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Gideon the Ninth: Macabre & original

Reposting to include new reviews by Marion and Bill.

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Necromancers and their sword-fighting cavaliers star in Gideon the Ninth (2019), Tamsyn Muir’s radically original debut novel, which has been nominated for the 2019 Nebula Award. This science fantasy novel, steeped in an atmosphere of decay and decrepitude, is a mix of space opera and a gruesome treasure hunt that takes place in a spooky, crumbling castle. At the same time, it’s set in an interstellar empire consisting of nine planets, each one ruled by a different House of necromancers.

Eighteen-year-old Gideon Nav is trying to escape her forced servitude in the particularly moribund Ninth House, where she’s surrounded by living skeletons and corpses and near-dead nobles and nuns who pray on knucklebones. Gideon’s escape plan involves sneaking off the entire Ninth planet i... Read More

Utopia Avenue: Playing in the band

Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell

If you’re a fan of David Mitchell (I am) and think five years is way too long to go without a Mitchell novel (I do), you’ll probably eat up his latest, Utopia Avenue (I scarfed it down in two sittings). If you love music (yep) and are particularly a fan of the incredibly fertile 1960s music scene in both England and America (check), you’ll almost certainly absolutely revel in the novel (revelry was had). If you enjoy vivid characterization, crisp natural-sounding dialogue, multiple character POVs that sound utterly distinctive, and master craftsperson use of language via word choice, syntax, allusion, etc., (yes, yes, yes, and yes), then your readerly love of great writing will most likely be fully sated (it was). Utopia Avenue (2020) isn’t my favorite or most ad... Read More

B.P.R.D. (Vol. 5): The Black Flame: Echoes of Lovecraft

B.P.R.D. (Vol. 5): The Black Flame by Mike Mignola (writer), John Arcudi (writer), Guy Davis (artist), Dave Stewart (colors), and Clem Robins (letters)

B.P.R.D.: The Black Flame is another great entry in the B.P.R.D. series. This volume opens up with a board meeting at a company called Zinco. We are quickly led to see they are a company unlike any other: In the basement, they are running tests on and trying to communicate with frog creatures. Upstairs off of the boardroom is a secret chamber hiding the CEO’s secret Nazi memorabilia. Zinco will have an important part to play in upcoming events.

Back at the new B.P.R.D. headquarters, we find out that Abe is no longer working in the field even though Kate keeps asking him to do so. Abe remains haunted by his past life, which he uncovered in volumes three and four. Meanwhile, in Western British Columbia, the B.P.R.D. team is hunting frog monsters in a snowy... Read More

The Empress of Salt and Fortune: A literary puzzle-box

The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo

Cleric Chih and their hoopoe, Almost Brilliant, are on a journey to the capital — both to view the next month’s impending eclipse and to be present at “the new empress’ Dragon Court” — and along the way, the two make a stop at Lake Scarlet, where an old woman invites the pair to stay and catalogue, for the first time, the treasures held there. Chih soon discovers that the old woman, named Rabbit, has a fair number of stories to tell as well: stories of The Empress of Salt and Fortune, who came from the mammoth-filled north and wielded great power despite her exile, eventually changing the Ahn empire forever.

Nghi Vo’s debut novella is painstakingly crafted, slowly teasing out crucial information with richly-layered and gorgeous prose. The method by which the story of Empress In-yo is told echoes the ways in ... Read More

Desdemona and the Deep: “The bright-winged, the beautiful, the bizarre”

Desdemona and the Deep by C.S.E. Cooney

Desdemona and the Deep (2019) is C.S.E. Cooney’s third novella in the DARK BREAKERS series, but is a self-contained story that can stand alone. A finalist for the Locus Award for Best Novella, Desdemona and the Deep is a dreamy, sensual trip through the otherworlds. I’ll let Cooney set the scene:
Four stories above the Grand Foyer of the Seafall City Opera House, each painted panel in the barrel-vaulted ceiling depicted a scene from one of the three worlds. Which world it happened to be depended on the tint and tone of the panel: daylight was for Athe, the world of mortals; twilight represented the Valwode, where the gentry dwelled; and midnight belonged to Bana the Bone Kingdom, home to all the koboldkin. Through these wheeling coffers of world-skies — day dancing into dusk, dusk swirling into night, night i... Read More

The Ascent to Godhood: A powerful ending to a groundbreaking series

The Ascent to Godhood by JY Yang

The Ascent to Godhood (2019) is the fourth and final novella in JY Yang’s TENSORATE series. It’s a finalist for the Locus Award in the Novella category — something that doesn’t surprise me at all. This series is a rollercoaster of deeply emotional stories with a rich and varied setting.

