2018.02


The Dragon Republic: For fans of grimdark

The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang

As a rule, I don’t like grimdark, and I don’t read grimdark. R.F. Kuang’s debut novel The Poppy War was an exception. It impressed me, mostly for the way she wove the historical wars between China and Japan into her fully fleshed-out fantasy world. Based on my liking of the first book, I read 2019’s The Dragon Republic, Book Two in THE POPPY WAR series. Sadly, with the second book I was reminded of why I don’t like grimdark.

So why did I read it? See above: Because the first one lured me in.

In Book One, we met Fang Runin, who goes by Rin. Rin is an orphan, a woman, darker-skinned than the aristocratic northerners, and raised in the south, the poorer part of the Nikara Empire. Rin is unvalued and dismissed, but through determination and s... Read More

Part-Time Gods: Another adventure in the DFZ

Part-Time Gods by Rachel Aaron

Part-Time Gods (2019) is the second book in Rachel Aaron’s DFZ (DETROIT FREE ZONE) series which is a spin-off of her HEARTSTRIKERS saga. You don’t need to read HEARTSTRIKERS first, but you’ll want to read the first book in the DFZ series, Minimum Wage Magic, before picking up Part-Time Gods.

After successfully solving a mystery and surviving the danger in Minimum Wage Magic, Opal and Nik have decided they work well together, so they’ve teamed up on their cleaning efforts. Each of them is so skillful that, under normal circumstances, they’d be raking it in.
... Read More

Deathless Divide: Just as tense and engaging as its predecessor

Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland

Deathless Divide (2020) is the sequel to Justina Ireland’s 2018 novel Dread Nation, the fresh take on zombies I reviewed previously. Much like its predecessor, Deathless Divide maintains a break-neck pace and an engaging cast of characters from beginning to end.

I enjoyed Deathless Divide just as much as I did Dread Nation. Sometimes you come across a second book that fails to live up to the promises of the first — this book is not one of them. It hits the ground running with the same intensity and ratcheting up of stakes as the first and I was... Read More

A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor: An exciting story that asks a lot of questions

A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor by Hank Green

Hank Green’s A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor (2020) is the sequel to his 2018 debut, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing which you’ll need to read first. There will be spoilers for An Absolutely Remarkable Thing in this review.

It’s been a few months since the life-shattering events that occurred at the end of An Absolutely Remarkable Thing. The Carls are all gone and it appears that April died in a fire that was set by some extremists influenced by anti-April vitriol on social media. Yet, her body has never been found. Her friends, who’ve been split up due to the absence of April’s coalescing force, are sufferin... Read More

A Choir of Lies: A book I enjoy thinking about

A Choir of Lies by Alexandra Rowland

I enjoy thinking about A Choir of Lies, Alexandra Rowland’s 2019 novel, more than I enjoyed reading it. I usually like stories where the writer plays textual games, whether the story is epistolary, based on ephemera, uses marginalia, or even footnotes, upon which A Choir of Lies relies. I like stories that explore the nature of stories, and storytellers, which A Choir of Lies does. Rowland employs the clever turn of phrase and creates interesting characters. Still, with a 450-page book, in the first 171 pages nothing much happens. Reading the numerous footnotes against that backdrop was exhausting.

A Choir of Lies follows Ylfing, who was apprenticed to the Master Chant, th... Read More

The Monstrous Citadel: A fun, lively summer read

The Monstrous Citadel by Mirah Bolender

2019’s The Monstrous Citadel is the second book in Mirah Bolender’s fantasy trilogy THE CHRONICLES OF AMICAE. This review may contain mild spoilers for the first book, City of Broken Magic. In this world, the main characters, called Sweepers, function like the people in an old British series called UXB, disarming undetonated magical weapons left over from an ancient war. Some of the magical infestations are like Japanese kaiju, and all require confinement in some kind of container.

Laura and Okane are Sweepers in Amicae, trained under the eccentric and controversial Sweeper Clae Sinclair. In the aftermath of City of Broken Magic, La... Read More

Fleet of Knives: Tense and exciting

Fleet of Knives by Gareth L. Powell

Fleet of Knives (2019) is the second book in Gareth L. Powell’s EMBERS OF WAR series and a finalist for the 2020 Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel. Its predecessor, Embers of War, was also a Locus finalist and won the British Science Fiction Association Award for Best Novel of 2018. When I reviewed it last year, I reported that Embers of War was “pleasant but forgettable” and, sure enough, I had to refer to my notes to recall the plot. (I keep notes about the plot on all the series books I read). There will be some spoilers for that first book in this review.

