Pirates of the Timestream: Jason Thanou meets Captain Morgan

Pirates of the Timestream by Steve White

Jason Thanou is back in action in Pirates of the Timestream (2013). In this third novel in Steve White’s TEMPORAL REGULATORY AUTHORITY series, Jason is again sent back in time to witness important historical events.

In the previous two novels, Blood of the Heroes and Sunset of the Gods (which it would be helpful, but not necessary, to read first), Jason and his colleagues had discovered that the Temporal Regulatory Authority they work for is not the only institution that owns a time-travelling device, and that an evil cult of future transhumanists ... Read More

Criminal (Vol. 3): The Dead and The Dying: Does not disappoint

Criminal (Vol. 3): The Dead and The Dying Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

The Dead and The Dying, the third volume in the Criminal series by Ed Brubaker, continues the noir tales that began in volume one. In this series, we get the background on a few characters we’ve already met in the previous two volumes, and we are reminded that in the world of noir, the meaner you are, the more likely you are to end up on top, at least in the criminal underworld. The Dead and The Dying gives us three stories: One about Gnarly Brown, a heavyweight turned bartender, and about Sebastian Hyde, Gnarly’s friend and heir to his father’s criminal empire; one about Teeg Lawless, a pretty criminal down-on-his luck and in d... Read More

Pirate Sun: Wants to be a movie

Pirate Sun by Karl Schroeder

Warning: Review contains minor spoilers for the first two books, though nothing not mentioned in the publisher’s blurb.

Pirate Sun is the third book in Karl Schroeder’s VIRGA series. You probably don’t need to read the previous two books (Sun of Suns and Queen of Candesce) to enjoy Pirate Sun, but the story will make a little more sense if you do. In Sun of Suns we learned of Virga, the huge balloon like structure near the star Vega that contains its own little universe with man-made suns and planets that are often constructed of metal, gears, and cables in a wild steampunk style. Virga’s inhabitants don’t realize they’ve been closed off from the rest of th... Read More

Iron Kissed: This story keeps getting better

Iron Kissed by Patricia Briggs

Patricia Briggs, who has explored werewolf and vampire societies in the first two volumes of her MERCY THOMPSON urban fantasy series, turns her attention to fae society in this third volume. In the second volume, Blood Bound, Mercy had been lent a powerful knife, a fae treasure, by Zee, her former boss and a fae, to kill a demon-ridden vampire. When Mercy used the knife for an additional and very much unauthorized purpose, she knew there would be consequences and that she would need to repay the favor in some way. It turns out that owing a favor to one of the fae is pretty much as dangerous as owing a favor to a vampire.

Like the werewolves, the fae have been gradually disclosing their existence and some of their members to humanity, based on the theory that with the ever-increasing sophistication of technology, humans were going to find out about them anywa... Read More

Half a Crown: The most optimistic, but weakest, book of the trilogy

Half a Crown by Jo Walton

(Warning: may contain spoilers of the two previous books.)

In the foreword to Half a Crown, Jo Walton says that she is by nature an optimistic person and that’s why she wrote the SMALL CHANGE series (which she refers to as Still Life with Fascists). Half a Crown, the final book in the trilogy, is admittedly more optimistic that the first two. Sadly, in several ways it’s the weakest of the three, although still worth reading.

The final book is set in 1960, more than ten years into the repressive fascist regime of Prime Minister Mark Normanby. Peter Carmichael is now the head of the Watch, Britain’s Gestapo. Within the Watch, Carmichael and his lieutenant Jacobson, the agency’s “model Jew,” run the clandestine Inner Watch, an underground railroad that sends Jews and other people deemed ... Read More

An Autumn War: Even more exciting than the first two novels

An Autumn War by Daniel Abraham

This third novel in Daniel Abraham’s LONG PRICE QUARTET is even more exciting than the first two novels. In the first book, A Shadow in Summer, we saw the Galts (the enemies of the city-states of the Khaiem) destroy the industry of the Khaiem’s most glorious city, Saraykeht. In the second book, A Betrayal in Winter, the Galts attempted to get control of the city of Machi by killing off the Khai’s sons and installing their own man as Khai. However, the failed poet Otah, the youngest son of the Khai, managed (with the help of his old friend Maati) to uncover the plot and become Khai in Machi.

Fourteen years later, the Galts have not given up. That’s because they still suffer from the way they were treated by the Khaiem generations ago when the Khaiem’s andats destroyed Galt and turned part of their land into a vast wastelan... Read More

The Republic of Thieves: As reviewed by its characters

The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

Lynch ran his fingers through his hair and groaned, then looked up at the figure of Locke Lamora leaning casually, against the mantel. “OK,” Lynch said. “So I’ve got to get you cured of that incurable poison I saddled you with at the end of Red Seas Under Red Skies, transport you and Jean to a brand new setting, and figure out some grand, complex con — grander and more complex than the last one — for you to run while you’re there?”

