Stand-Alone

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

Phalanxes of Atlans: A well-paired yet unconvincing double feature

Phalanxes of Atlans by F. Van Wyck Mason

A little while ago. I had some words to say about Capt. S.P. Meek’s 1930 novel The Drums of Tapajos, in which a band of American explorers discovers a lost civilization in the jungle wilderness of Brazil, comprised of the cultured and scientifically advanced remnants of the 10 Lost Tribes and Troy, uneasily coexisting with the barbaric remnants of Atlantis. The book was done in by a lack of convincing detail and exciting set pieces, as I reported. Well, now I am here to tell you of my most recent read, another offering from Armchair Fiction’s Lost World/Lost Race series; a book that suffers from one of the same problems that plague The Drums of Tapajos, even though its story line has been inverted. In this c... Read More

Winter of Fire: Just as powerful now

Reposting to include Rebecca's review of the new reprint edition.

Winter of Fire by Sherryl Jordan

Sherryl Jordan is a New Zealand-based author of young adult and children’s fantasy fiction. In Winter of Fire (1993) she tells the story of Elsha, a sixteen year old girl born into the enslaved underclass called the Quelled. As the sun has disappeared from the world, a memory only alive in mythology, the Quelled are forced to mine for the firestones that are the people's only source of warmth. But Elsha has a rebellious spirit and is often in trouble with the brutal overseers at the mine. They are from the upper class, the people known as the Chosen.

Elsha's life is changed forever when she is chosen to be the handmaid of the legendry Firelord. The Firelord is the most important man in the world as he possesses the power to divine for firestones, the life fuel of e... Read More

Coyote Songs: Literary horror that rewarded me beyond my expectations

Coyote Songs by Gabino Iglesias

I’m giving 2018’s Coyote Songs by Gabino Iglesias five stars, and I’m going to recommend it highly here. Then I’m going to post warnings, because this is one of those “this book is not for everybody” things.

On Twitter, Iglesias describes his writing as “barrio noir,” and also “a mix of horror and noir.” Coyote Songs follows several characters on either side of the Mexico/USA border as a mysterious rage-filled entity comes into their lives. The short book (not quite 200 pages) is lyrical, hyper-violent at times, blood-drenched, fantastical, satirical, and contains a hefty slice of body horror in the storyline with Mother (a pregnant woman) and Boy. Descriptions are as vivid as a neon sign in a desert night, and often as disturbing as the buzzing of a colony of flies on a dead animal. It starts bloody and dark an... Read More

The Institute: A horror story of the human heart

The Institute by Stephen King

Stephen King takes over 550 pages to relate the story of the mysterious Institute and its merciless dealings with kidnapped children. Given that page count, it shouldn’t be too surprising that King spends the first forty pages setting up his tale with a seemingly unrelated story of a man adrift in his life. Tim Jamieson, an out-of-work cop, takes a hefty payout to give up his seat on an overfull flight, and ends up making his rambling way from Tampa, Florida to the small town of DuPray, South Carolina, where the local sheriff gives him a job as a night knocker, an unarmed beat cop who patrols DuPray during the night. But — as King informs us not once, but twice — great events turn on small hinges.

That same summer, Luke Ellis, a twelve-year-old Minneapolis boy with genius-level intelligence, loving parent... Read More

Misery: Imprisoned in Nurse Ratched’s guest bedroom

Misery by Stephen King

If you've read one Stephen King novel, you've read nearly all of them. And yet people keep coming back for more. Published in 1987, Misery explores King's relationship with his most obsessive readers while also wrestling with his own addictions.

Misery's plot is pretty straightforward: Paul Sheldon is an author of best-selling novels who one night drunkenly drives into a blizzard and crashes. When he wakes up, he has been (not rescued, but) kidnapped by Nurse Ratched, here named Annie Wilkes.

Annie is a nurse who has access to painkillers and although she helps Paul to heal, she is obsessed with his novels. She insists that he write for her.
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The Drums of Tapajos: A middling lost-world adventure

The Drums of Tapajos by S. P. Meek

As you may have noticed, over the past six months I have been dipping into Armchair Fiction’s current Lost World/Lost Race series of 24 novels, and with mixed results. One thing I have observed is that the best of this bunch — such as Frank Aubrey’s The King of the Dead (1903), Rex Stout’s Under the Andes (1914), John Taine’s The Purple Sapphire (1924) and Read More

Deathless: Demands careful reading and close attention

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente

CLASSIFICATION: Weaving together fairy tales and history, Deathless is kind of like Pan's Labyrinth, if it was told by Hayao Miyazaki and Neil Gaiman. Highly recommended for fans of adult fairy tales, Russian folklore, and Catherynne M. Valente.

