2012.01


The Liminal People: Imaginative, violent, and exciting

The Liminal People by Ayize Jama-Everett

If we could use our minds to make others see what we wanted them to see, rearrange people’s internal organs and dissolve their musculature, call animals to do our every bidding, or know others’ thoughts as intimately as our own, wouldn’t we rule the world? Or would we be so preoccupied with fighting with others like us that humans would be mere pawns, little worth toying with? Or, even worse, would we be so damaged by our powers that we would be dangerous to ourselves and others?

These are all questions posed by Ayize Jama-Everett’s short, powerful first novel, The Liminal People (2012). Jama-Everett’s first person narrator, Taggert, introduces himself while in the midst of conducting a drug sale he is conducting on behalf of his mentor, Nordeen Maximus. Taggert is able to keep the transaction from going sour by putting his would-be assassins to sleep wit... Read More

Resident Alien (Vol. 1): Welcome to Earth!: A murder mystery with an alien investigator

Resident Alien (Vol. 1): Welcome to Earth! By Peter Hogan (writer) and Steve Parkhouse (artist)

In Resident Alien, Dr. Harry Vanderspeigle is a ship-wrecked alien in a small town, acting as a general practitioner. He appears as a human to adults — only small children can see his alien appearance. So, he goes undetected. He’s a matter-of-fact, down-to-earth kind of guy, and this first volume (of six volumes so far) by Peter Hogan tells us the story of how he came to be a doctor in the first place.

When our story opens, he’s been living for two years in isolation in a cabin on the outskirts of town. He’s out on the lake in front of the cabin fishing one day when the police come to request his help, since they’ve heard he’s a doctor. When we first see him, we, as readers, can see him as an alien, but the police see only a man in a boat. The police chief, Mike, calls to the alien. When he gets to ... Read More

Nightshifted: Nurse Edie Spence’s first adventure

Nightshifted by Cassie Alexander

Edie Spence has a degree in nursing and a job at the County Hospital, in the Y4 ward. County Hospital, the public hospital that treats everyone, insured or not, is a tough gig at any time — Y4 is both tougher and weirder, being the floor that treats daylight servants of vampires, vampires themselves, shapeshifters, and all sorts of were-folk. Oh, and did I mention zombies? The work is hard and dangerous, the pay is abysmal, but by working here, Edie guarantees protection for her junkie brother.  As Nightshifted opens, Edie is consigning her decision to just one more in a long list of bad life choices.

Then a vampire patient dies, but not before giving Edie a puzzle, or perhaps placing her under a compulsion. When the night shift is over, Edie goes out searching for a person named Anna, the vampire’s dying request. She finds a dark apartment with a wall of pictures of ... Read More

Courtney Crumrin: The Night Things: Don’t miss this!

Courtney Crumrin (Volume 1): The Night Things by Ted Naifeh (writer and artist) and Warren Wucinich (colorist)

Courtney Crumrin is an instant classic of a children’s tale. There is no doubt that this entire series, over seven volumes long now, is a five-star production, with fantastic art and dark, nightmarish storytelling. This is not a light-hearted fairy tale about a nice little girl. Courtney is decidedly not good-natured, and she’s always got plans that get others in trouble.

First, we meet Butterworm, a creature lurking in the backyard of Professor Crumrin’s house. He gives us an introduction to the professor and the rumors in the neighborhood that surround him. The professor is Courtney’s uncle, and when Courtney comes to stay with him, her adventures begin. She brings along with her a pair of vapid parents who care only about getting ahead and what the neighbors might think.

Courtney is apprehensive ... Read More

Shadow and Bone: Old tropes, new story

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

YA can be more fickle than its literary cousins. It’s notorious for trends. There were wizards, vampires, and what feels like a decade’s worth of dystopias. The result is a glut of books with sassy female protagonists who discover they have a unique power, are fighting to save the world, and struggling to decide which hunky love interest to pick from in their love triangle. Shadow and Bone doesn’t do anything groundbreaking in terms of avoiding these tropes, but what it does do is tell them in a fresh and innovative way.

