2

Click on stars to FIND REVIEWS BY RATING:
Recommended:
Not Recommended:

Unconquerable Sun: Needs more context

Unconquerable Sun by Kate Elliott

Unconquerable Sun (2020) is the latest YA novel from Kate Elliott, the first novel in THE SUN CHRONICLES, and is nominated for a 2021 Locus Award for Best Science Fiction novel. The conceit is that Elliott has gender-flipped the historical narrative of Alexander the Great, adding a space opera setting full of galaxy-spanning politics and military battles, along with the complications created by unimaginably wealthy and privileged people.

Unfortunately, this one was not a success for me. Unconquerable Sun is told from three points-of-view: Princess Sun, daughter of queen-marshal Eirene of the Republic of Chaonia; Persephone Lee, a military cadet with a complicated family history; and Apama At Sabao, an enemy combatant whose importance to th... Read More

Fairhaven Rising: Boring

Fairhaven Rising by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

I've read every book that L.E. Modesitt, Jr. has written in the SAGA OF RECLUCE. I have thrilled to watch different characters go through the refiner's fire of youth and grow into interesting adults. There have been sorrows and joys along the way, and I often felt like I was reading the same book over and over with different character names, different trades they were pursuing, but mostly the same pattern and the same themes. Men are naturally power-hungry and bad. Women are better rulers and good. Applying super future ideology to a pre-Industrial revolution society creates revolution …  All interesting themes, and some of them very cleverly discussed.

Fairhaven Rising (2021) is boring. It takes more than half the book to reach any real advancement of the... Read More

Troyana: An action-packed but very poorly written sequel

Troyana by S.P. Meek

A short while back, in my review of S.P. Meek’s 1930 offering The Drums of Tapajos, I mentioned that this was a lost-race novel that was fatally done in by both a paucity of descriptive detail and a lack of memorable dramatic incidents. And indeed, of the 23 books that this reader has so far experienced in Armchair Fiction’s ongoing Lost World/Lost Race series, which currently stands at 30 volumes, The Drums of Tapajos might very well have been the weakest of the bunch. But in that same review I also admitted some slight desire to someday check out the book’s sequel, Troyana, in the hopes that things might pick up a little, or that Meek’s skills as a wordsmith might somehow have im... Read More

The Conductors: Slow and muddy

The Conductors by Nicole Glover

The Conductors (2021), by Nicole Glover, has lots of elements I’d normally eat up like a buffet: a historical setting (late 1800s Philadelphia), a focus on social injustice, a murder mystery, magic systems. Unfortunately, the elements never cohered into a story that held my attention, making the novel a real struggle. I thought about giving up on it relatively early, but kept pushing through despite my instincts, probably helped by the fact that my Kindle wasn’t showing my progress despite my repeated attempts to force it to do so. Eventually, I picked it up on a different device, realized I’d hit the two-thirds point, and figuring that was more than fair, skimmed through the rest.

Henrietta (“Hetty”) and Benjy Rhodes are known as “The Conductors” for their fabled exploits leading slaves from captivity into the free s... Read More

Across the Green Grass Fields: A weaker entry in a highly praised series

Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuire

I’ve been hit and miss on Seanan McGuire’s WAYWARD CHILDREN portal series, finding some of the novellas lyrical and emotional and others frustratingly slapdash. Her newest, Across the Green Grass Fields (2021), unfortunately falls closer to the latter end of the spectrum.

As one expects by now, we have a young girl who steps through a doorway into another world. We meet Regan first at seven, part of a best friends trio with Heather Nelson and Laurel Anderson. Quickly, though, she gets drawn into one of those cruel moments of childhood where demarcations are drawn. When queen bee Laurel arbitrarily shuns Heather, deciding she isn’t “girly” enough, Regan, learning quickly “this is what it costs to be different,” goes along with it. Years... Read More

The Devil’s Hand: The Hole shebang

The Devil’s Hand directed by William J. Hole, Jr.

In the 1943 film The Seventh Victim, just one of nine brilliant horror films produced by Val Lewton for RKO that decade, a character played by Kim Hunter comes to NYC to look for her missing sister, and discovers that that sister has joined a secretive, devil-worshipping cult in the heart of Greenwich Village. It is a superior horror outing, as are all the other Lewton horror outings, featuring wonderful acting, a sharp and compact script, and – typical for these Lewton affairs – a deliciously eerie atmosphere throughout. Flash forward 18 years, and we find still another film dealing with a secret devil cult hidden away in the heart of a great American metropolis, but with nowhere near the previous film’s artful skill and enduring class. That later film is The Devil’s Hand, which was shot in 1959 but not distributed until two years later. Originally released as part of a double bill th... Read More

Quantum Shadows: Unpleasant

Quantum Shadows by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

What would life be like if you were living through a seemingly never-ending series of holocaust-style planetary collapses? Corvyn is a cynic. He questions everything and tries to hold himself above the mundane ideals that normal people struggle with. He’s been there, done that, is powerful enough in the world order that exists to resist almost anyone, but he refuses to take a leadership role himself.

