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The Last Wish: Engaging dark fantasy stories

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The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

The Last Wish (1993 in Polish, 2007 in English) is the first book in the WITCHER series by best-selling Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. You might recognize the name from the popular video games based on the books. The series features a hero named Geralt of Rivia who, when he was an orphaned child, was transformed into something more than human through a process involving magic and drugs. Now he has white hair and some subtle superhuman powers — for example, he can see in the dark and he is stronger and faster than other men. He roams the world looking for odd thankless jobs that only a Witcher can do.

This first WITCHER book is a series of relat... Read More

Urban Allies: Will please many fans of urban and paranormal fantasy

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Urban Allies edited by Joseph Nassise

I’m always impressed when authors work together, and in Urban Allies, editor Joseph Nassise has managed to pair up twenty authors who not only collaborate, but merge their own characters into ten brand-new and original adventures. Each story shares a similar theme: popular characters from existing series or novels meet up and must join forces in order to defeat a common threat. Since these are urban fantasy authors, every story has a supernatural or paranormal aspect, though the situations and resolutions are completely unique to each tale, ranging the gamut from a haunted house, ghosts, magic of all stripes, plenty of demons, and much more.

As a genre, urban fantasy tends to feature protagonists who embody a certain type of wish-... Read More

Some Remarks: The glory of infodumps separated from narrative

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Some Remarks by Neal Stephenson

Some Remarks compiles eighteen short texts by Neal Stephenson. Aside from a couple short stories, this is a book of essays, interviews, and speeches. These short texts should please most Stephenson fans because they combine humor, insight, and exposition — in other words, these are infodumps gloriously freed from narrative.

Hesitant readers would do well to test this book by reading its opening essay, “Arsebestos.” Stephenson points out that although sitting all day is unhealthy, much of corporate America requires its office drones to sit in cubicles. People would be better off doing their work while ambling along on a treadmill, as Stephenson does, but managers are too cowardly to risk changing the status quo. After all, what if w... Read More

Winter of Fire: A surprisingly affecting little story

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Winter of Fire by Sherryl Jordan

Sherryl Jordan is a New Zealand-based author of young adult and children’s fantasy fiction. In Winter of Fire (1993) she tells the story of Elsha, a sixteen year old girl born into the enslaved underclass called the Quelled. As the sun has disappeared from the world, a memory only alive in mythology, the Quelled are forced to mine for the firestones that are the people's only source of warmth. But Elsha has a rebellious spirit and is often in trouble with the brutal overseers at the mine. They are from the upper class, the people known as the Chosen.

Elsha's life is changed forever when she is chosen to be the handmaid of the legendry Firelord. The Firelord is the most important man in the world as he possesses the power to divine for firestones, the life fuel of every person alive. The Firelord's choice is re... Read More

The Seed of Earth: A generally pleasing work from one of sci-fi’s best

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The Seed of Earth by Robert Silverberg

Men of a certain age may recall a particular trepidation that was attendant with the coming of their 18th birthday; i.e., the fear of being drafted into the armed forces. From 1940 until January ’73, males here in the U.S. could be drafted, even during peacetime, to fill vacancies in the Army and other services, and well do I remember the sigh of relief that many breathed when the draft disappeared, in favor of an all-volunteer system. But, as Robert Silverberg’s 1962 novel The Seed of Earth had already demonstrated, conscription could entail far more intimidating prospects than a mere two-year Army hitch.

For the future Grand Master and multiple Hugo and Nebula Award winner, The Seed of Earth came at... Read More

Life Debt: Fast-paced, cinematic entertainment

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Life Debt by Chuck Wendig

Before I begin my review of Chuck Wendig’s Life Debt, book two of the STAR WARS: AFTERMATH trilogy, I want to talk about myself for a minute. I like STAR WARS. I loved the original three movies. I didn’t like The Phantom Menace, surfed away from Attack of the Clones about two-thirds of the way through, and never saw Revenge of the Sith. Remember that I’m the person who couldn’t figure out why commenters on various sites kept talking about the European Union as part of the Star Wars cycle because I didn’t know that “EU” meant “Extended Universe.” I’m not a capital-F Fan.

