2005.01


The Dark Mirror: Did Not Finish

The Dark Mirror by Juliet Marillier

As a rule, I love Juliet Marillier’s work, but I’ve tried several times to read The Dark Mirror and have never managed to get very far.

Marillier’s prose is as beautiful as ever, but the story doesn’t hook me. It just feels like such a slow beginning, and the protagonist Bridei is very young and nobody tells him anything. Events occur, but we often don’t see them; a secondary character will exit stage left, come back having obviously had a perilous adventure, and not tell Bridei, or the reader, what happened.

Mostly The Dark Mirror made me want to reread Nicola Griffith’s Hild, which is set in a similar time period but has a protagonist... Read More

Lord of the Silver Bow: Big, bold, heroic and surprisingly good

Lord of the Silver Bow by David Gemmell

I tried reading David Gemmell's Lord of the Silver Bow about 9 months before I actually read it. It was heavy, plodding, and confusing. I was looking for a fun story full of action and adventure, and I love history... but, alas, I stopped reading after about 50 pages, and kind of figured that I was simply beyond the age when testosterone-fueled adventures could carry a story. I gave it a second shot, and it turns out, I was wrong. This first in Gemmell's trilogy that retells the story of the Trojan War is enjoyable, fun, and surprisingly deep.

Gemmell's language and themes are audacious and often mythic. The story and themes are soaked in an age of heroism when Gods were considered real, and honor and courage were as coveted as bronze. The dialogue drives big and bold themes, addressed by bigger and bolder men (mostly), and acted upon in th... Read More

Kitty and the Midnight Hour: A Denver DJ with a little extra bite

Kitty and the Midnight Hour by Carrie Vaughn

Kitty Norville is a radio DJ that hosts a late night talk show about various paranormal topics. She often gets strange calls from the very subjects she talks about. She usually ends up giving out advice to these callers since they have very few options for advice available to them. As a werewolf herself, Kitty is in a unique position to dispense helpful information to those that need it. Her show became popular and that did not sit too well with some key players in her life. Her own pack was made jealous of her success and that created tension in the ranks that she is forced to deal with. Not to mention the vampires, werewolf hunters, and other denizens of the night she has managed to irritate with her openness of sensitive topics. All of these things make Kitty Norville’s life complicated and scary.

I’m a big fan of the Mercedes Thompson series by Read More

The DC Infinite Crisis and the “Old” 52 (Part 1): The Countdown to Infinite Crisis #1

The DC Infinite Crisis and the “Old” 52 (Part 1): The Countdown to Infinite Crisis #1

Previously, I've written about one of my favorite single DC events: Identity Crisis. It's an excellent story contained in a single volume. In other words, it's what I would call a graphic novel because it is unified in narrative and theme and is contained in a single volume, even though it was published initially as monthly comics. At the end of my Identity Crisis review, I mentioned the books to purchase to follow up from that event, mainly those I plan to cover in more detail in this series of reviews.

Compared with Identity Crisis, Read More

Vampire Knight (Vol. 1) by Matsuri Hino

Vampire Knight (Vol. 1) by Matsuri Hino (art and story)

Vampire Knight has a great premise for a manga story that would appeal to most fans of Vampire love stories; however, the writing is clearly aimed at tween and young teenage girls (shojo). The story is in the boarding-school genre, and this particular boarding school runs day and night. The daytime students are your typical students, but the mysterious headmaster has added a night class of beautiful, brilliant students of whom the day students are in awe. But the day students don't know that these students stand out because they are Vampires who are attempting to live peaceful... Read More

Grandville: Astonishing artwork brings a steampunk world to life

Grandville by Bryan Talbot

Exquisite, fantastical artwork lifts Grandville out of the ordinary. Bryan Talbot’s graphic novel, set in an alternate fantasy world where homo sapiens sapiens is not the dominant species, and Napoleon won the Peninsular Wars, is a true luxury to read, due mostly to the stunning, vividly executed pictures.

But Napoleon? Napoleon, probably the third of that name, is a lion. Archie LeBrock, the Scotland Yard Detective-Inspector who is our hero, is a badger and his sergeant is a rat.

In Talbot’s lushly realized steampunk world, France dominates Europe. Britain was a French possession, but British rebels engaged in terrorism and managed to wrest the island’s freedom away from Napoleon. The people of France hate and distrust the Brits and fear another terrorist attack, especially in light of a deadly assault on the Robida Tower two years previously, where an... Read More

Labyrinth: Such a great premise

Labyrinth by Kate Mosse

Kate Mosse's Labyrinth has one of the best premises for a novel I've heard in a long time: two women, one from the past, one from the present, both caught up in a search for the Holy Grail. The former is entrusted with one of three books leading to the Grail's hiding place, whilst the latter becomes entangled in a conspiracy concerning its rediscovery.

