2013.01


Darth Vader and the Ninth Assassin: Darth Vader goes on a mysterious mission

Darth Vader and the Ninth Assassin by Tim Siedell & Stephen Thompson

I noticed with interest that this volume was published in 2013, meaning it just missed out on being an official part of the new Disney canon. Yet despite being relegated to what’s now called Star Wars Legends, Darth Vader and the Ninth Assassin still fits into the new continuity (minus one small detail at its conclusion) that can be read as a straightforward standalone story.

The head of a vast mining operation vows revenge on Darth Vader after the death of his only son and heir. Having already sent eight assassins to kill the Emperor’s apprentice, he now goes in search of more lethal assailants, one that can guarantee to bring him Vader’s head.

Meanwhile, Vader manages to prevent another assassination attempt on the Emperor, one that very nearly succeeds despite their combined power in the Force. Realiz... Read More

How Dark the World Becomes: Who doesn’t love a good-hearted gangster?

How Dark the World Becomes by Frank Chadwick

Sasha Naradnyo is a mid-level gangster in “Crack City,” a city literally inside a large canyon on the surface of a planet called Peezgtaan that’s mostly inhabited by the Varoki, a sentient lizard-like species. The smaller population of humans, second-class citizens on Peezgtaan, have been ghettoized to Crack City, the only place on the planet where they can breathe the air. They came to Peezgtaan to work for a pharmaceutical company that later went bust, and now they’re stuck on the hostile planet.

Sasha’s got a good heart, so he doesn’t like being a gangster, but he’s pretty talented at it. He’s smart, tough, and resourceful. But after his girlfriend betrays him and his boss tries to assassinate him, Sasha needs to get off-planet fast.

He takes a job as a bodyguard for three people who are also fleeing Peezgtaan. One is a human economist who was visiting ... Read More

Ghosted (Vol. 1): Haunted Heist: Haunted houses, possession, and revenge

Ghosted (Vol. 1): Haunted Heist by Joshua Williamson, Miroslav Mrva, Goran Sudzuka

In Ghosted (vol. 1): Haunted Heist by Joshua Williamson, we meet Jackson T. Winters, currently in prison after an armed robbery gone wrong. It turns out that his death wish is not simply because he hates living inside a prison; rather, it’s because of a supernaturally disturbing vision he had the day of the robbery — it turns out the casino they were robbing was built on an ancient and sacred burial ground. Also, in the course of the robbery, every member of his team dies but him, and he is left alone to be caught by the police. The story takes off when he hears gunshots while sitting on his bunk in his cell. In minutes, a woman, Anderson Lake, opens his cell, kills his two cellmates, and knocks him out. When he wakes up again... Read More

Charming: Contemporary fantasy with a strong but vulnerable hero

Charming by Elliott James

John Charming doesn't know exactly what he is. Well, he knows he’s a descendant of the Knights Templar, a group that’s under a geas to slay supernatural creatures who violate the Pax Arcana (a secret treaty the Knights made with the elves), but when his mother was pregnant with him, she was bitten by a werewolf. The werewolf blood gives John supernatural powers, something that’s anathema to the Knights. They trained him when he was young, but when his powers manifested, he was ostracized, and now some Knights are even hunting him, so he has to hide.

That’s how John Charming ended up as a bartender in a backwoods bar in a small Virginia town. He was satisfactorily flying under the radar until a beautiful six-foot-tall blonde showed up one night. John reluctantly gets pulled into her ragtag team of monster hunters who are trying to flush out a nasty nest of vampires in John’s town. Suddenly John... Read More

Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Leiutenant by Tony Cliff

Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Leiutenant by Tony Cliff

I’m often told that adventuring isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, but Tony Cliff’s Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant reinforces what my younger self believed wholeheartedly: Adventuring is awesome, if a little lonely. You get to travel the world, collect treasure, and meet interesting people (who sometimes want to kill you). But even the attempted killing adds to the zest of the adventurer’s life!

