2020.02


Flash Fire: The best of its sub-sub-genre

Flash Fire by T.J. Klune

2021’s Flash Fire is the second book in T.J. Klune’s YA Series The Extraordinaries. This is the best YA superhero origin story / Spiderman-movie parody / coming of age / neurodivergent / queer rom-com I’ve read this year. With most of the background put in place by its predecessor, The Extraordinaries, Flash Fire is tighter, filled with action sequences, super-villains, and a deadly ordeal known as Prom.

This review may contain spoilers for The Extraordinaries.

At first, it seems like Nick Bell’s life is great. He’s acknowledged his feelings for his best-friend Seth (and Seth for him). His cop father has a ... Read More

Fevered Star: A somewhat slower pace through a richly constructed world

Fevered Star by Rebecca Roanhorse 

Fevered Star (2022) is the follow-up to Rebecca Roanhorse’s enjoyably original Black Sun, set in a fantastical Mesoamerica (with a few other cultures mixed in as well). As the second book, it does suffer somewhat from that dreaded middle book curse, but Roanhorse offers enough original worldbuilding here to compensate for the book’s weaker aspects, leaving the reader eager to see the trilogy’s conclusion.

As with Black Sun, Roanhorse employs multiple points of view to tell the story, including the Crow God’s avatar Serapio, the Sun God’s priest Naranpa, the Teek ship’s captain Xiala, the Carrion Crow captain Okoa, and Cuecola m... Read More

The Thousand Eyes: A good continuation of the SERPENT GATES series

The Thousand Eyes by A.K. Larkwood

In The Thousand Eyes (2022), A.K. Larkwood keeps all the good parts of The Unspoken Name — the first book in THE SERPENT GATES series — brings back most of the characters, and adds a few new ones into the mix while improving on some of the prior novel’s weaker areas, crafting a successful sequel that avoids the dreaded “second book” syndrome. Some inevitable spoilers for The Unspoken Name ahead.

At the start, Shuthmilli, Csorwe, and Tal are working to make themselves some money since the latter two left the services of immortal wizard Belthandros, but events quickly conspire to embroil them in major events, leading to some odd and someti... Read More

The Girl and the Mountain: Stunning scenery

The Girl and the Mountain by Mark Lawrence

The Girl and the Mountain (2021) is the second installment in Mark Lawrence’s BOOK OF THE ICE series. It follows The Girl and the Stars, which you need to read first. There will be a few spoilers for that book in this review.

The Girl and the Stars introduced an icy world inhabited by tribes that follow a spiritual leader who, every few years, chooses each tribes’ weakest children and throws them into a hole in the ice where they, presumably, die. But when our hero, Yaz, jumps in after her brother, she discovers a new world below the ice where the children who’ve been disposed of have built their own civilization. When she realizes that the pr... Read More

The Bone Shard Emperor: A step backwards

The Bone Shard Emperor by Andrea Stewart

Andrea Stewart’s debut novel, The Bone Shard Daughter, was an engaging beginning to a new fantasy trilogy, showing some originality in setting and magic system, introducing a few interesting characters, and incorporating several complex moral questions. While it also had its fair share of weaknesses (half the characters were far less interesting, a major implausible narrative contrivance, and some predictable plotting), they were outweighed by the novel’s strengths enough to make it a solid recommendation. Unfortunately, although that also holds true in the follow-up, The Bone Shard Emperor (2021), it’s only just barely, leading to my thinking that big fans of the first book will pro... Read More

Along the Saltwise Sea: Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for a week

Along the Saltwise Sea by A. Deborah Baker 

In the 2020 portal fantasy Over the Woodward Wall, by A. Deborah Baker (a pseudonym for the prolific Seanan McGuire), two children, Avery and Zib, climbed a granite wall that had inexplicably appeared in the road and were transported to a magical world, the Up-and-Under. It’s much like the land of Oz but with far sharper teeth, and Avery and Zib are anxious to find their way home to our world. They are told to follow the improbable road to the Impossible City, and there ask the Queen of Wands for help getting home.

Following the improbable road... Read More

Paper & Blood: Al and Buck go Down Under

Paper & Blood by Kevin Hearne

Paper & Blood is the second novel in Kevin Hearne’s INK & SIGIL series which is a spin-off of his very popular IRON DRUID CHRONICLES. In the first INK & SIGIL novel, Ink & Sigil, which you’ll want to read first (though Hearne thankfully gives us a “The Story So Far” summary – thank you!), we met Al MacBharrais, a sigil agent who uses ink and paper to create magic spells. We watched Al and some of his colorful colleagues solve a mystery and stop the trafficking of, and unethical experimentation on, fae creatures such as pixies.

In Paper & Blood, Al gets some bad news: some of his fellow sigil agents are missin... Read More

The Last Graduate: A dubious sanctuary for magical students

The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik

The Last Graduate (2021) completely sucked me in from start to finish! Galadriel has managed to survive three years at her deadly magical school, the Scholomance, with her junior year capped by an epic battle against a fearsome assembly of maleficaria (magical creatures that feast on wizards, especially youthful ones), as related in the first book in this fantasy series, A Deadly Education. Now El is in her last year at the Scholomance and has achieved her goal of becoming part of an alliance of fellow students (albeit a very small, less powerful one) who will protect each other when they run the gauntlet of ravenous mals that line the hallway leading to the graduation exit. And Orion Lake, the best mal-killer in the school, has progressed from mere annoyance to occasionally still aggravatin... Read More

A Broken Darkness: Nick’s in more trouble than ever

A Broken Darkness by Premee Mohamed

At the end of Beneath the Rising, the first book in Premee Mohamed’s cosmic horror trilogy of the same name, I thought narrator Nick Prasad couldn’t be worse off. Yes, he and his prodigy friend Joanna “Johnny” Chambers had closed an interdimensional rift and stopped the Ancient Ones from invading earth, but at the end Nick is left heartbroken, betrayed and disillusioned by what he has learned about Johnny. Like I said, I didn’t think it could get worse for him.

