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Preview: Neth Space

Neth Space

Enter into Neth Space and you will find thoughts and reviews of books and other media that fit the general definition of speculative fiction. This includes the various genres and sub-genres of fantasy, science fiction, epic fantasy, high fantasy, hard sci

Updated: 2018-04-01T05:30:02.494-07:00


Mini-Review: Year Zero by Rob Reid


Year Zero by Rob Reid was published in 2012 and is a fun, satirical SF book about the music industry. While I’ve seen a few comparisons to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I think that really doesn’t stack up, as Year Zero really aims to tap into musical nostalgia of the late 1970s and 1980s. Think something more along the lines of a combination of John Scalzi’s Agent to the Stars and Cline’s Ready Player One with music.The ultimate premise is rather goofy where a galactic society of advanced alien species discover the music of Earth, becomes crazy addicted to it, and incurs unimaginable debt to humanity due to piracy and copyright laws in the music industry. Reid actually pulls it off with an appropriate amount of humor and just enough reality to keep things grounded. And of course it is full of nostalgia with music references everywhere. But, Year Zero is also a satire where humor doesn’t always distract from the acrid bitterness of Reid himself. Reid has a long history in the real world in technology and music, where he was essentially the founder of the first musical streaming company – Rhapsody. From this point of view, the bitterness and anger of Reid’s experience as a tech entrepreneur somewhere between the rampant piracy of the Napster era and the mega music corporations and their legal teams. I keep saying bitterness because it literally drips from this book. I think it’s safe to say that Reid holds true contempt for lawyers and executives of the music industry and the politicians that they own(ed). I really hope that writing this book was therapeutic for Reid and that he has managed to move past all this, because man…the bitterness. Note: judging from the bio of Reid on his webpage and the description of his latest SFF novel, After On, the therapy of writing is an ongoing project.Anyway, there is just enough humor and nostalgia keeping the bitterness from taking over the book. It’s fun and gets in a few really great shots (such as the Bill Gates cameo), and some really fantastic music references. So…looking for satirical science fiction full of musical nostalgia? This book is absolutely for you. And it’s pretty fun for the rest of too.By Rob Reid:Year Zero: AmazonAfter On: AmazonOther books mentioned:Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi: AmazonReady Player One by Ernest Cline: My Review, Amazon[...]

Audiobook(s) Review: Star Wars Aftermath Trilogy


I am a child of the 1980s and 1990s, and like many, the first movie I remember seeing is Star Wars: A New Hope. I was that kid wore my VHS copies of those movies out, I played Star Wars with my friends, I had action figures, I had Empire Strikes Back sheets on my bed, etc. Later in life I read all the books in the Extended Universe (through the whole Yuuzhan Vong thing) and somewhat tolerated Lucas’ shenanigans with updating movies and the whole prequel thing. But I had largely given up on Star Wars. Part of it was age and simply moving on in life. Part of it was realizing that all that came after just couldn’t live up to the magic of original. But then something unexpected happened: my children started watching Star Wars and loving it. Suddenly I was experiencing the wonder of Star Warsthrough them – yes, even the prequels are wondrous to young kids. We’ve watched the Clone Wars together and Star Wars Rebels, and my oldest and I went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakenstogether. That was it, that was when I decided that Star Wars was back for me – in part because I wanted to support my kids’ love of it, but a large part was that it reawakened that wonder for me as well. Of course life now is a lot crazier for me, so it’s a slow process, but I have copies of audiobooks for several of the new canon Star Wars books and I started listening to the Star Wars Aftermath Trilogy by Chuck Wendig.First, I have to comment on the production of the audiobooks, because it really impacts how I reacted to these. It is terrible in all the worst ways of audiobooks. The voice acting narration by Marc Thompson is so overdone that it’s nauseating and then they top that off with sound effects and alien language, making the whole experience rather horrible. I barely made it through the first chapter before stopping and swearing I couldn’t continue because the production was just that awful. But Star Wars and all that…so I gave it another shot.I learned to tolerate the production. That was the best I could do. Sometimes I simply rolled my eyes at it, and sometimes I had to take long breaks because it is really bad. All this is very unfortunate, because I know that it influences what I feel about the content of the stories. I can’t help but wonder how much more enjoyable I would have found them if I read the books rather than listened to the audio. But I can’t get that back, just know that my opinions of the stories are heavily influenced by audio and not in a good way.Basically, the books play out with a major imperial remnant in the Outer Rim gathering its power and other remnants for a final confrontation with the New Republic. Through this we see the liberation of a few planets, we see the fledgling republic forming up its government, and we see old favorites like Wedge, Han and Leia. We see that Palpatine had plans for the eventuality of his death and how those come to shape, and we see a few very big battles. And through all of the imperial happenings, a strong sense of mystery is present. I believe that we get many hints of what is to come and how things shape up for new movies we are getting now. We see some of the origin for the First Order and maybe even the Knights of Ren. We see a lot of unrelated interludes that don’t add anything to the actual events of the trilogy, but seem to setting Easter Eggs for fans to feast upon. We notably do not get any hints of Luke Skywalker and what he’s up to.And of course Aftermathintroduces us to a new group of characters through which we see the end of the imperial remnants after the events at Endor. My first reaction is that I found it a bit hard to really become very emotionally invested in any of them – would I have cared if they didn’t survive? I chalk this up mainly to the audio production that I mention above. How can one become invested with such horribly over-read dialogue and annoying sound effects? Norra is a character that was always hit or miss with me through the trilogy, Temmin is mostly an annoying teenager, but its overall a[...]

Mini-Review: Breath of Earth by Beth Cato


GeomancerBy day I am a mild-mannered engineering geologist and by night I read fantasy and science fiction once the rest of the house has gone to bed. So…the word geomancer is the only part of the description of Breath of Earth by Beth Cato that matters. Once I read that word I knew that I had to read this book. I was not disappointed.Blah Blah Blah. Yeah, I’m a geologist and this isn’t the first time I’ve written a review where that is the lens through which I (at least initially) view a book and focus my review. Magic derived from the energy of the earth, specifically in the form of the earthquakes – sign me up. Set in San Francisco at the time of the infamous 1906 earthquake – keep it coming. Throw is a provocative look at the society of the time, a view not from the ‘winners’ of society, but from those that the winners oppress – excellent. I have read (and reviewed) The Clockwork Dagger by Cato and it can clearly be seen that Breath of Earth is its decedent. ‘Victorian-type/regency’ society with a young woman on the outside, a bit naïve to the world and thrown into a serious situation. Plus, a dashing young man who both saves the day (and is saved by her) complicating things. A woman who struggles to break the chains society has placed on her. A woman who awakens to her own power within. I enjoyed The Clockwork Dagger, and Breath of Earth takes that solid foundation and improves it, adds experience, and has geomancers (hey, I would never claim objectivity in a review). How does the geology stand up? Frankly, it doesn’t matter. It’s not gotten into. The alternative world that Cato creates is one where most of the myths of origin of nature are true to some degree. There are magical creatures in the world – unicorns, selkies, etc. There are giant magical beasts that live in the earth where earthquakes happen. And a select few people have magical powers of various sorts. As a fan of fantasy, as a fan of myth, as someone who has a great curiosity of other cultures and how they came about, I found Cato’s approach to be wonderfully creative and simply a lot of fun. And there are geomancers.Another fun aspect of Cato’s alternative world is her rewriting of political powers. It is a world of great superpowers, often at war with each other, in various states of conquest and rivalry. Wars are cold, hot, and just waiting to happen. Geomancers play their role, so do other magical people, dirigibles and other ‘steampunk’ engines of war. The US is aligned with Japan, currently bent on destroying China, the British have an empire focusing on the conquest of India, the Russians are out there and others. Being set in San Francisco, the main players are the Chinese, Japanese, and Americans in this (partial) exploration of some dirtier realities of actual history. So, whether you are looking for a super-powered woman of color coming finding her power and kicking ass, a bit of a Victorian/regency Romance, an interesting alternative history of San Francisco, or the awesomeness of geomancer, I strongly recommend Breath of Earth. And I am very much looking forward to the sequel – Call of Fire. Bring on more geomancers!Blood of Earth TrilogyBreath of Earth: AmazonCall of Fire: Amazon (Will be released in August)Roar of Sky: Forthcoming[...]