What I am is an enthusiastic reader. I enjoy... Read More

Saga Vol 6, Issues 31-36 by Brian K Vaughan

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Saga, Vol 6, Issues 31-36 by Brian K Vaughan (writer) and Fiona Staples (artist)

Saga Vol 6 is the first one I had to wait for, as I read the first 5 volumes back-to-back. This is such a popular, excellently-written, and amazingly-illustrated series that the main question fans will have is, “Is it still as greater as ever?” Well, I’d say it isn’t quite as brilliant as the first 4 volumes, but Vaughan and Staples have established a very high level of storytelling and can probably maintain it for quite some time. So rest assured, fans will not be overly disappointed. This series remains centered on the characters, though this time the surprises an... Read More

A Toxic Trousseau: Every summer I look forward to visiting Lily in San Francisco

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A Toxic Trousseau by Juliet Blackwell

Every summer I look forward to spending a few days in San Francisco with Lily Ivory, her employees at her vintage clothing shop, her gluttonous familiar Oscar, her sexy boyfriend Sailor, and various other inhabitants of the Haight district where Lily works and lives. These are charming folks who, since they’re set in a paranormal cozy mystery series, tend to bumble into a crime scene every few weeks.

This time, Lily goes to visit a woman who owns a competing vintage clothing shop and who has filed suit against Lily for something Oscar did. Readers won’t be surprised that the woman dies soon after this confrontation and that Lily is, once again, being questioned by the San Francisco police. Being a bit nosey, and having a flexible working schedule, Lily (again) sets out to uncover the culprit and, in the process, explores more of San Francisco (sh... Read More

Helliconia Summer: The big ideas punch deep

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Helliconia Summer by Brian W. Aldiss

The shape of Brian Aldiss’s SF Masterwork HELLICONIA could be said to be parabolic. If Helliconia Spring is the slow, curving entry point, then Helliconia Summer, the middle volume, is the zenith story-wise. Or at least that’s the feel two-thirds of the way through the series. As Aldiss is trying to paint a historical and evolutionary picture of humanity’s existence on a distant planet, Helliconia Summer’s narrative does not pick up where the first volume left off, and instead focuses on a point in the society’s development loosely equivalent to the Baroque Era many centuries in the future from Helliconia Spring. Were the lives of the kings and queens the onl... Read More

Arabella of Mars: A fantastic voyage

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Arabella of Mars by David D. Levine

What if Isaac Newton, instead of watching an apple fall from a tree and being inspired to develop a new theory of gravity, had observed a bubble rising from his bathtub and begun to meditate on space travel? Well, in the world of Arabella of Mars, a delightful and unique blend of a Regency-era nautical adventure and the pioneering science fiction of Jules Verne or Edgar Rice Burroughs, it resulted in Captain Kidd commanding the first voyage to Mars in the late 1600s. A little over a hundred years later, in the year 1812, there are plantations on Mars that grow valuable khoresh wood, watched over by their British masters, with the assistance of Martian servants, who have a vaguely... Read More

The Shadowed Sun: Mature, intelligent, challenging, unafraid

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The Shadowed Sun by N.K. Jemisin

The Shadowed Sun (2012) is the second book in N.K. Jemisin’s DREAMBLOOD two-book series, inspired the ancient kingdoms of Egypt and Nubia. However, rather than simply changing some names and using thinly-disguised history as her template, she introduces an entirely new religious and social system, one centered around worship of Hananja, the dream goddess represented by the moon. The story this time is set a decade after the events of the previous book, and features some of the same characters like Nijiri, now a full-fledged Gatherer, and Sunandi, member of the Kisuati Protectorate now ruling Gujaareh. However, Jemisin introduces three new main characters: Hanani, a young Sharer priestess, the first female granted this position; Prince Wa... Read More

Autumn Princess, Dragon Child: Book Two loses no momentum

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Autumn Princess, Dragon Child by Lian Hearn
Lian Hearn’s Autumn Princess, Dragon Child, the second book in THE TALE OF SHIKANOKO, begins right where the first book ended. This series plays out on a broad canvas and in this volume we follow some characters we saw only briefly in Emperor of the Eight Islands. Some characters find that their story arc ends in this book, as the story grows darker and more tragic, but the book never loses momentum.

This review may contain mild spoilers for Book One, Emperor of the Eight Islands.

With the manipulation of the Prince Abbot, who has installed a puppet emperor on the Lotus Throne, the Miboshi Clan is now ascendant, but the heavens themselves rebel against a... Read More

Clean Sweep: Urban fantasy with a galactic twist

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Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews

Dina Demille, a young woman, runs a quiet bed-and-breakfast in a small Texas town. Her inn is a quirky old Victorian home that looks like “a medieval castle and a Southern-belle, antebellum mansion had a baby and it had been delivered into the world by a gothic wedding cake decorator.” Dina’s only companion is a small black and white Shih Tzu named Beast, aside from her single permanent guest in the inn, but Dina is hoping her inn will become more popular ― with space aliens.

