SFF Reviews

Our most recent reviews are listed first. Use the tags to search for reviews of similar books.

The Spear Cuts through Water: One of the best of 2022

The Spear Cuts through Water by Simon Jimenez

Simon Jiminez’s The Spear Cuts through Water (2022) is one of the most vibrantly original novels I’ve read in some time, an enthralling work of creativity that even as it makes use of some familiar tropes arrives absolutely as its own unique self: richly mythic and startlingly inventive. It will absolutely land on my Best of 2022 list, even it may not be for everyone (though everyone should attempt it).

At its core, The Spear Cuts through Water is a simple quest story told unsimply. Ages ago the Moon Goddess fell from the sky and eventually became captive in the deep dungeons of the Empire. The current Emperor, aged and fearing death, is about to embark on a grand procession, but when the Goddess escapes two young men — Jun and Keema — foes at first and then allies, must escort her through a series of dangers to the coast to p... Read More

WWWednesday: September 21, 2022

Fiyah’s Ignyte awards were announced on Saturday. P.Djeli Clark took home Best Adult Novel for Master of Djinn; Best Young Adult Novel went to Darcie Littlebadger for A Snake Falls to Earth; Best Novella was awarded to Shingai Ngeri Kagunda for This is How to Stay Alive. View all the award winners here.

(You can hear Shingai Ngeri Kagunda read another story here.)

Charlie Jane Anders is now reviewing for the Washington ... Read More

The Shadow on the House: Strange days

The Shadow on the House by Mark Hansom

For the past 35 years or so, I have been so busy trying to experience all the 200 books described in Stephen Jones’ and Kim Newman’s two excellent overview volumes – Horror: 100 Best Books and Horror: Another 100 Best Books – that I was completely unaware, until recently, that there is yet another trusted resource that horror buffs in the know have been using for recommended reading; namely, the Wagner 39 List. It seems that back in 1983, in the June and August issues of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine, editor/author Karl Edward Wagner provided a list of the 39 books in the horror arena that he felt were of the highest calibre, or most in need of being discovered by a new audience. The 39 books were broken down into three categories: The 13 Best Supernatural Horror Novels, The 13 Best Sci-Fi Horror Novels, and The 13 Be... Read More

Fantastic Four: Full Circle: A psychedelic journey into the Negative Zone

Fantastic Four: Full Circle by Alex Ross (writing, art, and coloring), Josh Johnson (coloring), and Ariana Maher (lettering)

I just finished reading the recently released Fantastic Four: Full Circle, and though the story itself is not riveting, it is a perfect vehicle for the true point of the graphic novel — the art. And the story is an interesting sequel to the previous Stan Lee-Jack Kirby production, “This Man . . . This Monster,” Issue #51 of the original run on the Fantastic Four (which is available via Amazon’s Comixology services).

In Stan Lee’s Issue #51, with excellent art by Jack Kirby, the Thing is taken in by a kindly stranger who turns out to be a mad scientist who wishes to harm him and ultimately Reed Richards, the leader of the Fantastic Four. After putting knock-out drops in the Thing’s coffee, the stranger-scientist uses an invention of his to transform into the Thing (and at... Read More

The Witch and the Tsar: Solid, but a bit flat

The Witch and the Tsar by Olesya Salnikova Gilmore

“Solid” is the best description I can give for The Witch and the Tsar by Olesya Salnikova Gilmore, a debut novel that shows flashes of hitting its potential, particularly in its folkloric elements, but overall feels a bit flat and overlong.

A retelling of the Baba Yaga mythos, the story mostly takes place during the reign of Ivan the Terrible (1500s), though there are flashbacks to earlier times, thanks to the fact that the main character (who prefers Yaga to Baba Yaga) is immortal, daughter of a human and the Earth goddess Mokosh, dead now for some years. Since then Yaga has been alone, save for her wolf and owl, and quietly helping the people nearby, especially the women. What precipitates her re-entry into the world is a visit from Anastasia, whom Yaga had helped long ago and set her on the path to her current role as Tsarina (Ivan’s wife).
... Read More

Dark Sanctuary: Thanks, Karl!

Dark Sanctuary by H.B. Gregory

A very happy day it was for me – but a very unfortunate day for my bank account – when I first discovered the website for Ramble House books. Specializing in impossibly obscure sci-fi, horror, mystery and “weird menace” titles from the first half of the 20th century, the publisher has an overwhelming catalog of reasonably priced volumes that will surely make any fan of those genres salivate; books, for the most part, that are available nowhere else. I have already written here of Greye La Spina’s wonderful horror novel Invaders From the Dark (1925), only available from Ramble House, and now would like to tell you of a book that I recently read from the company’s Dancing Tuatara Press imprint that is even more of a rarity. The b... Read More

Rise of the Vicious Princess: A smartly written YA princess novel

Rise of the Vicious Princess by C.J. Redwine

I get a big kick out of reading books not specifically for my demographic. Actually, let me rephrase that. I enjoy reading books that I assume are not written for my demographic. I’m a guy, so stories about princesses are off the table. Perhaps you’re a girl and that John Wick in Space book is not supposed to be your cup of tea. I beg to differ, and love to step outside my comfort zone and read material that is not necessarily written with me in mind. It was under that assumption that I picked up Rise of the Vicious Princess by C.J. Redwine.