FORMAT/INFO: Deathless is 352 pages long divided over a Prologue, 6 Parts, and 30 numbered/titled chapters. Narration is in the third-person, mostly via the protagonist, Marya Morevna. Deathless is self-contained. March 29, 2011 marks the North American Hardcover publication of Deathless via Read More

The World of the Giant Ants: Bugging out

The World of the Giant Ants by A. Hyatt Verrill

In two novels that I recently read, Ralph Milne Farley’s The Radio Man (1924) and its sequel, The Radio Beasts (1925), engineer Myles Cabot accidentally transports himself to Venus and discovers a society of enormous and intelligent ants, the so-called Formians. But, it would seem, if a certain book of 1928 is to be believed, Cabot did not have to leave planet Earth to discover such gigantic and civilized creatures. The book in question is The World of the Giant Ants, which initially appeared in the p... Read More

Interior Chinatown: Guest starring in America

Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu

In his whimsical way, Charles Yu writes about the Asian-American immigrant experience in Interior Chinatown (2020). The story is about Willis Wu, a young man whose family lives in an SRO (Single-Room Occupancy Hotel) in the Chinatown of mid-20th century San Francisco. He’s the son of immigrants who came to America looking for a better life but who have been misunderstood, alienated, marginalized, ghettoized, and further discriminated against by an American government and populace that is always putting people into boxes and insisting that they stay there.

Willis’ goal in life is to appear as a “Generic Asian Man” in the popular TV show called Black and White, a ... Read More

Black Leviathan: Starts decently but becomes too scattered

Black Leviathan by Bernd Perplies, translated by Lucy Van Cleef

Vengeance is a tale as old as a time, and female characters have been killed in order to set male characters off on a protagonist’s journey since well before there were refrigerators (almost before there was ice). But it takes a particularly audacious ambition to use Moby Dick as an explicit inspiration for a coming-of-age fantasy set in a world where sky ships hunt dragons and one captain becomes maniacally obsessed with killing one such dragon. And for a little while there I was thinking Bernd Perplies, author of Black Leviathan (2020) (translated in the US by Lucy Van Cleef), might be able to match execution to ambition. But while the story ends up being relatively entertaining, issues toward the close and an overall surface-level narrative had the execution falling short.

The story opens with a... Read More

The Last Day: A decent techno-thriller

The Last Day by Andrew Hunter Murray

The Last Day (2020), by Andrew Hunter Murray, is a sci-fi thriller, though to be honest I found both elements (the science and the thrills) to be a bit slight and while it’s a highly readable work, I’d call it moderately engaging or tense.

The book opens some decades after “The Slow” (or “The Stop”), when the Earth’s rotation gradually declined then halted altogether, plunging half the planet — the “Coldside” into uninhabitable cold and darkness and the other half into a baking sunlit zone. The UK found itself in the goldilocks zone and is one of the lucky few places on the planet that is relatively habitable, though it keeps itself going only by a ruthless rejection of refugees, a staunch coastal defense, and a move to a totalitarian regime. Even so, despite the government’s propaganda, people can sense that things seem to be fal... Read More

The Pursuit of William Abbey: Brilliant but painful

The Pursuit of William Abbey by Claire North

“I do not know whether death is mercy, or love is easy, or vengeance is peace, or if all these things are lies or truth. Or if it is the truest thing of all to say that life is all of these things, all of these truths together in perfect contradiction, blinding us to a greater truth that lies beneath.”

My husband and I are foodies. We love to try new foods, new cuisines, and new restaurants. When we order off the menu, we each order different meals so that we can share and try multiple items. When we re-visit restaurants, we rarely order what we’ve already tried. At our favorite restaurant, the chefs are always experimenting. We like to sit at the chef’s table and order the six-course tasting menu which is different every time. It’s innovative and original and delicious.
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Remembrance: Flaws overcome by vivid depictions of time and place

Remembrance by Rita Woods

Remembrance (2020) is a solid historical fantasy by Rita Woods that doesn’t quite meet its potential but is still well worth a read thanks to several strong characterizations and some vividly immersive historical scenes.

Woods moves us back and forth between three time periods. In modern times, Gaelle is a young woman who moved to the U.S. after the earthquake in Haiti, which is also where she lost her grandmother. Gaelle works at a home for the aged, where she is the primary tender of a mysterious Jane Doe woman who seemingly has no family or friends and neither speaks nor moves. This changes one day, though, when Gaelle finds a strange old man in the room who tells her, upon being asked to leave, that the woman’s name is Winter.

