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When Jackals Storm the Walls: Keeps up the series’ high standards

When Jackals Storm the Walls by Bradley P. Beaulieu

You had me at “The Story so Far.”
Really. It was all gonna be good after that.
“The Story so Far.”
Say it with me: “The Story so Far.”
Sweet Nana jam on toast, that curls the toes.
“The Story so Far.”

That’s how When Jackals Storm the Walls (2020), Bradley P. Beaulieu’s fifth novel in his THE SONG OF THE SHATTERED SANDS series begins, and nothing, nothing endears me more to a sequel, particularly a third or fourth or seventh book in a series, than a “here’s what’s happened up to now” prologue. Seriously, authors, publishers, gods of fiction — is it honestly all that hard? Isn’t this what staffers are for? Interns? Underfoot children? “The Story so F... Read More

Ruin and Rising: A satisfying end to an engrossing story

Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo

The third and final instalment in Leigh Bardugo's GRISHA trilogy was far more rewarding than I had ever anticipated. Though I liked the first book Shadow and Bone and really liked the sequel Siege and Storm, it was Ruin and Rising that I truly loved.

It's difficult to summarize the finale of any book series without giving away details of its predecessors, but here goes – Alina Starkov is a Sun Summoner; a very rare Grisha that can conjure light out of nothing, a skill that's highly prized considering the country of Ravka is divided by a terrible darkness known a... Read More

Mexican Gothic: A creepy gothic novel featuring fungus

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Noemí Taboada is a 22-year-old flighty socialite living in Mexico City. She loves to dress up in beautiful gowns and high heels and go to parties with handsome young men. One evening she’s called home from a party early. Her wealthy father has received a strange letter from Catalina, Noemí’s recently married cousin. Catalina thinks she’s in danger from her new husband’s family and is begging for help. Is Catalina really imperiled, or is she suffering a mental breakdown?

Noemí’s father asks her to visit her cousin at High Place, her husband’s family’s mansion on top of a mountain in an isolated rural area of Mexico. When she arrives, Noemí is shocked to discover that, indeed, her cousin is not well. Though Catalina has moments of lucidity, at other times she rails about ghosts and other hallucinations.

The house and its inhabitants are undeniably frightening. T... Read More

The Sirens of Mars: Searching for Life on Another World

The Sirens of Mars: Searching for Life on Another World by Sarah Steward Johnson

It isn’t often that I wish for a longer book; in fact, it’s almost always the opposite. But that’s just what I found myself doing upon finishing Sarah Steward Johnson’s The Sirens of Mars: Searching for Life on Another World (2020), which is about exactly what you would think given the title — a history of our attempts to suss out if life exists on our red-hued neighbor, from speculations about ancient civilizations creating Schiaparelli’s “canali” to Johnson’s own work with NASA’s Mars missions. It’s an excellent book throughout, but it also feels like it could have gone into material in more detail in some places and ends so quickly that I had to doublecheck on Netgallery to make sure I hadn’t gotten an excerpt rather than a full version.

Johnson is both a writer and a scien... Read More

Siege and Storm: Despite a choppy beginning, this sequel delivers

Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

Siege and Storm (2013) is the second book in Leigh Bardugo's GRISHA trilogy, and does what any good sequel should do: expands the world, deepens the characters and raises the stakes. On the other hand, it can't quite avoid the pitfalls of a typical middle book — being unable to truly start or properly finish anything; it ends on a note that gives the impression the whole thing has been setup for the third and final instalment. But apart from this inevitability, Siege and Storm is a satisfying read.

Its predecessor Shadow and Bone introduced us to Alina Starkov and the concept of the Grisha. Born with the power to transmute certain elements (... Read More

Cinderella Is Dead: Heroines to cheer for

Cinderella Is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

It’s been two hundred years since Cinderella met her Prince Charming. Her dream come true has become a nightmare for the girls of Lille. Every year, all eligible young girls must attend the royal ball, where they vie to be selected as brides for Lille’s men. For the girls who are not chosen, there are dire but mysterious consequences.

It’s time for Sophia to debut at the ball, and it’s the last thing she wants to do. For one thing, she’s gay and doesn’t want to marry a man at all. She’s also noticed that many of the marriages that result from the ball are anything but happy. But refusing to attend would ruin her family, so Sophia goes. Disaster strikes, and soon Sophia is on the run with another girl. Constance, and they become a fierce two-woman resistance against the king. Along the way, Sophia discovers that the official version of the Cinderella story is a lie.

