2015.01


Beasts of Tabat: Vivid worldbuilding delivers a world in political upheaval

Beasts of Tabat by Cat Rambo

Because I got an ARC of Hearts of Tabat, the second book in Cat Rambo’s TABAT QUARTET, in 2018, I read it before the first book. I thought that would have a negative impact on my reaction to Book One, Beasts of Tabat, but as I was reading, my brain reset itself, and when I got to the end I was almost as shocked as if I hadn’t had some inkling what was coming. That’s some good storytelling!

In Beasts of Tabat, we meet Teo, a village boy. His family are shapeshifters, hunted down and killed by the ruling class of Tabat. When his family plans to send him to the Temples of the Moon, Teo flees from the docks of the capital city, Tabat, where political unre... Read More

Head Lopper (Vol. 1): The Island or a Plague of Beasts: Don’t miss this adventure series!

Head Lopper (Vol. 1): The Island or a Plague of Beasts by Andrew MacLean

Head Lopper (2016) by Andrew MacLean is about a master swordsman and his journeys. By his side is his trusty sword and his less trusty head in a sack. The head belongs to Agatha, the Blue Witch, and though we know the Head Lopper, Norgal, is the one responsible for cutting off her head, we do not know for what purpose he carries her head with him wherever he goes. But a lot of the fun and humor of the comic comes from the dialogue between Norgal and Agatha. Norgal is reticent to speak most the time, and Agatha just won’t keep quiet, so it is an interesting dynamic that exists between the two.

When the comic opens, we are witness to Norgal in action: Coming into Castlebay by boat, Norgal comes aboard just as the boat comes into the bay and is attacked by a giant monster, which Head Lopper dispatches in a fairly grotesque, but expect... Read More

Six of Crows: An exciting fantasy heist

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo, best known for her GRISHA young adult magical fantasy trilogy, explores a different corner of the Grisha world in her new young adult novel, Six of Crows. In the city of Ketterdam, an analog for Amsterdam, criminal gangs control the waterfront, and the surrounding area is a den of iniquity where everything can be bought and sold, including people. One of the gangs, appropriately called the Dregs, is led by 17 year old Kaz Brekker, nicknamed “Dirtyhands” because of his willingness to stoop to any level to maintain and grow his power and control. His young crew has been gaining in power and influence during the few years he’s been in charge of it.

One day a wealthy merchant abducts Kaz and tells him an incredible story: a scientist, who is being ... Read More

Darth Vader: Vader by Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Darth Vader: Vader by Kieron Gillen (writer) and Salvador Larroca (artist)

Darth Vader (Volume One): Vader by Kieron Gillen is just as good, if not better than, Star Wars (Volume One): Skywalker Strikes by Jason Aaron, both of which came out recently from Marvel. Marvel now has the rights to the Star Wars comic books, and so they are reissuing quickly all the Star Wars comics that were put out over the years by Dark Horse. In addition to these reissues, they h... Read More

Children of Time: Too long but fascinating

Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Children of Time (2015), the first book in Adrian Tchaikovsky’s CHILDREN OF TIME series, is an expansive and visionary epic that speculates about the future of humanity.

In the first chapter, we meet a scientist who has managed to extend her life so that she can create her own world. Her plan is to drop monkeys on a terraformed planet, let loose a virus that will uplift them, wait until they evolve, and then introduce herself as their god. Without her knowledge, something goes wrong and evolution goes off in a very different direction than planned.

Next we meet a spaceship whose crew is in grave danger because Earth, which has been ruined and is at war, has cut off resources and support, purposely stranding all of its space-faring brethren.... Read More

Star Wars: Kanan Vol. 1: The Last Padawan: Insight into a Star Wars favourite

Star Wars: Kanan Vol. 1: The Last Padawan by Greg Weisman

The secret backstory of Kanan Jarrus, one of the main characters in the animated television show Star Wars Rebels, was ripe for comic book expansion. As a former Jedi Padawan who was only a teenager when the rest of the Jedi Order was wiped out, his past provides plenty of scope for exciting and bittersweet stories. After all, as a survivor of the purge, he was one of the lucky ones.

During an otherwise straightforward supply-run to Lothal, the crew of the Ghost notice that Kanan has a rather sharp reaction to their need for a pit-stop on the planet Kaller. It turns out that he's been there before, and flashbacks (which comprise most of the issue) take us back fifteen years to the middle of the Clone Wars, where Kanan — then called Caleb Dume — fought alongside his master Depa Billaba for the Republic.

