SFF Reviews

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Sufficiently Advanced Magic: Amazing LitRPG world that hijacks the plot line

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Sufficiently Advanced Magic by Andrew Rowe

Sufficiently Advanced Magic (2017) took 2nd place in SPFBO 3, which wrapped up last week. The book is a strong addition to the highly popularized LitRPG subgenre, though Rowe avows it is not strictly LitRPG. I am not a follower of the subgenre, but this book has enjoyed such runaway popularity over the past year, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

Introducing Corin Cadence, resident of a world where people can earn magical enchantments by progressing through magic towers where they encounter tests of strength, judgment and combat skill. If all goes well, the goddess grants the challenger an attunement, including a magical skill, and safe exit of the tower. If all goes poorly, challengers die ... get lost ... imprisoned ... or some other unpleasantness.

Corin’s primary motive in life is to enter... Read More

The Anubis Gates: A very generous book

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers

Tim Powers' fourth novel, 1983's The Anubis Gates, is a book that I had been meaning to read for years. Chosen for inclusion in both David Pringle's Modern Fantasy: The Hundred Best Novels and Jones & Newman's Horror: 100 Best Books, as well as the recipient of the Philip K. Dick Memorial Award in 1984, the book came with plenty of good word of mout... Read More

Akata Warrior: Scores goal after goal as it enhances the series world

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Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor

From its stunning cover to the triumphant final word (“Gooooooooal!”), Nnedi Okorafor’s Akata Warrior (2017) continues to deliver on the promise of Book One, Akata Witch. Sunny, an American-Nigerian girl currently living in Nigeria with her family, has embraced her heritage as a Leopard Person, one of a magical lineage, but things to do not get easier for her or for her magical friends, the oha coven. Ekwensu, the evil force that Sunny faced and vanquished in the first book, is back, and she’s brought friends. In the mundane, everyday world, Sunny’s older brother Chukwu, the favored child, gets into serious trouble when he goes away to university, and Sunny’s attempt to help him puts her squarely at odds with the teachings of the Leopard Peop... Read More

Origin Story: A Big History of Everything

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Origin Story: A Big History of Everything by David Christian

In Origin Story: A Big History of Everything (2018), David Christian ably does what I would have guessed was nigh on impossible — cover 13+ billion years of history from the Big Bang to current times (and actually further since he takes a quick look in the future as well). It’s a smoothly told, incredibly efficient history that mostly lives up to its subtitle.

At the core of Christian’s “Big History” is an ever-increasing complexity: “in special and unusual environments such as our planet ... in these Goldilocks environments, increasing complex things have appeared over many billions” (he is quick to note that “more complex” is not synonymous with “better”). Often, he says, complexity took big leaps forward at various transition points, which he labels “thresholds” and around w... Read More

In Shining Armor: Great hero, loose plot

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In Shining Armor by Elliott James

The fourth book in Elliott JamesPAX ARCANA series is In Shining Armor (2016). In this installment, someone has kidnapped baby Constance, the god-daughter of John Charming. She was being guarded by a team consisting of both Knights and werewolves, so now the Knights are blaming the werewolves and vice versa. This threatens to upset their recently established, but tentative, truce, and the results could be disastrous, especially for John Charming. It’s up to him and his strange group of allies to figure out what happened to Constance and, hopefully, get her back safely. Otherwise, a deadly supernatural war is likely to break out.

As John and his team investigate the kidnapping, they run into all sorts of mythical crea... Read More

Angelmaker: Zany mashup of thriller, doomsday device, and whimsy

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Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway

Angelmaker (2012) is Nick Harkaway’s second book, after his exuberant, clever, digressive and exhausting debut The Gone-Away World. It shares the same qualities with that wild and free-wheeling tale, with relentlessly clever dialogue, quirky and in-depth characters, an intricate but playful doomsday plot, more flashbacks than most readers can handle, and chock-a-block with clever and ironic observations of the weirdly-unique world he has created, and by extension our own less colorful one.

The story skips back and forth in time just like its predecessor, to a degree some reader... Read More

Ka: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymr: Weird, elegiac, lovely

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Ka: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymr by John Crowley

Ka: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymr (2017) is a brilliant novel. It is lovely, eerie, and heartachingly elegiac. It is also deeply weird.

