Blood of the Heroes: Exciting, educational, slightly sexist

Blood of the Heroes by Steve White

Tantor Audio is publishing Steve White’s JASON THANOU (TEMPORAL REGULATORY AUTHORITY) series in audiobook format, so I tried the first book, Blood of the Heroes, originally published in 2006. It’s not great literature, but it’s diverting and even educational (which I can appreciate).

Jason Thanou is a retired agent of the Temporal Regulatory Authority (TRA), an organization that, among other things, monitors and protects academics who use time travel in their studies. He’s been called back to the service for the agency’s most ambitious project yet. He is asked to accompany a couple of scholars to 1628 BC where they will watch the Minoan eruption and its aftermath. Jason’s tired of shepherding pompous academics through time, but when he finds out that... Read More

Criminal (Volume 1): Coward: Noir comics at their best

Criminal (Vol 1) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

In Ed Brubaker’s Criminal (vol 1): Coward, we get noir comics at their best. Until I first read the Criminal series about ten years ago now, I was still not persuaded that comics could be a great form of art. But once I read this series, I was convinced I should read more: I thought, if comics can be this good, then there must be many more out there like this one. And so my passion for comics began with the story of Leo, a thief who always has a meticulous plan of escape laid out before he will consider taking on a heist, and in the case of Coward, the heist will get his team five million dollars worth of diamonds from a police van carrying contraband. Leo, unfortunately, is known as a coward because of his escape plans. He is known as someone who runs away.

At the time we meet our cowardly lion, Leo ... Read More

A Dirty Job: …but someone’s got to do it, right?

A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore

For a long time, I’ve been fascinated the ways in which humans personify the concept of Death — a hooded and black-robed spectral reaper, a suave and irresistible man, a rider on horseback who visited the houses of the soon to be deceased, and many others. In the case of A Dirty Job (2006), Christopher Moore presents a nervous and twitchy Beta Male named Charlie Asher who operates a secondhand-items shop in San Francisco.

Charlie had what he thought was a decent life: he and his wife Rachel just had their first baby, the shop is doing well, and he’s got a great relationship with his sister Jane. But then people he comes into contact with start dying right before his eyes, strangers are bringing him objects that glow bright red, and angry voices hiss threats at him from sewer... Read More

The Loch: Like pizza: You know it’s bad for you, but you can’t help but enjoy it

The Loch by Steve Alten

Steve Alten’s The Loch is full of clichés — the dialogue, the narration, and the plethora of borrowed plot lines from Jaws. You know the good characters from the bad. You can predict which ones will die violently (and deservedly so), and you know which bad guys will turn out to be good guys. But you know what, I thoroughly enjoyed this thriller and I'm not ashamed to admit it. I found myself staying up through the wee hours to get through "just one more chapter." At first I felt a little embarrassment at enjoying it so much. But ultimately I gave in and just went with it.


Now, it's a fact that I was a hardcore Loch Ness Monster fanatic growing up in the 1970's. I'm pretty sure I was the only kid in my school that kept checking out the thin Mystery of Loch Ness from our scho... Read More

Blindsight: Mind-blowing hard SF about first contact, consciousness

Blindsight by Peter Watts

This is ‘hard science fiction’ in the truest sense of the term — hard science concepts, hard-to-understand writing at times, and hard-edged philosophy of mind and consciousness. Peter Watts aggressively tackles weighty subjects like artificial intelligence, evolutionary biology, genetic modification, sentience vs intelligence, first contact with aliens utterly different from humanity, and a dystopian future where humans are almost superfluous and would rather retreat into VR. Blindsight (2006) is also a tightly-told story of an exploration vessel manned by five heavily-modified post-humans commanded by a super-intelligent vampire, and a very tense and claustrophobic narrative that demands a lot from readers. If that sounds like your kind of book, you’ll find this is one of the best hard science fiction books in the last 10 years.