Another storyline takes place in the mid-1800s, and follows a trio of house slaves in New Orleans: Margot (the main character of this plotlin... Read More

Battle Mage: An engrossing epic fantasy with dragons

Battle Mage by Peter A. Flannery

2017’s Battle Mage, by Peter A. Flannery, is an epic fantasy adventure, a coming-of-age story set against a backdrop of war and some political treachery. It’s filled with magic and dragons. I reeled that off like I didn’t have to think about it at all, but in fact that capsule description emerged after a Twitter conversation with Flannery himself.

Battle Mage was in my AtomaCon swag bag. The title and the cover looked like military fantasy to me, which is not one of my favorite subgenres. I would have read it anyway, because 1) I do try to read outside of my self-imposed borders and 2) dragons! While troop movements and battle scenes play a large part in this long story, the book is not genuinely military fantasy, and military purists will no doubt roll their eyes the fourth of fifth time our handful of young heroes treat or... Read More

Spindle’s End: A light, sweet, unhurried fantasy

Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley

Spindle’s End (2000) is Robin McKinley’s delightful and very loose retelling of the Sleeping Beauty (Little Briar Rose) fairy tale.

On the princess’s naming day, a bad fairy declares a curse, stating that, on her 21st birthday, the princess will prick her finger on a spindle and die. In an attempt to thwart the curse, a good fairy named Katriona takes the princess to live with her aunt in a swampy region called Foggy Bottom. There, without any knowledge of her true heritage, Rosie grows up happily with human and animal companions while her mother, the Queen, pines for her lost daughter.

After the opening scenes in which the princess is cursed, Spindles’ End bears little resemblance to the source material. The plot... Read More

The King of Elfland’s Daughter: Haunting and Lyrical

Reposting to include Sandy's new review.

The King of Elfland's Daughter by Lord Dunsany

After reading about Lord Dunsany's The King of Elfland's Daughter I went in search of it and found it at my university library. Reading it was quite a different experience for me, but people who aren't prepared for the style of writing like I was might be disappointed, confused or scorning of the slow, dream-like pace, archetype characters and poetical language. This might be especially true of fans of typical fantasy genre books (authors such as David Eddings or Terry Brooks) where a fantasy universe is deemed to be good only if it has a solid backing and an exhaustive array of facts and figures to add realism to the stories. Lord Dunsa... Read More

The Starless Sea: Visually spectacular

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

Given the success of her debut, it would be impossible to write about Erin Morgenstern's eagerly awaited follow-up without alluding to The Night Circus (2011). The bestseller accrued a mass following of 'Rêveurs' – the self-styled fanbase, named after the followers of the circus in the book. It inspired a formidable amount of tattoos and artwork on Pinterest, as well as being translated into thirty-seven languages, no less. It was always going to be a hard act to follow, but can Morgenstern live up to her own success?

The Starless Sea (2019) follows the tale of Zachary Ezra Rawlins, the son of... Read More

Strange Exit: Muddled plot and mostly flat characterization

Strange Exit by Parker Peevyhouse

Decades after the Earth was destroyed by nuclear war and its aftermath, a group of teens aboard an orbiting spaceship meant as a refuge are stuck in a VR stasis while their ship falls apart around them. Only if all them “wake up” and exit the VR simulation will the ship allow them to leave. One girl, 17-year-old Lake, has made it her mission to return again and again into the sim, despite the danger of getting stuck in there, to wake those still “living” there. She’s joined by her younger sister Willow in the form of a sim “figment” (her sister is lost in real life) and a young boy, Taren, whom she recently awakened, as they race against time to save the teens and the ship.

Such is the premise of Parker Peevyhouse’s 2020 YA novel Strange Exit. The premise is in... Read More

An Unkindness of Magicians: Dark and brisk with lots of good visuals

An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard

Wizard tournaments and wizard duels are standard fare in fantasy now, and Kat Howard puts the concept to good use in her fast-paced An Unkindness of Magicians. Published in 2017, the story follows a group of families based in Manhattan, who call themselves the Unseen World. They use magic to enrich themselves, gain power and ensure their comforts. Periodically, they engage in a magical struggle for control called the Turning, in which each family or House appoints a champion who duels other champions, often to the death. The House whose champion wins the tournament becomes the Head of the Unseen World until the next Turning, which is usually twenty years. When the book opens, the Turning has been announced seven years early, and two wild card champions are set to disrupt things in a big way.... Read More

Antarctica: Familiar, but well-written and fun

Antarctica by Kim Stanley Robinson

X follows his girlfriend, Val, to Antarctica, only to learn that she is dumping him. A mountaineer, Val becomes an expedition leader while X becomes a grunt. While driving a convoy, one of his vehicles is hijacked, which is odd enough that the American Senator Phil Chase sends one of his staff, Wade, to investigate. Kim Stanley Robinson's Antarctica is an adventure, a near future climate change allegory, and an overview of Antarctica's history, geography, geology, politics, and more.

