2014.01


Off to be the Wizard: Silly, charming, and just what I needed

Off to be the Wizard by Scott Meyer

After being on a bit of a horror and dark fantasy diet, I decided I needed something lighter, a palate cleanser if you will. Off to Be the Wizard (2014) by Scott Meyer kept showing up in my recommendations for a light and humorous fantasy. As it turned out, Off to be the Wizard was exactly what I was looking for.

The story follows Martin Banks who is a data entry clerk for a large company. In his spare time he browses the massive databases of these corporations hoping to find something interesting. He stumbles upon a file that, when edited, alters reality. He finds his own personal entry in the file and begins to change his life.

It should be noted that Martin is kind of an idiot. He rarely thinks things through, and it lands him in trouble. He eventually finds himself in medieval Englund pretending to be a wizar... Read More

Nice Dragons Finish Last: Great setting and characters, impressive plotting

Nice Dragons Finish Last by Rachel Aaron

Julius Heartstriker is the youngest son of Bethesda Heartstriker, the ambitious, aggressive, and ruthless matriarch of the powerful Heartstriker dragon clan. Bethesda is disappointed in her youngest son. He’s small, weak, nonthreatening and, worst of all, he actually likes humans. He’s just too nice.

To express her displeasure, and to put a fire in Julius’s belly, Bethesda banishes him to the Detroit Free Zone, a place ruled by an ancient spirit named Algonquin. Pretty much anything goes in the DFZ, but one thing that Algonquin won’t tolerate in her realm is dragons. For that reason, Julius is forced to remain in his human form, which is exactly how his mother intends to punish him. She’s giving him one month to prove his worth to his clan. The task he’s been given is to find the missing daughter of a rival dragon clan. If he doesn’t succeed, Bethesda will probably ea... Read More

The Goblin Emperor: A beautiful world and protagonist

Reposting to include Jana's new review.

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

A few weeks ago I finally finished with revisions to my dissertation and rewarded myself with a read of The Goblin Emperor, the first book published under the name of Katherine Addison (the pen-name for Sarah Monette, accomplished spec-fic author).

It’s been a while since I experienced such pure undiluted reading enjoyment. I was thrilled on every page that this book even existed, and even more excited that Katherine Addison is a young writer so that, hopefully, I have much more to look forward to.

One of the reasons The Goblin Emperoris so enjoyable is that the world Addison describes is jewel-like in its uniqueness and detail. In the elvish kingdom of Ethuveraz, airships cruise the skies (and sometimes crash),... Read More

Maresi: A beautifully written coming-of-age tale

Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff

THE RED ABBEY CHRONICLES by Maria Turtschaninoff is a young adult trilogy originally published in Finland. This first installment, Maresi (2014), won the Finlandia Junior Prize for children’s and young adult literature. It was translated into English by A.A. Prime.

The Red Abbey is an isolated island convent where a Mother Goddess is worshipped and a trove of secret knowledge maintained. No man is allowed to set foot on its shores. Some of its sisters were sent there because they were surplus mouths to feed, some were sent to learn skills that will make them more marriageable, and some were fleeing from abuse.

Maresi is a young novice, and while she has not yet found her calling within the Abbey, she loves it there. She feels at home among the natural beauties of the island. There’s the impressive library, too — and perh... Read More

The Archived: Hard to believe in, but still a pleasant read

The Archived by Victoria Schwab

Mackenzie (Mac) Bishop, a high-school student, has just moved to a new town with her mom and dad. They’re living in an apartment in a renovated old hotel. Her mom is excited about restoring and reopening a once-popular coffee shop in the hotel, but Mac knows that her mom is really just trying to stay focused and busy after the recent death of Mac’s younger brother.

What Mackenzie’s parents don’t know is that Mac is a Keeper, a job she inherited from her now-deceased grandfather. Keepers are responsible for tracking down the confused embodied souls of dead people (usually children) who wander away from the Archive, where a copy of everybody’s history goes after death. They may look like zombies, but these “Histories” are simply recordings of a person’s life and they must be returned to their vaults if they wander away. Since the public doesn’t know about the Arch... Read More

Traitor’s Blade: Full of adventure and derring-do

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Traitor’s Blade by Sebastien de Castell

Traitor’s Blade is the first installment in Sebastien de Castell’s GREATCOATS series and is an interesting blend of genres — like The Three Musketeers with classic fantasy. At the core it is about a young man whose heart is broken and who has found meaning in defending ideals that are greater than himself.

