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Salvation Day: Multiple issues, some bright spots

Salvation Day by Kari Wallace

In the prologue to Kari Wallace’s debut adult novel, Salvation Day (2019), we witness the fate of the huge spaceship House of Wisdom after a biological weapon killed every member aboard except for a 12 year old boy named Jaswinder Bhattacharya, whose mother engineered his escape.

Now it’s a decade later and Jaswinder is a young man, well-educated, talented, and famous for his survival. A group of cultish separatists who are angry at the way they’ve been treated by Earth’s government plan to kidnap Jaswinder so they can gain access to House of Wisdom and get away from Earth. Their terrorist team is led by Zahra, the daughter of the man who released the virus. But when Jaswinder and the terrorists enter the ship, they make some discoveries that endanger the entire population of Earth.

To put things bluntly, S... Read More

Esbae: Where’s Hermione Granger when you need her?

Esbae by Linda Haldeman

I love fantasies set at colleges, so when I heard about Linda Haldeman’s Esbae: A Winter’s Tale (1981), I had to track it down and read it. The titular Esbae is a spirit who is found wanting by some greater power, and cast down to earth. It attaches itself to an awkward college student, Sophie, and is caught up in a magical battle between good and evil.

The three main human characters are all to be found in Dr. Leo Ernst’s history class. (We know that this is fantasy, because even after an ice storm, everybody goes t... Read More

The House on Parchment Street: A ghost story from a developing fantasy writer

The House on Parchment Street by Patricia McKillip

I probably would never have known about The House on Parchment Street (1973) were I not such a huge fan of Patricia McKillip's fantasy stories, and while browsing her name on a library search engine, this title popped up. It was obviously one of her earliest published works, so I was willing to give it a go.

The House on Parchment Street is profoundly different from her later stories, which are not only told with dense poetic-prose, but focus more on fantasy worlds and creatures. This is a fairly straightforward ghost story, with equally straightforward prose, about a girl called Carol Christopher who travels from America to stay with her cousin Bruce, Aunt Catherine, and Uncle Harold in a small English village.

Carol a... Read More

The Invasion: This Hugo finalist has some issues

The Invasion by Peadar O’Guilin

The Invasion (2018), a finalist for the 2019 Hugo Award for Best Young Adult Novel, is the sequel to Peadar O’Guilin’s The Call, which you’ll need to read first. (This review will spoil some of the plot of that first novel.) Once again I listened to the audiobook version (Scholastic Audio) which was nicely performed by Irish actor Amy Shiels.

At the end of The Call, our hero, Nessa, had been changed by the Sidhe. They made her fireproof. Because of her crippled legs, nobody expected Nessa to survive her Call, so now she’s un... Read More

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

PERfunctory AfFECTION: Far from perfect

PERfunctory AfFECTION by Kim Harrison

Three years ago Meg, a talented artist who also works as a university art instructor, was in a bad car accident. She was driving and her boyfriend, the passenger, was badly injured. Since then she’s dealt with PTSD, high levels of anxiety, and overwhelming guilt. She has also had trouble recovering after her mother’s death and this has led to depression. Meg is pretty messed up and has trouble teaching her classes, making friends, and coping with life in general.

As the novella opens, Meg’s psychiatrist has put her in an experimental drug study. Almost immediately, Meg feels much, much better, almost suspiciously so. Within days of starting the new medication, Meg has even made some new friends, something that had previously been all but impossible. Her boyfriend, though, suspects the drug causes hallucinations and delusions and that Meg has too quickly become wholly dependent on it. The... Read More

The Fever King: A queer future world

The Fever King by Victoria Lee

It's the 22nd century, and North America is divided into several different countries in the aftermath of a worldwide disaster. A plague that first hit back in the early part of the 21st century killed ― and continues to kill ― almost every person who get infected with the virus. Those few who survive become “witchings,” developing a variety of magical powers as a result of the virus’s presence in their body.

Noam Álvaro is a bisexual teenage refugee from Atlantia, now living in the West Durham slums of the more well-developed country of Carolinia. He’s the son of a Jewish mother and a Hispanic father (thus ticking as many boxes as I’ve ever seen for diversity representation in a single character). When Noam survives a plague outbreak that kills his father and most of the people he knows, he emerges with unusually potent magical powers over technology that make him highly valuable to th... Read More

Crown of Feathers: Too familiar for me

Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto

If you like Anne McCaffrey’s DRAGONRIDERS OF PERN series and are looking for more of the same — elite society of beast-riders with a telepathic/empathic link between human and animal — then Nicki Pau Preto’s YA debut novel Crown of Feathers (2019), the first in a series of the same name, might be worth your time. If you’ve read enough of this type of book to pick out key plot points and character developments from seven leagues away, though, there won’t be much here to surprise you.

