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Sword of Destiny: More great WITCHER stories

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Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski

Sword of Destiny is the second story collection in Andrzej Sapkowski’s WITCHER books which are the basis of the popular video game. Sword of Destiny should be read second in the series. (This is confusing because the English translations of the WITCHER books were not published in chronological order.) I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the first WITCHER book, The Last Wish, and was eager to read Sword of Destiny. It did not disappoint. I love Sapkowski’s hero, a man named Geralt of Rivia who... Read More

Claimed: 3 for 3

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Claimed by Francis Stevens

At the tail end of my review of Francis Stevens’ 1919 novel The Heads of Cerberus, I mentioned that the author was now a very solid 2 for 2 with me, having loved that book as well as 1918’s The Citadel of Fear, and that I had a feeling that once I took in her 1920 novel, Claimed, that she would be an even more solid 3 for 3. Well, as I predicted, such is indeed the case, now that I have finally read her most impressive third novel. While Citadel had dealt with the discovery of a lost Aztec city and battling gods (Quetzalcoatl and Nacoc-Yaotl), and the dystopian Cerberus with a totalitarian Philadelphia in an alternate-reality future, Claimed... Read More

The Queen of Blood: A solid, dramatic opening to an epic fantasy series

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The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst

The Queen of Blood (2016) is the first book in an epic fantasy series by Sarah Beth Durst, THE QUEENS OF RENTHIA. Durst seems to be able to write whatever she sets her mind to: YA, urban fantasy, or dark fairy tales. The Queen of Blood is a briskly-paced story that introduces us to an original fantasy world with some unusual magical powers.

Daleina lives with her parents and little sister in one of the “outer villages” in the great forests of the kingdom of Aratay. The forest is filled with nature spirits: air, water, ice, earth, fire and wood. These spirits are not friendly. Their instinct is to kill humans, but the power of Aratay’s human queen keeps them mostly in check. Sometime... Read More

A Window into Time: A charming SF novella

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A Window into Time by Peter F. Hamilton

Julian is 17 and, though he looks like a normal teenager and he’s a really nice kid, he’s something of a misfit. He doesn’t have a normal family life, he doesn’t have any friends, he’s a little too smart, and everyone thinks he’s strange. The weirdest part about Julian, though, is that he remembers pretty much everything that ever happened to him.

When Julian starts remembering things that didn’t happen, he decides there must be some twist in the fabric of space-time that’s causing his life to get mixed up with someone else’s. That person seems to be in danger and Julian would like to warn him but, if he gets involved, he’ll be risking his own life. However, if Julian can’t figure out how to straighten things out, without causing a time paradox, he may ... Read More

Of Sand and Malice Made: A fine introduction to Çeda and the city of Sharakhai

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Of Sand and Malice Made by Bradley P. Beaulieu

Of Sand and Malice Made is a prequel to Bradley P. Beaulieu's 2015 novel Twelve Kings in Sharakhai, introducing the teenaged main character, Çeda, along with her best friend Emre, and aspects of the desert city of Sharakhai they call home. Çeda is a pit fighter, and Beaulieu writes her training and fight scenes well, conveying action and Çeda's thoughts during the fights in brisk prose. The primary impetus for the plot is that a demon-like creature called an "erekh," which can take on various human guises in order to go unnoticed, has taken a sudden interest in ... Read More

Toad Words and Other Stories: Enchanting folk and fairy tale retellings

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Toad Words and Other Stories by T. Kingfisher

T. Kingfisher is the name used by author Ursula Vernon for her adult fiction, although some of her T. Kingfisher works fall into the young adult category, like The Seventh Bride, and some of her Ursula Vernon works are adult works, like her wonderful Nebula award-winning short story “Jackalope Wives.” Regardless of the name she uses, I’ve been searching out her fiction ever since reading “Jackalope Wives.” T. Kingfisher writes lovely fairy tale retellings and other folk and fairy tale-flavored fantasies, usually with a twist, sometimes dar... Read More

Nifft the Lean: Vance’s Cugel reimagined by Hieronymus Bosch

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Nifft the Lean by Michael Shea

Back in 1950, Hillman Periodicals published a little book for 25 cents called The Dying Earth by Jack Vance. It could easily have disappeared into obscurity like thousands of other books, but there was something special about it. There weren’t any other books in SF/Fantasy quite like it, depicting an incredibly distant future earth where the sun has cooled to a red color, the moon is gone, and humanity has declined to a pale shadow of former greatness, and struggles to survive amongst the ruins of the past. The world is filled with magicians, sorcerers, maidens, demons, ghouls, brigands, thieves, and adventurers.