Delilah Dirk is daring and brave, with the wits to get herself out of any bad situation (even if she can’t always avoid getting trapped in said bad situation to begin with) and a host of tricks and gadgets at her disposal. In her own words, she:

...is the master of forty-seven different sword-fighting techniques ... which she’s used, on different occasions, to defeat twenty-nine Sikh warriors ... thirty-two Conqu... Read More

The Cuckoo’s Calling: Rowling makes a break without forgetting her roots

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)

Early in 2013, a new murder mystery came out. Written by an author named Robert Galbraith, The Cuckoo’s Calling was set in England and featured an army veteran detective with a prosthetic leg (he was injured saving other soldiers in Afghanistan), a strange family and an unusual name; Cormoran Strike. A few months later, through a series of different sources, it was revealed that “Robert Galbraith” was a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling, who wanted to publish her first murder mystery without having it connected in any way to her globally-famous, history-making, best-selling series of YA fantasy best-sellers.

Sorry that whole anonymous thing didn’t work out for you, Ms. Rowling.

Even though there is nothing fantastical or magical about The Cuckoo’s Calling, I... Read More

Sheltered: Go ahead and order all three volumes

Sheltered by Ed Brisson & John Christmas

Ed Brisson’s Sheltered is a short three-volume series (fifteen issues) that tells the story of one group of “preppers,” those who go off the grid, stockpile food and water, and take other precautions to weather a variety of possible apocalyptic endings. Safe Haven is a small, close community, and many of the children have grown up there. They are all good friends, so the main character, Victoria, is a real outsider since she has only recently come to live there with her father.

What makes Sheltered such a riveting series is the twist that comes in the first issue: All the adults die, and the children are left to fend for themselves. Once on their own, they get rid of all remaining means of communication and rely solely on the predictions made by the group leader, the charismatic Lucas, who has warned them that there are cataclys... Read More

Just One Damned Thing After Another: Fun, fluffy time-travel tale

Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor

Just One Damned Thing After Another is the first novel in Jodi Taylor’s THE CHRONICLES OF ST. MARY’S series. It’s got a fun premise that’s similar to Kage Baker’s THE COMPANY series and Connie Willis’ work. St. Mary’s is a shadowy, underfunded institution related to the University of Thirsk that recruits historians and trains them to travel to the past to witness historical events. Our main protagonist is Dr. Maxwell (just called “Maxwell” or “Max”), a historian with a tragic past and no family ties. In this first book in the series, we watch her get recruited, go through rigorous training, and become one of St. Mary’s clumsiest but best operatives with th... Read More

Black Science (Vol. 1) by Rick Remender (An Oxford College Student Review!)

In this new 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’ll be posting the best of my students’ reviews in this column. Today, I am proud to present a review by Claire Ofotokun.

Claire is a freshman and is pursuing a double major in dance and business.  She lives in Atlanta and particularly enjoys Atlanta’s warm weather and the diversity of cultures, music, and art.  Dance and the arts have been a large part of her life, and she has a special interest in creating movement because it allows her to express her thoughts in a way speaking an... Read More

A Turn of Light: An upbeat, positive read

A Turn of Light by Julie E. Czerneda

Have you ever read a book that you fell head over heels in love with purely because the writing was so breathtakingly beautiful? For me, A Turn of Light (2013) by Julie E. Czerneda is one of those. It contains some of the most lyrical, breathtakingly beautiful writing I have run across in my many years writing reviews.

That being said, the lyrical writing might also be a downside for many readers. It takes quite a while for Czerneda to get to the point. Sometimes it feels like you have to wade through paragraphs of lyrical prose just to understand that the sun lit the meadow perfectly, or something like that. I tend to enjoy that sort of thing, but I certainly have to be in the mood for it, and I’m sure many other readers do, too.

