Stand-Alone

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

The Last Tsar’s Dragons: Less than the sum of its parts

The Last Tsar’s Dragons by Jane Yolen & Adam Stemple

The Last Tsar’s Dragons (2019) is frustrating, both as a reading exercise and in retrospect, when I think about how universally lauded Jane Yolen is and that Adam Stemple, her son, is a well-regarded author in his own right. So take a master storyteller and her progeny, begin with the political tar pit that was the Russian court in the last days of the Romanovs, and add revolutionaries and literal fire-breathing dragons into the mix…

What should, by all expectations, be a fascinating story meanders between various viewpoints, skips through its timeline with no clear indications as to when events are occurring with relation to one another, and makes... Read More

The Sundering Flood: An old-fashioned heroic tale from a godfather of fantasy

We welcome a new guest reviewer: Michaela Hausmann.

The Sundering Flood by William Morris

The Sundering Flood (1897) is the last fantasy romance by William Morris. Unfinished during his lifetime, the romance was published posthumously by his daughter May Morris. It relates the trials and tribulations of the young hero Osberne and his female friend and future lover Elfhild. Although both are separated from each other by an impassable river (the eponymous Sundering Flood), they can communicate with each other across the water and form a close bond. When fate strikes and Elfhild seems lost, Osberne embarks on a journey to find her and becomes involved in a greater struggle for freedom.

Osberne is in many ways a typical h... Read More

The Purple Sapphire: The great race

The Purple Sapphire by John Taine

In the Rare Book Room in NYC bookstore extraordinaire The Strand there has resided, for quite some time now, a volume that I have greatly wanted to acquire. The book in question is Scottish author John Taine’s very first novel, The Purple Sapphire, which was first released by E. P. Dutton & Co. as a hardcover in 1924 … the same year that Dutton released Russian author Yevgeny Zamyatin’s now-classic dystopian book We. The Strand edition is this very Dutton original, made even more collectible due to its nicely preserved dust ja... Read More

In the Shadow of Spindrift House: One day, we will all go into the water

In the Shadow of Spindrift House by Mira Grant

Zoinks, Scoob. Like, this is one crazy mixed-up book.

In the Shadow of Spindrift House (2019) is a lot like if Mystery, Inc. — you know, those four meddling kids, their talking dog, and that giant green van — stumbled into investigating a Lovecraftian tale. The difference being, of course, that Mira Grant’s novella is deadly, deadly serious, with little chance that any shambling or creeping horrors will be unmasked to reveal an old amusement-park owner who would have gotten away with his nefarious plan if not for said meddlers.

Harlowe Upton-Jones and her three friends, all recent high school graduates, are real-and-true teenage detectives. They’ve spent years solving cases ... Read More

This Is How You Lose the Time War: Great blend of style, structure, and imagination

This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone



 

To: Reviewer

Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone are coming out with a new book — This Is How You Lose the Time War — and I was wondering when you would finally get around to reviewing it.

Reader



To: Reader

Contrary to what you apparently think, we reviewers don’t get the pages as the writers compose them. Plus, we do have lives. That said, I’d already requested an early copy because Gladstone... Read More

A Spectral Hue: Weird in the best possible way

A Spectral Hue by Craig Laurance Gidney

I don’t know how to categorize Craig Laurance Gidney’s 2019 novel A Spectral Hue. It has an eerie, otherworldly story, and it’s published by a noted small horror press, but I didn’t think it was horror. I didn’t think it was fantasy either. And maybe categories don’t really matter for this slim novel that gave me a genuinely original reading experience.

Gidney’s story is set in a small town, a village really, nearly surrounded by marshlands, in Maryland. Many escaped or emancipated enslaved people ended up in Shimmer, working as crab fishers or taking other jobs associated with the water. There is an entity in the marsh, and some people are sensitive to it. Whether they are drawn to the somewhat rare marsh bell orchid flower, with its pink-purple flowers, or something else, they began to create things. Hazel Whitely, an enslaved woman, made strange qui... Read More

NOS4A2: Skip the show and read the book

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son. Everyone on the same page? Okay… Hill has delivered a deeply satisfying and literate novel in NOS4A2. He is absolutely his own man, and he’s very good. But he’s also picked up some tricks from his father. He writes children well, especially those that have some unique ability. In this case, Victoria McQueen has a special gift: she can find lost things. And this skill tends to transport her to wherever those lost things happen to be.

