2008.03


Attack Surface: All too scarily plausible

Attack Surface by Cory Doctorow

Attack Surface is Cory Doctorow’s newest book in a loose series that begins with Little Brother, though one needn’t have read the other two (thus “loose”) to follow and enjoy this one. It’s a taut techno-thriller, though I’ll admit to glazing over at times in long sections of techno-speak.

The novel is two-stranded. In current time, Masha is a computer security expert working for a transnational company who sell their services — hacking, surveillance, tech manipulation and control, etc. — to anybody willing to pay with no attempt to distinguish any of their clients’ morality/ethics. Which is why we first find Masha helping an old Soviet-satellite country’s dictator surveil and jail those annoying pr... Read More

Orphan of Destiny: A clean and quick end to an entertaining trilogy

Orphan of Destiny by Michael Spradlin

Believe it or not, I started reading this trilogy in 2010, and have only just managed to settle down with the final instalment. As such, my memories of the first two books, Keeper of the Grail and Trail of Fate, were a little fuzzy, though I did recall the general gist of the plot.

Tristan is a young Templar squire who has been charged by his master to find the Holy Grail and take it to a place of safety in Scotland. Having teamed up with Robard Hode (a young Englishman) and Maryam (an Arab assassin), he escapes the cliff-hanger of the previous book and finds himself back on English shores within the first few chapters.

From there the travellers must journey to Rosslyn Chapel, though not be... Read More

Blood of the Mantis: A slower, more thoughtful sequel

Blood of the Mantis by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Things begin to slow down some in Blood of the Mantis (2009). The third book in the SHADOWS OF THE APT series is the smallest, and yet took the longest for me to read. Adrian Tchaikovsky maintains the same level of writing established in the first two, but seems to be struggling a bit with middle-book syndrome. The events in book 3 are too important to completely leave out of the story, it’s too long to be split between other books, and feels a little wanting after the first two books’ onslaught of awesomeness.

Blood of the Mantis is not a bad book by any stretch of the imagination; it’s just not as good as the first two. It had some seriously high standards to meet after Dragonfly Falling. Dragonfly Falling blew me away and is ... Read More

Philippa Fisher and the Fairy’s Promise: A nice children’s tale about friendship and loyalty

Philippa Fisher and the Fairy's Promise by Liz Kessler

In this sweet conclusion to the PHILIPPA FISHER trilogy from Liz Kessler, Philippa is once again visiting her new friend Robyn, who we met in the previous book, Philippa Fisher and the Dream-Maker’s Daughter. While the girls are investigating some standing stones, Philippa is magically transported to the fairy godmother agency where her best friend and fairy godsister Daisy works. While Philippa’s parents are frantically searching for her, Philippa has learned that her mother is in grave danger. It was illegal for Daisy to give Philippa that information, but the girls are best friends and Daisy feels like she has to warn Philippa. This act of loyalty starts a whole string of unexpected events that change everybody’s lives forever and that, perhaps, may have... Read More

Locke and Key: Crown of Shadows by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

Locke and Key (Vol 3): Crown of Shadows by Joe Hill (writer) and Gabriel Rodriguez (artist)

Toil and trouble; the cauldron begins to bubble.

(May contain spoilers of earlier volumes.)

In Crown of Shadows, the third volume in Locke and Key, written by Joe Hill and drawn by Gabriel Rodriguez, the simmering sense of doom we encountered in Volume Two comes to a boil. More keys are found. More truths are revealed to the reader, and where truths are not uncovered, clues are dropped. Choices the characters made earlier in the narrative begin to have consequences.

Because he has the Anywhere Key, Luke Caravaggio, the thing that was rel... Read More

AMULET: The Cloud Searchers & The Last Council by Kazu Kibuishi

The Cloud SearchersThe Last Council by Kazu Kibuishi

I just read The Cloud Searchers and The Last Council, books three and four in Kazu Kibuishi’s graphic novel series AMULET. AMULET, published by Scholastic, is aimed at young adult readers, but adults will find plenty to enjoy in this series.

Emily and her brother Navin lost their father in a terrifying car accident. Their mother moved them to a house she inherited from her grandfather Silas, an inventor and explorer. Emily soon became the guardian of a strange, powerful amulet, and the family made its way to an alternate dimension. Now, Emily must face not only the Elf King and his destructive army, but the insidious influence of the stone itself.

In The Cloud Searchers, Emily, Navin and their mother ... Read More

Monsters of Men: A more than satisfying close

Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness

The final book in Patrick Ness’s CHAOS WALKING trilogy, Monsters of Men, brings this highly recommended series to a more than satisfying close. In doing so, much as he did with book two, Ness expands the storyline and the depth, in this case offering up an entirely new perspective.

