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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth (vol. 13): End of Days: The ultimate battle with the Black Flame

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth (vol. 13): End of Days by Mike Mignola (writer), John Arcudi (writer), Laurence Campbell (art), Dave Stewart (colors), Clem Robins (letters).

With Johann in the vril-powered suit of armor, the B.P.R.D. now has on hand a great resource for taking on monsters. Johann commands almost as much power as Liz. Liz has taken the time to get back to gardening back at the B.P.R.D. headquarters now that Johann used the armor to stop the monsters that were getting close in Colorado. But events are escalating around the world. Fenix, who goes into a trance with Panya as her guide, has an epileptic fit witnessing even more tragedy to come, and she slips into a coma. Also at headquarters, the mad professor starts babbling about the seven that are one, the ogdru jahad on earth, and other prophetic concerns. There’s a lot going on in this volume, and the art is fantastic, particularly the scenes with the large monsters and the scenes in w... Read More

Spear: Go read it. Now.

Spear by Nicola Griffith

Nicola Griffith’s Spear glides effortlessly and confidently into the Arthurian cycle, while giving us a completely new character and an outsider’s perspective of Arthur, his court, Merlin, and the Holy Grail.

Published in 2022, this novella starts with the account of a young girl who lives in a cave in the woods with her mother. Their one item of value is a large cauldron in which the mother cooks their food and heats water. The girl roams the woods, learning the language of the animals, knowing how to read the plants and the seasons. She grows stronger. The girl has two names, depending on her mother’s mood. Sometimes she is a word for “gift.” Sometimes, when her mother is raving in nightmares, the girl’s name is “price.” Always, her mother is filled with fear that someone will come seeking... Read More

The Last Days of the Dinosaurs: Planet Earth’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

The Last Days of the Dinosaurs by Riley Black

As just about any child can tell you, roughly 65 million years ago a nearly ten-mile-wide asteroid crashed into the earth in the Yucatan, unleashing planet-wide firestorms, geography-changing tsunamis, and years of acid-rain and dark days. In short, it was not a good day for Planet Earth. Or for the more than 75% of animal species wiped out by the impact, including, of course, its most famous victims, the dinosaurs. In The Last Days of the Dinosaurs (2022), Riley Black gives a wonderfully evocative and vivid accounting not just of those horrible days following the asteroid’s impact, but of life’s slow recovery during the following million years, making the book, in Black’s words, not a “monument to loss [but] an ode to resilience.”

Her particular focus is on the Hell Creek area of the western US as it is one of the most explored site... Read More

Last Exit: Complex, compelling, and intense

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Last Exit by Max Gladstone

Here is Max Gladstone’s recipe for a Last Exit (2022) cocktail:

One part fervent, confident intensity of young adulthood
One part fever dream (or nightmare) of magic and alternate worlds
Add bitters in the form of mid-life fears, regrets, and resignations born out of both trauma and simple aging
Splash of Mad Max
Zest of Zelazny
Stir with a rusty spoon of entropy
Pour slowly into a clear (eyed) glass filled one-quarter with the crushed ice-dreams of Americana myth and rimmed with sugar for a little bit of innocent sweetness
Serve with a shot of hope (the kind that burns on the wa... Read More

Shelterbelts: An in-depth look into a Mennonite community

Shelterbelts by Jonathan Dyck

With Shelterbelts, Jonathan Dyck joins the ranks of other great Canadian comic book creators such as Seth and Jeff Lemire, who both write and draw their own works. Shelterbelts is a sensitive book about a Mennonite town undergoing changes. We get glimpses of different parts of the community through a series of interrelated stories in which the same people show up in different contexts. For example, we meet the queer daughter of a Mennonite preacher in several stories, and we get to know the father who is wrestling with his church members over being more inclusive. Several of the members of the congregation leave to go to other churches.

One of the best stories is about a forty-year-old man who is a faithful Mennonite, yet he wrestles with his sexuality and attraction to men. We see him with his aging parents as they encourage him to find a woman. We ... Read More

Razzmatazz: Drag kings, crime gangs, corrupt cops, and a dragon

Razzmatazz by Christopher Moore 

Razzmatazz, Christopher Moore’s fantasy/action/comedy follow-up to Noir, came out in 2022. While I recommend Noir, you don’t need to read it first to enjoy this outing.

It’s 1947, in San Francisco, and Sammy “Two-Toes” Tiffin, bartender and sometime detective, and his group of regulars are still just trying to get by, when Sammy’s friend Eddie “Moo Shoes” Shu brings Sammy to a meeting with Eddie’s Uncle Ho. Uncle Ho has a job for Sammy; recover a black dragon statuette currently in the town of Locke, California, and give it to one of the criminal tongs, or they’ll kill Ho.

Sammy has some other things on his mind; namely, where h... Read More

Nettle and Bone: A princess, a dog, and a fairy godmother like you haven’t seen them before

Nettle and Bone by T. Kingfisher

Kingfisher’s Nettle and Bone (2022) was exactly the book I needed to read when I read it, so I am grateful to it and the writer for that. Kingfisher’s original fairy tale is a satisfying read at any time, with characters who engaged my imagination and find original ways to solve their problems.

Marra is a princess, the third daughter of a small kingdom with a deep-water harbor, nestled between two powerful warlike nations, each of whom covets the harbor. Marra’s mother marries off her eldest daughter, Damia, to the prince of the Northern Kingdom, which is the less vulnerable of the two bellicose kingdoms because it is protected by magic. Shockingly, almost immediately, Damia dies, supposedly in an accident. Marra’s next sister, Kania, marries the prince, and she lives. Kania has a child, and Ma... Read More

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth (vol. 9): The Reign of the Black Flame: The return of the Fire Starter

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth (vol. 9): The Reign of the Black Flame by Mike Mignola (writer), John Arcudi (writer), James Harren (art), Dave Stewart (colors), Clem Robins (letters). 