I want the reader to understand me perfectly here. When I say "weird," I do not mean it's experimental, or iconoclastic, or that you'll feel awkward explaining to your friends why you wanted to read a book about a magic bird. All of those things might be true (to greater or lesser degrees), but they feel trivial when applied to Ka. This book is weird, in both the new definitions and also the older sense that implies something like "uncanny." The experience of reading this novel is like dreaming. There's the sense of progression, of ordinary storylines going about their business, bu... Read More

An Unkindness of Ghosts: Impressive debut novel

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An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

An Unkindness of Ghosts (2017), by Rivers Solomon, is a book that a lot of people will absolutely love unconditionally, a lot of people will love even as they hate reading large parts of it, and that will leave some people (cough cough this reviewer) a bit cold, which they will softly note while they keep their eyes down and move quietly for the exit. Despite falling into that last category, I’d still recommend Solomon’s debut novel for its stark depiction of a slave society that has too many echoes of our own world despite the sci-fi setting and for its diverse set of characters.

The novel is a generation ship story, with the premise that the society sent out into space on the ship Matilda was a slave-based one (or regressed to one, it’s not wholly explicit, though I believe it’s the former), with the u... Read More

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart: A delicious blend of adventure and chocolate

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The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis

A young, golden-eyed dragon named Aventurine is chafing at the restrictions her family has placed on her: dragons aren't allowed outside of the caverns until they're 40 or 50 years old, when their wings are strong enough for flight and their scales have hardened enough to protect them against arrows and swords. Aventurine's mother encourages her to "find her passion" in studying history, math or philosophy, but Aventurine just wants to go explore and be free. How can she not, with a name like Aventurine?

So one day she sneaks out of their caverns. When she finds a stray human on their mountain she thinks she's in luck: bringing a delicious human back to the cavern will surely impress her family! The human is suitably terrified of her and Aventurine is about to pounce when … wait ... what's that delicious-smelling food he’s cooking... Read More

WWWednesday; June 13, 2018

California Long-tailed weasel. (c) Marion Deeds 2018



Conventions:

The antics at ConCarolinas have now spilled over to DragonCon, resulting in the firing and resignation, respectively, of two different staffers. Richard Fife is one of them and he put a statement regarding his resignation on his blog. (Thanks to File 770.)

Books and Writing:

Junot Diaz has been asked to relinquish his position as chair of the Pulitzer Prize Committee after numerous allegations of sexual misconduct were made. Read More

Thunderhead: A tug-of-war between forward momentum and backsliding

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Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman

Neal Shusterman follows up Scythe, which introduced readers to a mostly-perfect futuristic world in which death isn’t permanent (until it very much is) with Thunderhead (2018), the second installment in his ARC OF A SCYTHE trilogy. Regrettably, I won’t be able to discuss anything about Thunderhead without spoiling some of Scythe’s details, so consider yourself warned and/or prepared.

Rowan Damisch and Citra Terranova are no more — at least, as far as the rest of the world is concerned. Rowan has taken his fight ... Read More

New York 2140: KSR imagines a future NYC

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New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

Kim Stanley Robinson is among the best there is at hard science fiction; he can write characters who feel like real people and give you ideas that keep you thinking well after you’ve set the book down. Unfortunately, New York 2140 (2017) is not up to the mark of his best work; fortunately, that still leaves plenty of room for it to be enjoyable and thought-provoking.

New York 2140 is, among many other things, a love letter to New York, or, as it is known in 2140, SuperVenice; the chapter titles and a number of references throughout (Archy and Mehitabel, anyone?) reference the city’s past (and, from our point of view, fut... Read More

The Serpent Sea: An exotic and beautiful fantasy world

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The Serpent Sea by Martha Wells

The Serpent Sea (2012) is the second of Martha WellsBOOKS OF THE RAKSURA following The Cloud Roads which you’ll want to read first (this review will contain spoilers for The Cloud Roads).