The Gertrude Hunt Bed-and-Breakfast is, in fact, a house with mysterious powers and a symbiotic relationship to Dina, and it secretly caters to otherworldly visitors from all over the galaxy. It’s one of many on the planet Earth, which is a popular way station for alien travelers. The inn’s sole guest is a bloodthirsty former Galactic aristocrat who caused millions of deaths ... Read More

Beastly Bones: Beastly good fun

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Beastly Bones by William Ritter

Beastly Bones is the second book in William Ritter’s YA fantasy series JACKABY. R.F. Jackaby is a paranormal detective in the style of Sherlock Holmes, in 1892 New England, and Abigail Rook is his able assistant. Like the immortal Dr. Watson, Abigail is our story-teller, but in Beastly Bones she gets a chance to practice her first love, paleontology, when an intact fossilized skeleton of an unknown creature is found in nearby Gad’s Valley. Unfortunately, suspicious human deaths followed the discovery, and Jackaby and Abigail are called in to investigate.

Charlie Barker, whose family secret forced him to leave New Fiddleham’s metropolitan police force, is a deputy in Gad’s Valley, which let... Read More

Bandersnatch: The Inklings as writers group

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Bandersnatch by Diana Pavlac Glyer

Diana Pavlac Glyer abridged her academic book The Company They Keep and published the abridgement as Bandersnatch. In it, she studies the Oxford circle of writers and thinkers that included J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams through the lens of a creative community. Glyer chose the title Bandersnatch from of a quote by C.S. Lewis about Tolkien, that “No-one ever influenced Tolkien — you might as well try to influence a Bandersnatch.” In fact, the book goes on to explore in depth just how deeply and broadly Tolkien was influenced by the Inklings and by the creative currents that swirled around the group. T... Read More

Infomocracy: Election-year politics in the future (or: some things never change)

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Infomocracy by Malka Older

In the latter half of the twentieth century, most of the world (a few areas like Saudi Arabia excepted) has moved to a form of government called micro-democracy. The world is divided into "centenals" of about 100,000 people each, and each centenal votes for its own separate government. The political party that wins control of the most centenals wins the Supermajority, which gives that party additional political clout and power, although the specific details of that Supermajority power aren’t entirely clear. There are dozens, if not more, political parties, though only about a dozen have worldwide clout. Parties are based on all types of factors: aspects of identity (like race, nationality or religion), a particular view of policy, the importance of military might, loyalty to a particular large corporation, etc... Read More

The Fall: Worthy sequel delivers on dark and weighty promise of The Strain

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The Fall by Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan
Authors Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan move the world of their apocalyptic vampire saga to a darker place in the second of their STRAIN trilogy, The Fall. This second volume is short, at less than 300 pages, and makes for a satisfying companion when read back-to-back with the first in the trilogy, The Strain. I will reference some spoilers to The Strain below, since this is a series that needs to be read in chronological order.
The sunset of humankind is the dawn of the blood harvest.
At the end of The Strain, our primary players, pawnbroker/professor/vampire-hu... Read More

The Strain: del Toro builds modern mythology on top of old-school vampire horror

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The Strain by Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan

Abraham Setrakian had witnessed and survived horrible evil when he was a young man. He’d made it out of a Nazi death camp in Poland, but the horror brought about by the Germans was not what kept the professor awake at night. It was the Stroigoi — the vampire — he’d seen feed on his camp mates. It was this that haunted Setrakian. And now it was time for revenge.
What he saw before him was not an omen — it was an incursion. It was the act itself. The thing he had been waiting for. That he had been preparing for. All his life until now.
The Strain, the first book in THE STRAIN trilogy, is a very good modern vampire horror story. There are no moody teenagers battling hormones and vampire/werewolf love triangles. Renowned movie icon Guillermo del Toro and author Chuc... Read More

A Hundred Thousand Worlds: An ambitious and successful debut

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A Hundred Thousand Worlds by Bob Proehl

There’s a lot to like in Bob Proehl’s debut novel, A Hundred Thousand Worlds, and if the author occasionally tries a little too hard or the book suffers a bit in trying to cover its audience bases, the end result remains a heartfelt coming of age story set amidst the fondly but realistically portrayed world of comic book writers/artists and convention goers.