I... Read More

King Kull: The Sword & Sorcery genre begins here

King Kull by Robert E. Howard & Lin Carter

There’s a reason why I never lend out books anymore, even to my closest friends; namely, the fact that when I used to loan them out, I never got them back in the same good condition, or, even worse, never got them back at all. Cases in point: three paperbacks from one of my old favorite writers, Texas-born Robert E. Howard. Back in the mid-‘60s, Lancer Books released all of Howard’s Conan the Barbarian stories in a now-classic series of 12 paperbacks, as well as a beautiful paperback of another legendary Howard character, King Kull. I owned all 13 of those wonderful volumes, and made the big mistake of lending the first two Conan books out (both featuring gorgeous cover artwork by Frank Frazetta), as well as the Kull (feat... Read More

War Girls: War is hell

War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi

Onyii is a battle-hardened soldier, weary of war.

She’s 15.

Her adopted sister, Ify, is even younger and a budding tech genius. The two live in a rebel compound of Biafran girls, hidden by a signal dampener from the Nigerian government. Tochi Onyebuchi gives the reader a little quiet time in the camp, to meet the characters and learn about the technologies they use — and then the camp is discovered, and a riveting battle scene begins. Onyii and Ify are separated, swept apart into two very different lives on opposite sides of the war, each believing the other dead. They will meet again four years later, as enemies.

War Girls (2019) is based on the real-life Nigerian Civil War, but moved forward into the 22nd century. There are cybernetic body enhancements, maglev ca... Read More

Blackwater: A unique horror saga

Blackwater: The Complete Saga by Michael McDowell

Michael McDowell originally published the BLACKWATER horror series in six volumes (The Flood, The Levee, The House, The War, The Fortune, and Rain) in 1983. Some of the installments go for a pretty penny on the Internet these days, so it’s great that Valancourt Press released an omnibus edition, Blackwater: The Complete Saga (2017). This edition is the most cost-effective way to get your hands on this sprawling tale.

Blackwater is set in the town of Perdido, Alabama and tells the story of a lumber dynasty, the Caskeys, between 1919 and 1970. It begins when the scion of the family, Oscar, finds a young woman, Elinor, stranded in the town’s h... Read More

Catalyst: An incredible journey

Catalyst by Sarah Beth Durst

Just before her twelfth birthday, Zoe finds an impossibly small, breathtakingly cute kitten hiding behind her parents’ garage. Having been forbidden from bringing home any more animal rescues — and there have been many — the obvious course of action is for Zoe to sneak the kitten into her bedroom, text photos to her best friend Harrison, and go eat cake. The next day, she tells her family about the new arrival (christened Pipsqueak) and, to her great joy, she’s finally allowed to keep this one. After all, Zoe’s beloved brother Alex is making plans for college courses in Paris, her mom is starting a new job with the mayor’s office, and her dad is renovating part of the house.
“You all have something you’re excited about,” Zoe pleaded. “… I think … I need something that’s mine?”
But two days later, Pipsqueak is the size of a full-grown cat, and she keeps growing. And t... Read More

The Book of Koli: Has pretty much everything I want

The Book of Koli by M.R. Carey

Koli lives in a far-future post-apocalyptic England. He has never been beyond the walls of Mythen Rood, his tiny village, because outside are wild animals, vicious plants, and who knows what other dangers. The leaders of Mythen Rood are the Ramparts, a small group of people who have magic that allows them to work the salvaged technology of the ancient humans who used to be masters of the Earth (that's us).

When kids in Mythen Rood turn 15 years old, the Ramparts test them to see if they have the magic to work the technology. If they do, the kids join the Ramparts. If not, they’re relegated to lower jobs. After Koli fails to pass the test, he discovers a secret the Ramparts have been hiding from the villagers. Then, after stealing some technology from the Ramparts, Koli is banished from Mythen Rood.

Koli is completely unprepared to be in the wilderness on his own -- he has no idea wha... Read More

The Grand Tour: Strange, dangerous and seductive

The Grand Tour by E. Catherine Tobler

E. Catherine Tobler created Jackson’s Unreal Circus and Mobile Marmalade, a carnival/circus where things are not necessarily what they seem… or in some cases, exactly what they seem, no matter how strange that might be. The stories appeared in places like Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and now, in The Grand Tour: A Jackson’s Unreal Circus and Mobile Marmalade Collection (2020), Apex has gathered up nine of the tales, which traverse earth and time, as we meet Jackson and the people who find their way to the circus, and a few who leave, or seem to.

