A Plunder of Souls by D.B. Jackson
Just last week while on vacation out west, my son and I were discussing what were the greater obstacles to our enjoyment of books and what elements allowed for those obstacles to be overcome. One of my observations was that while a strong plot will rarely overcome poor characters for me, if you give me good characters, I can overlook more than a few plot flaws. Who knew how prophetic that conversation would be? For upon my return home, I found waiting for me a copy of D.B. Jackson’s A Plunder of Souls, the third in his historical fantasy series set in pre-Revolutionary Boston. At the series’ center lies beleaguered thieftaker/conjurer Ethan Kaille, and it was Kaille’s still-engaging voice that managed to ease me past, if not blind me to, the several plot issues in the novel.
The year is 1769 and tensions are high: British soldiers have been stationed in the city an... Read More
Bill CapossereOn FanLit’s staff since June 2007
BILL CAPOSSERE teaches writing and literature part-time at several local colleges and, thanks to his incredibly supportive wife, uses the rest of his time to write (and read of course). He just completed a Masters in Fine Arts at the Mt. Rainier Workshop under the direction of Judith Kitchen and Stan Rubin. His essays and short stories have appeared in various magazines, journals, and anthologies, been recognized in Best American Essays (in the “notable essay” section), and have also been nominated for several Pushcart Prizes.
Bill has been reading fantasy and science fiction ever since he was old enough to steal his father’s books the second the poor man put them down. His tastes run toward the epic, though he often wonders why when he is in the middle of rereading six books so as to better follow the about-to-be-published-two-years-late seventh book in a series of ten (would a “previously-on-Lost” sort of prelude really kill these guys?). But then he runs into something like Erikson’s MALAZAN series, which he loved so much he ordered them from England, and is reminded of what he enjoys so much about the genre (and about free shipping from Amazon in America — England — ouch!).
Bill lives in Rochester, New York with his wife and son whom he’s recently enjoyed introducing to dragons.
A Plunder of Souls by D.B. Jackson
THE ETERNAL SKY by Elizabeth Bear
Sometimes the whole feels less than the sum of its parts. Sometimes, you just wonder if you should have read a book (or three) at a different time. Sometimes you step back from your thoughts about a book (or three) and think, “Ingrate. What more did you need?” You feel, I don’t know, “churlish.” Like when that other person who is so smart and deep and beautiful and cute (which is different from beautiful) and witty and likes all the same music and read those same books and all in all just so great, really great, and all your friends are like, “You know, she (he’s) really into you” and you’re like, “Yeah, I don’t know.” And they’re like, “What, you think you’re gonna do better?” And you’re like, “No. But still, I just don’t know. I’m just not...” But they don’t even want to hear it. They just go, “Idiot,” and walk off. And all you can do is shrug and nod in probable agreement.... Read More
The Moon King by Neil Williamson
I ended up with mixed feelings about Neil Williamson's debut novel, The Moon King, loving the setting and the premise, quite enjoying the beginning, and mostly responding to the often lyrical prose, but finding as my reading went on that my appreciation was beginning to dwindle. In the end, I'd say it's an impressive first novel in many ways, very impressive actually, but one that shows some first novel cracks that widen as the novel progresses.
The setting is the island city of Glassholm, founded 500 years ago by "The Lunane," he who saved their civilization half a millennium ago by capturing the moon and tethering its orbit to the city. Since then, the population's moods and behaviors wax and wane with the moon: the people are depressed and listless during The Dark, and hedonistically carefree during The Full. But it isn't just the people who respond to the moon's phases — food ... Read More
The Wurms of Blearmouth by Steven Erikson
The Wurms of Blearmouth is the fifth novella by Steven Erikson centered on his gloriously disruptive pair of "evil sorcerers" Bauchelain and Korbal Broach, along with their by-now-relatively-stoic servant Emancipator Reese. As with the prior four, this is a far lighter tale than his lengthy, dense, and often deeply serious MALAZAN series. The BAUCHELAIN AND BROACH tales are more comic, far shorter, with far fewer moments of Erikson's trademark "philosphophizing" (though fewer does not mean no such moments). I found The Wurms of Blearmouth a mixed success, with some laugh-out-loud moments, lots of chuckles, some welcome sharper bits, and a few less funny/comfortable moments.