A Turn of Light Read More

Sex: Summer of Hard by Joe Casey (or: Considering Ethics and Literature)

Sex (Vol. 1): Summer of Hard by Joe Casey (writing) and Piotr Kowalski (art)

or, Considering Ethics and Literature:

I have been hesitant to read Joe Casey’s Sex because it seems like such a blatant attempt to gain the type of readership of which I did not want to be a part. However, I recently decided I should not judge so harshly before reading it. I must admit, now, that I am impressed with the first eight issues: Sex is a fantastic story with an actual point to it, and it is not simply an indulgence in gratuitous sex. However, later in my review, I will address the graphic content (to put it mildly), which will offend many potential readers, and this content should make you pause a long time before even considering reading Sex. Every type of sex is portrayed; even those resulting in murder. I feel I must say this up front.

The story ... Read More

Blood of Innocents & A Shattered Empire: Execution fades as the story continues

Blood of Innocents A Shattered Empire by Mitchell Hogan

Since I read the last two books, Blood of Innocents and A Shattered Empire, in Mitchell Hogan’s SORCERY ASCENDANT series one upon the other, I’m just going to review them together. There may be minor spoilers for book two (you’ll know which characters survive for instance), but I’ll avoid major spoilers. The takeaway is that the series disappoints in its conclusion, making it one I can’t recommend starting, and so as usual with my negative reviews, this will be relatively brief.

The narrative picks up where A Crucible of Souls ended. Caldan is on the run from Anasoma’s invasion with a group of allies (including Amerdan and Elpidia), though that term ... Read More

A Crucible of Souls: A solid if somewhat familiar entry in the fantasy genre

A Crucible of Souls by Mitchell Hogan

A Crucible of Souls by Mitchell Hogan is the first book of a trilogy that runs over pretty familiar ground in the coming-of-age fantasy genre and rarely rises above average in its telling, but has a likable enough main character and an intriguing enough plot to keep the reader satisfied.

Caldan is a young orphan raised by monks in a relatively secluded monastery that typically educates the wealthy children of the empire. When an incident occurs between one of those wealthy entitled youth and Caldan, he is expelled from the monastery by the monks, who give him a pair of powerful (and possibly dangerous) heirlooms left to him by his parents. The monks also reveal that what Caldan had been told about his parents’ deaths wasn’t quite the full truth. Determined to make his way in the world, and maybe find out more about his parents, as well as what seems to be happenin... Read More

Vicious: Beautifully exploits the concept of the ambiguous superhero

Vicious by V.E. Schwab

Note: Find "Warm Up," a short-story introduction to Vicious, for free at Tor.com. You can also purchase it for 99c on Kindle.

Vicious, by V.E. Schwab, is another offering in the ever-more popular folks-with-powers genre, and fits as well in the equally popular sub-genre where those folks-with-powers don’t’ fall neatly into the quaint “superhero” mode but have a bit more edge, a bit more (OK, a lot more in this case) grey to them.

Chronologically, the story begins when Victor and Eli, a pair of brilliant college roommates/... Read More

Clean Sweep: Urban fantasy with a galactic twist

Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews

Dina Demille, a young woman, runs a quiet bed-and-breakfast in a small Texas town. Her inn is a quirky old Victorian home that looks like “a medieval castle and a Southern-belle, antebellum mansion had a baby and it had been delivered into the world by a gothic wedding cake decorator.” Dina’s only companion is a small black and white Shih Tzu named Beast, aside from her single permanent guest in the inn, but Dina is hoping her inn will become more popular ― with space aliens.