They successfully freed Kaller from... Read More

Court of Fives: The dangers of imperialism, racism, and ambition

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Court of Fives by Kate Elliott

Kate Elliott has a well-deserved reputation for writing excellent science-fiction and fantasy for adults. Her characters, world-building, and societies are not only entertaining but well-crafted. It seems only natural that, at some point in her career, she would try her hand at Young Adult fiction. The result is Court of Fives, the first in a planned fantasy trilogy which is sure to appeal to younger readers as well as Elliott’s established fan base. While I’ve seen the novel described as “YA meets Game of Thrones,” Elliott herself has said, “I prefer Little Women meets American Ninja Warrior,” which is far more relevant to my personal interests (and a more unique combination). Read More

Shadowshaper: Five-star characters with five-star prose

Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

I’ve commented before that I give very few five-star reviews. Usually, I expect a book to somehow change my thinking, or how I see the world, in order to rate it a five-star book. As I sat down to write this review I was going to say something like, “While that didn’t happen with Shadowshaper, by Daniel José Older, I still…” and then I thought more about it, and decided that Shadowshaper (2015) has changed how I think about the world, mostly because of the time I spent with the main character, Sierra Santiago, who is a hero, an artist and a genuine girl.

As far at the plot goes (and it’s a fast-paced one) in many ways Sierra is a classic Chosen One, a trope that some of us feel has been done and overdone. Like most Chosen Ones, Sier... Read More

Planetfall: An SF exploration of mental illness

Planetfall by Emma Newman

Planetfall, the first science fiction offering from Emma Newman, is about a colony of humans who left Earth to follow Suh, an alleged prophet who received a supernatural message giving her the coordinates of an unknown distant planet where she was supposed to travel to receive instructions about God’s plans for humanity. Suh and her best friend Ren, a brilliant geneticist and engineer, gathered a team of like-minded believers and they landed on the planet 22 years ago. After “Planetfall,” Suh disappeared into “God’s City,” where she continues to live and send yearly messages and instructions to the rest of the colonists. All is going well until a visitor arrives and claims to be Suh’s grandson. His presence threatens the colony’s peace and it’s up to Ren, the story’s protagonist, to prese... Read More

BINTI: The Complete Trilogy: Diverse opinions for a story of diversity

Editor's note: BINTI was originally published in three separate novellas but has recently been released in a complete trilogy. We've combined all of our new and previous BINTI reviews in this post.

BINTI: The Complete Trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor

As Binti, a mathematically brilliant, 16 year old member of the African Himba tribe, sneaks away from her home in the dead of night, I felt almost as much anticipation as Binti herself. Binti has decided, against massive family pressure, to accept a full-ride scholarship to the renowned Oomza University on a planet named ― wait for it ― Oomza Uni. (Perhaps the university sprawls across the entire planet? Certainly it covers several cities many miles apart.) Himba tribe members are technically advanced but socially isolated from other people, and Binti’s breaking away from her tribe evidences her courage, but leaves her isolated, an outsider.
Read More

Welcome to Night Vale: Buckle up — it’s going to be a weird ride

Reposting to include Skye's new review.

Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor

If you enjoy horror in all its many forms, or just plain Weird Stuff, odds are good that you’ve at least heard of (if not been sucked into the fandom vortex of) the highly-acclaimed podcast Welcome to Night Vale. Its creators, Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, have spent the last five years expanding upon a central premise — there’s a desert town in the southwestern region of the United States, where all manner of strange things happen and time doesn’t really exist — through twice-monthly podcast episodes. The success of the podcast has led to a number of other projects, including this novel, Welcome to Night Vale (2015), which is a perfect entry point for anyone wondering what al... Read More

Dawn of Wonder: An ambitious plot with a moon-shooting character arc

Dawn of Wonder by Jonathan Renshaw

I’d wanted to read Jonathan Renshaw’s 2015 self-pub Kindle Unlimited enrollee for several months. Dawn of Wonder sports upwards of 3700 Amazon reviews with an average rating of 4.6 stars — a rare feat for any well-established author, much less a self-publishing up-start. But it’s also a whopping 710 pages long, so you see my hesitation.

But enough wind-up. I read it.

The first sixth of the novel gripped me. Thirma peasant Aedan of Misty Vales lives in a medieval world of war and political intrigue, including well-organized cross-border human trafficking campaigns that can target anyone, though the higher born, the better. Our hero possesses a shrewd and calculating mind that could track a hawk, but he’s also a deeply wounded young boy who can collapse into helplessness when challenged. That said, this character has a lion-sized heart a... Read More

The Eterna Files: Couldn’t entice me to move on to book two

The Eterna Files by Leanna Renee Hieber

Just after President Lincoln’s assassination, his wife Mary sets a governmental task force to find a cure for death, thus setting in motion the plot of The Eterna Files (2015) by Leanna Renee Hieber. Seventeen years later, the science team working on the Eterna Compound is mysteriously murdered, as is a parallel team in England, where Queen Victoria wants Britain, not America, to be the first to discover an answer to mortality. Both countries seek to find out what happened to their teams, as well as learn what the other nation has or has not discovered. In America, sensitive Clara Templeton is the main protagonist, helped by a small group of fellow paranormals, including her mentor, a powerful senator who has raised her since when her parents were killed. On the other side of the pond,... Read More

