Sunset of the Gods: Same strengths and weaknesses as its predecessor

Sunset of the Gods by Steve White

Sunset of the Gods (2012) is the second novel in Steve White’s JASON THANOU (TEMPORAL REGULATORY AUTHORITY) series about time travelers who go back in time to study historical events. It would be helpful, but not necessary, to read the previous book, Blood of the Heroes, first.

This time Jason will accompany a couple of academics to witness the Battle of Marathon. There are a few historical debates about events that occurred while the Greeks were driving the Persians out of their country in 490 BC and the team hopes to settle these disputes. Both of them involve Pheidippides/Philippides, the runner who took news of the battle to Sparta. Legends suggest that he was confronted by... Read More

Criminal (vol. 2): Lawless: Should not be missed

Criminal (vol. 2): Lawless by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

In Criminal (vol. 2): Lawless, Ed Brubaker tells a noir story of family loyalty. One brother — a criminal — dies and the other seeks justice, doing what he can to be an avenging angel on the wrong side of the law. When we meet Tracy Lawless, he’s been in the military, and for some unexplained reason, he’s been thrown in the hole for eighteen months (we do get the explanation later in the book). When he gets out, he is told that his brother, Ricky, died ten months earlier in February. Nobody bothered to tell him because when they put him in isolation, all communication between him and the outside world was cut off. But as soon as he finds out Ricky’s been murdered, he heads straight home seeking some kind of justice.

He is sucked into the Undertow, a bar where criminals hang out (it was originally called the Undertown... Read More

Queen of Candesce: Characterization is better in this sequel

Queen of Candesce by Karl Schroeder

“I’m someone infinitely more capable than a mere heir to a backward nation on this backward little wheel.”

Warning: This review contains a minor spoiler for Sun of Suns, the previous volume in the VIRGA series, but the same spoiler is in the publisher’s blurb for the book, so maybe it’s not really a spoiler after all.

Queen of Candesce is the second book in Karl Schroeder’s VIRGA series. It’s been four years since I read the first book, Sun of Suns, so I don’t remember all of the details of that story, but I do vividly recall the fascinating world that Schroeder built and I remember that at th... Read More

Echopraxia: Nowhere near as good as Blindsight

Echopraxia by Peter Watts

I was extremely impressed by Peter WattsBlindsight (2006), a diamond-hard sci-fi novel about first contact, AIs, evolutionary biology, genetically-engineered vampires, sentience vs intelligence, and virtual reality. It is an intense experience, relentless in its demands on the reader, but makes you think very hard about whether humanity’s sentience (as we understand it) is really as great as we generally think it is.

The short answer, according to Watts, is no. It’s an evolutionary fluke, was never necessary for survival, and will actually be a hindrance when we encounter more advanced alien species, most of which may have developed high levels of intelligence without wasting any precious brain capacity on sentience, self-awareness, or “navel-gazing.” It’s a very depressing idea,... Read More

Blood Bound: Briggs has created a detailed, layered world

Blood Bound by Patricia Briggs

Owing a favor to a vampire is pretty much always going to be asking for trouble. Stefan, a vampire who’s been a help and even a friend to Mercy Thompson, calls her at three a.m. to go witness his confrontation with a new vampire in town. But Stefan gives Mercy his word of honor that she won’t be hurt, and asks her to shapeshift into her coyote form to accompany him. The new vampire, Cory Littleton, has a rather mundane name, but his nature is anything commonplace: there is a demon inside of Littleton, and it’s not entirely clear whether the vampire is controlling the demon or is possessed by him. In any case, their meeting turns out to be fraught with danger and death, since Littleton possesses demonic-enhanced sorcerous powers that make him extremely dangerous to everyone in town, including vampires and werewolves as well as humans. As Mercy, Stefan and other vampires and werewolves combine to try to track ... Read More

Ha’Penny: How do you make a difference in a dictatorship?

Ha’Penny by Jo Walton

(May contain spoilers for the previous book, Farthing.)

Ha’Penny is the second book in Jo Walton’s dark alternate history series SMALL CHANGE. The “small change” that created this world is the refusal of America to get involved in the war in Europe, in 1941. From that small “counterfactual” sprang a world where, by 1949, Europe is largely under the control of Hitler, who is at war with Stalin for the rest. Britain negotiated a “peace with honor” with Germany and has now fully embraced fascism. Many Brits know about the death camps in Europe, but they don’t care. Jews in Britain have their freedoms and rights limited daily, and the newspapers and radios screech about terror attacks from Jews or Bolsheviks.

Like Farthing, Ha’Penny alternat... Read More

A Betrayal in Winter: Utterly tragic

A Betrayal in Winter by Daniel Abraham

“Constant struggle is the price of power.”

