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The Goblin Emperor: A beautiful world and protagonist

Reposting to include Jana's new review.

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

A few weeks ago I finally finished with revisions to my dissertation and rewarded myself with a read of The Goblin Emperor, the first book published under the name of Katherine Addison (the pen-name for Sarah Monette, accomplished spec-fic author).

It’s been a while since I experienced such pure undiluted reading enjoyment. I was thrilled on every page that this book even existed, and even more excited that Katherine Addison is a young writer so that, hopefully, I have much more to look forward to.

One of the reasons The Goblin Emperoris so enjoyable is that the world Addison describes is jewel-like in its uniqueness and detail. In the elvish kingdom of Ethuveraz, airships cruise the skies (and sometimes crash),... Read More

The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones

Reposting to include Rebecca's review.

The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin, Elio M. García, and Linda Antonsson

George R.R. Martin’s The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and The Game of Thrones is a companion to his A SONG OF ICE & FIRE novels. It provides modest spoilers for the series and is probably best if not read until readers have finished the third novel, A Storm of Swords, or finished watching the third season in the television series. (And the same is true of this review.)

Given that the title of this book — The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the G... Read More

Blue Mars: A must-read work of science fiction

Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

Earth is powerful but overpopulated, and its many billions of people now look at the Martian frontier with desperate envy and resentment. Is war inevitable? Peace in the short term will require a delegation to co-opt the "feudal capitalist" Earth's selfish politics, it will require history’s most ambitious Model United Nations committee to create a Martian government, and it might also require Mars First’s intelligence community to build an extra-terrestrial alliance against the home world. If that plot summary sounds sprawling, I’m afraid it doesn’t even approach a comprehensive list of what Kim Stanley Robinson explores in Blue Mars, the concluding entry of his Martian trilogy.

Blue Mars is a philosophical work of science fiction and it is sometimes crit... Read More

A Flight of Angels: A beautiful anthology

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

A Flight of Angels by Rebecca Guay (illustrator)

Stories by Holly Black, Bill Willingham, Alisa Kwitney, Louise Hawes and Todd Mitchell

An angel has fallen. Led by their insatiable curiosity, the hosts of fae have followed the descent of the white-winged creature and now gather around his still-breathing body to decide what to do with him. They decide to hold a trial, and present evidence in the form of stories about the deeds of angels to decide whether or not to let him live.

I am fairly new to reading graphic novels, so I do not know how original the conceit is of having multiple aut... Read More

Midnight Riot: A blast from start to finish

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Midnight Riot (aka Rivers of London in the UK) by Ben Aaronovitch

Peter Grant is a constable-in-training in London’s police force. At the end of his probation period, it looks like he’s in line for a long career of boring desk work in the Case Progression Unit, but that all changes when he draws the luckless duty of guarding a crime scene overnight where, earlier that day, a headless body was found lying on the street. While Peter is freezing his heels off in the cold London night, he is approached by possibly the crime’s only witness — who also happens to be a ghost…

Peter is swiftly recruited into a secret department that focuses on the supernatural and magical, and apprenticed to the mysterious Thomas Nightingale, the leader and only other active member in this centuries-old department. Peter begins the long process of learning... Read More

Traitor’s Blade: Full of adventure and derring-do

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Traitor’s Blade by Sebastien de Castell

Traitor’s Blade is the first installment in Sebastien de Castell’s GREATCOATS series and is an interesting blend of genres — like The Three Musketeers with classic fantasy. At the core it is about a young man whose heart is broken and who has found meaning in defending ideals that are greater than himself.

An oft-used, but nonetheless compelling storyline in fantasy is the abuse of power by the nobility. Whether it’s something as simple as overtaxing and overworking the lower classes or some of the more heinous examples where the Nobles rape, murder and torture with seeming impunity, the concept remains that power unchecked corrupts. Falcio Val Mond has had his fill of exactly this sort of thing. As a young husband his experiences have riven his soul and created in him a desire for justice that... Read More

SAGA Volume 1: A brilliant series

SAGA Volume One, Issues 1-6 by Brian K. Vaughan (author) & Fiona Staples (illustrator)

Brian K. Vaughan's brilliant new series SAGA is a mixture of fantasy and science fiction, with wonderfully humorous and realistic dialogue between a newlywed couple. But the subject being addressed (and critiqued) is war. It's also incredibly sexually explicit, so I must give my warning to those who either prefer not to have in their heads images of people with television heads having sex or want to keep such images from their kids. (Personally, I find it funny to watch one of the television head characters, a powerful and vicious military official and member of the royalty, struggle with impotence when out of his official attire.)

