Stand-Alone

These are stand alone novels (not part of a series).

Mr. Meeson’s Will: Half adventure novel, half legal thriller

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Mr. Meeson’s Will by H. Rider Haggard

Editor's note: Mr. Meeson’s Will is free in Kindle format

Mr. Meeson’s Will was first printed in book form in October 1888, after having first appeared earlier that year in The Illustrated London News. It was H. Rider Haggard’s 11th novel (out of 58), and one in which his experiences as both a writer and aspiring lawyer were given vent. The novel is at once a tale of adventure, a critique of the publishing industry in late 19th century England, and a satire on the English legal system.

In the book’s first half, Augusta Smithers — our heroine and a successful author, who has unwittingly entered into an unfair contract with Meeson’s pub... Read More

The Prefect: Complex detective procedural set among orbitals

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The Prefect by Alastair Reynolds

The Prefect is the fifth Alastair Reynolds book I’ve read in his REVELATION SPACE series, though it is a stand-alone and set earlier in chronology than the other books. By the time of the main trilogy Revelation Space (2000), Redemption Ark (2002), and Absolution Gap (2003), the Glitter Band of 10,000 orbitals has already been destroyed by the corrosive Melding Plague, so we see only its wrecked aftermath. With such tantalizing hints, it is ... Read More

Last Year: Time travel tourism

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Last Year by Robert Charles Wilson

Jesse Cullum works security at the City of Futurity – in fact, he just saved President Ulysses S. Grant from an assassination attempt, though he lost his Oakleys in the process.

The science fiction premise of Robert Charles Wilson’s Last Year (2016), is outlined in its opening scene. Oakleys are sunglasses that come from our time, but Ulysses S. Grant was one of the most important generals in the American Civil War. How can both exist in the same place? Well, in this novel, a “mirror” allows people to travel back in time, but to a specific point in the past — and it will produce a different a future. The people who travel back are tourists, and the City of Futurity, run by August Kemp, makes money from the past’s weal... Read More

A Wrinkle in the Skin: A gritty, post-apocalyptic winner

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A Wrinkle in the Skin by John Christopher

Although most of us probably deem earthquakes to be relatively infrequent phenomena, the truth is that, as of this writing in late November, almost 150 such seismic events, ranging from relatively minor to completely devastating, have transpired somewhere in the world in 2016 alone. That’s an average of one earthquake every two or three days! But although these events are not only, uh, earth-shattering for those in the areas directly affected, few would deem them a possible concern for long-term, apocalyptic scenarios, as might be the case with, say, an asteroid collision ... except, that is, British author John Christopher, in his 1965 novel A Wrinkle in the Skin. Christopher, who was born in Lancashire in 1922, had already pleased this rea... Read More

Last Song Before Night: A debut from an author with tremendous potential

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Reposting to include Kevin's new review.

Last Song Before Night by Ilana C. Myer

Last Song Before Night (2015) is the debut novel from Ilana C. Myer, and while many aspects of the work shine — detailed world-building combined with protagonist backstory and development — they come at the expense of antagonist development, prose ranging from lovely to overly ornate, and, most importantly, the plot of the novel itself.

The novel ranges far and wide, but at its crux, there is a woman named Lin who seeks to achieve the impossible by becoming a female poet, forbidden in the land of Eivar for reasons that are never satisfactorily explained. It comes across as nothing more than a deliberate authorial obstacle intended to make Lin’s against-the-odds journey that much more difficult and her successes that much sweeter. Acade... Read More

Children of Earth and Sky: Another masterwork from Guy Gavriel Kay

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Reposting to include Tadiana's new review.

Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay

A new Guy Gavriel Kay novel is cause for great celebration and anticipation in our household, as he has authored some of our most beloved novels over the decades (by “our” I mean my wife, my fifteen-year-old son, and myself). A consummate storyteller and stylist (the two don’t always go hand in hand), his long-term consistency is remarkable, and his newest work, Children of Earth and Sky, finds him still at the top of his form.

One way to describe a Guy Gavriel Kay novel is that it’s a bit like peering at history as it unfolds at the bottom of a pool of water (think of the water as Kay’s artistic imagination) — you mostly recognize what you’re looking at, but thanks to the effects of refraction and distortion, it’s just a little off, bot... Read More

American Gods: Great premise that (we think) doesn’t quite deliver

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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

The Family Plot: You’ll think twice about a nice hot shower after this

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Reposting to include Jana's new review.