The Gertrude Hunt Bed-and-Breakfast is, in fact, a house with mysterious powers and a symbiotic relationship to Dina, and it secretly caters to otherworldly visitors from all over the galaxy. It’s one of many on the planet Earth, which is a popular way station for alien travelers. The inn’s sole guest is a bloodthirsty former Galactic aristocrat who caused millions of deaths in her former life, and who is now using Din... Read More

Injustice: Gods Among Us (Year One, Volume One) by Tom Taylor

Injustice: Gods Among Us (Year One, Volume One) by Tom Taylor

DC often puts out comic books that are connected to their video games, and I generally ignore them because 1. I don’t play video games because they give me migraines and 2. Most video game-related comics are just not that good. However, I started hearing a lot of good things about Tom Taylor’s Injustice: Gods Among Us, so I gave it a chance. It turns out, all that was said about Injustice is true, and apparently, it just keeps getting better after this first volume. So far, they’ve put out seven trade collections of Injustice: Year One (Volumes One and Two), Year Two (Volumes One and Two), Year ... Read More

The Diamond Thief: Popcorn-fun YA steampunk

The Diamond Thief by Sharon Gosling

The Diamond Thief is the first book in the trilogy of the same name by Sharon Gosling; it’s a YA steampunk series set in Victorian England featuring Rémy Brunel, a circus acrobat by day and a jewel thief by night. Rémy seems to have some sort of metaphysical or psychic connection with jewels, and can determine just by holding a gem whether it is valuable or a piece of fancy glass.

Thaddeus Rec is an orphaned teenaged detective who is determined to rise through the ranks of Scotland Yard and prove, with the help of an eccentric and elderly mentor, that he is more than the son of common thieves. That mentor, The Professor, functions as the Doc Brown to Thaddeus’ Marty McFly, providing him with a surrogate parent’s guidance as well as all sorts of nifty toys which aid Thaddeus in his investigations. When a valuable diamond goes missing and both Ré... Read More

Blackout: Super-powers with realistic consequences

Blackout by Robison Wells

Robison WellsBlackout is, at first glance, just another typical dystopian YA novel. The chapters are short, the sentences shorter, and the vocabulary wouldn't be a stretch for most junior high students. Good teenagers are in conflict with bad teenagers and seemingly every adult in existence; adults can't be trusted as authority figures because they aren't special and they exploit the people who are. I would guess that a potential blurb for the book might read as, "Who can you trust when your own body might betray you?"

Thankfully, Wells came up with an interesting premise — some American teenagers have mysteriously developed special powers, ranging from laughable (heating a liquid by blowing on it) to expected (mind control, super-strength) to terrifying (creating fissures in the earth via touch). The powers come with a price, generally a physical ailment, ... Read More

Ancillary Justice: An excellent debut!

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Breq used to be a spaceship, or at least a fragment of the spaceship known as Justice of Toren. The ship controlled innumerable human bodies, known variously as “ancillaries” to the people of the interstellar Radchaai Empire and as “corpse soldiers” to the cultures and planets the Empire has conquered. Those soldiers used to be regular, innocent human beings who, if sufficiently healthy, were slaved to one of the Radchaai ships, their personalities more or less overwritten to become part of one of the Empire’s many-bodied artificial intelligences.

But note: Breq “used” to be a spaceship. Now, she is just Breq, a single person with one body, but with memories of being both an immensely powerful artificial intelligence and its army of soldiers. When we meet Breq, at the start of Ancillary Justice, the spectacular debut novel by Ann Leckie, she is hunting for a gun — a... Read More

The 5th Wave: One too many apocalypses in this YA alien novel

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

An alien apocalypse is Rick Yancey’s take on a new challenge for the plucky heroine prototype that has emerged in the wake of Katniss Everdeen. Whilst The 5th Wave is not quite a dystopia, there is something startlingly familiar about the feisty female lead who attempts to single-handedly take down the alien race that’s oppressing humankind in a post-apocalyptic world. With the film adaptation just released in the US, could this be the next YA mega-franchise?