A Betrayal in Winter, the second book in Daniel Abraham’s LONG PRICE QUARTET begins about 15 years after the events of A Shadow in Summer (which you probably should read before beginning A Betrayal Winter or before reading this review).

Maati, the poet of Saraykeht, was disgraced by the disappearance of the andat Seedless and the subsequent downfall of the cotton trade in Saraykeht. He and Liat had a baby boy, but Liat left Maati years ago because he seemed to be going nowhere and didn’t seem wholly committed to his family. Maati hasn’t seen them in years, and he has also not seen his former friend Otah since that fateful night when Seedless disappeared. Maati’s life is dull and somewhat meaningless.

Things... Read More

The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg Volume One: To Be Continued 1953-1958

The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg Volume One: To Be Continued 1953-1958 by Robert Silverberg

Though To Be Continued: 1953-1958 is the first official volume of the definitive collection of Robert Silverberg's short stories, it should be read after In the Beginning: Tales from the Pulp Era (1955-1959), a collection of short stories that overlaps with To Be Continued only in terms of chronology: There are absolutely no stories duplicated in the two volumes, and in To Be Continued, Silverberg makes frequent reference to In the Beginning which, like To Be Continued, has the same autobiographical introductions to every story.

Having now read these first two volumes, I am fairly certain Silverberg would want readers to finish In the Begin... Read More

Fearless: Mutiny!

Fearless by Jack Campbell

Fearless is the second book in Jack Campbell’s LOST FLEET series about Captain Jack Geary who has recovered from 100 years of cold sleep just in time to try to save the Alliance fleet from certain annihilation by the Syndics. As I explained in my review of the first LOST FLEET book, Dauntless, many soldiers in the Alliance fleet think Black Jack Geary is a hero returned from the dead to save their skins. To them, Geary can do no wrong, and they’re willing to follow him deeper into Syndic space as he tries to find an unguarded pathway home. Other officers, however, resent Geary’s attempt to instill order on a military that has become unprepared and undisciplined over many years of war. These aggressive glory-seekers are causing a lot of trouble and when they find someone to rally around, Captain Geary has a mutiny on his ha... Read More

Dead Man Rising: Unpleasant in every way

Dead Man Rising by Lilith Saintcrow

Dead Man Rising is the second book in Lilith Saintcrow’s DANTE VALENTINE series. Dante, a freelance necromance, has lived through her first assignment for the devil. (She didn’t want to work for him, but the devil can be very persuasive.) Now Dante’s brooding because her demon lover is dead and she’s just had a nasty surprise about her own heritage. When her friend Gabe, the police investigator, calls to tell her that her old school friends are being brutally murdered, Dante, with the help of her ex-boyfriend Jace, sets out to solve the crimes. Thus not only does Dante have to deal with her current grief, but she has to face her horrible past, too.

I didn’t like the first DANTE VALENTINE book, Working for the Devil (reviewed here), but I decided to give Dante another chance since Br... Read More

Trollbridge: A fun, quirky read…

Trollbridge by Jane Yolen & Adam Stemple

Trollbridge is a quirky collaboration between a mother/son team: author Jane Yolen and musician Adam Stemple.

An amalgamation of the fairytales "Three Billy Goats Gruff" and "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" (with a bit of Scandinavian folklore thrown in for good measure), it involves chapters that alternate between driven music protégée Moira Darr and trio of brothers Galen, Jakob and Erik Griffson, a burgeoning boy-band who have managed to wrangle a weekend away from their stage-managing parents. At different points each group arrives at a bridge in the small Minnesotan town of Vanderby: first Moira, who is among the annual Dairy Princesses chosen to have their likenesses carved into butter sculptures (a real Minnesota tradition) and then the Griffson brothers, enjoying the freedom from their overbearing father.
Read More

Poltergeist: A confident second novel

Poltergeist by Kat Richardson

Poltergeist is the second Kat Richardson GREYWALKER novel. A few years have passed since Greywalker, marked by the growth of Ben and Mara’s son Brian from a babe-in-arms to a talking toddler, and Harper Blaine’s increasing proficiency in navigating the transitional dimension next to ours, called the Grey. Harper clinically died for two minutes, and during that time, “crossed over,” triggering this strange ability.

Harper is hired by an egotistical and unethical professor of psychology to vet the results of an experiment in the paranormal. Professor Tuckman has gathered together a group of eight people and is attempting to re-create the 1970s “Philip Aylesworth” experiment, creating an artificial ghost based on the group’s energy. Tuckman wants Harper to confirm that the results the group is now getti... Read More

The Laws of Magic: Charmingly old-fashioned

Heart of Gold, Word of Honour, Time of Trial, Moment of Truth by Michael Pryor

“Charmingly old-fashioned” is how I would describe Michael Pryor’s series The Laws of Magic, which begins with Blaze of Glory (reviewed above) and continues with Heart of Gold, Word of Honour, Time of Trial, and the most recent, due out this summer, Moment of Truth, all of which I’ll review as a group here. The concluding book will be Hour of Need.

