2016.01


Breath of Earth: Alt-history and magic in a high-stakes adventure

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Breath of Earth by Beth Cato

Breath of Earth begins a new fantastical alternative-history series from Beth Cato, in which hydrogen-filled airships dot the skies, giant beasts in the ground cause earthquakes, and Teddy Roosevelt became an internationally-renowned Ambassador rather than the 26th U.S. President. (There’s also a nationally touring opera prominently featured in a side plot; if Lincoln isn’t a sly nod to a certain massively popular Tony-winning musical, I will eat my least-favorite hat.)

In an almost-recognizable San Francisco, a permanent establishment of geomancer wardens keeps the city and the surrounding countryside safe from tremors and other manifestations of magical energy. By absorbing the earth’s power and transferring it to crystals of a special mineral known as kermanite, the wardens all... Read More

Labyrinth Lost: Lots of imagination and a sense of family warmth

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova

Labyrinth Lost (2016) is the first in Zoraida Córdova’s BROOKLYN BRUJAS series.

Alejandra “Alex” Mortiz is the middle daughter of a Puerto Rican bruja (witch) family in Brooklyn. Alex has been trying to suppress her power for years, because she believes it was the reason her father left the family.

Her sixteenth birthday is approaching, however, and with it her Deathday ceremony, a coming-of-age ritual during which she will receive a blessing from her ancestors.

Alex casts a spell during the Deathday ceremony that she believes will permanently suppress her abilities; the ritual goes wrong, and Alex’s entire family is swallowed into the magical realm of Los Lagos. (This seems like it’s going to have an obvious moral of “her family was her strength all along,” but while there’s truth in that, ... Read More

Revenger: An entertaining YA space opera

Revenger by Alastair Reynolds

“If the Ness sisters had a brain cell between them, they’d be back in Mazarile, taking needlecraft lessons from a robot.”

Sisters Adrana and Fura Ness have run away from home, joining the crew of a spaceship captained by a man named Rackamore. Their job on the ship is to use a skull to listen in on chatter that gives them clues about things going on in the universe, such as the location of other ships, gossip, and information about “baubles” that are about to open. They relay these messages to the captain who takes the ship to a bauble so that others on the crew can enter it and collect ancient treasures before it closes again. Everyone on the ship apparently has some genetic affinity for their job.

What the sisters don’t know, before it’s too late, is that Captain Rackamore is being pursued by a pirate named Bosa who is the most feared person in space. She’s le... Read More

Rebel Genius: The start of a new imaginative trilogy

Rebel Genius by Michael Dante DiMartino

I'll admit that I picked this up from the library shelf because I knew the author was Michael Dante DiMartino, the co-creator of Avatar: The Last Airbender, one of the greatest animated shows of all time. Naturally I was curious to see what he would do in another storytelling format, and Rebel Genius (2016) certainly had a compelling blurb.

Young Giacomo Ghiberti lives in a world where artists — whether they're painters, sculptors or musicians — have bird-like creatures who help channel their creative powers. Called Geniuses, they're beautiful creatures, who provide inspiration and life-long companionship to their artists, but unfortunately they're also outlawed. The city of Virenzia is ruled over by the self-styled Supreme Creator Nerezza, who has decreed that anyone caught with a Genius should be executed.

That's how Gi... Read More

The Swarm: A longwinded build-up to an alien invasion

The Swarm by Orson Scott Card &  Aaron Johnston

Orson Scott Card's ENDERVERSE has grown to sixteen novels and counting, along with several novellas and short stories, since he published Ender’s Game in 1985 (or if you want to go back even further, since the original “Ender’s Game” short story was published in Analog magazine in 1977). Andrew Wiggin, or Ender, is the main character in only a few of these works; others focus on his brother Peter Wiggin, Ender’s protégé Bean, and other new or secondary characters from Ender’s Game. Which brings us to Mazer Rackham, the half-Māori war hero who plays a brief but pivotal role in Ender’s Game.

In 2012... Read More

Poe Dameron Vol. 1: Black Squadron: A better look at a STAR WARS favourite

Star Wars: Poe Dameron Vol. 1: Black Squadron by Charles Soule & Phil Noto

There’s so much STAR WARS-related content out there at the moment that it’s difficult to know what’s worthy of your time and energy and what isn’t. For those that are specifically interested in the latest STAR WARS sequel trilogy and the character of Poe Dameron (played by Oscar Isaac), then Charles Soule’s STAR WARS: POE DAMERON series of comics serves as a direct lead-up to The Force Awakens, gathering up characters and plot-strands that drive the 2015 film.

