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

Janissaries: Modern soldiers in ancient Rome on distant planet

Janissaries by Jerry Pournelle

Captain Rick Galloway and the soldiers he commands were surrounded by hostile enemies when the flying saucer arrived and offered them a way out of certain death. They had to take it. Now they’re on a planet called Tran where they’re expected to oversee the growth and harvest of a marijuana-like plant which their alien “saviors” collect and distribute on the black market when it ripens every 600 years. A human woman named Gwen has also been dumped on the planet after her boyfriend, who was working for the aliens, talked her into coming aboard the flying saucer.

Tran is not uninhabited. It is home to several ancient civilizations who were also delivered from Earth to Tran each time the harvest was nearing readiness. Galloway and Gwen, reluctant heroes, must somehow lead the locals to fulfill the aliens’ demands, or they risk being eradicated. This involves gaining power, allying with local go... Read More

The Secret of the Key: Premise is fabulous, execution falls short

The Secret of the Key by Marianne Malone

The Secret of the Key appears to be the final book in Marianne Malone’s SIXTY-EIGHT ROOMS adventures. This children’s series has been a bit of a disappointment for me and the only reason I have continued with it is that I requested a review copy of the audiobook edition of this final book and so I felt obligated to read it. As I have noted previously, and as Bill and Kelly have mentioned, the premise is fabulous, but the execution falls short.

The stories follow Ruthie and Jack, two sixth graders who find a way to shrink and explore the Thorne Rooms in the Art Institute of Chicago. The two likable kids discover that the... Read More

Steadfast: More like Stead-slow

Steadfast by Mercedes Lackey

Steadfast by Mercedes Lackey is another fairy-tale retelling from her ELEMENTAL MASTERS series. It recasts Hans Christian Andersen’s story of the Steadfast Tin Soldier.

Katie Langford is a circus acrobat on the run. She flees to Brighton and ends up as a dancer and magician’s assistant for a small theatre. Lionel Hawkins, the magician she works for, is an elemental magician; he and his good friend Jack, the one-legged doorman of the theater, soon see that Katie also has undiscovered magical abilities. They train her in these abilities while trying to help her escape the Big Bad that is coming for her —her angry, abusive husband, Dick, who happens to be the circus strongman.

I listened to Steadfast read by Carmela Corbett, and I liked this novel okay at the beginning. The set-up was fun; it was really interesting t... Read More

Out on Blue Six: Really bizarre

Out On Blue Six by Ian McDonald

Courtney Hall is a cartoonist because that’s the job she’s been assigned by the tyrannical government agencies that dictate all of the details of everyone’s life — where they live, who their friends are, who they marry, what job they do. The goal of the government, which consists of such agencies as the Ministry of Pain, the Compassionate Society, and the Love Police, is to analyze every citizen’s genes and personality so that they can be assigned to the lifestyle that will minimize their pain and maximize their happiness, thus creating a populace that is obedient and compliant. The government assures that its dictates are adhered to by monitoring all activity and censoring criticism.

Most people seem content in the Compassionate Society because they like being pain-free, doing a job that they love (even if they’re not good at it) and being married to people who they’re compatible with... Read More

The Pirate’s Coin: Slight improvement

The Pirate’s Coin by Marianne Malone

The Pirate’s Coin, the third book in Marianne Malone’s SIXTY-EIGHT ROOMS fantasy adventure series for children, is a slight improvement over the first two novels, The Sixty-Eight Rooms and Stealing Magic, which three of us here at FanLit agreed did not meet the potential of Malone’s excellent premise. Readers who haven’t dropped out yet, presumably because they have enjoyed the series so far, should also be pleased with this installment.

