the veil between worlds is through the activities of unwitting hackers, mathematicians, and philosophers who start poking aro... Read More

Children of Blood and Bone: A familiar story raised up by its theme and setting

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Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Tomi Adeyemi’s debut novel, Children of Blood and Bone (2018) and the first of the LEGACY OF ORISHA series, is in many ways a typical debut YA novel that can feel a bit rote. On the other hand, its setting and stark presentation of theme make it stand out more than a little from the other such YA novels and add an importance to it that makes it well worth recommending.

Long ago in Orisha the maji wielded great power, but then the King (Saran) found a way to strip magic from them and commenced a great slaughter, though he did not kill those younger than thirteen (“diviners”, marked by their white hair) who had not yet come into their power (and now never would). Zélie is a diviner whose mother was murdered before her eyes when she was six. Since “The Raid,” Zélie’s people, r... Read More

Magic Breaks: Sins of the father

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Magic Breaks by Ilona Andrews

In Magic Breaks (2014), the seventh book in Ilona AndrewsKATE DANIELS urban fantasy series, the overarching plot lines of the series takes a lion-sized step forward, with a few major surprises along the way. *some spoilers for earlier books in the series*

Kate Daniels, her mate Curran, the Beast Lord of Atlanta's shapeshifter Pack, and their group have returned from their perilous trip to Europe, described in Magic Rises, where they ran into conflict with Hugh d’Ambray, the warlord of Roland. Roland is an ancient, immortal legend with nearly godlike magical powers, and Kate has been both hiding from him and planning his death... Read More

Three-Bladed Doom: Howard’s only El Borak novel

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Three-Bladed Doom by Robert E. Howard

Even those readers who have previously thrilled to the exploits of such Robert E. Howard characters as Conan the Barbarian, King Kull of Valusia, the Puritan fighter of evil Solomon Kane, the Pictish king Bran Mak Morn, the piratical Cormac Mac Art, and boxer Steve Costigan might still be unfamiliar with the author’s El Borak. And, I suppose, there may be good reason for that. Howard only managed to sell five stories featuring the character before his suicide death, at age 30 in 1936, although 11 more would surface in later years. Of those 16 tales, only one was of a full novel length: Three-Bladed Doom. Like many other fans, this decades-long Howard buff had never run across this character before, and so, when I spotted the 1979 Ace edit... Read More

Grey Sister: A solid follow-up

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Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence

Grey Sister, second novel in Mark Lawrence's BOOK OF THE ANCESTOR series, is a good follow-up to its predecessor. It's not a perfect novel, but on the whole it's exciting, well-written, and very gripping.

Since the last installment in the series, two years have passed, and Nona Grey is still a novice at the convent of Sweet Mercy. Her classes -- and her magical abilities -- have continued apace, teaching her to be deadlier than ever, but two years have brought her no closer to avenging her friend Hessa or recovering the convent's prized Ship Heart. Instead, Nona once again finds herself facing more typical schoolgirl problems such as sneering bullies and difficult exams. But just as it seems that her adventuring days might be behind her, she finds herself caught up in the long-gestating pla... Read More

All Systems Red: The adventures of an introverted killing machine

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All Systems Red by Martha Wells

The narrator of All Systems Red (2017), the 2017 Nebula award-winning novella by Martha Wells, is a once-nameless cyborg security unit or SecUnit that has given itself the name Murderbot (for reasons disclosed midway through the story). Using its own unprecedented and highly unauthorized initiative, Murderbot has hacked the governor module software that controls its actions and obligates it to be obedient. But instead of going on a killing spree, as one might expect given the name it adopted, Murderbot elects to spend its spare hours watching countless hours of video entertainment and trying not to interact more than is necessary with the group of eight humans that it’s responsible for protecting, a survey group of eight scientists called PreservationA... Read More

Barry’s Deal: Frenetic and fun

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Barry’s Deal by Lawrence M. Schoen

The world and characters of Barry’s Deal (2017) will require no introduction to long time Lawrence M. Schoen readers. The Amazing Conroy, a space-traveling hypnotist and his companion Reggie, a buffalito (buffalo dog), have cropped up several times before, not least in Schoen’s last novella (Barry’s Tale, 2014). Nevertheless, the internet assured me that this latest installment can be read as a stand-alone novella and, as it’s one of this year’s Nebula nominees, I gave it a go.

Conroy and Reggie have just touched down on Triton, an arcology known for its opulent casino hotel and black-market activity. Now fabulously rich, Conroy i... Read More

The Faeries of Sadieville: A lovely ending to the TUFA series

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The Faeries of Sadieville by Alex Bledsoe

The Faeries of Sadieville (2018) is the final novel in Alex Bledsoe’s TUFA series. You’ll get more out of it if you’re read the previous TUFA novels, but it’s not strictly necessary to do so since each novel features a stand-alone story with overlapping characters.

