Generation Loss: A seductive brew of creepiness, melancholy, and weird religion

Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand

Generation Loss (2007) is a Shirley Jackson Award winner and the first in Elizabeth Hand’s CASS NEARY thriller series. Cass is a washed-up, alcoholic photographer who was briefly famous in the 1970s for her images of the punk scene. Now middle-aged, she’s struggling, and a friend offers her a job interviewing another photographer, Aphrodite Kamestos, who had her own heyday in the 50s and 60s and now lives reclusively on a remote Maine island.

The job quickly proves to be harder than Cass expected. It’s much too cold for Cass’s New York wardrobe. The locals are aloof. People and cats have been mysteriously disappearing. And Aphrodite had no idea Cass was coming. Cass wants to leave, but circumstances keep her in Maine longer than she intended — which positi... Read More

Baltimore (Vol. 1): The Plague Ships: An excellent origin story

Baltimore (Vol. 1): The Plague Ships by Mike Mignola (writer), Christopher Golden (writer), Ben Stenbeck (artist), Dave Stewart (colors), & Clem Robins (letters)

In volume one of Baltimore, we meet a tough, rugged man with a wooden leg. At the beginning of the book, we witness Lord Baltimore’s chasing vampires in a coastal town in France in 1916. The town has been struck by the plague as well as vampires. The night is dark, and Baltimore is in the midst of hunting a hoard of them. Though he will kill any of them he can, he is set on tracking down and killing one particular old vampire with a scar on his face and a missing right eye. Therefore, he plans on keeping one vampire alive long enough to get some information.

This plan, however, does not work out: He is helped in an unusual way by a witch and is frustrated that all the vampires die before he can get that information. After being knocked unco... Read More

Blackbringer: An interesting early work from a favourite author

Blackbringer by Laini Taylor

Although now best known for her DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE trilogy, I was interested in checking out some of Laini Taylor's early work, specifically her duology DREAMDARK, made up of Blackbringer (2007) and Silksinger.

Magpie Witchwind is a young faerie that travels the globe, searching for devils (or "snags") that are gradually creeping back into the world. Originally trapped in bottles and other containers, the arrival of human beings and their insatiable curiosity means that these devils are now escaping their prisons and leaving destruction in their wake.

With her family of raucous crows, Magpie hunts down these devils, following in the footsteps of... Read More

In the Woods: Chilling mystery with evocative writing

In the Woods by Tana French

When Rob Ryan was twelve, he and his two best friends went off to play in the woods and disappeared. Rob’s friends were never seen again. Only Rob came home, and without any memory of what had happened to the three of them while he was missing. Twenty years later, Rob is a detective with the Dublin Murder Squad. When he is called upon to investigate the killing of a twelve-year-old girl in the same forest, Rob is confronted again with his old trauma.

In the Woods (2007) is the first in Tana French’s DUBLIN MURDER SQUAD series. This is a mystery series, but fantasy readers will find a lot to like here. This installment and a few of the others (Broken Harbor, The Secret Place) include ambiguous touches of the supernatural. The beautiful writing is also a plus. This is probably weirdly specif... Read More

Interworld: Fun science fiction for kids and teens

Interworld by Neil Gaiman & Michael Reaves

Joey Harker thinks he’s a pretty normal kid except that he’s got a horrible sense of direction. When his social studies teacher makes the kids try to find their way back to school after being dropped off somewhere in town, Joey gets lost. That’s when he discovers there’s a good reason for his deficit — he’s a Walker. In fact, he’s THE Walker. He can travel through all the (heretofore unknown to Joey) alternate earths.

When Joey accidentally walks out of our earth, the InterWorld finds him. This is an organization made up of all the Walkers (i.e., all the Joey Harkers) who exist in all the alternate earths. They form a military unit that keeps their earths safe from the Hex and the Binary, the two groups that are trying to exploit the earths for their own purposes. The Hex, which controls some of the worlds, uses magic, while the Binary, which c... Read More

New Amsterdam: Forensic sorcery

New Amsterdam by Elizabeth Bear

New Amsterdam is billed as “the hardcover debut” from Elizabeth Bear, who had been winning awards for her short stories and novels before this work was published in 2007. Though not exactly described as such, New Amsterdam is a compilation of six short stories, each connected to and increasingly dependent upon the others as the overarching plot progresses. While each story is ostensibly a mystery which requires investigation and the use of forensic sorcery in order to arrive at each solution, characters and world-building are the primary focus of Bear’s writing. For the most part, this works well, though there are some pieces which could have benefitted from closer authorial scrutiny, and I wish the concept of “forensic sorcery” had been brought to the fore.
... Read More

The Last Wish: Engaging dark fantasy stories

The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

The Last Wish (1993 in Polish, 2007 in English) is the first book in the WITCHER series by best-selling Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. You might recognize the name from the popular video games based on the books. The series features a hero named Geralt of Rivia who, when he was an orphaned child, was transformed into something more than human through a process involving magic and drugs. Now he has white hair and some subtle superhuman powers — for example, he can see in the dark and he is stronger and faster than other men. He roams the world looking for odd thankless jobs that only a Witcher can do.