The book is most successful in its character development. Many a page is dedicated to the growth and transformation of Vic McQueen’s personality, as we see her grow from a young girl overwhelmed by her unique capabilities, to a mother equally as overwhelmed by h... Read More

The Grand Dark: A successful experiment for fans of the very strange

The Grand Dark by Richard Kadrey

By day, the bleak city of Lower Proszawa exists in shades of gray and black. Smoke from the many factories cloak the sky. Robotic vehicles roll along the streets, and robot devices and genetically-altered chimera share the sidewalks with the residents, including the wounded war veterans called Iron Dandies because many wear masks to hide burned and disfigured faces. By night, decadent theaters, bars, and mansions glow like moons as people party with a desperate glee — trying to hold at bay their fear of the plague, the new war, the Nachtvogel (secret police), the brutal city police, and each other.

Largo Moorden is a bike courier, a young man of simple needs. He just wants to make love to his girlfriend, party, and ensure that he has his next hit of morphia. An unexpected and undeserved promotion pushes Largo into a labyrinthine warren of discoveries about his city, the last war, and the coming o... Read More

Clash by Night: An inventive mixed bag of a novella

Clash by Night by C.L. Moore & Henry Kuttner

Clash by Night (1943) , by the wife-husband team of C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner, is an odd bit of a bird, feeling less like a smoothie that blends together different story types and writerly styles and more like a salad where you can easily spot the tomatoes, greens, peppers, etc. Uneven overall, but it does have its good points.

The opening gives us the setting quite directly, with an unknown narrator of the future telling us, “We are on Venus, nine hundred years ago, beneath the Sea of Shoals.” Earth has been destroyed by atomic war and in the 200 years since that catastrophe, humanity has continued on Venus, with most of the people (“civilians”) living in Keeps (underwater domes) and various mercenary... Read More

The Lesson: A thoughtful look at race relations, power, and violence

The Lesson by Cadwell Turnbull

The Lesson (2019), by Cadwell Turnbull, is a solid first-contact sort of novel that feels fresh due to its unique setting in the Virgin Islands and has some serious depth to it in the way it uses the encounter between aliens and the islanders as a vehicle for exploring colonialism/race relations, though it left me wanting a little bit more in terms of character and craft.

The novel opens pre-landing with an introduction to the various major characters, including:

Derrick: a young sci-fi/fantasy fan who will eventually become assistant to the alien ambassador
Patrice: his neighbor and best friend
Jackson: Patrice’s father, a teacher and someone going through a mid-life crisis
Aubrey: Patrice’s mother, also learning more about herself
Grams/Harriet: Derrick’s stern grandmother
Lee: Derrick’s younger sister
M... Read More

Tide of Stone: Had issues with the voice

Tide of Stone by Kaaron Warren

As usual with DNFs (Did Not Finish), this will be a quite brief review as I have too much respect for the achievement of finishing a novel to belabor its bad points. Or, in this case, bad point really, for what caused me to give up on Kaaron Warren’s Tide of Stone, twice actually, was voice.

In Tempuston, Australia, the town has taken to punishing its worst criminals in two ways. The first is relatively mundane — they imprison them in the Time Ball Tower set across a small stretch of water. The second way is the fantastical aspect of the novel. The prisoners are “preserved,” given a long-ago concocted cocktail that gives them eternal life but turns them into withered, desiccated bodies that can’t move themselves and talk so slowly many can’t understand them. In short, not really ... Read More

The Silver God of the Orang Hutan: Sladangs and leeches and crocs, oh, my!

The Silver God of the Orang Hutan by David Douglas

As many of you here at FanLit may have already discerned, this reader is a huge fan of English author H. Rider Haggard, and at this point I have read 45 of the man’s 58 novels. Haggard, for good reason, has been called “The Father of the Lost Race Novel,” and his influence on that genre has been enormous, casting a very long shadow across the decades since he came out with the triple whammy of King Solomon’s Mines, its sequel Allan Quatermain, and the seminal fantasy She, all in the mid-1880s. Haggard has had many imitators, many of whom have been forgotten over the intervening decades. Happily, a new series from the Medford, Oregon-based publisher Armchair Fiction is now avail... Read More

The Listener: An exciting and emotional drama with a great setting

The Listener by Robert McCammon

Robert McCammon’s The Listener (2018), a finalist for this year’s Locus Award for Best Horror Novel, takes us to New Orleans during the Great Depression. There we meet:

Pearly, a good-looking huckster selling over-priced fakely-engraved Bibles to poor and grieving widows
Ginger LaFrance, a sexy and completely unscrupulous grifter who is tired of her current partner in crime and ready to choose a new one
Donny, Ginger’s violent and crazy nephew
Curtis Mayhew, a young black man who earns a decent wage as a redcap with the Union Railroad
Orchid, Curtis’s mother, a woman who feels that her health has been declining since the death of her husband years ago and who worries about her sons’ insistence that he can hear voices in his head
Nilla and Ja... Read More

