SFF Reviews

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Magic for Nothing: The youngest Price child gets her own story

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Magic for Nothing by Seanan McGuire

Magic for Nothing, (2017), Seanan McGuire’s sixth INCRYPTID novel, finally gives the youngest Price child, Antimony, a story of her own. The rebellious, roller-derby daughter has enough on her plate coming to grips with her newly manifested pyrokinetic abilities when she is thrown into a dangerous undercover assignment, and to her way of thinking, she has her sister Verity to blame for it.

I have only read the first two books in the series and one short story featuring Antimony, so I may commit inadvertent spoilers. In the prologue, we learn that Verity, on a live broadcast of a New York dance-competition show, revealed her cryptozoologist powers, and challenged the Covenant of St. George, a secret society, military ... Read More

Railhead: Imaginative and entertaining from beginning to end

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Reposting to include Bill'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 who l... Read More

Killing is My Business: An improvement on the first book but still has issues (and a giveaway!)

Readers, we have a paperback copy of Made to Kill and a hardcover copy of Killing is My Business to give away to one lucky commenter! U.S. and Canada-based mailing addresses only, please.

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Killing is My Business by Adam Christopher

I thought that the flaws in Adam Christopher’s first Chandler-esque robot PI novel, Made to Kill, outweighed the positives, and thus gave it a rating of only 2 ½ stars. The tougher-than-steel detective/hitman Raymond Electromatic is back in the sequel, Killing Is My Business (2017), and while it improves upon its predecessor in many ways, it never really breaks out of the gat... Read More

Wildfire: Sizzling romance, wrapped in a kidnapping mystery, inside a family enigma

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Wildfire by Ilona Andrews

Note: some spoilers for the previous books in this series, Burn for Me and White Hot.

The smoking hot adventures of Nevada Baylor and Connor "Mad" Rogan continue in Ilona AndrewsWildfire (2017), the third book of the HIDDEN LEGACY series, set in an alternate version of our world in which a serum has unleashed magical powers in a minority of people. The magical families are organized into Houses, and typically marry to preserve and intensify the right combination of genetics so that their children will have the strongest possible magic and t... Read More

SFM: Anders, Nagata, Howard, McGuire, Clarke

Short Fiction Monday: After a few weeks' vacation, SFM returns to continue exploring free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories we've read recently that we wanted you to know about. 


“As Good as New” by Charlie Jane Anders (2014, free at Tor.com, 99c Kindle version)

Marisol Guzmán, a pre-med student who decided that being a doctor was a better career choice than a playwright, is saved from the end of the world only because she’s housecleaning a mansion when massive earthquakes b... Read More

The Man Who Used the Universe: Unlikable protagonist makes it hard to enjoy

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The Man Who Used the Universe by Alan Dean Foster

I picked up Alan Dean Foster’s The Man Who Used the Universe because it was just released in audio format. It’s a stand-alone science fiction novel, set in the far future, about a man named Kees vaan Loo-Macklin. Kees is a brilliant tactician who is building a career and an empire for himself. When we first meet him, he’s the lackey of a local crime boss, but we watch for years as he works his way up, gaining riches and power as he rises. He even forms a trading alliance with a hated alien species called the Nuel.

But there are two strange things about Kees vaan Loo-Macklin. One is that he seems to form no real bonds with any individual human or alien. He doesn’t seem to care about anyone. The other, perhaps mos... Read More

The Reluctant Queen: Retraces some steps while starting new paths

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Reposting to include Tadiana's new review:

The Reluctant Queen by Sarah Beth Durst

The Reluctant Queen (2017), the second in Sarah Beth Durst’s QUEENS OF RENTHIA trilogy, follows quite closely on the heels of The Queen of Blood and reveals the consequences of Daleina’s unexpected rise to power as the Queen of Aratay. This series is meant to be read in sequence, so there will be some mild inevitable spoilers for The Queen of Blood.