Veronyka and her older sister Val were orphaned as children by the war racking their country and raised by their grandmother until her recent death, at which point Val took responsibility for the pair. The two teenagers are desperate to join the ranks of the fabled Phoe... Read More

Damsel: A disturbing feminist allegory in fairy tale form

Damsel by Elana K. Arnold

Damsel
(2018) has an absolutely gorgeous cover, one of the loveliest I’ve seen, with a glowing title wound about with vines, bleeding hearts and other flowers. But on closer examination there’s something just a little bit off about the cover image. An anatomically correct heart. A golden spur with a myriad of sharp points. A dragon’s pointed tail. It’s a bit disturbing. And it’s an apt metaphor for the contents of Elana K. Arnold’s book, where the fairy-tale details initially mask an allegorical story that is far, far darker.

Prince Emory is on a quest, a traditional rite of passage in his kingdom: He is traveling to the gray lands to conquer a dragon, rescue a beautiful young damsel, and bring her back to his kingdom to be his wife, as his father and forefathers have done before him. The hazards of his journey to the dragon’s lair and his tension-f... Read More

The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump: Very punny

The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump by Harry Turtledove

David Fisher is an inspector for the Environmental Perfection Agency (EPA), a bureaucracy in charge of regulating the industrial by-products (pollution) caused by using magical spells in an alternate America where most of the technology is based on magic or the actions of any deities or demons that people believe in. For example, the telephones work because there are imps that relay messages back and forth, salamanders produce heat, and vehicles are actually flying carpets.

One night, David gets a frantic call from a superior who tells him that there’s some unusual activity at a spell dump north of this world’s version of Los Angeles. A spell dump is where companies and other entities guard the spells they devise so they can keep them secret, and so any dangerous by-products of the magic are contained.

When David visits the spell dump, he notices some oddities... Read More

Slan: A classic and Retro-Hugo winner

Slan by A.E van Vogt

Slan, by A.E. van Vogt, is considered a classic science fiction novel. Published in 1940, Slan, by nature, feels old-fashioned and obsolete, especially in the technological sense, but it tells a story that is entertaining and intense, at least until the end.

We meet our protagonist, Jommy Cross, when he’s a young boy who is running from the police who have just killed his mother. Jommy is a Slan, a race of genetically-engineered super-humans who are stronger and smarter than normal humans and who can read minds and speak to each other telepathically. They are identifiable by the gold-colored tendrils that hang down the sides of their heads, like antennae. At one point in our world’s history, the Slan had almost conquered humans, but their numbers were few and humans ... Read More

The Dragon Lords: Bad Faith: Attack of the 50 ft. clay-footed god

The Dragon Lords: Bad Faith by Jon Hollins

Bad Faith (2018) concludes the DRAGON LORDS trilogy Jon Hollins began with Fool’s Gold, a rollicking heist story that more than earned its comparisons to The Guardians of the Galaxy and The Hobbit. The trilogy’s second volume, False Idols, answered some lingering questions I’d had, but also took the series down a darker and more meandering path. Bad Faith continues that darker and carelessly blood-drenched tone while questi... Read More

The Grey Bastards: Engaging action and characters, has trouble with language and tone

The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French

So let’s get this out of the way early with regard to Jonathan French’s The Grey Bastards, winner of the 2017 Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO) contest. (Kevin, who originally reviewed this novel for Fantasy Literature, rated it 7 stars out of 10; Tadiana DNF’d it because of the pervasive offensive content.) It’s foul-mouthed, has a good amount of graphic language (warning: I’m about to give a few examples. Seriously — bad words ahead), sex, and violence, and much of that is aimed in ugly fashion at women. There’s a heaping amount of “fuck’s” in the story (both the word and the act), but also a lot of “quim” and “cunt.” The women, save two, are whores, “bedwarmers,” or mothers who if young breastfee... Read More

Competence: Silly situations and frivolous fashions

Competence by Gail Carriger

I keep picking up Gail Carriger’s books because I really loved her FINISHING SCHOOL series, so I know it’s possible for me to connect with her work, but Competence (2018) is the third CUSTARD PROTOCOL book I’ve tried (after giving up on THE PARASOL PROTECTORATE from which this series spun off) and I’m realizing that it’s just not working for me. So, take my review with the proverbial grain of salt. If you’re a fan of THE PARASOL PROTECTORATE and THE CUSTARD PROTOCOL, just ignore my opinion and go purchase and read Competence. You’ll almost certainly love it.

