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The Obelisk Gate: The weight of history crushes the present

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The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin

The Obelisk Gate is the second in N.K. Jemisin’s BROKEN EARTH trilogy and the follow-up to her Hugo Award-winning The Fifth Season; expectations were understandably high for this installment, which promises to shed a little more light on The Stillness and the qualities that make its geology and its people so unique. The Obelisk Gate is compulsively readable, filled with characters and circumstances that will transfix the reader’s attention, and effectively picks up right where The Fifth Season ends with very little exposition, so readers should plan to read this series in chronological order.

The Fifth Season was told t... Read More

The Graveyard Book: Even Gaiman’s dead characters seem alive

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review:

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Ignore the YA label slapped on this one if that gives you pause. Though that won’t be hard to do because The Graveyard Book opens with a hand in the darkness holding a knife wet with the blood of almost an entire family: father, mother, and older child. The knife lacks only the blood of the toddler son to finish its job. Luckily for the reader (and the boy) he escapes into a nearby cemetery where a mothering ghost convinces the cemetery community to protect him. Another reason to ignore the YA label, or better yet, to revel in it, is that Neil Gaiman’s YA-listed material is stronger than his adult work: tighter, more focused, more intense all around. All that holds true here and The Graveyard Book’s clarity and brevity, often seen as constraints i... Read More

The King of the Swords: Corum learns the nature of revenge

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The King of the Swords by Michael Moorcock

This review includes spoilers for Books 1 and 2 in the CORUM series.

The King of the Swords (1971) wraps up the first of the two trilogies that make up the CORUM series. Between the end of this book and the start of the second trilogy in The Bull and the Spear, eighty years will pass. But The King of the Swords is a culmination of all the events set in motion in the first two books. The main event of The King of the Swords, of course, is Corum’s quest to defeat the King of the Swords, a Lord of Chaos who rules over the last five of the fifteen planes in this universe. Along the way, however, Corum must overcome other challenges, most of which seem more difficult than those he faced in his quests to... Read More

The Language of Dying: Slowly creeping horror hiding within the mundane

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The Language of Dying by Sarah Pinborough

A novella that packs the emotional punch of a full-length novel, Sarah Pinborough’s The Language of Dying (2009) stealthily moves from an innocuous beginning to a stunning conclusion in the spare space of less than 150 pages. This work was nominated for a 2009 Shirley Jackson award and won a British Fantasy Award for Best Novella in 2010, and it’s obvious why: Pinborough writes beautifully and honestly about the complicated process of saying good-bye to a loved one, which would have been compelling material on its own, but the underlying current of potential madness and the repeated visits of a menacing force of nature slowly shift the mundane into the surreal.

As a woman prepares for her ailing father’s inevitable deat... Read More

Sandman (Vol. 9): The Kindly Ones by Neil Gaiman

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Sandman (Vol. 9): The Kindly Ones by Neil Gaiman



The Kindly Ones, Volume 9 of The Sandman, is about revenge and repercussions, and at thirteen issues, it explores these topics in the longest story arc in the series. The Kindly Ones refer to the Three Furies, whom we’ve met in previous volumes. These three female entities help a wronged woman seek revenge, enlarging her fury and giving it power beyond all imagination. The object of their combined fury has much to fear, as we see by the close of the arc.

The major plot begins and ends with two people: the young child Daniel and his mother, Lyta Hall, the woman who... Read More

The Queen of the Swords: Delightful prose and a page-turning plot

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The Queen of the Swords by Michael Moorcock

This review contains spoilers for The Knight of the Swords, the first book in the CORUM series.

The Queen of the Swords, the second book in Moorcock's CORUM series, takes place after Corum, The Prince in the Scarlet Robe, has had a needed respite from defeating Arioch, The Knight of the Swords. Aricoch, along with the Queen and King of Swords, are the three Lords of Chaos responsible for upsetting the Balance in the fifteen planes of Corum’s universe. At the end of Book 1, with Arkyn of Law restored to power on Arioch’s plane, Corum is told that Chaos still has too much power within his universe, which encompasses these fifteen planes of existence. S... Read More

The Knight of the Swords: Begins as a tale of revenge, but becomes much more

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The Knight of the Swords by Michael Moorcock