Story collections can be dicey. Fortunately, Tobler’s prose is excellent, and every one of these stories is filled with beautiful, beguiling language, powerful imagery, and complex characters, whether they are magical o... Read More

Shorefall: Come for the heists and explosions, stay for the debates

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Shorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett

Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Once upon a time there was a small group of uber-powerful folks who truly messed up the world. Luckily that was ages, sorry, I mean, Ages, ago. But now one of those ancient badass power users is potentially going to return and hoo boy is the world in trouble if he gathers all his power yet again. Thank the gods for the plucky group of scruffy underdogs who are definitely not a fellowship and who have decided to risk their lives to prevent the Dark Power’s rise. Anyone? Bueller?

OK, yes. We’ve all heard it before. So you might be forgiven if, upon learning that Robert Jackson Bennett’s newest title, Shorefall (sequel to the fantastic Read More

Jack: Horror during the London Blitz

Jack by Connie Willis

Subterranean Press is reissuing Connie Willis’s moody and bleak novella Jack (1991), which was a finalist for the Nebula and Hugo awards and has appeared in several anthologies over the years. It’s set during the London Blitz in WWII, one of Willis’ favorite settings for her works, including the time-travel novels Blackout and All Clear and the Nebula and Hugo award-winning novelette Fire Watch. Once again, there’s something peculiar going on during the Blitz … but this time it’s not just time travelers visiting from the future.

Jack Harker is p... Read More

Darth Vader: Vader by Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Darth Vader: Vader by Kieron Gillen (writer) and Salvador Larroca (artist)

Darth Vader (Volume One): Vader by Kieron Gillen is just as good, if not better than, Star Wars (Volume One): Skywalker Strikes by Jason Aaron, both of which came out recently from Marvel. Marvel now has the rights to the Star Wars comic books, and so they are reissuing quickly all the Star Wars comics that were put out over the years by Dark Horse. In addition to these reissues, the... Read More

Semiosis: Oh, give me a home where the fippokats roam…

Semiosis by Sue Burke

Semiosis, Sue Burke’s 2018 debut novel, is a fascinating examination of culture, intelligence, and co-operation in the face of extreme hardship. A small group of high-minded and free-thinking colonists have left Earth for a planet they’ve named Pax, in honor of their Utopic dream of what the planet represents, though they quickly discover that peace is not easily achieved — especially when they discover that you can never go home again, but neither can you completely leave it behind.

Pax has breathable air and potable water, a higher gravity than Earth, and a terrifying menagerie of plants and animals offering constant reminders that expectations about how things will work can be deadly. One of the biggest stumbling blocks for the new residents of Pax, something they butt their heads against time and time again, is their assumed sense of superior sapient intelligence; just beca... Read More

The Last Emperox: The finale to a compulsively readable SF series

The Last Emperox by John Scalzi

A few thousand years in the future, one branch of humanity, comprised of billions of people, lives on a set of planets called the Interdependency. Their star systems are many hundreds of light years apart but tied together by the Flow, a sort of hyperspace river that connects these planets. The problem is that the Flow is gradually collapsing, one stream at a time, and all of the Interdependency worlds except one (called End) are completely incapable of sustaining human life without the constant importing of food and goods from other worlds — hence the term “Interdependency.” In fact, this economic system was deliberately set up a thousand years earlier in order to enrich just a few elite families, each of which have a monopoly on certain key goods and have become immensely wealthy and powerful as a result.

As The Last Emperox (2020), the concluding novel in Read More

Curious Toys: Dark, scary and twisty, like a good dark ride should be

Curious Toys by Elizabeth Hand

Pin Maffucci wanders the midway and aisles of Chicago’s Riverview Amusement Park, running errands and delivering dope for Max, the carnival’s She-Male performer. At nearly fourteen, Pin is considered small for his age. That’s partly because Pin, with his trousers, cropped curls and cap, is really a girl in disguise. When a young woman from the nearby Essenay Film Studio is found murdered in one of the dark rides, Pin investigates, putting her own life at risk, and she has no idea who to trust.

Elizabeth Hand’s 2019 novel Curious Toys is an historical mystery set in 1915. There is no directly fantastical element, but the phantasms created by the human minds in this story shift it nearly into horror on more than one occasion. And while it’s not fantasy, the fantasies of an h... Read More

Time of Daughters: Excellent epic fantasy

Time of Daughters by Sherwood Smith

In Time of Daughters, Book One (2019), Sherwood Smith returns to the world of Sartorias-Deles, the setting for most of her fantasy novels. This epic tale, broken into two volumes, begins about a century after the INDA quartet of books about the historic Marlovan military commander. The country of Marlovan Iasca (later called Marloven Hess) is particularly noteworthy for the huge influence of the military in its society, amped up with a healthy side of political intriguing — including, on occasion, assassinations — and a social structure where marriage among those in the upper class is primarily for political purposes and strengthening alliances with other powerful families, and romantic love is typically found elsewhere.