Getting Caught Up: A bunch of Short Reviews and One DNF


This post is something that I’ve always resisted: a single post with a bunch of short reviews in it. Some of these were read nearly a year ago and it’s just time to pass by. I think the main reason that they have languished is that I don’t have that much to say beyond things like ‘I enjoyed them’ and ‘others have said a lot about this book and I don’t have much to add’. So…enjoy my brief thought on a wide range of books I’ve read lately.The Immortals by Jordanna Max BrodskyThe Immortals (Book One of the Olympus Bound series) is a fun urban fantasy based on the idea of Greek Gods still hanging around, if a bit reduced in power, and being up to no good. I enjoyed it. It’s tempting to say something along the lines of Percy Jackson for adults, which is horribly cliché, but not entirely a mischaracterization either. I’m tempted to pass it along to my friend who is a bit of a Greek Classicist. I imagine that I will read the sequel, Winter of the Gods, at some point. Olympus Bound SeriesThe Immortals: AmazonWinter of the Gods: AmazonThe Grace of Kings by Ken LiuThe Grace of Kings is the first book in the epic fantasy series: The Dandelion Dynasty. I very much enjoyed this Asian-inspired fantasy epic and I encourage you to look up much of the more in-depth commentary out there about this book and its sequel. Good stuff and I look forward to reading the rest of the series.The Dandelion DynastyThe Grace of Kings: AmazonThe Wall of Storms: AmazonThe Lightning Thief by Rick RiordanI read the first book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series at the same time as my son. I think it is a very fun book and I enjoyed it a lot. I look forward to reading the rest of the series with him (though he’s buried himself in Harry Potter for the moment). We recommend the book to a friend who is a philosopher and a bit of a Greek classicist and she and her 3 boys devoured them and then started an Ancient Greece Club at school. Which I think is a pretty positive endorsement. Percy Jackson and the OlympiansThe Lightning Thief: AmazonThe Sea of Monsters: AmazonThe Titan’s Curse: AmazonThe Battle of the Labyrinth: AmazonThe Last Olympian: AmazonThe Demigod Files: AmazonChasing Embers by James BennettA bit of an urban fantasy about a dragon in human form, living on the fringes of modern society. The book was fun, though there was a bit too much of the ‘maiden in distress’ who needs a man to rescue her going on. Some troubling ideas about possessive relationships as well – if it was trying to be subversive, it didn’t work well. The book was good enough to finish, but I’m reluctant to recommend it.Chasing Embers: AmazonThe Crow of Connemara by Stephen LeighThis is a mythic fiction book about an American musician who travels to Ireland and gets caught up with remnants of the fay. Very much in the style of Charles de Lint in the way it integrates music into the modern world and impacts from the ancient world. Basically I found it to be a very pale imitation of de Lint's work. The music parts of the book felt like a plot device rather than the underlying binding of the book – it lacked any real emotional connection. The Crow of Connemara: AmazonA Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. SchwabI picked this up since it’s been so highly regarded around the web. I can certainly say that I enjoyed it and look forward to its sequels, though I expected to enjoy it more based on the opinions I’ve seen about it, which left slightly disappoint. I did pass the book on to my wife who really enjoyed it, and she quickly moved on to the second book and is not reading the third. Anyway, there’s a lot out there that’s been written about this series (and how it’s coming going to be adapted as TV show), so search it out.Shades of MagicA Darker Shade of Magic: AmazonA Gathering of Shadows: AmazonA Conjuring of Light: AmazonCrossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya DyerThis is a YA level book about a young woman coming of age in a world of gods and societies liv[...]

Review: The Last Adventure of Constance Verity by A. Lee Martinez


The Last Adventure of Constance Verity by A. Lee Martinez is an outrageous series adventures and take on the life of a superhero. These adventures, with seemingly no real rhyme or reason or even a sense of logical design through in everything and the kitchen sink – if kitchen sink is an evil cyborg alien musical pirate magician and maybe Yakuza enforcer as well, or just Verity’s grade school teacher. Every ridiculous form of an ‘evil antagonist’ is possible, likely, and quite possibly combined in some improbable match with another to make things more interesting and humorous. Constance Verity is said superhero – magically endowed at birth to have adventures, she’s good at them and repeatedly saves the world. But…she’s tired, and it becomes almost a buddy adventure when Connie teams up with her (mundane) best-friend for her ‘last adventure’. But, through all of the wild, over-the-top fun of this book, I couldn’t help but begin viewing it a metaphor for women in modern American society. Perhaps I’m reading into this book too much, but stay with me for bit. The entire universe is literally throwing ‘adventure’ after ‘adventure’ at Constance Verity. She can’t get a cup of coffee without some Yakuza ninja enforcer getting in the way. Or maybe a lizard alien magician. Etc. She never gets a break. The universe is literally a machine designed to make sure she has no close attachments, distractions or anything else in her life that could keep her from doing what it want her to do. She’s exhausted, she’s tired. She just wants a ‘normal’ life and some rest. She was literally cursed to this life this by a sadistic fairy godmother working on behalf of the machine of the universe. Hell, the book opens with us learning that the earth is nothing more than a giant monster that a cult wants to feed Constance Verity to as a sacrifice of appeasement. Yes, the whole world is literally out to eat her. Then I take a look at my wife, all the shit life has thrown at her lately. All the responsibilities that the machine of society throws on her. All of the asshole men of the world who make it that much harder. The impossible expectations that society forces up on her. To not be too assertive, but not be timid. Too appear how society views is appropriate, but not to be too much. Etc. Etc. How completely beat down she can get by it all. How she so often just wants to give up on all of it. And how she gets out of bed the next morning (after not getting enough sleep since sometime in the ‘90s), and saves the world…again.Once I captured this vision of The Last Adventure of Constance Verity, I couldn’t see it any other way. It transformed the outrageous, fun adventure into something more – bitter, angry, and intensely sarcastic satire. Which is right where my warped sense of humor lives.Further, take a moment to think about what the name Constance Verity means.Constance: Firm of purpose, constantVerity: TruthOuch! And fuck you! And then my sense of humor kicks in and I laugh for 5 minutes. Look, I don’t know Martinez and from what I gleaned from a quick bit of reading blog posts and the like, Constance Verity gets its origins more from superhero lore with a good bit of discussion of free will, determinism, and agency in life. Plus you know, fun, humorous, and completely over-the-top adventure. It doesn’t look like Martinez set out to write a dark, satirical feminist manifesto about women ‘having it all’. And I’m sure with a close look the metaphor would probably break down in some troubling ways. It for sure breaks down toward the end of the book – a happy ending plus some nice balance in life achieved? That only exists in Hollywood, self-help books, and mommy blogs. But I simply cannot un-see my view of the book, and I think it’s better for it. So…most readers will joyously take The Last Adventure of Constance Verity at face value – and more power to them, because it is comple[...]

