2015.02


Crooked Kingdom: This duology is gripping reading

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Note: This review contains spoilers for Six of Crows, the first book in this duology.

Crooked Kingdom (2016) picks up the story begun in Six of Crows and takes off like ― well, there are no freight trains in this world, so ― a runaway Grisha on jurda parem. In Six of Crows, teenage crime lord Kaz Brekker and his handpicked group of five pulled off a near-impossible heist, rescuing a young boy, Kuwei, from the impenetrable Ice Court of Fjerda and returning to Ketterdam with him and, more importantly, his knowledge of his father’s research into how to turn the ordinary jurda plant into jurda parem, a drug that instantly amps up Grishas... Read More

Star Wars: Darth Vader Vol. 2: Shadows and Secrets

Star Wars: Darth Vader Vol. 2: Shadows and Secrets by Kieron Gillen & Salvador Larroca

Carrying on from the first Vader volume (which was simply called Vader) this compilation of issues further explores Vader’s attempts to pull together secret resources of his own, without the knowledge of his Imperial superiors. Having discovered that he has a son, Vader now wants more information on Luke Skywalker and to quietly undermine the Emperor himself.

Helping him in this endeavour is an amoral young archaeologist and thief named Doctor Aphra, and two droids who are clearly meant to be dark foils to C3-P0 and R2-D2: Triple Zero, a protocol droid with a sadistic streak (he lists his specialities as: “etiquette, customs, translation and torture”), and Beetee, an astromech who likes blowing things up. Oh, and a gang of bounty hunters of... Read More

Children of Ruin: Scary biological science fiction

Children of Ruin by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Children of Ruin (2019) is the second book in Adrian Tchaikovsky’s CHILDREN OF TIME series, following Children of Time, which you’ll want to read first.

Children of time, which I called “an expansive and visionary epic that speculates about the future of humanity,” was fascinating. In it we watched the evolution of a species of spider that was uplifted by a man-made virus. The scientist who brought it to the terraformed but uninhabited planet had planned to uplift monkeys, but an accident resulted in spiders being uplifted instead. At the end of the long novel, humans finally arrived and befriended the spiders.

Read More

The Lost Future of Pepperharrow: Left me wanting

The Lost Future of Pepperharrow by Natasha Pulley

I found Natasha Pulley’s The Watchmaker of Filigree Street entirely charming even if I didn’t fall wholly in love with it. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the same positive response to the sequel, The Lost Future of Pepperharrow (2020), which felt meandering and surprisingly flat to me, despite some solid moments.

It’s half a decade after the events of The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, and after a brief time in Russia and London, Pulley shifts the vast majority of her story to Japan in the late 1800s (with flashbacks to earlier times in the country). Keita Mori, clockmaker and clairvoyant who can “remember” possible futu... Read More

Poisoned Blade: Does what every good sequel should do

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Poisoned Blade by Kate Elliott

Warning: may contain mild spoilers for the previous book, Court of Fives

In Poisoned Blade, the second novel in her COURT OF FIVES trilogy, Kate Elliott builds on the strengths of Court of Fives and expands upon it, weaving tangled webs of intrigue, deceit, and impressively multi-layered political schemes. Anyone who thinks Young Adult fiction can’t successfully handle themes like a culture’s endurance in defiance of colonialism, the myriad socio-economic factors leading toward revolution, or racial and/or gender inequality, needs to read these books: Elliott covers these issues and ... Read More

Shadowhouse Fall: Still magical, still powerful, still wonderful

Shadowhouse Fall by Daniel José Older

Daniel José Older’s Shadowshaper was one of the best books of 2015 — not “best YA books” but best books of all categories. It featured an engaging, authentic female hero, an original magical system, mundane issues as well as magical ones, and a distinctive voice and sensibility. 2017’s sequel, Shadowhouse Fall, shows no second-book slump in this series.