It’s been thirty years since the defeat of the Empire in The Return of the Jedi, but the First Order has slowly but surely risen to take its place. So far though, the threat it poses has not been recognized by the rest of the ga... Read More

Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, Volume 1 & Volume 2

Mostly Void, Partially Stars: Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, Volume 1
The Great Glowing Coils of the Universe: Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, Volume 2


by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor

Perhaps you’re familiar with the Welcome to Night Vale podcast, created in 2012 by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, which takes the form of twice-monthly, roughly-30-minute dispatches from the community radio station in a small, exceptionally weird and yet utterly normal desert town. If you haven’t listened to the podcast, now in its seventh year, perhaps you’ve read the stand-alone novels Welcome to Night Vale or It Devours!... Read More

The High Ground: Entertaining space opera

The High Ground by Melinda Snodgrass

In the far future, humans have expanded into the universe and left Old Earth behind. But some old institutions still remain: slavery, patriarchy, the Roman Catholic church, a hereditary monarchy, and an aristocracy that descended from today’s Fortune 500.

The current emperor has nine daughters and no sons. In order to keep the crown in his family, he changes the law to allow women to enter The High Ground, the military academy (required for ascension to the throne). Thus, his teenage daughter Mercedes, along with a couple of her retainers, will be the first women to enter The High Ground. Her father has charged her to become an officer and to find a military husband who will help her when she becomes empress.

On the other side of town, a very smart boy named Tracy, the son of the emperor’s tailor, has won a full scholarship to The High Ground. He doesn’t want to be a soldie... Read More

Demon: Volume 1: A dark and disturbing page-turner

Demon: Volume 1 by Jason Shiga

If you have a strong constitution and fifteen minutes to kill, you could do a lot worse than picking up Demon (2016), Jason Shiga’s graphic novel about a nihilistic suicidal actuary who finds a reason to go on living when he realizes he possesses the body of the person closest to him each time he kills himself.

His wife and daughter having died in a car accident, Jimmy Yee decides to end it all — only to find that his suicide attempts are thwarted each time by powers beyond his control.

The first half of the story involves him grappling to understand the rules of the new forces that govern his life, while the second sees him become the target of an elite military taskforce determined to contain him.

It's bloody, it's gory, it crosses the line more than a couple of times, but Jimmy's increasing lack of morality combined with ... Read More

Empress: So much action!

Empress by Mark Millar

Empress is another one of Mark Millar’s big-action comics. It’s about Earth’s first rulers, long ago, when apparently they had technology beyond anything we could imagine. The Empress, Emporia, lives with a terrible husband, King Morax, who is all-powerful and likes to express that power by killing his people for the smallest possible infraction. This story is about her escape from the misery of his company as she goes on the run with her family across the galaxy.

The story is fairly simple and lacks the complexity of Millar’s best work. Emporia’s bodyguard has agreed to help her escape along with her three kids, one of whom is a small baby. The action often involves monsters and other dangers, and the baby, Puck, frequently is thrown from his mother’s, brother’s, or sister’s arms as we watch what we assume will be his immediate death. At one point, he is thrown towa... Read More

The Voodoo Killings: Urban fantasy, zombie-style

The Voodoo Killings by Kristi Charish

Kincaid Strange is one of the two known remaining voodoo practitioners in Seattle. She’s had a hard time making end meet, ever since new laws went into effect restricting the raising of zombies. Permanent zombies ― called five-line zombies for the magical lines that anchor their four limbs and head to life ― are outlawed entirely; four-line temporary zombies (who are missing the magical line to the head) may be raised only under severely restricted circumstances. Temporary zombies are actually quite useful in resolving issues like murders and last will and testament disputes, but under the new laws that’s mostly forbidden as well.

Kincaid’s prior job as an independent consultant for the Seattle police department has ended as well; the new police chief is adamantly anti everything paranormal. So Kincaid gets by with the help of her roommate Nathan Cade, the ghost of a grunge rocker wh... Read More

The Cold Between: Pleasant but mundane space opera

The Cold Between by Elizabeth Bonesteel

The Cold Between is the first novel in Elizabeth Bonesteel’s CENTRAL CORPS trilogy. This military space opera focuses more on personal and romantic relationships than most in this genre do. I’m tempted to call it romantic military space opera. The publisher compares Elizabeth Bonesteel’s work to that of Elizabeth Moon and Lois McMaster Bujold. I have read both of those authors’ space operas and I can say that this comparison is inaccurate. Bonesteel is writing for the same audience, but doesn’t quite make it in this debut novel.