The story follows Charis Willowthorn (pronounced Kaw-Ris), the teenage princess of the Fantasy Medieval-ish realm called Calera. Calera is a fairly prosperous country that shares a war-torn continent with a few other kingdoms. They have fancy balls filled with courtesans and fancy folk of one kind or another. Court poli... Read More

Ithaca: An engrossing story

Ithaca by Claire North

Ithaca (2022), by Claire North, is another in a recent spate line of Greek myth retellings, with the source material here being The Odyssey and the House of Atreus storyline (Agamemnon, Clytemnestra, Electra, Orestes). North greatly narrows the focus here in setting, time, and plot, lasering in what was happening at the periphery or in the gaps of those epic tales, giving voice especially though not solely to the women on the edges of those stories. It’s a wonderfully voiced, thoughtful reimagining story and a strong entry point into a new series.

That fantastically wry and sharp voice belongs to Hera, who narrates the book from her godly perch, able to see all and transport herself wherever necessary. The bite in her voice makes itself known immediately, as when she describes Ithaca as “a thoroughly backwards wretched place” and labels Athena a “priggish little mad... Read More

The Final Girl Support Group: Good thriller if you are adept at suspending disbelief

The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix

The title of Grady Hendrix’s 2021 novel might make you think it’s a horror story in the slasher-movie style, and there are plenty of nods to horror here. Actually, the book is a thriller, and as a thriller it works pretty well. Hendrix intersperses the thriller with some dark, zany humor, trauma-fueled angst, and toxic sisterhood rants, but the story’s at its best when our main character, Lynette, is on the run from, well, everybody.

The Final Girl Support Group opens with Lynette preparing to attend that very group. Lynette has turned her LA slum-neighborhood apartment into a bunker. She does self-defense drills before setting out, hyper-vigilant, to attend the group she participates in every week with five other women, all in their late thirties, who survived not one but two bl... Read More

Abe Sapien (Vol. 3): Dark and Terrible and The New Race of Man: Two more dark, mid-apocalyptic stories

Abe Sapien (Vol. 3): Dark and Terrible and The New Race of Man by Mike Mignola (writer), Scott Allie (writer), John Arcudi (writer), Sebastian Fiumara (art), and Max Fiumara (art), Dave Stewart (colors), and Clem Robins (letters)

“Dark and Terrible” starts with the discussion of the continuing developments around the world: the rise of the monsters. The B.P.R.D. discuss what to do about the monsters and talk about what has happened to Abe Sapien. Meanwhile, in a train car, hobos discuss the monsters while Abe, wrapped up in a disguise, listens in on their conspiracy theories. When one of the men abruptly takes off Abe’s disguise, a fight erupts only until the train stops and the B.P.R.D. start their search of the train cars for Abe. Abe, however, manages to escape into the woods and goes on the run again.

The question being explored in this story is the continuing one of what created Abe and his more recent changes and why h... Read More

Fandom, The Next Generation

Fandom, The Next Generation edited by Bridget Kies & Megan Connor

Fandom, The Next Generation
, edited by Bridget Kies and Megan Connor is a collection of essays exploring, unsurprisingly, fandom, but with a particular focus on transgenerational sources and fan communities. I.e., those fandoms centered around “rebooted or perpetually rebroadcast media texts” whose long-lived and/or resurrected nature maintains and creates several generations of fans — those who came to the text in its original form, those who discovered the text in later years, and those who came to the text as an adaptation or reboot. Think the many decades of the various Star Wars films or Dr. Who shows, the long-running but also rebooted Star Trek universe, but also non-SF/Fantasy works such as the multitude of Jane Austen adaptations over the past decades.

