SFF Reviews

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Hidden Huntress: Avoids the usual pitfalls of the middle book in a trilogy

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Hidden Huntress by Danielle L. Jensen

The second book in Danielle L. Jensen's THE MALEDICTION TRILOGY continues the complex political intrigue between the powerful trolls who live beneath the mountain and the eighteenth-century humans who dwell on the surface. In the first book, Stolen Songbird, a truce was attempted by an arranged marriage between Tristan, the heir to the troll kingdom, and Cecile, a kidnapped opera singer. Their union was prophesied to dissolve the magical barrier that keeps the trolls beneath the earth, one put in place by the witch Anushka hundreds of years ago — but the trolls still remain imprisoned.

As so often happens in YA books, the dislike and mistrust... Read More

The Book of Dragons: Wonderful dragon stories for kids

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The Book of Dragons by Edith Nesbit

Edith Nesbit writes the most clever and charming children's stories. I love them. The Book of Dragons is a collection of eight delightful tales about dragons:

“The Book of Beasts” — Lionel, a young boy, is summoned to be the king after his great-great-great-something-grandfather dies. In the library of his new castle, he discovers the Book of Beasts and opens it. Out flies a red dragon who eats a soccer team and an orphanage. King Lionel must outwit the dragon with some help from a hippogriff and a manticore. This story is pretty funny and it, as well as the narrator’s voice in the audio edition I listened to, reminded me a lot of Neil Gaiman.

... Read More

Od Magic: A mild book

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Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Od Magic by Patricia A. McKillip

The city of Numis is home to the famous Od School of Magic, founded years ago by the legendary giantess Od. She’s apparently immortal, but appears only occasionally, and therefore the school lies in the hands of the king Galin and the wizard-headmaster Valoren, who demand strict obedience from its students. Any unorthodox magic is outlawed, any student that step outside the boundaries set for them are expelled. This is especially true of any student who goes wandering in the Twilight Quarter of the city: a neighborhood that comes alive only after dark, a place of wild and uncontrollable magic that the king is determined to stifle.

This is particularly true when two new faces arrive in Kelior. One in a simple gardener named Brenden Vetch, sent by Od herself to the school in order to take up... Read More

Delilah Dirk and the King’s Shilling by Tony Cliff

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Delilah Dirk and the King’s Shilling by Tony Cliff

Where Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant was a rip-roaring and fun introduction to a feisty heroine and her faithful companion, Tony Cliff takes a slightly melancholic turn in Delilah Dirk and the King’s Shilling, which is no less fun, but provides a welcome depth of understanding into Ms. Dirk and Mr. Selim, both as individuals and as a pair.

A few years into their adventures, Delilah and Selim are content to wander through the sun-dappled countrysides of Portugal, Spain, and France, doing odd heroic jobs like reuniting children with their loving families. But the Napoleonic War between England and France can’t be avoided forever; quite by accident, Delilah finds herself accused by Major Jason Merrick of commi... Read More

The Best of Lucius Shepard: Earlier stories are best

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The Best of Lucius Shepard by Lucius Shepard

I’ll come right out and say it. Lucius Shepard was one of the best SF short story writers of the 1980 and 1990s. His prose, imagery, themes, and style are so powerful, dynamic, and vivid that it’s a real crime that he didn’t gain a wider readership when he was alive, though he did win many SF awards.

Although he had already been publishing his stories in SF magazines like SF&F and Asimov’s for several years, he gained greater prominence with his short story collection The Jaguar Hunter in 1987, which won the 1988 World Fantasy Award and Locus Award for Best Collection. Many of the stories were nominated for the Hugo and Nebu... Read More

Revival: King channels Lovecraft

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Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Revival by Stephen King

Revival is a very modern Stephen King novel that channels H.P. Lovecraft at his cyclopean best. His key characters are bold, if not as colorful as some of his best work, and his themes are of familiar and well-trodden King territory. Often hammered by critics (professional and amateur alike) for his weak endings, King builds up to a conclusion that is strong and memorable. It’s monstrous, dark and creepy as hell. It’s pure Lovecraft and beautiful in its austerity.

