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A Stranger in Olondria: An exquisite tour of a world of danger, magic and beauty

A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar

In A Stranger in Olondria, Sofia Samatar takes us on a journey that is as familiar and foreign as a land in a dream. It’s a study of two traditions, written and oral, and how they intersect. Samatar uses exquisite language and precise details to craft a believable world filled with sight, sound and scent.

The book follows Jevick, who journeys from Bain, the Harbor City of the land of Olondria to a distant valley, on a quest to settle the ghost that haunts him. Along the way, he becomes a pawn between two warring political factions, and learns much about this strange land he is visiting.

Jevick is the second son of a wealthy pepper grower in the Tea Islands. His father brings back a tutor fr... Read More

The Revolutions: A hodgepodge that works

The Revolutions by Felix Gilman

At not quite the halfway point in Felix Gilman’s The Revolutions, the main character — Arthur Shaw — reacts to a particular text he is reading:

It was a hodge-podge of Masonry, Greek myth, Egyptian fantasy, debased Christianity, third-hand Hinduism, and modern and ancient astronomy, promiscuously and nonsensically mixed . . . The Book was riddled throughout with paradox and absurdity and contradiction . . . But after a week or two of study, Arthur began to enjoy it.

And it is at this point where a reader might stop and think, “Yes, yes I am,” even as he/she mentally expands that list of hodge-podge foundations: “And C.S. Lewis and Burroughs and Yeats and Poe and Stevenson and The Sun and maybe a bit of... Read More

Shattered Pillars: Still fantastic

Shattered Pillars by Elizabeth Bear

Elizabeth Bear’s entire ETERNAL SKY trilogy is now sitting in a neat row on my bookshelf. I adored the first book and consumed the second one so quickly it went by in a blur of semi-divine horses and cool but unpronounceable names. Before I read Steles of the Sky(released on April 10th), it’s worth pausing to reconsider the middle book in what might be one of my favorite fantasy series in recent years.

In Shattered Pillars, Temur and his band of loyal and enigmatic followers continue their quest. But the quest is stranger and less certain than it used to be. Temur wants to save Edene, his horse-riding lady-love, but also reclaim his grandfather’s throne and oust his rival Qori Buqa. In a vast and fractured political landscape dominated by independent city-states, this turns out to be ... Read More

Fanboy Friday! Hinterkind: The Waking World

Hinterkind: The Waking World by Ian Edginton (writer) and Francesco Trifogli (artist)

I’m not a big fan of post-apocalyptic stories, but Hinterkind pulled in this reluctant reader — twice. Initially, I bought the first two monthly issues because of the artwork and because it was a Vertigo title (DC’s mature line of comics), but I dropped the title because the plot didn’t grab me, and frankly, there was an abundance of monthly comics coming out — too much for this fan’s budget! However, when I saw the first six issues of Hinterkind collected together in trade and available for reviewers, I thought I’d give it another chance. I’m glad I did. The art is good all the way through and the plot not only improves with each issue, it fully hooked me by the end of the story arc. And now I want to read... Read More

Sand: A tender novel

Sand by Hugh Howey

Hugh Howey has a gift for creating elaborate dystopian worlds that readers love to visit despite the fact that they’d never want to actually live there. In Sand, his unfortunate characters abide in a desert world that is gradually being buried by sand which constantly blows in from the east. Over the years its relentless intrusion has overcome so many towns that new generations keep building on top of the ruins of their predecessors. Nobody knows where the sand comes from or why. Nobody knows if there’s anything better over the horizon because when people leave to find out, they never return.

The heroes of the story are the wife and four children of a man who left them years ago. They are a bitter bunch, left to try to hold their family together in a hopeless situation. The mother has resorted to prostitution, the oldest daughter is plagued by painful memories, the oldest son has disappeared. The younger s... Read More

The Path of Anger: Superb narrative, excellent translation

The Path of Anger by Antoine Rouaud

“Attack someone from behind?
There’s no honor in fighting like that!”
“There’s no honor at all in killing someone, lad.
No matter how you strike.
There’s no glory to be had in taking a life.”


General Dun-Cadal Daermon was one of the most famous generals of the Empire. In the years since the Empire’s fall, the general has been drinking his life away, waiting for death to come and attempting to remove the betrayals of his friends from his mind. First and foremost in Dun-Cadal’s mind is the loss of his apprentice, Frog, whom he trained into knighthood. Viola, a historian from the Great College of Emeris, and she is on a quest to find the Emperor’s legendary sword, Eraëd. Rumor has it that Dun-Cadal escaped the Empire’s fall with the Eraëd in hand, and Viola wants to know where he hid it. When Dun-Cadal’s once-friends are assassinated one at a time, ... Read More

The Winner’s Curse: Rutkoski won me over

The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

Marie Rutkoski is a good writer. I’ve known that from when I read The Cabinet of Wonders, the first book of her KRONOS CHRONICLES, a Middle Grade trilogy. While the subsequent books weren’t quite as good, I still enthusiastically recommended the series. And I can tell Rutkoski is still a good writer after reading her newest YA entry, The Winner’s Curse, because even though I had some large issues with the novel, issues that normally would have made me not recommend it, somehow, Rutkoski still had me whipping through the book in a single sitting. And has me ending up happily recommending it. Despite my list of things I didn’t like. A curse indeed.

Kestrel is t... Read More

The Gods Themselves: Asimov’s favorite of his SF novels

The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov

“Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain.”

Isaac Asimov’s The Gods Themselves earned the Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction Novel, the Nebula Award for Best Science Fiction Novel, and the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel. About 15 years ago it was put on the Locus list of All Time Best Science Fiction Novels.

