2017.01


All Systems Red: We love this introverted killing machine

Reposting to include Jana's new review.

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

The narrator of All Systems Red (2017), the 2017 Nebula award-winning novella by Martha Wells, is a once-nameless cyborg security unit or SecUnit that has given itself the name Murderbot (for reasons disclosed midway through the story). Using its own unprecedented and highly unauthorized initiative, Murderbot has hacked the governor module software that controls its actions and obligates it to be obedient. But instead of going on a killing spree, as one might expect given the name it adopted, Murderbot elects to spend its spare hours watching countless hours of video entertainment and trying not to interact more than is necessary with the group of eight humans that it’s responsible for protecting, a survey group of eight scientists cal... Read More

The Wizards of Once: A rock-solid premise

The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell

What caught my attention with The Wizards of Once (2017) was the opening paragraph, which describes the forests of ancient Britain thusly:

These were forests darker than you would believe possible, darker than inkspots, darker than midnight, darker than space itself, and as twisted and as tangled as a Witch’s heart.

Who wouldn’t want to read a story set in such a place? The hook continues with an introduction to the two main characters: a boy from a wizard tribe with no magic, and a girl from a warrior tribe with a banned magical object. The boy Xar is desperate for magic, and the girl Wish is just as determined to keep hers a secret.

Naturally their paths will cross, and it should come as no surprise to learn that because their respective tribes have been at war for so long, they don’t exactly get off on the righ... Read More

The Empire’s Ghost: A solid start

The Empire’s Ghost by Isabelle Steiger

The Empire’s Ghost (2017) is the first novel in Isabelle Steiger’s PATHS OF LANTISTYNE series. I was sent book two to review and while I don’t often review books whose predecessors I haven’t read, The Rightful Queen looked intriguing enough that I went back and read The Empire’s Ghost.

Long ago, the empire of Elesthene encompassed the entire continent. But the Empire, as empires are wont to do, eventually faded, along with magic, into mere legend, and the continent is fractured into several kingdoms. But now, Elgar, the Imperator of one such kingdom (Hallarnon), home to the Empire’s old capital of Valyanrend, seeks to bind the continent under one-person rule again, waging war via armies and other means against the other kingdoms.

Arrayed against him (bea... Read More

Dark Lord of the Sith Vol. 1: Imperial Machine: Vader’s early years

Dark Lord of the Sith Vol. 1: Imperial Machine by Charles Soule & Jim Cheung

Although Charles Soule’s DARTH VADER: DARK LORD OF THE SITH was released after Kieron Gillen’s DARTH VADER, it’s chronologically set several years before, in what is almost the immediate aftermath of The Revenge of the Sith (whereas Gillen’s story was set after the destruction of the Death Star in A New Hope).

So the character featured here is a “young” Vader, one still getting used to his new body, title and role in the fledging Empire. Heck, things kick off when he’s literally still in the laboratory where he learns of Padme’s fate.

As such, Dark Lord of the Sith Vol. 1: Imperial Machine is not a portrayal of Vader at the height of his ... Read More

Witchy Eye: A creative alternate history

Witchy Eye by D.J. Butler

D.J. Butler’s Witchy Eye (2017), the first book in his WITCHY EYE series, is an alternate history set in a 19th century United States that’s almost unrecognizable.

In Appalachia, a scrawny teenager named Sarah Calhoun is being raised by her grandfather. Her most notable features are her razor-sharp wit, her willingness to stand up for herself and others, and her eye which is swollen shut and looks gross. Sarah’s life is turned upside down when a priest and his minions attempt to kidnap her. She’s saved by a travelling monk who tells Sarah the secret of who she really is. To avoid the bad guys who are trying to capture her, she sets off with the monk and Calvin, her devoted cousin, to claim her destiny.

