2009.02


The White Luck Warrior: Heightens the stakes

The White Luck Warrior by R. Scott Bakker

If you’re reading this review, then there’s no need to go into any rigamarole about THE PRINCE OF NOTHING or THE ASPECT-EMPEROR series by R. Scott Bakker. Point blank: The White Luck Warrior (2011) superbly escalates the story begun in The Judging Eye, and indirectly so the THE PRINCE OF NOTHING series, to leave the reader on the doorstep, panting for more. The Unholy Consult is going to be as epic as epic fantasy gets.

Where The Judging Eye expends much of its energy re-setting the pieces on the board and putting them in motion, The White Luck Warrior Read More

The Fall: Worthy sequel delivers on dark and weighty promise of The Strain

The Fall by Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan
Authors Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan move the world of their apocalyptic vampire saga to a darker place in the second of their STRAIN trilogy, The Fall. This second volume is short, at less than 300 pages, and makes for a satisfying companion when read back-to-back with the first in the trilogy, The Strain. I will reference some spoilers to The Strain below, since this is a series that needs to be read in chronological order.
The sunset of humankind is the dawn of the blood harvest.
At the end of The Strain, our primary players, pawnbroker/professor/vampire-hunter Abraham Setrakian and CDC disease specialist Ephraim Goodweather were left having just injured, but not kil... Read More

Princess of Glass: The twelve dancing princesses tangle with Cinderella

Princess of Glass by Jessica Day George

Three years after they have solved the problem of the evil underground King of Stone and his twelve sons in Princess of the Midnight Ball (or have they?), the king of Westfalin and his twelve daughters are still dealing with the aftermath. Some of the girls are suffering from PTSD, and the rulers of neighboring kingdoms are still bitter about the loss of their princes and other young men who died while trying to figure out the mystery of the dancing princesses in the first book. So the king of Westfalin institutes a type of exchange program, sending his daughters to other countries for extended stays with their royal families, to try to repair the relations with them and perhaps even to form some helpful alliances through marriages.

Princess of Glass follows one of the younger sisters, Poppy, now 16 years old, as she travels to the country ... Read More

An Apprentice to Elves: A primer in in-depth worldbuilding

An Apprentice to Elves by Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette

An Apprentice to Elves, the third installment of the ISKRYNE series, is a book that depends on its thick world-building. Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette have created realistic cultures that take some cues from Norse and Roman history and dramatized a cultural conflict between them, at the same time as developing relationships and characters rooted in these cultures. Most of the narrative is set in the Northlands, an icy forested domain whose natural defenses are harsh enough to help the Northmen stay safe. But a new enemy, the fiercely disciplined Rhean, invades from the south, hoping to colonize the Northlands and bring the Northmen under their rule. The Northmen... Read More

Barely Bewitched: I’m done with Tammy Jo

Barely Bewitched by Kimberly Frost

Barely Bewitched is the second novel in Kimberly Frost’s SOUTHERN WITCH series. I recently reviewed the first novel, Would-Be Witch, and wasn’t too impressed with Frost’s ditzy heroine and her aggressive alpha male lovers. If the book had had some redeeming qualities such as beautiful prose, appealing humor, or even an interesting plot, I could have happily gone along for the ride.

I only decided to pick up Barely Bewitched because Tantor Audio sent me a review copy of the audiobook. Penguin Audio produced the audiobook for the first novel over 5 years ago and never produced the rest of the series. Now Tantor Audio has picked up Barely Bewitched and hired a new narrator, Amy Rubinate, to read it. (I do no... Read More

The Scorch Trials: A weak follow-up to a not-so-strong first book

The Scorch Trials by James Dashner

I wasn’t a huge fan of The Maze Runner by James Dashner, thinking its frenetic pace was as much weakness as strength and that its characterization was pretty thin (plus there was the whole “let’s not have anyone talk to each other or explain things” pet peeve of mine). I admit, however, that it probably would meet the needs of a particular reader — one who likes fast paced action that blows by any annoying plot holes and who isn’t particularly looking for a lot of in-depth characterization. That same sort of reader will probably find the sequel, The Scorch Trials, just as satisfying, though again, for my own tastes, it falls mostly short of being a good book. It’s going to be impossible to discuss The Scorch Trials without some spoi... Read More

A Cast-Off Coven: Try this series on audio

A Cast-Off Coven by Juliet Blackwell

A Cast-Off Coven is the second book in Juliet Blackwell’s WITCHCRAFT MYSTERY series. In the first book, Secondhand Spirits, we met Lily Ivory, a witch who recently moved to San Francisco after being run out of her hometown in Texas (we don’t know why yet). She has an affinity for old clothes — she can feel the previous owner’s past emotions in them — so she opened a vintage clothing store which is becoming successful because she has a talent for pairing her customers with the exactly the right items. In the first novel Lily made new friends, gained Oscar the goblin for a familiar, met a hot investigative journalist named Max, and solved a murder.