Monsters of Men begins where The Ask and the Answer ended, with Todd freeing the Mayor and allowing him to take control of the city so as to defend it against the Spackle army that has just attacked, becoming one of his primary lieutenants in the process. Meanwhile, Viola is up in the hills with Mistress Coyle’s resistance/terrorist group, which is also where the new scout ship is, although the two pilots there are trying to remain wholly neutral, not just between the two human factions but in the Spackle-Human conflict as w... Read More

Maelstrom: No rest for the weary

Maelstrom by Taylor Anderson

There’s just no rest for the weary. The destroyermen have had no time to search for other humans or to try to build their own community in their new parallel world because they’re still busy fighting for their lives. First there’s the Grik — the ugly reptilian species who keep attacking and trying to eat them. Then there’s the captain of the Japanese battlecruiser Amagi, who wants revenge on the destroyermen for damaging his ship. Even though they’re clearly no longer in their own world, the Japanese captain is still fighting for his emperor and he also has hopes that he someday might rule this new world in the emperor’s name. To this end, he has allied with the Grik, hoping to use them as a means to his end. His crew doesn’t share his enthusiasm for working with the loathsome Grik, but they’ve been trained to follow the leader. There is one Japanese man, however, who may be willing to risk... Read More

Beyond the Shadows: Unfocussed

Beyond the Shadows by Brent Weeks

I hate to leave a series unfinished if it is at all palatable, and while the first two books of the NIGHT ANGEL trilogy were not brilliant, I still couldn't stay away from the final book. In Beyond the Shadows Weeks continues the relentless action we saw in the first two books. After reading Shadow’s Edge, which was a lot better than the first volume, The Way of Shadows, I had hoped the series would continue improving. Unfortunately, Beyond the Shadows is a bit of an unfocussed book, better than the first book but not quite as good as the second.

Cenaria is saved, and while Logan may not have been able to claim the throne, many things now seem possible. This sense of optimism does not last long. Soon it becomes apparent that several parties are trying to relieve the weakened n... Read More

Bitterblue: Cashore delivers great YA heroines

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

Bitterblue is the third book in Kristin Cashore’s series that began with Graceling and continued with Fire, both excellent novels (I gave them 5 stars and 4.5 stars respectively). Bitterblue is not quite as good, but the drop-off is slight, resulting in another strong read and a more than satisfying continuation.

Bitterblue picks up some years after Graceling. The murderous, tyrannical King Leck has been dead for years and now Bitterblue, as Queen of Monsea, is trying to put her kingdom back together. Her first step toward becoming a true queen, however, is when she leaves her castle refuge and steps out into the streets of her city to engage with real people. Soon, she’s finding things aren’t quite what she thought they wer... Read More

The Bitter Seed of Magic: Finally strikes the right balance

The Bitter Seed of Magic by Suzanne McLeod

Up until this point, reading Suzanne McLeod’s SPELLCRACKERS series has often been an exercise in frustration. The novels were often confusing, but were well-written enough that I couldn’t dismiss them and always felt there was huge potential for the series. With book three, The Bitter Seed of Magic, McLeod finally strikes the right balance between clarity and obfuscation.

The Bitter Seed of Magic focuses on the curse laid on the lesser fae of London by the sidhe queen Cliona. The curse is introduced earlier in the series, but McLeod recaps it in the prologue, a refresher for which I was grateful. Among other things, it has blighted the lesser fae’s fertility, which causes problems for Genny Taylor as the various fae races see her — specifically, impregnating her — as the key to saving their peo... Read More

The Jewel of the Kalderash: A wholly satisfactory close to the trilogy

The Jewel of the Kalderash by Marie Rutkoski

The Jewel of the Kalderash is the third and final book in the children's historical fantasy series The Kronos Chronicles by Marie Rutkoski. The first, The Cabinet of Wonders, was excellent (I gave it a strong 4 in my review) and while the second book, The Celestial Globe, wasn’t quite as good, that was mostly due to Cabinet being so strong. The Jewel of the Kalderash, like its predecessor, doesn’t quite reach the quality of The Cabinet of Wonders, but it is quite good — certainly better than much of what I see — and makes for a wholly satisfactory close to the trilogy.

In this final volume, the villainous Prince Rodolfo is quickly and seemingly inevitably moving toward b... Read More

Ashes of a Black Frost: A disappointing conclusion

Ashes of a Black Frost by Chris Evans

PLOT SUMMARY: Amidst a scene of carnage on a desert battlefield blanketed in metallic snow, Major Konowa Swift Dragon sees his future, and it is one drenched in shadow and blood. Never mind that he has won a grand victory for the Calahrian Empire. He came here in search of his lost regiment of elves, while the Imperial Prince came looking for the treasures of a mystical library, and both ventures have failed. But Konowa knows, as do the Iron Elves — both living and dead — that another, far more important battle now looms before them. The campaign in the desert was only the latest obstacle on the twisted, darkening path leading inexorably to the Hyntaland, and the final confrontation with the dreaded Shadow Monarch.

