Ninth Key: Decent fantasy entertainment for older teens

Ninth Key by Meg Cabot

Ninth Key is the second book in Meg Cabot’s MEDIATOR series about Suze, a high school student who can interact with restless ghosts. She helps them settle their affairs on Earth so they can move on to wherever they’re supposed to go (she doesn’t know what happens after they leave Earth). In Shadowland, the first MEDIATOR book, Suze and her mom had just moved from New York to northern California so her mom, a widow, could marry a widower with three sons. None of the family knows about Suze’s ability to see ghosts.

Upon arrival in California, Suze discovers the ghost of a hot guy names Jesse in her bedroom. He’s been dead since the 19th century. She’s also surprised ... Read More

Point Blank: Alex Rider is back (in more ways than one!)

Point Blank by Anthony Horowitz

I read the first book in the ALEX RIDER series (Stormbreaker) several years ago, and since I enjoyed it so much, I've no idea why it's taken me this long to get to its sequel: Point Blank, named for the elite boarding school high in the French Alps. Here the troubled sons of millionaires are sent in order to be tutored in isolation, away from any bad influences, though MI5 is concerned when two of the students' fathers are found dead in unusual circumstances. Surely it can't be a coincidence?

They decide to send in Alex Rider, the nephew of deceased agent Ian Rider, who has previously been used to infiltrate an organization that only a teenager could explore without attracting undue attention. Trained by MI5 and given a host of gadgets to help him out, Special Opera... Read More

Chasm City: Gothic cyberpunk at its dark best

Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds

Chasm City (2001) is the fourth Alastair Reynolds book I’ve read in his REVELATION SPACE series, though it is a stand-alone and a much better book. The main trilogy (Revelation Space, Redemption Ark, Absolution Gap) featured a lot of good hard SF world-building, but was heavily weighed down by clunky characters, dialogue, and extremely bloated page-count. While Chasm City is not any shorter at around 700 pages, it makes much better use of those pages with a fast-paced plot... Read More

Fool Moon: A potent blend of action, magic, snarkiness, vulnerability

Fool Moon by Jim Butcher

In Fool Moon, Harry Dresden’s second adventure, Jim Butcher gives us four flavors of werewolf — or five, if you want to be flexible.

Harry, Chicago’s only practicing wizard-detective, is called to the scene of a gory murder by his friend and client Karrin Murphy. Murphy, a Chicago police detective, is in charge of Special Investigations (SI), Chicago’s nod to the paranormal crime that fills the city. Chicago PD is unofficial on this investigation though; it is the jurisdiction of the FBI, and while Harry is investigating the scene the FBI shows up. Things immediately go bad. Murphy and Harry are evicted from the scene, but not before Harry picks up enough magical clues to identify this as a werewolf hit.

As they leave the scene, Murphy admits that this killing is not the first. There is a pattern to the killings, or has been until recently. ... Read More

The Scar: Required fantasy reading of the 21st century

The Scar by China Miéville

The Scar is the second of China Miéville’s critically acclaimed Bas-Lag novels, which are sometimes called “the anti trilogy” because the books follow different characters and conflicts. Ostensibly, each of the three novels bears some relationship to New Crobuzon, the greatest city in Bas-Lag. Miéville catapulted to fame amongst fantasy readers with his first Bas-Lag book, Perdido Street Station and has done something even more amazing in its sequel, The Scar.

Miéville’s first surprise is taking the reader out of New Crobuzon, the fascinating city of Perdido Street Station. His second surprise comes in his creation of Bellis Coldwine, an emotiona... Read More

Slaves of the Mastery: Solid sequel but not as imaginative as the original

Slaves of the Mastery by William Nicholson

Slaves of the Mastery picks up several years after the events of The Wind Singer and in plot and structure is similar to its predecessor, though not as original in thought or imagery. Once again, the book examines a dystopic setting. In this case it is The Mastery, a city-state of slaves and masters, one of whose leaders has raided the Manth city and taken its inhabitants, including the main characters from book one, into slavery. The book once again focuses on the Hath family (including this time Pinto, the baby in book one, who is accorded more of a place here) and a small circle of friends as they first are first taken, then herded into a forced march from Amaranth to The Mastery, then attempt to escape.

Kestrel and Bowman, the two siblings and the main focus, are separated early on and as did the first book, this one soon evolves int... Read More

Street Magic: Pierce’s imagination is on full blast

Street Magic by Tamora Pierce

It's ironic that feminist writer Tamora Pierce's only male character, the self-named Briar Moss, is one of her best characters. Amongst the rest of the mainly female cast, his charisma, street smarts and ongoing inner conflict between his younger, wilder instincts, and his older, more civilized self, makes him one of the most lovable and well-rounded characters in the Circle of Magic series.

The first four books gathered together four magical protégées: aristocratic Sandry, moody bookworm Tris, stoic Daja, and street-rat Briar, all of whom have complimentary powers that allowed them to perform startling acts of magic. Underlying their feats are the strength of the friendship and the bonds of trust that they forge, making the original four books one of the most touching examples of a self-made foster family in young adu... Read More

Son of the Shadows: Emotionally engaging

Son of the Shadows by Juliet Marillier

With this novel, Juliet Marillier returns to the Celtic world of her first novel, the fantastic Daughter of the Forest, about eighteen years later. Sorcha and Hugh have lived happily together, and have three children, Niamh, Sean, and Liadan. Niamh is a restless beauty with a case of wanderlust; Sean is a future leader growing up in his uncle Liam's mold; and Liadan is her mother's successor, a storyteller and healer. But Liadan is not Sorcha; having grown up in a loving environment, Liadan is well-aware of her own worth, and acts with more confidence and defiance than Sorcha did. In some ways I like Liadan better; in some ways I prefer Sorcha. But both are ever engaging.

The "son of the shadows" of the title is Ciaran, a young druid who falls in star-crossed love with Niamh. (Now, those of you who have read Daughter of the Forest know there... Read More

The Wounded Hawk: Better than first book

The Wounded Hawk by Sara Douglass

Set amid the drama and cast of the 100 Years War (though more parallel than true history), this sequel to The Nameless Day continues the story of Thomas Neville, former cleric returned to his noble life, as he tries to complete the quest given him by archangel Michael — to retrieve a mysterious casket that will allow him to send back to hell the demons that now roam the world. As readers of the first book know (and only readers of the first one should read this), Thomas himself has become unsure of just which side is the "good" one in the battle between the demons and angels and his uncertainty continues throughout this book, though not quite as pronounced.

Though plagued by some of the same flaws as The Nameless Day (some character inconsistencies, some surprisingly careless writing), The Wounded Hawk manages to easil... Read More

Treason Keep: More of the same

Treason Keep by Jennifer Fallon

Treason Keep, the sequel to Medalon, is more of the same: a fast pace and fun characters overshadow the not-so-tight plot.

Jennifer Fallon keeps things interesting by expertly developing a couple of characters who were briefly introduced in her first book: Damin Wolfblade, an intelligent barbarian warlord (always a good thing, in my opinion), and Adrina, a spoiled princess whose daddy wants to marry her off because he's tired of paying for her escapades — she just demolished the city's wharf while trying to dock a nobleman's yacht while she was drunk (the yacht sank). I was impressed with how Ms Fallon gave us very short but meaningful glimpses of Damin and Adrina in the first novel — their personalities in Treason Keep were completely consistent with what we had previously learned abo... Read More