Sierra Santiago is mastering her skill as a shadowshaper, an ability that melds spirit contact with art, and adjusting to her new role as the Lucera, but things are not calm or quiet in her neighborhood. A powerful rival group called the Sorrows still pursues her. Early in the book, a strange white girl who seems to be in lea... Read More

The True Queen: A tad too familiar, but very well done

The True Queen by Zen Cho

Zen Cho continues her SORCERER ROYAL series with The True Queen (2019), the first follow-up to Sorcerer to the Crown. Technically, The True Queen could be read as a stand-alone or as an introduction to the series, and that was the spirit in which I read it, though I often found myself wishing I had read this book second rather than first; the series takes place in a definite chronological order, with events in Sorcerer to the Crown affecting character status and actions in The True Queen in such a way that, despite Cho’s careful implementation of exposition, left me feeling a bit at sea. Other readers may not have thi... Read More

The Monster Baru Cormorant: An intellectually stimulating read

The Monster Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

The
Monster Baru Cormorant (2018) by Seth Dickinson is one of those push-me-pull-me books. I admired it more than I enjoyed it. I found it stimulating rather than engaging. I thought it overly talky but liked the level of intellect in the conversation. I could reason out the characters’ assumed emotional states (I think), but never really felt them. I was pushed. I was pulled. Inevitable spoilers (some big ones) for book one, The Traitor Baru Cormorant ahead.

After a brief scene that will make a lot more sense later, The Monster Baru Cormorant gives us a replay o... Read More

The Moons of Barsk: Not as good as book one but leaves you excited for book three

The Moons of Barsk by Lawrence M. Schoen

I was a big fan of Lawrence M. Schoen’s first entry in this series, Barsk: The Elephant’s Graveyard, and therefore was excited to pick up its sequel, The Moons of Barsk (2018). I have to admit to being somewhat disappointed, but despite suffering from a bit of a second-book slump, The Moons of Barsk does move the big story arcs along while broadening/deepening some characterization, and so hasn’t lessened my interest in seeing where both story and character go moving forward.

For convenience’s sake (mine, not yours) I’m going to simply reuse my description of Barsk’s universe from my review of book one. And I’ll avoid spoilers for boo... Read More

Mystic Dragon: Enjoyable enough to finish but a bit underwhelming

Mystic Dragon by Jason Denzel

Mystic Dragon (2018) is the second book in the MYSTIC series by Jason Denzel, and I confess I did not read book one, Mystic. The good news is that while I assume having done so will help reader pick up on a few references to past events, I never felt that my stepping in at book two was any serious detriment to the reading experience. The bad news is that while Mystic Dragon is a solid enough entry in the fantasy field, it didn’t do enough to convince me to go back and pick up its predecessor.

The novel centers mostly on Pomella, a mystic apprentice (think wizardly sort) who, shockingly, came out of the commoner class. We meet her as she is investigating a slavers ring, but the true threat is much less mundane. The rare (every 60 years) celestial event of Crow Tallin is about to occur, when... Read More

Luna: Wolf Moon: Fighting over dust and sunlight

Luna: Wolf Moon by Ian McDonald

Luna: Wolf Moon (2017) continues the saga Ian McDonald began in Luna: New Moon, which explored the power struggles between the Five Dragons, five powerful families controlling certain areas of influence on Earth’s moon. Each family, in turn, adheres to a national identity which dictates how they do business, what sort of business they do, and who they’re most likely to (figuratively and literally) stab in the back at the nearest opportunity while simultaneously marrying their offspring to one another in attempts to gain influence or construct gossamer-thin alliances. If crazy-rich people behaving badly is your thing, then I have very good news for you, because Wolf Moon has all of that and... Read More

Hearts of Tabat: A lush beautiful world on the edge of a revolution

Hearts of Tabat by Cat Rambo

Cat Rambo’s Hearts of Tabat (2018) is the second book in the Tabat Quartet. I love the beautiful, strange world Rambo has created here. I understood nearly everything that was going on in this book, so technically it qualifies as a standalone, but I see that reading the first book, Beasts of Tabat, first would probably have answered some questions and added richness to an already lush tapestry of a story.

