2017.02


Twice Magic: A strong follow-up to the first story

Twice Magic by Cressida Cowell

The second book in Cressida Cowell's WIZARDS OF ONCE series does everything a good sequel should: expand the world, develop the characters, and deepen the story. As we discovered in The Wizards of Once, Ancient Britain is inhabited by two distinct races: the Wizards, who live among the magical creatures of the forest, and the Warriors, who are armed with iron weapons, the only metal that can repel magic.

In the first book, we met Xar and Wish, two young people who've grown up on each side of this conflict. Xar is the rather arrogant and vainglorious youngest son of the King Wizard, Encanzo, while Wish is the more introspective and sweet-natured daughter of Queen Sychorax, leader of the Warriors. Read More

Artificial Condition: Murderbot’s search for answers

Reposting to include Jana's new review.

Artificial Condition by Martha Wells

The illicit adventures of Murderbot continue in Artificial Condition (2018), the terrific sequel to Martha Wells’ 2017 Nebula award-winning novella, All Systems Red. Murderbot, a deeply introverted cyborg security unit, or SecUnit, who previously hacked the governor software that forced obedience to human commands, has illegally gone off the grid, eschewing the safety of a mostly-free life with a sympathetic owner in order to travel on its own. Disguising itself as an augmented human, Murderbot takes off for the mining facility space station where, it understands, it once murdered a group of humans that it was charged with protecting, tho... Read More

Silence of the Soleri: Stopped halfway through

Silence of the Soleri by Michael Johnston

I gave a 2½-star rating for Michael Johnston’s Soleri, and was hoping to see some improvement in the sequel, Silence of the Soleri (2021). Unfortunately, the book tipped in the other direction, so much so that I gave up at the halfway point. As usual with DNF reviews, this will be brief.

The problems here were pretty much the same as I noted in my review of book one. Characterization was thin, prose was only adequate, plotting felt scattershot and unbalanced. Several scenes I wasn’t sure of the point.

And worse here than in book one was the logistics — multiple times I had no idea how settings related to one another, how many people were inv... Read More

The Rightful Queen: An improvement over the first book

The Rightful Queen by Isabelle Steiger

The Rightful Queen (2020) is the sequel to 2017’s The Empire’s Ghost and the second in Isabelle Steiger’s PATHS OF LANTISTYNE series. It continues the story of the many aristocrats and commoners who oppose Imperator Elgar, who is trying to reunite the old Elesthene empire under his own rule.

The Empire’s Ghost was solid, smoothly written, and intriguing, but the characters were a bit thin and I didn’t feel compelled to devour the book quickly.

Some of these issues remain in the sequel. We learn more about the characters, but I can’t say they felt deeper or more wholly realized. The revelations are more straightforward and often a bit more bluntly revealed than I prefer, and also can be predictable, whet... Read More

Dark Lord of the Sith Vol. 2: Legacy’s End: Vader hunts a familiar face

Dark Lord of the Sith Vol. 2: Legacy's End by Charles Soule & Giuseppe Camuncoli

Charles Soule’s DARTH VADER comics explore the character’s thoughts, decisions and actions in the immediate aftermath of The Revenge of the Sith, in which the Empire is still consolidating its power and Vader himself grappling with his new identity as the Emperor’s apprentice.

This volume sees him training the Inquisitors (which featured so heavily in the first two seasons of Star Wars Rebels), an elite team of former Jedi who are now tasked with finding and killing any survivors of Order 66. Among the target list that’s assigned to them, one name in particular stands out…

Legacy’s End spotlights a character I never thought we’d learn more about: Jocasta Nu. You know, th... Read More

Creatures of Want and Ruin: A sheer pulpy delight

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Creatures of Want and Ruin by Molly Tanzer

At first glance, based on the title and cover art, Molly Tanzer’s Creatures of Want and Ruin (2018) looks and sounds like it’s a sequel to her earlier novel Creatures of Will and Temper, but it’s not. The stories have different characters and settings, so I’m going to treat Creatures of Want and Ruin as a stand-alone novel.