The premise of the story is that a couple and their new-born child, Hazel, are on the run from just about everybody involved in the war. When issue one begins, the war has been going on for many ... Read More

Jirel of Joiry: A truly marvelous fantasy collection from C.L. Moore

Jirel of Joiry by C.L. Moore

Just recently, I had some words to say regarding the stories that Golden Age sci-fi/fantasy author C.L. Moore placed in Weird Tales magazine, during the 1930s, that dealt with the futuristic smuggler/spaceman Northwest Smith. But as most fans of Catherine Lucille Moore will readily tell you, Smith was not the only character from this beloved writer who made semiregular appearances in the legendary pulp that decade. From October ’34 until April ’39, Moore also regaled readers with a wholly different character: Jirel of Joiry. Whereas the Smith series runs to a total of 11 stories, starting in November ’33 and winding up with a belated coda in June ’57, the Jirel series consists of a mere half dozen tales. The Smith series is an amalgam of sci-fi, fantasy and horror, set in a futuristic, space-age setting, whereas the ... Read More

Idoru: Slick and shiny, but also deep

Idoru by William Gibson

Idoru (1996) is billed as the middle novel in William Gibson’s BRIDGE trilogy (bookended by Virtual Light and All Tomorrow’s Parties) but, though it shares some history and characters with its companions, it can easily stand alone.

Idoru follows the stories of two people who live in Gibson’s post-industrial world. One is Colin Laney (of All Tomorrow’s Parties) who grew up in a Florida orphanage where he was given experimental drugs that changed his brain in such a way that he can now see patterns in huge amounts of data. Laney thinks of h... Read More

The Anubis Gates: A very generous book

The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers

Tim Powers' fourth novel, 1983's The Anubis Gates, is a book that I had been meaning to read for years. Chosen for inclusion in both David Pringle's Modern Fantasy: The Hundred Best Novels and Jones & Newman's Horror: 100 Best Books, as well as the recipient of the Philip K. Dick Memorial Award in 1984, the book came with plenty of good word of mouth, to say the least. And, as it turns out, all the ballyhoo back when was fully justified, as this really IS ... Read More

Small Gods: A nice message and some smartypants good fun

Small Gods by Sir Terry Pratchett

Small Gods (1992) was the first DISCWORLD book I read, and it made me love the series. I reread it recently, and, allowing for certain themes that repeat in all the DISCWORLD books, I found I still enjoyed it. Pratchett delivers a message on the nature of hypocrisy, fanaticism and faith, with lots of smartypants good fun along the way.

Brutha is a novice at the Temple of the Great God Om. While Brutha is a hard worker and a well-meaning lad, he neither reads nor writes and he’s kind of a simple soul. Only two things make Brutha different; an amazing memory, and an unalloyed, bright-burning belief in the Great God Om. These two things will make him the most important person in Discworld… at least to Om.

The Great God Om is usually depicted as a huge bull, so when Brutha finds him in the temple garden the form of a torto... Read More

City of Stairs: A glorious, mind-bending mash-up

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

City of Stairs is a glorious, mind-bending mash-up; part second-world fantasy, part political thriller and part murder mystery. Shara Thivani and her “secretary” Sigrud are my two new favorite action heroes.

Robert Jackson Bennett once again, has taken a conventional sub-genre and made it original, creating an experience that reads like an actual sociological thriller set in another, magical world.

Shara Thivani is a junior ambassador from the Saypuri islands – at least, that is her cover. She comes to Bulikov, the City of Stairs, on the Continent, to investigate the murder of Saypuri citizen and her friend, Professor Pangyui, who was found beaten to death in his office in the Bulikov University.

Relations between the Continentals and the Saypuri are… well, tense. For millennia, the Continentals, aided by myste... Read More

The Cuckoo’s Calling: Rowling makes a break without forgetting her roots

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)

Early in 2013, a new murder mystery came out. Written by an author named Robert Galbraith, The Cuckoo’s Calling was set in England and featured an army veteran detective with a prosthetic leg (he was injured saving other soldiers in Afghanistan), a strange family and an unusual name; Cormoran Strike. A few months later, through a series of different sources, it was revealed that “Robert Galbraith” was a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling, who wanted to publish her first murder mystery without having it connected in any way to her globally-famous, history-making, best-selling series of YA fantasy best-sellers.

Sorry that whole anonymous thing didn’t work out for you, Ms. Rowling.

Even though there is nothing fantastical or magical about The Cuckoo’s Calling, I... Read More

Chimes at Midnight: We love this series!