Revival is a story about religion and anti-religion; a story about belief and the loss of belief … and an inability t... Read More

The Dark Intercept: Doesn’t hold together

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The Dark Intercept by Julia Keller

The Dark Intercept (2017) by Julia Keller is another teen dystopia, and while it has at its core an intriguing concept, bolstered by a few well written passages, overall it feels only partially thought through, with the reader skating too far out on the thin ice of weak characterization, flimsy world-building, and poor plotting, until finally falling through.

Sixteen-year-old Violet Crowley lives (say this in Trailer Guy voice, please) in a world that has been divided into the haves of New Earth, floating above the planet in a perfect community, and the have-nots of Old Earth, stuck on the pollution-ravaged, crime-ravaged, disease-ravaged, well, just ravaged former home to humanity. Violet is not just a resident of New Earth, she’s the daughter ... Read More

Lair of Dreams: Ghostly problems plague NYC

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Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray

"To believe in one's dreams is to spend all of one's life asleep." – Chinese proverb

"Every city is a ghost." – Opening line of Lair of Dreams

Dreams become traps and deadly nightmares in Lair of Dreams, the second installation in Libba Bray’s DIVINERS fantasy horror series. In 1927, a crew of men is opening up an old walled-off tunnel underneath the streets of New York City in order to build a new subway tunnel. The workers find a desiccated body in a walled-off area. Soon the men begin to die of a mysterious sleeping sickness, where the afflicted cannot be awakened and die after a few days. The sickness is blamed on... Read More

WWWednesday; February 14, 2018

Happy Valentine's Day!



It’s February 14th, the day where we acknowledge the martyrdom of the early Christian (and possibly mythical) St Valentine by sending significant others cutouts of the Greek god of sexuality, buying diamonds and flowers, and eating chocolate. In honor of that last one, here is a brief history of chocolate, courtesy of the Smithsonian.

Books and Writing:

NK Jemisin asks that people wishing to nominate her 2017 book The Stone Sky for a Hugo nominate it in the Best Novel category and not Best Series. Read More

The Philosopher’s Flight: Quite a thrilling ride

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The Philosopher’s Flight by Tom Miller

The Philosopher’s Flight (2018) is an ambitious World-War-I alternate history fantasy with an unconventional social justice agenda, which only partially caves in on itself. On balance, the story is quite a lot of fun. I have to admit I’ll be looking for more from this talented new author.

This is essentially a coming of age story, and the smarts (and fantasy) of this novel hinge heavily on Tom Miller’s very clever world building around the “science” of empirical philosophy — “sigilry” in layman’s terms. Miller frames up what is effectively magic hokery into a technical discipline mastered only by women, whereby the gentle (ahem) sex execute extraordinary feats of strength (and technology) undreamt of in the WWI era: flight, almost instantaneous mass transit, speed messaging, smoke carving... Read More

City of Miracles: A perfect ending!

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett

Bill: I think it’s going to be impossible to review City of Miracles (2017) without reference to events from Robert Jackson Bennett’s first two books in the series (City of Stairs, City of Blades). or without discussing the major precipitating event (no real pangs of guilt here; that event is also detailed in the official bookseller summary), so consider this your fair warning: There be spoilers ahead!

Bennett picks up the story years after the c... Read More

Redworld: Year One: Too many issues with plot, character, and setting

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Redworld: Year One by A. L. Collins, illustrated by Tomislav Tikulin

I really wanted to like A.L. Collins’ MG sci-fi book Redworld (2018). An inventive and independent 13-year-old girl (Belle Song) in the year 2335 arriving on a terraformed Mars with her family and a “Home Helper” intelligent robot and having to adapt to a new world, a new (and unexpected) life farming, new neighbors (including several alien ones), and a host of dangers such as water raiders and feral animal hybrids? It sounded like nothing so much as a modern-day Heinlein juvenile, say Farmer in the Sky or (more obviously) Red Planet... Read More

Stolen Songbird: A mixture of the inventive and expected

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Stolen Songbird by Danielle L. Jensen

YA fantasy has experienced an influx of sparkly vampires, fallen angels and broody fey-creatures in the past ten years, but this is the first time I've seen trolls toted as desirable romantic partners. When I hear the word "troll" I think of the large and grotesque creatures from The Hobbit or The Three Billy Goats Gruff, but Danielle Jensen reimagines them as creatures that are human in shape, but deformed in features. Our first glimpse of one is described thusly: "the two sides of his face, so flawless on their own, were like halves of a fractured sculpture put back together askew."

