2019.02


Scary Stories for Young Foxes: The City: Manmade threats for the foxes

Scary Stories for Young Foxes: The City by Christian McKay Heidicker

Three young fox kits, romping through their first heavy snow, come upon a gravely injured older fox in the woods. The wounded fox asks for their help, and the kits are understandably reluctant. Then the stranger fox says that he needs to tell them a story first. A scary story, but not of predators and dangers of the forest. The City and a nearby farm have equally horrifying dangers for foxes.

The Stranger’s story begins at a fox farm, where cousins O-370 and R-211 (all of the foxes at the farm have numbers and letters for names) retell the adventures of Mia and Uly, told in the first book in this series, Chris Heidicker’s Newbery Honor book Scary Stories for Young Foxes... Read More

Destiny of the Dead: Engaging enough

Destiny of the Dead by Kel Kade

My review of Kel Kade’s Fate of the Fallen, first in their SHROUD OF PROPHECY series, called the novel “an enjoyable if meandering invitation despite some issues.” Kade is back now with book two, Destiny of the Dead, which is similarly meandering and, honestly, a little less enjoyable, though enough of the stronger aspects remain so that I’ll still continue on to the third book. Possible spoilers for book one to follow.

The conflict among the gods continues to play out in the world of our characters, with some of the gods, particularly Axus, God of Death, eager to cleanse the world of humanity, others trying to stop it, and other either not yet sure or keeping their cards close to their... Read More

The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry: Witty, rollicking good fun

The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry by C.M. Waggoner

Dellaria Wells is an untrained fire witch, living hand-to-mouth in the slums of Leiscourt, trying to keep track of her drip-addicted mother. Behind on rent and threatened with a curse by her landlady, Delly plans to answer a mysterious advertisement recruiting various women to protect a Lady of Some Importance. When she is interviewed — through the bars of a cell, as it happens — Delly gives a succinct summation of her skills to the interviewer:
“… Why on earth would I be willing to interview a criminal for a position in my employer’s household, Miss Wells?”

 

“If I might beg your pardon, Magister,” Delly said, “I’m only a very petty criminal, but I’m a rare excellent fire witch, and we ain’t so very thickly strewn upon the local thoroughfares…”
Delly is hired along with several women as a protection detail for Mi... Read More

The Rookery: A mixed bag, but enjoyable

The Rookery by Deborah Hewitt

The Rookery (2021) is Deborah Hewitt’s sequel to her debut novel, The Nightjar, which I described in my review as having many of the issues one expects in a debut novel but that also left the reader eager to see what she did next based on her “imaginative content and writing style.” The sequel has its own issues but does improve on its predecessor. Some inevitable spoilers for book one to follow.

“The Rookery” itself is an alternate near-copy of 1930s London, “built as a sanctuary for the Vaki, a magical race of people” fleeing persecution in Finland at the time of the Crusades. The four original “master builders” each had their own magical specialty (water, building and stone, ... Read More

Machine: Should have been more exciting

Machine by Elizabeth Bear

Dr. Jens and her alien colleagues rescue spaceships that are in trouble. After answering a distress call, they discover an old ship in which all of the human crewmembers are in cryogenic storage. Their only caretaker is an oddly sexy robot who was given instructions to build the cryogenic storage containers for the crew long ago.

When Dr. Jens and her colleagues get back to their own ship and get ready to thaw out some of the frozen humans, they discover that their own trusty shipmind, Sally, is starting to forget things. They begin to suspect a rogue artificial intelligence might be responsible for what’s been happening on both of the ships.

When Dr. Jens is asked to figure out what’s going on, she begins to unravel a strange mystery and discovers that the benevolent organization she works with, and some of her beloved colleagues, may not be quite as wonderful as she thought. As we tag... Read More

Rule of Wolves: A time of love and war in the Grishaverse

Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo

Rule of Wolves, the second half of Leigh Bardugo’s NIKOLAI DUOLOGY, picks up right where King of Scars left off and flings the reader headlong into the story. In other words, if it’s been a while since you read King of Scars, you’d be well advised to refamiliarize yourself at least a little with its plot; if you haven’t yet read that book, don’t start with this one.