As the final installment, The Ascent to Godhood had to somehow tie together the threads of the other stories. I think it delivers on this spectacularly by giving the reader another new format for the series that focuses on a compellingly unlikely protagonist whose life has bisected the story thus far in surprising ways.

I loved how this novella, through a narrative that stays very close to one key character, not so much reveals the missing ... Read More

B.P.R.D. (Vol. 4): The Dead: The B.P.R.D. Relocates

B.P.R.D. (Vol. 4): The Dead by Mike Mignola (writer), John Arcudi (writer), Guy Davis (artist), Dave Stewart (colors), and Clem Robins (letters)

B.P.R.D.: The Dead is the second main arc of the B.P.R.D. series since the first two volumes were collections of short stories. The Dead advances the plot started in B.P.R.D. (Vol. 2): Plague of Frogs. In this volume, we find out that the frog cults continue to spread, moving quickly and resulting in the deaths of many people. The B.P.R.D. so far has not had any luck in stopping them. While Roger, Liz, and Johann are back at the bureau worrying about the frog monsters, Abe and Kate go in search of the history of the man Abe saw in his vision in the fifth, and last, issue of Plague of Frogs. In doing so, they uncover more of Abe’s past, another tie to the first Hellboy storyline, and a haunted house.... Read More

Lysbeth: Dutch Treat

Lysbeth by H. Rider Haggard

In the summer of 1897, English author H. Rider Haggard took a short vacation in Holland, and just as his winter holiday to the Holy Land in 1900 would inspire him to pen no fewer than three works — the nonfiction book A Winter Pilgrimage (1901), Pearl-Maiden (1903) and The Brethren (1904) — this sojourn to the land of the Dutch would also bear literary fruit. Thus, in 1899, Haggard began writing his new novel, provisionally entitled The Secret of Sword Silence. By the time this tale of the Dutch first appeared in The Graphic (a British weekly newspaper, in existence from 1869 to 1932, that dealt with news items of the day, as well as the arts, s... Read More

The B.P.R.D. (Vol. 3): Plague of Frogs: The Hellboy Mythos Grows

B.P.R.D. (Vol. 3): Plague of Frogs by Mike Mignola (writer), Guy Davis (artist), Dave Stewart (colors), and Clem Robins (letters)

The B.P.R.D.: Plague of Frogs is the first extended B.P.R.D. volume since the first two volumes were collections of short stories. Plague of Frogs is a five-issue mini-series. The comic book opens with bloodshed: One scientist visits another to see the fast-growing fungus being watched at a facility. The visiting scientist, out of the blue, shoots the other man in the back, claiming that "the Master commands." Security guards enter and shoot him.

Quite a dramatic opening for an excellent B.P.R.D. story. After this violent start, the comic shifts focus to Abe Sapien who is dreaming of being under the ocean watching an endless flow of dead bodies. We are given the impression that this is a dark premonition. He is still disturbed by the bad dream when he ... Read More

Pet: The human meets the divine, and both are changed

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

“There shouldn’t be any monsters left in Lucille.” The city of Lucille is a utopia. A generation ago, a resistance toppled all the monsters — monsters in this case meaning people: unjust politicians, bigots, predators. The leaders of the revolution are now called “angels” and are revered as elders. Jam is a teenage girl growing up in Lucille, and she appreciates the better world the angels built; as a black trans girl, she knows the world that came before would not have been as welcoming to her. But she still has questions that her teachers are hesitant to answer.

Jam’s life changes when she accidentally brings to life a strange, feathered creature from one of her mother’s paintings. The creature tells Jam to call it Pet, and that it is here to hunt a monster. The monster, Pet says, lives in the home of Jam’s best friend, Redemption. Jam’s parents insist that Pet must be mistaken, because t... Read More

A Skinful of Shadows: A captivating read

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge

Here in the UK, Frances Hardinge is everywhere. Her new book, A Skinful of Shadows (2017), was plastered all over the London underground in the run-up to its publication, thrusting Hardinge into the mainstream.

I heard Hardinge talk about A Skinful of Shadows at a local bookshop and she admitted that she’d felt some pressure when writing. I can’t help wonder if this pressure somehow seeped into the novel as she wrote.

Like all of her books, A Skinful of Shadows is an adventure. There’s a plucky heroine, plenty of ghastly enemies and best of all, murderous ghosts. But the story lacked the originality of her previous work and felt alto... Read More

Shorefall: Come for the heists and explosions, stay for the debates

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Shorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett

Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Once upon a time there was a small group of uber-powerful folks who truly messed up the world. Luckily that was ages, sorry, I mean, Ages, ago. But now one of those ancient badass power users is potentially going to return and hoo boy is the world in trouble if he gathers all his power yet again. Thank the gods for the plucky group of scruffy underdogs who are definitely not a fellowship and who have decided to risk their lives to prevent the Dark Power’s rise. Anyone? Bueller?