I try to avoid using the... Read More

Moon Called: A vulnerable, believable urban fantasy heroine

Moon Called by Patricia Briggs

Mercy Thompson is an anomaly: a female automobile mechanic who owns her own shop, half Native American, and ― in a world with werewolves, vampires, fae and other supernatural beings ― she is one of a very few “walkers,” or skinwalkers, able to easily shapeshift into a coyote at will, without regard to phases of the moon. When Mercy surprised her human mother by turning into a coyote pup when she was three months old, her mother, not knowing what else to do, turned her over to be raised by a werewolf pack. Mercy left the pack as a teenager, but still is watched over by the werewolves, particularly Adam Hauptman, the alpha werewolf who shares her back fence line and with whom she has a sometimes uneasy alliance. Their relationship is a confusing mix of attraction and, on Mercy’s side, bravado tinged with fear that the alpha werewolf will override her free will and autonomy.

When a starving te... Read More

Jack of Ravens: Lovers separated by millennia

Jack of Ravens by Mark Chadbourn

I’m one of those people who is a diehard fan of anything Celtic. All you really have to do is say, “Hey, Sarah, this book is obviously inspired by Celtic lore/legend/traditions/etc” and I’m there. So when Pyr emailed me about Mark Chadbourn’s Jack of Ravens, and I saw “Celtic” in the description, I knew I had to read it. Seriously, that’s all it took. Yeah, I’m discerning like that.

Jack of Ravens is a slow burn, and while that might aggravate some, it’s well worth it. Chadbourn doesn’t waste any of his words. In fact, his lyrical prose and descriptions are instrumental in whisking the reader away to other times and places. What is, perhaps, more amazing than anything else is that all his times and places seems to shine and are crafted ... Read More

Farthing: A country-house murder mystery in a dark alternate timeline

Farthing by Jo Walton

At first glance, it seems like Farthing, Book One in Jo Walton’s SMALL CHANGE trilogy, could have been written by Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers or Elizabeth George. At a house party in the home of an aristocratic British family, a guest is found dead, his body staged to throw suspicion on another guest specifically. Soon clouds of secrets, lies, betrayals and adulteries fill the air. Peter Carmichael, the Scotland Yard Inspector sent to investigate, must fight his way through those clouds, dealing with aristocratic privilege and interference from his own higher-ups, if he is to reveal the truth.

There’s nothing science-fictional about that, you might think, except for one small change. In the world of Farthing, America did not enter World War II. Britain and Germany met in 1941 and agreed to a treaty — “peace with ... Read More

In the Beginning: Tales from the Pulp Era by Robert Silverberg

In the Beginning: Tales from the Pulp Era by Robert Silverberg

I've been enjoying reading Silverberg's early story collections lately, and I particularly enjoy that he, like his friend Harlan Ellison in his story collections, includes not only an autobiographical introduction to the book, but also memoir pieces before every story. As a result, his collections become two books in one: part short story collection and part portrait of the artist.To be honest, I think I like both parts equally.

In the Beginning: Tales from the Pulp Era consists of sixteen stories written from 1955 to 1959. It overlaps in time period with To Be Continued (1953-1958): Volume One of The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg (the definitive collection); however, the two books do not print any of the same stories.For Silverberg fans, then, both books are essential. I... Read More

The Lies of Locke Lamora: We love it!

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

Trained from childhood as a thief and con-artist par excellence, Locke Lamora employs a silver tongue and quicksilver mind to divest the rich of Camorr of their excessive wealth. No sooner do Locke and his associates initiate their latest scheme, however, than they find themselves at the mercy of the mysterious Gray King, who intends to use them as pawns in his bid to take over the city-state’s underworld. As the Gray King’s diabolical plan unfolds, Locke finds his skills tested as never before as he struggles not only for his own survival, but also for the survival of his friends and Camorr itself.