Locke swirled the wine around in the glass he held in his right hand, looking morosely into its dark depths. “Don’t forget introducing Sabetha.”

Lynch groaned again. “Right. The mysterious love of your life and equal to your own not-inconsiderable skills whom I’ve built up to such a degree she’ll never match the readers’ expectations.”

“She might surprise you. She always does me.”

... Read More

Ink and Steel: Rewards for the patient reader

Ink and Steel by Elizabeth Bear

A blend of history and fantasy is what typifies Elizabeth Bear's body of work, as does her reliance on folklore and literary references to craft her tales. The more you know about her favoured subject matter, whether it be Shakespeare, Elizabethan England, Faerie, or Arthurian legend, the better you'll be able to enjoy her books, for Bear doesn't suffer fools and seldom slows down to explain precisely what's going on. Ink and Steel requires your utmost attention if you're to follow it, so don't think you can pick this one up for a bit of light holiday reading.

I read Blood and Iron several years ago and though my memories of it are vague, I do remember having enjoyed it. So it was with a certain amount of confidence that I picked up Ink and Steel, expecting good things. The story is set in Elizabethan London, but not as we know it. In this alternative history Que... Read More

Courageous: The lost fleet is still wandering…

Courageous by Jack Campbell

In Courageous, the third book in Jack Campbell’s LOST FLEET series, the Alliance fleet is still wandering from star system to star system, trying to get back home by some path the Syndics won’t predict. It seems like a hopeless situation, but the legendary Black Jack Geary, who’s been revived out of cold sleep after his suicidal mission 100 years ago, is just the hero they need. He’s proved himself so capable so far that some of his commanders want to help him secure a dictatorship when they get home, and others just want to get rid of him. Geary could decide to be a dictator, get rid of the people who are causing him problems and do things the way he thinks they should be done, but then how is he different from their enemies?

Geary isn’t as confident in his own abilities, however. He’s still uncomfortable in this new military where the pursuit of self-glory is tolerated and the bes... Read More

Flesh Eaters: A Bram Stoker winner

Flesh Eaters by Joe McKinney

Was 2011 a bad year for the horror novel? I’ve yet to read any of the nominees for the 2012 Bram Stoker Award for best novel except Flesh Eaters by Joe McKinney, the winner, and I find myself puzzled. Was this really the best the year had to offer? It’s a competent enough zombie novel, but nothing special.

Flesh Eaters tells the story of the loss of Houston, Texas, to a close series of tropical storms, one after another hitting the city until it has essentially become part of the Gulf of Mexico. As was the case with Hurricane Katrina and the tragedy of New Orleans in 2005, Houston is not effectively evacuated, and is largely cut off from the rest of civilization in the aftermath of the storms. This isolation becomes considerably more pronounced when the combination of filthy conditions, flooding by heavily polluted water, and the... Read More

The Twilight Watch: Does what we expect

The Twilight Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko

The Inquisition carefully manages the balance of power between the Day and Night Watch, and nowhere in the world is it as precarious as in Moscow. At any given moment, the leaders of the Moscow Watches, Gesser and Zabulon, could carry out a diabolical scheme to seize power for their side in this never-ending cold war of magicians. As always, middle-class magician-detective Anton Gorodetsky is caught in the middle. As always, the world does not make sense. The magicians feel like they must regulate their own activities to keep balance, all the while wondering whether there is a difference between the light and the dark, and of course completely aware that there are cosmic forces for good and evil that will keep both teams roughly even no matter what they do.

So what’s the point?

Perhaps Sergei Lukyanenko has finally caught on that he has written himself into ... Read More

Faefever: The grimmest book so far

Faefever by Karen Marie Moning

I’d die for him.

Throughout the Fever series, Karen Marie Moning has always had a penchant for telling us something dramatic and then backing up to explain how Mac got to that point. In Faefever, she takes that technique to a new level: the whole book is the explanation of how she reached that bombshell of a first sentence. Who is this man, and why is Mac willing to die for him?

The early chapters of Faefever are not quite as compelling as those of the first two books. They feel less focused. I think it’s symptomatic of Mac’s own confusion — she doesn’t know whom to trust or what the right course of action really is — but she seems more wishy-washy than she has in previous books. She wants to move out from ... Read More

Underground: Incredible sense of place

Underground by Kat Richardson

Underground is the third in Kat Richardson’s Greywalker series, which features Harper Blaine as a Seattle private investigator who can see the “Grey” — the borderland between reality and magic, life and death, past and present. Harper gained this ability when she died for two minutes in an attack by the subject of an investigation.