During prohibition, Ellie West is a bootlegger in Amityville, a village on New York’s Long Island. Due to her father’s declining health and inability to work at his trade as a fisherman, her family struggles to make ends meet but is unwilling to ac... Read More

Jade War: An Asian-inspired mob drama

Jade War by Fonda LeeJade War (2019) is the second book in Fonda Lee’s GREEN BONE SAGA series and a finalist for the 2020 Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel. It follows Jade City, which won the World Fantasy Award, and which you’ll need to read first (this review will contain some mild spoilers for that novel). Jade War picks up a year after the dramatic events of Jade City. Hilo and Shae are trying to keep the Kaul clan’s empire together on the island of Kekon but there are ... Read More

The Iron Flower: Battling bigotry and oppression

The Iron Flower by Laurie Forest

When Laurie Forest’s debut YA fantasy novel The Black Witch was published in 2017, there was a massive explosion of outrage in the Twitterverse and elsewhere online. Accusations of various types of prejudice — racism (albeit based on fantasy races), homophobia, white saviorism, ableism, lookism and more — were hurled against it. In my opinion those charges were unfair and based on a superficial reading of the text, missing the fact that the main character’s prejudices were clearly being shown as unthinking bias and bigotry, and in fact she does very gradually change her thinking over the course of the book. Still, I’m sure it was stressful for the author, so my assumption going into this sequel was that Forest likely prob... Read More

Batgirl Vol. 2: Son of Penguin (Rebirth): Batgirl versus the Penguin’s son

Batgirl Vol. 2: Son of Penguin (Rebirth) by Hope Larson & Christian Wildgoose

At the end of Volume One of Hope Larson's take on Batgirl, a new face had arrived in Burnside, Gotham, who answered to the name "Cobblepot" at the airport.

Turns out he's Ethan Cobblepot, son of the Penguin, though has never had any kind of close relationship with his father. He's handsome and clever, and wants to improve the world through technology, launching a variety of apps to ensure public safety. Barbara is charmed, and agrees to go on a date with him — though given the spate of tech-related crime happening in the area, she does have an ulterior motive in spending time with him.

The interesting thing about this series is that it doesn't just deal with big, bombastic, supervillain crimes, but issues such as homelessness, gentrification an... Read More

A Blight of Blackwings: Deploy the tactical moths

A Blight of Blackwings by Kevin Hearne

A Blight of Blackwings is the second novel in Kevin Hearne’s SEVEN KENNINGS series, following A Plague of Giants which you’ll need to read first because this novel jumps in right where the first one left off. Hearne uses the same structure and frame story, with Fintan the bard using a magical device to turn himself into the image of each point-of-view character.

At the end of A Plague of Giants, the bard dropped a bombshell on the crowd listening to his story, informing them that there’s a traitor in their midst -- someone working with the invading Bone Giants. The crowd is angry at the unknown traitor, and they also realize that their ruler must know ... Read More

Terminal Uprising: Janitors save the day again

Terminal Uprising by Jim C. Hines

Terminal Uprising (2019) is the second novel in Jim C. HinesJANITORS OF THE POST-APOCALYPSE series. It follows Terminal Alliance, which should be read first. There you’ll meet “Mops” Adamopoulos, the boss of a human janitorial crew that works for the Krakau aliens. These friendly aliens saved humanity by genetically engineering thousands of humans after the Earth was ravaged by a virus that turned everyone into zombies.

It’s been a few months since Mops and her crew found themselves accidentally in charge of the spaceship Pufferfish. They had quite an adventure and they discovered a secret about their benign Krakau hosts and about what might have caused ... Read More

The Secret Commonwealth: It’s complicated

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman (Ray  Jana)

With the release of La Belle Sauvage, readers were finally able to return to the universe of Philip Pullman's HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy after a seventeen year wait. The story was a prequel to the original trilogy (though Pullman described the new series not as a sequel, but an 'equel.') Being only a baby, it was not Lyra who took centre stage in that novel, but a young boy called Malcolm Polstead, who used his boat La Belle Sauvage to rescue Lyra from a terrible flood and an even more terrible man in pursuit.

Now in the latest addition to the series, The Secret Commonwealth (2... Read More

Dead Astronauts: A stellar work

Dead Astronauts by Jeff VanderMeer

Jeff VanderMeer has been on a hell of a roll lately. His SOUTHERN REACH trilogy is on my personal list of best series in the past quarter-century, Borne (I argued) was both an imperfect book and a great one, and now his newest, Dead Astronauts — set in the same multi-verse of Borne — is quite possibly my favorite book by him yet.