OK, yes. We’ve all heard it before. So you might be forgiven if, upon learning that Robert Jackson Bennett’s newest title, Shorefall (sequel to the fantastic Read More

The People of the Ruins: A simply marvelous dystopian novel

The People of the Ruins by Edward Shanks

The publisher known as HiLo Books had a wonderful thing going back in 2012 with its Radium Age Science Fiction Series, the mission of which was to bring back into print the neglected works from the period 1904 - 1933. This reader had previously enjoyed several of the titles in this series via volumes from other publishers – novels such as Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague (1912), William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land (1912), Read More

B.P.R.D.: Being Human: Early Cases

B.P.R.D.: Being Human by Mike Mignola (writer) and various other writers and artists

B.P.R.D.: Being Human is a collection of short stories about the early years of B.P.R.D.:

The first story, "The Dead Remembered," takes place in 1976, and the Professor decides to do some rare fieldwork to investigate a haunting. He asks Hellboy to accompany him, but Hellboy, not partial to ghosts, declines, and the professor ends up taking a young Liz Sherman, who has pyrokinetic abilities. This is the first time she goes into the field for any type of investigation. While the story does deal with the haunting, it is really about Liz and her wrestling with her powers. We get flashbacks to her as a child and the critical moment of her childhood that is often referenced in other Hellboy stories: The day Liz lost control of her newly-revealed powers and killed her entire family. In the present of 1976, Liz reluctantly takes... Read More

Stories of Your Life and Others: Eight carefully crafted stories

Reposting to include Tadiana's new review.

Stories of Your Life: And Others by Ted Chiang

In his review of Ted Chiang’s brilliant short story collection Stories of Your Life and Others (2002) in The Guardian, China Miéville mentions the “humane intelligence [...] that makes us experience each story with immediacy and Chiang’s calm passion.” The oxymoron “calm passion” is an insightful and ingenious way to describe these stories because of the way it hints at their deft melding of the most solid of hard science fiction concepts with an often surprisingly gentle, hu... Read More

Blue Mars: A must-read work of science fiction

Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

Earth is powerful but overpopulated, and its many billions of people now look at the Martian frontier with desperate envy and resentment. Is war inevitable? Peace in the short term will require a delegation to co-opt the "feudal capitalist" Earth's selfish politics, it will require history’s most ambitious Model United Nations committee to create a Martian government, and it might also require Mars First’s intelligence community to build an extra-terrestrial alliance against the home world. If that plot summary sounds sprawling, I’m afraid it doesn’t even approach a comprehensive list of what Kim Stanley Robinson explores in Blue Mars, the concluding entry of his Martian trilogy.

Blue Mars is a philosophical work of science fiction and it is sometimes c... Read More

Hellboy: The Midnight Circus: A Young Hellboy

Hellboy: The Midnight Circus by Mike Mignola (writer), Duncan Fegredo (artist), Dave Stewart (colors), & Clem Robins (letters)

At under sixty pages, Hellboy: The Midnight Circus is a very short graphic novel, but it is worth seeking out. We get a rare story of Hellboy in his childhood years. At the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense in 1948, a young Hellboy sneaks out of his room and overhears his father-figure being warned by another against the dangers Hellboy will bring them all. Upset by the news that others see him as a dangerous threat, he runs away from the B.P.R.D. facility. And of course, as the title suggests, Hellboy will discover the Midnight Circus. But first, as a nice touch of realistic teenager angst, Mignola shows Hellboy smoking what might be his first cigarette, which he stole earlier from one of the B.P.R.D. agents.

Hellboy sees a clown nail to a pole a poster for A. T. Roth... Read More

Winter of Fire: Just as powerful now

Reposting to include Rebecca's review of the new reprint edition.

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 e... Read More

Coyote Songs: Literary horror that rewarded me beyond my expectations

Coyote Songs by Gabino Iglesias

I’m giving 2018’s Coyote Songs by Gabino Iglesias five stars, and I’m going to recommend it highly here. Then I’m going to post warnings, because this is one of those “this book is not for everybody” things.