This first WITCHER book is a series of related stories in which we see Gera... Read More

Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians: Funny middle-grade fantasy

Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson

Alcatraz Smedry is a troubled boy. He has no parents and, because he breaks nearly everything he touches, he is regularly being kicked out of his foster homes and transferred to new ones. The only constant adult in his life is his case worker. The bag of sand that Alcatraz receives on his 13th birthday as an inheritance from his dead parents further highlights the fact that nobody ever loved him.

But then a strange man shows up, claims to be his grandfather, and announces that Alcatraz is actually the hero of a land called the Free Kingdoms. He further explains that the land that Alcatraz knows of as America is run by evil librarians who control all knowledge, squelch technological developments, and lie to people about reality. It turns out, also, that Alcatraz’s predilection for breaking things isn’t really a curse, but is a magical ability. Grandpa Smedry introduces Alcat... Read More

Marked: Typical boarding school book

Marked by P.C. Cast and Kristen Cast

Zoey Redbird used to be a normal teenager dealing with normal teenage stuff — boyfriends, school, parties — until the day she’s marked with a tattoo right in the middle of her forehead. This signifies her as a vampyre and means that she has to go live in the House of Night, or she’ll die. Nobody knows what causes vampirism — it has something to do with junk DNA and it’s a physiological reaction to puberty hormones in some kids.

Zoey’s parents, conservative religious zealots who are more worried about what the neighbors will say than they are about how Zoey feels, are horrified by the mark. They call the elders of the Faith to come pray for Zoey, but she sneaks out and runs away to the House of Night. There she learns about being a vampyre, makes new friends and enemies, watches kids die when they don’t make it through the change, and discovers that she has extra special powers and a Destiny... Read More

Off Armageddon Reef: Overlong, but worth it

Off Armageddon Reef by David Weber

Picture this: an incredibly powerful race of aliens known as the Gdaba halted the human exploration in space and all but wiped humanity out. The remainder of the human fleet splits up — one half cloaks and stops moving, the other continues flying to draw the Gdaba away. The half of the fleet that cloaked and escaped colonized an Earth-like planet called Safehold.

Here’s the catch — the Gdaba can detect any technology of the industrial level or higher. Humanity is forced to revert to a medieval society, where Safeholdians know nothing of their space-faring past and all believe in one religion run by a very strict church. Nimue Alban’s mind awakes in the body of an android and she is given the task of helping Safehold break away from its medieval prison, despite the teachings of the oppressive church, and eventually take on the Gdaba. Since Safehold is a medieval society, Nimue’s android body is made... Read More

Skulduggery Pleasant: Scepter of the Ancients

Skulduggery Pleasant: Scepter of the Ancients by Derek Landy

Scepter of the Ancients is the first book in Derek Landy’s children’s series called SKULDUGGERY PLEASANT. The story follows 11 year old Stephanie Edgley who inherits her eccentric uncle’s property after he dies. Stephanie gets involved with some supernatural goings-on when a thief breaks into her new house (the one her uncle left her) and nearly kills her. To her rescue comes Skulduggery Pleasant — a man who used to be alive but is now a magically animated skeleton. Stephanie and Skulduggery set out to solve a mystery and end up saving the world.

Stephanie is a great little protagonist — she’s smart and logical and mature. Skulduggery Pleasant is also a great character — he’s unusual and amusing, always cracking jokes in a dry but kind of obvious way that should appeal to the target audience of this book (ages 9 and up). Here’s an example from ... Read More

Monster Hunter International: Entertaining dude-lit

Monster Hunter International by Larry Correia

“Our business is monsters. And business is booming.”

Owen Zastava Pitt was just trying to be normal. He used to be a bouncer who spent his evenings participating in illegal pit fights, but he managed to earn a CPA and became a boring accountant for a big corporation — pension and dental benefits included. Being tall and weighing in at 300 lbs, he didn’t quite look like an accountant — and he still spent his weekends as a gun hobbyist — but he was making progress.... until his boss turned into a werewolf and Owen managed to defeat him and push him out a window on the 14th story of their office building.