Book One of Time of Daughters Read More

Hellboy: Into the Silent Sea: Hellboy goes sailing

Hellboy: Into the Silent Sea by Mike Mignola (writer) & Gary Gianni (artist)

Hellboy: Into the Silent Sea is such a short volume that, at less than sixty pages, it can hardly be called a graphic novel. Still, it is a worthwhile read and a great addition to the Hellboy canon. The story starts off in a dismal place: a dark, foreboding shoreline with large, shipwrecked boats cast up on the rocks and half-sunken in the shallow waters. The mood is aided by a quotation from Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the Romantic poet. From the excerpt of Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner comes the title of this volume: Into the Silent Sea.

The story starts off with Hellboy launching from the shore in a small sailboat, and he heads into the windy sea. As we watch him sail, we are given quotations from the poem “The Pilot” by Thomas Haynes Bayly. He a... Read More

Beneath the Rising: A horror adventure about friendship and betrayal

Beneath the Rising by Premee Mohamed

If you’ve had the good fortune to read any of Premee Mohamed’s short fiction, you know it is strange, beautiful and often horrifying. In Beneath the Rising (2020), her first full-length novel, all these things are true. This adventure novel with tentacular monsters and evil Ancient Ones will sweep you along and get deeply under your skin.

Joanna Chambers, who goes by Johnny, is more than a genius and more than a prodigy. She might be a miracle. In a world much like ours but very changed by Johnny’s inventions and discoveries, her best friend Nick, a regular guy, tries to be a lifeline for his rich, brilliant celebrity friend. Although she hasn’t turned eighteen yet, Johnny has found a vaccine for HIV, created improved solar panels that are in use around the world, developed clean water systems and food sources for hundreds of millions.... Read More

Practical Magic: The superior book behind the cult film

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

Like most people, I became aware of Alice Hoffman's 1995 novel Practical Magic through the nineties film adaptation starring Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock. It's not a great movie, but it has a charm of its own, and it led me to the original story upon which it's based. It's striking to see the differences and similarities between the two.

The film leans more heavily on its magical elements, even becoming something of a supernatural thriller at some points, whereas the book is more interested in the three generations of Owens women and their lives, whether it be the tragedy of the aunts, the love stories of Gillian and Sally, or the coming-of-age rites of Antonia and Kylie.

As children, Sally and Gillian Owens were ostracized from their New England community due to the persistent rumour that they and their extended family were witches. Onc... Read More

The Language of Thorns: Magical folk tales that stir the pot

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic by Leigh Bardugo

The Language of Thorns (2017) is a collection of six stories and novelettes by Leigh Bardugo, dark and lyrical folk tales set in her GRISHA universe, in the Russian-inspired country of Ravka and other nearby countries. These are stand-alone stories, unrelated to the specific characters and events in the GRISHA novels. This tales might be told on a dark night by a villager living in Ravka.

Bardugo’s stories, containing elements of both fantasy and horror, include elements of traditional fairy tales like “Hansel and Gretel,” “ Read More

Before the Devil Breaks You: Another solid entry in an engrossing series

Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray

This is the third of four planned books in Libba Bray's THE DIVINERS series, set in New York in the 1920s, in which speakeasies, jazz and the Prohibition ruled the streets. The titular Diviners are a group of people from all walks of life that have one thing in common: preternatural gifts.

Evie is a radio personality that can glean psychic visions from handling certain objects. Memphis Campbell is a black poet and healer. Theta is a Zeigfeld girl who can start fires. Ling is a disabled Chinese girl who can communicate with the dead. Henry DuBois is a gay pianist who can wander in people's dreams. Sam Lloyd is a Jewish pickpocket who can render himself invisible to those around him.

You couldn't think up a more motley crew, and yet all of them have come together on more ... Read More

Night of Cake & Puppets: Charming YA romance set in Prague

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Night of Cake & Puppets by Laini Taylor

For years Laini Taylor’s been a favorite here at FanLit, and now I know why. I picked up Night of Cake & Puppets, a stand-alone novella set in Taylor’s DAUGHTER OF SMOKE & BONE world, because it was short and available on audio at exactly the length I needed for a recent car trip: two hours and forty-five minutes. Perfect. That’s not all that was perfect about Night of Cake & Puppets. Everything was perfect about Night of Cake & Puppets. Well, except I wish it had been longer. Longer would have been perfect.

Night of Cake & Puppets is about Zuzana and Mik’s first date. Zuzana, in case you don’t know, is the best friend of Karou, Laini Taylor’s heroine in the SMOKE & BONE books. I haven’t read those books, but that... Read More