The Family Plot by Cherie Priest

With The Family Plot, Cherie Priest takes a break from steampunk and Lovecraftiana to tackle a tried-and-true convention, the haunted-house story. The book, filled with atmospherics, family feuds and long-buried secrets, is a spooky read that will leave you side-eyeing bathrooms and showers for days after you’ve finished.

The Dutton family business is salvage, and Music City Salvage has just purchased a bonanza of a job — a full Southern estate, built in the 1800s, which includes a mansion, a barn and a carriage house. The barn is made of American chestnut, a tree which is extinct; the lumber alone is a goldmine. The owner of the estate plans to have all the buildings raze... Read More

The Chemist: The torturous path of revenge and love

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The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer

Stephenie Meyer changes it up fairly dramatically in The Chemist (2016), her second adult novel, where there is nary a vampire, werewolf or space alien to be found. It’s a rather pulpy but absorbing thriller in the vein of a Jason Bourne novel (to whom she’s dedicated this novel, among others). There’s no real speculative element here, other than perhaps some new developments in chemical-based torture and some startlingly smart dogs.

The narrator, a bright, rather repressed molecular biologist, was originally hired by a nameless government agency to do cutting-edge medical research, but ended up being pressured to use her medical skills to create biological compounds that cause severe pain without permanent physical damage, and then... Read More

The Origins of Everything in 100 Pages (More or Less): A master class in concision

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The Origins of Everything in 100 Pages (More or Less) by David Bercovici

The Origins of Everything in 100 Pages (More or Less) by David Bercovici, in his own words, “covers the Universe’s greatest hits, recounting when and most importantly how its various pieces emerged.” That’s a tall order for any book, let alone one that is so short, but Bercovici tempers the readers’ expectations early on, letting us know that:

"There are other excellent books, far more comprehensive than this one, on the history of the Universe and life ...The goal of this book is not to be deep and comprehensive but instead to be boldly (or baldly) shallow and superficial in the best sense of these words ... My aim is to give a quick and hopefully readable overview that provides a taste of our Universe’s story (and to some extent hu... Read More

A Taste for Monsters: Strong characterization and premise but plotting a bit pale

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A Taste for Monsters by Matthew Kirby

Matthew Kirby’s first two books, The Clockwork Three and Icefall are, I think, two of the best constructed and ambitious YA books out there. I haven’t been equally impressed with the ones since, though they still show marks of a fine craftsman in various aspects. Where then does his latest, A Taste for Monsters, fall? I’d say somewhere in between — better than the last few thanks to more vivid characters, a fine sense of the macabre, and deft handling of suspense; but not rising to the level of the first ones due to so... Read More

The Weaver: An enchantingly dream-like novel

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The Weaver by Emmi Itäranta

The Weaver (2016),  Emmi Itäranta’s second novel, is a powerful story that occupies a space between the fantastical and the allegorical. Filled with its own symbols and mythology, and set in a world with eerie similarities to our own, Itäranta’s tale of an isolated island community’s struggle to maintain order is worth several re-reads — not just for the pleasure of her prose or for the compelling plot and characters, but for the secondary text woven like a bright thread within the primary body of the novel.

Our narrator and guide is Eliana, a young woman who works in the House of Webs, a respected institution where talented weavers create blankets, tapestries, and more. What could be an idyllic li... Read More

Neverwhere: Wonderfully fantastical setting

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Richard Mayhew has a life that most men would envy: He’s got a good job, a nice apartment in London, and he’s about to be married to a beautiful wealthy woman. But when he stops to help a girl (named Door) in the street, Richard soon finds that he’s slipped through the cracks into Neverwhere: a magical and frightening underground London that people like Richard never knew existed. How could he have known that his Random Act of Kindness would ruin everything? And, most importantly, how can he get his old life back?