That caught the attention of a covert freelance organization called Monster Hunters International. In contrast to the secret government organization that hunts monsters, MHI is a family business. The Shackleford family has selectively recruited ... Read More

Flora Segunda: Did Not Finish

Flora Segunda by Ysabeau S. Wilce

Flora Segunda by Ysabeau S. Wilce is just odd. For one thing, the book is fully titled as Flora Segunda: Being the Magickal Mishaps of a Girl of Spirit, Her Glass-Gazing Sidekick, Two Ominous Butlers (One Blue), a House with Eleven Thousand Rooms, and a Red Dog, and while I don’t have a problem with long titles in general — see my love for Catherynne Valente’s Fairyland books, or Caroline Stevermer and Patricia Wrede’s collaborations — the problem with this title is the same problem I had with the book. It’s just trying to contain too many things. Also, stop spelling magic with a K. It’s t... Read More

The Secret War: Urban historical fantasy

The Secret War by M.F.W. Curran

The Secret War by M.F.W. Curran is a combination of historical fiction and urban fantasy set at the end of the Napoleonic wars. The background of the book draws heavily on real places and political events from that era and I really enjoyed the sense of realism that these elements lend to the story.

William Saxon and his all-but-adopted-brother Kieran Harte are thrust into the world of supernatural conflict when they are attacked by a monster shortly after the battle of Waterloo. After doing their best to destroy this monster, their lives are drawn inevitably into the ongoing conflict between good and evil. Their families and lives are threatened and their only way out is to embark on a journey into the heart of a secret militant Order that fights evil on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church.

There are several things that I really liked about Read More

Key to Conflict: Badly written erotica

Key to Conflict by Talia Gryphon

I did not finish Key to Conflict by Talia Gryphon. I stopped at around the 100 page mark. Key to Conflict is the kind of book that makes people think "urban fantasy" is a euphemism for "badly written erotica."

In the first sentence, we are introduced to: "Gillian Key, United States Marine Corps Captain, Special Forces Operative, former flower child, wiseass extraordinaire, also legitimately known as Dr. Gillian Key, Paramortal psychologist," and that sets the stage for Gillian as a character. She's all over the place. Not only does she have more training and degrees and honors than seem plausible for her age, but the different aspects of her character seem clumsily cobbled together rather than parts of a whole. One minute she'll be caring and empathetic, and the next minute she's flying off the handle. Her "Marine" status seems mo... Read More

The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel

The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott

The 14th century alchemist alchemyst Nicholas Flamel has the secret codex containing the recipe for the elixir of life hanging around his neck. For centuries, Dr. John Dee has been hunting for him because he wants that book. Dee has finally traced Flamel to his bookstore in 21st century California. He busts in, gets all but the last two pages of the book, and kidnaps Flamel’s wife. Now the world is in danger because Dee plans to bring the dark Elder gods to power and they will enslave humans. When twins Josh and Sophie witness the crime, they get dragged into the mess. Along the way, they learn that, OMG, there’s a prophecy about twins saving the world!

The most intriguing aspect of The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel is the overall worldview that Micha... Read More

Hunter’s Moon: Gritty, cynical and procedural

Hunter's Moon by David Devereux

Think of Jack, the first person narrator of David Devereux’s Hunter’s Moon, as James Bond with a wand as well as a Walther PPK; a magical double-oh agent with a license to kill. Jack (if that really is his name) works for a shadowy section of M15 who use magicians and witches as well as more traditional tools like murder, blackmail and torture to rid Britain of enemies of the state.

Hunter’s Moon reminds me of some really old, cold-war vintage secret agent books, like Ian Fleming’s work and American offerings like Matt Helm. It has a post-9/11 sensibility, however, that is probably better echoed in some of the grittier television programs of the last decade, such as 24 or the British show Strike Back. Jack and his crew are fine with murder, mutilation, torture, sexual humiliation, and presumably a... Read More

Evil Genius: Original, unexpected, unpleasant

Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks

Cadel Piggott doesn’t really fit in. His genius IQ and his peculiar obsessions seem strange to his classmates. He’s not a malicious child, but his boredom drives him to challenge himself by hacking into computers and designing intricate pranks. It doesn’t help that his parents are constantly busy and don’t spend any time with him. The only person who really seems to care about Cadel is Dr. Thaddeus Roth, his psychologist. Thaddeus even encourages Cadel’s obsessions and pranks. As Cadel gets older, Thaddeus gradually starts to reveal why he’s interested in the boy — he wants to enroll him in Dr. Phineas Darkkon’s special school: The Axis Institute for World Domination.

Evil Genius, the first in a series of novels by Catherine Jinks, starts out with a delightfully mischievous sense of humor as we watch Cadel studying traffic patterns and bus schedules so he can... Read More

100 Cupboards: Great premise, doesn’t pay off

100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson

Henry’s parents have been kidnapped, so his aunt and uncle and their three daughters have taken him in. Things are different at Uncle Frank and Aunt Dotty’s house. Henry’s overprotective parents made him eat healthy food, ride in a carseat until he was nine, and wear a helmet at recess. But now Henry eats hotdogs, drinks soda, plays baseball, and owns a knife. But things get even more interesting for Henry when he discovers that there are dozens of little doors under the plaster of the walls in his attic bedroom, and that these doors are portals to other worlds!