If you’re anything like me, that’s enough to put The Gods Themselves on your To Be Read List and, indeed, it has been on mine for years because I aim to read all those award winners sometime before I die. What moved The Gods Themselves to the top of the list was that Random House Audio recently produced it in audio format and it’s read by one of my favorite classic SF readers, Scott Brick. (I love Scott Brick!)

The Gods Themselves has a strange structure. The story is told non-line... Read More

The Walk up Nameless Ridge: Engrossing short story

The Walk up Nameless Ridge by Hugh Howey

The Walk up Nameless Ridge is a short story (18 pages, 39 minutes on audio) written by indie writer Hugh Howey of recent WOOL fame. You can order it for less than $2 at Audible or purchase it for 99c as a Kindle Single and then add the professional narration (Jonathan Davis!!!) for 99c more.

The story is about a mountain climber who hopes to be the first person to summit the famous 60,000 foot peak on the planet Eno, even if it kills him. What he wants more than anything is to leave a legacy, even if it means he has to leave other people, including his family, behind. There are others on the mountain who, presumably, have the same goal. What price are these climbers willing to pay in order to be remembered? After all, nobody cares who got there second. Our climber must grapple with these ethical issues and must live (or die) with the choices he makes.

I was completel... Read More

The Tropic of Serpents: A wonderfully beguiling voice

The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan

In my review of Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons, I wrote that Brenan had me immediately with Lady Trent’s “wry, rebellious, sardonic voice,” but that the novel lost its edge about 100 pages in and never quite fully recovered, leaving me somewhat dissatisfied. I’m happy to say that the sequel, The Tropic of Serpents, kept that wonderfully beguiling voice, but managed to smooth out the problems with pacing, managing a follow-up that improves upon its predecessor.

As in book one, Lady Trent must overcome Victorian (literally, the novels are set in a Victorian world, with Scirling standing in for England) mores in order to embark on a journey of discovery into a foreign and most likely dangerous land. Society’s feathers are even more ruffled this time around... Read More

Matter: An excellent introduction to The Culture

Matter by Iain M. Banks

Matter is the eight book in Iain M. Bank’s popular CULTURE series about a utopian society run by a beneficent artificial intelligence organization called The Culture. I haven’t read any of the previous CULTURE novels which, I think, gives me a unique take on Matter. Reading through some of the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, I see that many CULTURE fans felt like the 620-page Matter was a drastic change in pace and tone. I can’t say if that’s true, but I can say that I loved Matter and can’t wait to read the rest of the CULTURE series. In short, the setting was fascinating, the characters were interesting and fully developed, and the scope of the story was epic.

Most of the plot of Matter takes place on a backward Shellworld called Sursamen. Actually, it’s more correct to say that the story takes place in Read More

Peace: Mysterious, atmospheric and tinged with nostalgia

Peace by Gene Wolfe

Although virtually unclassifiable, Gene Wolfe's 1975 novel, Peace, was chosen for inclusion in both David Pringle's Modern Fantasy: The Hundred Best Novels AND Jones & Newman's Horror: Another 100 Best Books. While the novel certainly does have shadings of both the horrific and the fantastic, it will most likely strike the casual reader — on the surface, at least — as more of an autobiography, telling, as it does, the story of Alden Dennis Weer, in the first person.

Weer, a 60... Read More

What Makes This Book So Great: Concise insights, evangelistic joy

What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton

In 2008, Jo Walton began a regular column over at Tor.com on the books she was reading. Actually, mostly re-reading. She was invited to blog on the site because, as Patrick Nielsen Hayden told her, she was “always saying smart things about books nobody else had thought about for ages.” In What Makes This Book So Great, she’s collected about a fifth of those posts and presented them in brief essays, being careful to point out she is doing so as neither a reviewer (who mostly cover new works) nor a critic. Instead, she tells us, “I want to talk about books and turn people on to them . . . I’m am rereading them [the books] for the sheer joy of it. I want to share that . . . I am talking about books because I love books.”

It doesn’t take long for the reader to pick up on that; Walton’s sheer exube... Read More

Horrible Monday: A Matter of Blood by Sarah Pinborough

A Matter of Blood by Sarah Pinborough

Sarah Pinborough makes it clear from the first page of her prologue in A Matter of Blood that we’ll be seeing plenty of blood — and worse. The novel opens on the scene of a corpse squirming with maggots. An unnamed man stands in the doorway and declares that “This has to stop,” but the noise of the flies only grows louder. It seems, though, that the man is talking to someone — not to the corpse, not to himself, not even to the flies, though maybe he is speaking to someone through the flies. And maybe, we think, we’re on to something with that last thought, because as the speaker continues, the flies gather together and form into a shape that is nearly human.

It’s the last glimpse of the supernatural we get for a long time, though. Instead, Pinborough’s novel r... Read More

Troy: Last War of the Heroic Age

Troy: Last War of the Heroic Age by Si Sheppard

Troy: Last War of the Heroic Age by Si Sheppard, is the fifth or sixth book in the MYTHS AND LEGENDS series by Osprey Publishing. It does the usual good job, even if it is not quite as strong as several others.

The reason for its middle place in the rankings of these books though is really not so much Sheppard’s fault as it is a built-in conflict between Osprey’s goal of a concise retelling and exploration of these myths and the huge amount of material that makes up the story of the Trojan War. Just trying to shrink the Iliad down to 80 or so pages would be bad enough, but throwing in what happens before the Iliad picks up, what happens afterward, and all those side stories that Homer doesn’t bother with, and then, on top of all that, trying to offer up some historical and social contex... Read More

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