Neil Gaiman rarely fails to amuse me with his creative concepts, quirky humor, and over-the-top villains, and Neverwhere (1997), the novelization of his BBC television program of the same name, has all that. What it doesn’t have is a tight and gripping p... Read More

Congress of Secrets: Fast-paced fantasy romance swirling with political intrigue

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Congress of Secrets by Stephanie Burgis

In 1814, the four countries that defeated Napoleon Bonaparte held a congress in Vienna, determined to establish a new balance of power among the European nations. It was a contentious congress filled with intrigue and realpolitik, but at least those real-life diplomats and leaders weren’t contending with shadowy magic, the way Stephanie Burgis’ characters are in her alternate history fantasy Congress of Secrets (2016).

Lady Caroline Wyndham, a wealthy British widow, has come to Vienna, merely to observe the historical undertaking... and perhaps, she’s hinted, offer a little money to the Austrian treasury. In reality, Caroline’s mission is very different; it’s deeply personal and very dangerous. Caroline isn’t even h... Read More

Stargate: Beautiful creation myth blends fantasy and sci-fi

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Stargate by Pauline Gedge

“Before the beginning was the Lawmaker,” he read. “And the Lawmaker made the Worldmaker and commanded him to make according to his nature. And the Worldmaker made the worlds…”

Originally published in 1982 and re-issued in 2016, Pauline Gedge’s Stargate is a sci-fi/fantasy hybrid writ large. Its universe rides the mythic themes of a world overseen by Gods who live within the vague rules similarly employed against their literary and cultural brethren in Olympus. Gedge seems more than happy to borrow these Grecian mythic motifs while putting her own sci-fi/fantasy spin on the creation myths we find embedded within even modern religions.

Important note before I continue: This book has nothing to do with Read More

Faller: A well-plotted fast-paced story with a few issues at the close

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Faller by Will McIntosh

Fair warning: I’m going to reveal one plot point in my discussion that barely qualifies as a spoiler (really, the reader figures this out pretty immediately), but if you have any concerns don’t read past paragraph four (ending with “bioweapons”).

Will McIntosh’s new techno thriller Faller (2016) is characterized by a unique setting/premise, some early plot twists, and strong characterization, and though I would say the story devolves a bit by the end, for the most part it’s a quick-moving and engaging story that also tackles some thought-provoking questions.

We open with the eponymous protagonist coming to on a city street with screams and “thick black smoke” in the background. He and those around him have been struc... Read More

The Land of Laughs: An entertaining and thought-provoking tale

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The Land of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll

The Land of Laughs was written back in 1980 and I wonder how many readers know about it now. It’s written by Jonathan Carroll, who has written a number of offbeat modern fantasies, and I only know about it because it was selected by David Pringle for his Modern Fantasy: The 100 Best Novels. Even that is probably not enough to put it on most radars, but Neil Gaiman also chose it for his “Neil Gaiman Presents” series of audiobooks, so I listened to it during a series of long walks along Tokyo Bay in Rinkai Park. It’s narrated by Edoardo Ballerini, who does a nice job of capturing the strange events of the story. Read More

Hag-Seed: A mostly magical updating of The Tempest

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Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

In the Vintage Hogarth Series, contemporary authors put their individual novelistic spin on a Shakespeare play. So far the series has seen the release of Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time (The Winter’s Tale), Howard Jacobson’s Shylock is My Name (The Merchant of Venice), Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl (The Taming of the Shrew), and now Margaret Atwood’s Hag-seed (2016), which for most of its 300+ pages is a wonderfully charming, witty, and at times moving update of The Tempest, set not on a mysterious island but instead in a medium-security prison in Canada.
... Read More

The Four Thousand, the Eight Hundred: An SF spin on the Trolley Problem

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The Four Thousand, the Eight Hundred by Greg Egan

Subterranean Press is one of my favorite publishers because they’re always putting out distinctive speculative fiction that’s beautifully packaged. I especially appreciate the many novellas they publish because I am often in the mood for shorter works these days and novellas give me the opportunity to read authors whose stories I might not otherwise have time for.