Just six months after her bloody coronation, Daleina has a large problem on her hands: she is dying, which means that her control over Aratay’s spirits is weakening, which... Read More

Echo by Terry Moore

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Echo by Terry Moore

Echo by Terry Moore is a page-turner and tells the story of how good technology gets turned into a weapon. The overall comic book series is suspenseful and reads fast even though the book is a long volume that comes in an omnibus edition. However, the story takes second place to engaging characterization, both in terms of Moore’s writing and his art. As a result, Moore creates a pleasant tension in pacing: The suspense makes you want to turn the pages quickly, but the many close-up views of women and the subtle depiction of their emotions makes you want to stop panel by panel, taking... Read More

The Backstagers Act: 1: A fantastical space for the weird kid in all of us

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The Backstagers Act: 1 by James Tynion IV (author) & Rian Sygh (artist)

Behind the scenes of the drama club, there is a labyrinth of rooms and hallways filled with creepy critters and questionable sofas alike – that is the world of The Backstagers Act: 1 (2107). The inhabitants design and build the sets and props for the actors of the drama club and are all but forgotten in their backstage rooms. The Backstagers not only cater to the needs of the drama club but have their own adventures out of sight and out of mind of the rest of the school. It’s the perfect place for the group of misfits to gather and find belonging.

The art in The Backstagers Act: 1 is perfectly whimsical. It’s bright and cheery, full of decidedly uplifting (and wonderfully ludicrous) colours and eye-twinkles (not a weird metaphor – there are literal stars ... Read More

The Witch Who Came in from the Cold: Spy vs. Spy in the city of a hundred spires

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The Witch Who Came in from the Cold by Lindsay Smith, Max Gladstone, Cassandra Rose Clarke, Ian Tregillis & Michael Swanwick

The Witch Who Came in from the Cold (2017) is a study in contradictions. It’s a collaborative novel that feels seamless despite the five contributing authors: Lindsay Smith, Max Gladstone, Cassandra Rose Clarke, Ian Tregillis, and Michael Swanwick. It was originally published in serialized form by Read More

The Waking Land: Too many issues

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The Waking Land
by Callie Bates

I’m sure there’s an audience for Callie Bates’ debut novel The Waking Land, but after reaching the halfway point (53% to be precise), I also became sure that I was not it, leading to a DNF review.

The story, which has some clear (at times perhaps too clear) historical referents, is set in a world where hundreds of years ago the nation of Caeris conquered the neighboring nation of Eren, while much more powerful than either of them is the empire of Paladis. More recently, about a decade ago, Elanna Valtai’s noble father tried to lead a rebellion to free Eren and bring back the “king in exile,” but his plans were discovered and while he was clever enough so that Caeris had no rock-hard proof, he was exiled to his estate while then five-year-old Elanna was taken hostage by Caeris’ King Antoine. Fast forwa... Read More

Besieged: Stories that flesh out Atticus’ history and world

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Besieged by Kevin Hearne

In Besieged, Kevin Hearne has collected nine short stories that take place at different times in his popular IRON DRUID CHRONICLES saga. On his website, Hearne labels Besieged as book #8.5 in the series while GoodReads amusingly lists it as #4.1, #4.2, #4.6, #4.7, #8.1, and #8.6. I’d recommend reading Besieged after Staked (novel #8) or, better yet, use it as a companion collection as you read through the series. That way you could read each of the stories in Besieged in their proper timeline…

But it doesn’t matter that much. In fact, probably even a newcomer to... Read More

Age of Myth: Well-wrought prequel to the RYRIA fantasy series

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Age of Myth by Michael J. Sullivan

With Age of Myth, Michael J. Sullivan begins a prequel series to his RYRIA CHRONICLES and RYRIA REVELATIONS series. The good news for newcomers to his books is that, since this series takes place about 3,000 years earlier, you don't need to be familiar with either of those series or the world of Elan to enjoy this new LEGENDS OF THE FIRST EMPIRE series, so I was in good shape. I know pretty much zero about the other Ryria books, except that many epic fantasy fans are very enthusiastic about them, but I really enjoyed Age of Myth and am anxious to start the next book in this series, Read More

WWWednesday; July 19, 2017

Music:

Electric cellist Tina Guo plays the theme from Game of Thrones. (Personal note; I had never heard this song except for a parody of it by Weird Al Yankovich, then I heard it twice in one day. This was the second one.)



Awards:

The British Fantasy Award finalists have been announced. While you're there, check out their logo. That's a nice take on a Celtic dragon!