First things first, how did the world fall to its knees? It seems Yancey couldn’t decide on his weapon of choice to wipe out humanity, so he chose them all. To begin with, there was an electromagnetic pulse that wiped out electricity, sending humanity back into ... Read More

The Screaming Staircase: Spooky and fun (but no Bartimaeus)

The Screaming Staircase by Jonathon Stroud

LOCKWOOD & CO. is Jonathan Stroud’s second four-part outing. It follows on from the success of his BARTIMAEUS sequence (which comes highly recommended here at FanLit). Stroud specialises in alternate versions of London for children. In BARTIMAEUS it was a London of djinn-conjuring wizards. This time London is troubled by deadly ghosts. The Screaming Staircase is a pacey, exciting introduction to Stroud's new London, but it lacks the sense of magic and humour that made BARTIMAEUS such a winner.

The story’s narrator is Lucy Carlyle, a young girl from the north of England who makes her way to London, seeking employment at a ghost-hunting agency. London’s ghosts are extremely dangerous, able to kill ... Read More

Hawkeye, Vol. 1: My Life as a Weapon

Hawkeye, Vol. 1: My Life as a Weapon by Matt Fraction

Matt Fraction and David Aja make a great team as they take a peek into the ‘everyday’ life of a superhero… a superhero who can’t shoot lightning bolts, fly, or bench press a city bus. What does an average Avenger do on his days off?

The story starts by letting us see Clint Barton, aka the Avenging archer Hawkeye, having a pretty bad day (which seems to be the norm for him): he’s just gotten out of the hospital after sustaining major injuries during his ‘day job’, runs into a track suit mafia that wants to evict all the tenants from his low-rent apartment building, and becomes responsible for a dog that got hit by a car, partially due to Clint’s intervention. Things don’t really get much rosier from there. We then get a list of every bad decision Clint is capable of making in one day (for the record, it’s nine this time) — ... Read More

Earth 2 (Vol. 1): The Gathering by James Robinson

Earth 2 (Vol. 1): The Gathering by James Robinson (writer) and Nicola Scott (artist)

I’ve been re-reading some of DCs New 52 titles now that four years have gone by and many of the initial titles have been cancelled, rebooted, reimagined, or wrapped up after a full run. To me, the three best titles that stayed consistently great — in the 4- to 5-star range — for at least five volumes of trade collections were Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman, and Batwoman. Snyder’s Batman went down almost an entire star per trade collection, with the first volume starting at a solid five stars. But there were other great runs that stayed consistent, if not always earth-shattering: Justice League, Aquaman, Swamp Thing, and several others. I also have no complaints about ... Read More

The Mapmaker’s War: Did Not Finish

The Mapmaker’s War by Ronlyn Domingue

I really wanted to like The Mapmaker’s War, by Ronlyn Domingue. For so many reasons. First, it had “mapmaker” in the title. I love maps. I have books upon books of maps — old maps, strange maps, historical maps. And books upon books about maps, or mapmakers. So it had that going for it. And second person. I know lots of folks can’t stand it, but I like second person. I like reading it. And I like writing in it. Granted, I’ve always said it’s a tough POV to employ over the length of a full novel, and I can count on one hand the number of times a novel carries it off well, but I was willing to give it more than a chance.

And while The Mapmaker’s War had at its center what appeared to be your typical upper-class-young-woman-chafing-at-society’s-constrictions-and-hooking-up-with-a-prince character, it was pretty clear fro... Read More

Hell Bent: Realistic struggles with powerful magic

Hell Bent by Devon Monk

This is the first Devon Monk book I’ve ever read. After some digging, I discovered that the main characters in the BROKEN MAGIC series, Shame and Terric, were introduced as backburner characters in another book/series that Monk wrote, the Allie Beckstrom series. Never fear, you obviously don’t have to have read those other books to enjoy Hell Bent. I didn’t have a clue who the author or her characters were, and I still had a lot of fun. That being said, I’m sure if I’d read other books by this author (as they are set in the same world) I would probably understand some of the nuances more clearly. For example, I never really did figure out the ins and outs of the magic system, or why some people are able to “break” magic and make it more powerful, but most can’t.... Read More