The Russia-inspired country of Ravka and its king, Nikolai Lantsov, are beset by threats from both without and within. To the north, the wintry country of Fjerda, which rejects the magical Grisha as evil, is making preparations to invade, and Fjerda has a substantial edge in war ... Read More

Master of Djinn: A welcome (and longer) return to a fascinating world

Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark

A Master of Djinn (2021) is P. Djèlí Clark’s first novel in the world he’s created in several short stories and a novella, and it’s clear that the setting and its characters can easily handle the expanded length, making for an exciting plot combined with some sharp social criticism.

This novel, and the other works, are set in the early 1900’s, three decades after the scholar/mage al-Jahiz opened a portal between our world and another, bringing an influx of magical/fantastical creatures across, with the djinn not only settling relatively smoothly into Egypt and other countries, but also helping expel the Western imperialists, shrinking their empires and their ability to exploit non-Western cultures for growth, labor, materials, and prosperity, Thus, Egypt is now a “great power” while Britain, fo... Read More

Copper Road: Deeds has created an intriguing world

Copper Road by Marion Deeds

Full disclosure: Marion is a colleague of mine (those reading this at fantasyliterature.com know that already, of course), and I also did a read of an early draft. On a more trivial note, I’ll confess it felt very strange every time I typed “Deeds”, using the author’s last name as is standard in these reviews, and not “Marion.” I give you this knowledge to do with what you may...

Copper Road (2021) is Marion Deeds’ first full novel in the BROKEN CITIES series, following on the heels of her novella set in the same universe, Aluminum Leaves. One needn’t have read Aluminum Leaves to enjoy Copper Road, though it would... Read More

Call of the Bone Ships: The pace has picked up significantly

Call of the Bone Ships by R.J. Barker

Call of the Bone Ships (2020) is the second book in R.J. Barker’s TIDE CHILD trilogy. The first book, The Bone Ships, introduced Joron Twiner, first mate to a tough and effective sea captain named Lucky Meas. Sailing and politics collide when their disreputable ship Tide Child was assigned to find and protect the last of a valuable but possibly extinct sea dragon species. The Bone Ships — dark, moody, and beautifully written — was slow-going until the final scenes, which were spectacular. By that point I was eager to read this second book, Call of the Bone Ships.

Call of the Bone Ships Read More

A Desolation Called Peace: Wonderfully rich and nuanced

A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine

A Desolation Called Peace (2021) is Arkady Martine’s direct sequel to A Memory Called Empire, which was one of my favorite works in 2019. While not quite as strong, the standard being set so high simply means A Desolation Called Peace is an “excellent” rather than “great” read, and thus one that is easy to recommend.

As noted, this is a direct sequel, so you’ll definitely need to have read the first book before stepping into this one. The main characters — some familiar, some new — include:

Mahit Dzmare: resident of Lsel Station and former (well, technically current, but it’s complicated) ambassador to Teixcalaan... Read More

A Single Light: Exploring a pandemic-ridden world

A Single Light by Tosca Lee

It's unnerving reading a book about a devastating pandemic at this point during the COVID-19 crisis, but in fairness, this near-future SF duology by Tosca Lee was published in 2019, so Lee gets credit for anticipating a timely topic. The first book, The Line Between, tells how Wynter Roth, a young woman in her early twenties, escapes from a doomsday cult and (obligatory spoiler warning for the first book here) is entrusted with some tissue samples that may help with the development of a vaccine against the growing pandemic. It’s a rapid onset dementia virus that is — unsurprisingly, since this is a science fiction novel — almost invariably deadly to those who catch it.

At the end of The Line Between, Wynter, h... Read More

The Fires of Vengeance: Best served cold

The Fires of Vengeance by Evan Winter

The Rage of Dragons was a well-realized and propulsive debut for author Evan Winter, though the main character was such an Edgy Boi™ that he could probably have gone ice dancing without skates. Winter's gifts for pacing and his novel world-building nevertheless left me with a good impression, and when I saw that the sequel was available, I immediately purchased a copy. To be clear, there are relatively few series that I buy on release day anymore, so it says something about Winter's abilities that I felt instantly motivated to continue THE BURNING.