This year’s Shirley Jackson awards for horror writing have been announced. The Girls, by Emma Cline, won Best Novel, and “The Balla... Read More

Graveyard Shift: Unusual protagonist brings new life to urban fantasy/horror tropes

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Graveyard Shift by Michael F. Haspil

With Graveyard Shift (2017), Michael F. Haspil’s debut novel, readers who enjoy a fair amount of horror and blood mixed into their urban fantasy are in for a rare treat: the primary protagonist is a reanimated mummy, though he’s certainly no bandage-wrapped, shambling thing. Rather, he’s a sophisticated and smooth-talking detective in the sun-drenched Miami-Dade metro area, and he takes protecting his city very seriously.

As Menkaure, he once strode along the banks of the mighty Nile, bending the backs of others to his will as easily as one bends a reed, before his eventual death and mummification. Much later, reanimated and rechristened Alex Romer, he slew vampires for the ultra-secret agency known as UMBRA; now, he walks the streets of Miami-Dade as part of the Nocturn Affairs unit, keeping the city safe from supernatu... Read More

A Ghostly Light: Changes are coming

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A Ghostly Light by Juliet Blackwell

A Ghostly Light is seventh book in Juliet Blackwell’s HAUNTED HOME RENOVATION MYSTERIES series. Like her WITCHCRAFT MYSTERIES series, each of these novels is a solid cozy paranormal mystery featuring pleasant characters and an enjoyable San Francisco setting. Fans of either series who don’t care that the books follow a formula should be pleased with A Ghostly Light.

This time Mel is renovating a lighthouse on an Island in San Francisco Bay, though she’s having some trouble due to her newly acquired fear of heights. When a murder occurs, Mel’s friend Alicia is charged and taken into custody. To exonerate Alicia, Mel must find the real killer. She’ll do this with so... Read More

Caesar’s Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us

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Caesar’s Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us by Sam Kean

Informative, witty, vivid, often compelling, sometimes juvenile, knowledgeable, clear, and written throughout with verve and panache via what feels like a wholly singular voice, Sam Kean’s Caesar’s Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us (2017) is what every non-fiction book should aspire to. It’s been a while since I’ve so enjoyed a work of non-fiction so thoroughly and consistently.

Kean divides his exploration of air into three large sections, the first dealing with the origin of our current atmosphere, one of many our planet (if not humanity) has seen. The second explains how various natural philosophers/scientists discovered the gases that make up the air surrounding us, and also how those gases were harnessed to do various types of work, suc... Read More

The Prey of Gods: Two takes on this imaginative and compelling story

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The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden

The Prey of Gods (2017), by Nicky Drayden, takes a well-worn concept — what if gods walked among regular humans? — and breathes new life into it through her innovative uses of location, technology, mythology, and complex characters in this blend of real-world problems and fantastical situations.

Life is pretty great in futuristic Port Elizabeth, South Africa (so long as you’ve got money); people have access to genetically-engineered pets, personal robots with varying degrees of intelligence and capability, and solar wells that draw both energy and moisture from the air. When a long-forgotten demigoddess currently styling herself as Sydney sees an opportunity to restore her former glory and supremacy, just as a powerful new hallucinogenic hits... Read More

Æther & Empire Vol. 1: Eternal Glory

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Æther & Empire Vol. 1: Eternal Glory by Mike Horan, Bong Ty Dazo, & Tim Yates

If Victorian-era steampunk is your thing, you may want to check out Æther & Empire Vol. 1: Eternal Glory, which piles clockwork hearts, steam-driven automobiles, and an interplanetary voyage on top of a daring adventure tale. Written by Mike Horan, with pencils/inks by Bong Ty Horan and Tim Yates on colors, this trade paperback collects issues 1 – 6 of the Æther & Empire comic.

Issue #1 begins with a thrilling battle between Her Majesty’s Airship Nimbus — a craft that looks like a two-master with some horizontal sails and huge overhead balloons providing lift — and a privateer airship “[s]omewhere over the Libyan coast,” in 1879. The battle goes badly, but enough of the British crew survive and distinguish themselves, ga... Read More

Anna Dressed in Blood: A unique start to a YA horror series

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Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

I usually struggle a bit with young adult books, however, Kendare Blake’s Anna Dressed in Blood (2011) was a book I was really excited to see in my mailbox. First of all, the title is catchy and so is the cover. But it was the idea that really caught me — a teenage boy falling for a serial killer ghost. Interesting. How on earth could an author turn something like that into a book geared toward teens?