Alina Starkov was raised in an orphanage alongside her best friend (and future love, obviously), called Mal. They live in Ravka, a fantasy Russia of samovars and Grisha — powerful magical soldiers that work directly for the king. If you don’t have magic, you’re bumped down to the common army, where Alina and Mal find themselves. As with most YA... Read More

Pines: You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave

Pines by Blake Crouch

Apparently I’ve been living under a rock or, perhaps, in an isolated cottage in a pine forest, since I had never heard of Wayward Pines — the town, the trilogy of novels by Blake Crouch, or the Fox TV series based on these novels — before I picked up Pines (2012). In this case, being oblivious was a great thing, since the mystery wasn’t spoiled. I think it would be possible to enjoy reading Pines already knowing what the big secret is, but certainly not knowing was a major reason I found it so compelling.

A man regains consciousness by the side of a road in a small town, bruised and battered after an apparent car crash, and with temporary amnesia about most of the details of his life, and no ID on his person. He meets a few of the residents in town, who seem oddl... Read More

Sword of Light: A new spin on Arthurian legend

Sword of Light by Katherine Roberts

Rhianna has lived her entire life on the idyllic island of Avalon, never knowing her parents or seeing anything of the world beyond the isle. But the truth comes out in Britain's darkest hour, when the wizard Merlin arrives on Avalon's shore with the body of King Arthur Pendragon, slain in battle by his nephew Mordred and missing his sword Excalibur.

Rhianna learns she is the secret daughter of Arthur and Guinevere, hidden from the world at birth and now rightful heir to Camelot's throne. It's a lot for a young girl to absorb, but when she realizes that hope for the future lies with her finding the Four Lights (the sword of light, the lance of truth, the crown of dreams and the holy grail) that could reunite the kingdom and restore her father to life, she can't wait to leave home and fulfil her rightful destiny.

Naturally it's easier said than done. She's lived a sheltered life, a... Read More

The Raven Boys: A challenging urban fantasy with a dash of everything

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Blue is the only non-psychic in a large extended family of psychics in Henrietta, Virginia. Her only unusual ability is that her presence amplifies the psychic powers of others around her, but she herself cannot use these abilities. So it’s a shock when, while sitting vigil in a graveyard with her aunt Neeve, Blue sees the spirit of a boy about her age who is destined to die in the next year. She learns that there are only two possible reasons she was able to see him: either he’s her true love, or she’s going to kill him.

The Raven Boys follows two groups of characters whose stories weave together: Blue and her eccentric family, and a clique of four boys from the posh Aglionby Academy, whose students are nicknamed “raven boys” for the emblem on their uniforms. The leader of this clique is Ganse... Read More

SAGA Volume 1: A brilliant series

SAGA Volume One, Issues 1-6 by Brian K. Vaughan (author) & Fiona Staples (illustrator)

Brian K. Vaughan's brilliant new series SAGA is a mixture of fantasy and science fiction, with wonderfully humorous and realistic dialogue between a newlywed couple. But the subject being addressed (and critiqued) is war. It's also incredibly sexually explicit, so I must give my warning to those who either prefer not to have in their heads images of people with television heads having sex or want to keep such images from their kids. (Personally, I find it funny to watch one of the television head characters, a powerful and vicious military official and member of the royalty, struggle with impotence when out of his official attire.)

The premise of the story is that a couple and their new-born child, Hazel, are on the run from just about everybody involved in the war. When issue one begins, the war has been going on for many ... Read More

Fatale (Vol. 1): Death Chases Me: A must-read for fans of noir or Lovecraft

Fatale (Vol. 1): Death Chases Me by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

Death Chases Me is the first of five volumes in the Fatale series by Ed Brubaker and his frequent collaborator Sean Phillips. In the prologue to this story, Nicolas Lash is attending the funeral of his Godfather, Dominic Raines. Dominic was known as a hack writer of detective novels, but still, when Nicolas, as executor of the Raines estate, returns to Dominic’s home and finds the manuscript of Dominic’s unpublished first novel, it’s quite a find and possibly one with monetary rewards. But at the funeral, Nicolas already has made a more important discovery, of which he is unaware: He has met the mysterious woman, the femme fatale of the story, who goes by the simple name of Jo. When she shows up at the estate that night as Nicolas discovers the manuscript, all hell breaks lose and Nicolas’s life will never be the same a... Read More

