Audio

Speculative fiction in audiobook format. Find your SFF on Audio at Audible.com.

Reserved for the Cat: A Puss in Boots story

Reserved for the Cat by Mercedes Lackey

Reserved for the Cat is the sixth stand-alone novel in Mercedes Lackey’s ELEMENTAL MASTERS series of fairytale retellings. As the title might suggest, Reserved for the Cat is a “Puss in Boots” story and it’s actually recognizable as such (unlike some of Lackey’s other retellings that go too far afield from their sources).

Ninette, our heroine, is an orphaned ballet dancer who has lots of talent but is fired from her gig with a famous Parisian ballet company after inadvertently evoking the jealousy of the company’s reigning diva. Unable to get more work in Paris, she is about to prostitute herself when a talking cat appears and promises to make her a superstar. The cat leads her to a seaside town in England where she impersonates a famous Russian dancer and joins a local troupe of entertainers. Things go well unt... Read More

The Wizard of London: Strangely jumbled

The Wizard of London by Mercedes Lackey

The Wizard of London is the fifth of Mercedes Lackey’s stand-alone novels in her ELEMENTAL MASTERS series of fairytale retellings. It’s so loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” that you probably won’t even notice the few similarities. There’s an ice queen, but the theme of The Wizard of London (if there is one, which I doubt), has nothing to do with the theme of “The Snow Queen.”

The story starts when a little girl named Sarah arrives from Africa (where her parents are missionaries) at a London boarding school that is known to educate and train the children of Elemental mages. There she finds an ethically and religiously diverse cast of excellent teachers and attendants. She also befriends a young street urchin named Nan whose mother is a neglectful drug addict. Together Sarah and Nan... Read More

Phoenix and Ashes: A Cinderella story about PTSD

Phoenix and Ashes by Mercedes Lackey

Each of Mercedes Lackey’s ELEMENTAL MASTERS novels is a stand-alone fairytale retelling. Some of the novels have overlapping characters, but you can read these books in any order. The fourth book, Phoenix and Ashes, is a mostly pleasant Cinderella story set in England during The Great War. Maya, the Indian doctor from The Serpent’s Shadow, is a minor character. I listened to Michelle Ford narrate the audio version of Phoenix and Ashes (Audible Studios). She is perfect for this tale.

Unlike some of the other ELEMENTAL MASTERS stories, Phoenix and Ashes stays pretty close to the source material; you can tell this is a Cinderella story. Eleanor Robinson’s father is killed during WW1 and Eleanor is left living in the house she grew up in with her socially-c... Read More

Orca: Brust is still playing around with voice and structure

Orca by Steven Brust

Orca is the seventh book in Steven Brust’s VLAD TALTOS series. It’d be best to stop here if you haven’t read the previous books. We don’t want to spoil anything, do we?

Okay, so you should recall that Vlad Taltos, everyone’s favorite Jhereg assassin, is wanted by his organization because he betrayed them in order to save his wife from the executioner’s ax (or whatever implement the executioners in Dragaera use). Vlad has given up his territory and is on the run. In the last book, Athyra, he met a boy named Savn who helped him defeat a necromancer. Because Savn used a Morganti weapon to kill the bad guy, Savn is now witless, and he’s been that way for a year. Feeling responsible for Savn’s condition, Vlad finds a woman who may be able to heal him. In return, Vlad will try to find and stop the person who is trying to get the wom... Read More

Athyra: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

Athyra by Steven Brust

Athyra is the sixth book in Steven Brust’s VLAD TALTOS series. If you haven’t read the previous books, you should probably skip this review until you’ve read Phoenix so that I don’t spoil its plot for you. I’m listening to Bernard Setaro Clark’s narration of the audio versions (Audible Studios) of VLAD TALTOS. Athyra is 8.5 hours long on audio, though I increased the playback speed, as I always do, so it was shorter than that for me. Bernard Setaro Clark’s narration continues to be excellent and I recommend the audio format for this series.