Blake does a great job at creating a world that is both familiar and different for readers to immerse themselves in. Cas, the protagonist, moves around the country (violently) sending the ghosts that linger into the beyond. The world itself is familiar, because it’s our world. However, Blake adds a nice layer of supernatural to things with Cas’ Wiccan mother and Cas himself, who can see and talk to ghos... Read More

Abandoned Cars and The Lonesome Go by Tim Lane

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Abandoned Cars and The Lonesome Go by Tim Lane: The Myths of America(ns) in Comics (an essay review)

Tim Lane’s two books — Abandoned Cars and The Lonesome Go — are near perfect in their look into an America filled with wanderers, hobos, misfits, and your average guy struggling to make it in a country that seems to withhold the promises it is famous for making. These are the stories of dreamers who lost their way, or more often than not, were pushed off the main path onto some side trail of disaster that many of us pretend doe... Read More

A Gathering of Ravens: If Robert E. Howard and Poul Anderson collaborated on a novel…

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A Gathering of Ravens by Scott Oden

Grimnir is a monster, literally. The Norse call him skraelingr. To the Irish, he is the fomoraig, and to the English he is an orcneas. Born and raised to do war, for and against the old gods. Immortal, they spend their endless lives, longing for glory in the final battle of Ragnarok.

So Grimnir's disposition is already brutal, but to add to it, he's the very last of his kind. To say he's a pissed-off is a gross understatement. And what's a centuries-old, angry monster, who only finds satisfaction in violence, to do, all by himself, while waiting around for end-of-time? Seek bloody vengeance, of course. Word of the one called Half-Dane has drawn Grimnir out of his lair, for the Half-Dane is who betrayed Grimnir and his kin. Meanwhile, a new religion has usurped t... Read More

Nemesis Games: Provides the backstory we’ve all been craving

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Reposted to include Marion's new review.

Nemesis Games by James S.A. Corey

Naomi swirled the milky liquid in her glass, watching it slosh against the sides, a miniature sea, complete with little icebergs. “We need to talk,” she said.

Holden winced a bit inside, but forced his words to come out lighter than they felt in his head. “You mean man-woman talk, Captain-XO talk, or . . .”

“More of the ‘or’ type.”

“So, what’s on your mind?”  He leaned back against the bulkhead. Space-grade permasteel she thought, but between man and metal, she knew which she’d count on more.

“We need to review this book.”

“We’ve reviewed books before. And survived.”  He winced again, outwardly this time. “Mostly.”

“Yeah, but there are some killer revelations and plot twists i... Read More

The Gauntlet: A celebration of family and culture

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The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi

Karuna Riazi has already made a name for herself on social media; if you’ve seen or used the widely popular Twitter hashtag #yesallwomen, you have Riazi to thank for it, along with her many other meaningful contributions to conversations about diversity, inclusivity, and representation in media. This year, her debut middle-grade novel The Gauntlet (2017) was published, and it is every bit as positive, well-crafted, and insightful as her non-fiction.

Birthdays ought to be a big deal for any child, but twelve-year-old Farah Mirza spends hers playing games with her little brother, Ahmad, rather than spending time with her friends Alex and Essie, or the family members who have also gathered at her Upper East Side home to celebrate. It’s part of being a good big s... Read More

The Stars, Like Dust: Asimov’s least favorite of all his novels still offers much

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The Stars, Like Dust by Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov’s very first novel, Pebble in the Sky (1950), was the opening salvo in what would later be known as his GALACTIC EMPIRE trilogy, and was set some 50,000 years in Earth’s future. It may surprise some potential readers to learn, then, that book 2 in the series, The Stars, Like Dust (the use of a comma after the word “Stars” is not present anywhere in my 1963 Lancer paperback, but Asimov’s later autobiography, I. Asimov, does present the book title with the comma, so don’t ask me!), takes place a mere 10,000 years in the future, or a good 40,000 years prior to the events in book 1!... Read More