An oft-used, but nonetheless compelling storyline in fantasy is the abuse of power by the nobility. Whether it’s something as simple as overtaxing and overworking the lower classes or some of the more heinous examples where the Nobles rape, murder and torture with seeming impunity, the concept remains that power unchecked corrupts. Falcio Val Mond has had his fill of exactly this sort of thing. As a young husband his experiences have riven his soul and created in him a desire for justice that... Read More

The Boost: The premise is fascinating

The Boost by Stephen Baker

I’m a sucker for social science fiction. I love the stuff. I really think it is interesting to see how authors visualize technology and society progressing, the relationship between the two, and how they will influence each other. Our world is such a dynamic place, and the future is full of possibilities. I love authors who aren’t afraid to toy with what is over the horizon.

The Boost (2014) takes place in a fairly near future where everyone has computers (known as “Boosts”) in their heads. Everything we have at our fingertips is instantaneous in their minds. GPS, the internet, social networking, and so much more is right there, constantly. Life is lived as much in the virtual realm in their minds as in the real, three-dimensional world around them.

The premise is fascinating. The interplay of society and technology is nearly flawless. Woven into this ta... Read More

Stolen Songbird: A mixture of the inventive and expected

Stolen Songbird by Danielle L. Jensen

YA fantasy has experienced an influx of sparkly vampires, fallen angels and broody fey-creatures in the past ten years, but this is the first time I've seen trolls toted as desirable romantic partners. When I hear the word "troll" I think of the large and grotesque creatures from The Hobbit or The Three Billy Goats Gruff, but Danielle Jensen reimagines them as creatures that are human in shape, but deformed in features. Our first glimpse of one is described thusly: "the two sides of his face, so flawless on their own, were like halves of a fractured sculpture put back together askew."

Meanwhile, the King of the Trolls is hugely obese, and the Queen is a Siamese twin (her doll-sized sister grows out of her back), which we're told is the result of years of i... Read More

City of Stairs: A glorious, mind-bending mash-up

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

City of Stairs is a glorious, mind-bending mash-up; part second-world fantasy, part political thriller and part murder mystery. Shara Thivani and her “secretary” Sigrud are my two new favorite action heroes.

Robert Jackson Bennett once again, has taken a conventional sub-genre and made it original, creating an experience that reads like an actual sociological thriller set in another, magical world.

Shara Thivani is a junior ambassador from the Saypuri islands – at least, that is her cover. She comes to Bulikov, the City of Stairs, on the Continent, to investigate the murder of Saypuri citizen and her friend, Professor Pangyui, who was found beaten to death in his office in the Bulikov University.

Relations between the Continentals and the Saypuri are… well, tense. For millennia, the Continentals, aided by myste... Read More

Wytchfire: Old-school epic fantasy

Wytchfire by Michael Meyerhofer

Wytchfire, the first book in Michael Meyerhofer’s DRAGONKIN TRILOGY, is the image of a classic-style epic fantasy of the sort that hasn't seemed to show up as often since George R.R. Martin and Robin Hobb largely took over for Tolkien as guiding lights of the genre. It's a fun and lively story, but the reader's enjoyment may depend on how much s/he enjoys old-school epic fantasy and its associated tropes.

I happen to like old-school epic fantasy, so for me Wytchfire was a fun read (even slightly nostalgic, like revisiting the old neighborhood and finding little has changed). The novel has an entertaining... Read More

The Accelerators Vol. 1: Time Games

The Accelerators Vo1. 1: Time Games by R.F.I. Porto, Gavin P. Smith, Tim Yates

If you were the kind of kid (or are the kind of adult) who staged epic action-figure battles between army guys and dinosaurs, or G.I. Joes and pretty much anything else, you’re going to love The Accelerator Vol. 1: Time Games’s blood-drenched stadium showdowns featuring Romans and Prohibition-era gangsters, Maya warriors and samurai, and much more, ably illustrated by Gavin Smith and Tim Yates. And if you’re in the mood for a forward-only time-travel mystery, R.F.I. Porto’s script has the goods.

The mechanism of travel works thusly: the glowing blue ring on Vol. 1’s cover is a “time donut,” and it isn’t as much a time machine as it is a time-and-space manipulator, speeding the wielder forward in accordance with their thoughts, in a system reliant on the Fibonacc... Read More

Empire of Dust: Thought-provoking

Empire of Dust by Jacey Bedford

I’m a huge sucker for science fiction books that toy with the mixing and merging of society and advanced technology. Just how would said technology impact people, morality, society and the like? It’s a fascinating moral gray area that leaves so much for authors to explore. Add in some additional mental abilities — like the ability to talk to animals, and to communicate with other people mentally across millions of miles — and you have something quite interesting.

Empire of Dust (2014) by Jacey Bedford has all of the elements of a good science fiction debut. While I found it enjoyable in a sort of classic-science-fiction nostalgic sort of way, I never really crossed into “love” territory, which is unfortunate.

