Rot & Ruin

A not-so-funny thing happened. We confused the release of this novel with that of another. We feel pretty awful, because Jonathan Maberry is one of our favorite authors. So, we offer our sincere apologies to one of the greats in the Horror genre. With that said, we feel we should mention how completely awesome ROT & RUIN is. It is...uh...completely awesome!

ROT & RUIN is an expansion of the short story "The Family Business" that was found in the anthology THE NEW DEAD. It ranks as one of our absolute favorite anthologies of the year, and we said so in the review we wrote. In that anthology, Maberry's YA zombie story was one of our favorites. Maberry then dropped the bomb on us that he was expanding that short story into a full novel. We were hesitantly excited. After all, how much could we enjoy a novel where we already knew most of the story?

YA zombies. YA with no TWILIGHT-esque romances involved. YA with all sorts of awesome violence and a solid coming-of-age story. Hmm. Yeah. Sounds like a recipe for a winner. In case you don't know, this story is about young Benny Imura. His parents were killed on First Night, the day that started the unstoppable zombie apocalypse. Benny's older brother Tom Imura escaped with Benny, and they all now live in a small settlement with other people. Tom Imura is famous as a zombie hunter, but Benny doesn't want to be a part of that legacy. As it turns out, Tom is far more than just a zombie hunter, and he wants Benny to be a part of "the Family Business." The first part of the novel follows pretty closely with the short story, after which it deviates into a huge, detailed and horrific adventure. Then the story goes back to its short story roots to end the way that short story did. Mostly.

As good as the short story was, the novel ROT & RUIN is the definitive edition of the story. Enjoying the short story did absolutely nothing to diminish our enjoyment of the novel. This novel had all the details we felt were missing from the short story. The characters were better, and easier to root for/hate. The emotional impact of what the Family Business really is has been bumped up tremendously in importance.

As most zombie stories go, the idea is the exploration of what it means to be human. ROT & RUIN is one of the strongest examples of this them that we have read. The understanding that Benny comes to is directly linked to his coming-of-age. It seems like people are beginning to tire of zombies, and we don't blame them. But this story succeeds at becoming more than "just" a zombie story due to the focus on characters and and the themes of what it means to lose your history, and perhaps your humanity in the process.

ROT & RUIN is terrific. Maberry has proven again that he is one of the best Horror authors out there. His YA Horror is just as solid as his adult Horror, and each are perfectly pitched to their respective age groups. By now everyone who knows us, or who reads our reviews should know we have a very low level of tolerance for YA. For us to say a YA novel is not only good, but exceptional, is pretty much as good of a compliment as possible from us. ROT & RUIN might very well be our favorite YA novel so far.

Recommended Age: 14 and up.
Language: A little.
Violence: Zombies. Duh. But it isn't anywhere near as gratuitously awesome as Maberry's Joe Ledger novels.
Sex: Some disturbing situations are alluded to, but noting is ever shown.

The Ragged Man

As you all are well aware, we reviewed the first three novels in Tom Lloyd's Twilight Reign series and basically said they were the best thing since sliced bread. So with the release of THE RAGGED MAN, the fourth book in the series, it really became a question of "What more can we say?"

As it turns out, quite a bit.

Those of you who recently read THE GRAVE THIEF are probably still picking your jaw off the ground after that COMPLETELY INSANE ending. Main characters dying, other characters becoming the Mortal-Aspects of Gods, Gods dying, and Styrax being completely awesome. It seems like after every novel in this series we say to ourselves "How is Tom Lloyd going to top this?" Somehow he always does, and his endings leave us completely floored. This novel was no exception.