Tabat is on a world that is filled with humans, magic and Beasts who are made of magic. Beasts are enslaved by the humans, considered less than animals (although they are used as beasts of burden) and consumed, literally, for the magical power in their flesh, bones and blood. Adelina Nettlepurse is the daughter of a powerful Merchant house. She secretly runs a successful publishing house, Spinner Press, although sh... Read More

Fire Dance: Lovely prose and worldbuilding, but left me wanting more

Fire Dance by Ilana C. Myer

Readers who were enthralled by Ilana C. Myer’s 2015 debut novel, Last Song Before Night, will be pleased to know that they can expect more of what they enjoyed in the sequel/companion novel, Fire Dance (2018). Myer’s prose is rich and imaginative, and her worldbuilding is multi-layered. For my own part, I think that many important details wouldn’t have made sense to me if I hadn’t read Last Song Before Night first, but readers who begin these books with Fire Dance may feel otherwise.

After a terrible storm, the Archmaster of the Academy of Poets is found alone in his room, dead. The remaining Masters name a replacement, choosing a m... Read More

Jupiter’s Legacy (vols. 1 & 2): Worth seeking out

Jupiter’s Legacy (vols. 1 & 2) by Mark Millar & Frank Quitely 

Jupiter
’s Legacy (vols. 1 & 2) by Mark Millar, with art by the incredible Frank Quitely, tells the origin story of a new group of superheroes. It is told quickly and succinctly, switching between the early days and the present, years after the race of superheroes began. In the present, we meet the next generation of superheroes, and they have many problems dealing with superhero parents. Having a therapist seems to be expected when you are the child of a superhero. Mark Millar is known for his high-action, Hollywood-style comics. A lot happens in his stories, usually told in a five-issue arc, and you feel as if you’ve sat through the latest early summer blockbuster when you read one of his stories.

In Jupiter’s Legacy (Volume 1), the idealistic o... Read More

Stone Mad: Spirits, steampunk, and science

Stone Mad by Elizabeth Bear

Elizabeth Bear instantly charmed me with her 2015 novel Karen Memory, in which a young “seamstress” battles against greed and corruption with the aid of her friends, a U.S. Marshal, and a hulking ambulatory sewing machine. The first follow-up tale, Stone Mad (2018), is a slight novella jam-packed with action, adventure, folklore, and romantic strife.

Karen Memery and her brilliant girlfriend, Priya, are treating themselves to a top-notch dinner at the Rain City Riverside Hotel, with plans to go see an illusionist’s widow performing his stage show afterward. Karen’s healed up from her previous effort to save Rapid City, they’ve moved from the Hôtel Ma Cherie to their own little homestead,... Read More

MONSTRESS 2: The Blood: Marjorie Liu has crafted a fascinating tale

MONSTRESS 2: The Blood by Marjorie Liu

As much as I enjoyed the first volume of Marjorie Liu's MONSTRESS , its second instalment (comprised of issues seven to twelve) is a vast improvement. The first volume was stuffed full of exposition and world-building and backstory, so much so that it was difficult to discern the actual plot. Granted, that made it exciting and complex, but I also had to read through it three times just to glean what was going on.

By contrast, Volume Two: The Blood has a much clearer arc, which allows the reader to better appreciate the characterization and story beats.

One-armed Maika Halfwolf is on the run from a number of powerful organizations looking to exploit the ancient monster that lives beneath her skin. Every now and then it manifests from her missing li... Read More

A Blade of Black Steel: The eye of the hurricane

A Blade of Black Steel by Alex Marshall

Alex Marshall‘s A Blade of Black Steel (2016), the sequel to A Crown for Cold Silver, continues turning the sword-and-sorcery genre on its head while displaying Marshall’s obvious love of both swords and sorcery. Character development is the key this time around, much to the enrichment of the novel itself and the series as a whole. But don’t get too complacent — the entire world may be coming to an end, after all.

Warning: there will be some mild spoilers for A Crown for Cold Silver.

Following the disastrous events at the end of A Crown for Cold Silver, Cobalt Zosia and four of her Five Villain... Read More

After Atlas: CSI: Future World

After Atlas by Emma Newman

Emma Newman’s After Atlas (2016) is the pseudo-sequel to her first sci-fi offering, Planetfall (2015). As Kat explained in her review, Planetfall 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. After Atlas takes place on Earth, almost 40 years after the ship left. No word has come from the colonists, but the world awaits the opening of a time capsule left behind by the crew.