I was so wrong.

This review contains mild spoilers for Beneath the Rising.

Johnny and Nick did manage to close the rift, but it was open for nearly two minutes. In that time period, now c... Read More

The Ikessar Falcon: Come for the fight scenes, stay for the dragons

The Ikessar Falcon by K.S. Villoso

The thing I loved the most about The Ikessar Falcon is the dragons. This second book in K.S. Villoso's CHRONICLES OF THE BITCH QUEEN, published in 2020, has plenty of action, world-building, political intrigue and romantic conflicts, but in this book, we learn much more about the dragons, their connection to the magical substance agan, and their role in the nation of Jin-Sayeng.

This review may contain spoilers for the first book, The Wolf of Oren-Yaro. By the way, Orbit, the publisher, has put the words “Chronicles of the Bitch Queen” right on the spine of the hardcopy books, so that’s what I’m calling it. Amazon chooses to call this series the “The Chronicles of th... Read More

Transgressions of Power: The stakes are higher than ever

Transgressions of Power by Juliette Wade

With the second book of THE BROKEN TRUST series, Juliette Wade widens her world for the readers, and manages to place her characters in even greater danger than they were at the end of Mazes of Power, the first one. This review of Transgressions of Power (2021) may contain mild spoilers for book one. In any event, you must read Mazes of Power first if you really want to understand what’s happening here.

Transgressions of Power starts about thirteen years after the end of book one. Adon is the last child of First Family heads Garr and Tamalera (although Garr died shortly before Adon was born.) Adon, at thirteen, is ... Read More

Dead Man in a Ditch: This series continues to be average

Dead Man in a Ditch by Luke Arnold

Dead Man in a Ditch (2020) is the second book in Luke Arnold’s FETCH PHILLIPS ARCHIVES. It follows The Last Smile in Sunder City in which we met “man for hire” Fetch Phillips who, out of guilt for his role in the event that destroyed magic in the world, works only for the magical creatures who are now suffering and feeling threatened.

Fetch has a couple of investigations going on in this installment. An elderly elf has asked him to find out who killed her husband. Meanwhile the police investigator has asked him to investigate a seemingly unrelated crime — a murder that looks a lot like it was done with magic though, supposedly, magic has disappeared fro... Read More

Hatch: Oppel’s alien invasion remains full of action

Hatch by Kenneth Oppel

Hatch (2020) is Kenneth Oppel’s continuation of his MG alien invasion tale that began with Bloom. Oppel maintains the fast-paced excitement, keeping his focus on the three young protagonists Petra, Anaya, and Seth, while adding a few new characters as well. Fans of book one will not be disappointed, save by a killer of a cliffhanger ending. Inevitable spoilers for book one ahead.

In the first book, aliens were softening up Earth and preparing it for their impending invasion by seeding our planet with various deadly plant species that weren’t just dangerous to touch or eat but were actively carnivorous, though their biggest danger was a growth rate that was quickly obliterating humanity’s food crops. Meanw... Read More

The Trials of Koli: Feels like a middle book, but a good one

The Trials of Koli by M.R. Carey

M.R. Carey’s The Book of Koli was one of my favorite reads this year. I loved everything about it and was eagerly awaiting the sequel, The Trials of Koli (2020), which was, thankfully, released only a few months after The Book of Koli appeared. There will be some spoilers for The Book of Koli in this review, so beware.

Koli is still on the run. He misses his mother and sisters but can’t go back home or he’ll be hanged. He continues to travel with Ursula, the strange woman who knows a lot about science, medicine, and technology and who is accompanied by a piece of “tech” that is able to diagnose illnesses, shoot down enemies, and other such handy thi... Read More

The Heirs of Locksley: Archery and mischief with Robin Hood’s children

The Heirs of Locksley by Carrie Vaughn

The adventures of Robin Hood's three children continue in The Heirs of Locksley, the second novella in Carrie Vaughn's ROBIN HOOD STORIES series. It takes a unexpected four-year leap forward from The Ghosts of Sherwood. The eldest, Mary, is now twenty and still hasn't met the young man she's semi-betrothed to, and her feelings have shifted from fear and uncertainty to irritation that William de Ros still hasn’t bothered to come meet her; in fact, she's beginning to wonder if he even exists. John (named after Little John) is in his later teens now, and the youngest, Eleanor, is thirteen.

Robin's old enemy King John died a few years ago, and his thirteen-year-ol... Read More

The Queen of Raiders: Satisfying, but left me wanting more

The Queen of Raiders by Sarah Kozloff

The Queen of Raiders (2020) is Sarah Kozloff’s second installment in her NINE REALMS series. In my review of book one, A Queen in Hiding, I used words like “nice,” “serviceable,” “pleasurable,” “solid,” and “satisfying,” eventually closing with “I’m hoping for more as I keep going.” Unfortunately, I can’t say I got the “more” I was looking for, but the series does remain, well, solidly satisfying.

The story picks up where book one ended (I’m going to assume you’ve read it) and mostly follows two main characters: Cerulia, the queen in exile, as she tries to escape Lord Marwyck’s attempt to track her down and capture/kill her to c... Read More