The Four Thousand, the Eight Hundred (2016) is Greg Egan’s recent science fiction novella about a woman named Anna who directs the spaceport on the asteroid Ceres. Ceres is being inundated with refugees from Vesta, an asteroid habitat that is in political upheaval. When Vesta demands that Ceres stop harboring its fleeing citizens, and then threatens to stop t... Read More

The Woman in Black: A surprisingly great spine tingler

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The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

So what does a young actor do after starring in one of the most lucrative franchises in cinema history? That was the precise dilemma facing the 22-year-old Daniel Radcliffe in 2011, upon the completion of his 8th and final Harry Potter film. The Potter series had brought in a whopping $7.7 billion worldwide over its 10-year run, firmly establishing Radcliffe as an international star. And so, the question: What next? Wisely, the young actor’s follow-up project was another in the supernatural/fantasy vein, and one that was also based on an already well-loved source. The film was 2012’s The Woman In Black, another successful film for Radcliffe, having been produced for $15 million and bringing in almost $130 million at the box office. The film was based on English author Susan ... Read More

Catchman: A too-elusive serial killer

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Catchman by Chris Wooding

There’s a murderer loose in the city. Catchman (1998) centers on a group of homeless teenagers and the news circling around a serial killer nearby, who has been dubbed the ‘Catchman’. As victims surface one by one, the tension grows and with it, tempers run high among the teens.

One of the greater strengths of Catchman was the intriguing set-up. I actively wanted to know what was going to happen from the beginning of the story and throughout the narrative. The tension of the background, Catchman included, helped lend gravity to the struggles of the young protagonists.

The main creep factor (the Catchman himself) wasn’t immediately threatening enough for me to get into the heads of the characters. To me, the elusive villain was too elusive — to the detriment of the story. The murders in ... Read More

Guns of the Dawn: Austen collides with muskets, warlocks and war-machines

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Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Guns of the Dawn, originally published in 2015 in hardback and ebook, with a paperback version due on November 1, 2016, is my favorite fantasy that I’ve read this year ... and I read a lot of fantasy.

The story begins in media res, as gentlewoman Emily Marchwic fights her first battle in muggy, oppressive swamplands, as a new conscript in the Lascanne army. There’s a brief, inconclusive battle with their enemies, the Denlanders, who are almost impossible to see in the impenetrable murk until they are upon her and her friend Elise. Emily, shocked to the core by her up-close contact with death and killing, flounders away with her unit when they retreat, leaving dead on both sides behind in the swamp.

From here we flash back three yea... Read More

The Singing Bones: Haunting fairy-tale sculptures

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The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan

I’m not quite sure how to review The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan. It’s not quite like anything else I’ve read, and I’m not sure I know how to review visual art in the first place. But I can certainly recommend it.

This unique book contains photographs of small sculptures by Tan, each illustrating one of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales. Each sculpture encapsulates its respective tale in one haunting image, often enhanced by the lighting and arrangement of the photo, and accompanied by a short passage from the tale.

"Mother Trudy"



You will be familiar with some of the tales. Others, you might not be. ... Read More

Lost Gods: Death is not the end

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Lost Gods by Brom

If you’ve seen any buzz about author/illustrator Brom’s newest novel, Lost Gods (2016), in which the words “Dante” or “Inferno” are heavily featured, I’d advise you to read that buzz with a pinch of salt; to rely on the similarities between Lost Gods and Inferno is to neglect the breadth and depth of Brom’s creativity and imagination, and I would sorely hate to see this level of world-building and inspiration reduced to the bare-bones concept of “guy goes to Hell” when there’s so much more presented here.

Lost Gods does feature a man who travels to the netherworld, it’s true: Chet Moran, aged twenty-four, is fresh out of county lockup and trying to set his life s... Read More

The Secret Horses of Briar Hill: finding magic and wings in dark times

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The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd

Emmaline knows a secret: Briar Hill, a Shropshire mansion which has been turned into a children’s hospital during World War II, has beautiful winged horses that live in the mirrors of its elegant rooms. They move in and out of the mirror-rooms, walking through doorways, nosing half-finished cups of tea. But only Emmaline can see them, and she keeps the secret to herself. She knows the boys like Benny and Jack will tease her mercilessly if they knew. She doesn’t even tell her best friend Anna, who’s the most ill person at the hospital, for fear that she’ll distress Anna.

One day Benny steals a treasured piece of chocolate from Emmaline and eats it. Upset, Emmaline runs outside and (breaking the hospital rules) climbs over the ivy of a walled garden on the grounds. Inside the abandoned garden, a beautiful white horse with a soft gr... Read More