In this installment, Primrose and the werecat get stranded on land for a bit while the rest of the crew of The Spotted C... Read More

Metamorphica: The myths of Ovid’s Metamorphoses reimagined

 



Metamorphica by Zachary Mason

Zachary Mason, who retold Homer’s story of the wanderings of Odysseus in his well-received 2007 debut novel, The Lost Books of the Odyssey, takes on Ovid's epic narrative poem Metamorphoses in his latest work, Metamorphica (2018). Mason distills Metamorphoses’ over 250 Greek myths into 53 brief stories, including the tales of Arachne, Daedalus and Icarus, P... Read More

Prador Moon: Grimdark space opera

Prador Moon by Neal Asher

In his far-future POLITY series, Neal Asher writes consistent, dependable, grimdark space opera. Prador Moon is one of three POLITY books that came out in 2006, and the fifth overall. It’s the first in the in-universe chronology, though, telling of the first meeting between the Prador and humanity. To say things don’t get off on the right foot would be to sell the opening scene (and the several novels which follow) short. Prador-human relations tumble to bits in the aftermath of “diplomacy,” and all-out space war erupts.

Asher, as is his custom, provides viewpoints into all sides of his conflicts. Scenes from the Prador general Imminence’s ship grotesquely describe what happens to the humans captured, including the rudimentary research into thrall technology as war increases the pressure on the lab. Meanwhile,... Read More

Space Opera: An overdose of whimsy and wonder

Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

This is the kind of review I always dread writing — so many people loved Space Opera (2018), either becoming brand-new Catherynne M. Valente fans or cementing their appreciation of her talent. I can see why they would like it, I really can. The novel bears all the hallmarks of a Valente project: an overabundance of whimsy and wonder, intricately wordy sentences that sometimes become whole paragraphs, an aggressively manic-cute species, and much more. And there’s the acknowledged, heavy debt owed to Douglas Adams’ ground-breaking novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; much of your pers... Read More

Sea Kings of Mars and Otherworldly Stories: Leigh Brackett’s fantasy stories

Sea Kings of Mars and Otherworldly Stories by Leigh Brackett

As NASA’s Curiosity rover trundles about the surface of Mars today, another page turns on the glories of pulp science fiction. Leigh Brackett’s vision of a land populated with humans and aliens, ancient cities and creatures, long-buried secrets and mysterious deserts fades a shade closer to pale as one desolate desert image after another is beamed back to Earth. But there was a day when her works shone with the hope and possibility of life on the planets beyond Earth. In 2005, Gollancz brought together the best of these stories as part of their Fantasy Masterworks collection. Sea Kings of Mars and Otherworldly Stories is an imaginatively nostalgic look back to a time when the solar system held more possibilities.

The collection contains five nove... Read More

Tricks for Free: Left me unsatisfied

Tricks for Free by Seanan McGuire

Tricks for Free, (2018) Seanan McGuire’s latest in the INCRYPTID series, left me the least satisfied of the series books to date. I’ll get into what disappointed me later in the review. As is always the case with the series, there are plenty of things to enjoy and I’d like to talk about those first.

Tricks for Free is the second book featuring the “baby” of the Price family, Antimony, who usually goes by Annie. This synopsis may contain spoilers for Magic for Nothing, the first Antimony Price book.