THE RAGGED MAN picks up right after the bloodbath at the end of THE GRAVE THIEF. The Land is in turmoil. Styrax has become even more vicious in his conquests. Civil war is blooming everywhere. Times are grim. THE RAGGED MAN features a fairly common theme: the tragedy and loss that come from war. Just because many of the characters in Tom Lloyd's series are larger-than-life doesn't mean they have nothing to lose. It is really in this aspect of the novel that Tom really drives home the cost of war. There is a section toward the latter quarter of the novel where Carel is ripping into Vesna about how much everyone has lost. It is in these losses that the great and powerful should realize they are no better than the lowborn. It is particularly powerful to see how Styrax copes with his own losses.

Another of the themes that is illustrated in THE RAGGED MAN to near perfection is the idea of duty. Characters are literally bargaining their souls away because of the duty they feel towards the Land, and towards their Lords and Gods. No matter the cost, there are a few characters that realize just how bad events are becoming with Azaer pulling everyone's strings. You see, with this novel we are getting people's full motivations. It's more than just conquest. Far, far more, and Tom does an amazing job of raising the stakes in a way that makes the reader cognizant of the current and coming dangers. Only those who are willing to sacrifice everything will be able to save the Land.

We've said constantly that we love this series. We recommend it to everyone. However, with our recent reading of Jordan and Sanderson's TOWERS OF MIDNIGHT, we realized WHY we love this series so much. Lloyd's Twilight Reign contains all the things we feel are lacking in the Wheel of Time. Danger. Death. Consequences. This series even touches on some similar themes--the long dead king that was living in Isak's head for example. Sound familiar? Only the handling of it in Lloyd's series is so much better, and the purposes behind it feel much more immediate. Where the WoT gets bloated, repetitive and passive, The Twilight Reign is focused, dark, aggressive and active. THE RAGGED MAN really hammered home this sense of fulfilled literary promises that have been withheld by WoT and many other stagnant, epic fantasy series. Another comparison? OK. A few years ago we were at a convention where Lloyd was said to be in a similar vein as Steven Erikson. This is 100% accurate. That's all you need to know.

If there is one thing we wish we could see more of in Lloyd's stories, it is a bit more variety in the Land. We end up being plopped down in the same areas. If you look at the map, we pretty much stick to a extremely small area of the world. Other places are mentioned, but we never see them. Granted, this is part of what gives the story its focus, but there is a huge and rich world to explore here--not to mention the various cultures we barely get glimpses at. With only one book left in the series, it's obvious we aren't going to see these places. We are holding out for some stand-alone sequels like Joe Abercrombie is doing. And by "holding out" we mean begging.

The ending. What can you say. Holy. Freaking. Crap. A portion of the ending was expected--big huge battle with all sorts of death and destruction. But just because you know generally WHO is going to show up to save the day doesn't mean you know HOW it is all going to happen. Trust us, the ending of this book was completely fantastic. In a sense, it was reminiscent of book 1 where the prophecy was broken. The last few lines of the novel really illustrate just how crazy things are probably going to get in the final book.

In THE RAGGED MAN, Tom Lloyd has once again raised the stakes in his series. The action was amazing like usual. Tragedy often strikes just when things seem to be going well. Consequences are real and powerful. This is a grim, dark world that somehow still has glimmers of hope as the incredible characters fight tooth-and-nail for their futures. But now comes the hard part: finishing it all off. With a solid ending, this series could become a cornerstone of the genre. The wait for THE DUSK WATCHMAN is already killing us.

If you aren't reading this series, you are doing yourself an immense disservice. Fortunately, this is easily fixed. Go buy this book, and the three before it right now.

Recommended Age: 17 and up.
Language: There is quite a bit more this time around due to the focus being more on soldiers.
Violence: Tom writes awesome action. He writes very visual and visceral violence. This is a bloody, bloody novel.
Sex: Nope. None.

Kitty Goes to War

Carrie Vaughn's urban fantasy series about werewolf Kitty Norville who hosts a paranormal call-in radio show adds #8 to list with KITTY GOES TO WAR (there are two more slated to finish the series). Vaughn's series is the kind where you can read each book as a standalone, but they're that much more layered if you've read the others. The same applies to WAR, you can enjoy the story on its own.