In Quantum Shadows (2020) we follow Corvyn as he attempts to track down an apparent attempt to seize power by entities unknown. Over the next several hundred pages, L.E. Modesitt, Jr. drags us through a broad-ranging review of various religious/moral viewpoints that populate Heaven, the planet Corvyn lives on. As with almost all Modesitt books, there are plenty of semi-tongue in... Read More

The Damned: A disappointing sequel

The Damned by Renée Ahdieh

The Damned (2020) is the sequel to Renée Ahdieh’s The Beautiful, a young adult vampire novel set in 19th century New Orleans. You’ll need to read The Beautiful first, and this review will have a few spoilers for that novel.

The Damned begins where The Beautiful left off. (Spoilers for The Beautiful are starting here!) Sébastien Saint Germain had been betrayed and murdered by his friend. Celine begged Sébastien‘s uncle, Nicodemus, to save him by turning him into a vampire, but Nicodemus was disinclined until Celine agreed to have her memories of Sébastien erased in exchange. (Nicode... Read More

Shadow Captain: Worse than its predecessor

Shadow Captain by Alastair Reynolds

Shadow Captain (2019) is the second novel in Alastair ReynoldsREVENGER series for young adults. You’ll need to read Revenger first, and this review will have some spoilers for that first book.

It’s been three months since Revenger ended, and Adrana and Fura Ness are back together after Adrana was kidnapped by the evil pirate Bosa Sennen and rescued by Fura. Now the Ness sisters have Bosa’s infamous ship and Fura, markedly changed since the beginning of Revenger, has declared herself captain. She wants to find the place where Bosa kept her wealth but, to do so, first she’ll have to land to get refueled and ... Read More

Solstice: Didn’t work for me

Solstice by Lorence Alison

Solstice (2020), by Lorence Alison, is subtitled “A Tropical Horror Comedy” and is a thinly fictionalized take on the disastrous Fyre Festival, with the addition of an eldritch sea monster lurking beneath the waves. I wasn’t expecting high literature from it, just the proverbial “beach read” to distract myself from the fact that there is no beach anywhere near me (and if there were, it would probably be closed anyway). But the more I think about it, the more it just doesn’t work for me.

Adri Sanchez is a smart, inquisitive teen who’s working as a waitress in her parents’ diner. They have lofty aspirations for her and have lined up a summer internship for her at a law office, but what Adri really wants to be is a journalist. Her wealthy best friend, Elena, is given two tickets to the much-hyped Solstice Festival on Myla Island, and invites Adri to... Read More

The Cerulean Queen: Takes a step backwards

The Cerulean Queen by Sarah Kozloff

In my review of The Broken Queen, the penultimate chapter of Sarah Kozloff’s NINE REALMS tetralogy, I said I was going to need a “slambang ending” to be able to recommend the series. Unfortunately, after finishing the series’ concluding novel, The Cerulean Queen (2020), I can’t say I got the close I was hoping for.

The final novel picks up where the last one finished (warning, some possible spoilers for books 1-3 ahead), with Cerulia poised to try and take back her throne from the usurper Matwyck. It’s not a spoiler to note she succeeds, given that it happens pretty quickly, and then the novel turns away from reclamation and more toward ruling. The new ob... Read More

Crave: Does the world need another Twilight knock-off?

Crave by Tracy Wolff

Apparently the market for breathless YA romances with sexy vampires isn’t fully saturated yet, because Crave (2020), a new paranormal romance thriller by Tracy Wolff that cheerfully admits to being inspired by Twilight — check out the blatant knock-off cover — offers readers a slightly updated take on the genre.

When her parents are killed in an automobile accident, high-school-aged Grace reluctantly leaves San Diego and travels to the remote, icy interior of Alaska, where her uncle Finn is headmaster of an exclusive boarding school, Katmere Academy. Grace’s cousin Macy, who picks her up in Healy for a ninety-minute snowmobile ride to the luxurious, castle-like prep school, is anxious to help Grace fit in. The problem is, almost all of the other students at Katmere seem to be hostile to ... Read More

Jinx High: Like a cheesy horror movie

Jinx High by Mercedes Lackey

Jinx High (1991) is the third novel in Mercedes Lackey’s DIANA TREGARDE trilogy, following Burning Water and Children of the Night. This series stars Diana Tregarde, a romance novelist and witch who protects humans from supernatural harm. The novels and short stories in this series can be read in any order.