The Raven Tower: Intelligent, thoughtful, and visceral

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie

The Raven Tower (2019) begins, as so many fantasy tales do, with a young man returning home to claim the powerful title and honor which are his birthright. Upon his arrival, he discovers that his father has gone missing and is presumed dead, while his uncle has taken the seat of power for himself with the promise that it will be given over to the young man when the time is deemed to be right (with the implicit understanding that the uncle will never do so). The young man then sets about proving his uncle’s perfidy and setting the countryside back to its normal state of affairs with the help of a few trusted friends. Despite much hardship and sacrifice, the young man succeeds in usurping the usurper, titles and honor are bestowed upon him, and everyone lives happily ever after, right? Right.

Except Read More

Recursion: A mind-bending, time-amending techno-thriller

Recursion by Blake Crouch

Recursion (2019) begins with a dual timeline in alternating chapters, a familiar literary approach, but then splinters into razor-sharp time shards as the characters deal with the explosive consequences of a new technology relating to personal memory.

In November 2018, detective Barry Sutton attempts to prevent a woman from jumping from the 41st floor of a New York City tower. The woman, Ann, tells him she has False Memory Syndrome (FMS), a new affliction in which a person remembers an entirely different past for themselves, like their memory branched at a certain point in the past. The memories, though vivid, are in shades of gray. Ann’s conviction that she’s lost a life in which she had a happy marriage and a nine-year-old son was so compelling that she searched for ― and found ― the man she remembered marrying, who said he didn’t recognize her, though Ann is convince... Read More

The Cabin at the End of the World: Disorientating and brutal

The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay

Eight-year-old Wen and her dads, Eric and Andrew, are vacationing in a remote cabin in the woods in New Hampshire. Eric and Andrew are lounging on the back deck, overlooking a lake, trying hard to give Wen some space to play on her own. That almost immediately appears to be the wrong decision, as a large man named Leonard unexpectedly arrives while Wen is catching grasshoppers in the front yard. Wen knows she’s not supposed to talk to strangers, but Leonard is disarmingly nice, and he’s very helpful with the grasshoppers.

The tension posed by this scenario is already ratcheted up to 11 on a 10 point scale, but it’s only the beginning; three more people show up with strange and menacing weapons. Wen runs inside and she and her dads attempt to keep the strangers out. They fail. The strangers, however, do not immediately slaughter the family. Instead, after immobilizing the men... Read More

Dreadful Sanctuary: The Norman conquest

Dreadful Sanctuary by Eric Frank Russell

As I have mentioned elsewhere, there are several writers who never seem to let me down, and in that elite group, English author Eric Frank Russell must surely be included. The Best of Eric Frank Russell (1978) was my initial exposure to this Golden Age great (reputedly, legendary editor John W. Campbell’s favorite contributor), and it was, for me, among the best of the 21 Best of… titles in the justly celebrated Ballantine series. I had also loved Men, Martians and Machines (1955), which can almost be seen as a warm-up for Star Trek; Read More

Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune: Like a Chinese-American Hallmark movie

Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim

A bitter, ongoing quarrel with her mother about her career plans to be a chef led Natalie Tan to leave her San Francisco home in anger. Seven years of stubborn silence and globe-wandering later, Natalie is called home by a neighbor at her mother’s passing. She still deeply desires to be a chef and to have her own authentic Chinese restaurant, like her grandmother Qiao had done many years earlier, and now she’ll have the chance: Natalie has inherited her laolao’s (maternal grandmother’s) long-abandoned restaurant below their apartment. It’s still operable, though dusty and dirty, but their Chinatown neighborhood is fraying, with family-owned businesses dying and a steep rise in real estate prices causing Chinese families to move away.

A psychically-gifted neighbor returns Qiao’s old, handmade recipe book to Natalie, along with a prediction: if Natalie cooks three rec... Read More

The Agony House: A fun and instructive haunted house mystery

The Agony House by Cherie Priest

When she was too young to remember, Denise Farber’s father and grandmother died in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. She and her mother fled to Houston. Now, with Denise about to enter her senior year in high school, her mother has just remarried and their new little family is returning to New Orleans. They have very little money, so they’ve purchased an old dilapidated Victorian style home that they hope to fix up and turn into a Bed & Breakfast.