In this third novel of musket and magic in Chris Evans' Iron Elves saga, Konowa's ultimate journey is fraught wi... Read More

Always the Vampire: A light, frothy novel

Always the Vampire by Nancy Haddock

Francesca Marinelli was turned into a vampire over two hundred years ago and then buried beneath her sire’s St. Augustine house as a punishment. The whole nest was then killed, and Cesca languished underground until the 21st century. Now she’s enjoying her second chance — and those handy modern conveniences. Nancy Haddock takes Charlaine Harris’s True Blood idea one step further: Cesca drinks Starbloods, synthetic blood with flavors like caramel macchiato. It’s a good thing she has that option, too, because she is grossed out by blood (and can barely stand the synthetic stuff).

Always the Vampire is the third in Haddock’s Oldest City Vampire series. As the book begins, Cesca’s boyfrie... Read More

River of Shadows: Pure fun and entertainment

River of Shadows by Robert V.S. Redick

PLOT SUMMARY: The crew of the vast, ancient ship Chathrand has reached the shores of the legendary southern empire of Bali Adro. Many have died in the crossing, and the alliance of rebels, led by the tarboy Pazel Pathkendle and the admiral’s daughter Thasha Isiq, has faced death, betrayal, and darkest magic. But nothing has prepared them for the radically altered face of humanity in the South.

They have little time to recover from the shock, however. For with landfall, the battle between the rebels and centuries-old sorcerer Arunis enters its final phase. At stake is control of the Nilstone, a cursed relic that promises unlimited power to whoever unlocks the secrets of its use — but death to those who fail. And no one is closer to mastering the Stone than Arunis.

Desperate to stop him, Pazel and Thasha must join forces with their enemies, including the depraved Captain Rose... Read More

Vicious Grace: What urban fantasy can be at its very best

Vicious Grace by M.L.N. Hanover

Have you ever been in one of those cobbled-together buildings where the 1st floor of the original structure opens onto the 3rd floor of the new wing, and you can only access the fourth floor by a staircase at the far end of that older building that got swallowed up into the whole mass at some point, and so on? I work in one, and after reading Vicious Grace, I don’t think I’ll ever see it the same way again! (Gee, thanks, M.L.N. Hanover, for making me scared of my own office building. *g*)

Vicious Grace is the third in Hanover’s urban fantasy series The Black Sun’s Daughter. This one’s set in Chicago, at labyrinthine Grace Memorial Hospital, where a sleep researcher has noticed an eerie anomaly in his latest study: all of his subjects have had the same dream of an inhuman creature crawling out of a coffin. Jayné Heller an... Read More

Blood Kin: Almost nothing happens

Blood Kin by Maria Lima

I recently received a review copy of the fourth Blood Lines book, Blood Heat. I realized then that I hadn’t yet read the third installment, Blood Kin, and decided to remedy that before starting Blood Heat. I’m glad I read it — there are a couple of revelations that will no doubt be important to the series — but as an individual novel, Blood Kin is disappointing.

The main plot here is that Keira has been summoned by the family matriarch, Minerva “Gigi” Kelly, to the family compound in Canada. She brings her brother Tucker, Tucker’s boyfriend Niko, and her Sidhe cousin Daffyd along with her. Due to weather and other complications, the group is stuck in Vancouver spinning their wheels for a while. They learn that mysterious deaths... Read More

Heir of Novron: Just a plain ol’ fashioned good time

Editor's note: Heir of Novron was originally published as Wintertide and Percepliquis.

Heir of Novron by Michael J. Sullivan

Wintertide
 is the next to last book in THE RIYRIA REVELATIONS series. As with the rest of these books, this is a fairly self-contained story, but at the same time the reader can feel the momentum building toward an explosive conclusion. Hadrian is forced into a deadly deal to kill an honorable knight by making it look accidental in a tournament, while Royce is desperate to be done with Riyria’s contracts so that he can try his hand at domesticated bliss with his true love.

Wintertide is my favorite book in the series so far, which is as a series should be: each installment a little better than the ... Read More

Mockingjay: Our mixed opinions

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

OK, HUNGER GAMES fans, you’ve been waiting a year for this book, and the last thing you want is some @#$% reviewer spoiling the plot. So, I will do my best to give my impressions of Mockingjay with as few spoilers as possible.