The prologue of The Cold Between takes place 25 years before the events of the trilogy and briefly introduces us to Kate and her colleagu... Read More

THE CORPORATION WARS: Dissidence, Insurgence, Emergence

THE CORPORATION WARS by Ken MacLeod

My preference is to review the books in a series Individually, but I find myself so busy at the moment that I don't have much time for writing reviews. And in the case of THE CORPORATION WARS by Ken MacLeod, I don't feel that there's much distinction between the individual novels and it makes sense to review the series as a whole.

THE CORPORATION WARS is a trilogy that consists of the books Dissidence, Insurgence, and Emergence. The story is set in the far future when Earth-based prospecting corporations vie for interstellar resources and use robots, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality two mine planets and fight wars.

At the beginning of book 1, Dissidence, w... Read More

Mighty Jack: Exciting action and sensitive presentation of theme and character

Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke

Mighty Jack (2016) is YA/MG graphic story by Ben Hatke, author of the ZITA THE SPACEGIRL trilogy (highly recommended. btw). Here Hatke has a lot of fun with the Jack and the Beanstalk fairytale, though fair to say you’ve probably not seen a version like this.

Mighty Jack is set in modern times, with Jack the young son of a hard-working single mother. His little sister Maddy doesn’t talk (she’s presented as on the autistic spectrum), at least, she didn’t until one day at the local flea market when she prods Jack to trade the family car for a box of seeds from a strange individual. As one might imagine, mom is none too thrilled when she hears about this, and after filling out a stolen car report with the police (their car is later found several counties... Read More

Paternus: Rise of Gods: All the myths ever, stuffed into a speeding blender

Paternus: Rise of Gods by Dyrk Ashton

Paternus: Rise of Gods (2016) is described in the first line of its Amazon page as being “American Gods meets the X-Men,” which isn’t a bad five-and-a-hyphen word summary, really. By the time you get to “Sumerian/Akkadian/Greek/Aztec/Norse/etc./etc./etc., gods are really all the same people and they’re the children of a guy who’s like Ego from Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2,” you’ve more than lost in brevity and wit what you’ve made up for in accuracy. Still, gaining in accuracy is worth something, and since I have more than five words of space available, well, that’s my one-sentence summary of the background of the book. The central conceit of the story is that the divine figures of human history are the children of the Paternus of the title and females o... Read More

Age of Myth: Well-wrought prequel to the RIYRIA fantasy series

 



Age of Myth by Michael J. Sullivan

With Age of Myth, Michael J. Sullivan begins a prequel series to his RIYRIA CHRONICLES and RIYRIA REVELATIONS series. The good news for newcomers to his books is that, since this series takes place about 3,000 years earlier, you don't need to be familiar with either of those series or the world of Elan to enjoy this new LEGENDS OF THE FIRST EMPIRE series, so I was in good shape. I know pretty much zero about the other Riyria books, except that many epic fantasy fans are very enthusiastic about them, but I really enjoyed Age of Myth and am anxious to start the next book in this series, Age of Swords, which will be published July 25, 2017. Read More

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart: A delicious blend of adventure and chocolate

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis

A young, golden-eyed dragon named Aventurine is chafing at the restrictions her family has placed on her: dragons aren't allowed outside of the caverns until they're 40 or 50 years old, when their wings are strong enough for flight and their scales have hardened enough to protect them against arrows and swords. Aventurine's mother encourages her to "find her passion" in studying history, math or philosophy, but Aventurine just wants to go explore and be free. How can she not, with a name like Aventurine?

So one day she sneaks out of their caverns. When she finds a stray human on their mountain she thinks she's in luck: bringing a delicious human back to the cavern will surely impress her family! The human is suitably terrified of her and Aventurine is about to pounce when … wait ... what's that delicious-smelling food he’s cooking? It’s hot chocolate, which Aventurine has... Read More

Scythe: Killing with (or without) kindness

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

I’m unfamiliar with Neal Shusterman’s other novels and his work on television shows like Animorphs and Goosebumps, but simply based on what I enjoyed about Scythe (2016) and considering that it was nominated for the Printz Award in 2017, I feel confident in saying that he knows how to write for his audience while throwing in some interesting curveballs that keep this novel, the first in a dystopian YA trilogy, from feeling like a rubber-stamp duplication of every mediocre example of that genre.

Scythe sets up a future world in which humanity no longer fears aging, disease, famine, or war — we have eliminated our worst foes and national boundaries, and now, basic needs are met by a powerful global A.I. known as Thunderhead. (Modern cloud storage turned up to 11, basically.) Thunderhead governs and watches over near... Read More

Paper Girls (Vol 1) by Brian K Vaughan

Paper Girls (Vol 1) by Brian K Vaughan (writer) and Cliff Chiang (artist)

If you are a fan of Brian K. Vaughan’s amazing Saga comic series, you are likely to want to check out some of his other series as well. In addition to writing many stories for Marvel and DC comics’s well-known franchises, he has also written a number of original series, including Y: The Last Man, Ex Machine, Runaways, and Paper Girls. For Paper Girls, I rally liked the cover artwork by Cliff Chiang, coloring by Matt Wilson, and lettering by Jared Fletcher.