For the most part, The Fires of Vengeance (2020) is your typical fantasy sequel in that it's more of what worked the first time around while also clearly being a transition to the next Big T... Read More

The Somebody People: Better than its predecessor

The Somebody People by Bob Proehl

I wasn’t crazy about Bob Proehl’s The Nobody People. While the premise was intriguing (kids with supernatural powers being raised and trained in a boarding school without the public’s knowledge), the novel, for reasons I’ve described in my review, was not compelling. I struggled to finish it but, in the end, I was curious about where Proehl was going with the story. For that reason, I picked up the sequel, The Somebody People, and I’m happy to report that I found this story more entertaining than its predecessor.

Several years have passed since the events of The Nobody People. The Reson... Read More

Anya and the Nightingale: Into the woods

Anya and the Nightingale by Sofiya Pasternack

Last year, Anya and her friends Ivan and Håkon defeated a bloodthirsty Viking named Sigurd, who wanted to murder Håkon for his river dragon magic. Since then, Anya’s been bat mitzvahed, Ivan’s family has settled into their lives in Zmeyreka, and the local magistrate has been expelled, with the result that Anya’s family has been openly welcomed among the other villagers, but her papa still hasn’t returned from war. When Anya learns that there’s been a miscommunication and her papa has been sent to Rûm rather than home, she embarks upon a secret journey to bring him back, accompanied by Ivan and Håkon — who, thanks to a friendly forest spirit named Lena, has been transformed into a human boy. Additionally, Lena magically transports the trio to Kiev, saving them from what would certainly be quick deaths along an arduous journey, but is nowhere near Anya’s papa.

As fate w... Read More

How the Multiverse Got Its Revenge: Princess Rory returns

How the Multiverse Got Its Revenge by K. Eason

Rory Thorne is back for another adventure in K. Eason’s How the Multiverse Got Its Revenge (2020). At the end of the first THORNE CHRONICLES novel, How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse, it looked like Rory was finished with politics. (“Does the multiverse really need more politicians?”)

Rory, Jaed, and their friends/bodyguards Zhang and Thorsdottir are currently working as privateers far away from civilization. Grytt and the Vizier are farming sheep on a remote planet.

They are all unaware of the revolutions and wars they sparked after the events of How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse. I... Read More

Sorcery of a Queen: Good blend of humor, character, and plot

Sorcery of a Queen by Brian Naslund

Honestly, I could give Brian Naslund’s Sorcery of a Queen (2020) a four just for the following jail-break exchange:

“Stay exactly two paces behind me at all times ... Stop when I stop, move when I move.”

 “So, your plan doesn’t involve putting on pants?”

 “No.”

 “Could we maybe restrategize so that it does?”

I got to that bit of dialogue around three a.m. and let out a “Hah!” loud enough that I immediately cowered in expectation that my wife, asleep in the room next door, was about to offer up a none-too-happy commentary on my waking her three hours before work. Luckily, she slept through my outburst, which meant I got to keep my marr... Read More

How to Rule an Empire and Get Away with It: Entertaining sequel

How to Rule an Empire and Get Away with It by K.J. Parker

I wasn’t expecting a sequel to K.J. Parker’s Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City, but was delighted to see one because Parker is on my (very short) must-read list. While How to Rule an Empire and Get Away with It (2020) is marketed as book #2 of his THE SIEGE series, it takes place several years later and has a different set of characters, so it’s not a requirement that you read Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City first. I’d recommend that you do read these books in order, though, because the background is a bit helpful and, in my opinion, the first book is better.

Despite the actions of Orhan, the... Read More

The Trouble With Peace: A fabulous sequel

The Trouble With Peace by Joe Abercrombie

To my surprise and delight, Joe Abercrombie’s A Little Hatred, the first book in his THE AGE OF MADNESS series, was one of the best books I read last year. As I said in my review, “it’s got everything I’m looking for in a fantasy novel,” including a large cast of interesting and multi-faceted characters, a fascinating setting (a world on the brink of an industrial revolution), and an exciting, often brutal, plot. This review will have spoilers for A Little Hatred.

I’m happy to report that the sequel, The Trouble With Peace (2020), is another winner. It’s ju... Read More

Drowned Country: An enchanting sequel

Drowned Country by Emily Tesh

Drowned Country (2020) is the second and concluding novella in Emily Tesh’s GREENHOLLOW DUOLOGY, following 2019’s Silver in the Wood. This review will contain some spoilers for Silver in the Wood.