Butler’s alternate world is creative. Americans are ... Read More

Batgirl Vol. 1: Beyond Burnside (Rebirth): Batgirl visits Japan

Batgirl Vol. 1: Beyond Burnside (Rebirth) by Hope Larson & Rafael Albuquerque

Now is the right time to admit that I don't read many DC comics — or many comics, period. I jumped straight into this series without any context of Barbara Gordon's life or background, beyond the general basics of the character. (For instance, I know she's the daughter of Commissioner Gordon and spent some time in a wheelchair, but I have no idea how she regained the use of her legs, or who Frankie is).

So how does this story hold up for someone with just a tenuous understanding of Batgirl? Pretty good.

Barbara is on holiday in Japan, catching up with her old friend Kai, enjoying the sights, and hoping to interview Chiyo Yamashiro, a one hundred and four year old superhero known as Fruit Bat.

But of course, events transpire that disrupt her holiday groove. Criminals adept in a range of martial arts are in pursuit of so... Read More

A Plague of Giants: Epic fantasy with a modern sensibility

A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne

Displaying his versatility, Kevin Hearne turns his pen to epic fantasy in A Plague of Giants (2017), the first novel in his SEVEN KENNINGS series. It follows a large cast of characters who live in different kingdoms on a continent that has just been invaded by a race of strange-looking people who are tall, thin and white-skinned. These Bone Giants, as they come to be called, came from across the water in ships and landed in several seaside towns. Except for the one place where they were mostly destroyed by a woman whose “kenning” allowed her to control the river and prevent the landing, the Bone Giants have sacked the towns and killed all the people who lived there. They speak a different language and seem uninterested in peaceful coexistence. Why have they come and what do they want?
Read More

Terminal Alliance: Janitors to the rescue!

Terminal Alliance by Jim C. Hines

The people remaining on a devastated Earth have been turned into zombies by a virus accidentally unleashed by one of their own scientists. Fortunately for some humans, a race of aliens known as the Krakau have figured out how to genetically engineer humans without the virus. Thus, about 10,000 humans still live, but rather than return to Earth to be cannibalized by their own species, they choose to work for the Krakau who saved them. The Krakau are benevolent overlords; they have even preserved the records of as much of Earth’s civilization as they could so that their human fosterlings can have their own culture.

One of these humans is Marion “Mops” Adamopoulos who leads a team of janitors on one of the Krakau spaceships. When the ship is attacked by the Podryans, an aggressive alien species, a series of mishaps incapacitates their Krakau leaders and leaves Mops in charge of the ship. With h... Read More

Strange Practice: Great premise, bland plot

Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw

Greta Helsing, a 34 year old doctor, has a discreet medical practice in modern London. Her life’s mission is to study, help, and heal all of the supernatural creatures that most of the world is unaware of and would view as monsters if they did learn about them. As you might expect, this gets her into all sorts of weird situations that have been documented in Vivian Shaw’s DR GRETA HELSING series.

In this opening volume, we meet a couple of Greta’s best friends: Lord Ruthven, an ancient vampire who lives in a large gracious mansion in London, and Fastitocalon, a math-loving accountant’s assistant with COPD who can read minds and happens to be a demon.

When a brooding guilt-ridden vampyre named Sir Francis Varney (of the penny-dreadful called Varney the Vampyre) show... Read More

The Queen’s Gambit: Short, fast, fun, and sexy

The Queen's Gambit by Jessie Mihalik

I’m surprised by how much I enjoyed The Queen's Gambit (2017), the first novella in Jessie Mihalik’s ROGUE QUEEN series. It’s about Samara, the queen of a nation that stayed independent in a war between two powerful galactic empires. But, without allies to trade with, the people of Queen Samara’s Rogue Coalition are practically starving.