At the start, we are introduced to the sorcerer-ruler of a small town on a wrecker's coast — Lord Fangatooth Claw (the first chuckle) atop his tower keep declaiming for the scribe ... Read More
The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel
A circus. A climactic battle atop a seven-mile long train. Automatons. Folklore-ic menace such as a hag who will drown you in her bog if you look into her eyes. Sasquatches. A train heist. An escape artist. A mesmerist. A plan to gain immortality. Rags to riches. Boy meets girl. Dreams to fight for. A villain willing to kill to get what he wants.
You have to hand it to Kenneth Oppel. In his newest Middle Grade (MG) novel, The Boundless, he throws around three or four novel's worth of plot elements. But thanks to his consummate skill as a plotter, the novel never feels cluttered. And thanks to his skill as a writer, the reader is rewarded with more than simple (or not so simple) plot; we also get some winning characters to root for, some troubling complexities of ... Read More
Drawn to Marvel edited by Bryan D. Dietrich & Marta Ferguson
Comic book superheroes have become the dominant money-making vehicle in Hollywood the past decade or so, and we’re become accustomed to seeing them in spectacular, big-screen set pieces that boggle our eyes. But sometimes it’s nice to shift perspective a bit, not just to give our senses a break from the noise and sound and spectacle, but also to allow for a more intimate relationship, a more thoughtful one, one that evokes other emotions beyond “wow.” And that’s just what is offered by the anthology Drawn to Marvel, a collection of several hundred poems by over a hundred poets, edited by Bryan D. Dietrich and Marta Ferguson. Amongst the big-name contributors are: Albert Goldbarth, Sherman Alexie, John Ashberry, Lucille Clifton, Hilda Raz, and William Trowbridge, but if some of the other names are not as easily recognized (if one can even say that about poets... Read More
ZITA THE SPACEGIRL by Ben Hatke
If I were forced to choose one word to sum up Ben Hatke’s ZITA THE SPACEGIRL trilogy, it would be “delightful.” I could toss a lot more words into the mix — imaginative, whimsical, heartwarming, and so on, but really, all one need know is the entire series is a delight. And now I just wondered if our comic/graphic expert Brad had reviewed it and of course he has, and it turns out at the end he says Zita is “a delight.” So there you go.
The trilogy is made up of Zita the Spacegirl, Legends of Zita the Spacegirl, and The Return of Zita the Spacegirl. The books are aimed at YA, and it’s hard to imagine any child not enjoying every aspect of it — character, plot, visuals. While it lacks the rich depth or wholly original characters to make it a full crossover book, it’s equally h... Read More
The Forever Watch by David Ramirez
You’re never quite sure what you’re going to get from a debut novel. Sometimes they come out of nowhere to blow you away — “Really? You did that on your first try?” (OK, we all know it wasn’t really a “first try” — drafts and all — but still). Sometimes you’re left wondering if perhaps the author should have tried for “debut short story” or “debut blogging” or even “debut fly swatting.” And then there’s the more common middle ground, where you can see some strong concepts, a good character or two, maybe a singularly excellent skill (vivid imagery, strong pacing), but the entire effort falls a little short, leaving you unsatisfied with this attempt, but also interested in seeing what this author does next. And that’s squarely where The Forever Watch, a debut novel from David Ramirez, lies.
The setting is a familiar sci-fi one — a generation ship midway bet... Read More
Watt O’Hugh Underground by Steven S. Drachman
Watt O’Hugh Underground is the follow-up by Steven S. Drachman to his early Western fantasy The Ghosts of Watt O’Hugh. I was pretty “meh” toward the first book, though it had a strong close, but I mostly enjoyed Watt O’Hugh Underground throughout, despite having some issues.
Watt O’Hugh Underground picks up not too long after the events of Ghosts, with Watt hiding out in the desert trying to keep out of trouble, drinking up a storm, and plotting how to get even with the Sidonian for what they’ve done to him. Not too far into the book, though, his door is knocked down by Hester Smith, who says she has his means of vengeance at hand, if he’ll just help out with a little train robbery (it is a Western, after all). While Watt is busy robbing trains and then planning his assault on Sidonia, over in San ... Read More
The Ghosts of Watt O'Hugh by Steven S. Drachman
I confess to having mixed feelings when I was done with The Ghosts of Watt O’Hugh, by Steven S. Drachman, but the book’s relative brevity, strong finish, and the fact that its sequel, Watt O’Hugh Underground, was an improvement, means in the end I feel OK in recommending it, with a few caveats.