Black Magick, Volume 001: Awakening by Greg Rucka

Black Magick, Volume 001: Awakening by Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott

Black Magick, Volume 001: Awakening was published by Image Press in 2016. It follows a Portsmouth, New Hampshire police detective, Rowan Black, as she investigates a series of crimes that seem to be pointing at her. It’s worrisome; in addition to being a cop, Rowan is a witch, and these crimes hint at a magical enemy who has targeted both Rowan and her coven. Poised in the potential crossfire is her non-magical partner Morgan, whose wife is about to have their first baby. For whatever reasons, Rowan has not shared her belief system with her colleagues so there is also the risk that uncovering the perpetrator will “out” her.

After a highly visual opening that has the feel of a television teaser, Awakening plunges us right into the story. Rowan is called to the scene of a hostage situ... Read More

An Ember in the Ashes: A soldier and a slave. Neither is free.

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

The hype surrounding An Ember in the Ashes (2015) around its release was impressive, to say the least. Classed as Epic Fantasy, the book quickly became a bestseller on multiple lists and rights have been sold across thirty countries. Film rights were sold in a seven-figure deal (seven!) well before the book's publication. A sequel was bought almost immediately thereafter. With these kinds of stats, is a book ever going to be able to live up to itself?

Laia is a slave under the Martial Empire. She comes from a group known as the scholars — a class of oppressed people who are enslaved by the Martials. Elias is a Martial, the group that makes up the brutal ruling class of the Empire. He is about to graduate as one of its elite soldiers, referred to as 'Masks' due to the metallic mask that will eventually infuse to his skin. The story kicks off when Laia's brother is arr... Read More

Magonia: What YA should be like

Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley

Come for the wonderful voice (and attitude) of Aza Ray, the teenage narrator. Stay for a suspenseful plot, vivid characters, and fantastical worldbuilding.

Magonia (2015) is one of those books that, while still partway through the sample, I knew I wanted to buy. It's difficult to create a truly original character voice, but Maria Dahvana Headley pulls it off with Aza Ray. She even pulls it off again with Jason, Aza's best friend, though his voice is less distinctive (this shouldn't be taken as a criticism; most voices are less distinctive than Aza's).

Sequel



There are all too few books that reflect the experience of chronic illness, what it's like not only for those who have it but for their friends and family. Magonia Read More

Updraft: A debut novel that succeeds more than not

Updraft by Fran Wilde

I’m of mixed feelings on Fran Wilde’s 2015 debut novel Updraft, which left me at various times enthralled, captivated, curious, and eager to continue. All of which would be great if it hadn’t at other times had me thinking it was too predictable, too familiar, too plodding, and too vague. Thus the mixed feelings, though the balance tipped me over far enough to move on to book two in the series, Cloudbound (I’ll amend this review once I’ve decided whether the sequel and/or the third book, Horizon, justify that perseverance).

Wilde sets her series in a world of bone towers grown ever upward by their inhabitants after a time of turmoil long ago when tower was set against tower. Living above the clouds, movement between towers (or floors of ... Read More

Mystic: Enchanting

Mystic by Jason Denzel

I almost didn’t read Mystic (2015). I got through about three pages, and I was 90% sure I would put it down. However, I pulled through, and in the end I’m glad I did. This book enchanted me, and once I got used to the thing that bothered me at first (which I will expand on below), it was easy to ignore because there was so much else for me to enjoy.

So what bothered me so much at the start? Honestly, it was something that hasn’t ever bothered me this much before. Normally, naming conventions usually don’t faze me. However, for whatever reason, it bothered me this time. The words that bugged me are “fathir” instead of “father,” and “grandmhathir” instead of “grandmother.” I’m mentioning that because I do know that some people are big on naming conventions, and thus, should be prepared to expect this.

Honestly, that’s the biggest gripe I have... Read More

Owl and the Japanese Circus: A homage to Indiana Jones

Owl and the Japanese Circus by Kristi Charish

Owl and the Japanese Circus (2015), by Kristi Charish, is an urban fantasy that exceeded my expectations. “Owl” is a nickname given to our protagonist, who is delightfully different from most protagonists in this subgenre. She’s got a real Indiana Jones vibe, and her history with archeology and her obvious knowledge regarding ancient artifacts backs it up. She can hold her own, and has an obsession with online RPGs that plenty of people will relate to. Furthermore, she’s not perfect. She’s trigger-happy, and often reacts without thinking. She doesn’t want to wait for things to happen, she just wants them to happen, which causes her to act rashly on occasion. She’s quirky and unique, but most importantly, she’s real.