In the previous book we met Moon, a solitary Raksura (a humanoid species that can shape-shift into a scaly flying dragon-like creature) who lost contact with his people when he was a baby and had no idea what he was. Trying to hide among other humans, he was discovered by a member of the Raksuran Indigo Cloud court and presented to their queen as a consort. The Cloud Roads describes Moon... Read More

In Other Lands: A bisexual character comes of age in a paper-thin fantasy world

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In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan

Thirteen-year-old Elliot is pulled from his geography class one day, packed into a van with three other students, and driven to a random field in Devon, England, where he watches his French teacher exchanges money with a woman standing next to a high wall.
The woman in odd clothing “tested” him by asking him if he could see a wall standing in the middle of a field. When he told her, “Obviously, because it’s a wall. Walls tend to be obvious,” she had pointed out the other kids blithely walking through the wall as if it was not there, and told him that he was one of the chosen few with the sight.
When the woman asks Elliot to come with her to the magical land on the other side of the wall, he promptly tells her no one will miss him (Elliot’s problematic home life is explored later in the book) and heads over the wall with her. There he finds,... Read More

Guardian: Get up, stand up — don’t give up the fight

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Guardian by A.J. Hartley

With Guardian (2018), A.J. Hartley brings his STEEPLEJACK trilogy to a triumphant close. Readers who savored the voyeuristic thrill of soaring along rooftops and bringing evildoers to justice alongside Anglet Sutonga in Steeplejack and Firebrand are sure to cheer as she tackles an even more daunting task: gathering allies both near and far to protect the city she calls home. The STEEPLEJACK books (and reviews of said books) need to be read in order, but I’ll try to keep unavoidable spoilers to a bare minimum.

As if Read More

Deadhouse Landing: Meet the New Guard. Same as the Old Guard.

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Deadhouse Landing by Ian Cameron Esslemont

Because it occurs not that far along into Deadhouse Landing (2017), I don’t feel bad about revealing that at one point our erstwhile heroes Wu and Dancer are forced into confronting one of the most dire threats of the Malazan Universe — being taken by an Azath. A revelation that I’m sure will have many of you wondering which of the many great powers of that universe could have driven them onto those perilous grounds: K’rul? T’riss? Kallor, a Matron, Icarium? Worthy candidates all, but none powerful enough. Because it turns out each pales beside the unstoppable, the irresistible puissance of ... the double-dare.
“G’wan,” the lad called, “we double-dare you.”

 

Wu looked at the overcast sky in exasperation. “Fine.” He stepped out among the dead knee-high grasses a... Read More

The Last Sun: A colorful, action-packed, if slightly ragged urban fantasy

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The Last Sun by K.D. Edwards

There is plenty to like in The Last Sun (2018), K.D. Edwards’ inaugural novel of THE TAROT SEQUENCE series. The story is set in New Atlantis, a city and an island in our world, but inhabited by the survivors of the original Atlantis. After a world-war with humans for reasons not given, the surviving Atlanteans settled in this spot. They interact with humans, but most of the action in this book takes place between feuding Atlantean family groups who name their clans or Houses after the Major Arcana of the Tarot.

Rune, our main character and first-person narrator, is the sole survivor of the House of the Sun. His house was massacred in a “raid,” a thing that Atlantean houses do to one another with surprising frequency and apparently... Read More

Semiosis: Oh, give me a home where the fippokats roam…

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Semiosis by Sue Burke

Semiosis, Sue Burke’s 2018 debut novel, is a fascinating examination of culture, intelligence, and co-operation in the face of extreme hardship. A small group of high-minded and free-thinking colonists have left Earth for a planet they’ve named Pax, in honor of their Utopic dream of what the planet represents, though they quickly discover that peace is not easily achieved — especially when they discover that you can never go home again, but neither can you completely leave it behind.

Pax has breathable air and potable water, a higher gravity than Earth, and a terrifying menagerie of plants and animals offering constant reminders that expectations about how things will work can be deadly. One of the biggest stumbling blocks for the new residents of Pax, something they butt their heads against time and time again, is their assumed sense ... Read More

American Gods: Mixed opinions

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

This is a bad land for Gods... The old gods are ignored. The new gods are as quickly taken up as they are abandoned, cast aside for the next big thing. Either you've been forgotten, or you're scared you're going to be rendered obsolete, or maybe you're just getting tired of existing on the whims of people.

Shadow, just out of prison and with nothing to go home to, is hired to be Mr. Wednesday's bodyguard as he travels around America to warn all the other incarnations of gods, legends, and myths, that “a storm is coming.” There's going to be a battle between the old gods who were brought to melting pot America by their faithful followers generations ago, and the new gods of technology, convenience, and individuality.