In 2005, Alice Tanner is volunteering at an archaeology dig in the Sabarthes Mountains when she is drawn to a hidden cave in the hills. There in a concealed chamber she finds two skeletons, one of which is clutching a book in a leather bag and a ring with a labyrinth design engraved upon it. Soon the police and forensic experts are called in, disrupting the site and annoying her co-workers. But one officer in particular -- Inspector Authie -- is so deeply interested in the whereabouts of the ring that he becomes rather threatening when it goes missin... Read More

Batman: Snow

Batman: Snow by Dan Curtis Johnson & J.H. Williams III (writers), Seth Fisher (artist), Dave Stewart (colors), Phil Balsman (letterer)

Batman: Snow is a trade collecting a story arc originally published in 2005 in Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight (issues 192-196). Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight is a series that featured stories about Bruce Wayne's early adventures as Batman. Such a premise allows writers to deal with a somewhat naïve Bruce who makes mistakes as a vigilante and allows readers to see where he learned the lessons that make him the seasoned vigilante we see in later stories told in comics and block-buster movies. In this particular story — Snow — we are shown Batman's somewhat ridiculous attempt to put together a crime-fighting team... Read More

Spin: Every science fiction novel condensed into one book

Spin by Robert Charles Wilson

With Spin, Robert Charles Wilson has condensed every science fiction novel into one book.

It’s quite an accomplishment, really, though the novel begins innocently enough. We’re in the near future with our narrator, Tyler Dupree, who is injected with a strange cure somewhere in Sumatra. The drug produces side effects, and one of them compels Tyler to tell his life’s story.

Tyler grew up in the little house “across the lawn.” His mother, Carol, cleaned the house of the Lawton family while Tyler played games with their children, Jason and Diane. Jason, a genius, is groomed to take over his father’s vast fortune. Their father, E.D, neglects Diane. Tyler envies Jason and Diane their fancy bicycles and their wealth. Even as a child, he always loved Diane.

One night, Tyler, Jason, and Diane are sitting on the lawn looking up at the stars.  And t... Read More

Gene of Isis: Did not finish

Gene of Isis by Traci Harding

Traci Harding’s Gene of Isis, the first book in her MYSTIQUE trilogy, is about three related women in three different time periods who have descended from the Grail kings: Ashlee Granville, an independent young woman who is unhappy about being on the “marriage market” in 19th century England; Dr. Mia Montrose, Ashlee’s 21st century descendent who is an expert in ancient languages; and Lillet du Lac, a 13th century priestess who is fighting the Catholic Church. Each woman has clairvoyant talents and is drawn to a mountain that contains ancient mysteries and is the source of these women’s psychic gifts.

The first part of the book reads like one of those Regency romances where the enlightened (and in this case pagan) heroine wishes she was a man so she could pursue her real interests, but is instead stuck in a hell of petticoats, needlepoint, proper et... Read More

All-Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder, Vol.1

All-Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder, Vol.1 by Frank Miller (author) & Jim Lee (illustrator)

All-Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder, Vol. 1 is the re-telling of how the legendary Dynamic Duo came to be as only Frank Miller has the cahoonas to do it.

About a year before Alan Moore started exploring a realistic approach to superheroes in his famous WATCHMEN series, Frank Miller was delving into the twisted psyche that would drive a playboy millionaire to become a vigilante with his highly acclaimed The Dark Knight Returns Read More

The Heretic: Manly men stoically getting the job done

The Heretic by Joseph Nassise

Joseph Nassise’s THE TEMPLAR CHRONICLES series features a modern-day Knights Templar organization that battles the supernatural bad guys of the world. Its hero, Cade Williams, is a member of the Templars but has an uncanny reputation among the order for his psychic abilities. The Heretic is the first in the series and revolves around a cabal of sorcerers who is attacking Templar commanderies, slaughtering the members, and desecrating the cemeteries in search of a holy relic. Cade and his unit are assigned to the problem. The Heretic could be described as urban fantasy by way of a paramilitary/religious thriller.

As is apropos for a thriller, The Heretic includes a lot of action and tough-guy heroics. There’s also a great deal of gore, so the weak of stomach need not apply.

Unfortunately, c... Read More

Wolf Brother: A gripping story about love, loyalty, and courage

Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver

Torak and his father have been living alone, away from their clan, for as long as Torak can remember. When a demon-possessed bear attacks them one night, Torak’s father is mortally wounded. Before he dies, he makes Torak promise to seek the Mountain of the World Spirit. On his journey to the mountain, Torak meets a recently orphaned wolf cub who becomes his guide, and then the boy and his wolf are captured by a tribe who wonder if Torak will fulfill their prophecy and save them from the demon-bear. There he meets Renn, a brave and spirited girl who only wants what’s best for her tribe. Meanwhile, the bear still hunts them.