Review: The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi


John Scalzi begins a new space opera with The Collapsing Empire which is sure to please fans of science fiction. In short it is fun, fast-paced and very accessible. Or…just the book I was needing to read when I read it. The set-up is a 1000+ year old empire spanning multiple space systems that utilize a sort of parallel energy called the flow to travel between systems where standard travel would never be possible because of the true distance between stars. The empire has been intentionally designed to be interdependent, where no single system will have the ability to survive independently of the others. A few individuals learn that the flow that ‘connects’ systems is about to shift over a period of only a few years, fragmenting humanity into isolated worlds that are doomed to tragic ends. Along the way we learn that the entire socioeconomic structure of the empire with its monopolistic guilds, strict societal class delineations, and dynastic rule is all just a con job to further enrich the powerful and keep the masses just content enough to not cause too much trouble. In an entrenched, bureaucratic society the will to actually meet an existential threat simply doesn’t exist, and often the will to even acknowledge the possibility that such a threat could be real is lacking. The Collapsing Empire largely serves as an introduction to the empire, to the physics of Scalzi’s created universe, and to the characters who personalize the story. In this, there is a lot of exposition, but not so much that I was ever bothered by it. Scalzi writes with a brisk pace and a slight irreverence that sets a nicely balanced tone for the book (and presumably the rest of the series). Humor is a big part of it, but it’s more a sense of levity in the face of what’s to come that drives the story. The end result is that things feel more hopeful than anything, making the story fun to read, even in the face disastrous consequence for humanity. And through all the levity, Scalzi still manages to set the stage well for an empire that has stagnated or even regressed, where innovation and flexibility is stifled by tradition and economic interest in the status quo.It is often said that Scazli writes some of the most accessible science fiction, and I certainly agree. Concepts are not that difficult for someone on the outside of the science fiction world to enjoy, yet they are thought through enough to satisfy (most of) those who are long-time fans. It’s full of high adventure and fun with consequences that matter to story.For all of this to be successful, it comes down to the people of the story, and Scalzi excels in this. Three main characters are built up as the protagonists of The Collapsing Empire– the newly ascended Emperor, the scientist son of the researcher who discovered the impending collapse of the flow, and familial representative of one of the largest trade guilds. Or the inexperienced political outsider who unexpected ascends to the most powerful role in the galaxy, the naïve young scientist from a remote backwater, and hard-edged and exquisitely foul-mouthed business person who doesn’t take shit from anyone. Even the antagonists of the story are somewhat likable as they are really more self-interested in the extreme than actually evil – cutthroat is perhaps the better term.  The two most powerful characters in the story are women – and I could probably write an entire review just on Kiva, the foul-mouthed trade representative mentioned above. She steals every single scene she is in, and is only briefly upstaged when we meet her mother. It’s choices like this that help make Scalzi’s writing so accessible, or to put another way, consistent with modern sensibilities as it projects some progressive advances for a far-future civilization (contrasted with the stagnation discussed above). For example, sexual identity and gender are subtly shown to be accepted for what they are an[...]

Mini-Review: The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman


I love books, which really isn’t much of a surprise coming from someone who has a blog about books. So, it’s not much of a stretch for me to love libraries too – after all, they are huge collections of books, and I do have my daydreams of one day having a perfectly snobbish private library for all of my books, but I digress. So…fantasy stories about libraries…I’m rather predisposed to liking them. The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman is just that, a fantasy adventure centered on a great library where librarians have magical powers that they use to cross between worlds to collect books. Yes, there’s a greater struggle across all the worlds between order and chaos, full of fantastical beings that fall on various ends of that spectrum – chaotic fae, orderly dragons, etc. But it all comes back to magical librarian doesn’t it?The story is pretty basic…a mid-level librarian is assigned a new apprentice and a new task that should be pretty straight-forward. Collect a book in a mildly chaotic world and bring it back. Of course it turns out to be more complicated, of greater importance and way more dangerous than anticipated. There are mixed loyalties, betrayals, mysterious origins and all that jazz. Even a nice hum of romantic tension is thrown about as it mingles with Victorian-style propriety and modern ideas of sexual freedom. This is Cogman’s debut book, and it sometimes reads as such with a bit too much exposition and pacing difficulties. But then I can forgive pacing issues when librarians are the stars – how many librarians have you known have a tendency to go off on a tangent right in the middle of the search for that precious book?I quite enjoyed The Invisible Library and heartily recommend it for a bit of bookishly fun diversion. I haven’t yet made it to the sequels, though the beckon from the shelves of my want-to-be library. The Invisible Library: AmazonThe Masked City: AmazonThe Burning Page: Amazon[...]

Review: The Heart of What Was Lost by Tad Williams


Tad Williams returns to the world of Osten Ard after 20+ years in The Heart of What Was Lost. In part, this short novel serves as a reintroduction of Osten Ard in advance of the forthcoming trilogy: The Last King of Osten Ard. But more than a simple reintroduction, I found The Heart of What Was Lost to be a very meta coda to the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series – a response coming 20 years later, in part admitting the shortcomings of the previous series and state of epic fantasy fiction of the times, a message of leadership and the future for today, and what I suspect is a tease of changes to come in The Last King of Osten Ard. The Heart of What Was Lost is set in the aftermath of the events that end the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series, and feature dueling perspectives of a human army pursuing the remnant forces of the Norns with intent to eradicate them and that of the Norns themselves. One of the strongest aspects of the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series was its portrayal of the horrors of war, rather than the traditional glorification often seen in fantasy (or at least fantasy of the 1980s and 1990s). This is the core of The Heart of What Was Lost as the army of the Northmen seeks genocide in vengeance to the horrors the Norns brought upon people and the world. This is balanced by the perspective of the Norns fleeing, only thinking of the survival of their race and doing everything they can to achieve that survival. The Heart of What Was Lost is the story of two leaders of their people, how they fight to survive, and ultimately, the sacrifices they will make. One leader serves as the heart of their people, the other people have lost their heart and are seemingly directionless in their efforts to survive. Both are forced to look at the traditions of the past and confront what the future can be. Are the traditions and actions of the past going to bring about a future they can be proud of?While it’s not the focus, the weight and responsibility of leadership is on full display. True leadership is not an act of the selfishness, but one of sacrifice. Leadership is about the people and the future, it doesn’t relish in the past, and it makes the hard choice. In The Heart of What Was Lost, the balance of life, death and survival brings focus and immediacy to it all. Can the leaders do what is needed?A third perspective is brought in, not only as a balance, but to give those of us who aren’t leaders something we can directly relate to. An everyman, a plain soldier far from home. This third point of view isn’t a portrayal of grand sacrifice or such, but this is basic survival. In the survival rivalries of the past and home are discarded as unimportant, basic friendship is the mean to survival, and continuing when death arrives. Of course there’s plenty of ‘war sucks’ to all this, but the way things end is tear-jerking tragedy. The journeys of The Heart of What Was Lost feel like interwoven Greek Tragedies, but none more than that of our every soldier. And the tragic end, is also the challenge that Williams sets for us all. For the sacrifice of leadership is not enough. The every person must step as well, and it isn’t easy. For the sake of the future, you may be asked to cut off the head of the reanimated corpse of your only friend. Over dramatic? When I look at the world around me today, I think not (but I sure wish it was). For all of the powerful ideas on display in The Heart of What Was, I must admit that it took me time to really get into the book, even though it’s a relatively short novel. I think that this is in part due to it being over 10 years since I read the books in the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy, so while I don’t think it’s needed to be familiar with those books, a lack of familiarity may make it a bit more difficult to connect with the story initially. Though I also believe that bleak, dark, horr[...]