That's the premise of Read More

Fatale (Vol. 1): Death Chases Me: A must-read for fans of noir or Lovecraft

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Fatale (Vol. 1): Death Chases Me by Ed Brubaker

Death Chases Me is the first of five volumes in the Fatale series by Ed Brubaker and his frequent collaborator Sean Phillips. In the prologue to this story, Nicolas Lash is attending the funeral of his Godfather, Dominic Raines. Dominic was known as a hack writer of detective novels, but still, when Nicolas, as executor of the Raines estate, returns to Dominic’s home and finds the manuscript of Dominic’s unpublished first novel, it’s quite a find and possibly one with monetary rewards. But at the funeral, Nicolas already has made a more important discovery, of which he is unaware: He has met the mysterious woman, the femme fatale of the story, who goes by the simple name of Jo. When she shows up at the estate that night as Nicolas discovers the manuscript, all hell breaks lose and Nicolas’s life ... Read More

The Brethren: Another doozy from H. Rider Haggard

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The Brethren by H. Rider Haggard

In January 1900, British author H. Rider Haggard and his family ventured forth on a nice long vacation. As revealed in D.S. Higgins’ 1981 biography, the first part of this holiday was beset by bad weather, sickness and delays, as the Haggards made their way from London and on to Italy and Cyprus. But once the family reached the Holy Land, apparently, conditions improved significantly, and the world-famous author was so taken by the many historic sights that he saw there that the experience inspired him to write no fewer than three books: A Winter Pilgrimage (1901), a nonfiction travelogue of his journey; Pearl-Maiden (1903), which dealt with the fall of Jerusalem following the crucifixion of Christ; and the novel in question, ... Read More

Darwin Comes to Town: How the Urban Jungle Drives Evolution

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Darwin Comes to Town: How the Urban Jungle Drives Evolution by Menno Schilthuizen

At the close of his exploration of the somewhat oxymoronic “urban nature,” Menno Schilthuizen tells us that one of his aims is that “the urban organisms you see on your daily wanderings of the city streets will  become more special, more interesting, worthy of more than a casual glance.” Schilthuizen, I’d say, is more likely to succeed than not in achieving his goal, as Darwin Comes to Town: How the Urban Jungle Drives Evolution (2018) is a delightfully informative whose insights are enthusiastically and clearly conveyed.

Schilthuizen loses no time in introducing us to a different way of viewing our noisome, concrete and metal cityscapes, opening up with a description of how:
the inner city, for all its hustle and bustle and thoroughly unnatural ap... Read More

The Overneath: And assorted interesting stories

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Reposting to include Jana's new review.

The Overneath by Peter S. Beagle

It must be hard to be a literary icon, late in your career. You’ve ascended the literary heights and amassed an adoring following who still expect you never to repeat, and even improve upon your previous genius with each new work. But I’m not sorry for Peter S. Beagle, nor his latest short story collection The Overneath, which came out in November of 2017.

Most striking, to me, is that Beagle manages each new tale with a distinct, and yet perfectly effortless narrative voice. No problem with that whole repetition worry. There is none here. His narratives roll out rich in otherworldly wonder.

He does revisit the unicorn theme in this collection with b... Read More

The Eterna Files: Couldn’t entice me to move on to book two

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The Eterna Files by Leanna Renee Hieber

Just after President Lincoln’s assassination, his wife Mary sets a governmental task force to find a cure for death, thus setting in motion the plot of The Eterna Files (2015) by Leanna Renee Hieber. Seventeen years later, the science team working on the Eterna Compound is mysteriously murdered, as is a parallel team in England, where Queen Victoria wants Britain, not America, to be the first to discover an answer to mortality. Both countries seek to find out what happened to their teams, as well as learn what the other nation has or has not discovered. In America, sensitive Clara Templeton is the main protagonist, helped by a small group of fellow paranormals, including her ... Read More

Luna: Wolf Moon: Fighting over dust and sunlight

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Luna: Wolf Moon by Ian McDonald

Luna: Wolf Moon (2017) continues the saga Ian McDonald began in Luna: New Moon, which explored the power struggles between the Five Dragons, five powerful families controlling certain areas of influence on Earth’s moon. Each family, in turn, adheres to a national identity which dictates how they do business, what sort of business they do, and who they’re most likely to (figuratively and literally) stab in the back at the nearest opportunity while simultaneously marrying their offspring to one another in attempts to gain influence or construct gossamer-thin alliances. If crazy-rich people behaving badly is your thing, then I have very good news for you, because Read More