Ruthie and Jack just can’t stay away from the Thorne Rooms in the Art Institute of Chicago. This time the plot involves two separate threads that (again) take place in the worlds of two of the Thorne Rooms. One involves a classmate that Ruthie and Jack discover is a descendant of... Read More

Home from the Sea: Lackey finally gets it right

Home from the Sea by Mercedes Lackey

Home from the Sea by Mercedes Lackey was a pretty enjoyable, fluffy fantasy romance. Set in coastal Wales, it combines the story of Tam Lin with selkie myths. Mari Prothero is a young woman who lives with her father, Daffyd, an unusually lucky fisherman. On her sixteenth birthday, Mari learns, to her great dismay, that she has been promised as a bride to one of the Selch, the seal-skinned people of the sea. This bargain has been in place for generations of the Prothero family; they inject their healthy human blood into the waning Selch stock, and in return, the Selch reward them with prosperity and safety at sea.

Mari doesn’t take this news lying down. She has been able to see magical creatures since her birth, and they have recently warned her that she is special and that she has ... Read More

Tendeleo’s Story: A companion to McDonald’s CHAGA novels

Tendeleo’s Story by Ian McDonald

Tendeleo’s Story is a short companion novel to Ian McDonald’s CHAGA series which is about an alien tropical plant-like life form that drops from space and lands in several equatorial regions of Earth. The first CHAGA novel, Evolution’s Shore, follows Irish reporter Gaby McAslin as she documents the biological, societal, and political changes that occur in Kenya as the Chaga descends from Mount Kilimanjaro and overruns Nairobi. In Kirinya, the second book, Gaby joins the people who have decided to (or been forced to) live in the Chaga rather than fleeing northward to safety. Meanwhile, a subplot follows Dr. Shepherd, one of Gaby’s lovers, who is studying and trying to figure out the purpose, mechanisms, and creator of the Chaga.

Tendeleo’s Story does n... Read More

Acceptance: Returns to Area X

Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer

I wouldn’t be surprised to find that Jeff VanderMeer’s first two books in his SOUTHERN REACH series, Annihilation and Authority, end up on my top ten list for the year, so it was with great excitement and high expectations that I opened up Acceptance, the third and final book of the trilogy. Having finished, I can’t honestly say those expectations were wholly met, though my lack of satisfaction has less to do with any real complaints about the novel itself and more about the question I had at the end, which was, if it was still a good novel, was it a necessary one? Thinking about it a day later, I’m still not sure about the answer to that.

While I’m going to try as much as possible to avoid spoilers for Acceptance (which admittedly may make this ... Read More

A Wonderlandiful World: A great series for preteen girls

A Wonderlandiful World by Shannon Hale

In A Wonderlandiful World, Shannon Hale’s story about the teenage children of famous fairytale characters shifts focus from the conflict between the Royals and the Rebels about their “happily ever after” destiny to the problems caused by one of the students’ previous misadventures. They had accidentally let the Jabberwock (from Wonderland) loose into their world. The Jabberwock is not happy about not being in Wonderland anymore, so he’s making life miserable for the students and faculty of Ever After High by making all the magic go wrong. Some of the students are turning into objects. The breakfast porridge is demanding hugs. Even the narrator goes all squonky and Maddie has to take over for her.

Three characters set out to fix the trouble and restore order (if you can call it order): Lizzie Heart (daughter of Wonderland’s Queen of Hearts) who is armed wi... Read More

Stealing Magic: Full of unmet potential

Stealing Magic by Marianne Malone

Stealing Magic is the second book in Marianne Malone’s SIXTY-EIGHT ROOMS adventure series for middle grade readers. When Bill and Kelly wrote about The Sixty-Eight Rooms, the first book in this series, four years ago, I was intrigued by the fascinating premise — two 6th grade kids find a way to explore the Thorne Rooms in the Art Institute of Chicago and discover that they can use the rooms to get into the world of the time period the rooms depict. This sounded wonderful to me, but Bill and Kelly were disappointed because there was too little time spent actually exploring the fantasy worlds (which would be the ... Read More

Kirinya: I didn’t get what I wanted out of it

Kirinya by Ian McDonald

After recently enjoying Ian McDonald’s Evolution’s Shore, the first book in his CHAGA series, I was eager to proceed with book two, Kirinya. I wanted to know where McDonald was going with the fascinating ideas he presented in that first novel. What is the goal of the Chaga, the alien evolution machine that has landed on Earth in the form of a ground-covering jungle that changes the landscape and its human inhabitants as it slowly progresses across equatorial regions? What is in the BDO (Big Dumb Object) that came from Saturn and hovers in Earth’s orbit? How will our world’s societies and cultures be affected by these otherworldly intrusions?