Mini-Review: Long Black Curl by Alex Bledsoe


Long Black Curl by Alex Bledsoe is the third Tufabook which is a ‘series’ of interconnected novels that all really stand on their own with independent stories. Of course the reader familiar with the other books in the series will experience things at a deeper level. Anyway, as evident from my reviews of other Tufa books, I really, really enjoy them, and Long Black Curl is no exception to this trend. It always surprises me that I don’t read more Mythic Fiction – books that loosely fall into category of Mythic Fiction seem to connect with me at a deeper level, bringing me a much more holistic and satisfied reading experience. Not merely entertaining or escapist and not really the sort of book that makes me feel like I’m a better person for having read it, but books that truly connect, books that awaken deeper awareness of myself. Bledsoe’s Tufa books are about an exiled faerie clan who settled in the Appalachian Mountains long before humans came along. These stories tell how the Tufa people interact with the modern world around them and show how they are connected to their land and their music at deeper levels than the people around them. While set within the modern world, they bring the reader back in time, reminding us of the deeper connections to nature and the land around us. For the Tufa, music is the vehicle that this connection is founded within.Long Black Curl is specifically about two exiled Tufa who have lost their ability to sing. These exiled exiles are cursed in a fundamentally horrific form of suffering for their people, further complicated by their means of surviving in the modern world – both work in the music industry. This forms the back bone for a story of revenge, loss, and redemption. A large part of the success of this story works because of duality of the modern world and the ‘other’, timeless world of the Tufa, and it’s an approach that I am especially fond of.I love the Tufa books because they really embody Mythic Fiction in a way few books achieve. The emotions invoked are full of mystery, darkness, fear, love, and a whole host of other primal emotions for us all. While I believe that it’s the connection to nature that leads me to back to Mythic Fiction, the vehicle of music to form this connection is fully realized in these books. This is a very tough balance to achieve as it’s quite easy to nerd out on the music without ever creating the deep emotional connection that is really necessary1. Charles de Lint is another author I who can achieve this balance and I rank him and Bledsoe at the top of a short list of authors who do. Long Black Curl is another wonderful addition to the collection of Tufa novels by Bledsoe and another reminder of how much I enjoy these books. The Tufa NovelsThe Hum and the Shiver: My Review, AmazonWisp of a Thing: My Review, AmazonLong Black Curl: AmazonChapel of Ease: AmazonGather Her Round: Amazon (Forthcoming) 1For an example of a Mythic Fiction book where the bridge of music between the modern world and something other never quite works out an fails to achieve the emotional connection needed, see The Crow of Connemara by Stephen Leigh (I’ll eventually get to writing a full review for it).[...]

Mini-Review: The Deaths of Tao by Wesley Chu


The Tao books by Wesley Chu are the perfect spy thrillers for a generation where science fiction is mainstream and dominates pop culture. They are action-packed, full of intrigue, both political and personal, witty, funny, and wrap it all up in alien possession. And of course who could be a more perfect choice for a heroic spy than an overweight, single, gamer in a dead end job?The Deaths of Tao is the second book of the series, which is in part a trilogy, though it has expanded with a ‘coda’ novella and now a new series set in the world. The Lives of Tao began the series (my review) with a bang and The Deaths of Tao follows up a typical middle book does. Things go dark, it gets bad, really bad. Lack of hope bad. And in the end…well a tiny bit of hope gets thrown in just as a huge and unexpected curveball is thrown in to the mix. And Chu makes this all work without losing the witty, slightly irreverent voice that somehow makes a spy-thriller about alien-possessed people who secretly control the world something that isn’t just believable (in a fiction sense), but is a lot fun to read. Go forth and read. And believe. And have fun. Tao SeriesThe Lives of Tao: My Review, AmazonThe Deaths of Tao: AmazonThe Rebirths of Tao: AmazonThe Days of Tao: AmazonIo SeriesThe Rise of Io: Amazon[...]

Kids’ Reviews: Septimus Heap, Ivy and Bean and More!


It’s been a while since I’ve provided an update on my Kids’ Review series, so here we are. For an introduction to this series, information isavailable in this post which provides a good bit of context.Hebop turned 9 last month and continues with an, at times, voracious love of reading. We are slowly letting him read through the Harry Potter books and he just finished up The Goblet of Fire in a fury last weekend that saw him reading for hours at time (this is a kid who never stops moving, so to see him so still is shocking). He has since started the Percy Jackson books next – he gave them a shot a year or more ago but wasn’t terribly interested and just not quite ready. I think he’s matured enough now that it may be different this time around. We still read aloud with Hebop at times, but he’s mostly solo now, which was quite impressive give the size of The Goblet of Fire. Hebop can have a short attention span at times as he jumps around from the likes of Goosebumps to Spirit Animals to Diary of a Wimpy Kid. For his birthday he got some fiction and nonfiction soccer books and it’ll be interesting to see when he gives those a try and what he thinks. Arty turned 6 earlier this month and is thick in the transition from shorter books to chapter stories. She recently left behind Magic Treehouse books – she still can get scared/anxious with some books, and the later Magic Treehouse books can be surprising tense at times with a fair amount of implied death and destruction. So we’ve started in on Critter Club and Ivy & Bean books. She’s enjoying both – especially Ivy & Bean. The love of Ivy & Bean has introduced quite a few conversations about good choices and following rules. We’ve now read a couple of the Critter Club books and the first three of Ivy and Bean. Both series are working great for Arty. A month or two ago, we read Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stonewith her – she loved it, but also has nightmares about Voldemort (tales of later books from Hebop are no help here). She watched the movie, but we’ve backtracked and will wait another year before doing more to give time for the nightmares to go away.As a family we’ve been reading aloud the Septimus Heap books. So far we’ve read the first two (Magyk and Flyte) in the series (the kids’ will get the full series for Christmas). I think it’s probably safe to call them Harry Potter knock-offs, but they are a lot fun and both kids enjoy them. I find it surprising that Arty doesn’t seem to be bothered by the more tense and serious parts of these books when she was by Harry Potter, but that’s how it works sometimes. So, I can easily recommend these books – as always, check to see how they match up with your own positions on age-appropriateness. I often use Common Sense Media as an initial tool to help with that.Septimus Heap by Angie SageBook 1: Magyk    AmazonPercy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick RiordanBook 1: The Lightning Thief    AmazonGoosebumps by R.L. StineBook 1: Night of the Living Dummy    AmazonSpirit AnimalsBook 1: Wild Born by Brandon Mull    AmazonDiary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff KinneyBook 1: Diary of a Wimpy Kid    AmazonCritter Club by Callie BarkleyBook 1: Amy and the Missing Puppy    AmazonIvy & Bean by Annie BarrowsBook 1: Ivy & Bean    AmazonThe Magic Treehouse by Mary Pope OsborneBook 1: Dinosaurs Before Dark    Amazon[...]

Mini-Review: Willful Child: Wrath of Betty by Steven Erikson


Willful Child: Wrath of Betty by Steven Erikson is a sequel Willful Child. Therefore, I recommendthat you stop now and read the review I wrote for it as I think it’s valuableto have that perspective before getting to what I write below. If anything, in the two years since I wrote that review, my thoughts on Willful Child have only grown stronger. I think it is a superb satire of far more than just Star Trek, but read the review for that. I’ve come to realize that while the humor of that book is certainly coarse and inappropriate, that plenty of people ‘get it’ and therefore see what Erikson is doing in the book. All this adds up to me being very happy to read the sequel.Unfortunately, I was largely unimpressed. Of course, I enjoyed a lot of what Erikson was doing with the book and how he plays with both time travel and parallel-dimension issues. I particularly found the gender-swap / parallel world parts to be well done and timely given so much of what’s going on. And of course, it’s hard for someone like myself to not be immensely amused by the comic-con sequence. Really, Wrath of Betty is worth reading for those two parts regardless of my overall disappointment.Where does my disappointment come from? It’s all in the timing. Wrath of Betty continues the satirical directions from Willful Child, with a strong focus on the consumerism and rampant capitalism of the Western world. And this is unfortunately where it misses. Often the most effective satire works because it feels particularly timely to what’s going on in the culture it targets. Generally consumerism and capitalism are perfect elements for satire to target, but at least for me, it misses the elephant in the room for a satirical book published in 2016. I am speaking of the big issues we all see too much of right now – from Brexit to the US election and the idiot who will remain nameless, and war and refugees, etc. etc. A satire focused so much on consumerism simply doesn’t stick with me right now – it feels off topic, especially since reality is so primed for good satire (though admittedly, Brexit and the US election are often plenty satirical without any help at all).  I do think that the focus on consumerism and capitalism in Wrath of Betty is likely to be more timeless and therefore would have more staying power than the satire I wanted to read. But, it remains that I simply couldn’t enjoy things as much as I wanted to. Yes, I realize that due to just how it works writing a novel, that Wrath of Betty was largely written well before reality jumped the shark, but that intellectual knowledge doesn’t really help my reaction to the book.So, while I think Wrath of Betty is a worthy follow-up to Willful Child, it didn’t work well for me. However, it may well work for you. Willful Child: Amazon, My ReviewWillful Child: Wrath of Betty: Amazon[...]