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The Masked City: A fun, imaginative follow-up, and I loved the Train

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The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman

With The Masked City (2016),  Genevieve Cogman delivers a fun, imaginative follow-up to her The Invisible Library (2015) debut. We get to spend time with our favorite characters from the first book: Irene and Kai, Holmesian-detective Vale and the fearsome Coppelia. We meet some new ones as well, including a dragon, a new pair of adversaries and a magical Train, who was my personal favorite.

This review may contain spoilers for the first book.

In The Invisible Library, Cogman introduced the concept of high-chaos and high-order worlds, and the Library, which exists in all dimensions and who... Read More

The Illustrated Man: Grim but touching stories

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Reposting to include Katie's new review:

The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

The Illustrated Man is a  collection of Ray Bradbury’s stories which are sandwiched between the account of the titular man whose tattoos come alive at night and set the scenes for the 18 tales in this collection. All of these stories are classic Ray Bradbury — full of spacemen, Earth-Mars conflict, psychiatrists, spoiled children, bad marriages, book burning, domestic work-saving technologies, and nervous breakdowns. They deal with the fear of atomic war, loneliness, prejudice, madness, and the dangers of automobiles, junk food, and media entertainment (but smoking is okay).

All of the tales are written in Bradbury’s incomparable prose and most of them are emotionally touching. But, not surprisingly, they’re almost all grim, making Read More

Summerlong: Light on both poetry and mystery

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Summerlong by Peter S. Beagle

Summerlong is the latest stand-alone work by Peter S. Beagle, an author widely lauded and respected for his skillful turns of phrase, complicated characters, and his ability to credibly blend the fantastic into the mundane. In Summerlong, Beagle turns his gaze on Puget Sound and a small island off Seattle’s coast, an unremarkable little place which undergoes a transformation over the course of just a few months, changing the lives of its residents in profound and irrevocable ways.

The greatest changes come to Joanna Delvecchio and Abe Aronson, a late-middle-aged couple who have settled into a comfortable routine over their two decades of coupleship: she’s a flight attendant and basketball fanatic, he’s a history... Read More

The Doomed City: A fascinating and thoughtful work of Russian science fiction

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The Doomed City by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky, translated by Andrew Bromfield

The Doomed City is a late 1980’s work by, according to my jacket liner, the two “greatest Russian science fiction masters”: Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. Having never read their other works, or much at all by any other Russian sci-fi authors, I can’t speak to the validity of that statement. But certainly The Doomed City, translated here by Andrew Bromfield, is a fascinating and thoughtful work, one that I thoroughly enjoyed even as I sensed I was probably missing some of the layers/allusions more specific to their homeland.

The setting is a roughly 50-square-kilometer metropolis lit by an artif... Read More

The Muse: A dual timeline mystery

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The Muse by Jessie Burton

In her follow-up to her acclaimed novel The Miniaturist, Jessie Burton adopts a dual timeline structure, following the lives of two creatively gifted women separated by time and place, but linked by a luminous, long-hidden painting that bodes well to take the art world by storm, and a decades-old mystery about the artist. The Muse (2016) lacks the subtle element of magical realism that lent a mysterious aura to the dollhouse and the titular miniaturist who furnished it in her debut novel, but there are other compelling mysteries and themes that drive the plot of The Muse and knit together its two timelines.

In 1967 London, ... Read More

The Unreal and the Real, Vol 2: Outer Space, Inner Lands

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The Unreal and the Real, Volume Two: Outer Space, Inner Lands by Ursula K. Le Guin

This is essential reading (or listening) for all fans of SF who want to see why Ursula K. Le Guin is one of the giants of the SF/fantasy field. Volume Two: Outer Space, Inner Lands contains a host of impressive stories, both her famous award-winners and lesser-known gems. All of them are intelligent, thought-provoking, understated, and beautifully written. It’s hard to underestimate the influence she has had on the genre, fans, and how much respect she has gained in the greater literary world. I can’t wait to see the upcoming documentary about her life and legacy being produced by Arwen Curry called Worl... Read More

I Am Providence: A smart, dark, funny Lovecraftian mystery

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I Am Providence by Nick Mamatas

“On any other weekend, my body would have been discovered more quickly.” 