The Laws of Magic is set in an alternate England (called Albion) during the Edwardian Age, starting on the cusp of W... Read More

The Day Watch: Don’t think, just follow

The Day Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko

The Day Watch is the second novel in Sergei Lukyanenko’s Watch series. Like its predecessor, The Day Watch contains three short stories set in Russia and Europe that can be read independently or as part of a larger narrative arc. His work has once again been skillfully translated from the Russian by Andrew Bromfield.

Unlike its predecessor, Anton Gorodetsky is not the narrator of The Day Watch. Instead, all of our heroes are from the “Day Watch,” ostensibly a villainous faction of magic users known as “Dark Others.” However, in Lukyanenko’s world, we can never be sure who the villains are. The Day Watch certainly seems villainous: they take on the form of demons whenever they can, they betray their own, and they are willing to sacrifice infants to win battles. However, every evil act that t... Read More

Bloodfever: Hard to put down

Bloodfever by Karen Marie Moning

At the end of Darkfever, Mac learned the identity of her sister’s mysterious lover (and possible murderer), but didn’t get the chance to strike against him. She’s still out for revenge, and Barrons still wants her help finding the Sinsar Dubh, an ancient book of evil magic. Meanwhile, Mac has to deal with too-curious Garda officers, the ever-present threat of Shades, and the machinations of the alluring Fae prince V’lane.

Then, in addition to the Shades and Rhino-boys she’s now accustomed to, Mac starts seeing another frightening figure. One in dark robes, carrying a long scythe. Is he an omen of Mac’s death, a manifestation of her guilty conscience, or something else entirely?

Bloodfever starts out feeling like a continuation of Darkfever, with Mac continuing her struggle for survival ... Read More

The Kiss of Death: Fantastically original and exciting

The Kiss of Death by Marcus Sedgwick

Though generically named, The Kiss of Death is a fantastically original and exciting novel, full of blood, danger, thrills, mystery, and legions of the undead. It is sequel of sorts to My Swordhand Is Singing, in that it features Peter and his father's sword from the previous book, though here the attention turns to two new protagonists. Perhaps it's better described as a companion piece to its predecessor, as although it's not necessary to have read My Swordhand is Singing, familiarity with who Peter is and his experiences in his own story will add a certain weight to his doings here.

Best described as a Gothic horror-mystery, The Kiss of Death begins with a letter addressed to persons unknown, detailing the writer's desire to murder its recipient. It is baffling to Markus, the son of the ma... Read More

Breakaway: Immensely entertaining

Breakaway by Joel Shepherd

Breakaway, the second Cassandra Kresnov novel by Australian SF and fantasy author Joel Shepherd, picks up soon after the ending of series opener Crossover. Sandy, a highly advanced artificial human with military training, is now attached to a squad of SWAT agents, while also helping the government of Callay review its network security. Despite the sensitive nature of this work, and her ongoing integration into Callay society, many political and religious factions still take issue with her presence. After the heavy-handed way in which the Federation handled the crisis described in Crossover, Callay is now reconsidering its relationship with the Earth-based federal government. Sandy is stuck right in the middle of this hotbed, living in a society that is religious... Read More

The Chick and the Dead: Chick lit with a paranormal twist

The Chick and the Dead by Casey Daniels

Pepper Martin thought her newly acquired ability to see ghosts was a one-shot deal. That once Gus Scarpetti moved on to the great hereafter, she could go back to her normal life where only the living talked to her. She was wrong. It seems Gus has been talking her up in the afterlife, and sends Didi Bowman her way.

Didi died in the 1950s and was the sister of Merilee Bowman, Cleveland native and bestselling author of the Civil War novel So Far the Dawn. Didi claims she, not Merilee, actually wrote the book, and wants Pepper to prove it so that Didi's disadvantaged teenage granddaughter can collect the royalties. After some hesitation, Pepper agrees. She soon learns that Didi may have been the victim of murder as well as plagiarism. Did Merilee do it, or was Didi's married lover a little too eager to cover up their affair, or is Didi lying about everything? And can Pepper figure it al... Read More

Sorcery and the Single Girl: Great chicklit!

Sorcery and the Single Girl by Mindy Klasky

It's been almost a year, but Jane Madison still hasn't mastered this whole "witchcraft" thing. True, she managed to turn the Potomac River into ice, and can make small whirlpools in the sink…but those things aren't really helpful in real life…right?

Things are looking up for Jane's love life, however, after a handsome Brit randomly walks into Melissa's bakery asking for a plateful of Lust. Floating on her prospects of a new beau, Jane's euphoria is short lived when David, her warder, tells her that the Coven wants to meet her.