Mini-Review: Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen


I live in the West and I have a soft-spot for the ‘weird west’, at least when it’s done well. So, I was intrigued by Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen – it sounded like something different … something weird and west in all of the best ways. Not only was I not disappointed, but it far exceeded my expectations.In my mind I have so many good things to say about this book, but I love this elevator pitch from the author herself:It’s Lonesome Dove meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer with a biracial, genderqueer heroine.SOLD!Honestly, I’d throw in a comparison to Preacher as well, not for anything specific, but these two just feel like they get each other. Note: that Bowen quote is from The Big Idea:Lila Bowen, which absolutely worth a full read if you’re wondering about this book. It’s the voice of Nettie Lonesome that stands out perhaps most of all. She’s caustically witty, sarcastically ignorant, and delightfully direct. Reminiscent of the strong voice of Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear, to throw yet another comparison into this review. Nettie’s journey of self-discovery and struggle with her identity brings the depth to Wake of Vultures, but what I want to emphasize is the wonderful, weird fun of the book. It’s a menagerie of fantastical beasts in the scrub-lands of the West, mixing mythologies with a dark, cynical tinge wrapped in just enough humor. It’s a perfect setting for some monster hunting fun: vampire bordellos, sirens at the bar, chupacabra roaming the range, harpies circling above, werewolves on a warpath, and a band of monster hunting rangers on the prowl. Wake of Vultures is a fun read full of weird, even horrific, adventures in a re-imagined West. I thoroughly enjoyed it and enthusiastically recommend it. Also…it’s only the beginning of The Shadow series, with a sequel, Conspiracy of Ravens, coming in October, 2016, and more books planned for the future. The Shadow Series:Wake of Vultures: AmazonConspiracy of Ravens: Amazon[...]

Review: The Last Mortal Bond by Brian Staveley


The Last Mortal Bond by Brian Staveley is the final volume in the Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne trilogy. In my review of the first book, The Emperor’s Blades, I dig into how I felt uninspired because it was about a fight for the status quo, there was no progress, nothing new had been added. Yes, I enjoyed the book because Staveley is an excellent story teller, the book was exciting, and so well paced that I always needed to know what would happen next. Ultimately, that was enough to encourage me to read the sequel. In my review of The Providence of Fire, I got excited. The Emperor’s Blades was a set-up, and big things happened in book 2. Huge I tell you. There are progressive ideas – thoughts of moving things forward. And it was so well wrapped together, that it was simply impossible to tell who was bad and who was good. Where was it all going to go? There were so many possibilities. Of course, I had my hopes and ideas of where it was going. They were some really good ideas. They built on the ambiguity of book 2, explored some the more interesting (to me) concepts developed in The Providence of Fire. I was certain Staveley was with me in this, that he was going to pluck these ideas right out of my head, run with them, and then turn them around a few times to put some real sting into it.But….Staveley wasn’t with me, he had ideas all his own. Yes, they are good ideas – there’s excitement, the stakes are upped even further, more complications added, and some really great fighting and sacrifice, and an unexpected character (Gwenna) leaps up and steals the whole show. But…I wanted to see my ideas. And so I was disappointed. Much of what excited me about The Providence of Fire was abandoned in The Last Mortal Bond – the empire was not on a progressive path of improvement. In the end…we just got the status quo again. And that pissed me off – I’m just tired of epic fantasy that leaves us with the status quo. Where the people aren’t better off and there isn’t really hope that things have changed a bit. Just a bunch of big battles, lots of death, young leaders learn valuable lessons, the meaning of life is love, blah, blah, blah, and…the same old shit goes on into the future.I had other ideas too – damn good ones. Of how the gods interacted with humanity and the immortal ‘elves’. I was looking forward to the ambiguity of good and evil, only to have a standard Big Bad fixated on as the story moves forward in more or less predictable ways.  So, overall, I am fairly disappointed with how The Last Mortal Bond wraps things up. Yes, it was fun, and Staveley is just so excellent with the pacing, action, and tension that it really is almost impossible to stop reading his books. I know that it’s my own expectations that lead to my disappointment, and not (necessarily) what Staveley actually did with the book – because it’s not bad, not bad at all. It’s just that I saw so much potential in The Providence of Fire and where things could be taken, and it was crushing to see The Last Mortal Bondtake the path that pretty much everyone else before has taken. Final verdict: Good series, fun writing, exactly what fans of traditional epic fantasy crave…safe. But damn, it could have been great. Chronicles of the Unhewn ThroneThe Emperor’s Blades: My Review, AmazonThe Providence of Fire: My Review, AmazonThe Last Mortal Bond: AmazonSet in the Same World As Emperor’s BladesSkullsworn (forthcoming): Amazon[...]

Mini-Review: Los Nefilim by T. Frohock


In Los Nefilim, T. Frohock imagines a world where angels, demons, and their human hybrids (nefilim) live and act mostly unnoticed in the world. The focus is on Barcelona in the 1930s and Diago, a unique nefilim with both angel and demon blood. Diago’s family is threatened as angels and demons battle for the future of the world in the face of oncoming war. Magical battle, torture, betrayal. Yes these things occur and are important. But the soul of the book is in love and relationships. A son and his estranged father, the son a father of a son he does not know, lovers, friends. Add time and betrayal. The sum is greater than the parts where the past must be addressed to accept the present, to know oneself and finally submit to the love all around. To fight without quarter for the ones that are loved. This is Los Nefilim, historic context with consequences for all of humanity, but played out at a personal level. The foundation of this powerful story is a poetic prose, dark and moody, yet infused with color and music as it embodies hope, love and loyalty. Yes, there is a lot of conflict in that last statement, as is appropriate in a story full of internal and external conflict. It’s the grounded, devoted love that keeps it all together. As you have probably guessed by now, I really enjoyed Los Nefilim. It’s beautiful, moving, filled with suspense. It kept me up at night because I could not put it down. I want to read more of Diago, Miquel, Rafael, Guillermo, and others. It’s historic urban fantasy, not quite alternative history, and it’s a powerful portrayal of love and family.Additionally, it’s worth noting that the main family unit at the heart of Los Nefilim is two male partners. The relationship is genuine, heartfelt and simply lovely. I await the day when focus on a same-sex couple is not noteworthy and commonplace, but we aren’t there yet, and it’s books like Los Nefilim that will get us there. A few logistical notes: Los Nefilim is in reality a print collection of 3 novellas that were initially published electronically: In Midnight’s Silence, Without Light or Guide, and The Second Death. The reality is that the three independent novellas seamlessly work as a traditionally structured novel. Read it as a serial, collection, or single work – it doesn’t matter. But I certainly recommend that you read it. Los Nefilim: AmazonIn Midnight’s Silence: AmazonWithout Light or Guide: AmazonThe Second Death: Amazon[...]