We’ve got some new characters in Fleet of Knives Read More

Shorefall: Come for the heists and explosions, stay for the debates

Shorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett

Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Once upon a time there was a small group of uber-powerful folks who truly messed up the world. Luckily that was ages, sorry, I mean, Ages, ago. But now one of those ancient badass power users is potentially going to return and hoo boy is the world in trouble if he gathers all his power yet again. Thank the gods for the plucky group of scruffy underdogs who are definitely not a fellowship and who have decided to risk their lives to prevent the Dark Power’s rise. Anyone? Bueller?

OK, yes. We’ve all heard it before. So you might be forgiven if, upon learning that Robert Jackson Bennett’s newest title, Shorefall (sequel to the fantastic Foundryside), is about a... Read More

Interference: Cultures collide on an alien world

Interference by Sue Burke

The small colony of humans on the planet Pax, who left Earth a couple of hundred years earlier, have established a cooperative relationship with at least some of the sentient plant life on Pax, as well as a group of nomadic aliens called the Glassmakers, as related in Semiosis. Their technology now is more Stone Age than Information Age (Pax is deficient in metals). So it’s out of the question to return to or even communicate with Earth, which is 55 light years away. But Earth hasn’t forgotten about Pax.

In this sequel, Interference (2019), a scientific expedition of thirty people from Earth makes plans to travel to Pax to see what has become of the colony there. Different members of the expedition have varying reasons for going, ranging from scientific curiosity to a desire to escape the ... Read More

Stars Beyond: A better sequel

Stars Beyond by S.K. Dunstall

Stars Beyond (2020) is the sequel to sisterly writing duo S.K. Dunstall’s novel Stars Uncharted which Tadiana and I reviewed last year. We agreed that it was a Firefly-type story that was accessible and pleasant, but lacked originality. The good news, though, is that book two, Stars Beyond, is better.

Stars Beyond picks up where Stars Uncharted left off. The crew of The Road has a new spaceship (called Another Road) decked out with weapons. They’re still on the run from the corporate entities who are pursuing them for various reasons and have teamed up... Read More

The Hanged Man: Rune confronts the Arcanum and his own doubts

The Hanged Man by K.D. Edwards

The Hanged Man, published in 2019, is the second book in K.D. Edwards’s fantasy series THE TAROT SEQUENCE. In the first book, The Last Sun, we men Rune Sun, last of the Sun Court, in New Atlantis. New Atlantis is the former island of Nantucket and exists because of a truce between humans and the Atlanteans, at the end of a devastating war. The New Atlanteans value power only, which they confuse with strength. When unnamed individuals mounted a murderous raid on the Court of the Sun, the Arcanum, or ruling 22 families of New Atlantis, did nothing to stop it. Rune was taken in by Lord Tower, and made a living as an investigator or “fixer,” along with his human Companion bodyguard Brand. In the... Read More

Peasprout Chen: Battle of Champions: Try the audio version

Peasprout Chen: Battle of Champions by Henry Lien

A surprise for me last year was how much I enjoyed Henry Lien’s Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword. I would never have picked up that book if it hadn’t been nominated for the Andre Norton Nebula Award for Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction. It’s about a girl named Peasprout Chen who, along with her little brother Cricket, is sent from her rural province to her country’s capital city to attend an elite school for students who practice the art of wu liu, which is basically martial arts on ice skates.

When they arrive, Peasprout and Cricket face many of the same challenges that all fantasy readers know that poor rural kids face when sent to magically-... Read More

Stormsong: A gripping, thought-provoking sequel

Stormsong by C.L. Polk

2020’s Stormsong, in THE KINGSTON CYCLE is the long-awaited sequel to C.L. Polk’s wonderful Witchmark. This review may contain spoilers for Witchmark.