In other words, Antarctica, published in 1997, is almost exactly the mix of detail, thoughtful speculation, and fun that KSR's readers might expect. The details are laid out in a familiar way: a lot of political and philosophical theorizing is dressed up as conversatio... Read More

Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water: We are interested in what Kaftan does next

Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water by Vylar Kaftan

Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water is a 2019 novella by Vylar Kaftan. The story opens with two characters, Bee, our narrator, and Chela, in jeopardy in a very unusual setting, and takes us places we did not expect.

Bee is trapped in a unique and horrifying prison: a cave complex on a planet far from Earth. She has one companion, Chela, and they have banded together to brave the dangers of the caves: the risk of drowning, narrow tunnels that could trap and suffocate a prisoner, deep shafts and large predatory insects. They have never seen another prisoner. The wardens leave boxes of goods with a guiding beacon for them to find. The boxes contain food and other necessary supplies, and sometimes a whimsical item like a postcard. It’s often a race to get to the boxes before the insects find them, and the boxes, their arbitrary placement and the str... Read More

Empress of Forever: Thrilling space opera, but it is science fiction?

Empress of Forever by Max Gladstone

Max Gladstone’s Empress of Forever (2019) is definitely space opera. In a far distant future, tech genius, entrepreneur and loner Vivian Liao travels from planet to planet and system to system trying to find an advantage in a losing war against an all-powerful space empress. Viv, who is plucked by that same empress out of her our-present-day life (and planned rebellion), draws to herself the usual strange pack of uneasy allies in this battle. The book is complicated, fascinating, fast-paced, and star-and-planet hopping. I’m not sure it’s science fiction.

Viv Liao is a titan of tech, a brilliant, quirky creator who has made billions of dollars and finally, become a threat to the wrong people. On the night of her birthday party she flees, enacting her own personal plan for a... Read More

The Outlaws of Sherwood: A strong contender in an overstuffed genre

The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley

Robin Longbow, a lowly apprentice to the forester of Nottingham Forest, is on the way to Nottingham fair when he is waylaid by bullies. After he accidentally kills one of them, he is forced to flee and go into hiding. If he’s discovered by the sheriff of Nottingham, he’ll be hung by the regent who is sitting in for King Richard the Lionheart while he’s away fighting in Palestine.

But Robin’s friends Much and Marian see Robin’s exile as an opportunity to strike back at the regent and his Norman allies. They convince Robin to gather and lead a band of ragtag Saxon rebels against their enemies. Thus, Robin Hood becomes a symbol and a rallying point for Saxon resistance against Norman tyranny.

The Outlaws of Sherwood is a strong contender in the overstuffed Robin-Hood-legends genre. Read More

Lent: Big twist makes for a powerful exploration of deep themes

Lent by Jo Walton

Jo Walton writes truly thoughtful books, as anyone who has read her THESSALY TRILOGY (The Just City, The Philosopher Kings, Necessity) knows. She’s also, those fans also know, a big fan of Renaissance Italy, particularly Florence. So it comes as no surprise to find this the setting for her newest novel, Lent (2019), which wrestles in the same thought-provoking manner major issues, though here those issues are more personal and intimate, even as they also encompass larger political and philosophical concepts and consequences.

The first half (or nearly so) of th... Read More

Dragonfly: Adventure-filled fantasy and romance for younger readers

Dragonfly by Julia Golding

A political marriage has been arranged between 16-year-old Princess Taoshira (Tashi) of the Blue Crescent Islands and 18-year-old Prince Ramil (Ram) of the country of Gerfal. They're separated by a few hundred miles, a couple of other countries in between theirs, and a world of cultural differences. Both Tashi and Ram are completely appalled by the idea of the match, and it doesn't get any better when they meet up, as Tashi’s government sends her to Gerfal to meet and wed Ram. But their countries need an alliance to fight against an aggressive and brutal warlord, Fergox Spearthrower of Holt (one of those in-between countries), and the marriage is needed, in the views of their rulers, to cement their alliance.

Tashi, frightened, takes refuge in stiff formality; Ram gets wasted and does his best to put Tashi off with his rude and uncouth behavior. They're off on a horse ride that Ram's father, the king o... Read More