Mini-Review: Broken by Susan Jane Bigelow


A woman is so broken by life, not only has she adopted the name Broken, but she is incapable of escape – because there is essentially nothing she can do to die. She picks a fight, she heals before death. She tries to commit suicide – it won’t take, she heals after the attempt. The healing is pain. The pain is the only part of life she ‘enjoys’. Folks…this is the backstory, this is where it begins. And of course, Broken is a superhero and there was a time when she could fly.Broken by Susan Jane Bigelow is extraordinary in its portrayal of superheroes, or extrahumans, as they are called in Bigelow’s books. Everyone loves a label, so let’s call this post-superhero literature. This is the maturation of superheroes in popular culture, and it was originally published in 2011 (and now republished by The Book Smugglers Publishing), so a few years before the current height of superheroes in pop culture had been reached. It’s a few decades into a dystopic future where the US was on the losing side of a global war. Extrahumans, each with a superpower or two, have become a tool of the government, both hated and loved, but hated more and more. A new government has taken over, much more authoritarian, and full of parallels to groups like the Nazis, or even to the troubling groups in visible in today’s politics. A baby is born – prescient extrahumans have seen a future where things get better, seemingly infinitely better. They have also seen a future where he makes it much, much worse. It falls to a young teen, an unregistered extrahuman who sees countless possible futures when he looks others in the eyes – even his own eyes in the mirror, where he has seen his own death too many times. He finds Broken and together they try.As positive as I am above, I must admit that dystopic books are not something I read often – it’s just not my thing. I imagine it’s a result of just where I am in life, how hard it is, and how damned stressed out and depressed I am much of the time. I simply cannot enjoy books where that sort of world dominates, where all too real situations dominate, where hope tastes of ashes. I suppose that’s why I like my SFF extra fantastic, where things are unreal and metaphoric as opposed to a version of reality that’s all too real. Call me a dreamer or escapist. So, generally, I avoid the whole dystopian thing. Given these preferences of my reading, it’s hard for me to say that I enjoyed reading Broken. It’s hard, bad things happen, and hope is scarce, though always present in the background. It’s just not my thing. However, I can see the brilliance of the concept and the success of the execution. Brokenis an incredible novel, both timeless and perfectly timed to the now. While I would probably argue that dystopic SFF is becoming overdone to the point of dulling its impact, the genre is primed for the concept of post-superhero fiction. And there’s much more to be said than I get into here. It’s done so well that I just might read the other books of the Extrahuman Union series, knowing that they aren’t my thing. Because as good as Broken is, I’m very curious to see what comes next. The Extrahuman Union SeriesBroken: AmazonSky Ranger: AmazonThe Spark: Amazon (forthcoming)Extrahumans: Amazon (forthcoming) [...]

Kids Review: HiLo by Judd Winick


As my son, Hebop, has become more of an independent reader, he’s become more interested in the books I receive for review. Arguably, it started with Star Wars and seeing Star Wars book covers that really got him paying attention, but I think that he really began to understand that some of these books are perfect for him with HiLo Book 1: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth by Judd Winick.It was fall of 2014 when Hebop was looking over my shoulder as I opened a few books that had come in the mail. One of these was an advanced copy of a graphic novel: HiLo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth. He immediately grabbed it and started to look, with me looking over his shoulder. ‘Dad, can have this book?’. I looked at my wife, we both shrugged, and said yes. He runs off to his room to read. He spent at least the next 2 hours reading, right up until bedtime. He repeatedly requested that either my wife or I (or both) read with him – him reading to us. And he finished the book. I believe this was his first true graphic novel.‘Dad, I need more books like this.’In short, it’s a charming story of friendship where a boy (D.J.) befriends a mysterious boy/robot he names HiLo who crashes to earth. The boy, his best friend Gina, and HiLo then save the world. It’s nice because the main characters are both gender and racially diverse, and in spite of the superhero sort of feel, it’s a story of friendship.Hebop read HiLo over and over again (at least 6 times) for the next week or two. He told all of his friends and brought the book to share. Later, when I got the finished copy, I never even saw it as it went straight to his room. The advance copy was given to his best friend, who quickly had similar love for the book (his mom has thanked us repeatedly for passing on a book that he was so excited about). For the end of the year book exchange, we had to buy a copy of HiLo to include – no other book would do.A couple of months ago, I got HiLo Book 2: Saving the Whole Wide World in the mail. We excitedly gave Hebop the book, and he excitedly read the whole wide book that night. Then he read it again a few times. By now, graphic novels aren’t new anymore and we have a number around the house, so the excitement wasn’t as enthusiastic as before, though that’s not to say that he wasn’t extremely excited to get book 2. Though we were both (happily) frustrated with the cliff-hanger ending that left us wanting book 3 now.So, HiLo is a hit in my house. It’s a ‘superhero’ graphic novel that I have no issues sharing with an 8 year old (or 7 year old as when he first saw it). And I am happy to highly recommend it.HiLoHiLo Book 1: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth: AmazonHiLo Book 2: Saving the Whole Wide World: Amazon[...]

Something New: Kids’ Reviews


Hi all, long time followers here on the blog and other social media know that in real life I am a father, among other things. It is not a surprise that I share my love of reading with my children, and I’ve long contemplated sharing that aspect of my reading life here on the blog. I’ve gone back and forth – separate blogs (I even have several registered, just never posted) or whatever, but the reality is that I will never post often enough to really justify that. So, I’ve decided that they will be integrated here on the blog.My concept of this will likely evolve significantly through time and vary a fair amount from post to post. Some will be little more than the reaction of one (or both) of my children. Sometimes I might focus on my experience reading a book with them, and others will be a hybrid. But they likely won’t be typical reviews. Also, I doubt I’ll spend much time on the ‘obvious’ books. For example, my son and I (and my wife) have been reading through the Harry Potter books. We do it slowly, because my wife and I feel that there are aspects of the books that an 8 year old is not ready for. And we don’t let him see the movies until we read the books (my daughter will start next year). Everyone knows that kids love the Harry Potter books and movies – and it is loads of fun to read those books with my son and then watch the movie, but that’s not something that really needs a lot of extra attention. So, don’t expect a lot of coverage there. Also, I may cover something that is really a very big thing, perhaps closing in on Harry Potter scale, but if it’s new to me (and a lot is/will be) then I may go ahead and cover it anyway. However it works out, I think we can all agree that excitement around children reading is a good thing to share.So, I’ll introduce you to my children’s internet names (that I made up for this). It’s possible (likely) that I have inadvertently referred to them by name somewhere on my blog or social media, but I have chosen give them some privacy either way (hell, I don’t openly publish my own full name here on the blog, though it wouldn’t take too much digging to excavate it). Hermes (Hebop) is my 8 year old son. He loves all sports (especially soccer) and is always in motion. We work hard for balance and he also does piano and we have instilled a love for reading. He reads quite well for a second grader and reads a variety from silly comics, to rather long novels, to graphic novels. In the near future, most of these posts will focus on Hebop due to where he is at developmentally. Atë/Artemis/Aristaeus (Arty) is my 5 year old daughter. As the Greek references imply, she’s a bit mischievous (much more sly than my son), and also a very big animal lover, especially dogs. She doesn’t yet read on her own (that will be a summer project this year in prep for Kindergarten). She dances ballet, occasionally plays soccer, and will (hopefully) start piano soon. It’ll probably a few years before Arty is a big focus for these posts.Anyway, I hope you all enjoy this new direction (I’ll try to remember to tag the posts with Kids Reviews) and just maybe fellow parents, and anyone looking for reading ideas for little ones, will discover a few gems along the way.[...]