Meanwhile, the King of the Trolls is hugely obese, and the Queen is a Siamese twin (her doll-sized sister grows out of her back)... Read More

SFM: Corey, Gilman, Vaughn, McDonald, Bisson

Short Fiction Monday: Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories we've read that we wanted you to know about.



The Vital Abyss by James S.A. Corey (2015, $2.99 Kindle, $4.95 audio)

I haven’t read or watched THE EXPANSE yet, but I purchased some of the related novellas when they were on sale at Audible. The first one I read was The Vital Abyss and I loved it. This is my type of science fiction.

The story opens with 37 people held captive in a large room. They’ve been there for many years. One day a man comes in and asks for one of the prisoners to interpret some information that’s on a handheld computer. Thinking this may be a way for ... Read More

A City Dreaming: Intriguing hero, intriguing setting

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A City Dreaming by Daniel Polansky

First things first: A City Dreaming (2016) is not really a novel (as its cover claims). It’s more like a collection of connected short stories that all feature the same protagonist (an adept named M) in the same setting (a supernatural New York City). The stories progress chronologically and have a cast of recurring characters. I liked this set-up quite well, but I suspect that some readers will want to be warned about this straight off so they can choose to approach A City Dreaming when they’re in the mood for a more episodic adventure.

M has just returned to NYC after being out of the country for years. He’s introverted and somewhat of a loner, so at first he doesn’t let anyone know he’s in town, but soon the magical community becomes aware of his presence and then his friends, acquaintances... Read More

Barrayar: Culture shock

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold

Editor's note: This is Marion's review of Shards of HonorBarrayar, and The Warrior’s Apprentice. Kat's comments about Barrayar and Stuart's review are at the bottom.

Do you like fancy military uniforms? Shiny spaceships that blow things up? Brooding aristocrats with hulking stone castles and dark secrets? Snappy comebacks and one-liners? Voluptuous women warriors? Swords and secret passages? Surprising twists on standard military tactics of engagement?

If you answered “Yes” to three or more, check out the VORKOSIGAN SAGA. Lois McMaster Bujold started this series in the mid-80s. The ... Read More

The Black Flame: Looooooooong live the princess!

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The Black Flame by Stanley G. Weinbaum

Although Kentucky-born sci-fi author Stanley G. Weinbaum is today considered a seminal writer in his chosen field, his actual career was, sadly, an exceedingly brief one. After making a huge splash with his short story “A Martian Odyssey,” featuring the truly alien, ostrichlike Tweel, in the July ’34 issue of Wonder Stories, Weinbaum shifted into high gear, creating some two dozen short pieces and three novels before succumbing to cancer in December ’35, at the age of 33. His entire career, thus, spanned a mere 18 months. I had previously enjoyed The Best of Stanley G. Weinbaum... Read More

Orphan of Destiny: A clean and quick end to an entertaining trilogy

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Orphan of Destiny by Michael Spradlin

Believe it or not, I started reading this trilogy in 2010, and have only just managed to settle down with the final instalment. As such, my memories of the first two books, Keeper of the Grail and Trail of Fate, were a little fuzzy, though I did recall the general gist of the plot.

Tristan is a young Templar squire who has been charged by his master to find the Holy Grail and take it to a place of safety in Scotland. Having teamed up with Robard Hode (a young Englishman) and Maryam (an Arab assassin), he escapes the cliff-hanger of the previous book and finds himself back on English shores within the first few chapters.

From there the travell... Read More

Verdigris Deep: Be careful what you wish for

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Verdigris Deep by Frances Hardinge

A glance back at former reviews of Frances Hardinge’s work reveals that I have overused the word “weird.” Hardly the nicest word, and yet I meant it as a compliment. It’s a testament to my struggle to pinpoint what it is that makes Hardinge’s books stand out. Nevertheless, stand out they do.