After moving into the house, which has been nicknamed “The Nail House” by the neighbors, conditions are far worse than they imagined. Almost nothing works, new electrical wiring and plumbing is required, all of the walls and flooring need remodeling, and the place is filthy. As they start working on the house, strange things start happening — Denise sees, hears, smells, and feels things that don’t seem to exist and then there are multi... Read More

The Hunger: Taut and tense historical horror

The Hunger by Alma Katsu

The Donner Party tragedy — a horribly-gone-wrong 1846 emigration to California that ended with half the emigrants dead and the survivors having to resort to cannibalism — would hardly seem to need a ratcheting up of the horror via the addition of the supernatural. But that’s just what Alma Katsu has done in her Locus-nominated novel The Hunger (2018). And honestly, I’m still not sure I needed the supernatural aspect because Katsu has created an entirely compelling, immersively suspenseful account of this harrowing journey just out of the more mundane characters and environment.

The Hunger opens with a prologue, which is really a looking ahead in time, as a rescue group sent out in April of 1847 to find the “last known survivor of the Donnor Party tragedy”... Read More

Creatures of Want and Ruin: Original and entertaining

Creatures of Want and Ruin by Molly Tanzer

At first glance, based on the title and cover art, Molly Tanzer’s Creatures of Want and Ruin (2018) looks and sounds like it’s a sequel to her earlier novel Creatures of Will and Temper, but it’s not. The stories have different characters and settings, so I’m going to treat Creatures of Want and Ruin as a stand-alone novel.

During prohibition, Ellie West is a bootlegger in Amityville, a village on New York’s Long Island. Due to her father’s declining health and inability to work at his trade as a fisherman, her family struggles to make ends meet but is unwilling to accept charity. Ellie’s brother Lester, a smart young man wh... Read More

In the Night Wood: Immersively atmospheric despite overly-familiar plot

In the Night Wood by Dale Bailey

I can’t honestly say there was much new or surprising about Dale Bailey’s In the Night Wood (2018), making the plot easily the weakest element of this Locus-nominated novel. Its strength, meanwhile, lies in its vivid, evocative prose and its portrayal of the inner turmoil of its main character.

When Charles Hayden was just a child, he came across an old book entitled In the Night Wood by the 19th Century author Caedmon Hollow and was mysteriously drawn to it, so much so he stole it from his grandfather’s library where he’d found it (the old man wouldn’t notice, since it was during his grandfather’s funeral that Charles took it). Years later, looking for another copy of it at the college library, he fortuitously runs into Erin, a young woman who was “not beautiful exactly, but striking ... Out of his league anyway,” who tur... Read More

Ahab’s Return: A well-crafted novel that didn’t quite compel

Ahab's Return: or, The Last Voyage by Jeffrey Ford

Ahab's Return: or, The Last Voyage (2018), by Jeffrey Ford, is a Locus finalist for fantasy novels, so one should keep that in mind while taking in this review, as I take a somewhat (though only somewhat) lesser view of the novel. Which happens to me surprisingly often with awards outside the Booker; probably something else to keep in mind.

The titular character is indeed that Captain Ahab of Moby Dick fame, but what one should know off the bat is that one needn’t have read that classic American work to follow/enjoy Ahab’s Return. A good thing since not many have read it (including a number of those who say they have — you know who you are). Ford’s opening conceit is that Ahab actually survived his final ... Read More

Gather, Darkness!: Hard times in Megatheopolis

Gather, Darkness! by Fritz Leiber

By April 1943, Chicago-born author Fritz Leiber had seen around 20 of his short stories released in the various pulp magazines of the day and was ready to embark as a full-fledged novelist. Thus, his first longer work, Conjure Wife, did indeed make its debut in the 4/43 issue of Unknown, the fantasy-oriented sister magazine of John W. Campbell’s Astounding Science-Fiction. In it, a college professor, Norman Saylor, discovers that his wife, Tansy, is nothing less than a practicing witch, leading to increasingly dire and supernatural consequences. Leiber’s second novel, released just a month later, was Gather, Darkness!, and it, too, featured the subject of witchcraft … but in a f... Read More

Severance: These aren’t the zombies you’re looking for

Severance by Ling Ma

Candace Chen, daughter of Chinese immigrants, lives in New York City and works for a book publisher (Bibles are her specialty). Photography is her hobby so, in her spare time, she takes photos of people and places in the city and posts them to her blog.

Candace is one of the last people in Manhattan after a viral epidemic rages across the globe, turning most of the world’s population into mindless automatons who get stuck doing some little rote routine until they starve. She joins up with a small group of survivors who are being led by an authoritarian guy named Bob to some place he calls “The Facility” where they can start a new civilization. As the group travels to The Facility, Candace tells us her story, weaving in a series of near-past and far-past flashbacks.

In Ling Ma’s Severance (2018), which is up for a Locus Award for Best First Novel... Read More