Witchmark followed Miles, a doctor and former prisoner of war, and a member of his world’s faerie race, the Amaranthine, as they solved a murder, uncovered a plot to assassinate Aeland’s queen, and revealed the murderous corruption that lay at the root of Aeland’s magical progress. Along the way, we met Miles’s bright, ambitious and privileged sister Grace.

In Stormsong, Grace is the main character. The second book is more of a political thrille... Read More

A Longer Fall: Weird West collides with Deep South

A Longer Fall by Charlaine Harris

Charlaine Harris’s GUNNIE ROSE series has already merged Old West, Russian magicians (called “grigori” in a nod to Rasputin), and alternative history; the setting is mid-twentieth century North America, in which the United States has fractured into multiple nations, including the “Holy Russian Empire,” with Tsar Alexei at its head, taking over what used to be California and Oregon. In A Longer Fall (2020), the second book in the series, the pre-civil rights era deep South gets pulled into the mix. Lizbeth Rose, a 19-year-old gunnie (gunslinger), is traveling by train with her new security crew from Texoma, the Texas region Lizbeth calls home, to Louisiana. Their crew of five is in charge of transporting and protecting a crate that contains ... well, they don't know, but it's vastly imp... Read More

Shatter City: A fast-paced follow-up to Impostors

Shatter City by Scott Westerfeld

Shatter City (2019) is the sequel to Scott Westerfeld’s Impostors, a set of four novels extending his UGLIES series by picking up roughly a decade after that earlier quartet ended. As I noted in my review of Impostors, this series doesn’t quite match the high quality of those earlier books, and seems aimed at a somewhat younger audience, but still retains enough of Westerfeld’s plotting strengths to make for an often exhilarating read. Fair warning, some inevitable spoilers for book one ahead.

The first point to note is you’ll definitely want to have read Impostors before picking up Shatter City. I won’t bot... Read More

The Quantum Garden: A worthy sequel

The Quantum Garden by Derek Künsken

The Quantum Garden (2019) is the second installment of Derek Künsken’s QUANTUM EVOLUTION series, following the adventures of conman Belisarius Arjona, one of a few thousands of “Homo quantus” — a bio-engineered species able to deal with floods of data, strange math, and quantum effects. The first book in the series, The Quantum Magician, saw Belisarius gather a crew of misfits in order to help an oppressed “client culture” smuggle a fleet of uniquely advanced spaceships through a wormhole so as to gain their independence from the powerful Congregate. Belisarius, however, was running a con-within-a-con, and while he succeeded in helping the Sub-Saharan Union get their ... Read More

Starsight: The stars have eyes

Starsight by Brandon Sanderson 

“A hero doesn’t choose her trials.”

Spensa can’t help but hear her Gran-Gran’s voice saying these words to her every time Spensa balks at a new trouble in her life. And Spensa — a magnet for trouble — has plenty of occasions to remember these words.

In Starsight (2019), the sequel to Brandon Sanderson’s young adult science fiction novel Skyward, the few humans who remain have been trapped on the barren planet of Detritus for several decades, with alien guardians who frequently attack the human colony with their fighter spaceships, preventing them from leaving Detritus. Spensa is a hot-headed young fighter pilot who revels in the space batt... Read More

Bid My Soul Farewell: The story gets even darker…

Bid My Soul Farewell by Beth Revis

Bid My Soul Farewell (2019) is the sequel to Beth Revis’ novel Give the Dark My Love. You need to read Give the Dark My Love first. There will be some spoilers for that novel here.

When we left Nedra and Grey in Give the Dark My Love, they had uncovered the treachery in their government and exterminated the culprit. Now Grey is working for the emperor as a diplomat. Nedra, meanwhile, has become a necromancer, which is illegal and punishable by death. She has created an army of zombies (one is her sister) and she refuses to give them up.

As Grey is sent on a mission for the emperor, Nedra agrees to a... Read More

The Lost Sisters: Answers questions, provides depth

The Lost Sisters by Holly Black

Twin sisters Jude and Taryn were taken to live in the Court of Elfhame after their parents were murdered by Madoc, a general in the land of faerie who is now their step-father and guardian. We witnessed how these mortal girls struggled as they came of age in the land of faerie in the first novel in Holly Black’s THE FOLK OF THE AIR series, The Cruel Prince, which was written from Jude’s perspective. Jude tells us how she was bullied, all the ways she fought back, and how her twin sister Taryn eventually betrayed her.