Michelle Paver’s Wolf Brother, the first in a series of children’s novels called The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, is a serious and gripping story. The writing is lovely and full of... Read More

Old Man’s War: In this universe, experience counts

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

In this universe, experience counts.

John Perry is 75 years old, his wife is dead, and he has nothing left to live for. It’s a perfect time to join the army, and the Colonial Defense Force is recruiting. They need a lot of loyal human bodies to maintain the universe colonization project, so their preference is to recruit old people, rejuvenate their bodies (nobody on Earth knows exactly how this happens), and train them to fight for the human race. Most of them will be dead within a few years, but that’s all they were expecting on Earth anyway. The Colonial Defense Force gives them something valuable to do for humanity, and a chance for a new life.

Old Man’s War is one of the most enjoyable novels I’ve read this year. The premise — old people being rejuvenated — makes for an excellent twist on the usual alien-fighting theme. The elderly, a... Read More

Princess Academy: Deserves its Newbery Honor

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

The people who live on Mount Eskel mine linder, the marble-like substance that’s highly prized by those who live in the lowlands. Even though they’ve always supplied the linder for the King’s palace and other important buildings, the mountain folk have their own culture and know very little about what happens beneath their mountain. Therefore, they’re just as surprised as the lowlanders are when the priests ordain that the prince’s bride will come from Mount Eskel. Since the mountain girls are uneducated, a temporary school will be established so they can be brought up to snuff before they meet the prince.

Miri’s father has never let her work in the quarry with her peers, so Miri has always assumed that her father thought she was too small and, therefore, useless. But after her initial shock at the harsh treatment she receives from the headmistress at the Princess Academy, Miri is surpr... Read More

The Door Within: Well-done Christian allegory

The Door Within by Wayne Thomas Batson

The Door Within grabbed my attention immediately. While I read fantasy novels continuously, I don't always indulge in the young adult action-adventure flavor of fantasy.

Aidan Thomas faces his rite-of-passage on two fronts. His parents relocate to care for Aidan’s grandfather, depriving Aidan of his friends and familiar environs. He discovers and reads some scrolls that transport him to The Realm, where he trains rigorously to become an elite warrior of King Eliam and join the fight for the hearts and minds of the people of Mithgarde. An accomplished warrior and Glimpse (similar to a Knight in our world) named Gwenne befriends Aidan. The King’s Captain, Valithor, only survivor of the treachery and betrayal by Paragor, sets high standards for the warrior trainees, tempered with kindness.

Wayne Thomas Baston avoids any blatant litera... Read More

Cast in Shadow: Inadequate world-building and poor writing

Cast in Shadow by Michelle Sagara

Cast in Shadow by Michelle Sagara is a book about outgrowing a victim mentality, finding your strength and embracing your purpose. It would be a nice book to give to a 12- or 13-year-old girl, especially one who may be struggling with identity or self-esteem issues. Two things would stop me from sharing it: inadequate world-building and poor writing.

Cast in Shadow’s Kaylin is a “Grounded Hawk,” a human in a law enforcement / espionage unit controlled by the winged race called the Ariens, in the city of Elantra. Kaylin’s sergeant is a Leontine, a lion-like humanoid, and two of her friends are Barrani, a virtually immortal race. There are also dragon lords, although they look human — or humanish — most of the time.

Surrounding the city center is a series of slums or mean streets called fiefs. Kaylin grew... Read More

Devices and Desires: Parker has a unique cynical voice

Devices and Desires by K.J. Parker

How could I not automatically love a book where the first line is: The quickest way to a man’s heart,’ said the instructor, ‘is proverbially through his stomach. But if you want to get into his brain, I recommend the eye-socket.” It was love at first sight. K.J. Parker’s Devices and Desires is a complex, quickly moving book that is filled with what I am quickly discovering to be Parker’s unique, cynical voice (and I do love dry cynicism).

This book is told from several points of view, but the main plot is about engineers and the importance of the machines they make. Parker deftly constructs his/her chapters so each one lies atop the last like another cog in a great machine. Perhaps one of the most artful parts of the plot is that no matter how complex the devices get, the force that is responsible for all the change and movement t... Read More

Game Review: Tiger Eye: Curse of the Riddle Box

Tiger Eye: Curse of the Riddle Box by Marjorie M. Liu

Download Tiger Eye: Curse of the Riddle Box

I recently had the opportunity to try out Tiger Eye Part I: Curse of the Riddle Box, a casual game released in April 2010 by PassionFruit Games. The game is based on the first half of the novel Tiger Eye by Marjorie M. Liu.