In this scintillating debut novel, Scott Lynch establishes himself as a rising star of fantasy fiction. Like Read More

Dauntless: Black Jack Geary makes a great reluctant hero

Dauntless by Jack Campbell

John “Black Jack” Geary’s escape pod has just been rescued from deep space. He’s been in cold-sleep for a century after he single-handedly held off enemy spaceships while letting the rest of the Alliance fleet escape. Everyone thought he was dead, but his brave sacrifice went down in the history books and many people still whisper that Black Jack Geary will come back to save the Alliance in a time of great need. And so he has... or at least that’s what many soldiers of the Alliance believe. Geary himself is bewildered to learn that not only is he alive, but that his one famous deed was exaggerated and now he’s a hero of legend. All he really feels like doing is grieving over the loved ones he left behind a century ago. But duty calls.

Now Geary finds himself again trying to save the Alliance fleet. They’re still fighting the Syndicate Worlds — the same enemies they’ve been fighting since Geary’s ... Read More

Working for the Devil: Loved the audio, but not the story

Working for the Devil by Lilith Saintcrow

Dante Valentine is a freelance Necromance — clients hire her to communicate with dead people so they can solve murders, settle estate disputes, etc. When the Devil wants to hire Dante to find a rogue demon named Vardimal Santino, and to recover the important object he’s stolen from Hell, he gives her no choice but to obey. Dante doesn’t want to work for the devil, but she does want to keep living. To help with that, the Devil assigns her a bodyguard — the demon Japhrimel. While Dante and Japhrimel are trying to track down Santino, they run into Dante’s ex-boyfriend, Jace, who seems all too willing to help. Eventually they discover that the demons have been doing some genetic experiments with humans and that not only is the future of humanity at stake, but so is the guardianship of Hell. If Vardimal isn’t stopped... um... all Hell will break loose.

I don’t typically read these urba... Read More

At the Mountains of Madness and Other Tales of Terror: Difficult to engage with

At the Mountains of Madness and Other Tales of Terror by H.P. Lovecraft

Fans of Stephen King take note: This work and other tales of H.P. Lovecraft were among King’s main inspirations. Lovecraft bases most of his stories out of his Providence, just as King uses small town Maine so often as a setting. Likewise, each utilizes quirks of rural life and old wives’ tales to spin tales of the macabre that never quite fully explain themselves. Ghosts, miasmas, fiery pentagrams, voodoo magic, mysterious deaths, and the other typical plot devices used by horror are never intended to fully connect with reality. Lovecraft himself has said that the major theme underpinning his stories is the inapproachable nature of fear to reality. But enough about the subject matter, and on to the literary merits of this collection.

Unfortunately, th... Read More

Sun of Suns: Virga is a marvelous creation

Sun of Suns by Karl Schroeder

Hayden Griffin is out for revenge. When he was a boy, the nation of Slipstream attacked his little home world of Aerie. Hayden’s parents had just managed to build a sun for Aerie so their world could be independent of Slipstream, but the more powerful nation attacked before Aerie could escape. Both of Hayden’s parents were killed. Years later, Hayden knows it was Admiral Chaison Fanning, the Admiral of Slipstream’s space fleet, who ordered the massacre, so Hayden plans to insinuate himself into the admiral’s household so he can get close enough to kill him. What he doesn’t know is how ruthless Venera Fanning, the Admiral’s wife, can be. When Venera discovers another nation’s plot against Slipstream, Hayden gets caught in the middle.

Sun of Suns, a “hard” SF novel, is the first book in Karl Schroeder’s VIRGA series. By far the best thing ab... Read More

The Dragon’s Eye: Derivative

The Dragon’s Eye by Kaza Kingsley

When Erec Rex’s adoptive mother disappears into a tunnel under a New York City sidewalk, 12-year-old Erec and his new friend Bethany go looking for her. Below the city streets they find a new world full of magic and enter a contest which, if they win, will make them king and queen of Alypium.

The Dragon’s Eye, the first book in Kaza Kingsley’s EREC REX series, is a fun, fast-paced children’s adventure featuring a magical world that’s hidden from modern society but can be accessed through a magical version of Grand Central station. When they get there, Erec and Bethany meet tricksy ghosts, make potions, learn a new sport, and get their own pets. They live in a castle, which is a welcome change from the closet Erec is used to sleeping in.

