Revelation Space: Dark, dense, slow-burning space opera

Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds

I’ve been planning to read this series for many years, because Alastair Reynolds, Peter F. Hamilton, Stephen Baxter, Ken MacLeod, Charles Stross and Iain M. Banks are regularly mentioned at the forefront of the British Hard SF movement. Sure, there are many non-British well-known hard SF and space opera practitioners like Kim Stanley Robinson, Read More

Storm Front: A series to live and grow with

Storm Front by Jim Butcher

It is hard to believe that Storm Front, the first book of the Dresden Files, came out more than a decade ago. Jim Butcher introduces his scrappy wizard-detective in this inaugural adventure. That was a more innocent time, and Harry was a more innocent character back then.

Harry is a working wizard in Chicago. He has an office with the word “Wizard” on the door and he advertizes in the yellow pages. (“No Children’s Parties; No Love Potions.”) Harry is the real deal, a powerful magical practitioner, but lately most of his income comes from the Chicago PD, particularly their Special Investigations or SI unit—think “X Files.” Early in Storm Front, his police contact Karrin Murphy requests his help at a shocking murder scene; a luxurious hotel love-nest sprayed with blood, a couple locked in the throes of passion with their h... Read More

Ultimate Spider-Man Vol. 1 by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley

Ultimate Spider-Man Vol. 1 by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley

Note: if you’ve never stumbled your way into a Spiderman/Spider-Man movie, or even past the poster, there will be spoilers in this review. If you’re somewhat familiar with the Spider-Man story and/or the Marvel universe (particularly in New York) then nothing in here should surprise you.

Ultimate Spider-Man Vol. 1 covers a huge amount of Spidey: from his humble beginnings as a simple high-school student in New York through a seemingly never-ending parade of villains. Ultimate packs in romance, intrigue, S.H.I.E.L.D., loss, abandonment, sports, angst, and high-school drama ... Read More

1632: The tale is dated but I loved its exuberance

1632 by Eric Flint

There’s something to be said for sheer audacity. 1632, the first book in Eric Flint’s RING OF FIRE series, published in February, 2000, has got audacity in container-ship-sized loads.

In the year 2000, a section of West Virginia disappears from our world during an event called the Ring of Fire. It reappears in Thuringia (northern Germany), in the year 1631. The residents of Grantsville, the biggest town in the affected area, led by the steely-eyed protagonist Mike Stearns, promptly decide that they’re stuck there, so they’ll re-create the United State of America on another continent one hundred-forty-years sooner than usual.

That’s a noble experiment and it faces a couple of obstacles. Well, only one obstacle, actually. Europe is in the middle of the Thirty Years’ War, and various armies are rampaging through Thuringia, suppor... Read More

Shadowland: Appealing YA fantasy

Shadowland by Meg Cabot

Suze is a mediator — she can see the ghosts of people whose souls have not been able to move on. She helps them resolve their earthly issues so they can go wherever they’re supposed to go. She doesn’t know what happens to them after they go — just that it’s her job to facilitate their departure.

Because of her weird ability, Suze is not a normal teenager. People find her a little strange and she has trouble making friends and fitting in. Now she’s moving away from New York, where she grew up. Her father died several years ago and her mother has married a man in California. She will have a new family, a new school, and a new life. Her mother, who doesn’t believe in the ghosts, hopes the changes will be beneficial for Suze.

As soon as Suze enters her new bedroom overlooking the ocean, she realizes that her “problems” have not gone away. There’s the ghost of a hot guy named Jesse in her ... Read More

Dark Sleeper: Delightful, debonair and decidedly Dickensian

Dark Sleeper by Jeffrey E. Barlough

Dark Sleeper is a delightful, debonair and decidedly Dickensian departure from dime-a-dozen fantasy. Jeffrey E. Barlough, who published the book in 2000, attempts and mostly succeeds in writing an entire fantasy novel in the style and form of Charles Dickens, with a dash of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle thrown in.

Let me be clear. This is not a steampunk novel, set in the nineteenth century while incorporating twentieth-century technology, winking at the sensibilities and conventions of the time. Barlough has created a genuine alternate world, and tells a nineteenth-century story that includes demons, magic, immortals, mastodons and saber-tooth cats.

The setting of Dark Sleeper is Salthead, a bustling harbor city in a land that is sparsely populated and quite cold. Some centuries ago, the “sundering” occurred: an ev... Read More

The Seer and the Sword: Standard medieval-adventure-fantasy

The Seer and the Sword by Victoria Hanley

It's hard to muster up any particularly strong feelings for The Seer and the Sword. It is your standard medieval-adventure-fantasy, with every plot development and character arc foreseeable far in advance, told in sparse and simple prose. It's hard to be too enthusiastic about it, yet at the same time I can't be too dismissive either.

