2008.04


The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes: The genesis of the Hunger Games

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

I loved Suzanne CollinsThe Hunger Games, thought Catching Fire was quite good if not as great as the first one, and was only so-so on Mockingjay. Also, it's an uphill battle to write a good, enjoyable prequel if the reader already knows what's going to happen to the main character in the later books and (spoiler) it's highly unpleasant. So I hesitated for over a year to read Collin’s latest HUNGER GAMES book, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (2020), but when I saw it on my local... Read More

Winterkeep: Return to a favorite series not fully successful

Winterkeep by Kristin Cashore

Winterkeep
(2021) is the fourth book set in Kristin Cashore’s GRACELING REALM fantasy world, the prior novels being Graceling, Fire, and Bitterblue. The first was a five-star, best-of-the-year choice for me, and Fire was nearly as good. The third book was a bit of a drop-off, though not far. Unfortunately though, Winterkeep continues that downward trend, leaving me, I confess, more than a little disappointed, though the book does end well.

In the past, Cashore has eschewed the traditional sequel mode of following the same char... Read More

Salute the Dark: A total and utter world war

Salute the Dark by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Salute the Dark is the fourth book in Adrian Tchaikovsky’s SHADOWS OF THE APT series. At this point, the world of the Apt and Inapt is in total war. The expansionist Wasp Empire is sweeping across the Lowlands and any outlying city that sparks a glint in Emperor Alvdan II’s eye. War Master Stenwold Maker’s agents are scattered everywhere in attempt to give the Lowlands any sort of advantage against the encroaching horde. Cities like Sarn and Myna are in open rebellion. Plots and twists are commonplace. Everything that has been building up over the first three books in the series culminates in Salute the Dark.

One of the highlights of the series is how Tchaikovsky manages to weave cultures of our world into the story and make them feel so real. The Solarnese feel genuinely like Renaissance Italians, the Wasps like the Romans or various other emp... Read More

The Crown Tower: Fast-paced sword-wielding fun

The Crown Tower by Michael J Sullivan

The Crown Tower is the first book in Michael J. Sullivan’s RIYRIA CHRONICLES series. This series starts before the existing novels, THE RIYRIA REVELATIONS, and it lets us see how Hadrian Blackwater and Royce Melborn first meet.

Since I haven’t read any of Sullivan’s other books, in a way I was the perfect reader for this one. I didn’t have expectations. The Crown Tower is full of fast-paced sword-wielding fun from the first chapter. Sullivan’s breezy style moves the book along quickly. The characters are drawn well enough to hold the reader’s interest and make the conflicts believable. Royce and Hadrian, in particular, are so different that it is hard to see how they will ever be able to work together, which is exactly Sullivan’s point.

Hadrian Blackwater is a mercenary soldier, coming home after many years of fighting pointless... Read More

AMULET: Prince of the Elves by Kazu Kibuishi

Amulet: Prince of the Elves by Kazu Kibuishi

Prince of the Elves is the fifth book in Kazu Kibuishi’s AMULET series. The war with the Elf King has heated up, and in this book Emily, the newest Stonekeeper, learns more about the true nature of the enemy they all face.

Prince of the Elves provides the back-story for two major characters; Trellis, the prince of the elves and Max, the mysterious boy Emily met in Cieilis. We discover that Max is much older than we originally thought. Through his flashback, and later his memories, the story gives us a glimpse behind the curtain at the identity of the mysterious voice Emily hears from her amulet.

Beginning with The Cloud Searchers, the stark lines of Good and Evil began to blur for Emily as she discovered more about the Stonekeeper Council and some of their dec... Read More

Distant Thunders: Fans will be pleased

Distant Thunders by Taylor Anderson

The 100 remaining American destroyermen have now been in their strange new world for 16 months. They’ve just had a major victory against the evil Grik, but they know their respite will be short, for the Grik seem to have an unending supply of soldiers.

There’s a lot to get done before they face their enemies again, so the destroyermen are spread out thin. They’re building ships, planes, weapons (but not gas weapons), and a dry dock. They’re refining fuel and recycling metal scrap. They’re training their Lemurian allies to do all these jobs and to be sailors, pilots, and infantry men. The Americans have started an industrial revolution — the old ways of specialized craft guilds and apprenticeships are giving way to cold precise machinery. Captain Matthew Reddy feels guilty about the cultural changes they’ve caused, but he knows it’s the only way to win the war against the evil Gr... Read More

Fair Game: Tense and emotional

Fair Game by Patricia Briggs

Werewolves have recently come out of the closet, sparking prejudice among their human neighbors. Bran, leader of all North American werewolves, is cracking down on anyone who breaks Pack law, as these transgressions engender more bad feeling between humans and werewolves. Thus, the use of capital punishment has increased. Bran’s son, Charles, is the designated executioner, and his grim task (and his guilt about it) is battering his psyche and driving a wedge between him and his wife, Anna.