At the end of last issue, Liz regains her powers and returns to the B.P.R.D., and Fenix, too, returns to the base. Both of them are in time to join the teams going into New York, so this issue starts with them on the ground, on a fact-finding mission. Kate Corrigan gave them orders to assess the threats in New York and, if possible, reduce those threats. Theirs is not a rescue mission, though that doesn’t seem a possibility anyway, since they don’t seem to be able to find anybody left in New York as they make their way in on foot.

There’s a secondary team coming in through New Jersey, and they are working with the Russians, so Iosif is leading that mission. Without Fenix, they are unable to avoid dangerous situations, and th... Read More

Siren Queen: Another five-star read from Vo

Siren Queen by Nghi Vo

2022’s Siren Queen by Nghi Vo is another 5-star read. Set in the same world as The Chosen and the Beautiful, Siren Queen looks at the magic of movies, and the exploitative studio system of the medium’s early days. In Vo’s world, the magic of movies is real magic, and that magic is often hungry.

Our main character is a Chinese American girl in Los Angeles who becomes enthralled with the magic of moving pictures. Soon, a director picks her up as an extra, and he starts using her more and more frequently. Her father disapproves, but her mother sees that the family needs the money. When our protagonist is given a line to speak in a film, she feels the magic envelope her as she speaks, and knows this is what she wants to do with her life. The question is, can she do it on her own terms? The entire system is arrayed against her. Read More

The Stardust Thief: An impressive debut

The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah

The Stardust Thief (2022), by Chelsea Abdullah, is one of the more impressive debut novels I’ve read lately, offering up a bevy of strong narrative elements with barely a weakness to be found and using a well-known tale (1001 Nights) not as a basis for a retelling but as the germ of something that is its own lushly original story. It wasn’t until I neared the end that I had the happy realization this wasn’t a stand-alone novel but would give me two more chances to spend time in this world.

As a child, Loulie (AKA the Midnight Merchant) was the sole survivor when her tribe was massacred, rescued from the desert by Qadir, who now serves as her bodyguard as she plies her trade of finding and selling magical jinn relics. Her unique success in that area has caugh... Read More

How to Build a Human: In Seven Evolutionary Steps

How to Build a Human: In Seven Evolutionary Steps by Pamela S. Turner and illustrated by John Gurche

I often tell my first-year college students that when they start out doing research, they should begin not with the academic journals, which so many of them do, and not with the newspaper or magazine articles, but with books written for young readers. Because what they want is something that is brief, broad, shallow but informative, easy to understand. Something that strips out the overwhelming details and provides them a strong foundational understanding of the major points so that when they do eventually research more deeply, the details will make a lot more sense to them, will be “fitted into” an intellectual framework they’ve constructed for themselves. I add as well that they are lucky in that they’re currently living in a golden age of non-fiction for young readers, not only in terms of quantity but quality as well.

E... Read More

All the Seas of the World: A master working at the top of his craft

All the Seas of the World by Guy Gavriel Kay

As I write this, it’s early spring in Rochester, and those who live in the Northeast know what that means. Cold. Clouds. Wind. The false promise of warmth. The precipitation that no longer falls in feet and inches but instead has become a more annoying (and far less pretty) alternation of rain and sleet and hail that you know has to stop soon, will stop soon, but still Just. Keeps. On. Happening. Bleak, yes. But then here it is: a new Guy Gavriel Kay book arriving like an early harbinger of spring — a shaft of sun through the cloud cover, a cardinal’s trill cutting through the wind in the bushes, a sudden spike into the sixties. And suddenly you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

At least, not for a few hours, which is how long it took me to read All the Seas of the World, because when you start a Kay novel, you don’t want to put it down. Let the worl... Read More

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth (vol. 8): Lake of Fire: The humans fight back against the monsters

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth (vol. 8): Lake of Fire by Mike Mignola (writer), John Arcudi (writer), Tyler Crook (art), Dave Stewart (colors), Clem Robins (letters)

The B.P.R.D. is running missions to try to save people from the apocalyptic events happening around the world. They’ve lost to the monsters in England and in multiple large cities in the U.S., so at the moment they are focusing on trying to get into New York and launch some rescue missions. We follow some of the B.P.R.D. agents who are going into New York, including Howards with his mystical, mythical sword with which he is deadly. But in this volume, we don’t yet get to see this mission launched. We see only the preparations. We also see that the B.P.R.D., with the help of the Russians, is starting to investigate Zinco, which is based in New York.

Liz is in a hospital and trying to recover from injury from a collapsed building. She’s been bedridden for two months. She... Read More

Inheritors of Power: The truth of the broken trust is revealed

Inheritors of Power by Juliette Wade

“…A single executive, when chosen by vote of the general population, is not at all the same as a king.”

Inheritors of Power (2022) is like a magic trick, exploding everything I thought I understood about the Varin society from the first two books in the BROKEN TRUST series. I had assumed that the political system in place in Varin’s underground cities had started off basically good and jiggled off-track over time. With Book Three, I have to re-examine that conclusion, and I’m not the only one. Revelations in this book upend belief systems for in-world characters as well as the reader.

To take care of the trivial issues first: I also assumed that the series title, “The Broken Trust” was meant metaphorically. This book sets me straight, revealing the meaning of the series name. It also continues the family saga of V... Read More