‘Review’: Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson


What feels like a long time ago and practically a different life, I wrote this review of The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson. In that review I was excited – I was reading a new Mistborn book by Sanderson, one that basically came out of nowhere and pleasantly surprised fans, and one that I was reading months before Sanderson’s rabid fan base was going to see it. It seems to have surprised Sanderson nearly as much, because a small side project, one that wasn’t planned to have sequels has grown into a fully-fledged trilogy (EDIT: I have been informed that The Alloy of Law is a stand-alone, and technically Shadows of Self is the start of the trilogy).I’m now a few years older and a lot more overwhelmed in life. My reading tastes have evolved and grown a bit. I’ve become a bit more bitter and jaded at a time when I’ve also become more hopeful as I often intentionally pull on the blinders to the world around me and simply enjoy fatherhood. Anyway…I’m getting a bit too self-indulgent. After a having a copy of the sequel to The Alloy of Law, Shadows of Self, for over a year, I finally got around to reading it, in spite of just how much I wanted to immediately see a sequel 5 years ago. Anyway, for whatever reason (perhaps all the reasons?), I can’t say that I’m equally as excited after reading Shadows of Self as I was back then – I literally stayed up half the night to immediately write my review of The Allow of Law, immediately requested an interview with Sanderson (and was granted that request in short-order). Now…well, I finished reading the book a month ago and am just now reviewing it, I haven’t done an interview in years and don’t plan on doing one now. So… is this lack of enthusiasm me or the book? (It’s me, but really, that’s not what I want to dwell any more on). Shadows of Self is an excellent follow-up to The Alloy of Law – it does everything a sequel in a fantasy trilogy setting should do. The scope grows, the stakes are larger, more is explained, characters grow and history is revealed, things get dark, and for fans of Sanderson’s Cosmere, goodies abound. And Sanderson revels in his strengths – the magic is right in the reader’s face, there are adventures and battles, and the world of Mistbornis further revealed. Which of course only leaves more questions to be answered. As I said, this is a very solid second act for a trilogy not-trilogy. This is the second book, of a second trilogy set in a secondary fantasy world (surely, this unlocks some super-secret epic fantasy magical power?) (EDIT: Note, I'm keeping this line because it's cool, even if it doesn't work since technically Shadows of Self is the first book in the trilogy). It’s pretty safe to say that if you are considering reading this book, you are already a fan of Brandon Sanderson. You are a fan of Mistborn. You probably know more about Mistborn and the Cosmere than I do. So, let’s face it, this review doesn’t matter. The only people reading it have either read the book already or will read it regardless of the words here at my little blog. Which brings me full circle to the indulgence of self. Hell, this review jumped the shark, went off the rails, tipped back the bottle a while back. Hell, I’m just excited that for the first time in years I won’t have a backlog of reviews to write and I can’t believe that anyone is still actually reading this. Bless you for that, but really, I’m sure there’s something better that you can be doing with the time. Anyway…read Shadows of Self– it’s a fun book [...]

Mini-Review: Mystic by Jason Denzel


Author Jason Denzel is best known for running the Wheel of Time fansite, Dragonmount, and in 2015, he published his debut novel, Mystic. Fans who know Jason (and I’m one, going back to my days spending untold of hours on Wheel of Time message boards), probably expect Jason’s novel to be world-spanning, epic fantasy adventure in the same vein of Wheel of Time. They would be wrong.Mystic takes a different, more focused approach. This book is an origin story, almost a prequel to a series that hasn’t been published yet. It’s not (well, mostly not) the story of an epic journey to save the world. Mystic is the story of a young woman’s (Pomella) journey, her personal struggles against a severely stratified society, and her own baggage from that society. It’s the journey of a young woman breaking barriers and learning her magic. It’s heartwarming, sweet, with a good bit of misguided teenage action. In this, it’s a classic YA book with a good bit of cross-over appeal. Yes, there is a threat, a threat that could have dire consequences to the world. But the threat feels almost contrived – it really was a placeholder, something to pitch the growth and struggles of Pomella against. In this way, the book is more about her own internal struggles than the external struggles around. This internal, almost small-scale focus is both the strength and weakness of Mystic. The fan base Jason is chasing after is most likely expecting a sprawling epic that stand on the shoulders of 1990s era big fat fantasy. They may bounce off of the modest page count and ‘lower stakes’ journey of a young woman. That would be unfortunate, as the story is well told, even as it shows many of the signs of an author still in development rather than full command of their skills. I enjoyed Mystic, and I look forward to reading what Jason does with this series in the future. However, it does not really cover any new ground. That’s not (necessarily) a bad thing – not every book can or should be groundbreaking, but in a time when so many exciting things are happening in the world of SFF books, this is the sort of thing that could fall through the cracks. Or maybe it’s the sort of book that could really take off due to its accessibility. It’s hard to say. Mystic: Amazon[...]

Review: Black Wolves by Kate Elliott


First, I need to get this out of the way right up front: Black Wolves by Kate Elliott is one of the most extraordinary epic fantasy books I’ve ever read.Got it?Good, because that is a very important perspective that must be understood, especially as I dive into what is undeniably a rambling, unfocused review that says little about book plot and probably says more about my own relationship with epic fantasy than anything else. Feel free to move along knowing that as I said above, Black Wolves is extraordinary and I cannot recommend it enough.Still with me? Good.The aspect of Black Wolvesthat makes it so extraordinary (get used to this word, as I will keep using it), is the scope of its ambition. Black Wolves embraces the full history of epic fantasy, converses with it, moves into interrogation, then subversion, and spits it back out as something new. And this is done in every aspect of the book. The beauty of this approach and the shear skill and will Elliott wields to pull it all together makes for a reading experience more fulfilling than any I can recall in recent years. For one thing – I literally had no real idea of just where the story was going to go. There were too many options – I could see a vast array of possibilities, and then Elliott would go in a different direction, bring in a new reveal. It was absolute fun and entertainment – yes, as I will discuss soon, this book has a lot of serious and important things that it does, but that fun and entertainment is never lost. The reader is cheering the characters, invested and rewarded. The dark, grim nastiness of the book, it’s interrogation with more than just itself, but an entire genre and those writing it today, are present without ever losing that critical enjoyment of reading, the investiture of the fan. It’s a bloody brilliant maneuver to see succeed. Black Wolves takes on many of the most common thematic elements of epic fantasy – colonialism, religion, role and execution of government, class system, war and its consequences, violence, gender roles, racial/ethnic tensions, inspirations from non-Western societies, and many more. Any one of these aspects could become quite a lengthy discussion, along with a few that I didn’t mention.Many reviews and discussions of Black Wolves have (rightly so) devoted time to discussing gender, and to a lesser degree, age, aspects of the book. Black Wolves is full of strong women with agency, which is becoming much more of the standard to achieve rather than an exception to the state of genre, so I won’t focus on that too much (others have already done this and much better than I can anyway). The aspect that I enjoyed and felt was more fresh was the inclusion and focus on older characters. An aging, retired spy/soldier and a Princess who has grown into a commanding role in a corps of specialized soldiers who bond with and fly giant eagles (which, is really cool in of and by itself). It’s rare for older characters to play more than an aging sage, mentor, monarch, etc. – and when they do, it’s very often that they will be killed off early in the series. So, it’s refreshing that arguably the two most important characters in Black Wolvesare long past their youth. And I would certainly speculate that it takes an author with a long history in the genre to make these characters work so well. It’s also nice to see that every single character in this book has its flaws – there simply isn’t anything universally likeable or unlikeable about any of them. That is a diffi[...]