That said, there’s no doubt that Dead Astronauts is not going to be to everyone’s liking thanks to its elliptical, impressionistic, poetic style. But I highly urge everyone to try it, and also recommend that even if it seems not your cup of... Read More

Dreadful Company: Greta goes to Paris

Dreadful Company by Vivian Shaw

Dreadful Company (2018) is the second book in Vivian Shaw’s warm-hearted DR GRETA HELSING series. It follows Strange Practice which, for best results, I’d recommend reading first. The stories are self-contained, but the characters’ relationships with each other evolve a bit throughout the series.

Greta has been asked to present a paper at a medical conference in Paris. She travels to the City of Lights with her vampire friend Lord Ruthven and, on one of the evenings, they plan to attend the opera. As they get ready, Greta notices a little monster in her sink at the hotel and knows that this type must be summoned, meaning that there is a practitioner in Paris.
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The Queen’s Advantage: Another jaunty space opera

The Queen's Advantage by Jessie Mihalik

The Queen's Advantage (2019) is the second story in Jessie Mihalik’s ROGUE QUEEN series. These are short and entertaining science fiction novellas. I enjoyed the first one, The Queen's Gambit, because it’s fast-paced, has a strong female protagonist, an appealing love interest, and a nice sense of humor. You’ll want to read it before picking up The Queen's Advantage.

I listened to Tantor Audio’s edition which is narrated by Rachel Dulude. The cover art of the audiobook is horrendous, and Dulude could use a bit of coaching for her prosody, but don’t let this scare you away. It’s a good format for this story.

Becau... Read More

Knight: This series is not recommended

Knight by Timothy Zahn

Knight (2019) is the second book in Timothy Zahn’s SYBIL’S WAR series. You need to read the first book, Pawn, before starting Knight. However, I really don’t recommend either one of these books.

When we left Nicole, Bungie, and Sam in the last book, Nicole had been named Protector of the Fyrantha. Why anyone would want Nicole in charge of that ship is anyone’s guess. She isn’t particularly smart, capable, motivated, or savvy. In fact, she’s the one who may have doomed all of mankind to a life of harsh servitude to an alien race by her actions in the last book, Pawn. (Though this was really the fault of Jeff, who didn’t bot... Read More

The Wonder Engine: Trying to beat the clocktaurs

The Wonder Engine by T. Kingfisher

The Wonder Engine (2018) is the second half of a fantasy duology by T. Kingfisher that began with Clockwork Boys, and it's absolutely necessary to read that book first (a few minor spoilers for that book are in this review). Clockwork Boys relates how a company of condemned criminals ― Slate the forger, Brenner the assassin, and Caliban the paladin ― plus one straitlaced, misogynistic scholar named Learned Edmund, are assembled and sent on a mission to the distant Anuket City. This is the place where the so-called Clockwork Boys or, more properly, clocktaurs, originate: immense magical mechanical creatures that smash everything and kill everyone in their paths, and are nearly ... Read More

If Tomorrow Comes: Pretty balanced between positive and negative aspects

If Tomorrow Comes by Nancy Kress

Nancy Kress’ Locus finalist If Tomorrow Comes (2018) follows up on Yesterday’s Kin, though works fine as a stand-alone. I hadn’t read Yesterday’s Kin, and thanks to the independent nature of If Tomorrow Comes, and some efficiently economical backstorying by Kress, I didn’t feel that lack at all.

Millennia ago, aliens took a group of humans from Earth and transplanted them to another planet, where they have since created a more peaceful, egalitarian, ecologically-responsible, and overall contented society than our own (though, as Kress is at pains to make clear, not utopian — they have crime, inequality, etc. — but they enact a f... Read More

Deep Roots: A successful sequel

Deep Roots by Ruthanna Emrys

Deep Roots (2018), a finalist for the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel, is the sequel to Ruthanna EmrysWinter Tide. This Lovecraft-inspired story is about a race of Americans living in the 1940s who worship, and are related to, the eldritch gods. They are long-lived and, when they eventually mature, they may grow gills and return to the sea.

Most of the People of the Water were exterminated or dispersed when the American government, spooked by their foreignness, rounded them up and put them in detention camps. As far as Aphra and her brother Caleb know, they are the only ones who survived.