Panos Panossian is not the kind of a guy to let the mere fact that he is dead stop him from narrating; even if his first-person narration starts after he’s been killed, and is a faceless corpse in a cabinet in the morgue. That quote is the opening sentence in I Am Providence, a multi-genrebending novel by Nick Mamatas.

Panossian is, well, was a novelist, and a novelist in a very specific niche with a very specific fandom; he wrote Lovecraftian fiction. He was attending the annual Summer Tentacular, a Lovecraft convention held in Providenc... Read More

The Sandman: Overture by Neil Gaiman & J.H. Williams III

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Editor's note: Won the 2016 Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story

Reposting to include Stuart's new review:

The Sandman: Overture by Neil Gaiman & J.H. Williams III

Most monthly comics come out, well, monthly, but DC decided to drag out The Sandman: Overture and release it every other month, and that seemed reasonable given how long it takes for J. H. Williams III to create his exquisite artwork. However, the comic ended up taking a full year longer than announced — from October 2013 to October 2015. After the first three issues, I quit rea... Read More

Foxglove Summer: You can take the constable outta London, but…

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Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch

One of the definitive aspects of Ben Aaronovitch's PETER GRANT series is the fact that it's set in the big smoke (aka London, for all you non-Londoners). So it may come as a surprise to discover that Foxglove Summer (2014), the fifth instalment of the series, is actually set in the countryside. But don't be fooled into thinking this is story about sleepy village life and the occasional nosy neighbour. Far from it. Peter Grant is back along with a myriad of supernatural problems, and he's just as incompetent as he's always been...

Two eleven-year-old girls have gone missing in the rural town of Leominster, Herefordshire. Constable Peter Grant is sent on a routine assignment to check up on an old wizard living in the ar... Read More

Sandman: Endless Nights by Neil Gaiman

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Sandman: Endless Nights by Neil Gaiman

Having just finished the 10-volume epic SANDMAN saga, it’s hard to imagine anything that can top this achievement. In aggregate, it is certainly the most ambitious comic of its time, and having depicted the character arc of Dream, also known as Morpheus and the Sandman, there is isn’t much to add to that. At the same time, since the Endless have lived for the lifetime of the current universe (and perhaps previous iterations), there are an infinite number of side-stories that Gaiman could conceive. So it was inevitable that he would choose to pen some stories that featured each of the Endless — this project itself could be endless, if there’s enough demand from Sandman fans.

Endless Nights has a story about each of the Endless, each penned by different artists whom Gaiman chose to best represent the ... Read More

Burning Bright: High seas adventure and romance, flame-broiled to taste

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Burning Bright by Melissa McShane

Twenty-one year old Elinor Pembroke, dreaming of fire burning all around her, awakes to find her room actually ablaze with an intense fire ― a fire she caused in her sleep. Elinor is able to quench the fire with simply a thought. The ability to not only mentally generate but also to extinguish fire makes her an Extraordinary Scorcher, the first British person with this high level of power over fire in over a hundred years. In this alternative Regency world, a few people have magical talents ― telepathy, flying, teleporting, visions, and more ― and those who have especially strong abilities are called Extraordinaries.

Elinor's dictatorial father is delighted that his nondescript middle daughter is suddenly an extremely valuable commodity in the marriage market: many men are interested in marrying a woman with a strong talent in order to produce gift... Read More

That Which Should Not Be: Heavy mythological Lovecraftian horror

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That Which Should Not Be by Brett Talley

That Which Should Not Be is a dark and moody book, fit for a cold autumn or winter evening in front of a crackling, smoky fire. The writing style reeks of HP Lovecraft, but also of Bram Stoker. This is not surprising, of course, as the novel is an ode to Lovecraft’s pantheon and theme of elder gods. This is Brett Talley’s first novel, but he nails the voice and tone of late 19th/early 20th century fiction.
One can never truly know when he steps outside his door whether today will be a day that passes without consequence, or if it will be one that changes everything.
A student from Lovecraft’s famed Miskatonic University is hunting for a lost book of ancient renown. It’s not the well-known Necronomicon, but rather a companion... Read More

The Devil’s Evidence: I’m still fascinated by this series

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The Devil’s Evidence by Simon Kurt Unsworth

The Devil’s Evidence (2016) is Simon Kurt Unsworth’s follow up to last year’s horror novel, The Devil’s Detective. In this book, Thomas Fool, the Devil’s Information Man, is sent to Heaven to try to solve a mystery, and soon he is trying to stop a war.