So, to help Charles’s mental health by giving him something more heroic to do, Bran sends Anna to help the FBI crack a tough case with Charles as her backup muscle. The case is that of a serial killer and rapist who has evaded capture for decades. The murderer initially targeted human victims, later killing fae as well, and the last few victims have been werewolves. Anna and Charles have information and skills th... Read More

Killing Rites: Full of action and ideas

Killing Rites by M.L.N. Hanover

M.L.N. Hanover’s series, THE BLACK SUN’S DAUGHTER, gets better with every book. The latest, Killing Rites, advances the story of Jayné Heller’s growth, but it also continues to build the world in which she operates. Metaphysical questions about the existence of God and the nature of the demons start to become integral to Heller’s life. Furthermore, Hanover refuses to ever take the easy way out, always choosing the most difficult — and most interesting — plot twists over the development that a reader in the urban fantasy genre would expect. Hanover’s decision to always up the ante makes this one of the best series in the field today.

As Killing Rites opens, Jayné is attempting to deal with her realization at the end of Vicious Grace, the third novel in the series, that she has a “rider” ... Read More

With Fate Conspire: Heartrending

With Fate Conspire by Marie Brennan

The Onyx Court is crumbling. The gradual demolition of the London Wall dealt the first blow to the faerie palace beneath the city. Now the Underground is hammering in the coffin nails, its iron rails ripping through the fabric of the palace. Queen Lune has not been seen in years. The elegant court is no more, and ruthless mob bosses rule in the sinister Goblin Market. Now, the Underground’s Inner Circle is nearing completion and may destroy what’s left of the Onyx Court forever.

The fate of the faerie city lies in the hands of three unlikely heroes, all of them from society’s lower classes. Eliza is a street vendor, later a maid, who faces anti-Irish prejudice in mortal London while searching for her lost sweetheart, Owen, who was taken by the faeries seven years ago. Dead Rick is a skriker (dog shapeshifter, death omen) who was once a loyal Queen’s man; now, his memories stolen, he’s ... Read More

The Shadow Men: Could have been a better novel

The Shadow Men by Christopher Golden & Tim Lebbon

The Shadow Men is the fourth book in Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon’s THE HIDDEN CITIES series. If (like me) you’re not familiar with the previous books, it may be good to know that all four books can be read as standalone novels that share a common premise but (as far as I know) no major characters or plot elements. In the series’ fantasy universe, cities have something like a soul or consciousness, which is incarnated in a human “Oracle” who helps the inhabitants and the city itself. The previous three novels (Mind the Gap, The Map of Moments and The Chamber of Ten) were set in London, New Orleans and Venice respectively, and The Shadow Men takes place in Boston.

When Jim wakes up from... Read More

Blood Heat: Rocky start, but ultimately a good read

Blood Heat by Maria Lima

Keira has spent the last few months in heir training, learning the magical and political ropes from Gigi, the family matriarch. Now she and her partner Adam are getting ready to throw a big reception at which they will formally present themselves as the rulers of their area.

One group, however, wants to meet her early: a pack of werewolves who have recently settled near the neighboring town of White Rock. Several pack members have gone missing lately, and the alpha wants Keira’s help in figuring out what happened to them. Keira soon learns that there are those in White Rock who aren’t too happy about the werewolves’ arrival.

The early chapters of Blood Heat are a little frustrating, and the main reason is Keira herself. Her outbursts of temper can be annoying. She brushes off one of her brothers when he’s trying to tell her something important, for example, ... Read More

Pray for Dawn: A shot of adrenaline

Pray for Dawn by Jocelynn Drake

I loved the first DARK DAYS novel, Nightwalker, but was a little disappointed in the next two installments. I am happy to report that with Pray for Dawn, Jocelynn Drake gives the series the shot of adrenaline it needed.

Drake makes the unusual choice of switching narrators for this book; it’s told from Danaus’ point of view. A few months have passed since the battle at Machu Picchu, and Danaus has been trying to put Mira out of his mind. Then, he’s summoned to Savannah to help solve the supernaturally-tinged murder of a senator’s daughter, a murder that threatens to expose the existence of paranormal beings to the public.

This means working with Mira again, which always leads to some uncomfortable cognitive dissonance for Danaus. Vampires are the blood-sucking monsters he’s... Read More