Chimes at Midnight by Seanan McGuire

I have enjoyed Seanan McGuire’s OCTOBER DAYE urban fantasies, but a few of her more recent novels in the series seemed to introduce too many characters and bring too many different magic systems into play. However, the latest two novels, Chimes at Midnight and The Winter Long (which I’ll review soon), have knocked my socks off with tight plotting and memorable characters. Now I once again find myself impatient for the next one to arrive, and annoyed that the September 1 publication date is so far away.

In Chimes at Midnight, Toby is working with her team — her lover, Tybalt, the local King of Cats; May, Toby’s Fetch; Jasmine, May’s shapeshifting lover; Quentin, Toby’s squire; and Raj, Tybalt’s heir — to hunt for goblin fruit. Goblin fruit is no problem for pure-blooded... Read More

A Monster Calls: The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

At seven minutes past midnight, Conor O'Malley is visited by a monster. But it's not the monster he's expecting. This monster is wild and ancient. This monster comes in the form of a yew tree that usually stands atop the hill Conor can see from his bedroom window, in the middle of the graveyard. Except that now it is here, outside his bedroom window, and it wants something from Conor.

Conor O'Malley started getting nightmares after his mother got sick. In them he has terrible visions, visions which not even the monstrous yew can compare too, and it is perhaps for this reason that Conor is able to have a relatively nonplussed conversation with the tree outside his window. The mass of leaves and branches takes the shape of a man, and it seems to think Conor summoned him. The tree tells Conor he will tell him three true stories, after which Conor will have to tell the tree a truth in turn. When Conor r... Read More

A Darker Shade of Magic: We like it

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

I was a big fan of V.E. Schwab’s 2013 novel Vicious, noting in my review how she had overcome the possible burden of overfamiliar concepts (it’s a folks-with-powers-who-have-some-gray-to-them kind of novel) with supremely polished execution. Well, she’s pretty much done the same with her newest novel, A Darker Shade of Magic, which takes many of the usual fantasy tropes and, again, just handles them all so smoothly that you simply don’t care much that you’ve seen them all before.

The basic concept is a nicely focused tweak of the multi-verse model, with a series of parallel Londons: Red London, a vibrant, colorful city where magic and life are in balance; White London, a cruel dog-... Read More

Rendezvous with Rama: Multi-award winner with controversial ending

Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke

In 2131, humans are minding their own business when a large object thought to be an asteroid is detected at the edge of our solar system. As it gets closer to Earth it is photographed and found to be unnatural — obviously an alien spaceship. A team of scientists is sent to meet the ship dubbed “Rama” and to make our first contact with an alien species. When they get there, they find Rama uninhabited and they set out to discover all they can about the aliens who must have launched it. What are they like and what do they want with us?

As Robert J. Sawyer mentions in the introduction the audio version I listened to, Arthur C. Clarke’s strength is not his characterization — it’s pathetic — but that’s okay because Ram... Read More

The Chrysalids: Forbidden post-apocalyptic telepaths

The Chrysalids by John Wynhdam

It’s no wonder that David dreams of a distant and wondrous city at night: life in the post-apocalyptic settlement, Waknuk, is difficult. Waknuk’s people are descended from the survivors of the Tribulation, which everyone knows was sent by God to punish the Old People. Though David and his community are lucky to have any land to live on, they must always guard against Deviations — in their crops, in their livestock, and in their children.

Deviations are not made in God’s True Image. Children that, say, have six toes, have the Devil in them, so they are either destroyed or else sent to the Fringes after they are sterilized. Though these exiles may later return as raiders, life in Waknuk is — if not always peaceful — still much better than life in the Badlands.

David Strorm may not care that deeply about Purity and maintaining God’s True Image, but his father, Joseph, cares ... Read More

Voyage of the Basilisk: Science and curiosity

Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan

Warning: Some inevitable spoilers for the previous novels, A Natural History of Dragons and The Tropic of Serpents, will follow.

Voyage of the Basilisk: A Memoir by Lady Trent (2015) is the third in Marie Brennan’s series A NATURAL HISTORY OF DRAGONS, and I found it falling somewhere between books one and two in terms of the reading experiences (better than the first, but not quite as good as the second). As always in this series, the narrative voice is the strongest aspect and managed to (mostly) outweigh the book’s weaknesses.