The cover will tell you right away we’re in Western world, with its neckerchiefed, gun-toting, cowboy-boot-wearing hero with the square jaw dodging a bullet, all of it drawn in that classic comic book Western style a la Kid Colt: Outlaw or Western Bandit. That’s Watt himself, and he’s clear Western material — with his self-told “yarn,” his “shootist” skill and cattle drive experience. The hints that this is more than a simple Western though come early in the way that Watt address his 21st century readers in ways that mak... Read More
Beowulf by J.R.R. Tolkien (author) & Christopher Tolkien (editor)
The last few years has seen the release by the Tolkien Estate of several hybrid books that combined original retellings/translations of ancient hero legends (Sigurd, Arthur) with further commentary by J.R.R. Tolkien (on the source material) and Christopher Tolkien (on his father’s work). The latest in this series is Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf, which has perhaps incurred greater interest since outside of his fiction, Tolkien is perhaps best known for his famed essay, “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics.” As with the prior two, one’s enjoyment of this new work will be dependent on one’s delight in /toleration of some pretty arcane scholarship. Personally, I enjoyed all of them, including this latest, but then, I’m a huge Tolkien fan, I’m an English teacher who owns several copies of Beowulf translations and tea... Read More
Wizards: From Merlin to Faust by David and Lesley McIntee
I’ve been a huge fan of just about all the MYTHS AND LEGENDS series from Osprey Publishing, having given four stars to Troy, Robin Hood, and Thor; and 4.5 to King Arthur, with only Jason and the Argonauts standing out as a weak entry in the roll. Until now. The most recent text in the series (for me at least) is called Wizards: From Merlin to Faust, an... Read More
Skraelings: Clashes in the Old Arctic by Rachel Qitsualik-Tinsley and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley
Skraelings: Clashes in the Old Arctic, by Rachel Qitsualik-Tinsley and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley, is a Middle Grade book that despite some problems has a winning charm to it.
Set in, well, the old Arctic, at a time when the Inuit were just entering a land, the story is both a coming-of-age tale and a clash of cultures narrative. The coming-of-age belongs to a young Inuit hunter named Kannujaq. The culture clash involves the new-to-this-land Inuit, represented solely by Kannujaq; those who already lived in the land, the Tuniit — represented here by a single village; and the Norse; in this case a single ship of raiders.
Those raiders have just attacked the Tuniit village just as Kannujaq had the misfortune of mistaking the village for one of his people’s roving encampments. Before he can leave, the young shama... Read More
Talus and the Frozen King by Graham Edwards
If Jean Auel and Arthur Conan Doyle had collaborated, the result might have been Talus, the bard detective at the center of Graham Edwards’ novel, Talus and the Frozen King. Set in northern Europe during the Neolithic period, Talus and his companion Watson, umm, I mean Bran, stumble across an island village mourning the sudden death of their king. It takes only a few pages for Talus to throw everything into chaos with his Quincy-like revelation (yes, I’m dating myself with that reference) that, “This king was murdered.” Cue a parade of suspects, red herrings, sharply detailed observations, an often-befuddled companion, and the eventual unmasking of a diabolical plot. There’s even, perhaps, a Moriarty.
This has to be the earliest set historical mystery I have ever read. I’m not sure one can... Read More
Authority by Jeff VanderMeer
I just finished reading Jeff VanderMeer’s Authority, the second book in his SOUTHERN REACH trilogy. When I reviewed the first book, Annihilation, Kat (our tyrannical managing editor, in case you didn’t know) butted into my review because she didn’t like what I originally wrote and she made me change it. I’m expecting her to do the same thing here, so if you see any bold red text, that will be her. She likes to talk in bold red.
Ack! See, I knew it!
Well, Bill, I know that if I leave you to yourself, you’re just going to say something vague and unhelpful like “That was strange, you should read it.”
No... I was goin... Read More