The magical competition involves growing gills and swimming below a lake inhabited by a sea m... Read More

Keeping it Real: Painful to finish

Keeping it Real by Justina Robson

Lila Black is a high-price cyborg special agent. She used to be a regular human, but after a disastrous encounter with someone from a parallel realm, she nearly died. Then she was rebuilt, at huge expense, and is now being sent by her government intelligence agency to be the bodyguard of Zal, an Elfin rockstar who has received some threatening letters. Things get complicated when Zal and Lila become involved in Elfin politics.

Justina Robson’s Keeping It Real has an intriguing premise: a nuclear bomb explosion in 2015 opened up the fabric of the universe and made five parallel worlds accessible to each other. Until then, humans had thought that elves, elementals, and demons were the stuff of fantasy novels, but now they must figure out how to live at peace with all these other species, not to mention the magic they wield.

Unfortunately, that’s about all... Read More

White Tiger: Did Not Finish

White Tiger by Kylie Chan

White Tiger by Kylie Chan sounded like a great departure from the usual urban fantasy fare. Set in Hong Kong, White Tiger incorporates Chinese mythology rather than the more trodden ground of European mythology. The plot sounded like fun, too. It centers on Emma Donahoe, an Australian woman who becomes a live-in nanny in the employ of John Chen, a rich Chinese widower with a little daughter. This scenario gave off a vibe of Gothic romance, a genre that is one of my guilty pleasures. But I was disappointed in White Tiger, despite really wanting to like it, and stopped reading at a little over 100 pages.

A large part of the problem is Chan’s characterization of Emma. Most of the time, she’s bland. She simply doesn’t seem fleshed out beyond her adoration of Mr. Chen’s daughter Simone, and later her crush on... Read More

The Fetch: Enjoyable and convincing YA

The Fetch by Chris Humphreys

Nordic runes became a big fortune-telling and New Age self-exploration tool in the 1970s and 80s. Like Tarot cards and other things, the runes became commercialized and sanitized, slanted toward the positive and not-scary. In The Fetch, Book One of Chris Humphreys’s YA fantasy trilogy THE RUNESTONE SAGA, the runes are ancient and wise, filled with darkness and blood. To embrace them is to embrace great power, and the darker side of power: sacrifice.

Fifteen-year-old Sky calls himself the King of the Sleepwalkers. He has sleep disturbances frequently, but now that his nomadic family — dad Henry is an engineer — has settled in rural England, things are getting worse. He is having vivid dreams of a hooded figure calling out to him, demanding… something. When his Norwegian grandfather’s steamer trunk shows up, he presses his mother Sonja... Read More

Greywalker: A great opening to a refreshing series

Greywalker by Marion Deeds

This is not a traditional review of Kat Richardson’s Greywalker. I’m going to talk instead about the technique Richardson uses to introduce her paranormal world and her main character’s magical power.

Richardson’s premise is that abutting our dimension is a transitional dimension known as the Grey. Some creatures live in the Grey; some come through it from other places. Vampires, werewolves, ghosts and ghouls move about freely in it, and can shift easily from the Grey to here.

Most (not all) urban fantasies start with a character who is already magical. Harry Dresden is a wizard; October Daye is half faerie. Richardson’s first book is an origin story. It’s the tale of how Harper Blaine became ... Read More

Star of the Morning: A milder type of romance

Star of the Morning by Lynn Kurland

She is a beautiful mercenary girl with supernatural skill with a sword and a hatred of magic. He is a prince and arch-mage, responsible for the spells that protect his brother’s kingdom. Can these two crazy kids ever make it work?

Apparently not. At least, by the end of Lynn Kurland’s Star of the Morning, not yet. Morgan is recovering from a deadly dose of poison, and Miach is back at his brother Adhemar’s castle, putting duty ahead of his growing feelings for Morgan and trying to solve the mystery of the dark magic seeping into the kingdom.