When we last saw Tobias and Henry Silver, Tobias had become an ordinary mortal man, and had been reunited with Silver — who had been presumed dead, but instead had been saved by the Wood itself, becoming its guardian Wild Man in the way that Tobias once was. It turns out, though, that this idyll lasted only a few months before the two men fell out. Now Silver sulks alone in his manor house, using his powers to accelerate its ruin.

Silver... Read More

Harrow the Ninth: The haunted palace is Harrow’s mind

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Last year’s Gideon the Ninth was a delightfully over-the-top space fantasy that ended with a gut punch that had readers shouting “Damn you, Tamsyn Muir!” and clamoring for the sequel. The sequel, Harrow the Ninth (2020) is here, and I enjoyed it a lot, though there are a few things you’ll want to know going in.

One is that there is a lot going on, much of it cryptic, some of which ties back into details from the first book that might be hazy by now. I would recommend rereading Gideon the Ninth first, or at least keeping it close at hand, so you can refer back to it if you have questions... Read More

The Damned: A disappointing sequel

The Damned by Renée Ahdieh

The Damned (2020) is the sequel to Renée Ahdieh’s The Beautiful, a young adult vampire novel set in 19th century New Orleans. You’ll need to read The Beautiful first, and this review will have a few spoilers for that novel.

The Damned begins where The Beautiful left off. (Spoilers for The Beautiful are starting here!) Sébastien Saint Germain had been betrayed and murdered by his friend. Celine begged Sébastien‘s uncle, Nicodemus, to save him by turning him into a vampire, but Nicodemus was disinclined until Celine agreed to have her memories of Sébastien erased in exchange. (Nicodemus th... Read More

Aurora Burning: The galactic perils of Squad 312

Aurora Burning by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Aurora Burning (2020), the second book in Amie Kaufman’s and Jay Kristoff’s young adult SF AURORA CYCLE series, follows the tension-filled, nonstop space adventures of the teenage crew of Squad 312, recent graduates of the Aurora Academy. In the first book, Aurora Rising, the crew visited the forbidden planet of Octavia III and discovered, to their horror, that an alien hivemind, called the Ra’haam, has taken over the planet and is bent, Borg-like, on assimilating all intelligent life in the galaxy (or, perhaps, more like the group consciousness alien in Read More

Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe: A wacky MG SF story

Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe by Carlos Hernandez

Readers who enjoyed Carlos Hernandez’s Nebula-nominated Sal and Gabi Break the Universe are likely to also enjoy the sequel, Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe (2020). The story picks up where the previous one left off. Sal’s “magical” abilities have left holes in the universe and his father (Papi) is building a machine (in the living room) that he hopes will fix the holes. But Sal notices that the machine makes him feel sad when he’s around it… and it might be developing consciousness.

Other weird things are happening, too. Sal meets a Gabby from another universe who has come to warn him about Papi’s machine. The new toilet at school wants to be ... Read More

Time of Daughters: Excellent epic fantasy

Time of Daughters by Sherwood Smith

In Time of Daughters, Book One (2019), Sherwood Smith returns to the world of Sartorias-Deles, the setting for most of her fantasy novels. This epic tale, broken into two volumes, begins about a century after the INDA quartet of books about the historic Marlovan military commander. The country of Marlovan Iasca (later called Marloven Hess) is particularly noteworthy for the huge influence of the military in its society, amped up with a healthy side of political intriguing — including, on occasion, assassinations — and a social structure where marriage among those in the upper class is primarily for political purposes and strengthening alliances with other powerful families, and romantic love is typically found elsewhere.

Book One of Time of Daughters,... Read More

The Alchemist’s Shadow: The monster in the maze… and in the puppet

Watch Hollow: The Alchemist’s Shadow by Gregory Funaro

The spooky adventures of Lucy and Oliver Tinker continue in The Alchemist’s Shadow (2020), a sequel to last year’s middle-grade haunted house novel by Gregory Funaro, Watch Hollow. The Tinker family — 11-year-old Lucy, 12-year-old Oliver, and their father — are settling in at the rural Rhode Island mansion, Blackford House, where they vanquished a supernatural foe in Watch Hollow. The Tinkers, originally the caretakers of Blackford House, now own the home, complete with its enormous clock that magically powers the house. At least, the Tinkers thought they owned the house, until the orphaned 12-year-old part-Japanese Kojima twins, Agatha and Algerno... Read More