A disclaimer: I’m not as well-versed in casual games and hidden-object games as some other players might be; my gaming background is more in point-and-click adventure games (favorites include The Longest Journey, The Secret Files: Tunguska, and Barrow Hill). Those old pixel-hunting skills served me well, though, in the hidden-object sectio... Read More

Tiger Eye: A great deal of depth and emotion

Tiger Eye by Marjorie M. Liu

Having enjoyed Marjorie M. Liu’s Hunter Kiss urban fantasy series, I decided to look into her paranormal romance series, Dirk & Steele.

Tiger Eye is the first novel in the Dirk & Steele sequence. The heroine, Dela Reese, is a sculptor with a psychic affinity for metal. On a trip to China, she buys a mysterious riddle box and finds herself bound to Hari, an immortal shapeshifter, by magical forces beyond their control.

What follows is a fast-paced plot in which the two must evade danger (both mundane and supernatural) and contend with their growing feelings for one another.

The romance is well-written, with a great deal of depth a... Read More

Vellum: Empty, pretentious twaddle

Vellum by Hal Duncan

Forty pages into Vellum, I was dazzled. Hal Duncan's debut novel appeared to be every bit as phantasmagoric as the tidal wave of advance hype was claiming it was. A hundred pages in, my initial delight was morphing into skepticism. Yes, Duncan is a remarkably assured stylist, but is there any direction here? Is there ever going to emerge a cogent narrative to involve me beyond the author's obvious gift for lovely and visually evocative prose? By about 175 pages, I figured I had my answer.

I remember attending a critics' panel at a local convention several years ago, before I launched my site, listening to Bruce Sterling. I love Bruce to death, especially when he prattles on in that showoffy way of his, demonstrating how much more well-read and intellectually promiscuous he is than you. He was in fine form this day, casually dropping the names of obscure easte... Read More

A Princess of Roumania: A vivid cast of characters to love and hate

A Princess of Roumania by Paul Park

When I was a preteen, I was a sucker for books about everyday, average girls who turned out to be long-lost princesses of some obscure country or other. A Princess of Roumania is an original take on that old trope, looking at that girlish fantasy from a couple of new angles.

The story begins during a typical summer vacation for high-school student Miranda Popescu. She’s an average teenage girl in every way, except that she has hazy memories of an early childhood in a distant land and a handful of objects that seem to corroborate those memories. At this point in the novel, no one but Miranda really believes it, and Paul Park uses these chapters to explore her teenage alienation and how it relates to her dreams of Roumania. After all, that’s what the fantasy was really about when we were young girls, right? On its deepest level, it was about not feeli... Read More

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: Highly recommended children’s fantasy

PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS by Rick Riordan

Rick Riordan’s five-book series takes the world of Greek mythology, complete with gods, monsters, titans, Mt. Olympus, heroes, etc. and weaves it into the modern world under the premise that as the gods are manifestations of Western culture and move as the culture moves. And so when Athens was the pinnacle, Mt. Olympus was in Greece, but now that the seat of Western power has moved to America, Mr. Olympus is on the 600th floor of the Empire State Building. We all move through a sea of mythical creatures but we don’t see any of them thanks to the cloak of the Mist, a strange phenomenon that either hides them completely or makes mere mortals see the creatures and their actions as somewhat explainable (if sometimes odd) events that we can understand.


The series focuses less on the gods than on their children born to mortals — the demi-gods — who are brought at ... Read More

The Cry of the Icemark: Strong idea but weak execution

The Cry of the Icemark by Stuart Hill

The Cry of the Icemark has some excellent imaginative material to work with, but it's almost as if once the author struck gold with the idea, he decided to leave it lying in the ground. The Cry of the Icemark therefore ends up disappointing more than rewarding.

It follows 14-yr-old Thirrin, princess and heir to the throne of Icemark, a small northern kingdom threatened by an aggressive massive southern empire and its never-lost-a-battle general. To survive, Thirrin and her father decide to look to their ancient enemies of the north against whom they've fought many battles: the werewolves and the vampire King and Queen.

Luckily, and I do mean luckily, as in barely explained at all, with the werewolves years of being enemies, of being hunted by humans, of being treated like animals is wiped away by a single two-minute encounter b... Read More

Shadowfall: Has its problems, but an engrossing read

Shadowfall by James Clemens

Shadowfall is the start of yet another fantasy series and much of it will sound familiar to fans of the genre. There is a military order of skilled knights with a secret sect, a pantheon of gods, not one but two special swords (not to mention a special dagger), lots of folks with hidden origins, a small band fighting against overwhelming odds, and a quest to undertake to save the world.

Despite the oh-so-familiar trappings, however, and despite some flaws of execution, Clemens injects enough originality into the work that it transcends the cliches and becomes an engrossing read. Shadowfall is set in the Nine Lands, lands kept in peace by gods who "settled," tying themselves to a particular area of land and allowing their "graces" (bodily fluids collected by human "Hands"— and yes, they collect all the fluids... Read More