Part of the problem is that Empire of Dust is competing against such genre-bending titles as Read More

Wytches by Scott Snyder

Wytches by Scott Snyder (writer) and Jock (artist)

Wytches by Scott Snyder is the horror book I never thought I would enjoy. I just do not like being frightened by the literature I read, and yet, I enjoyed every page of this tense story. In Wytches, a single-volume put out by Image, Snyder creates his own unusual tradition of Witches in a small town in New Hampshire. I read the entire volume cover to cover without any awareness of time passing.

Before the events of the book, Sailor, a high school student and only child, suffers bullying from Annie, another teenager. The bullying reaches its climax when Sailor and Annie are alone in the woods for a final showdown. Annie has... Read More

Black Dog: YA werewolf fantasy with a Latino spin

Black Dog by Rachel Neumeier

Black Dog (2014) is a YA urban fantasy that takes the werewolf shapeshifter subgenre and puts some unusual spins on it. The teenage Toland siblings, 15½ year old twins Natividad and Miguel and their 18 year old brother Alejandro, have been orphaned in their Mexico home by a mass attack of enemy black dog shapeshifters led by their father’s long-time enemy. Alejandro is a black dog, Miguel is a normal human, and Natividad is what is known as a "Pure," one of the rare girls born with magical powers, including the ability to cast protective spells and to quiet the wild shadow that is an inseverable part of those who are black dogs.

When their Mexican mother and American father both die in the attack, the three siblings follow their father’s last instructions: leave Mexico and travel all the way to Vermont, where there is a strong pack of black dogs called the Dimilioc, to wh... Read More

Deadly Class (Vol. 1): Reagan Youth by Rick Remender (An Oxford College Student Review!)

In this new column, I’ll be featuring 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 Njeri Thomas. 

Njeri Thomas is a freshman pursuing a degree in psychology with the intent to go to medical school. She calls Houston, Texas home and loves reading, theater, and art. In the future, Njeri wishes to become a child psychiatrist and possibly an actress.



Deadly Class (Vol. 1): Reagan Youth Read More

The Fuse: The Russia Shift (Giveaway!)

The Fuse (Vol. 1): The Russia Shift by Antony Johnston & Justin Greenwood

(No spoilers, but this review is also a Giveaway. I met Justin Greenwood, who draws The Fuse and got a signed copy of this collection, which one random commenter with a USA mailing address will get.)

The Fuse: The Russia Shift is Volume One in the collection of this comics science fiction police procedural series, set on a space station orbiting earth. The Russia Shift introduces us to our two cops; Ralph Dietrich, just arrived from Earth, and his more experienced partner Klem Ristovych. This book was released in 2014 by Image Comics.

The Fus... Read More

The Shadow Soul: Our SPFBO winner is a solid YA fantasy

The Shadow Soul by Kaitlyn Davis

The Shadow Soul came in first place of the 30 books that our Fantasy Literature team of reviewers read for Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO), in which 300 self-published science fiction and fantasy novels have been read and evaluated by ten blogs. The winner of the very first round, it managed to survive and prevail over all of the rest of the novels in our later rounds. A round of virtual but heartfelt applause to The Shadow Soul and its author, Kaitlyn Davis!

As the story begins, Jinji is a sixteen year old girl preparing for her formal joining in marriage to Maniuk, a future leader of their small Arpapajo tribe, along with Jinji herself. Jinji has the magical ability to see t... Read More

The Queen of the Tearling: An original and compulsive plot

The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Before The Queen of the Tearling had even been published, movie rights had been sold and Emma Watson was set to take the lead role (which has now been confirmed, with David Heyman -- of Harry Potter fame -- as producer). The buzz around this book was hard to ignore, but I was surprised to discover that many of the early reviews had been pretty scathing. Loopholes in the plot was a common complaint, as well as a dislike for the book’s protagonist, Kelsea Glynn. Now, I’m all one for franchise-bashing, and this planned trilogy definitely looks set to become the next Twi-Games, Diver-light, Hunger-Whatever (and comparison to the other YA bestsellers will, no doubt, come) but I am here to put forward the case that it is in a league of its own.

Kelsea Glynn, an only child brought up by her foster parents Barty and Carlin, has led an isolated childhood. Now, at nin... Read More

The Invisible Library: Different opinions

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

The Invisible Library (2014) by Genevieve Cogman came along just in time for your vacation or summer reading. The book was published in Great Britain last year but the American edition came out this month. This is Cogman’s first novel, and it is a sure-footed, fast-paced romp of alternate history, self-referential book-love, nods to movies and television, magic, mysteries and secrets. And did I mention the dragons?

Libraries have gotten popular in fiction and on television, and not unlike the young team in TNT’s television series The Librarians, Irene, the book’s main character, slips into alternate universes and acquires particular books which are stored and studied at the Invisible Library, which sits at a nexus of the various alternate dimensions. Irene is clear that collecting these books, even if it requires dishonesty or outri... Read More

Jackaby: Fun start to a fresh YA fantasy series

Jackaby by William Ritter

William Ritter’s Jackaby (2014) is a pleasant young adult mystery with a smart girl main character and a title character who is the Sherlock Holmes of the paranormal.