Now Lily has been asked to come to the local Fine Arts school because the students think there may be a ghost living in a closet full of vintage clothing. In return for Lily’s ghostbusting services, they’ll give her... Read More

Blood Feud: Thin characters, dull romance

Blood Feud by Alyxandra Harvey

Blood Feud is the second of Alyxandra Harvey’s DRAKE CHRONICLES. The first book, Hearts at Stake, told how Solange Drake survived the Bloodchange on her sixteenth birthday and became the first female vampire to do so in centuries. Her mother Helena is about to take the throne as the vampire queen while Leander Montmarte, an old and powerful vampire, pursues princess Solange.

Meanwhile, a woman named Isabeau St. Croix, who we met briefly in the first novel, is hunting the vampire who killed her during the French Revolution. She spent years living in her grave until she was dug up and given a chance to “live” again. Her search for her killer brings her in contact with the Drake family. Can she resist the charms of one of Solange’s seven gorgeous brothers? Of course not. Blood Feud focuses on Isabeau’s revenge quest and her budding romance with Logan Drake.... Read More

Beautiful Darkness: Engages on an entertainment level as well as an intellectual one

Beautiful Darkness by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

(Note: The second half of this review contains spoilers for the plot of the previous book, Beautiful Creaturesso if you have not yet read this first book of the CASTER CHRONICLESyou may want to read it before reading further about Beautiful Darkness)

The latest adolescent fiction to become a popular film, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, bears some resemblance to the TWILIGHT SAGA, but in some essential ways, it is a story with more depth and complexity. Kelly has already reviewed Beautiful Creaturesthe first novel in the CASTER CHRONICLES series, so I will focus my reviews on the latter three books, after some brief comments about what sets this series, in my opinion, above the TW... Read More

Mr. Monster: Cleaver is a hero unlike any other

Mr. Monster by Dan Wells

John Wayne Cleaver’s journey started in I Am Not a Serial Killer, but his problems get more severe in the second book in Dan Wells’s trilogy, Mr. Monster. The teenage sociopath is very determined not to become the serial killer he longs to be in his heart of hearts, but it’s a challenge. His dark side — Mr. Monster, he calls it — wants out, and it especially wants to kill Brooke, the beautiful girl he drives to school every day. John dreams abo... Read More

The Wild Ways: Did Not Finish

The Wild Ways by Tanya Huff

The Wild Ways by Tanya Huff is the second book in THE GALE WOMEN series. While I enjoyed the first book, The Enchantment Emporium, even though it had serious flaws, The Wild Ways was not good. I got to about halfway through and didn’t care about the characters. In fact, on a semi-regular basis, I couldn’t keep the characters apart.

I also had serious difficulties with the “too much power/too little consequences” system of magic in this book. Basically, the Gale family can shift reality to meet their will, including things like making airline tickets magically appear when they need them for exactly what they can afford — a magical power I would surely like to develop — and yet it is used for the good of Canada. Or, at least, what the Gale family thinks is the good of Canada. If his... Read More

Jade Man’s Skin: Not as enjoyable as first book

Jade Man’s Skin by Daniel Fox

Why are the second books of trilogies so difficult? Jade Man’s Skin is the second book of MOSHUI: THE BOOKS OF STONE AND WATER, a series set in an alternate China where dragons are real and jade has the power to make an emperor nearly invincible. I greatly enjoyed Dragon in Chains, the first in this series. And I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy Jade Man’s Skin; only that I enjoyed it less. It seems to start somewhere and end somewhere, but there is a great deal of chatter in between.

In the second book in Daniel Fox’s trilogy, the dragon inhabiting the strait between the mainland of the empire (which is clearly China, though it is not given a name) and Taishu (which appears to be Taiwan in our world) has been mostly unchained, but is not entirely free. Not only is she somehow bound... Read More

The Broken Universe: Solid but uninspiring

The Broken Universe by Paul Melko

In The Broken Universe, Paul Melko returns to the world of his Walls of the Universe, expanding on both the universe count and the character count as well as greatly raising the stakes. While doing so, unfortunately, he also carries over some of the first book’s flaws, making the sequel, like book one, a solid but uninspiring read.