To earn some money for her country, Samara decides to attempt to rescue emperor Valentin Kos from the Quint mercenaries who are holding him captive, and then to collect a reward from the Kos Empire for his safe return. Things are going as planned until Samara is sold out by her partner. Now she’s in just as much trouble as the emperor is…


The Queen's Gambit
is short, fa... Read More

Pawn: Not much to like

Pawn by Timothy Zahn

Nicole has been running with the wrong crowd. One day she wakes up, hungover as usual, in some guy’s apartment. A street thug named Bungie is kicking her, demanding that she drive him to the hospital because he’s about to bleed out. In the hospital’s parking lot, Bungie and Nicole attempt to kidnap a young doctor named Sam when two wispy creatures with butterfly wings approach and take all three of the humans to a huge spaceship called the Fyrantha.

On the ship, Nicole is told that she is a sybil, someone who can listen to the Fyrantha and direct the maintenance crews to make needed repairs. All she has to do is inhale a drug that gives her access to the ship’s mind. After Nicole adjusts to the routine she begins to appreciate being safe and well-fed, having an important job to do, being relied upon, having a purpose in life, and maybe even making some real friends. It’s a lot bette... Read More

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: The Serpent’s Heir: A fun adventure

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: The Serpent's Heir by Dean DeBlois, Richard Hamilton, & Doug Wheatley

This graphic novel takes place shortly after the events of the film How to Train Your Dragon 2, which finds Hiccup as the new chief of Berk in the wake of his father's death. Amidst the rebuilding of the village, the suspicious nature of Berk citizens at the presence of outsiders, and the ongoing training of new dragons, it's a struggle for Hiccup to adjust to his new role as leader.

So when an envoy named Calder arrives from the island of Nephenthe, Hiccup jumps at the chance to take some time off. Along with Toothless, Astrid, Fishlegs, Snotlout, Eret, the twins and his mother, he travels to Nephenthe at the behest of King Mikkel the Munificent to investigate strange tremors across his island.

If you're a fan of the How to Train Your Dragon films or animated television show, then there's nothing in... Read More

Clockwork Boys: A company of strangers begins a suicide mission

Clockwork Boys by T. Kingfisher

The plot of T. Kingfisher’s Clockwork Boys (2017) is of the “misfit company of strangers on a dangerous mission” type. Their country has been invaded by the so-called Clockwork Boys, nearly unstoppable, 10-foot-tall centaur-like creatures who are laying waste to the countryside. (I like the allusion to the out-of-control gang of boys in A Clockwork Orange.) The Dowager Queen has previously sent soldiers and spies to distant Anuket City, from which the Clockwork Boys regularly emerge, to investigate and try to stop these artificially created creatures, but these prior groups have all disappeared without a trace. So the Dowager has now landed on the idea of sending a group of criminals, perhaps with t... Read More

Seventh Decimate: A sorely disappointing experience

Seventh Decimate by Stephen R. Donaldson

Seventh Decimate (2017) is the first book of Stephen R. Donaldson’s newest series, THE GREAT GOD’S WAR. The story centers on two nations that have been locked for generations in devastating warfare, each having their own version of how the war began. Amika has all the advantages: size, money, population, trading partners, more wielders of magical forces (“decimates”), against the smaller, land-locked, more beleaguered Belleger.

The story, though, opens up with a potential turning point — Belleger’s discovery of how to use the decimate of fire to manufacture rifles and thus kill magisters at a distance. It’s enough to force yet another stalemate, but before they can make enough to truly turn the tide, Belleger... Read More

Spellslinger: A YA novel full of magic, cons, and card tricks

Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell

Spellslinger sounded right up my street — a young adult novel full of magic, cons, card tricks and a plucky underdog. If it didn’t live up to my high hopes I blame the misleading words emblazoned on the back cover that read “Magic Is A Con” — an enticing promise that isn’t delivered because, well, magic turns out not to be a con. Nevertheless, while it wasn’t the story I expected, Spellslinger is an enjoyable romp in its own way.