It’s 1892 in New England, and Abigail Rook has just stepped off a freighter onto the waterfront of New Fiddleham. Abigail is British, the daughter of a socialite mother and a globe-trotting paleontologist father. Raised to be a lacy, docile, obedient girl, Abigail kicked over the traces and went to Europe on a “dinosaur dig” of her own. The funds ran out, and now she is stuck in New England.

Her first night in the new town, Abigail encounters a young man who can describe just where she’s been in Europe. He says he is doing it from observation, but what he claims to be observing are the supernatural creatures who tagged along with Abigail, unbeknownst to her. She writes him ... Read More

Roche Limit (Volume 1): Anomalous by Michael Mordeci and Vic Malhotra

Roche Limit (Volume 1): Anomalous by Michael Mordeci and Vic Malhotra

Roche Limit (Volume 1): Anomalous is an excellent science fiction comic book and the first of a projected three volumes, though this first volume really does stand alone as a fully completed storyline: There is no cliffhanger, though future volumes will apparently take us back to the world of Roche Limit. The second volume is already available in trade, and the first issue of the third story arc has already been published. The story takes place in the future in a small colony on a small planet. The colony has been around for about twenty years, and there is already an extreme divide between the wealthy and the working laborers. In addition, tho... Read More

The Illusionists: An intriguing premise lacks magic

The Illusionists by Rosie Thomas

There is something rather bold about naming your Victorian protagonist Devil, and that sets the tone for the premise of Rosie Thomas’s novel, The Illusionists. Add to the mix a bad-tempered dwarf called Carlo Bonomi, a Swiss inventor named Heinrich who becomes obsessed with his creations of automata — mechanical women with rubber skin — and you’ve got yourself the beginnings of quite a tale. But The Illusionists falls short of the magic it promises and readers may struggle to sit through Devil’s performance.

We first meet Devil roaming the streets in want of a drink and a job. Instead, he finds a dwarf, dressed as a child and picking pockets with more skill than Devil has ever seen. The dwarf is Carlo Bonomi, a fellow illusionist and showman. Devil persuades Carlo to embark on a gory double-act with him, and the pair are... Read More

Black Dog: Not just a bow-wow — a big wow

Black Dog by Caitlin Kittredge

Wow. Please fasten your seat belts and do not attempt to stand up until the book has come to a full and complete stop, because you are about to embark on the fast-paced, twisty-curvy, snarky-poignant thrill ride of Caitlin Kittredge’s Black Dog, Book One in THE HELLHOUND CHRONICLES.

Ava is a hellhound, indentured to a reaper, a demon who makes deals for people’s souls. When the time is right, Gary (yes, her reaper’s name is Gary) sends Ava to collect. While she can do this in human form, Ava can change to a hellish canine if necessary — and often does.

Ava is little more than a slave, and in the rigid hierarchy of hell, hellhounds are near the bottom. When a human necromancer persuades her to steal Gary’s Scythe, Ava reluctantly seizes a cha... Read More

Red Rising: An engaging debut

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

In Pierce Brown’s debut novel, Red Rising, humanity lives in a strictly hierarchical society, with the various castes marked by colors: Golds at the top, Reds at the bottom, Pinks for pleasure, Yellows for bureaucrats, etc. Darrow, a young Red, who mines beneath the surface of Mars for Helium-3, has always accepted the hierarchy as it has been drummed into him, until events cause him to see things differently. Eventually, he is set on a path whereby he will seek to undermine the Golds’ power and spark a revolution of Reds. If, that is, he can stay true to himself and his mission even as he infiltrates the Gold society. Because of the many twists in the novel, that pretty much all I’m going to say about plot.

Usually I like to start with the positives of a novel. But despite the fact that I’m pretty sure Red Rising will end up in... Read More

Mr. Mercedes: King crafts a superbly natural crime thriller

Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

Stephen King stays away from the supernatural and explores a more Earth-bound and human-centric kind of horror in Mr. Mercedes, the first in a trilogy, which will conclude with the spring 2016 release of End of Watch. The story hits upon a type of tragedy that’s made real-world headlines in the last few years: an out of control car (naturally, a Mercedes) mows down pedestrians standing in a group, caught by surprise, and without any chance of escape. While many of these real-life incidents appear accidental, the deaths in King’s story are quite intentional and murderous.

A year after the crime, the lead Detective on the case, Bill Hodges, has retired without capturing the notorious Mr. Mercedes. Hodges receives a letter, supposedly from the killer, taunting hi... Read More