The collection is divided into three broad ... Read More

The Centaur: Another masterwork from Algernon Blackwood

The Centaur by Algernon Blackwood

English author Algernon Blackwood was always one to make good use of his wide-ranging travels in the 14 novels and over 180 short stories and novellas that he would ultimately give to the world. For example, his early 1890s sojourn in Canada, where he worked as a dairy farmer and hotel operator, would, upon his return to England, provide the inspirational setting for one of his greatest novellas, “The Wendigo” (1910). Canoeing trips down the Danube during the summers of 1900 and 1901 would compel him to pen one of his most famous tales, “The Willows,” in 1907. After Blackwood settled in Switzerland after 1908, the beautiful Alpine scenery there became the backdrop for many of the stories in his remarkable collection Pan’s Garden... Read More

Age of Ash: The first in yet another must-read series

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Age of Ash by Daniel Abraham

I have to say, my timing of reading Daniel Abraham’s newest novel, Age of Ash (2022), couldn’t have been better, coming as it did right after I finished the last EXPANSE novel, the series he co-wrote with Ty Franck (as James S.A. Corey). After all, while THE EXPANSE has been my favorite sci-fi series for the past number of years, Abraham was also responsible for two of my favorite fantasy series: Read More

Ghostlight: An entertaining and engaging MG ghost story

Ghostlight by Kenneth Oppel

Kenneth Oppel’s Ghostlight is a quick-moving MG story involving a trio of teens battling a long-dead villain seeking to raise an army of ghosts in modern-day Toronto. Full of action, the narrative also includes a number of brief but effective emotional moments and also highlights the poor treatment of Native groups.

Gabe Vasilakis has a summer job giving the Ghost Tour of the Toronto’s Gibraltar Point Lighthouse, which in 1839 saw the unexplained deaths of its keeper and his 16-year-old daughter, Rebecca Strand. Unexplained no more, though, as Gabe ends up able to communicate with Rebecca and thus learns she and her father were part of a secret order of ghost-banishing “Keepers” who “protect the harbors, the cities, the coastlines of the world … since the Lighthouse of Alexandria … stand[ing] guard over the night to protect the living from the wakeful and wicked d... Read More

Amongst Our Weapons: Delightful and fulfilling

Amongst Our Weapons by Ben Aaronovitch

She looked at me, her eyes wide.
“‘Am I free?’ she said.
“‘Yes,” I said. ‘And no.’” 

Amongst Our Weapons (2022) is my new favorite in Ben Aaronovitch’s RIVERS OF LONDON series, mostly because, at long last, Peter and Beverly’s progeny, the twins, make an appearance. That isn’t the only reason; the plot is good and moves quickly, and the talking foxes recruited by Peter’s young cousin Abigail are in the book just enough to keep it extra entertaining.

The talking foxes aren’t alone in this story about a religious cult and an angel of death, possibly an actual angel. Lesley May, Peter’s former partner turned nemesis, is taking an active interest in the case, and see... Read More

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth (vol. 14): The Exorcist: Demon possession and missing children

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth (vol. 14): The Exorcist by Mike Mignola (writer), Chris Roberson (writer), Cameron Stewart (art/writer), Mike Norton (art), Dave Stewart (colors), Clem Robins (letters).

Volume fourteen starts in the past with an exorcism of a woman taking place in East Africa in 1890 before jumping to the present with the attempted exorcism of a little boy. With Agent Ashley Strode present at the exorcism, the demon manifests and speaks directly to her, letting her know that the turmoil between Hell and Earth can be minimized if she can meet the demands made in the demon’s message. That demand leads her to an old man with a demon trapped inside him. Agent Strode works with this man to solve the problem of this demon possession. But the battle is not an easy one, and Agent Strode is called on to act swiftly to win the day.

Agent Strode gains experience in exorcisms and continues to learn on the job, becoming an essential m... Read More

Turnabout: The ol’ switcheroo

Turnabout by Thorne Smith 

It has been a good number of years since I last read Thorne Smith’s ribald fantasy classic entitled The Night Life of the Gods (1931), but I can still recall how thoroughly enjoyable and hilarious the book was for me. In this wonderful romp, a NYC-based scientist, Hunter Hawk, invents a device that can turn people to stone. He soon meets Megaera, one of the Little People, who has the converse ability to turn statues into living people, and the two later manage to bring all the stone effigies of the ancient Roman gods at the Metropolitan Museum to life, with increasingly madcap results. The book was chosen for inclusion in Cawthorn & Moorcock’s excellent overview volume Fantasy: The 100 Best Books, and deserve...

Read More

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

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

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 sh... Read More

The Liminal War: Why isn’t this series adapted for streaming already?

The Liminal War by Ayize Jama-Everett

The third book in Ayize Jama-Everett’s LIMINAL PEOPLE series, 2015’s The Liminal War returns us to the near future and the world of Liminal healer Taggert, his daughter Tamara and the daughter of his heart, Prentis. Prentis is the orphaned Liminal young woman who communicates with animals. We met her in the Book One; as Book Three opens, Tamara, a powerful telepath and telekinetic, starts a firestorm of fear and anger with her realization that Prentis has been kidnapped and is nowhere on their earth.