As Kirinya begins we learn that Gaby, the famous feisty Irish journalist, has had Shepherd’s baby. Because their daughter Serena was affected by the Chaga, Gaby and ... Read More

A Fall of Princes: So much drama!

A Fall of Princes by Judith Tarr

In this third novel of Judith Tarr’s AVARYAN RISING trilogy (which probably could stand alone), it’s been 15 years since the events of the previous book, The Lady of Han-Gilen. Mirain and Elian now have a teenage son named Saraven who is heir to the throne of his country. One day Saraven saves the life of Hirel, the son of the king of a neighboring kingdom. At first they have nothing in common and even despise each other, but after enduring a series of accidental adventures which include being captured and escaping a few times, the boys eventually overcome their prejudices and become friends. When they make several unsuccessful attempts to stop their fathers from destroying each others’ kingdoms, they end up resorting to a bizarre solution that shocks everybody (including me). As young leaders, they make a sacrifice to save their people, but the path they choose tu... Read More

The Lady of Han-Gilen: Great audio performance, boring story

The Lady of Han-Gilen by Judith Tarr

The Lady of Han-Gilen is the second novel in Judith Tarr’s AVARYAN saga. In the first book, The Hall of the Mountain King, we met Mirain, supposedly the son of the sun god Avaryan and a human princess. Mirain appeared in Ianon, where his grandfather rules, became his heir, and fought for control of the kingdom. The story wasn’t particularly original, but I enjoyed Tarr’s style and Jonathan Davis’s audio performance.

This second installment, which can stand alone fairly well, takes place several  years later and focuses on a new character: Princess Elian of Han-Gilen, foster sister of Mirain. Red-haired and independently-minded, Elian has left a trail of spurned suitors in her wake, but now she’s getting older and feeling the pressure to marry. When she finally meets a man who is good enough to match her in wits and ... Read More

Evolution’s Shore: Fascinating SF with African setting

Evolution’s Shore by Ian McDonald

In several equatorial regions of the earth, an alien plant has been growing. The “Chaga,” as it is called, came from outer space and destroys anything manmade that comes near it. Scientists are worried about what it might do to humans. They have not been able to kill it and it is advancing slowly but steadily each day, changing the landscape and covering villages and cities as it progresses. Not only are people’s lives being disrupted as they have to flee their homes and become refugees, but they’re also worried about what the Chaga is doing here in the first place. Is it benign? Is there an intelligence behind it? Is it a precursor to an alien invasion? Nobody knows.

The mystery of the Chaga and its effect on humanity have inspired Gaby McAslin, a feisty red-headed green-eyed Irish woman, to become a journalist so she can go to Nairobi and try to figure out what the Chaga is doing as it... Read More

Warlord: Satisfying resolution (but not the end of the story)

Warlord by Jennifer Fallon

Warlord is the last book in Jennifer Fallon’s WOLFBLADE trilogy which is a prequel to her DEMON CHILD trilogy and part of her HYTHRUN CHRONICLES. Like its predecessors, Wolfblade and Warrior, it’s a huge sprawling epic (26 hours on audio). The story starts immediately after the tragic events of Warrior (which you really must read first). Marla is still the wealthiest and most powerful woman in the country, but she has taken a major hit and, in some ways, feels alone, despite her large family.