I mentioned in my review of Phoenix that Vlad had come to a turning place in his life. Because of what he did in that story, Vlad has left Adrilankha and is n... Read More

The Iron Trial: A mixed bag, but entertaining enough

The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

I listened to The Iron Trial, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare on audiobook, narrated by Paul Boehmer. It tells the story of Callum Hunt, or Cal, a boy who enrolls in a magical boarding school, makes friends, irritates teachers, and finds out he's been marked from birth by the greatest enemy the magical world knows. Sounds familiar, right?

I read a lot of complaining reviews about this Middle Grade book, all accusing The Iron Trial of being a Harry Potter rip-off. Cassandra Clare is, after all, the woman who got her start by writing Harry Potter fan-fic. This is not Harry Potter fan-fic, though, any more than Star Wars is Joseph Campbell fan-fic.

Th... Read More

Phoenix: A turning point in Vlad’s story

Phoenix by Steven Brust

Phoenix, the fifth novel in Steven Brust’s VLAD TALTOS series, is a turning point in Vlad’s story. By the end of this book, his life will have changed drastically. The story begins as Vlad is stuck in a situation that he might not be able to get out of alive. In desperation, he calls on Verra, his patron goddess, for help. She saves him (or so it appears), and in return she demands that he sail to the island kingdom of Greenaere and assassinate its king. Vlad can’t refuse, and so he goes. This sets off a series of events that eventually lead to a Teckla revolution in Adrilankha. During all the turmoil, both Vlad and his wife Cawti, a member of a rebel group, are captured and rescued more than once, and both have reason to believe they don’t have much longer to live. The usual crew is there to help, though, including Kragar (Vlad’s assistant), Loiosh and Rocza (his jhere... Read More

Poison Promise: Ready to give up on this series

Poison Promise by Jennifer Estep

I’m not sure that I should continue reviewing Jennifer Estep’s ELEMENTAL ASSASSIN series. My goal has been to get the entire series reviewed for this website because that’s one of our visions for Fantasy Literature, (get everything reviewed), but it occurs to me that it might be pointless. This series gets high marks at GoodReads and Amazon, so why would anyone who’s interested in Poison Promise, book 11, be reading my reviews when I’ve been kind of down on these books for quite a while now? Fans of the series — those who are considering reading Poison Promise — are probably not coming here to get information. They’re probably reading reviews by other fans. Right? (Please correct me if I’m wrong by leaving a comment.)

So, I’ll just post some random thoughts here beca... Read More

The Peripheral: Satisfyingly complex, with a happy ending

The Peripheral by William Gibson

Reading William Gibson is like learning a new language. At first you struggle. It's a bit boring, although you can tell that's just because you don't understand, that there are exciting things happening under the surface. Then, one day, you've learned enough vocabulary and grammar that it starts to click and you can converse.

His latest novel, The Peripheral, which I listened to on audio, read by Lorelei King, follows two interlocking story-lines. One is from the perspective of Flynne, a young woman in a not-too-distant but horribly bleak American future. Her brother Burton, an ex-Marine, gets Flynne a job running security in what she believes is a virtual reality game. While on the job, she witnesses a horrifying murder. Flynne soon realizes that what she saw was not virtual, but actually happened. As the sole witness, she is drawn into the murder investigation. Puzzlingl... Read More

An Acceptable Time: Metaphysics and religion for kids

An Acceptable Time by Madeleine L’Engle

The fifth and final book in Madeleine L’Engle’s TIME quintet is An Acceptable Time, a story about Polly, the daughter of Meg and Calvin, the kids we first met in that now-classic children’s science fiction novel A Wrinkle in Time. (Polly is also featured in a different L’Engle series about the O’Keefe family, and An Acceptable Time is the fourth and final book of that series. Slightly confusing, I know.)