The story follows a mother and son (Valerie and Alex, respectively) as they drive from NYC to LA to reunite Alex with his long-separated father, Andrew Rhodes, though Alex does not know this at the start of their trip. Years ago, Val and Andrew had co-starred on a fan-favorite sci-fi show entitled Anomaly, and why Val left the show, Andrew, and LA — and why she is now returning six years later — is slowly revealed as she and Alex cross ... Read More

In the Labyrinth of Drakes: Come for the dragons, stay for the voice

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In the Labyrinth of Drakes by Marie Brennan

In the Labyrinth of Drakes is the fourth book in the MEMOIRS BY LADY TRENT series by Marie Brennan, and in terms of quality I’d place it just behind the second one, The Tropic of Serpents, which so far is my favorite. And if it has a few of the same issues that have detracted from prior books, as always, these are outweighed by the wonderful voice of the narrator, which is really the number one reason for picking up this series.

As has been the pattern, In the Labyrinth of Drakes sees Lady Trent looking back on a trip to yet another foreign setting in order to study the native dragon species. And again, as usual, other issues arise that complicate her endeavor. In this case, the setti... Read More

Princess of Glass: The twelve dancing princesses tangle with Cinderella

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Princess of Glass by Jessica Day George

Three years after they have solved the problem of the evil underground King of Stone and his twelve sons in Princess of the Midnight Ball (or have they?), the king of Westfalin and his twelve daughters are still dealing with the aftermath. Some of the girls are suffering from PTSD, and the rulers of neighboring kingdoms are still bitter about the loss of their princes and other young men who died while trying to figure out the mystery of the dancing princesses in the first book. So the king of Westfalin institutes a type of exchange program, sending his daughters to other countries for extended stays with their royal families, to try to repair the relations with them and perhaps even to form some helpful alliances through marriages.

Princess of Glass follows one of the younger sisters, Poppy, now 1... Read More

The Sapphire Cutlass: A dangerous cult hides in the Indian jungle

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The Sapphire Cutlass by Sharon Gosling

The Sapphire Cutlass is exactly the kind of fun YA romp I was hoping for when I started the DIAMOND THIEF series. The characters seem comfortable in their roles, the adventure is exotic, and the stakes are surprisingly high. Sharon Gosling seems to have hit her stride here, rewarding readers with equal measures of romance and action in a well-balanced novel.

Rémy Brunel, Thaddeus Rec, J, and orphaned moppet Dita have flown in their ruby-powered airship all the way from France to India. They seek many things: the location of J’s mentor Desai, information about a cult known as the Sapphire Cutlass, and the truth regarding Rémy’s “one true twin” brother, about whom she knows absolutely nothing. What they find... Read More

Downbelow Station: Machiavellian intrigue in space

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Downbelow Station by C.J. Cherryh

I’ve had C.J. Cherryh's 1982 Hugo Award winner Downbelow Station on my TBR list for three decades, and was glad I finally got around to it via Audible Studios, ably narrated by Brian Troxell. It’s an intense, claustrophobic, gritty space opera with a huge cast of hard-nosed characters battling to survive the Machiavellian intrigues of freelance Merchanters, Earth bureaucrats, Company fleet captains, Pell station administrators, Union space forces, secret agents, stationers, and (incongruously) cuddly Downer aliens. It's a big, complex story, and not easy to follow on audio, but well worth the effort. I emphasize the word effort, because it takes some serious concentration to keep track of all the moving pieces, and Cherryh’s tough, muscular prose a... Read More

The Last Mortal Bond: Brings a good series to a fitting close

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The Last Mortal Bond by Brian Staveley

I had a mixed response to the first book in Brian Staveley's trilogy, The Emperor's Blades, but thought book two, Providence of Fire, was a big improvement, boding well for the future of the series. That optimism was borne out, as the final book, The Last Mortal Bond, though perhaps not quite as consistently good as Providence, continues to deepen the themes and characters, bringing the trilogy to a happily satisfying conclusion. I'm going to assume you've read the first two books and won't bother recapping who people ... Read More

The Oxford Inklings: The influence of a circle of friends

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The Oxford Inklings by Colin Duriez

J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis had an influence on modern fiction, especially speculative fiction, that is still felt to this day. In their prime, at Oxford, they saw themselves as champions of myth and meaning, bringing back the “old Western” literary values, elevating myth and “fairy stories” into a place of prominence in an academic world that was increasingly valuing modernism. The two friends surrounded themselves with British writers and thinkers of the time, a group they nick-named the Inklings, and that group’s influence on the writing of the time still cannot be calculated. The Inklings capture our imaginations just as deftly as LORD OF THE RINGS or Out of the Silent Planet... Read More