Hablet, the Fardohnian king, is planning to take advantage of Hythria’s weakness while the country is recovering from a plague and while their high prince, Lernen, a useless wastrel, is still ruling. Hablet is massing his army for an invasion and hoping that... Read More

Warrior: It’s Dynasty with swords and magic

Warrior by Jennifer Fallon

Warrior is the second installment in Jennifer Fallon’s WOLFBLADE trilogy, a prequel to her DEMON CHILD trilogy. Both trilogies make up the HYTHRUN CHRONICLES. In the first book, Wolfblade, which you’ll definitely want to read before picking up Warrior, we were introduced to Marla Wolfblade, sister to Lernen Wolfblade, the High Prince of Hythria. When we first met Marla, she was a bubble-headed blonde teenager dreaming of marrying a handsome warlord. At the end of the very long (600 pages, 25 hours in audio format) story, Marla had become a cynical and savvy politician and the most powerful woman in Hythria, thanks to her dwarf slave and a series of unfortunate politically-motivated disasters including adultery, betrayals, kidnappings, and assassinations.

Warrior... Read More

Monster Hunter Nemesis: AGENT FRANKS!

Monster Hunter Nemesis by Larry Correia

There is no way that any review I write about Monster Hunter Nemesis is going to have any sort of effect on anybody’s decision to read it. If you’re a fan of the extremely popular MONSTER HUNTER series, then you’re going to read Monster Hunter Nemesis, the fifth book. If you’re not, you won’t. And if you’re not in one of those two camps, you have no reason to be reading this review. But still I have to write it, because that’s my job.

So, for those of you who ARE fans, what you can expect here is exactly what Correia has given us so far: great characters, a fascinating story, witty dialogue, and brutal violence. This particular installment features my favorite character: AGENT FRANKS! He’s a huge indestructible man(?) who works for the U.S. Monster Control Bureau, a government agency that fights monsters and... Read More

Magic for Beginners: Impressive and strange

Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link

Kelly Link's short story collection, Magic for Beginners, is a great piece of work. In a bit of a departure from her earlier collection Stranger Things Happen, the stories in it don't follow normative narrative structures; they draw from sources as various as fairy tales, kitchen sink realism, heist stories, TV fandom, and Link's own surrealist vision.  These nine stories don't share overt connections, but they do provide a window into modern American life, complete with bland marriages, mortgages, and random zombie sightings. I listened to Random House Audio's version of this book which is almost 11 hours long and is read by various actors such as Cassandra Campbell, Lorna Raver, Marc Bramhall, and others.

The first story, "The Faery Handbag," was my favorite. It was the most straightforward, which probably indicates that I'm a lazy reader and ... Read More

Horrible Monday: Necronomicon by H.P. Lovecraft

Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H.P. Lovecraft by H.P. Lovecraft

There are sacraments of evil as well as of good about us, and we live and move to my belief in an unknown world, a place where there are caves and shadows and dwellers in twilight. It is possible that man may sometimes return on the track of evolution, and it is my belief that an awful lore is not yet dead.
—Arthur Machen (quoted as an introduction to “The Horror at Red Hook”)

Everyone must read a little Lovecraft and Blackstone Audio’s recently published edition of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H.P. Lovecraft is, in my opinion, the perfect way to do that. Like re-animated corpses, Lovecraft’s most popular stories from the 1920s and 1930s pulp magazines are brought back to life by some of the best readers in the business: Paul Michael Garcia, Bronson Pinchot, Stephen R. Thorne, Keith Szarabajka, Adam W... Read More

Fool’s Errand: Fitz is back

Fool’s Errand by Robin Hobb

“Alone again. It isn’t fair. Truly it isn’t. You’ve the saddest song of any man I’ve ever known.”  ~Starling Birdsong, minstrel to Queen Kettricken

I squealed with delight when I recently opened a box from Brilliance Audio and found a review copy of Fool’s Errand inside. This is an old favorite that, for years, I had planned to re-read. Since Hobb’s new book comes out next week, this seemed like the perfect time to get back into FitzChivalry Farseer’s world.

We first met Fitz back in Assassin’s Apprentice when he was a boy. As bastard son to a Farseer prince, he was brought to court and trained as the king’s assassin. He inherited the Skill, the magic that the Farseer family uses to communicate telepathically, from his father. Unfortunately, he inherited the Wit, the maligned “beast magic,” from his ... Read More

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