Now we get to hear Taryn’s side of the story.

The novella The Lost Sisters (2018) re-tells the most important events of The Cruel... Read More

Priest of Lies: Is Tomas going down the wrong path?

Priest of Lies by Peter McLean

Priest of Lies (2019) is the second book in Peter McLean’s WAR FOR THE ROSE THRONE. You’ll need to read the first book, Priest of Bones, first. This review will have some spoilers for that first novel.

It’s been six months since the events that happened at the end of Priest of Bones. Tomas is now married to Elsa, the Queen’s Man who has been (unbeknownst to the rest of the Pious Men) directing his behavior in service of the crown. The marriage is a sham and Tomas has soured on Elsa after the explosion that she orchestrated killed hundreds of people in his city. He isn’t sure (and neither am I) that it was necessary or wise. He also doesn’t ... Read More

Dead Voices: I’m hooked on this series

Dead Voices by Katherine Arden

I loved Small Spaces, Katherine Arden’s first foray into children’s horror, and so I jumped right into its sequel, Dead Voices (2019). A few months have passed since Ollie, Coco, and Brian outsmarted the Smiling Man who wanted to turn them, and all their classmates, into scarecrows. The ordeal left them with recurring nightmares, but also made them best friends. It’s December now, and Ollie’s dad has won a stay at Mount Hemlock, the new ski lodge a few hours outside of town. He’s taking all three kids, along with Coco’s mom.

I didn’t fall in love as immediately this time, and I think I’ve distilled that down to two reasons. One is that, from an adult perspective, it seemed out o... Read More

The Brink: Superficial and implausible SF horror

The Brink by James S. Murray & Darren Wearmouth

Human monsters take precedence over the creature type of monsters in The Brink (2019), the sequel to last year’s SF horror novel Awakened. (Some spoilers for the first book are in this review, but are also in the publisher’s blurb for this book, so they’re nearly impossible to avoid.) Awakened was pulpy fun if you like SF horror and mysterious, murderous threats lurking beneath the surface of the earth. The Brink mostly gives us Albert Van Ness, a diabolical mastermind of dubious sanity who was apparently imported straight from an old James Bond movie. The creatures are still there, but in a diminished role... Read More

DEV1AT3: An entertaining sequel ups the stakes for humanity

DEV1AT3 by Jay Kristoff

In a brutal, blasted country called the Yousay (USA, of course), hostile androids contend against regular humans and superpowered mutants against a backdrop of robot death matches, in a dystopian Mad Max type of world. DEV1AT3 (2019) is the sequel to LIFEL1K3, which should be read first. Obligatory warning: This review ― not to mention a helpful four-page glossary that author Jay Kristoff provides at the very beginning of DEV1AT3 ― contains a few major spoilers for LIFEL1K3. (Those spoilers are also in this book's blurb.)

Eve has spent her entire life thinking she was human, until discovering... Read More

Storm of Locusts: Excellent book in an original, wonderful series

Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse

I pull my knees to my chest, feeling myself irrationally offended at being rejected by a sentient casino.

Rebecca Roanhorse’s second THE SIXTH WORLD book, Storm of Locusts (2019), continues to deliver on the promise of Trail of Lightning. Maggie, a Navajo monsterslayer (or now, as some call her, Godslayer) ventures outside the magical walls of the Navajo reservation to stop a magically enhanced terrorist from destroying it. She also mourns the loss of Kai Arviso, the son of a god, who helped her in the first book. Maggie now carries the Lightning Sword, but she doesn’t know how to activate it.

Maggie takes a bounty hunter job with the ... Read More

The Everlasting Rose: A disappointing sequel

The Everlasting Rose by Dhonielle Clayton

The Everlasting Rose (2019) is the sequel to Dhonielle Clayton’s The Belles, a novel that is a finalist for the Hugo and Locus Awards for Best Young Adult novel this year. I enjoyed The Belles despite some problems with characterization such as a boring romance and a totally over-the-top villain. If you haven’t yet read The Belles, but intend to, it’d be best to skip this review since I can’t help but spoil some of its plot here.

The Everlasting Rose picks up right where The Belles ends. Camellia, Amber, Edel and Remy have escaped the palace and are hiding in another city. ... Read More