The Diviners: YA supernatural horror

The Diviners by Libba Bray

The Diviners is a 2012 YA fantasy in the supernatural horror genre, and the first book in THE DIVINERS series by Libba Bray.  At a birthday party in Manhattan in the 1920's, a group of partying teenagers decides to play with a Ouija board. They promptly do several things they're really not supposed to do, like failing to make the spirit controlling the board say good-bye (is this really a thing?), thereby unleashing the spirit of a dead serial killer on the world.

The second chapter of The Diviners introduces our main character, Evie O’Neill, from Ohio. She's an insolent and self-centered seventeen-year-old who likes to party hard and drink too much gin. Evie spouts 1920’s slang almost every time she opens her mouth, and thinks she's smarter than everyone else around her, including her parents. Evie also has the ab... Read More

The Manhattan Projects: The artwork is amazing

In this column, I feature comic book reviews written by my students at Oxford College of Emory University. Oxford College is a small liberal arts school just outside of Atlanta, Georgia. I challenge students to read and interpret comics because I believe sequential art and visual literacy are essential parts of education at any level (see my Manifesto!). I post the best of my students’ reviews in this column. Today, I am proud to present a review by Josh Mikos:

Josh Mikos, 18, is a native of Georgia. Currently he is a freshman attending Oxford College of Emory University. Josh plans to attend Goizueta Business School, then attend law school. Josh likes riding his motorcycle, working out, and helping his dad with automotive mechanical work. Josh plans to work in corporate law.

The Manhatt... Read More

Winter Be My Shield: A second-world fantasy from Down Under

Winter Be My Shield by Jo Spurrier

Winter Be My Shield, by Jo Spurrier, was nominated for an Aurealis Award for best fantasy novel in 2012, in her home country of Australia, and Spurrier herself was nominated for a Ditmar. While the roughly 30 reviews on Amazon are mixed, there are plenty of enthusiastic 5-star ones. All of this is to say that many people like this book more than I do. You’ve read my reviews, you know my taste, so be guided by that.

Winter Be My Shield is Book One in the CHILDREN OF THE BLACK SUN series. It was printed in the US in 2013. This second-world fantasy follows a fugitive mage named Sierra as she attempts to escape from the blood-mage Kell, who serves the Mesentreian king. Sierra’s magic draws power from the pain of others. So does Kell’s. More than she fears the sadistic Kell, Sierra fears his powerful apprentice... Read More

Full Blooded: Some clichés, but fun and fast-paced

Full Blooded by Amanda Carlson

When I really need a mental vacation, I turn to romantic urban fantasy for a light, fun read. Full Blooded (2012), by Amanda Carlson, was just what I was looking for when I was going through a stressful time. It’s the first in Carlson’s JESSICA MCCLAIN werewolf series.

Full Blooded introduces us to our protagonist, Jessica, who wakes up in the middle of a change she shouldn’t be having, as women have never been able to change into werewolves before. She’s the first of her kind, and her father is coincidentally a very powerful, very important man in the pack hierarchy. Jessica lives under a false identity doing what many protagonists in urban fantasy do: private investigation. Jessica is tracked down by a mercenary rather quickly, and, helped along by her father’s high status, a war breaks out as superstitious werewolves (a... Read More

The Massive (Vol 1): Black Pacific (An Oxford College Student Review!)

In this column, I feature comic book reviews written by my students at Oxford College of Emory University. Oxford College is a small liberal arts school just outside of Atlanta, Georgia. I challenge students to read and interpret comics because I believe sequential art and visual literacy are essential parts of education at any level (see my Manifesto!). I post the best of my students’ reviews in this column. Today, I am proud to present a review by Caroline Knox.