Since the purpose of Hell is to promote human suffering, it isn’t surprising that Fool suffered terrible losses in the first book, and it seems as if there wouldn’t be much left for him to lose in this book. That’s not the case. Unsworth manages to find a way to cause Fool just as much, if not more, pain and anguish in The Devil’s Evidence Read More

Sandman (Vol. 10): The Wake by Neil Gaiman

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Sandman (Vol. 10): The Wake by Neil Gaiman

Spoilers are included from the previous nine volumes.

The Wake — the final volume collecting the last six issues of THE SANDMAN series — is a difficult book to review because it is both the perfect ending to the series and an anti-climatic closing narrative that I find disappointing. How are these both possible? The first three issues in this volume are a three-part ending to Dream’s story. At the end of that third issue, I am satisfied emotionally and intellectually. The problem for me is that Gaiman wrote three more issues, one of which is mediocre and one of which is disappointing. So, ... Read More

Invaders: A high percentage of excellent stories

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Reposting to include Tadiana's new review.

Invaders: 22 Tales from the Outer Limits of Literature ed. by Jacob Weisman

As with most collections, whether they be of stories, poems, or essays, I found Invaders: 22 Tales from the Outer Limits of Literature, edited by Jacob Weisman, to be a mixed bag overall, with some weak stories, some solidly good ones, some very good ones, and several absolutely great ones, more in fact than I typically find in an anthology, making this an easy collection to recommend.

The authors collected here are non-genre writers known mostly for “literary fiction,” such as George Saunders, Max Apple, Molly Gloss, Jim Shepard, Katherine Dunn, and Junot Diaz. In his introduction, Weisman says the idea for this anthology came out of the responses he saw to an earlier one (from 2009) entitled Read More

The Bull and the Spear: Begins a second, compelling CORUM trilogy

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The Bull and the Spear by Michael Moorcock

This review contains spoilers for the first three books in the Corum series.

Michael Moorcock’s CORUM series is comprised of two trilogies. In the first trilogy, Corum defeated the three Chaos rulers of the fifteen planes, giving Law back much of its lost power and thereby restoring the Balance. Starting eighty years later, the second trilogy starts with The Bull and the Spear (1973). As the book starts, we find that Corum has lived in peace with his great love, Rhalina; however, since he is one of the Vadhagh race, Corum lives much longer than humans do. As a result, he must watch Rhalina grow old and die along with all the people of her generation, all Corum’s friends and extended comm... Read More

Underground Airlines: A chilling alternate history thriller

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Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters

“Time makes things worse; bad is faster than good; wickedness is a weed and does not wither on its own — it grows and spreads.”

Imagine that Abe Lincoln was assassinated before the Civil War started and that the North and South, instead of fighting, compromised, drawing up an agreement that allowed slavery to exist in perpetuity in four Southern states. Fast forward to the modern day and imagine that you were a black man in one of those states, that you had escaped your slavery in a cattle slaughterhouse, and had been living a free life in a Northern state for two years. Imagine that the U.S. Marshals Service finally caught you and gave you the choice of going back to the slaughterhouse or working for the Marshals, hunting down escaped slaves like yourself and turning them over to the government.

That is the disturbing ... Read More

Wayward (Volume 1): String Theory by Jim Zub

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Wayward (Volume 1): String Theory by Jim Zub (writer) and Steve Cummings (art)

Wayward: String Theory is the first collection of yet another great new Image title. Jim Zub tells the coming-of-age story of a teenaged girl, Rori Lane, travelling to Japan for the first time to stay with her Japanese mother, now divorced from Rori’s Irish father. The story behind the divorce is not explained in this volume, but evidently Rori’s had a rough time: Her psychological struggles manifest in physical self-harm; however, so far, this problem is touched on only lightly. In fact, other than a few brief encounters w... Read More