I started reading Michael Moorcock only a few years ago, and already he is one of my favorite authors. And the six-book CORUM series, for me, is second only to the ELRIC saga. In some ways I like better that Corum’s story is complete within these six volumes, unlike Elric’s, which never ends as Moorcock continues to add new stories (though he has, at least, written the story that tells of Elric’s end as a character). The basic story is that Corum, a being of an older race in its decline, is confronted by the upstart creatures Man, who attack Corum’s people, systematically destroying them all, leaving Corum the last of his race. Corum’s story is, at first, his simply seeking revenge, but what makes the story great is th... Read More

Red Right Hand: Bedtime reading for eldritch horrors

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Red Right Hand by Levi Black

I’m enjoying the current upswing in H.P. Lovecraft-influenced horror. Modern writers are expanding upon the best elements of his authorial legacy, like the Elder Gods, inter-dimensional travel, and Things Which Should Not Be, while setting aside (or, with regards to authors like Ruthanna Emrys and Victor Lavalle, directly subverting and confronting) the racism, classism, and sexism. Similarly-minded readers will want to make note of Red Right Hand (2016), Levi Black’s debut novel and a fine addition to the weird fiction genre.

Charlie Moore is a young woman with an impressive array of martial-arts skills and more emotional baggage than any one person should be a... Read More

The Dragon Lords: Fool’s Gold: Stealing gold from dragons? What could go wrong?

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The Dragon Lords: Fool’s Gold by Jon Hollins

If you’re a fan of heist stories — particularly the planning, the bickering between co-conspirators, the moments when it all goes dreadfully wrong or sublimely right — and you also happen to enjoy epic fantasies with vicious fire-breathing dragons and their vast caches of filthy lucre, then you’ll be happy to know that there’s a Venn diagram where those two genres meet, and the center is filled by Jon Hollins’ debut fantasy novel, The Dragon Lords: Fool’s Gold.

In the lovely but oppressed Kondorra valley, humans farm and fish and pay taxes to the Dragon Consortium, a united band of dragons who demand exorbitant amounts of gold every year and take pleasure in using their subjects for aerial target practice. The people are downtrodden, miserable, and in desperate need of salvation from a... Read More

Dracula: Stoker original drips with Gothic dread

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Dracula by Bram Stoker

It's Gothic, intricate, romantic, tragic, fun and surprising. I haven't read Bram Stoker's original Dracula in about 20 years and most of the details I'd either forgotten or had been smudged, smeared, and overwritten by a lifetime of modern vampire stories and myths.

Dracula is set in the late 19th century and is presented through a series of letters, memos and recordings between numerous characters who, through no fault of their own, become entangled in Dracula's plot to move away from his rapidly dwindling (and more "vampire-aware") food supply in Romania to the hip and crowded urban life of London.

Stoker's mythology around vampires had a few surprises (to me, at least ... apologies in advance if any of these are common knowledge to Read More

The Killing Moon: A challenging and excellently-crafted work

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin

We’ve all read zillions of fantasies set in medieval Europe, or the equivalent thereof. But lately we’re being treated to fantasies set in cultures that are very different from Western civilization (or even Western Dark Ages), and set instead in places like China (Daniel Fox’s MOSHUI: THE BOOKS OF STONE AND WATER), Mexico (Aliette de Bodard’s OBSIDIAN AND BLOOD) and Arabia (Saladin Ahmed’s THE CRESCENT MOON KINGDOMS). And now N.K. Jemisin i... Read More

Bridge of Birds: Two five-star reviews

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Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart

Welcome to a “story of ancient China that never was”. Barry Hughart's Bridge of Birds (1985) is a real romp of frenetic pace and fairy-tale style mingled with the mythology and legends of ancient China. It's as bonkers and as brilliant as they come.

The story centres on a simple but warm-hearted peasant boy, nicknamed Number 10 Ox for his great strength and the order of his birth. Upon learning that all of the children in his village have been struck down by a terrible disease he sets out to Peking seeking a wise man. Down a grimy back street he stumbles upon the only wise-man he can afford, a cantankerous old trickster, with “a slight flaw in his characternamed Li Kao. Together they set off to find the “root of power”... Read More

Heroine Complex: A fun beginning to an exciting new series

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Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn

Heroine Complex, Sarah Kuhn’s debut novel, is fun. I had a big smile on my face while reading most of it, and when I wasn’t smiling, I was gasping in shock at Big Reveals, blushing furiously during the sexy bits, or shaking the book and yelling, “Evie, don’t be stupid!” (In my defense, she was being willfully stupid.) Sure, Heroine Complex is ostensibly about a pair of Asian-American women, one of whom is a superhero and the other is her personal assistant, but it’s also about the power of female friendship, as well as personal identity and exigence in the face of social pressure. Also, it’s about cupcake demons and the earth-shaking power of a high-stakes karaoke battle.