Caroline Knox is a freshman at Oxford College of Emory University and is pursuing a degree in Political Science with a concentration in International Politics. She is from Duluth, Georgia and works as a volunteer Young Life leader at Druid Hills High School in East Atlanta. In the future, Caroline hopes to live abroad, while working for a Non-Profit Organizatio... Read More

Fated: A solid, enjoyable urban fantasy

Fated by Benedict Jacka

It was a slow day, so I was reading a book at my desk and seeing into the future.

Ah. A fine first sentence told me this was going to be my kind of book. Alex Verus, the first-person protagonist, owns the London magic shop in which he works. This isn’t the kind of magic shop where you can buy interlocking rings or a box for sawing your assistant in half; think more New Age, with crystal balls and herbs. And Alex isn’t the kind of mage who concocts potions and waves a wand around. He’s a diviner, a man who can see into the future. But it’s not a matter of just taking a look ahead and seeing what’s going to happen, because the future doesn’t work that way. Every choice he or someone in his future makes changes things, possibly even everything, so what he really sees is probabilities. That means that he can do “research” by imagining the result of his opening this door instead... Read More

Throne of Glass: Teenage escapism and wish-fulfilment

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

There are two main storylines in Throne of Glass (2012). In one, a deadly assassin is unleashed from prison to travel to the capital and take part in a royal tournament for hired killers where the competitors often meet mysterious and gruesome ends (because, you know, assassin tournament). In the other, an extremely flaky girl tries on lots of expensive dresses, goes to parties, gushes over how pretty she looks today, and flirts with attractive men who like to pamper her with expensive presents. In a brighter universe, the novel would end with the assassin murdering the Popular Girl before she had the chance to complete her dude-harem. Alas, the assassin and the girl are of course the same person, and consequently neither plotline feels fully realized. It’s as if author Sarah J. Maas really wanted to write a courtly romance/mystery book before someone put a g... Read More

The Mysterious Case of Mr. Strangeway: It’s hard to believe in Cherry

The Mysterious Case of Mr. Strangeway by Karina Cooper

I picked up The Mysterious Case of Mr. Strangeway (2013) because it was free at Audible a while back. It’s the prequel to Karina Cooper’s ST. CROIX CHRONICLES which is set in Victorian London and begins with the novel Tarnished. In The Mysterious Case of Mr. Strangeway, we meet Cherry St. Croix, an opium-addicted tomboyish teenage orphan who lives with a wealthy benefactor and sneaks out at night to earn money to support her addiction. She does this by being a “collector,” which is something like a bounty hunter.

This is the story of her first collection attempt. She must bring in a Mr. Strangeway, who is wanted for his various debts. As she tracks him down, she has to hang out in the s... Read More

The Killing Moon: A challenging and excellently-crafted work

The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin

We’ve all read zillions of fantasies set in medieval Europe, or the equivalent thereof. But lately we’re being treated to fantasies set in cultures that are very different from Western civilization (or even Western Dark Ages), and set instead in places like China (Daniel Fox’s MOSHUI: THE BOOKS OF STONE AND WATER), Mexico (Aliette de Bodard’s OBSIDIAN AND BLOOD) and Arabia (Saladin Ahmed’s THE CRESCENT MOON KINGDOMS). And now N.K. Jemisin is taking us to Africa — more specifically, a variety of Egypt — in The Killing Moon, the first book of THE DREAMBLOOD.

It... Read More

The Wildings: Exciting adventure with a cats-eye view

The Wildings by Nilanjana Roy

I was telling my friend about my story-in-the-making (it’s about an underground colony of cats!) and he said, “Have you read The Wildings, by Nilanjana Roy? You have to.” Wanting a model for my story — and also intrigued by the premise, a colony of cats in Delhi — I bought it immediately.

The Wildings follows a cat colony in the Delhi neighborhood of Nizamuddin as they encounter two of their biggest challenges in living memory: the appearance of a new and oddly powerful “Sender,” and the incursion of a group of ferocious feral cats into their territory.