I love the premise of 100 Cupboards — the idea of a room full of tiny strange-looking doors to other worlds is fun and appealing to children, who are N.D. Wilson’s target audience. My kids (ages 9 and 12), who listened to 100 Cupboards with me, did enjoy the characte... Read More

Swordbird: Two stars for Swordbird, Five for Miss Fan

Swordbird by Nancy Yi Fan

The Swordbird Song
by Kat Hooper
To be sung to the tune of “The Trees” by Rush.

There is unrest in the forest,
There is trouble in the trees,
For the bluejays want their eggs back
And their nuts and their berries.

The trouble with the blue jays,
(And they're quite convinced they’re right)
They say the cardinals filched their babies
And they grabbed their food at night.

But the cardinals didn’t do it,
‘Twas the hawk and all his knaves
They are building a strong fortress
And the woodbirds will be slaves!

There is trouble in the Forest,
But the Swordbird, it is said,
Can be called to fight oppression
And can make the bad birds... Read More

City of Bones: Doesn’t let go

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

I’m a huge fan of books that don’t let me go until I’ve reached the last page. Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones, the first in her Mortal Instruments series, is that kind of book. Ostensibly written for young adults, this is a novel that adults will enjoy just as much as teenagers, for all that the protagonist and her friends are high-school aged.

Clary and her friend Simon — not boyfriend, much as he’d like to claim that title — visit the Pandemonium Club in Manhattan, a borough away from their homes in Brooklyn. A cute boy with blue hair and bright green eyes catches Clary’s eye, and she watches him until a beautiful girl in a long white dress beckons him into a room marked “No Admittance.” She watches long enough to see two other boys following them, one of whom pulls a knife just before entering the room. Startled and scared, Clary se... Read More

The Princes of the Golden Cage: A world of sand, roses and tulips

The Princes of the Golden Cage by Nathalie Mallet

The Princes of the Golden Cage is a fine debut fantasy by Nathalie Mallet. Mallet sets her fantasy in a vaguely Arabian setting, with a Sultan and his many princes by many wives. The princes are kept caged in sumptuous captivity, a reaction to previous generations having raised armies and warred upon one another to eliminate competition for the throne. Now the princes war merely upon one another, seeking out reasons for offense and therefore excuses for duels to the death.

Prince Amir has opted out of the competition altogether. He is a mid-level prince in any event, not likely to ever see his name anywhere near the top of the list of succession. He is, in essence, motherless, his mother probably having traded her son for riches and freedom from the very moment he was born, as was her right under the peculiar laws of the harem. He has no o... Read More

Wraith: A textbook example of an Idiot Plot

Wraith by Phaedra Weldon

This review is brought to you by the letters “T,” “S,” “T,” and “L.” Wraith is a textbook example of an Idiot Plot. The story is set in motion when the heroine does something stupid, and this sets the tone for the entire novel. Almost every plot development in Wraith is triggered by Zoë doing something stupid.

Zoë Martinique has the ability to leave her body and travel astrally. She has built a career on this talent, offering a sort of black-market PI service on eBay. She does some astral snooping, and then reports back to her clients with the information she finds out. As the novel begins, Zoë has taken a commission from some poor schmuck worried about losing his job. Her mission: to spy on his bosses as they attend a musical and learn wheth... Read More

The Serpent and the Rose: Nothing new

The Serpent and the Rose by Kathleen Bryan

Averil is the daughter of a duke of Lys, trained from childhood in the magical arts on the Ladies' Isle. Gereint is a fatherless farmboy who possesses a powerful, untamed streak of wild magic. As the sinister king of Lys and his advisor, both practioners of dark magic, unleash a plot to remove the realm's nobles and awaken an ancient evil, Averil is summoned back to the mainland, while Gereint chases after a band of Knights of the Rose, hoping that their Order can train him. In time, Averil and Gereint find themselves together as unlikely allies and, perhaps, the only hope of both their realm and world.

As is obvious from that brief summary (and its faint echoes of Star Wars, among other tales), there is little new in The Serpent and the Rose, the first book of The War of the Rose trilogy by Read More

Incarceron: Strong plot, hoping for better characterization and setting in sequel

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, is a tightly-plotted, intelligent YA novel that hits the upper mid-level of recent YA sci-fi/fantasy, falling a few steps below Suzanne CollinsThe Hunger Games or Kristin Cashore’s Fire (admittedly a high standard) but several steps above recent offerings like Caragh O’Brien's Birthmarked or James Dashner’s The Maze Runner.

Incarceron is a prison that originated seve... Read More