Eight years ago, an inter-dimen... Read More

Sandman (Vol. 7): Brief Lives by Neil Gaiman

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Sandman (Vol. 7): Brief Lives by Neil Gaiman

Sandman Volume 7, Brief Lives, offers a nice contrast to Volume 6, Fables and Reflections. Whereas Fables and Reflections offered nine unrelated tales in terms of plot and characters (there are thematic connections, of course), Brief Lives is a single story, an adventure tale, a road trip. Dream goes on a journey with his youngest sister, Delirium.

Their need to go on this journey is set up in previous books. Repeatedly, the family of the Endless mention their elder missing brother, and they do so rarely by name; however, in Read More

Shadowshaper: Five-star characters with five-star prose

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Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

I’ve commented before that I give very few five-star reviews. Usually, I expect a book to somehow change my thinking, or how I see the world, in order to rate it a five-star book. As I sat down to write this review I was going to say something like, “While that didn’t happen with Shadowshaper, by Daniel José Older, I still…” and then I thought more about it, and decided that Shadowshaper has changed how I think about the world, mostly because of the time I spent with the main character, Sierra Santiago, who is a hero, an artist and a genuine girl.

As far at the plot goes (and it’s a fast-paced one) in many ways Sierra is a classic Chosen One, a trope that some of us feel has been done a... Read More

Railhead: Imaginative and entertaining from beginning to end

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Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Railhead by Philip Reeve

If the idea of a heist aboard a sentient train traveling at faster-than-light speeds appeals to you; if said heist involves assumed identities, the theft of a very old and valuable artifact, and a criminal thumbing his nose at a family-run corporation/empire; if you like believable romance and honest-to-goodness fun, then Philip Reeve’s latest YA novel, Railhead, is for you. (If none of that appeals to you, read on anyway: I may be able to change your mind.)

In a galaxy filled with novelties like sentient trains who travel at faster-than-light speeds on specially crafted rails through K-gates stationed on nearly a thousand worlds and moons, Zen Starling is a light-fingered teen wh... Read More

The King Must Die: Blurs the lines between myth, history and religion

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The King Must Die by Mary Renault

"The voices sank and rose, sank and rose higher. It was like the north wind when it blows screaming through mountain gorges; like the keening of a thousand widows in a burning town; like the cry of she-wolves to the moon. And under it, over it, through our blood and skulls and entrails, the bellow of a gong."

Mary Renault weaves a tale so mythic in scope, that the story itself is only outshone by her fabulous prose. Renault takes the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur and works her narrative like Hephaestus works meta:; into a credible story that textures the myth with a realistic vision of its origin.

Theseus is the mythic founder of Athens who killed the Minotaur in the process of ending the Cretan demand for human tribute once every nine years. The King Must Die (1958) is the first in a ... Read More

And I Darken: A triumph

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And I Darken by Kiersten White

We first meet Lada Dragwyla at the tender age of two years old. She is brandishing a knife. At her father. No scene could more succinctly introduce the character of our heroine: she is brutal, fierce, bordering on sociopathic. Kiersten White explained that And I Darken tells the story as if Vlad the Impaler had been born female, and what she has created is one of the most exciting and original characters in fiction that’s been seen in a very long time.

