Criminal (Vol. 4): Bad Night: The twists and turns in plot are some of Brubaker’s best

Criminal (Vol. 4): Bad Night Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

Jacob Kurtz is the focus of Bad Night, the fourth volume of Ed Brubaker’s wonderfully disturbing noir series Criminal. His job is writing the newspaper comic strip that shows up in Criminal (vol. 1): Coward. The comic, based on Dick Tracy, is entitled Frank Kafka, Private Eye, and it’s as puzzling as the stories written by Franz Kafka, after whom he’s named. Frank is put on cases that go nowhere with leads that could never result in understandable clues. As the comic opens, our cartoonist goes wandering the streets at night, as is his custom because of his constant insomnia. He goes into a diner and has an uncomfortable verbal exchange, a near-violent one, with the boyfriend of a woman named Iris, a red-headed woman who is this comic’s femme fatale.

The story’s tension begins immediat... Read More

The Sunless Countries: Introduces a new heroine

The Sunless Countries by Karl Schroeder

The Sunless Countries is the fourth book in Karl Schroeder’s VIRGA series. This book introduces a new town (inside Virga) and a new protagonist. There are explanations of what’s gone on before, so you don’t have to read the first three VIRGA books (Sun of Suns, Queen of Candesce, Pirate Sun) first, but you’ll probably feel more at home if you do.

Our new heroine is Dr. Leal Maspeth, a tutor in the history department at the university on the wheel/town of Sere. Sere is compiled of several spinning wheels and it has no sun. Its citizens’ only sources of light are the artificial lamps they use. That’s why Leal got lost one night as she was travelling home fr... Read More

Bone Crossed: Mercy doesn’t cry mercy

Bone Crossed by Patricia Briggs

In Bone Crossed, the fourth installment in the Mercedes Thompson series, Mercy is learning to cope with her new role as the mate of the local werewolf pack while still suffering the effects of a horrific assault that occurred at the climax of Iron Kissed. Complications from inter-species conflicts remain a central theme, and her relationship challenges don’t simply fade away, but Mercy Thompson does not cry mercy.

Patricia Briggs keeps the story moving, introducing new plot elements which require Mercy to constantly re-evaluate and adjust. Another author might wave a magic wand and make things all better for Mercy, but Briggs doesn’t, and my respect for her writing deepens as a result. Too many authors leave their heroes static, allowing everything to magically work out right wi... Read More

23 Years on Fire: Bad pacing slows down this military adventure

23 Years on Fire by Joel Shepherd

23 Years on Fire is the fourth book in Joel Shepherd’s CASSANDRA KRESNOV series, a set of military SF books set several hundred years in future, in a distant galaxy. Cassandra Kresnov, who goes by Sandy, is the commander of the galactic Federal Security Agency, or FSA’s, special operations branch. She is also a GI, a combat-designed 100% synthetic person. Sandy must deal with the prejudices of original humans and her own questions about the destiny and evolution of her “people,” the synthetic soldiers.

The book opens with a wild-ride action sequence as Sandy and a bunch of her friends invade the capital city of a planet named Pyeongwha, and uncover strange, disturbing medical experiments being done on citizens who were defined as dissidents. Back home on the planet of Callay, the galactic capital of the Federation, Sandy and her human friends struggle with negative public ... Read More

Valiant: The Alliance fleet is still wandering around

Valiant by Jack Campbell

Black Jack Geary, the crew of the flagship Dauntless, and the other ships of the Alliance fleet are still wandering around in enemy territory, trying to get home (and reminding me a bit of that stupid show I loved when I was a kid: Lost in Space). They’re worried about their stores of fuel, food and the material they need to create weapons. They’re also worried about the Syndicate fleets, but they’ve been successful enough so far that the Syndics are equally afraid of them. In Valiant, there are more Syndics to fight, civilians to rescue, and sabotage to discover. The Alliance fleet will also witness the terrifying collapse of a Syndicate hypernet gate and learn the truth about their suspicions of an alien presence that may be influencing the war from afar.

Personally Geary is still dealing with some treacherous ship captains and he must make some hard decisions about how to handle th... Read More

The Alloy of Law: Western setting adds a new twist to Mistborn

The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson

I loved Brandon Sanderson’s MISTBORN series, so I was excited to learn that he was publishing another novel set in the MISTBORN world. The Alloy of Law takes place a few hundred years after the events in the original trilogy. By this time, society is in the midst of an industrial revolution and is expanding into uncivilized frontier lands, making The Alloy of Law, I suppose, a Western Steampunk or Weird West tale.

A minority of citizens still inherit Allomancy or Feruchemy or, in the case of Twinborn Waxillium Ladrian, both. Even though Wax is heir to a rich noble house, he uses his powers to fight outlaws in the frontier lands... until he’s called back to run his family estates after his uncle’s death. Wax isn’t interested in being a stuffy nobleman, but hundreds of people rely on his family for thei... Read More

Dreamfever: This battle just got much bigger

Dreamfever by Karen Marie Moning

At the end of Faefever, Mac was brought low, her free will stolen by the schemes of the Lord Master and the powers of several Fae. In the early chapters of Dreamfever, Karen Marie Moning makes the unusual decision of switching to another point of view, that of Mac’s teenage friend Dani, who narrates the first few days after the walls between the worlds fall down. Dani’s style of narration can be a little jarring after one is accustomed to Mac’s voice, but these chapters give us an idea of what’s going on in the world while Mac is out of commission.