In KITTY GOES TO WAR, Kitty is contacted by a doctor at the government's center for paranatural biology to help with a problem. Three Green Beret soldiers have been brought back from Afghanistan after their unit went haywire. Unfortunately, they're werewolves and incapable of reintegrating into a non-militarized setting, especially after the death of their alpha. Being cooped up in a government facility where the walls are coated in silver doesn't help their attitude, either.

Since this is Kitty, problems are never simple. At the same time she's trying to help three very violent werewolves, the CEO of the Speedy Mart franchise, Harold Franklin, is suing her for libel. You see, she spent one of her shows speculating with callers about mysterious events happening at Speedy Marts around the country. Franklin's overly quick reaction to mere speculation--and to a late-night spook show, even--makes Kitty reasonably suspicious that perhaps there is something unusual going on after all.

Kitty has changed a lot over the series, and in a good way. Here she continues to have doubts about whether she's doing the right thing, but she puts on a good front for the sake of those she's responsible for. She makes a great heroine, in that she's still completely female and soft-hearted, but she's got the courage to do what's difficult. She's been a werewolf long enough that she's accepted it, and feels compelled to help others cope, too. With her is her lawyer-werewolf-husband Ben, whose intelligence, voice of reason, and support makes them a great team. And finally there's Cormac, the third-wheel, former paranormal bounty hunter, who's finally out of prison, sporting secrets of his own.

Vaughn's prose is no-nonsense storytelling that's quick-paced, but flows easily. Kitty's first-person PoV is filled with humor and insight, making situations that should be ridiculous easier to swallow. Vaughn's a solid storyteller, consistent and polished, even if a little predictable; but, hey, that's what her readers like, and makes for great pool-side summer reading.

Complaints? Not a whole lot. It's hard to be sticky knowing what kind of genre it is going in. The secondary characters could have more depth. The climax could have been less contrived with Cormac's big reveal of what really went on in prison. These are, unfortunately, pitfalls of using first-person PoV. Compared to the early books in the series, there's more about how werewolf behavior stands out, how it's a culture within a culture that must be taken seriously. However, Vaughn could have done more with the werewolf culture, as WAR only shows its surface when there's a whole lot more to explore. There's also hints about what else is out there, such as wizards, faerie, and vampires, but while those will take the form of friends or enemies in the series, we don't get a lot of background detail. If Vaughn gave the setting more depth, this series could really have some meat on its bones.

Recommended Age: 16+
Language: Just a handful.
Violence: Mostly a lot of werewolf posturing, but the end does have fighting and blood that's moderately graphic.
Sex: With Kitty happily married it's toned down compared to previous novels.

Online Scavenger Hunt

As part of the festivities to promote R.A. Salvatore's newest novel, GAUNTLGRYM, Wizards of the Coast has been putting on a special online scavenger hunt.

Here's how it works:

The question shown in the graphic above relates to the riddle that @Wizards_DnD tweeted Sunday. Solve this question for a prize. And a clue! Because the answer is the seventh of eight clues that will help you solve the riddle at the end of the week when the online tour wraps up. The first person to comment on this blog post with the correct answer to the following clue question, including his/her Twitter user name, wins today's prize. Please note that in order to be eligible you must: 1) Follow @Wizards_DnD on Twitter; 2) Read the official rules and complete the online entry form -- both of which are available at:

FROM WIZARDS OF THE COAST: Visit all the stops during R.A. Salvatore’s week-long Gauntlgrym online tour to find the seven other clues. At the end of the online tour on 10/22/10, put all the clues together, be first to solve the riddle and tweet about it, and win a signed copy of Gauntlgrym and a trip for two to D&D Experience in Fort Wayne, IN. You must include @Wizards_DnD and #gauntlgrym in your tweet. Riddle-solving tweets won’t be accepted until 12:01 a.m. EST on 10/22/10.