When a series becomes this popular and sparks this much speculation among readers, the author’s task is extremely difficult. How to surprise a fanbase, when that fanbase has spent many months trying to guess what will happen in the final installment (and almost certainly guessed right on a few counts)? Yet Suzanne Collins succeeds admirably. There are plenty of twists in Mockingjay that I simply never saw coming, and there are other aspects of the plot that I partially guessed but that didn’t play out quite the way I thought they would.

It’s no surprise that this... Read More

A Star Shall Fall: For fans of historical fantasy

A Star Shall Fall by Marie Brennan

From the celestial heights the arbitrary acts of life seem patterned like a fairy-tale landscape, populated by charming and eccentric figures. The glittering observers require vital doses of joy and pain, sudden reversals of fortune, dire portents and untimely deaths. Life itself proceeds in its unpredictable infinite patterns — so unlike the measured dance of stars — until, for the satisfaction of their entertainment, the watchers choose a point at which to stop.

That’s a quote from Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint, but I kept thinking of it while reading A Star Shall Fall. It’s part of the nature of the ONYX COURT series that the books are tightly focused on specific points in time. Marie Brennan Read More

A Wild Light: A strange but wonderful dream

A Wild Light by Marjorie M. Liu

Reading the Hunter Kiss series is rather like having a strange but wonderful dream. You’re sometimes confused about exactly what is happening and why, but the vistas are breathtaking, the emotions are intense, and when you wake up, the only words that come to mind are “What a ride!”

In the hands of a lesser author, confusion can be a dealbreaker that leads to the book hitting the wall. But Marjorie M. Liu is not a lesser author. Her poetic prose and beautifully drawn character relationships keep you reading even when you — and Maxine — aren’t quite sure of what’s going on.

A Wild Light (2010) begins with the murder of Maxine’s grandfather, Jack. Maxine wakes to find Jack dead, and it appears that he has been killed with a blade that only Maxine can safely wield. ... Read More

The Reckoning: Chloe Saunders is a great YA protagonist

The Reckoning by Kelley Armstrong

While Kelley Armstrong is best known for her Women of the Otherworld series, which I have read and mostly enjoyed, I personally prefer her YA-geared Darkest Powers series. The Darkest Powers novels, which begin with The Summoning and The Awakening, detail the stories of Chloe Sanders, a girl raised in a wealthy yet non-magical home who, upon hitting puberty, discovers that she can see ghosts.

A misinterpreted incident at school leads to a diagnosis of mental illness and soon lands her in a halfway house for disturbed teens with serious psychological problems, or so she is told. She and the others at the halfway house soon realize that th... Read More

Stealing Fire: I want the 800-page version

Stealing Fire by Jo Graham

Ever had a meal that was absolutely exquisite, but the portion was so small that your stomach was still rumbling afterward? My experience with Stealing Fire was much like that.

Jo Graham’s Numinous World series is best described as “historical fantasy” and revolves around a core group of characters who are reincarnated at various points in history. The protagonist of Stealing Fire, Lydias of Miletus, lived previously as Gull in Black Ships, and will later live as Charmian in Hand of Isis.

Alexander the Great has died, and his empire has fallen into chaos as his nobles fight amongst themselves for power. Lydias, a soldier who feels emotionally adrift after losing everyone he loved, chooses to accompany... Read More

Demon Possessed: Everything comes together

Demon Possessed by Stacia Kane

The title Demon Possessed has a double meaning. On the surface, it seems to refer to the book’s murder-mystery plotline, which involves several characters who may or may not be possessed by demons. But it also refers to Megan, who must decide in this installment whether to become fully “possessed” by Greyson, the demon world, and the demonic side of her own nature.

The interpersonal-relationships plotline is the real gem in Demon Possessed. Stacia Kane does a great job of portraying Megan as a modern career woman thrust into a demon society that’s almost medieval in its treatment of women. Megan faces the work vs. family issue that so many women have to contend with, and due to the constraints of demon politics, she has fewer viable choices than most of us. She learns that Greyson must marry soon to secure his position, and ... Read More

Dead Matter: Plenty of laughs, not enough sweat

Dead Matter by Anton Strout

Dead Matter is the third book in the Simon Canderous series by Anton Strout. Overall, it was entertaining, worth reading, and just missed being exceptional. One unexpected strength of Dead Matter is the plot, including the mystery. Too often, in fantasy billed as comedic, the plot or mystery suffers. Not so here. Anton Strout is an excellent story crafter, and his talent shines throughout. The setting is also strong: imagine Ghostbusters meets Dilbert. In this case, Simon works as a psychometrist (reading object histories) for the New York City Bureau of Extraordinary Affairs, an organization so wrapped up in red tape it’s amazing anyone can ever get out in the field to fight the Forces of Darkness. The main characters, too, especially Simon Canderous and his girlfriend Jane, are interesting enough to carry the re... Read More