On Twitter, Iglesias describes his writing as “barrio noir,” and also “a mix of horror and noir.” Coyote Songs follows several characters on either side of the Mexico/USA border as a mysterious rage-filled entity comes into their lives. The short book (not quite 200 pages) is lyrical, hyper-violent at times, blood-drenched, fantastical, satirical, and contains a hefty slice of body horror in the storyline with Mother (a pregnant woman) and Boy. Descriptions are as vivid as a neon sign in a desert night, and often as disturbing as the buzzing of a colony of flies on a dead animal. It starts bloody and dark an... Read More

The Language of Thorns: Magical folk tales that stir the pot

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic by Leigh Bardugo

The Language of Thorns (2017) is a collection of six stories and novelettes by Leigh Bardugo, dark and lyrical folk tales set in her GRISHA universe, in the Russian-inspired country of Ravka and other nearby countries. These are stand-alone stories, unrelated to the specific characters and events in the GRISHA novels. This tales might be told on a dark night by a villager living in Ravka.

Bardugo’s stories, containing elements of both fantasy and horror, include elements of traditional fairy tales like “Hansel and Gretel,” “ Read More

Deathless: Demands careful reading and close attention

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente

CLASSIFICATION: Weaving together fairy tales and history, Deathless is kind of like Pan's Labyrinth, if it was told by Hayao Miyazaki and Neil Gaiman. Highly recommended for fans of adult fairy tales, Russian folklore, and Catherynne M. Valente.

FORMAT/INFO: Deathless is 352 pages long divided over a Prologue, 6 Parts, and 30 numbered/titled chapters. Narration is in the third-person, mostly via the protagonist, Marya Morevna. Deathless is self-contained. March 29, 2011 marks the North American Hardcover publication of Deathless via Read More

Hellboy (Vol. 12): The Storm and The Fury: Hellboy and Ragnarok

Hellboy (Vol. 12): The Storm and The Fury by Mike Mignola (writer) and Duncan Fegredo (artist)

The Storm and The Fury takes up where The Wild Hunt (Vol. 9) left off. Hellboy: Volumes 10 and 11 are collections of short stories, so they do not advance the primary plot of Hellboy, which is what we get here. Hellboy is still in England, and knights are rising from their graves as foretold. The signs are dire, and Hellboy is on the case even though he left the B.P.R.D. On the other hand, as we found out in The Wild Hunt, Hellboy is the anticipated king of Britain, so the knights might be gathering together as an army that he is supposed to lead against the Queen of Blood.

This volume begins with Hellboy and Alice talking about what Hellboy’s been up to over the past few years, and this device allows Mignola to remind of us of the m... Read More

Interior Chinatown: Guest starring in America

Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu

In his whimsical way, Charles Yu writes about the Asian-American immigrant experience in Interior Chinatown (2020). The story is about Willis Wu, a young man whose family lives in an SRO (Single-Room Occupancy Hotel) in the Chinatown of mid-20th century San Francisco. He’s the son of immigrants who came to America looking for a better life but who have been misunderstood, alienated, marginalized, ghettoized, and further discriminated against by an American government and populace that is always putting people into boxes and insisting that they stay there.

Willis’ goal in life is to appear as a “Generic Asian Man” in the popular TV show called Black and White, a ... Read More

Hellboy (Vol. 9): The Wild Hunt: Hellboy and Arthurian Legend

Hellboy (Vol. 9): The Wild Hunt by Mike Mignola (writer) and Duncan Fegredo (artist)

In The Wild Hunt, the main Hellboy plot moves forward in a significant manner. As we get into the comic, which ominously begins with Hellboy spying on a funeral of a king, we find two plot lines running throughout The Wild Hunt. First, Hellboy has been invited to gather with a group of men who hunt giants when two or more start roaming in groups to cause ruin and destruction wherever they go. There is a great, long-running history behind the Wild Hunt, which takes place whenever it is needed. Secondly, the creature Gruagach is resurrecting the Queen of Blood so that she will gather forces to seek out and destroy Hellboy. When there is betrayal within the gathering of the Wild Hunt before they even find giants to kill, Hellboy must question where his loyalties lie.

Gruagach’s story is a good one... Read More

The King of Elfland’s Daughter: Haunting and Lyrical

Reposting to include Sandy's new review.

The King of Elfland's Daughter by Lord Dunsany

After reading about Lord Dunsany's The King of Elfland's Daughter I went in search of it and found it at my university library. Reading it was quite a different experience for me, but people who aren't prepared for the style of writing like I was might be disappointed, confused or scorning of the slow, dream-like pace, archetype characters and poetical language. This might be especially true of fans of typical fantasy genre books (authors such as David Eddings or Terry Brooks) where a fantasy universe is deemed to be good only if it has a solid backing and an exhaustive array of facts and figures to add realism to the stories. Lord Dunsa... Read More