Verdigris Deep (2008) is a weird book and, once again, that’s meant as a compliment. Ryan, Josh and Chelle get stranded in a forbidden village when they miss their bus home. Finding they have no money for the next bus they resort to pinching coins from an old wishing well hidden in the wood. What they don’t know is that the well is inhabited by an angry well spirit who doesn't react well to having her coins stolen. ... Read More

The Blood of Olympus: The final battle between Olympus and Mother Earth

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The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan

The fifth and final book in THE HEROES OF OLYMPUS pentalogy sees our seven demigods finally go up against the threat that's been brewing for the last four books: Gaia, the primordial goddess who's been deliberately pitting the Greeks and the Romans against one another. With the training camps of young half-blood youths preparing for war and many of the gods torn between their Greek and Roman personas, our young protagonists have only a prophecy to guide their quest for peace: one that suggests they're not all going to make it out alive.

After the previous book in the series, The House of Hades, Rick Riordan thankfully scales things back a bit by only prov... Read More

Tarnished City: Powerful social commentary and engaging characters

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Tarnished City by Vic James

As much as I enjoyed Vic James’ 2017 debut novel, Gilded Cage, I thought there were a few missteps and odd choices, and I wasn’t sure what that meant for the second book in her DARK GIFTS trilogy, Tarnished City (2018). I am pleased to report that Tarnished City blew all of my expectations out of the water, improving on the first novel in every possible way and preparing readers for world-shaking consequences with a true nail-biter of a cliffhanger ending. (There’s very little hand-holding here, so I do recommend reading the books in close sequence if you’re at all fuzzy on previous details.)

T... Read More

Gilded Cage: The abuse of power by the super-powered

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Reposting to include Jana's new review.

Gilded Cage by Vic James

In the world of Gilded Cage (2017), there are those who are called Equals ― but there’s a deep divide between Equals, who have magical Skills, and the commoners, the Skilless, and they are decisively not equal. In England the Equals are both the aristocrats and the sole parliament, and they hold all the power, with the magical ability to enforce it.

One of the ways the Equals use their power is to require all commoners to spend ten years of their lives as slaves, known as slavedays. There are some interesting rules associated with this 10-year slavery law: there are advantages to doing it early in your life (such as the right to own a home, travel abroad, and hold certain jobs), you are required to begin t... Read More

City of Blades: Inspiring and heartbreaking

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review:

City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett

Marion: City of Blades is the second book in Robert Jackson Bennett’s THE DIVINE CITIES series, which tells several sides of the story of a major international cultural conflict. Saypur, a civilization that has been oppressed by the Continent for centuries, rose up and subdued its oppressors by killing their gods. In the wake of the Saypuri revolution and its conquest of the Continent, all of the Continental Divinities have vanished, and magic no longer works… usually.

City of Blades, Bennett’s follow-up to City of Stairs Read More

Your One & Only: Entirely too familiar

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Your One & Only by Adrianne Finlay

While it’s debatable whether there are any new stories left to be told, I think that discovering fresh ideas or interesting twists within familiar stories is part of what makes reading so enjoyable. Aldous Huxley certainly didn’t create the Dystopian genre with Brave New World, nor did Lois Lowry with The Giver, and neither did Kazuo Ishiguro with Never Let Me Go Read More

Tempests and Slaughter: The education of young Numair

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Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce

With Tempests and Slaughter (2018), Tamora Pierce launches a new series set in her beloved Tortall universe, which includes over twenty books. Pierce backtracks several years to relate the youthful experiences of Arram Draper, who plays a key role in other TORTALL books, particularly the IMMORTALS series, as the powerful mage Numair.

When Tempests and Slaughter begins, Arram is a ten year old boy, just beginning a new year at the School for Mages, part of the Imperial University of Carthak. Arram is much younger than most of his schoolmates at his level, and he feels the age difference keenly; in fact, he claims to be eleven, but that does little to narrow the social gap. ... Read More