The Sender, a cat who can communicate telepathically with other cats and form links for group communication, turns out to be Mara, a kitten who lives with Big Feet (humans) and who is afraid to come out into the world she navigates via her mind. Although t... Read More

Obsidian: A derivative YA paranormal romance with a hot, super-powered jerk

Obsidian by Jennifer L. Armentrout 

Jennifer L. Armentrout’s Obsidian is one of a slew of young adult paranormal romances that were published in the aftermath of the runaway success of Twilight. The plot, therefore, will sound familiar, though some of the details are different: a teenage girl, Katy Swartz, moves to a small town in West Virginia with her widowed mother to make a new start. Katy is a 4.0 GPA student and book review blogger who’s never caused her family trouble and considers herself a reserved and practical girl. Trying to meet new friends, she drops by the house next door and is confronted with a naked, well-muscled chest attached to an unbelievably handsome but annoyed boy her age, Daemon Black, with eyes “so green and brilliant they couldn’t be real” and “full, kissable ... Read More

Three Parts Dead: A wonderfully inventive story

Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone

Three Parts Dead (2012) is a wonderfully inventive story. Max Gladstone blends a plethora of ideas, ranging from vampires to magic to steampunk technology and adds interesting characters and a plot that is predictable but still enjoyable. The result is memorable.

Tara is a recently expelled student in the art of the Craft. A Craftsman or Craftswoman is the equivalent of a magician or sorcerer, someone who has learned how to use the energies of the world to do things that would otherwise be impossible. Tara’s fall from the Hidden Schools — think of a floating university for sorcerers — was both literal and logical: she had to fight her way out of the school before being physically dropped from its heights. Tara’s story is central to the book as she goes from expelled student to local healer to temporary employee for one of the large firms that tra... Read More

Something Red: Reminds us that the magic of storytelling is in the language

Something Red by Douglas Nicholas

Something Red is a beautifully written, patiently drawn, mood-filled literary thriller. It’s not outright scary, but one could classify it as horror. It’s not a straight-out mystery, though poet-turned-novelist Douglas Nicholas drafts an expectant, slow-boil whodunit.

Something Red centers on a small band of travelers winding their way through northern England at the earliest onsets of winter. The story is told through the eyes of Hob, a young orphan in the care of Molly, a world-wise woman who's equally as skilled with a bow as she is with the medicinal powders and elixirs she keeps in her wagon. Molly’s granddaughter Nemain and the silent, brooding and terrifically strong Jack, flesh out Molly’s troupe.

Nicholas uses his remarkable linguistic skill to build his plot and shape his characters, slowly like t... Read More

Cinder: A robotic twist on a classic fairy tale

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Once upon a time, a cyborg in New Beijing was trying to reattach her mechanical foot. It’s not quite the way the conventional fairytale begins, but that’s the best thing about Marissa Meyer’s Cinder: it’s a completely new take on the Cinderella theme and a breath of fresh air in the YA genre.

Cinder is a mechanic working in New Beijing, though she is not just any old mechanic. She is the best in the city. One morning she is trying to attach a new foot with the help of her android Iko, when a young man in a hooded jumper approaches her stall. Cinder realises it’s Prince Kai, son of the Emperor of New Beijing and general heartthrob of the city. But don’t let me lose you there — it doesn’t all descend into romantic pulp. On the contrary, Cinder does everything she can to get rid of Kai; being a cyborg, she’s considered an inferior citizen and she tri... Read More

The Rook: Super-powered chess

The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

As Daniel O’Malley’s 2012 supernatural thriller The Rook (book one of THE CHECQUY FILES) begins, Myfanwy Thomas comes to herself with complete amnesia. She's standing in a London park at night. Surrounding her is a ring of motionless bodies. They are all wearing latex gloves.

Myfanwy (“rhymes with Tiffany”) finds two letters in her jacket pocket from her former self:
Dear You, The body you are wearing used to be mine… I’m writing this letter for you to read in the future.
Myfanwy’s former self was aware that in some way her brain was going to be magically wiped of all memories, and did her best to smooth the way for future memory-less Myfanwy by writing a number of letters to herself.
All you need to know immediately is that someone I should be able to trust has decided that I need to be removed. I don’t k... Read More