Underground starts so slowly that I feared Kat Richardson had lost her way. It’s difficult to imagine that a hard-working private investigator with plenty of work would dive into a case with no client, especially one that, like this one, poses considerable risk of physical harm to an already physically overstressed body. Yet not once in the course of the book does Harper even mention that a paying c... Read More

Tuck: A warm and memorable portrayal

Tuck by Stephen Lawhead

This is the third and final part in The Raven King trilogy, begun with Stephen Lawhead's Hood and continued in Scarlet. After publication was delayed for a period of time due to illness, Tuck finally concludes the story in a satisfactorily, though perhaps slightly anti-climactically, way. The key concept behind this particular version of Robin Hood is that it proposes to be the "real" story behind the legends, based on events that originated in Wales and which went on to inspire the later bards and minstrels.

Lawhead chooses to transport the traditionally English tale to Wales due to: the country's dense forests, the Welsh skill with longbows, and the historical difficulties that the Normans had in conquering territories in eleventh century Wales due... Read More

Killswitch: Even more exciting than the first two books!

Killswitch by Joel Shepherd

Killswitch, the final book in Joel Shepherd’s CASSANDRA KRESNOV trilogy, picks up the story 2 years after the end of Breakaway. The Federation is still going through a period of upheaval, with Callayan President Neiland trying to make Tanusha the capital of the formerly Earth-based organization, and numerous powerful factions (including Federation Fleet warships) converging on the planet to try and affect the outcome of this political power play.

Meanwhile, Callay is still in the process of setting up the administrative and military infrastructure necessary for its new function, and of course the former League hunter-killer android Cassandra Kresnov, and her friend Vanessa Rice, are heavily involved, both somehow installed at the top of the new Callayan Defence Force. (And if this seems a stretch in terms of probabil... Read More

Passage: It’s about the journey

Passage by Lois McMaster Bujold

Fantasy comes in all forms. Epic fantasy. Dark fantasy. Contemporary fantasy. Historical fantasy. Erotic fantasy. Then there’s The Sharing Knife series by award-winning author Lois McMaster Bujold (THE VORKOSIGAN SAGA, The Spirit Ring, the FIVE GODS novels), which is an altogether different kind of fantasy…

In a familiar world that recalls The Last of the Mohicans, there are two peoples — Lakewalkers and farmers — who are ignorant of each other’s ways. Despite this centuries-old prejudice, a young farmer girl and a Lakewalker patroller manage to fall in love and get married, which is basically Beguilement and Legacy in a nutshell. Obviously there’s much more to the story like the vast cultur... Read More

Fallen: Another outstanding addition to the Noreela mythos

Fallen by Tim Lebbon

Set 4000 years before the Dusk and Dawn duology, Fallen takes readers back to a different Noreela, one that is still dangerous and familiar due to the inclusion of tumblers, skull ravens, the always mysterious Cantrass Angels, Ventgorian wine, fodder and other familiarities, but this version of the world is not nearly as despairing and still possesses a sense of hope — of potential. In this time period, much of Noreela remains uncharted and is a playground for the Voyagers whose vocation is to discover the undiscovered. For the Voyagers their greatest challenge, their Mt. Everest if you will, is the Great Divide in the south, a vertical cliff that rises miles into the sky and extends from east to west seemingly forever. According to legend, the Great Divide marks the end of the world and no one who has Voyaged there has ever returned. For Voyager... Read More

Heroes Adrift: Not as funny as it wants to be

Heroes Adrift by Moira J. Moore

When I first picked up Heroes Adrift and read the back, I felt a sudden pang of 'uh oh'. Okay, I don't read Moira J Moore's work for the extremely complex plots. I read her work because it's entertaining and funny, because I like the characters, and because her occasional bouts of dry irreverence for our genre just tickle me pink. But she always manages to hold her own enough in the plot department that it works with what she's doing.