In The Faeries of Sadieville we meet two graduate students who are dating each other; Justin, from the English department, is studying how folk music came to Appalachia, and Veronica is getting a Masters in parapsychology from the psychology department. (Excuse me for just a moment while I interrupt this review to put on my psychology professor hat, slip behind the podium, and declare with authority that... Read More

Strange Survivors: How Organisms Attack and Defend in the Game of Life

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Strange Survivors: How Organisms Attack and Defend in the Game of Life by Oné R. Pagán

Oné R. Pagán is a university biology professor and a blogger, and both sides come out in this entertainingly informative look at the various ways life tries to, well, stay alive (i.e. not get eaten). As he says in the introduction to Strange Survivors: How Organisms Attack and Defend in the Game of Life (2018), he “wrote this book with the semi-mythical ‘interested layperson’ in mind ... [so] I will not be excessively technical, but neither will I be patronizing ... I’ve tried to write as if we were having a conversation over coffee.” Thus, like most writers of popular science, Pagán is aiming at that sweet spot where he doesn’t lose his reader to jargon or overly-abstruse concepts or talk to his readers as if they struggled to complete elementary school. And... Read More

Akata Witch: An exciting, imaginative, and heart-warming story with a unique setting

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Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Sunny Nwazue, an albino who needs to stay out of the sun, has always been different from the other kids in her school. When her family returned to Nigeria after living in the United States for most of Sunny’s childhood, she never quite found her place. Her strangeness becomes even more obvious when she sees a vision showing what appears to be scenes from the end of the world.

When Sunny finally makes a few friends, she begins to realize there's a reason for her strangeness, and that she's not the only weird kid in town. She finds out that she belongs to the Leopard People, an ancient bloodline that endows its descendants with various magical abilities. As Sunny is initiated into this new family, she learns that she and her friends are part of a prophecy related to her frightening apocalyptic vision. Without much knowledge or skills, Sunny and her friends mu... Read More

The City on the Other Side: A charming graphic novel

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The City on the Other Side by Mairghread Scott & Robin Robinson

A devastating war is being waged between the Seelie and Unseelie courts — Coscar, the Unseelie king, has kidnapped the daughter of King Ro’hish in revenge for the theft of a precious item. Coscar’s campaign has been a long and bloody one, and it seems that he’ll stop at nothing to retrieve what was taken. Meanwhile, in our world, little Isabel comes from a wealthy Latinx family and lives with her mother in San Francisco, sometime shortly after the great Quake of 1906. Her mother is going to Europe for the summer and doesn’t want any distractions, so against Isabel’s fervent wishes, she is left with her artist father, who lives outside the city and doesn’t much seem to care about her presence. While wandering in the woods outside her father’s studio, Isabel meets a mortally wounded messenger from the Seelie realm, who tas... Read More

The City of Lost Fortunes: A rich gumbo full of passion, life, and magic

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The City of Lost Fortunes by Bryan Camp

Bryan Camp’s debut novel The City of Lost Fortunes (2018) is a loving ode to New Orleans and everything that makes it superlative: the food, the music, the soul-crushing humidity, and of course, the people. Ambitious, insightful, and filled with commentary on the diversity and similarities across world mythologies, this novel is absolutely the product of a writer who is worth keeping an eye on.

Invited to an exquisitely bizarre card game that he’s compelled to attend, Jude Dubuisson discovers himself in the company of some terrifying entities: a vampire, an ancient Egyptian god, New Orleans’ own god of fortune, a famous voodoo loa, and a literal angel. Jude is, himself, the son of a trickster god and has the ability to find lost items just by touching the people who have lost them, so he’s got just ... Read More

A Magical Match: Gives us just what we expect (and want)

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A Magical Match by Juliet Blackwell

In A Magical Match, the ninth book in Juliet Blackwell’s WITCHCRAFT MYSTERIES, vintage clothing store owner Lily Ivory is preparing for her wedding, but something is wrong with her groom. He’s been acting strangely, and then he is accused of a murder. Witnesses saw him at the scene, and it looks like an open and shut case, until Lily realizes there may be a magical explanation. Can she discover the truth and get her fiancé out of jail before the wedding?

Sometimes it’s not necessary to write a book review and this is one of those times. Fans of Juliet Blackwell's paranormal cozy mysteries just need to know that A Magical Match maintains the quality of the WITCHCRAFT MYSTERIES Read More

The Heart Forger: A strong sequel

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The Heart Forger by Rin Chupeco

The Heart Forger's (2018) prequel ended with the young bone witch, Tea, about to march upon the kingdom with an army of corpses and a bevy of monsters to boot. We pick up the story precisely where it was left off with Tea's shock lover (for those of you who remember the twist ending of The Bone Witch) in tow.

Sticking to the same formula used in The Bone Witch, the narrative jumps between past and present, once more in a style reminiscent of THE KINGKILLER CHRONICLE series. The bard continues to narrate Tea's march upon the royals in the present day, presenting a very different version to the novice asha (that is, a ... Read More

Arm of the Sphinx: Senlin is still ascending

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Arm of the Sphinx by Josiah Bancroft

Arm of the Sphinx (2018) is the sequel to Senlin Ascends (2017), Josiah Bancroft’s extremely popular novel that was originally self-published but later picked up by Orbit Books after it was highlighted by Mark Lawrence in his Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off contest a couple years ago. I loved Senlin Ascends, a story about a man named Thomas Senlin who is accidentally separated from his wife at the base of the Tower of Babel. T... Read More

Memory: Why Bujold is secretly revolutionary

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold

My copy of Memory looks like it was reread several dozen times and then shoved in the bottom of a backpack and schlepped a few hundred thousand miles (it was). It’s my favorite book in Lois McMaster Bujold’s VORKOSIGAN SAGA, which is a series made up of some of my favorite books. But it isn’t high literature or uber-intellectual science fiction or the kind of book that people call “genre bending.” The plot is pure, fast-paced, crime-solving fun, like the rest of the series. It’s just a cheap paperback.

But it moved me, and continues to move me. This review is my attempt to understand how and why. After some thought and another rereading, I’ve come to suspect that it’s a book built on tiny, imperfectly perfect human interactions. The meat of Memory isn’t... Read More