Paper Girls has been likened to a female version of Stranger Things, and while there is some superficial r... Read More

Altered Starscape: Military SF with a smorgasbord of imaginative physics

Altered Starscape by Ian Douglas

Altered Starscape (2016) has its jumping off point (literally) in the year 2162. Humanity has been in contact with other galactic races for thirty-eight years, and still feels itself at a disadvantage in comparison with the many more advanced races. Earth’s government has entered into an alliance with some of those alien civilizations, receiving FTL travel capabilities, fusion power and other advanced technology in return for promised assistance in a vaguely understood alien war. Now the massive colony starship Tellus Ad Astra (“Earth to the stars”), carrying over a million people and AIs, is traveling to the Galactic Core on a cultural union mission.

The mission gets ripped off course when catastrophe strikes, resulting in the starship’s encountering the powerful black hole at the Galactic Core. When the dust settles, Commander Grayson St. Clair and the ... Read More

Son of the Black Sword: Lots of fun, but should’ve started later

Son of the Black Sword by Larry Correia

J.R.R. Tolkien. Michael Moorcock. Lloyd Alexander. Brandon Sanderson. Steven Erikson. Terry Brooks. What do all of these authors have in common? Well, all of them wrote about The Black Sword™. Ah, but what, you ask, is The Black Sword™? Well, The Black Sword™ is a double-edged weapon which happens to be jet black and very magical. Generally, it is also a good bit chattier and/or more judgmental than one might expect out of the average inanimate object, a... Read More

The Courier: Nice action sequences but unconvincing world building

The Courier by Gerald Brandt

The Courier (2016) was recommended to me by a bookseller. She hadn’t read it herself yet. It was recommended to her by a friend, she said, who said it was YA and “kind of like William Gibson.” My first impulse in rating this book was to base my rating on the gap between the “William Gibson” statement and my experience of the book. If I had done that, this would be a 2-star review. That would not be fair. Nothing on the cover or interior review snippets compares this book to Gibson.

I am going to review The Courier based on the story I think Gerald Brandt was trying to tell. Although it has a youthful protagonist, the book is marketed as cyberpunk or post-apocalyptic fiction. YA or not, I think this is a book that would appeal mainly to teens. Read More

The Summoned Mage: Diary of a misplaced mage

The Summoned Mage by Melissa McShane

Editor's note: At the time we are posting this review, this  99c at Amazon.

The Summoned Mage (2017) is the diary of Sesskia, a 27 year old thief and secret mage: secret because being a mage is viewed as an executable offense in her country of Balaen. But her magical powers have saved Sesskia’s life before, and in any case are a part of her very self that are both exhilarating and terrifying. So Sesskia wanders from place to place, seeking new magic spells (called pouvrin) and leaving clues behind her for other mages. So far Sesskia has gathered pouvrin for summoning fire and water, seeing through things, walking through walls, and moving objects with her mind.

Then one morning she is suddenly and magically hauled into a strange new world, where she recognizes no one and nothing. It soon becomes apparent ... Read More

Joe Golem: Occult Detective by Mike Mignola & Christopher Golden

Joe Golem: Occult Detective by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden blends the private eye genre with the golem legend and takes place in a future world in which part of New York is under water and people get around by boats, makeshift bridges, and unstable-looking planks. This first Joe Golem trade includes two stories — one three issues long and the other two issues. However, they are connected as Joe meets a young woman in the first story (Lori Noonan), and we see her again in the second, and Joe’s character develops from one tale to the next. The Joe Golem stories spin out of an illustrated novel by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden entitled Joe Golem and the Drowning City; however, I have not read this novel, and the ... Read More

Borderline: A diverse cast of characters and respectful treatment of mental illness

Borderline by Mishell Baker

In the first installment of Mishell Baker’s THE ARCADIA PROJECT series we are introduced to Millie, whose borderline personality disorder at least partly explains the title of the book. Borderline (2016) follows Millie as she is pulled into The Arcadia Project, an organization that monitors and secures the comings and goings between the world of humans and the world of mythological, fairy tale creatures. Millie’s first assignment with The Arcadia Project has her tracking down an A-list movie star who is actually a denizen of that other world, and an important one at that. Millie must balance her mental health, her physical capabilities, and a dozen new acquaintances in order to manage this new life.

The magic in Borderline centres on the presence and activities of the fairy tale creatures that make their way to the... Read More