With Heroes Adrift, I'm not so sure about that anymore. The plot is thin enough that our heroes, Lee and Taro, spend pretty much the whole book wandering around on a parody of southern isles in fantasy that I don't find as funny as I think I should. And they're wandering with a traveling circus, basically. Still, this offers some really entertaining moments and delivers some laugh-out-loud lines, just... Read More

The Hero of Ages: Put Mistborn on your TBR list

The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson

I'm impressed with Brandon Sanderson's first fantasy trilogy. The entire story was carefully thought out, well-plotted, and well-paced. What impresses me most is that in this last installment, The Hero of Ages, there are plenty of wonderful surprises left. But these surprises aren't little add-ons that Sanderson lately thought up and decided to throw in just to keep up the interest and excitement. These are major pieces of the puzzle that have purposely been left for the characters (and therefore the readers) to discover. Back in The Final Empire, the first book of the Mistborn trilogy, I thought Brandon Sanderson had created a unique and really cool magic system. That was nothin' — it gets even better!

Finally, we understand the origin and purpose of... Read More

Madhouse: Not recommended

Madhouse by Rob Thurman

Madhouse is one of those novels that you think has potential when you look at it, but just doesn’t quite meet your expectations. Rob Thurman's writing style is easy to read and pleasant on the eyes and mind, but unfortunately, this third book about Cal and Nik Leandros is not well-plotted and suffers from an excess of innuendo.

The story is basic: Cal and Nik run a sort of supernatural detective agency in NYC. Nik is a ninja and Cal is a half monster/half human strong-arm. Together they are a pretty powerful pair. When a murderer from the past is reconstituted and begins his murderous rampage anew, they are hired to hunt him down and kill him (he isn’t human, although humans once thought he was). In the meantime, their friend the puck, Robin Goodfellow, is being hunted for a crime he committed nearly 8,000 years ago. Nik and Cal must save their friend and destroy the monster be... Read More

Shadowrealm: Deeply philosophical for S&S

Shadowrealm by Paul S. Kemp
[Abelar] thought of Eldren, of Enden, recalled his father's words to him — the light is in you — and realized, with perfect clarity, that his father was right.
The light is in you. As a theme for Paul S. Kemp's Shadowrealm, the final novel in The Twilight War trilogy of Forgotten Realms novels, it might seem rather odd. After all, the story surrounds Erevis Cale, the First Chosen of the thief god Mask. Cale is a shadowman, able to twist and bend shadows to fulfill his will. His magic is not of the light, but of the darkness. Along with the Second of Mask, Riven, they are fighting an evil half-god by the name of Kesson Rel bent on destroying all of Toril with the Shadowstorm — while at the same time attempting to stop the takeover of all of Sembia by the Shadov... Read More

The Indigo King: High aspirations not quite met

The Indigo King by James A. Owen

The Indigo King has high aspirations that it sets up in terms of character and a large plot canvas, but doesn't really meet them, though it is a solid work of fantasy. It's major flaws are in its construction: a picaresque pastiche. The pastiche part is a myriad of legendary and mythological sources.

On the surface, one might expect such a all-encompassing field of sources ranging from Arthurian legends to Greek mythology to Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and Mark Twain (to name only some) would offer up a rich tapestry of fiction. But the opposite is true — we tend to land on these like a rock skipping across water and so we never really feel present in the mythology; they're never around long enough to awe us.

The picaresque structure of The Indigo King, set up via a multi-faceted quest that has the heroes popping a set number of times ... Read More

Last Argument of Kings: No redemption

Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie

Say one thing for Kat Hooper, say she's a weak-minded sucker.

She really enjoyed the first two books of Joe Abercrombie's THE FIRST LAW trilogy. This story was original, had a unique style, fascinating characters, and a darkly cynical vibe. She liked it. It was fresh. But she was kind of hoping, even daring to expect, that the last book, Last Argument of Kings (2007), might have an ending that was, if not perhaps exactly happy, at least somewhat satisfying.

Unfortunately, Last Argument of Kings was more realistic than happy. Hooray, some might say — a realistic ending! But realistic is not what Kat reads fantasy for. For three books she read about people's heads being chopped off, painful body parts clicking, toothless gums being sucked at, pain, wasting disease, bodies being cleaved in half, more pain, ... Read More

Dead Men’s Boots: Another delightful Felix Castor novel

Dead Men’s Boots by Mike Carey

Dead Men’s Boots is the third Felix Castor novel after Vicious Circle and The Devil You Know. Like the previous volumes, the book finds Felix dealing with several different issues that may or may not be connected. In this case, there’s the suicide of a fellow ghostbreaker (exorcist) who leaves a message for Felix; a wife who hires Felix to clear her husband’s name of murder; a Chicago mob femme fatale who seemingly continues to kill decades after her execution; and the legal fight for Rafi’s power of attorney. Aiding Felix in his latest escapades are Juliet, Nicky — one of my favorite characters — and the demon Moloch, who drops some tantalizing hints about ‘the great project’ and why the dead are rising with increasing volume.

Compared to th... Read More