Now, with the help of the FBI, Aphra and Caleb are trying to track down any lost relative... Read More

The War Within: Shows improvement, but it’s a pretty low bar

The War Within by Stephen R. Donaldson

I was sorely disappointed in Seventh Decimate, the first book in Stephen R. Donaldson's new series, THE GREAT GOD’S WAR. Luckily, the second book, The War Within (2019), shows improvement, but it’s a pretty low bar and so I can't say it’s enough to convince me the series is worth starting (at least at this point).

(Here is your warning that this review will contain spoilers for book one).

The War Within jumps a few decades into the future, with the countries now at a tenuous peace due to Prince Bifalt of Belleger having married Princess Estie of Amika, a turn of events that came about thanks to what Bifalt had learned at the libra... Read More

Thornbound: A Regency magic school for women

Thornbound by Stephanie Burgis

"For over seventeen hundred and fifty years, ever since the great Boudicca herself had sent the Romans fleeing Angland with the help of her second husband’s magery, a clearly defined line had been drawn in the public arena, never to be broken. The hard-headed ladies of Angland saw to the practicalities of rule whilst the more mystical and emotional gentlemen dealt with magic." 

In this magical, alternative-history version of England, called Angland, traditional roles are genderbent: the women handle politics and rule the country, while men are the magicians. For many years Cassandra Harwood was the only female magician in Angland, a single exception to a fixed tradition that many in power regret having allowed. Cassandra is still kicking against the rules of society, even though she can no longer exercise her magical powers due to a deeply regretted choice in her past. But Cassan... Read More

Shadowblack: A solid, entertaining second book in the SPELLSLINGER series

Shadowblack by Sebastien de Castell

“You think you’ve had it bad? I’ve been on the run for ten years. Bounty hunters, hextrackers war mages…” He shook his head. “You steal one too many sacred books and all of sudden you’re an outcast.”

Shadowblack (2018), by Sebastien de Castell, picks up shortly after Book One, Spellslinger. Kellen, the exiled son of a Jan’Tep prince, is traveling with an Argosi named Ferius Parfax and a squirrel cat named Reichis, who will not admit that he is actually Kellen’s familiar. There is a bounty on Kellen’s head now, placed there by his people, the Jan’Tep, because Kellen showed symptoms of a demonic infestation called shadowblack. Ultimately, the demonic ener... Read More

Archenemies: Convenient tensions that irritate but don’t penetrate

Archenemies by Marissa Meyer

Archenemies (2018) is the second installment in the popular YA trilogy RENEGADES, by Marissa Meyer. The story revolves around a team of superheroes who police Gatlon City against crime. In Gatlon, superhuman powers abound and their possessors have polarized int two antagonistic groups — The Renegades and The Anarchists. With names like that, you may have a difficult time knowing which are the good guys and which are the bad — and that’s kind of the point. Marissa Meyer has drawn up a plot where she means to ask questions about who can be trusted with extraordinary power. And can we trust any of them to be good? On its face, the story has possibilities, but it’s too ambitious for Meyer. Her execution comes off clunky and heavy-handed.

Diving in, you need to know th... Read More

The Kingdom of Copper: Strong follow-up to The City of Brass

The Kingdom of Copper by S.A. Chakraborty

I thoroughly enjoyed S. A. Chakraborty’s first book The City of Brass, which was at its core just a good story. I’m happy to report that the follow-up, The Kingdom of Copper (2019), is even better, continuing the captivating narrative but also deepening its exploration of the more serious themes that were apparent in book one but not fully mined. Fair warning: some unavoidable spoilers for the first book to follow. I’m also going to assume you’ve read The City of Brass and so won’t go into too many explanations of people/settings.

The Kingdom of Copper picks up not long after the events of The City... Read More

The Consuming Fire: A pure delight

The Consuming Fire by John Scalzi

In The Collapsing Empire, John Scalzi introduced us to an interstellar empire called The Interdependency, a collection of far-flung human habitats connected by a quantum event called the Flow. The Interdependency is ruled by an Emperox, and a new Emperox, one who never considered herself in the line of succession and never wanted the role, had just been crowned. At this time, Grayland II, as she named herself, discovered that the Flow was starting to collapse. There was powerful mathematical and empirical evidence that the collapses or shifts in the Flow would continue, cutting off planets from one another for millennia.

Book two of THE INTERDEPENDENCY, The Consuming Fire Read More