The story revolves around two young royals: red-headed Princess Torina of Archeld, and Prince Landen, whose country of Bellandra has just been defeated by Torina's father. Landen is brought to Archeld as a slave, but is freed by Torina and allowed to join the ranks of King Kareed's army (why the king would have the son of his defeated enemy trained in combat is something of a mystery). Whilst Landen wonders over the fate of the Sword of Bellandra that was seized and concealed by Kareed, Torina finds that she has a gift for seeing fut... Read More

Stormbreaker: What more can you want?

Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz

You're never too young to die...

After a friend recommended the Alex Rider books, and the movie adaptation pricked my interest, I settled down with Stormbreaker, the first of what is (currently) a nine-book series. Alex is a fourteen year old English schoolboy who wakes early one morning to find that Ian Rider, his uncle and guardian since his parents' deaths, has been killed in a car accident. It's not long before the truth emerges: Ian wasn't a banker at all, but a high-ranking spy for MI6 who was killed in the line of duty. Now Alex himself has been asked to fill his uncle's shoes, as a lifetime of mountain-climbing, foreign languages, martial arts training and other unusual activities suddenly becomes clear to the young teen.

Ian had been undercover as a security guard at Sayle Ent... Read More

Perdido Street Station: Outstanding urban fantasy

Perdido Street Station by China Miéville

China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station is the first of three novels set in the Miéville’s Bas-Lag universe. First released in 2000, Perdido Street Station and its sequels have made China Miéville one of the most acclaimed fantasy writers of the 21st century. Perdido Street Station is an outstanding urban fantasy full of unconventional plot twists and the most unlikely of heroes.

Yagharek is a “Garuda,” or a humanoid bird. However, for crimes he committed among his people, Yagharek’s wings have been removed and he has been exiled from his home. When we meet him, Yagharek has made his way to New Crobuzon, the greatest city in the world, where he hopes to find someone who can help him fly again. He finds Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, a scientist who works on the fringes of New Crobuzon’... Read More

The Shamer’s Daughter: Recommended for the better sequel

The Shamer's Daughter by Lene Kaaberbol

The Shamer's Daughter is in itself a pleasant little story that moves along well and has at its core an extremely intriguing concept that here is unfortunately not fully explored, but the good news is that while The Shamer's Daughter is an ok read, its sequel, The Shamer's Signet, is a much stronger book, well-rewarding the reader who begins the series.

"Shamers" have the gift of, as one might guess, shaming. To look into a Shamer's eyes is to look into a mirror of your soul, revealing all that you have to feel guilty about. It's no surprise, therefore, that few people look into a Shamer's eyes unless compelled by law (Shamer's are used to confirm guilt or innocence in the social system). Dina's mother is an experienced Shamer called upon by those around her for matters of dispute, feared but respected. Ten-year-old Dina has inherited her m... Read More

The Sword: Quintessential B-grade sword-n-sorcery

The Sword by Deborah Chester

The Sword is the first of a high-fantasy trilogy and is little more than a prologue for whatever follows. What I mean by that is this: in terms of actual plot development, very little happens here. Each paperback in this trilogy is about 400 pages long (1200 total), so this could easily have been a 2-book saga with little to no impact on its quality.

As for the story itself... There are some books you can read when you're tired, some you can't, and some that just make you tired. At its best, this book falls into the first category; at its worst, in the third. The writing is clear but rough and unremarkable — much more telling than showing, especially where character emotions are concerned, and not one clever simile or metaphor.

The plot is uneven and filled with numerous extended chase and fight sequences that create a sense of deja vu. I was completely disapp... Read More

Well of Darkness: Should have left it in the bargain bin

Well of Darkness by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman

I bought Well of Darkness in hardcover years ago in the bargain bin. I should have left it there. I have tried starting it three or four times, and I, for the life of me, cannot get past the second chapter. It is totally boring and un-engaging, and I instantly disliked the characters I was reading about. Therefore, I really can’t say much more about the book. I rarely get so turned off so early in a book, and Weis and Hickman have written some pretty entertaining stuff (Dragonlance), if not high literature. I loved Dragonlance back in the 1980's when it came out, but I couldn’t stand this thing.

So, my view is, don’t read Well of Darkness. Mine is finally ... Read More

A Kiss of Shadows: Not my cup of mead

A Kiss of Shadows by Laurell K. Hamilton

Laurell K. Hamilton promises a story of modern-day faeries and their complex court intrigue, which in theory is right up my alley, but I didn't really get into A Kiss of Shadows.

By about page 100, my significant other was laughing because I kept yelling aloud, "Is she going to sleep with HIM, TOO?" The entire plot of the book seems to consist of Merry's sexual adventures. That would be OK if it were good erotica, but there is far too much gory violence to sustain the sexy mood. To sum up the book: Sex scene, gore scene, sex scene, gory sex scene...well, you get the picture.

