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Death’s End: Truly epic finale to the THREE-BODY trilogy

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Death’s End by Cixin Liu

Listening to Cixin Liu’s THREE-BODY trilogy reminds me of those graphics on cosmology that illustrate our relative scale in the universe. It starts with the microscopic world of individual atoms and molecules (or even subatomic particles like quarks and neutrinos), expands outward to individual cells, organisms, and larger creatures, then jumps out further to continents and the planet Earth, zooming back to encompass our solar system, the Milky Way galaxy, and then pulling out further to an endless sea of galaxies that make up our universe. But Liu doesn’t stop there. He’s just gotten started, really. After all, there are more universes out there, and we’ve only mentioned three dimensions so far.

This review will contain some mild spoilers for the pr... Read More

Between Light and Shadow: A prodigious study of SFF’s most elusive writer

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Between Light and Shadow: An Exploration of the Fiction of Gene Wolfe, 1951 to 1986 by Marc Aramini

Last year I tried twice (unsuccessfully) to finish The Best of Gene Wolfe: A Retrospective of His Finest Fiction, giving up in defeat. Gene Wolfe is frequently described as one of the most brilliant SFF writers in the genre by critics, authors, and readers alike. Some fans prize his books above all others, and there is a WolfeWiki page dedicated to discussing his work. But there are also many SFF readers that are baffled and frustrated by his stories because they are packed with metaphors, literary references, and hidden themes, and require extremely close reading to understand and appreciate. So I didn’t expect to make any more attempts in the near future.

However, when the 2016 Hugo Awards... Read More

Shazam! by Geoff Johns

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Shazam! by Geoff Johns (writer) and Gary Frank (artist)

Shazam! was told in short installments in the back pages of The Justice League, in issues 7-11, 0, 14-16, and 18-21. As his story progressed, he was eventually added to the primary Justice League story. In other words, by issue #21, Billy Batson, as Shazam, was a member of the Justice League and the short installments were no longer needed. However, DC has collected all these installments into this single trade collection, a wonderful stand-alone volume. Shazam! by Geoff Johns is THE Shazam book I’ve always wanted to read: It gives a great introduction ... Read More

The Underground Railroad: A moving, substantive, mature work of fiction

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The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Colson Whitehead’s new novel, The Underground Railroad, is a brilliantly realized blend of magical and literary realism that grabs one hard at the start and rarely lets go. The magical aspect appears via Whitehead’s decision to make the railroad literal as opposed to a metaphor and in the way he has his protagonist Cora journey through an alternate history version of the South. The literary realism is seen in his searingly graphic depiction of the slave trade in all its gruesome aspects. The end result will linger some time in the reader’s mind, leaving an indelible impact.

The novel opens with a painfully vivid description of three generations of female slaves, ending with a focus on 16 or 17-year-old (like many slaves, she doesn’t know her age or birthday) Cora, whose mother Mabel abandoned h... Read More

Breath of Earth: Alt-history and magic in a high-stakes adventure

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Breath of Earth by Beth Cato

Breath of Earth begins a new fantastical alternative-history series from Beth Cato, in which hydrogen-filled airships dot the skies, giant beasts in the ground cause earthquakes, and Teddy Roosevelt became an internationally-renowned Ambassador rather than the 26th U.S. President. (There’s also a nationally touring opera prominently featured in a side plot; if Lincoln isn’t a sly nod to a certain massively popular Tony-winning musical, I will eat my least-favorite hat.)

In an almost-recognizable San Francisco, a permanent establishment of geomancer wardens keeps the city and the surrounding countryside safe from tremors and other manifestations of magical energy. By absorbing the earth’s power and transferring it to crystals of a special ... Read More

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir: As charming as the film, but deeper and wiser

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The Ghost and Mrs. Muir by R.A. Dick

If you were to ask me to name my top two or three favorite fantasy novels, the answer would take me a long time to come up with, given the overwhelming number of possible choices. But if you wanted to know my top two or three fantasy films, well, I could give you that reply fairly quickly. One of them would of course be The Wizard of Oz (1939), which I steadfastly maintain must be viewed on the big screen. Next up, for me, is The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953), co-created by Dr. Seuss himself. And third, a film that has been charming me (and millions of others) for decades now, 1947’s The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. The only one of these three to be shot completely in B&W, the film provided one of my very favorite actresses, Gene Tierney, with one of her greatest roles (Laura Hunt in 1944’s Laura and Ellen Berent ... 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

The Obelisk Gate: The weight of history crushes the present

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review:

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 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