At least, nowhere in their now. In practically no time, Taggert is reluctantly talking with the enigmatic Alter Nayarana and a weird DJ who goes by Jah Puba, but also Mico, and planning a trip back in time to 1971, where there may be a trace of Prentis. Taggert is al... Read More

The Rise and Reign of the Mammals: A New History, from the Shadow of the Dinosaurs to Us

The Rise and Reign of the Mammals: A New History, from the Shadow of the Dinosaurs to Us by Steve Brusatte

2022 has been a banner year for me in terms of non-fiction reading, and that trend continues with The Rise and Reign of the Mammals: A New History, from the Shadow of the Dinosaurs to Us, by Steve Brusatte, an epic and vividly told survey of how evolution bit by bit equipped our ancestors with the tools necessary to at first survive and then thrive. As with Brusatte’s earlier work, the excellent The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, this is popular science as it should be done: clear and compelling.

Brusatte begins before the mammal line as we think of it comes into existence, setting the context for what drove the evolution and doing so broadly, discussing not just specific creatures but eco-systems (i.e. including plants), climate, and the impact of extinction events. He also does a n... Read More

Leviathan Wakes: Action-packed space opera that transcends the genre

Reposting to include Justin's new review.

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

FORMAT/INFO: Leviathan Wakes is 592 pages long divided over a Prologue, 55 chapters and an Epilogue. Extras include an interview with the author and an extract from Caliban’s War, the second book in The Expanse series. Narration is in the third person, alternating between Executive Officer James Holden and Detective Miller, except for the Prologue (Julie) and Epilogue (Fred). Leviathan Wakes is mostly self-contained, coming to a satisfying stopping point, but the book is the opening volume in The Expanse series. June 2, 2011/June 15, 2011 marks the UK/North American Trade P... Read More

The Green Rust: Proto-Bond

The Green Rust by Edgar Wallace

In Ian Fleming’s 10th James Bond novel, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1963), 007 foils a plot by the Germanic supervillain Ernst Stavro Blofeld to use biological agents to destroy a goodly part of the world’s farm crops. But as it turns out, this was not the first time that an English author had given his readers a story featuring a Prussian madman employing bacterial warfare to cut off part of the globe’s food supply! A full 44 years earlier, we find Edgar Wallace, the so-called “King of Thrillers,” coming up with a similar dastardly scheme, in his 1919 offering entitled Green Rust. Wallace’s novel was initially released by the British publisher Ward, Lock & Co. and has seen a modest number of other editions since, sometimes under its original title The Green Rust, and other times as just Read More

My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies: A noir coming-of-age story

My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies: A Criminal Novella by Ed Brubaker (writer), Sean Phillips (artist), and Jacob Phillips (colorist).

My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies: A Criminal Novella is another Ed Brubaker-Sean Phillips work of perfection. It’s another tale of danger and the criminal world.  The story and the art are each five-star outings, the storytelling melding well with the visuals. Simply put, this noir story has matching noir-ish artwork, but if you’re familiar with Phillips’s work in previous Criminal titles, you’ll be surprised by the light pinks and purples and light blues used this time, creating a different tint than the usual (colors are by Jacob Phillips, Sean Phillips’s son). Any noir novel fans, including fans of the covers, will appreciate both aspects of the book — content and look. The father and son artists give a sense of some of these covers with a contemporary, more r... Read More

The Entropy of Bones: The extraordinary origin of an extraordinary Liminal

The Entropy of Bones by Ayize Jama-Everett

When we meet Chabi, the protagonist of 2015’s The Entropy of Bones, she is running the sixty miles from Sausalito, CA, to Napa, CA. She plans to grab a meal and run back. This is our first clue that Chabi isn’t average… and it’s not our last. Chabi doesn’t speak, although she certainly has a voice. Her physical abilities are astounding. Her martial arts teacher is a strange, dangerous man, Narayana, who lives on a ship near Chabi’s mother’s houseboat.

On her semi-regular run this day, she stumbles into a marijuana grow and makes the uncomfortable acquaintance of a pair of brothers and the adult son of one of them. The family originally grew grapes, but a strange fungus is overtaking the vines, so they switched to premium marijuana. Chabi, who finds an odd peace when she’s around the fungus-swamped vines, agrees to provide some patch security for t... Read More

The Ecologic Envoy: A new generation of Ecolitans

The Ecologic Envoy by L.E. Modesitt Jr

The Ecologic Envoy (1986) was the first novel published in L.E. Modesitt Jr’s THE ECOLITAN MATTER quartet but, according to the series’ internal chronology, it comes third, after The Ecolitan Operation (1989) and The Ecologic Secession (1990). You don’t need to read those two novels first because The Ecologic Envoy and its sequel, The Ecolitan Enigma, are set a few hundred years later and feature a completely different set of characters.

Our hero, though, is a direct descendant of JimJoy Earle Wright, the protagonist of t... Read More