The supernatural creatures are just as unique as Owl is. While they do have the charisma, mystery, an... Read More

MONSTRESS 1: Awakening: Demands complete attention, careful consideration

MONSTRESS 1: Awakening by Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda

Every now and then, a story will tip you into a strange new world without any attempt at exposition or context, leaving you to catch up on events in the most exhilarating way possible. You either sink or swim, and MONSTRESS is one such graphic novel, demanding complete attention, careful consideration, and at least two re-reads in order to grasp all of its detail.

We first meet Maiko Halfwolf as she's put up for auction as a slave – a pretty clear indication of how dark this story can get, even when it becomes apparent that she's more in control of the situation than first appears. Piece by piece, we get an understanding of Maiko's history and what she's attempting: that this is a girl searching for answers to her past in a world on the brink of war.

I'm reluctant to say too much, as most of the enjoyment in reading MONSTRESS  Read More

The Promise of the Child: Ambitious but confusing space opera

The Promise of the Child by Tom Toner

The Promise of the Child (2015), an ambitious space opera that spans centuries and multiple planetary systems, begins with a prologue set in in fourteenth century Praha (Prague), where Princess Eliška, married to King John of Bohemia, meets with a man named Aaron to discuss his help with her son’s ill health. The story then jumps to AD 14,647 … but we will meet Aaron (“the Long-Life”) again.

In this distant future, humanity has spread to many worlds and "prismed" into many vastly different races, including giants (the Melius, who can change their skin color at will, and who inhabit Earth, now known as the Old World), a fairy-like race known as the Oxel scouts, and others in between. Overseeing all of the Firmament empire is a small, powerful group of humans known as the Amaranthine, who are virtually immortal due to a mysterious treatment they received long a... Read More

The Witches of Echo Park: Complex, surprising, restrained

The Witches of Echo Park by Amber Benson

The Witches of Echo Park (2015) is a book that kind of has me stumped. The publisher sent me this first book in the series along with the second book. I read this one, and I’ve just kind of sat on it, wondering what to say about it. On the one hand, I loved it. It’s a unique, well written spin on what could easily have been a completely typical urban fantasy. On the other hand, I spent a good chunk of the book waiting for something to happen.

I loved the writing style. Benson has a high quality writing that felt both restrained, and lyrical. That really stuck out to me. Most (not all) urban fantasy I run across is written a lot more straightforward, with a fast moving plot and punchy dialogue. This book is written in such a way that makes you pay attention, and there are details everywhere. Benson really put a lot of effort into writing this n... Read More

Barsk: A wonderfully thoughtful, imaginative work of science fiction

Barsk: The Elephant’s Graveyard by Lawrence M. Schoen

When I put in my ARC request for Lawrence M. Schoen’s new novel Barsk, all I knew about it was that the setting involved a group of worlds inhabited by a variety of anthropomorphic space-faring animal species, with the main focus on elephants (thus its subtitle: The Elephant’s Graveyard). C’mon. El-e-phants in Spaaaaaccce! How could I resist? But Barsk is much more than a funny-but-cool premise; it’s a thoughtful, moving, and provocative exploration of a host of issues, including but not limited to memory, history, free will, and power. Even better, Schoen doesn’t forget to ground his issues in characters we can care about, preventing the novel from devolving into mere abstraction.

As mentioned, th... Read More

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet: Like watching Barney & Friends while eating cotton candy

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Becky Chambers self-published her debut novel The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet in 2014 after a successful Kickstarter campaign. It was picked up and published by Harper Voyager the next year and since then has been included in all sorts of “best of” lists and nominated for major awards. People I trust love this book and I can see why. I don’t love it, and I’ll explain why here, but I encourage you to try it out for yourself (if you haven’t already) and let me know what you think. There are lots of things to like about The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. It’s just not my thing. It had too little tension, action, and plot for me. It was just too sweet.

Running away from her secret past, Rosemary Harper takes a job as a clerk on the Wayfarer, a spaceship with a diverse crew. Ashby, ... Read More

Steeplejack: A good detective story blended with biting social commentary

Steeplejack by A.J. Hartley

I knew Steeplejack (2016) was a YA thriller/mystery before picking up my review copy, but I wasn’t expecting it to be as solidly-written and entertaining as I ultimately found it to be. A.J. Hartley has not only created a compelling heroine and a richly imaginative world, but also multiple schemes driving the plot which depend on (and drive) social unrest that strikes extremely close to home in places.

Our story begins in the glorious city of Bar-Selehm, a metropolis which is geographically and culturally reminiscent of Johannesburg, South Africa; white Feldesland colonialists inhabit the upper echelons of power, brown-skinned Lani perform menial labor and live on the outskirts of town, and dark-skinned Mahweni generally live in the surrounding savannahs, herding animals. Some overtures hav... Read More