Lada’s story starts at the very beginning, in Wallachia, where she desperately tries to win the affection and respect of her father. But Lada is a girl, which means she is virtually invisible in the time of the Ottoman Empire. She has a younger brother, Radu, who could not be more different to his sister. Where Lada is ruthless and daring, Radu is gentle, sensitiv... Read More

The Sandman (Vol. 4): Season of Mists by Neil Gaiman

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The Sandman (Vol. 4): Season of Mists by Neil Gaiman

The Sandman (Vol. 4): Season of Mists collections issues 21 through 28 of Neil Gaiman’s masterpiece, and since The Sandman, like most series, was a monthly, we should notice that by issue 21 Gaiman was wrapping up his second year on the title and well into his third year by issue 28. He had gained confidence in his writing, and he was getting comfortable working with different artists. He realized that The Sandman wasn’t going to be taken from him at a moment’s notice. The Sandman was just too successful to be cancelled. With that worry behind him, he could concentrate on making it the best series it could be over a period stretching out for as long as he wanted. The bigger problem would be arranging to have a successful comic stop where he wa... Read More

Desperation: In these silences something may rise

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Desperation by Stephen King

My only disappointment in Stephen King’s Desperation is that it isn't longer. This book contains all that makes King so enjoyable to read: strong and believable character development; intuitive and subtle understanding of the childhood psyche; horror as defined by what's creepy, intense, psychological and sometimes gothic; mythological back-story that superbly connects past and present; and the believably supernatural.

Several travelers, mostly strangers to each other, are abducted by a seemingly deranged Sherriff and taken to the dusty Nevada town of Desperation. Mayhem ensues as King delves into the perverse and dark heart of humanity.

Desperation is not generally considered one of King’s stronger ... Read More

Sandman (Vol. 3): Dream Country by Neil Gaiman

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The Sandman (Vol. 3): Dream Country by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman's Dream Country, the third volume in his Sandman series, is a collection of four stand-alone stories. I think it makes for a great introduction to the world of Sandman because each story is incredibly different from the one that precedes it; therefore, this particular volume is more likely to include at least one story that appeals to new readers who may be put off by a volume collecting only a single storyline. In fact, I recommend that readers new to S... Read More

The Sandman (Vol. 2): The Doll’s House

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The Sandman (Vol 2): The Doll’s House by Neil Gaiman (author), Illustrated by Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III, Chris Bachalo, Michael Zulli, & Steve Parkhouse, Todd Klein (letterer) 

"If you leaf through the series, you'll find either an image of a heart or the word HEART in virtually every issue. Hearts are a major part of what Sandman is about."     ~Neil Gaiman (interview with Hy Bender)

Gaiman's words should be kept in mind as one continues to read what is essentially a horror comic. As we peer into the abyss, Gaiman makes sure we know we are not alone. I think Gaiman always offers hope through the possibility of human connection, often established through the power of telling stories. Keep these words of hope in mind as I summarize some stories that sound solely horrific; my overview can be misleading since I'm trying not to give spoilers. Assume the missing spoilers are often the ... Read More

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories: Presents all the flavors of life

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Reposting to include Bill's new review:

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu

Ken Liu is a writer of many talents, all of which are on full display in his first short story collection, The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories. Each of the fifteen pieces presented here is well-executed; many don’t have happy endings (as much as I would like them to), though Liu makes the best choices possible for the tales he’s telling, and I will admit that the end results frequently left me crying or stunned. He brings characters to life and makes you care about their situations, whether his fiction is based in historical fact or speculation upon a potential future. Despite the fact that these are all short works, dialogue is well-written, plots arc nicely, and character ... Read More

Ash: A Secret History: One of the most important books in the genre

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Ash: A Secret History by Mary Gentle

I have long had a debate in my mind about the place of the woman warrior in fiction, particularly the type most often presented in epic fantasy/sword & sorcery. Robert E. HowardJoe AbercrombieGeorge R.R. MartinDavid Gemmell, and Tobias Buckell, for example, have all included the undaunted, sword-wielding, occasionally bra-defying warrioresses in their tales of adventure and battle. But in these stories, the women are most often just men with breasts. A distracting veneer i... Read More

Central Station: A snapshot of a strangely familiar time

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Central Station by Lavie Tidhar

Central Station is a thoughtful, poignant, human take on a possible future. For the most part Central Station occurs at the titular port on planet earth. This space resides in what we know today as Tel Aviv, but in the distant future it has gone through many names and many people. Everything seems to begin in earnest when Boris Chong arrives in Central Station after spending a great deal of time away — some of which on Mars. Central Station, the place, is a half-thought meeting of a variety of worlds. Central Station the book is more thoughtful than I think I know how to express, but I’ll give it a try.

Central Station occurs in the very spot where humans expanded from our first planet throughout the solar system. Humans, robotniks, children who live... Read More