One autumn while Polly is visiting her famous grandparents at their house in the country, Polly begins to see people who shouldn’t exist whenever she’s near that big rock where Meg and Charles Wallace used to go to think and watch the stars when they were kids. One of the people she sees is a girl who looks like a Native American and turns out to be a druid. There are also men carry... Read More

Many Waters: Children’s science fiction about Noah’s ark

Many Waters by Madeleine L’Engle

Many Waters is the fourth book in Madeleine L’Engle’s TIME quintet. The previous three books, A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, and A Swiftly Tilting Planet have all focused on Meg Murray and her strange little brother Charles Wallace as they travel through time and space. Many Waters is completely different. In this story, Meg’s twin brothers Sandy and Dennis mess with a computer in their mother’s lab and get blasted back to the time of Noah before he built the ark. From there the story turns into a strange historical fantasy whose source text is Genesis 6.

In this well-known biblical story, God declares that humans are violent and corru... Read More

A Swiftly Tilting Planet: Fascinating feminist SF for kids

A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L’Engle

A Swiftly Tilting Planet (1978) is the third book in Madeleine L’Engle’s TIME quintet, a series of science fiction novels for children. The first book, the Newbery Medal-winning A Wrinkle in Time, blew my mind when I was a kid and I’m just now getting around to reading the sequels.

In A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Meg Murray is now an adult. She’s married to her childhood friend Calvin O’Keefe and is pregnant with their first child. It’s Thanksgiving time and Calvin is away at an academic conference overseas. Calvin’s mother, a strange reclusive woman who has never shown any interest in the Murray family, has unexpectedly accepted their invitation to Thanksgiving dinner. While she’s visiting, Mr Murray, a famous physicist, gets a call from the President of the United States. Th... Read More

Forest Born: A good choice for girls who struggle with confidence

Forest Born by Shannon Hale

Everyone thinks of Rin as her mother’s shadow. She belongs to a large extended family that all live near each other in the forest and, until recently, Rin has always been her hard-working mother’s helper. She cooks, cleans, fetches the water, helps take care of all the kids, etc. When she needs a little peace, she communes with the trees of the forest. She doesn’t really “speak” with them, but just feels their love and the constant harmony they provide.

But then Rin did something bad and the trees have withdrawn their love. She feels their disappointment and disgust with her. Now Rin feels unworthy and unloved and begins to sink into depression. In an attempt to help, her big brother Razo invites her to join him and his new wife at the Bayern court. There she meets Queen Isi and admires her strength and confidence. As Rin tries to find her place at court, she manages to tag along on a quest t... Read More

Taltos: Lots of backstory about Vlad

Taltos by Steven Brust

Taltos is the fourth novel in Steven Brust’s series about Vlad Taltos, a human crime boss in the fantasy world of Dragaera, where humans are short of stature and lifespan compared to the species that rule the world. Taltos is actually a prequel to the previous novels (Jhereg, Yendi, Teckla) in which Vlad tells us about an incident that happened years ago while he was solidifying his reputation as a new crime lord. One of his lackeys tried to cheat him, so Vlad went after him instead of letting the guy get away because he didn’t want to seem weak to his rivals. The man fled to Castle Black, an elusive floating castle owned by the Dragonlord Morrolan. Vlad followed. This is how he met some of the main characters who we already know from the previous novels, including Morrolan, the powerful sor... Read More

A Wind in the Door: Mind-expanding SF for kids

A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L’Engle

When I was a kid, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time blew my mind. I’m sure that’s why I remember it as one of my favorite childhood books. Reading it gave me the first inkling of the immenseness of the universe and that the concepts of space and time were much more complicated than I had realized. I think it was also the book that started my life-long love of science fiction. Before that, I had no idea that I loved having my mind blown! It’s surprising then that I never read the sequels to A Wrinkle in Time. I don’t think I was aware of them until years later and then I probably thought of them as children’s books and passed them by. That was a big mistake which I’ve now corrected.