Previously, Annie went undercover in England to infiltrate the Convenant, a ruthless association of monster hunters wh... Read More

King of Ashes: Feels a bit too “been there, done that”

King of Ashes by Raymond E. Feist

Back in the 1980s, like a lot of people, I was eagerly consuming Raymond E. Feist’s RIFTWAR SAGA, which began with Magician: Apprentice and continued onward through a host of novels. I loved Magician, though I have little memory of it, and read the next few books in the series, though eventually I lost track, whether that was due to lack of interest or not, I have no idea. But Feist ended RIFTWAR a few years ago and is now back with a new book — King of Ashes — and series — THE FIREMANE SAGA. And it’s a bit like being in 1980 all ... Read More

To Kill a Kingdom: …but to merely disable a deadly love affair

To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo

I loved the concept for this book. Siren princess (Lira) is punished by her power hungry Sea Queen mother for harboring a shred of "human" sentiment, and therefore, forced to seek the heart of a siren-hunting prince. Prince (Elian) casts about on the deep, in self-imposed exile from his own kingdom, vanquishing the world of the human killing sirens dominating the sea, and his only true home.

There were times, yes, many times when the narrative prose was lyrical and immersive and it drew me right in to this commercially quite popular story. Regrettably, that voice was inconsistent. In the main, I think this is due to imperfectly executed dual POV.

It’s hard to do dual POV well. Lira’s voice was by far the stronger of the two. Prince Elian had narrative responsibility for the “rag tag” crew’s assembly and much of their dialogue. And this brings up another opportunity missed. ... Read More

The Armored Saint: Reads as a very long prologue

The Armored Saint by Myke Cole

In Heloise’s land, the foremost rule of the Order is clear: “Suffer no wizard to live.” For the exercise of magical powers, it is said, will open a portal to hell through the eyes of the wizard, allowing devils to come through and wreak destruction among men. But all sixteen year old Heloise can see is the oppression of the religious Order, which allows its Sojourners and Pilgrims to bully and oppress the common people. Anyone even suspected of using magical powers, or protecting those who have such powers, is immediately executed by the flail- and chain-bearing Order members, who act in the name of the Emperor.

Heloise Factor lives with her parents in the small medieval-type village of Hammersdown, where families are named for the father’s profession: Factor, Trapper, Fletcher, Grower, and so forth. Heloise’s best friend Basina Tinker comes from a family of metalworkers, who form metal ox ... Read More

The Lady of the Rivers: The protagonist lacks the magic of her ancestors

The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory

The Lady of the Rivers (2011) begins with the capture of a young French maiden. She wears a man's cap and breeches, and tells her captors that she is following the voices of angels. When our narrator, Jacquetta of Luxembourg, calls her Joan, it quickly becomes apparent that Gregory has opened her novel with the capture of the legendary Joan of Arc. Moments in history don't come much more momentous than this one, and it marks the first trial Jacquetta must overcome, in era full of intrigue, alchemy and political suspense.

Dramatic as the opening is, therein lies its problem: Jacquetta merely plays witness to the greater moments of history, and her role of passive observer continues throughout the novel. Whilst Joan of Arc awaits trial in a fifteen-year-old Jacquetta's household, she reads Joan's cards. Jacquetta is descended from Melusina, the water goddess, and i... Read More

Song of Blood & Stone: What if the author had loved the whole story?

Song of Blood & Stone by L. Penelope

Originally, L. Penelope published Song of Blood & Stone under her own publishing house, Heartspell. In 2016, it earned attention from the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off (SPFBO), where a team of prominent fantasy book bloggers evaluate 300 enlisted fantasy titles and review the very best of them. Song of Blood & Stone was so popular St. Martin’s Press picked it up and is now publishing it mainstream with a few changes.

This book is a self-made success. L. Penelope sent it out into a massive vat stuffed with dross and chaff and it rose organically out of obscurity because readers loved it. And I’m torn, because I want to champion it, too, but I'm sorry, I can’t do it.

Song of Blood & Stone is a ... Read More

School for Psychics: Yet another school for magically-gifted youngsters

School for Psychics by K.C. Archer

Theodora “Teddy” Cannon is hiding her short black hair and slight build under a long blonde wig, weighted underwear that adds thirty pounds, and cheap flashy clothing. It’s all in an effort to fool the security personnel and facial recognition software at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. There she plans to parlay her $5,000 bankroll (from selling her car) into enough money to pay back the $270,000 she owes to Sergei Zharkov, a vicious Vegas bookie, and her adoptive parents, who know Teddy has been living an aimless and trouble-strewn life but are unaware that she’s stolen $90,000 from their retirement account to make a partial payment to Zharkov. Teddy knows she has the talent to “read” other card players almost faultlessly ― it’s led to her being banned from all the casinos on the Strip ― and is confident that she can win big at Texas Hold ’Em if she isn’t spotted and kicked out. Her plan is wo... Read More