Kellen and his classmates are all set to complete the trials that will secure their future as “Jan’tep” — a magical people who wield five pillars of magic — breath, iron, silk, blood, ember and sand. If they fail the trials they will be forced to live out their lives as “Sha’tep”, an under-class destined to serve through manual labour. The only problem is, Kellen has lost his magic. Howev... Read More

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter: We like it

Reposting to include Skye's new review.

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss

In The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter (2017), Theodora Goss has created something really exciting and rewarding: a novel that pays homage to the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century works of speculative fiction which inform every standard the modern incarnation of the genre is judged by, and yet stands on its own as a twenty-first century creation.

The epigraph — “Here be monsters” — and a subsequent recorded exchange between Mary and Catherine set the scene: The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter is a collaborative effort, though by whom and for what purpose is not immediately plain. First we are introduced to Mary Jekyll, recently orphane... Read More

Kingdom of Exiles: Fae fantasy and sentimentality

Kingdom of Exiles by S.B. Nova

Here we have the tale of Serena Smith, blacksmith’s daughter exiled from her puritan-like settlement and then kidnapped by fairies and sold in the Kingdom of Aldar, which has much worse political problems than the oppressive community from which she’s taken. The difference is, she finds a way of making a difference — a thing she could not do in her human home.

I feel like this kind of fairy story is a bit at war with itself. Kingdom of Exiles (2017) bills as a feminist tale and means to make Serena fierce and self-actualizing, but there are at least as many times when the story can’t be served by this kind of persona and it falls into sharp conflict with its own ideals. Women ought to be playing heroic roles, but human power is never as good as fairy power in this story. When humans are amplified with magic, we’re again, not talking about feminine power. What is it... Read More

The City of Brass: A dream of djinni

The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

Nahri, a young woman living alone in 18th century Cairo, gets by doing minor cons, fake healing rituals and a little theft. She knows nothing about her parents or heritage but, in addition to being able to diagnose disease in others with a glance and occasionally truly heal them, her own body automatically heals of injuries almost instantly and she has the magical ability to understand ― and speak ― any language.

Nahri's life gets upended when she accidentally summons Darayavahoush, a fiery, handsome djinn warrior, to her side while performing a sham healing ceremony. After he gets over his murderous rage at being involuntarily summoned, Dara saves Nahri from murderous ifrit and ghouls who have become aware of Nahri and her abilities. Dara quickly enchants a magic carpet and, dragging along the reluctant Nahri, he flees with her toward Daevabad, the legendary city of brass inhabited by mag... Read More

The Book of Never Vol 1 – 3: A stranger on a mysterious quest…

The Book of Never Volumes 1 – 3 by Ashley Capes

Never is a man with a magical gift and a history that's as mysterious as his name. Hunted by the soldiers of ruthless Commander Harstas, Never is known for having blood with an usual trait: every time it mingles with that of another person (usually in combat situations), he takes on their memories, personality, and — at the start of this story — any illnesses they might carry.

Now struck with a strange fever that he can't seem to break, Never's ongoing quest to find answers to his condition and his past is endangered by the vulnerable state he finds himself in.

Teaming up with some companions that promise a cure (but who may or may not be trustworthy) the story is divided into five distinct parts (or novellas) which can be purchased separately or in collected editions. Since I've read the first three, “The Amber isle”, “A Forest of Eyes”, and “River God... Read More

La Belle Sauvage: Our different opinions

La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

I always find it a little nerve-wracking when an author returns to a successful series after a long time away. There's always the fear, for me at least, that one of two things is going to happen: either the author will be nostalgic about the original work to the extent that s/he makes the new book into a fawning tribute without substance, or the author will have changed enough in the time between installments that the magic is just gone. I'm happy to say, though, that Philip Pullman's new novel dispels both of those fears. La Belle Sauvage (2017) is, though not quite as much a game-changer as The Golden Compass, still a fantastic novel in its own right and a great opener to THE BOOK OF DUST Read More