The first sequel, published eleven years later (in 1973) is A Wind in the Door. Meg is now in high school and Mr.... Read More

Falling Free: An early stand-alone VORKOSIGAN book

Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold

Falling Free is an early stand-alone story in Lois McMaster Bujold’s VORKOSIGAN SAGA. It takes place before the events we read about in the other books and tells the story of the Quaddies, those genetically engineered “mutants” who have four arms and no legs and who, therefore, make good workers for zero-gravity situations. They were created in secret by a corporation who is using them as free labor.

The story starts when Leo Graf, an engineer, is hired to train students on a distant planet. Leo doesn’t know, and isn’t told, that his new students are Quaddies, so he’s quite surprised and repulsed when he first meets them. Despite their strange anatomy, though, the Quaddies are just as smart as other humans and their four arms makes them better at some mechanical tasks. Soon it becomes apparent that the Quaddies are really just children and ... Read More

Mitosis: A corny, action packed short story

Mitosis by Brandon Sanderson

David and the Reckoners have freed Newcago from Steelheart’s dictatorship, but the people are slow to believe in themselves. Epics have divided and dominated America for so long that many people are leaving before another Epic arrives to take over Steelheart’s domain. David takes comfort in the return of Chicago style hotdogs and in the steady trickle of people that choose to enter the city each day in search of freedom and a better life.

However, a new Epic does attempt to take over Newcago in Brandon Sanderson’s short story, “Mitosis.” An Epic, Mitosis is a little like Marvel’s Multiple Man: he has the power to split into multiple beings and he lives so long as one of his copies lives. Thankfully, David and his friends are developing a knack for discovering the Achilles heel of the Ep... Read More

River Secrets: Razo gets center stage

River Secrets by Shannon Hale

Shannon Hale writes excellent children’s fantasy. River Secrets is the third book in her BAYERN series. It follows The Goose Girl and Enna Burning and focuses on one of readers’ (and the author’s) favorite characters from these books, Razo of the forest.

In the previous books, Razo’s friend Isi, who has wind magic, became queen of Bayern and his friend Enna, who has fire magic, helped Bayern win a battle with Tira. Now Bayern and Tira are swapping ambassadors and opening diplomatic relations. The people of Bayern are not popular in Tira because of what Enna, the fire mage, did to their army. Enna isn’t happy about her role in the battle, either, so she asks to go to Tira with the ambassador, hoping to redeem herself by doing something constructive instead of destructive with her magic.
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The Knight and Knave of Swords: Goodbye, Fafhrd and Gray Mouser!

The Knight and Knave of Swords by Fritz Leiber

The Knight and Knave of Swords is the last collection of Fritz Leiber’s LANKHMAR stories about those two loveable rogues, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. I had read all of the LANKHMAR stories up to this point but it took me a while to open this book because I just wasn’t ready for it to be over. Neil Gaiman says something similar in his introduction to The Knight and Knave of Swords and I’m sure that most of Leiber’s fans feel the same way. I know I can re-read these stories at any time, but it’s just not the same thing. It’s sad to know that Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser’s adventures are over.

The Knight and Knave of Swords, which has also been titled Farewell to Lankhmar (sniff!), contains these previously published novellas and stories: ... Read More

Darknesses: Not great but solid and well-paced

Darknesses by L.E. Modesitt Jr

Note: We're rebooting this review, which was originally published in 2008, to include information about the just-released audio version.

First off, though this does stand as in independent story in what is called THE COREAN CHRONICLES, it will make a lot more sense to you and you'll be a lot more invested in the characters if you read the first book ahead of time. Darknesses returns to the same main character, Alucius, who remains as in the first a reluctant soldier caught up in battles and politics he'd rather not wage, preferring to set down his sword and his strange Talent and return home to be a herder with his new wife. This book roams further afield than the first book as Alucius is sent to various locales (helps to periodically check the map to keep all his travels and the stratagems behind them straigh... Read More

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