Four days later, Barrons comes for Mac. (We don’t learn till later why the delay, and certain other characters exploit that mystery for all they’re worth.) No one has ever recovered from being turned into Pri-ya (a Fae sex addict), but Barrons has a plan to bring Ma... Read More

Vanished: Best Greywalker novel so far

Vanished by Kat Richardson

The fourth book in Kat Richardson’s Greywalker series, Vanished, is the best in the series so far. Harper Blaine, Richardson’s private investigator protagonist, gets a telephone call from an old boyfriend — not necessarily an unusual event, except that, in this case, the boyfriend happens to be long dead. He hints that there is much that Harper does not know that she needs to find out, quickly, and encourages her to come to Los Angeles to look into her past.

Los Angeles is not a place Harper enjoys visiting. She doesn’t get along with her mother, who appears to be weaving a net around husband-to-be number five. Mom is obsessed with appearances and materialistic in the extreme. But she holds information about Harper’s father, and, unknowingly, about Harper herself. It seems there was more ... Read More

Best Served Cold: Comes with a price

Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie

Joe Abercrombie is the new master of dark, gritty, realistic fantasy, and Best Served Cold might well be the masterpiece that represents that subgenre. Monza Murcatto is a renowned and very successful mercenary … or was until she was stabbed, beaten, and thrown from a mountainside by her employer. Monza wants revenge, so she contracts a party of unsavory characters to aid her. Monza’s story goes from dark to black to “a wet match in the bottom of a dark cave” — everyone suffers, lots of people die, and the trail of blood and tragedy that Monza leaves in her wake is unprecedented.

Abercrombie takes what appears to be a simple tale of revenge and twists it into a sanguine journey of self-discovery on the part of each character. The heart of Best Served Cold is how Abercrombie strips our “heroes” down to their core a... Read More

Jailbait Zombie: An undead and unclever version of Get Shorty

Jailbait Zombie by Mario Acevedo

I confess I sometimes wonder about writing bad reviews (not reviews that are bad, but reviews of bad books). With so much out there, is it better to point people to the good stuff or warn them of the not-so-good? The feeling is exacerbated when the book is one by a popular author, let alone, as in this case, part of a popular series. Obviously somebody (a lot of somebodies) likes these books, so who am I to say they’re wrong? Or to warn people off who may have, like those other somebodies, enjoyed the book.

On the other hand, the publisher sent me the book to review it, so I’ve got to balance that responsibility as well. So here’s my compromise: I’ll give an explanation of why I found Jailbait Zombie (2009) to be not so good, but I won’t hammer away at all the flaws I felt it had. And, as I’ve already done, I’ll preface my bad review with the acknowledgement... Read More

The Price of Spring: Finale of one of the best fantasy epics in recent years

The Price of Spring by Daniel Abraham

I’ve been a big fan of Daniel Abraham’s Long Price Quartet and The Price of Spring, its concluding volume, confirms my view that it is one of the more original and best-written fantasy epics in recent years.

If you haven’t read the third volume, An Autumn War, stop reading here as you’ll run into spoilers for that book.

As has been the pattern in the series, the story picks up years after the events of An Autumn War. Otah and Maati reappear as major characters, while other familiar faces show up in relatively minor roles — Balasar Gice, Cehmani, Sinja, Idaan, and others. New characters, both major and minor, are added to the mix, including Otah’s daughter Eiah, his son Danat, Danat’s betrothed, and several poets-in-training.... Read More

Empire of Ivory: Mixed results

Empire of Ivory by Naomi Novik

When last we left our characters, they were trapped with the Prussian Army running for their lives in the face of Napoleon's Army. Returning home they are confronted by a disaster of cataclysmic proportions as an illness is rapidly decimating the dragon populace of England. Harrowing stuff...

Empire of Ivory takes quite a while to get going and is more compelling in its depiction of events than characters. The main character remains almost cardboard for most of the book, which leaves me uninterested in him. The reader can't really relate to his internal conflict. By the end of Empire of Ivory, things begin to improve, but still he just seems too cold by half. The dragons have more personality than most of the characters.

Temeraire has lots of potential if the characters ... Read More

Thicker Than Water: Best Felix Castor novel to date

Thicker Than Water by Mike Carey

The fourth Felix Castor novel starts out with a bang: the liberation of Rafi from the Charles Stanger Care Facility under the nose of Jenna-Jane Mulbridge, told in a clever departure from Felix’s usual first-person narrative.

From there, Thicker Than Water follows the same formula as the other Castor novels — a tangled supernatural mystery comprised of seemingly unrelated parts — but with some significant differences.

For one, the case is personal this time, revolving around an old childhood acquaintance who was brutally attacked with razors and Castor’s name written in blood.

Also involved somehow are Felix’s brother Matt, the Anthemata, a zombie who is following Castor, stigmatas, and a haunted housing district. Throw in great roles played by regulars Juliet, Nicky, R... Read More