In Burning Water we watched Diana catch a serial killer inspired by an ancient Aztec god and in Children of the Night she confronted vampires that were sucking the life out of people in her city.

Now... Read More

Bid My Soul Farewell: The story gets even darker…

Bid My Soul Farewell by Beth Revis

Bid My Soul Farewell (2019) is the sequel to Beth Revis’ novel Give the Dark My Love. You need to read Give the Dark My Love first. There will be some spoilers for that novel here.

When we left Nedra and Grey in Give the Dark My Love, they had uncovered the treachery in their government and exterminated the culprit. Now Grey is working for the emperor as a diplomat. Nedra, meanwhile, has become a necromancer, which is illegal and punishable by death. She has created an army of zombies (one is her sister) and she refuses to give them up.

As Grey is sent on a mission for the emperor, Nedra agree... Read More

The Last: The end of the world. Again.

The Last by Hanna Jameson

Jon Keller is having breakfast in a Swiss hotel when the world ends. Another guest at the hotel receives a notification on her Twitter: Washington has been destroyed by a nuclear weapon. New York follows. Then Scotland, China, Germany. Now only twenty people remain at the hotel whilst the state of the outside world remains a mystery.

On day fifty, Jon and some of the other hotel guests find the body of a murdered girl. A historian by profession (Jon had been visiting Switzerland for an academic conference), our protagonist takes it upon himself to both document his time at the hotel and try and solve the mystery of the murdered girl. What ensues is a heady blend of post-apocalyptic story, murder mystery and psychological thriller.

The Last (2019) is another addition to an already bloated genre. How many times have we seen the world end? What Hanna Jameson Read More

Pawn: Not much to like

Pawn by Timothy Zahn

Nicole has been running with the wrong crowd. One day she wakes up, hungover as usual, in some guy’s apartment. A street thug named Bungie is kicking her, demanding that she drive him to the hospital because he’s about to bleed out. In the hospital’s parking lot, Bungie and Nicole attempt to kidnap a young doctor named Sam when two wispy creatures with butterfly wings approach and take all three of the humans to a huge spaceship called the Fyrantha.

On the ship, Nicole is told that she is a sybil, someone who can listen to the Fyrantha and direct the maintenance crews to make needed repairs. All she has to do is inhale a drug that gives her access to the ship’s mind. After Nicole adjusts to the routine she begins to appreciate being safe and well-fed, having an important job to do, being relied upon, having a purpose in life, and maybe even making some real friends. It’s a lot bette... Read More

Dragonslayer: Never transcends its overly familiar nature

Dragonslayer by Duncan M. Hamilton

Duncan M. Hamilton’s Dragonslayer (2019) has all the elements one might expect from a fantasy novel: a quasi-medieval-Europe setting, swordmasters, mages, powerful talismans, ancient half-forgotten lore, quests with slim odds of success, powerful clerics, secret societies, etc. And that, unfortunately, is just the problem. It has all the expected elements but little unexpected, and the elements as presented are somewhat flat, as are the characters.

Gill (Lord Guillot) was once the greatest swordsman in the land and a member (currently the last living one) of the Chevaliers of the Silver Circle, a legendary cadre of enhanced mage-warriors who long ago devolved into far lesser men whose rituals were more excuses for drinking. Gill’s drinking became even worse after the death of his wife and son and his ensuing (unfair) expulsion from the court several ... Read More

The White Road: (to Nowhere)

The White Road by Sarah Lotz

I’ll admit it — I’m pretty scared of Mount Everest before you populate it with ghosts. Ever since I read Jon Krakauer’s riveting nonfiction book Into Thin Air, I’ve felt a little shudder at the very thought of climbing it. So when I heard about The White Road (2017), a horror novel set on Everest, I figured it was guaranteed to freak me out in epic fashion.