The Tiger’s Daughter: Give it a shot

The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera

When I picked up The Tiger’s Daughter (2017), I didn’t know what I was getting into. Written as a long, dramatic letter between two old friends, it is an epic tale of loss, faith, political intrigue, and forbidden love. The Tiger’s Daughter is the debut novel from K. Arsenault Rivera, and set to be the first book in the series titled THEIR BRIGHT ASCENDENCY. The Tiger’s Daughter wends its way from the first time our heroes meet, over their entire lives, and up to the present — where one friend, the empress O-Shizuka, is reading said letter (the letter itself being the bulk of the book) from the other, Barsalayaa Shefali. Both are heirs to very different thrones and handle that knowledge differently — as befit their starkly different upbringings and wider global status. They are ... Read More

Sufficiently Advanced Magic: Amazing LitRPG world that hijacks the plot line

Sufficiently Advanced Magic by Andrew Rowe

Sufficiently Advanced Magic (2017) took 2nd place in SPFBO 3, which wrapped up last week. The book is a strong addition to the highly popularized LitRPG subgenre, though Rowe avows it is not strictly LitRPG. I am not a follower of the subgenre, but this book has enjoyed such runaway popularity over the past year, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

Introducing Corin Cadence, resident of a world where people can earn magical enchantments by progressing through magic towers where they encounter tests of strength, judgment and combat skill. If all goes well, the goddess grants the challenger an attunement, including a magical skill, and safe exit of the tower. If all goes poorly, challengers die ... get lost ... imprisoned ... or some other unpleasantness.

Corin’s primary motive in life is to enter The Serpent Spire, achieve an attunement (... Read More

Winter Tide: Great premise, but it drags

Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys

I love the premise of Winter Tide. It's about a sister and brother (Aphra and Caleb Marsh) who were living in Innsmouth when it was invaded by the U.S. government in 1928 (a fictional town and event created by H.P. Lovecraft). The Marshes and their neighbors were descendants, and worshipers, of the Great Old Ones…. you know, like Dagon and Cthulhu. Paranoid, the government sent them to detention camps, keeping them there until the Japanese-Americans were released from the camps in 1946. Away from the ocean and their gods, only siblings Aphra and Caleb survived the experience.

Now the government wants their help. The cold war has begun and there is some intel suggesting the Russians are trying to gain access to eldritch secrets, particularly the magic that could allow someone to switch into another perso... Read More

Kings of the Wyld: Getting the band back together

Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames

When Clay Cooper returns home from work to find his old friend, Gabriel, waiting on him, he knows something is wrong. He learns that Gabe's headstrong daughter has run off to be a mercenary and ended up in a city besieged by an overwhelming horde of monsters. Gabe is now desperate to get their "band," Saga, back together and go save her. Saga used to be the most famous mercenary band ever. Tales of Slowhand Clay, Golden Gabe, Arcandius Moog, Matrick Skulldrummer, and Ganelon are still told in the pubs throughout the kingdom to this day.

However, that was many years ago, and they're no longer the young men they used to be. Clay, in particular, has happily retired to a quiet life in the country with his wife and daughter. So, with great reluctance Clay turns his best friend down. But later, when Clay's nine-year daughter, Tally, asks,"…But you would come if it was me, right Daddy? If I was trapp... Read More

Senlin Ascends: Bizarre and delightful

Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft

Two years ago when we were involved with Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off, Senlin Ascends (2017) was one of the books that didn't make it to the final round (so we didn’t get to read it then). But Mark Lawrence read it, started talking about it on the internet, and it got picked up by Orbit Books. Hachette, the parent company of Orbit Books, just recently produced it in audio format and sent me a copy.

Thomas Senlin is a stuffy schoolmaster from a small town who just got married and is on his way with Marya, his new bride, to The Tower of Babel, a strange structure that ascends hundreds of feet in the air and whose top (if there is one) is obscured by clouds. Thomas has read all about the enigmatic tower in a guidebook whic... Read More