Readers will most likely note the resemblance between the title of this work and Charles Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle, Read More

Prince of Fools: A slick, well-crafted buddy adventure fantasy

Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence

Prince Jalan Kendeth is the black sheep of the family. A self-confessed untrustworthy scoundrel and coward who has taken every advantage of the life of luxury that comes with being royalty, he is perfectly content with his life as it is and has no plans to change or inclination for greater things. However, when he crosses paths with a courageous Viking named Snorri, Jal discovers that he may have been destined to stand against an undead evil. Snorri is returning north to rescue his family and, despite his unwillingness, Jal is bound by mystic forces to accompany him.

For those (like me) who are already die-hard Mark Lawrence fans, Prince of Fools, the first book in the RED QUEEN'S WAR series, is just what we expected — pure awesomeness and then some. But for those of you who found Jorg of Lawrence’s BROKEN EMPIRE TRILOGY too bloody hard for your tastes, give ... Read More

The Lathe of Heaven: Dreaming of Utopia

The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. LeGuin

When George Orr sleeps, he sometimes has “effective” dreams that alter reality. Believing that he has no right to effect such changes, George begins taking drugs to suppress the dreams. As the drugs lose their efficacy, George ups the dosage, exceeding legal limits. George is caught and ordered to choose between therapy and asylum. He chooses therapy and is sent to Dr. William Haber. When Haber realizes that George is not crazy and that these “effective” dreams indeed change reality, the psychiatrist decides to make the world a better place.

And why not? Overpopulated, polluted, radioactive, and starving – humanity’s near future is an age of terrible consequences. The world could use a dreamer, figures Haber, so he hypnotizes George to shape the future.

By the end of the first week, the weather is warm and sunny, George wakes up to discover that he owns a cottage, ... Read More

New Amsterdam: Forensic sorcery

New Amsterdam by Elizabeth Bear

New Amsterdam is billed as “the hardcover debut” from Elizabeth Bear, who had been winning awards for her short stories and novels before this work was published in 2007. Though not exactly described as such, New Amsterdam is a compilation of six short stories, each connected to and increasingly dependent upon the others as the overarching plot progresses. While each story is ostensibly a mystery which requires investigation and the use of forensic sorcery in order to arrive at each solution, characters and world-building are the primary focus of Bear’s writing. For the most part, this works well, though there are some pieces which could have benefitted from closer authorial scrutiny, and I wish the concept of “forensic sorcery” had been brought to the fore.
... Read More

Her Fearful Symmetry: Needed more substance than the ghosts

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

Two sets of twins, a disillusioned husband, a grieving boyfriend, one ghost. The lives of Her Fearful Symmetry’s characters are as tangled as they sound, in a drama that will play out amongst the tombstones of Highgate Cemetery. A sticker on the front reminds potential readers that Niffenegger is the author of The Time Traveler’s Wife. Yet let that be the first and last time Niffenegger’s debut novel is mentioned. Her Fearful Symmetry is described as a ‘delicious and deadly ghost story,’ and should be judged in and of itself.

We open with the death of Elspeth Noblin. She and her (substantially younger) boyfriend, Robert, had, until her death, lived in two separate flats next to Highgate cemetery. Shortly b... Read More

The Dispossessed: Not simply an anarchist utopia/capitalist dystopia

The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin

The Dispossessed is a perfectly achieved thought experiment, perhaps Ursula K. Le Guin’s greatest achievement, but there is little I can say that hasn’t been said more eloquently, forcefully, thoroughly, or knowledgeably by other reviewers. It transcends genre as a Novel of Ideas. It explores with great intelligence anarchism-socialism vs capitalism; freedom/slavery in terms of politics, economics, society, intellectual endeavor, and personal relationships; the struggle to perfect a scientific theory that unifies time and space; whether human nature inevitably corrupts all political ideals; whether political utopias can ever be achieved to a meaningful degree; whether only hardship and privation can support socialist sentiment; and whether we must therefore settle for capitalism and the pursui... Read More

The Jennifer Morgue: Ian Fleming meets H.P. Lovecraft

The Jennifer Morgue by Charles Stross

The Jennifer Morgue (2006), the second novel in Charles Stross’ LAUNDRY FILES, is a science fiction spy thriller that’s an obvious homage to Ian Fleming and H.P. Lovecraft. Bob has been sent to the Caribbean to try to find out why Ellis Billington, an evil megalomaniac billionaire, is interested in The Jennifer Morgue, a place deep in the ocean which may be an access point into our universe by tentacled eldritch horrors. For this assignment, Bob is paired up with someone from the American agency that deals with this kind of supernatural stuff — a gorgeous woman possessed by a succubus.

As usual, Bob has been insufficiently briefed about his mission, so he’s bewildered most of the time. What is he doing wearing a tuxedo to a casino and ordering vodka martinis (shaken, not s... Read More