Simon and his friend Thierry run a website dedicated to creepy things. The White Road begins with Simon teaming up with a sketchy older man, Ed, to explore a Welsh cave system. Some spelunkers died there years ago, and their bodies are still in the cave; Simon hopes to get footage of the corpses for the website. Simon and Ed get into trouble in the cave. Simon nearly dies, an... Read More

Ink: Unique, gruesome premise

Ink by Alice Broadway

Ink (2018), by Alice Broadway, is the first book in a YA dystopian trilogy with a unique, if gruesome, premise. Everyone in the city of Saintstone has the events of their lives tattooed on their bodies. When a person dies, their skin is removed and made into a book, which is then judged at a ceremony that recalls the Weighing of the Heart in Egyptian mythology. If the person is determined to have lived a good life, the book (and by implication, the person’s soul) is returned to their family to be remembered forever among the ancestors. If the book is found unworthy, however, it is thrown in the fire and the person is officially “forgotten.” People without tattoos, called “blanks,” are hated and have been forced out of Saintstone.

Leora is a teenage girl whose father has just died. His skin book is created, and Leora and her mother look forward to the day they can bring it h... Read More

The Brink: Superficial and implausible SF horror

The Brink by James S. Murray & Darren Wearmouth

Human monsters take precedence over the creature type of monsters in The Brink (2019), the sequel to last year’s SF horror novel Awakened. (Some spoilers for the first book are in this review, but are also in the publisher’s blurb for this book, so they’re nearly impossible to avoid.) Awakened was pulpy fun if you like SF horror and mysterious, murderous threats lurking beneath the surface of the earth. The Brink mostly gives us Albert Van Ness, a diabolical mastermind of dubious sanity who was apparently imported straight from an old James Bond movie. The creatures are still there, but in a diminished r... Read More

The Everlasting Rose: A disappointing sequel

The Everlasting Rose by Dhonielle Clayton

The Everlasting Rose (2019) is the sequel to Dhonielle Clayton’s The Belles, a novel that is a finalist for the Hugo and Locus Awards for Best Young Adult novel this year. I enjoyed The Belles despite some problems with characterization such as a boring romance and a totally over-the-top villain. If you haven’t yet read The Belles, but intend to, it’d be best to skip this review since I can’t help but spoil some of its plot here.

The Everlasting Rose picks up right where The Belles ends. Camellia, Amber, Edel and Remy have escaped the palace and are hiding in another ... Read More

Red Moon: Character and story fall victim to ideas

Red Moon by Kim Stanley Robinson

I’m a big fan of most of Kim Stanley Robinson’s output, especially his MARS trilogy, and so when I saw that he was out with a book entitled Red Moon (2018), with its echoes of said trilogy (Red, Green, and Blue Mars), that it had an AI character like Aurora, another favorite work of his, and that it came with a heavy dose of politics, which I’ve enjoyed in all his prior work, I was thinking all I was missing w... Read More

The War Within: Shows improvement, but it’s a pretty low bar

The War Within by Stephen R. Donaldson

I was sorely disappointed in Seventh Decimate, the first book in Stephen R. Donaldson's new series, THE GREAT GOD’S WAR. Luckily, the second book, The War Within (2019), shows improvement, but it’s a pretty low bar and so I can't say it’s enough to convince me the series is worth starting (at least at this point).

(Here is your warning that this review will contain spoilers for book one).

The War Within jumps a few decades into the future, with the countries now at a tenuous peace due to Prince Bifalt of Belleger having married Princess Estie of Amika, a turn of events that came about thanks to what Bifalt had learned at the... Read More

Sanctuary: A rather dull installment

Sanctuary by Mercedes Lackey

Sanctuary (2005) is the third book in Mercedes Lackey’s DRAGON JOUSTERS quartet. You need to read Joust and Alta first. There will be spoilers for those first two books in this review of the third.

Vetch has come a long way. When we first met him in Joust, he was the servant of a cruel master in his home country of Alta. One day he was picked up by a Tian Dragon Jouster named Ari and set to work as a dragon boy for his country’s enemy. Eventually he escaped with the dragon he secretly raised from an egg, flew back to his home country of Alta and, with the skills he ... Read More

The Municipalists: Has its moments

The Municipalists by Seth Fried

I loved the opening chapter of Seth Fried’s debut The Municipalists, writing “nice” several times in the margins just in the first few pages, as when the narrator, recalling his parents’ death when he was young, notes how the old grocery “seems to have forgotten him. The flat, glass storefront stares straight ahead without so much as a glimmer of recognition.” Unfortunately, that was the high point for me and the book, while it had its moments, eventually devolved into a bit of a slog.

In a world gone all in on urban living, Henry Thompson, an agent of the United States Municipal Survey organization and highly disliked by his peers, is forced to go into the field with a holographic AI partner to prevent a major terrorist attack in Metropolis, one seemingly being planned and carried out by a Municipal Survey chief gone rogue. Unfortunately, the AI (Owen) is more ... Read More