Mini-Review: The Builders by Daniel Polansky


The Builders by Daniel Polansky is at its basic, a novella about a bad joke. No, I won’t give you the punchline or even tell you what the joke is – knowing that it’s there, you’ll figure it out. And the suggestion that book is about a bad joke is in no way my saying that the book is a bad book – it’s quite the opposite, but it does help frame the story. Appreciation of just where this book comes from makes it all the more enjoyable, as for example, a Quentin Tarantino movie is.“Revenge is a dish best served cold”The Builders begins with this idea at its core, and the story is very much full of references not only to revenge tales, but also to variations of small teams at war and/or criminal gangs on a mission. I will not list them – they are legion – and I suspect many a reader will come up with their own, and those may or may not align with the ideas of Polansky as he wrote it all. The mysterious Captain begins the story by recruiting his team, or more correctly, getting the old gang back together for one final mission to redress their last failed effort. We know one of the crew was a traitor, of course we do not know who. We can only suspect that it’s all only the beginning. The Captain’s crew is a mixed group of the most unlikable sort – assassins, artillery, demolitions, snipers, etc. – but one and all, they are killers. Some of them get along, some hate everyone, the Captain holds them together, and for all that it may only be due to the blood they have spilled together. Or that the Captain is the meanest, most dangerous of them all.And I suppose that I should mention that all the characters are anthropogenic animals whose personalities, instincts, and deadliness often correspond with their species. The mysterious, deadly Captain who all fear – he’s a mouse. His crew has a weasel, badger, rat, mole, salamander, owl, and possum. One of them may be French. They are up against the likes of an ermine, armadillo, cat, snake, fox, skunk, and legions of rats. Personalities may be large, but the prose is minimal, dark, and dripping in morbid, gallows humor. There is bombastic boasting, dark grumbling, and the flash of knives in the dark. The final, suicide mission is told, blood and gore abound, betrayal, victory, and death. Who lives, who dies? Does it mean anything? Was it cold enough? Was it worth it…was it worth anything?Who has the final laugh? Will it be you dear reader, will you get the joke?The Builders: Amazon[...]

Review: Emperor of the Eight Islands by Lian Hearn


Lian Hearn returns to a world of medieval Japan with a new series, The Tale of Shikanoko, set in the world of her earlier Otori series. Emperor of the Eight Islands introduces this new series, as it explores the great warrior tales of ancient Japan.I have not read any of Lian Hearn’s previous books, though the Otori series has been on my shelf for years waiting for me to come around. During my recent trip to Japan, I spent some time in Northern Honshu in the region of the Great Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, which is the same region in Japan where Hearn drew inspiration for this series in the immediate aftermath of the tsunami. This in combination with my having wanted to read Hearn’s books for years, made it an easy choice for me to begin with this book.The Tale of Shikanoko is told in what feels like a very Japanese writing style – elegant, poetic, and minimalist. Which is to say, a style that I am not very used to. At first it felt very wooden, more like a ledger account than a story, lacking emotion and intimacy. However, as I grew used to the style I realized that this wasn’t the case. The minimalism of the story doesn’t lack the intimacy that I was looking for – it was just more subtle and shown a bit differently. By the end of book I had not only learned to appreciate the style of the story, but I can see how the approach makes emotional punches that much more effective.This is a story of an older time – a feudal Japanese world, a time of divine emperors, magic and mysticism where the spirits of the land and those of people are much closer. A time when the world was a smaller place, and humans were a smaller presence. It is a time before (perhaps just before?) the arrival of temples of Buddhism and where the politics and rivals of the elite dominate everything. In this, The Tale of Shikanoko is not just a great example of Asian-inspired medieval fantasy, but it’s a bridge for those deeply attached to fantasy inspired by medieval Britain and surrounding environs. The parallels are rather striking – a deep mystical tradition of living close the spirits of the land that is threatened by the arrival of a religion from abroad, and a feudal society dominated by the elite where rivals backed by traditions from abroad are at war. At the heart of this tale is a young man connected to the spirit of a great stag. It’s still early in the series to know just where it will end, but I think it’s not a stretch to believe that this young man is bound for some form of greatness, and quite likely, a tragic end. Before reading this book, I had never realized how the Arthurian traditions of Britain so closely parallel the warrior tales of Japan. This of course will lead to the inevitable decrees that The Tale of Shikanoko is the Japanese King Arthur, which is a disservice to both in spite of the very real parallels. But it really misses the point for me to frame this story in terms of similarities to ‘Western’ traditions and that is not my intent. Merely an observation that I came to time and again while reading. These are human tales – universal tales of power and love, betrayal and victory, loss and change. It’s a coming of age story, I believe it will become a story of revenge. A story of love, hate, betrayal, and everything in between.Emperor of the Eight Islands is the first book in this series of four, all of which will be published in 2016. It is the opening, the origin story, the telling of how the stones ar[...]

Mini-Review: Swords and Scoundrels by Julia Knight


Swashbuckling!It’s a word that I initially wanted to avoid at all costs for this review as I suspect that it’s probably used in just about every review of Swords and Scoundrels by Julia Knight. But, the more I thought about it, I came to conclude that it’s a word that should be fully embraced. Swashbuckling – it just roles off the tongue. It’s fun to say. It’s one of those words. So…let’s take a look at what it really means to swashbuckle and be a swashbuckler.Swashbuckler: a swaggering swordsman (swordswoman), soldier, or adventurer; daredevilWell, yes, this covers the 2 main characters (a sister and brother duo) in Swords and Scoundrels. It covers it really well, each having different aspects of a swashbuckler. But, it’s really this definition below that I think captures the book.[to] Swashbuckle: engage in daring and romantic adventures with ostentatious bravado or flamboyance.That definition above is Swords and Scoundrels in a nutshell, though with some very important caveats. As I said, the book is about a sister/brother duo, each embodying different swashbuckling aspects in different ways – one traditionally flamboyant and one a fair bit darker, though no less a swashbuckler for that darkness. It’s the duality in many ways that has brings more to Swords and Scoundrels than the traditional swashbuckling adventure, offering swashbuckling commentary and even subversion of swashbuckling. Throw in a fantasy setting, large-scale clockworks, a magician or two, and nice bit of populism to add depth, and Swords and Scoundrels is the perfect swashbuckling tale. And as the book is the first in the Duelist Trilogy, there are 2 more presumably equally swashbuckling adventures to follow – excellent!Swashbuckle!The Duelist TrilogySwords and Scoundrels: AmazonLegends and Liars: AmazonWarlords and Wastrels: AmazonNote, this review joyfully uses a variation of swashbuckle 15 times![...]

Mini-Review: Updraft by Fran Wilde


Updraft by Fran Wilde was released with a fair bit of critical fan-fair in 2015 and I read it a few months post-release based largely on that the good word of many of those I follow in the blogging world. My thoughts on the book are somewhat mixed, though I believe that to be largely a result of relatively high expectations I had from reading other reactions. In short, I liked the book, I really enjoyed the turns the plot takes, a few of the surprises that are thrown about, and the more political machinations. Where I struggled a bit is with the whole flying thing and the general weirdness of the world. It’s not that I don’t like a good, weird world of fantasy, it’s just that I was never completely sold on it. I’ve seen the comparisons to this book and worlds created by the likes of China Miéville and I just can’t take things that far. Yes, Miéville creates some very weird worlds, but those creations aren’t questioned in my reading of them, just marveled at. And the very weirdness of those creations usually serves an important point in the thematic goals of the writing. It’s not Wilde doesn’t do these things with her world, it’s just that it didn’t completely work for me. I understand that keeping the origins of these mysteries is key, and I also get that this is fantasy, so fantastic and unexplainable things are around. But it still didn’t gel the way I would have like to see.However, I don’t want to dwell on these, as they didn’t really bother me all that much. I did like the book. I am looking forward to reading the sequel. And I’m happy to recommend the book to readers at the blog here. Updraft is a coming-of-age story, it is the story of a child seeking information about a parent, there are secrets, and what I enjoyed most is that it’s a story about a moment of upheaval in a society that can and will likely end in a very different place. Plus, living bone towers and people flying around way above a distant, fog-covered ground – it might not have completely worked for me, but is still sounds pretty awesome.  Updraft is the first novel in a planned trilogy in the Bone Universe. The second novel, Cloudbound is forthcoming in September, 2016.Bone UniverseUpdraft: AmazonCloudbound: Amazon[...]