For urban faerie adventures with more plot, try Charles de Lint (Jack of Kinrowan), Emma Bull ... Read More

The Wind Singer: Somewhat uneven but many strong sections

The Wind Singer by William Nicholson

The Wind Singer is a children's novel and so comes with all the pluses and minuses of that genre. The pace is quick with little room or time for digression or a lot of descriptive detail. The upside is that the book never once bogs down and keeps pulling the reader along. The downside, though how much of a downside will mostly depend on age and expectations, is that characterization suffers a bit and there are a few places where it would have been nice to have gotten a more full picture (both visually and in terms of plot context/background).

The story is a typical kids' dystopia but with more of a fantasy cast rather than a sci-fi one which is often the case. The city of Amaranth is the dystopia in question. Within its walls the people are strictly divided into castes (denoted by clothing color as well as assigned houses) based on their yearly performances on the "hig... Read More

The Meeting of the Waters: How can a swashbuckling Celtic epic be BORING?!?

The Meeting of the Waters by Caiseal Mor

With its gorgeous knotwork cover art and the back-cover blurb about "brave, copper-haired Aoife," the publishers evidently mean to recommend Caiseal Mor's The Meeting of the Waters to readers who've read and loved Marillier's Sevenwaters series, the popular trilogy of Celtic epics featuring strong female protagonists. That's why I bought this book myself. I expected a similar kind of story, complete with adventure, love, war, and magic. The setting is the time of the Gaelic conquest of Ireland, among the Danaan and Fir Bolg tribes who resist the invasion.

Unfortunately, for about the first 500 pages of this book, the love and war and magic are there, but seen from a distance. It's as if Daughter of... Read More

Magic Steps: Not Pierce’s best

Magic Steps by Tamora Pierce

Magic Steps is the first book of the Tamora Pierce quartet entitled The Circle Opens. Featuring the characters of The Circle of Magic quartet, this new series continues their story by exploring how each of the four main characters — just coming to grips with their powers in the previous books — now handle the challenge of becoming teachers themselves. Unfortunately, Pierce has decided that one of the prerequisites of this new experience is that the four protagonists — Sandry, Briar, Daja and Tris — must be separated in order to focus on the new relationships that they forge with their students. Therefore, Magic Steps opens with the acknowledgement that Briar, Tris and Daja have set off (separately) with their teac... Read More

The Nameless Day: Major flaws but somehow kept us going

The Nameless Day by Sara Douglass

The Nameless Day is a difficult book to review as there was so much I didn't like about it. To begin with, the main character is extremely unlikeable, which isn't an automatic mark against a book, but when the character stays so consistently unlikeable for such a long time, it does get a bit wearying. We see some slight glimpses of a better man here and there more towards the end, but following Thomas Neville through several hundred pages can seem a bit of a chore. Worse for me were the many inconsistencies within the book of plot and character. Just to give one example, at one point Thomas is berated and mocked by a small group for having traipsed around much of Europe due to some visions from St. Michael. Then only a few pages later, the same group listens as Thomas tells them of demons and his visions and they all believe him wholeheartedly because according to the author, they had b... Read More

Medalon: Highly entertaining, even with some absurdities

Medalon by Jennifer Fallon

Jennifer Fallon's Medalon is the first book in The Demon Child Trilogy, which makes up the larger Hythrun Chronicles. The Sisterhood of Medalon has made it illegal to practice religion (the worship of pagan gods), persecutes all believers of the gods, and has forced the Harshini, a race of long-lived beings who interact with the gods, into hiding. The sisters use a highly trained army of male Defenders to enforce their orders across the country. But, the First Sister has just been murdered, and while the sisters are plotting and jockeying for position amongst themselves, the Demon Child — a human/Harshini half-breed — is coming to maturity in Medalon and the gods, who are involved in their own plots, need to find the child because it's the only ... Read More

Daughter of the Forest: Wonderful

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier

In Daughter of the Forest, Juliet Marillier deftly sets the fairy tale "The Six Swans" in dark-ages Ireland; think of the general time period of The Mists of Avalon, when Christian and Pagan, Gael and Briton and Saxon, were fighting and feuding and even sometimes getting along. The tale fits in amazingly well in the setting; the famous fairy tale echoes the Irish legend of Fionnuala and the children of Lir, which predated it. The transformations, the impossible quests, the painful vows work perfectly in the Celtic milieu.

Sorcha is the determined sister of the tale; she is a young girl with a healing gift and a love of nature. In fact, it must be Marillier's love for nature's beauty that shines through Sorcha's words; every page is filled with lovely descript... Read More