Kurland is an established romance writer whose books often contain ghost lovers or time travel. Star of the Morning, first of the NINE KINGDOMS series, is a foray into a traditional fantasy setting, and the romance actually takes a back seat to the magi... Read More

Ilario: Fantasy with a heart and a mind

Ilario by Mary Gentle

For pure storytelling, don’t-want-to-stop-reading-it fun, Mary Gentle’s two Ilario books, Ilario: The Lion's Eye: A Story of the First History, Book One and Ilario: The Stone Golem: A Story of the First History, Book Two, are among the best I’ve read. I lived in Gentle’s world even when I wasn’t actively reading the books. I dreamt of her Mediterranean Renaissance. I fretted about Ilario. I couldn’t wait to get back to the books when I’d set them down. Gentle’s worldbuilding is extraordinary, her characters are complete individuals, and her plot compelling. This is fantasy with a heart and a mind.

Ilario is a hermaphrodite in every possible sense of the word. He (I shall refer to him as “he” for the sake of convenience only; I could just as easily use “she... Read More

Touch the Dark: Try Chance’s later series instead

Touch the Dark by Karen Chance

Touch the Dark is the first in Karen Chance’s Cassandra Palmer urban fantasy series. Cassie is a seer; she can foretell the future and speak with ghosts. Later, she learns she has another power too: the ability to travel back in time and change events in the past. The time-travel element is unusual in urban fantasy and lends some freshness to what would otherwise be a pretty standard plot about a young woman embroiled in the politics of gorgeous, Machiavellian vampires. It’s a promising blend of story elements — but it’s tripped up by the execution.

The biggest problem is the infodumping. The narrative screeches to a halt in the most unlikely places so that Chance can explain the history and magical rules of her world. For example, during a combat scene early in the book, a ward is acti... Read More

Hounding the Moon: Too muddled

Hounding the Moon by P.R. Frost

Fantasy author Tess Noncoiré’s latest novel is her biggest success yet, but all is not going smoothly for her. She’s still mourning her late husband, Dill, who died in a hotel fire two years ago after a brief marriage. Then there’s the pesky issue of demons. Right after Tess was widowed, a mysterious fever led her to a secret Sisterhood dedicated to fighting demons. Tess never fit in and was asked to leave, but the training has stuck with her — along with her familiar imp, Scrap, who has become her best friend and who can transform into a weapon when evil is nearby.

As Hounding the Moon begins, Tess saves a young Native American girl from a rampaging dog. When the dog and the girl keep reappearing in Tess’s life, she learns that they have a role to play in a Lakota myth, and that Tess’s help is needed to bring about a positive outcome. Meanwhile, she has to con... Read More

Darkfever: MUST. HAVE. BOOK. TWO. NOW.

Darkfever by Karen Marie Moning

Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series can usually be found on the romance shelves, but having just finished reading the first installment, Darkfever, I’m more inclined to classify it as urban fantasy. While there are a couple of men foreshadowed as possible love interests for the heroine, and while there is some sexual content (most stemming from the mind-control powers possessed by some of the fae), the primary focus is on a murder mystery and on the magical goings-on in Moning’s Dublin. The series also follows urban fantasy tropes in another significant way: it is written in first person and follows one heroine, Mackayla (“Mac”) Lane, throughout its five books rather than featuring a different heroine and hero in each volume.

Mac is normal. Painfully so. She’s smart but unambitious, ... Read More

Blaze of Glory: A solid work for younger readers

Blaze of Glory by Michael Pryor

Blaze of Glory is the first book in Michael Pryor’s The Laws of Magic series. It’s an engaging YA effort, if not particularly enthralling or captivating, with a solidly interesting main character. As you can tell by my somewhat qualified reaction, it didn’t blow me away, though it was strong enough that I’d take a look at book two.

The series is set in an alternate England (Albion) where the Industrial Revolution took place side by side with a magical revolution. The two are intertwined in the world’s development, though magic is limited in its impact because it relies on individual talent. We appear to be on the brink of World War I as “Holmland” (Germany) and Albion are increasingly at odds (an Albion ship was recently “accidentally” sunk by Holmland).

The ma... Read More