The book picks up pretty much where Walls of the Universe finished, soon after the defeat of the Alerians (since you pretty much have to have read book one to fully follow The Broken Universe, I’m going to assume you’ve done so). It’s taken them almost two months to return to their home universe, and in that time the remaining Alerians have regrouped and are ready to cause John’s group some serious problems, ranging from deadly attacks to le... Read More

Blue Magic: A mixed bag

Blue Magic by A.M. Dellamonica

Blue Magic is the second book in a duology by A.M. Dellamonica that began with Indigo Springs. I gave the first book three stars and while Blue Magic improves on book one in several ways, it also takes some steps back as well.

The first book introduces us to Astrid, who upon returning to her hometown of Indigo Springs discovered a powerful source of magic with which she can enchant objects and people. Her longtime friends Jacks (who loves her) and Sahara (whom Astrid loves, but Sahara’s true love is herself), and her mother become involved and after some argument over how to handle the magic, tragedy ensues for some and Astrid is locked up by the government. Blue Magic picks up shortly after and broadens the canvas to global (and beyond) impact, and involves lit... Read More

Endurance: Weak plot and narrative voice undercut interesting character

Endurance by Jay Lake

In Endurance, Jay Lake continues the exploration of a strange and beautiful world. We feel the smoothness of a length of silk, hear the sounds from the docks, smell the curries and the spices in the food cooked in the taverns. As Green, his main character, travels through Copper Downs, the reader sees the city from the roofs she travels, and wanders deep into the tunnels and caves beneath the city’s foundation. We see the rust-frozen machines used eons ago, built by the sorcerer-engineers to work the mines, the city’s genesis.

Green herself is an interesting character, at her most engaging when she is being rebellious. Her very identity was born in an act of rebellion in the first book of the series, Green, and in Endurance, the warrior woman who birthed the ox-god Endurance tries to both fight and talk her way free of any entan... Read More

Always a Witch: Enchanting, quick-moving, spooky duology

Always a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough

Alone among her relatives, Tamsin Greene grew up believing the family’s Talents had skipped her over, and learned to get by without magic. But in Once a Witch, Tamsin learned that she was far from powerless. Rather, she was one of the strongest of the Greene witches. Always a Witch concludes her story.

Tamsin is still getting used to having magic, and her sister Rowena is annoying her with her bridezilla antics. These concerns take a backseat when the family learns that the sinister Alistair Knight has altered the past and restored his ancestors to power. Tamsin travels back to the Victorian era to set things right, excluding her boyfriend Gabriel from her plans because she believes he’ll die if he comes along. Once there, Tamsin is hired by the decadent, sadistic Knights as a lady’s maid, a position that gives her an inside view of the... Read More

Across the Great Barrier: Great adventure for young adult readers

Across the Great Barrier by Patricia C. Wrede

Eff is back in this alternative magical history of the settling of the West. After the encounter with the mirror bugs that almost destroyed most of the settlements across the Great Barrier and came close to killing Eff’s brother and father, Eff gets hired on to a small expedition to chart the extent of the mirror bugs’ devastation. What they find surprises everyone — magic has completely disappeared from the soil and all the magical plants and animals are gone. As their journeys continue, they find further evidence of large scale migrations of animals as they respond to the changes in their habitat. But what is even stranger is that it looks like animals are fleeing something in the unexplored West — something that has the capacity to turn animals to stone in an instant. Animals… and humans.

Across the Great Barrier, the sequel to Patricia Wr... Read More

The Magician King: Postmodernism meets Narnia

The Magician King by Lev Grossman

In Lev Grossman’s novel The Magicians, Quentin Coldwater — a geeky fantasy-loving high school senior — has his life turned upside down when he is invited to take an entrance exam for Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy. After spending years learning the craft, and some time outside of school in a Bret Easton Ellis novel kind of existence, life is turned around again when he and several of his newfound magician friends discover that Fillory — the magical setting of a series of beloved children’s books (think Narnia and you’ve got it) — is real. And they can go there.

“Real” is a key word in The Magicians and in Grossman’s follow-up, The Magician King. Fillory, it turns out, is more “real” than people might want; it has all the ills — the violence, the death, the ugliness, the... Read More

Tattoo: Back to Kasai’s ravaged yet eerily beautiful world

Tattoo by Kirsten Imani Kasai

Tattoo, the sequel to Ice Song, takes readers back into Kirsten Imani Kasai’s ravaged yet eerily beautiful world, picking up Sorykah’s story just after her rescue of her twin babies from the mad Matuk the Collector. She’d love to return to normal life, but fate has other plans.