Carmen left her husband and son Carlos on Earth after she qualified t... Read More

Cloudbound: A disappointingly muddled follow-up

Cloudbound by Fran Wilde

Cloudbound is Fran Wilde’s 2016 sequel to her debut novel Updraft, and if its predecessor was a mixed bag whose balance tipped toward the positive, albeit not as much as one would wish, Cloudbound doesn’t fare quite so successfully, with the needle pointing slightly more toward the negative. Thanks to a continuingly inventive world-building and a somewhat predictable but still intriguing ending, I’ll forge forward to book three, Horizon, but it’s a more grudging decision than I’d prefer.

Warning: there will be inevitable spoilers for book one, beginning with the next paragraph! I’m also going to assume you’ve read book one (you really need to have d... Read More

The Dinosaur Knight: Dinosaurs weren’t enough (somehow)

The Dinosaur Knights by Victor Milan

I’m always a bit iffy about reading a second book in a series whose first book I didn’t much care for, but I guess it’s the optimist in me that overrules my better judgment. Optimism, and the fact that while rare, occasionally the second book does reward that optimism. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for Victor Milan’s The Dinosaur Knights (2016). As I noted in the review of book one, The Dinosaur Lords, the pitch for the series is simple: Game of Thrones meets Jurassic Park. Simple and oh-so-alluring. Knights riding dinosaurs — what could possibly ruin that concept? Sadly, as also noted in that review, it turned out several things could, and that remains true in the... Read More

The Magician’s Key: An amenable Middle Grade fantasy

The Magician’s Key by Matthew Cody

I have to admit at the outset that I didn’t read Matthew Cody’s first book (The Peddler’s Road) in THE SECRETS OF THE PIED PIPER trilogy. But that turned out not to be much of an obstacle as Cody does a very efficient job early on of catching the returning reader up on the events of book one, so I never felt lost in what was happening. Obviously, I can’t comment on the quality of that first book, but book two is a solidly entertaining story in its own right, though not a complete one; readers will have to wait for the third book to conclude the tale. If you haven’t read book one either, fair warning that there will be some inevitable spoilers below.

Thanks to the concluding events of The Peddler’s Road, the brother-sister team at the story’s core have been split up: Carter is trapped on the Summe... Read More

Standard Hollywood Depravity: Killer-robot conceit succeeds in shorter format

Standard Hollywood Depravity by Adam Christopher

The very thing which makes Adam Christopher’s Ray Electromatic a compelling character — he’s a robot P.I.-turned-assassin for hire with a 24-hour memory — is simultaneously the best and most-frustrating thing about his RAY ELECTROMATIC series. When Christopher is restrained by the shorter word-counts of the novelette “Brisk Money” or this novella, Standard Hollywood Depravity (2017), there’s no room for unnecessary repetition or extraneous plot devices, and the “robot noir” at the heart of this series takes center stage.

Set between the full-length novels Read More

The Weight of the World: The galactic chess game continues

The Weight of the World by Tom Toner

Note: This review contains some spoilers for the previous book,  The Promise of the Child.

I finished The Promise of the Child, the first book in Tom Toner’s AMARANTHINE SPECTRUM space opera series, rather bewildered but game to continue the series by jumping into The Weight of the World (2017). Toner begins this second book in the series with a two page summary of what actually happened in The Promise of the Child, which is extremely helpful given the complexity of the events in that book. Then the story picks up right where it left o... Read More

A Closed and Common Orbit: A popular Hugo nominee that bored me

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

Warning: This review will contain a spoiler for the previous novel, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. It’s really impossible to talk about A Closed and Common Orbit without this spoiler. However, you don’t need to read The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet before reading A Closed and Common Orbit since this sequel focuses on two minor characters from the first book.

Becky Chambers’ debut novel The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is immensely popular but I didn’t like it. As I explained in Read More

Firebrand: Evil has many faces

Firebrand by A.J. Hartley

Firebrand (2017) is the second of A.J. Hartley’s STEEPLEJACK series, following shortly after 2016’s Steeplejack and continuing the story of Anglet Sutonga, a young woman with a very strong sense of justice and a knack for finding herself in trouble. Firebrand builds on the events of Steeplejack, and as a result, this review will contain very mild spoilers for Steeplejack.

Firebrand takes places three months after Steeplejack’s ending, providing enough time for Anglet’s life to undergo some alterations and for her friends Sureyna and Dahria to experience... Read More