The Washington Coven — the sisterhood of witches in the local area — is run by the formidable Teresa Alison Sydney, a powerful witch who grants access to the Coven only to those who the sisterhood deems worthy. On her first meeting, Jane is set a task to be completed by Halloween night. If she fails, everything she has in her possession — h... Read More

Changeling: Not a book for arachnophobes!

Changeling by Yasmine Galenorn

In Changeling, Yasmine Galenorn avoids the thing that annoyed me most in Witchling; namely, the infodumping. Having set the scene in Witchling, Galenorn is free to spend most of Changeling on plot and character development. There is some exposition, but it didn't strike me as excessive. It was just the right amount to get me caught up after two years' absence from Galenorn's universe.

Changeling is written from the point of view of Delilah D'Artigo, a sister of Witchling's heroine. When sexy werepuma Zachary Lyonnesse walks into Delilah's life, he brings two problems with him: a murder mystery, and second thoughts about her relationship with her boyfriend Chase. (Also, Chase's bizarre change of heart in Witchling Read More

Deepwood: Exciting fantasy adventure by a veteran author

Deepwood by Jennifer Roberson

Looking back, Karavans was a typical set-up novel. It focused mainly on worldbuilding, laying down the groundwork for the story, and introducing a diverse cast of characters — Audrun, Davyn, and their children Gillan, Ellica, Torvic, and Megritte; the Shoia guide Rhuan and his partner Darmuth; Rhuan’s cousin and courier Brodhi; fellow courier Bethid; and hand-reader Ilona, among various other supporting players.

So, plot-wise, there may not have been a lot going on, but personally I had no problems with this aspect of the book since Ms. Roberson does such an excellent job with the rest of the novel. For instance, all of the many characters were intimately established and I loved the unique, richly crafted world that was being brought to life, which included a land (Sancorra) war-torn by the conquering Hecari with their fearsome ‘decimations’ (1 in 10 persons are kille... Read More

The Fox: A quality sequel

The Fox by Sherwood Smith

After the high standards of Inda, the prequel to Sherwood Smith’s The Fox, it was next to impossible to be better this time. But, still, Smith delivers a quality second book in the series.

After the drama of the first book, Inda was left at sea after being forced from his homeland. Smith had really run Inda through a ragged race of events while growing him slowly into the man he would become. That process continues in The Fox. Inda remains, as always, the leader without an ego. He follows the impossible standard of leading from the front. As a weapon against pirates, that had been effective.

At home, the politics of selfishness and hunger for power continue to spiral towards an inevitable conclusion. Inda’s family continues to cope with the second and third order after-effects of unconscionable acts by m... Read More

Swords of Dragonfire: Some of Greenwood’s more interesting characters

Swords of Dragonfire by Ed Greenwood

Although I generally don’t like reviewing the second book in a trilogy, (middle books often seem to just be filler) I just had to write about Ed Greenwood’s Swords of Dragonfire which continues the early exploits of the Knights of Myth Drannor, some of Greenwood’s more interesting characters. A roaming band of adventurers, loyal to the crown of Cormyr, the Knights are perhaps some of the most successful bunglers in the history of the Forgotten Realms. Florin Falconhand and his friends had appeared as wise and worldly adventurers in previous Greenwood books, but their history had never been fully explored. The Knights of Myth Drannor series is Greenwood’s story of their humble beginnings as callow youths in love with the spirit of a... Read More

The Search for the Red Dragon: Quick and enjoyable

The Search for the Red Dragon by James A. Owen

The previous Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica book, Here There Be Dragons, had a clean ending, but The Search for the Red Dragon introduces a new conflict that's tied to the original adventure.

The strengths — and weaknesses — of the first book continue in The Search for the Red Dragon. The illustrations preceding each chapter are gorgeous, and James A. Owen's writing is plain, simple, and easy to get into. The mystery and dilemma are quickly established and the book has a "young adult" feel in terms of pacing and narrative technique. For example, I expected death to be uncommon in the novel, or at least that death would seldom be directly shown, and that prediction was pretty much on the dot.

My com... Read More

Before They are Hanged: Expect more of the same

Before They are Hanged

Before They are Hanged (2007) begins just where The Blade Itself left off and continues the stories of Logen, West, Jezal, Ferro, Bayaz, Glokta, and company. Expect more of the same in this novel: brutal fighting, sickening torture, nasty politics, ruthless characters, and barbarian grammar.

This recipe mostly works — the plot is interesting, the pace is fast, there's a bit of humor, and the characters are well-developed and continue to grow. I certainly enjoyed the story. There were a few things, however, that keep me from giving this novel (and the series) "favorite" status.

First, the editing needs a bit more polish. I find it jarring to read sentences which are missing antecedents or punctuation:
"He glanced sideways and caught Luthar's eye, licking his lips nervously in the gloom, wet hair plastered to his face." (I don't know... Read More