Kasai’s prose is as beautiful as ever. In the haunting prologue, she once again evokes a fairy-tale atmosphere as she tells the creation myth of the octameroons: human/octopus hybrids like Sorykah’s acquaintance Rava. Then we move back into the present, where Tirai Industries is exploiting the octameroons for their ink. This ink is used in addictive tattoos that destroy the bodies and minds of their wearers, just as surely as the harvesting process destroys the octameroons and the ice fields in which they live. Sorykah learns that the very submarine ... Read More

City of Ruins: Adventure, excitement, solid world-building

City of Ruins by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

One of 2009’s most pleasant surprises was Diving into the Wreck, a short but excellent SF novel by Kristine Kathryn Rusch about Boss, a specialist in the exploration of derelict spaceships. In this first novel, Boss discovered the wreck of a Dignity ship. This remnant of a legendary Fleet contained remnants of the mysterious and dangerous “stealth technology” that could possibly tip the balance of power between the Enterran Empire and a small alliance of independent planets.

In City of Ruins, the excellent follow-up to Diving into the Wreck, Boss runs a much larger operation and has become more of a manager than an explorer, but when she hears reports of mysterious deaths on a planet in the Enterran Empire — deaths that suggest the presence of stealth tech on or below the surface of that pl... Read More

The Stranger’s Woes: Exactly what I was craving

The Stranger's Woes by Max Frei

ABOUT THE STRANGER’S WOES: The Stranger’s Woes continues the story of twenty-something loser Max Frei. A loafer who sleeps all day, Max one night finds himself transported to the magical world of Echo, where he possesses magical abilities and becomes the Nocturnal Representative of the Most Venerable Head of the Minor Secret Investigative Force of the City of Echo.

With his new friends and co-workers — the omniscient Sir Juffin Hully, the hilarious Melifaro and the beautiful Lady Melamori Blimm — Sir Max enjoys a life where he’s no longer a social outcast as he solves crimes, battles illegal magic and fights trespassing monsters from other worlds. Now, in The Stranger’s Woes, Max will encounter cases more complicated, extravagant and dangerous than ever before in this strange and topsy-turvy universe...

FORMAT/INFO: Read More

Friday Night Bites: Better than the first book

Friday Night Bites by Chloe Neill

In Friday Night Bites (2009), the second in Chloe Neill’s Chicagoland Vampires series, Cadogan House is in trouble again. The villain of Some Girls Bite has gotten off with a slap on the wrist, and now there’s a journalist threatening to expose some of vampire-kind’s less savory secrets to the public. When the journalist turns out to be an old friend of Merit’s from her high-society upbringing, she is thrust back into the world she spent her human lifetime trying to escape. Then it turns out there’s a traitor in the House…

I love the way Neill approaches the mystery here. Merit may have unusual physical and psychic strengths and several men infatuated with her, but it’s her brain that’s most important in solving this puzzle. Merit’s research skill... Read More

Perilous Prophecy: Had me reaching for the Kleenex

The Perilous Prophecy by Leanna Renee Hieber

Editor's Note: This book was originally published as The Perilous Prophecy of Guard and Goddess.

In The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker, we met Beatrice Smith, a member of the Guard that preceded Alexi Rychman’s circle. The Perilous Prophecy is a prequel, focusing on Beatrice’s time in the Guard and on the goddess Persephone as she makes preparations for the war against Darkness. While this book is set earlier than the two existing books, I recommend starting with The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, because the Grand Work is explained there in more detail.

Beatrice is the daughter of a British archaeologist living in Cairo. As the story begins, she and five other young people in Cairo receive the call: they are to be the next Guard. At fir... Read More

May: A sweet tale for preteen girls

May by Kathryn Lasky

May is the second in Kathryn Lasky’s Daughters of the Sea series, which tells the story of three orphaned sisters, separated as infants, who discover they are mermaids. In the previous book we met Hannah, who found her true nature while working as a maid to a wealthy family. Here we meet the second sister, May, who was adopted by a lighthouse keeper and his manipulative wife. Her parents have kept something from her, and when she is fifteen she works up the courage to learn what it is.

Compared to her sister, May learns her scaly secret much earlier in the story. Readers who were frustrated with the pace of Hannah will probably be pleased with this difference, and May’s curiosity and her process of discovery are compelling. The faster-moving internal journey, though, is juxtaposed with a mor... Read More

The Midnight Mayor: Merely enjoyable

The Midnight Mayor by Kate Griffin

I loved Kate Griffin’s A Madness of Angels.

I merely enjoyed the sequel, The Midnight Mayor.

This is not an uncommon experience to have with a sequel. I think part of the problem comes from the amount of time devoted to the first novel, when the writer had years to re-imagine, revise, reread and rethink; time to burnish that pivotal paragraph or really dig deep to capture that motivation, contrasted with the length of time allowed with Book Two of a multi-book contract. The Midnight Mayor seems to suffer from a lack of the deep and loving detail the reader saw in A Madness of Angels.

Some of the problem lies with the plot. The plot in Madness was unapologetically linear, but there was such an interesting world being developed, a... Read More