Congrats to Mousyman, the first eligible participant who correctly answered today's clue question! In the image now you will see the correct answer, since everybody will need it in order to solve the riddle at the end of R.A. Salvatore's online tour beginning 10/22/10. Remember to visit all the other tour stops to find the other seven clues. Schedule, contest details, and official rules are available here:


Also, please check out our interview with Bob Salvatore. We promise you will be entertained. Follow the link for quick access, or take your time and peruse our infinite wisdoms...or something...

R.A. Salvatore Interview...The Sequel!

You know you love a good sequel! As Emeril would say, "BAM!!!" (Yeah, we went there...)

Hopefully you all remember last year when R.A. Salvatore dropped by Elitist Book Reviews on his blog tour for THE GHOST KING. Bob is just one of those guys who is a pleasure to interview, and that really came through during that interview. If you didn't read it then, check it our HERE.

Well, Bob is back, and he is as awesome as ever. You see, Bob just gets us, and he gets our blog. So when we were approached to host Bob Salvatore to promote his latest novel, GAUNTLGRYM, you know were jumped at the chance.

'Cause Bob is easily becoming one of our favorite people.

***The Interview***

Elitist Book Reviews: Well, Bob, back for more punishment we see. It’s been nearly a year since we last chatted. How has the last year treated you?

R.A Salvatore: Punishment? Well, you guys do fancy yourselves elitist, don't you? Won't work, sorry... I know you're just sniveling fanboys in the end. Just kidding... please, put down that pen! No, don't write that review... ahhhhhh!

Seriously, the last year has been an amazing one for me. I became a grandfather in March and I love it even more than I thought I would (and that was a high bar)! I've been busy, as always, but since I finished up my Saga of the First King series with TOR Books (The Bear came out in August), I've cut down to one book a year. We'll see how long that will last, but I have to tell you, having a couple of months to just sit back and enjoy my grandson and my family without a deadline hanging over my head is pretty wonderful.

Things have moved along splendidly with 38 Studios. I can't wait for "Reckoning" to come out next fall, as I think we're knocking this RPG out of the park. It really is beautiful to behold. And Copernicus (still using a code name for our MMO game) is going in marvelous directions; the team at 38 and Big Huge Games (BHG) stuns me every day. So all is well.

Still playing softball, still working out, and spent most of the summer floating in a pool. It's easy to complain, but no one listens or cares, so why bother?

EBR: With Gauntlgrym, you are treading into one of our favorite areas of the Forgotten Realms: Neverwinter. Was it just right place, right time, or had the idea for Drizzt heading to Neverwinter been brewing for quite a while?

Bob: I'll be perfectly honest here: I know what stories I want to tell. I knew where the road was heading for the remaining Companions of the Hall and knew the thematic beats I had to hit to bring these characters forward. The surroundings, the dressing on the story cake, are far more malleable to me. Wizards of the Coast asked me if I could set the book in the region of Neverwinter and could I do certain things to help them and Cryptic with the changes they needed for the upcoming Neverwinter for PC. Well, I've been near to Neverwinter since the beginning of the Drizzt tales, traveling to Luskan and the Crags (which I actually named), and riding the road to Waterdeep. I was passing right by Neverwinter before the city was developed for the computer game. And honestly, I intended to journey to that region, though not specifically Neverwtinter itself, in this book before Wizards even approached me with the idea.

So I agreed; my favorite part of working in a shared world are those times when I get to play off the work of other creative people. Isn't that the whole point of the place, after all? I went to a summit last summer out in Seattle with the folks from Wizards and Cryptic, and we hammered out the general things Cryptic wanted me to accomplish regarding the city and the region. Many people around the table had bits and pieces of little side streets I could explore. Most fun of all was when Rich Baker and I got into a one-upmanship game. I have a curious relationship with Rich. We don't really know each other all that well, but something pretty amazing happens when we're sitting at a table: we just play off each other like a shortstop and second baseman who have been on the same team for a decade. It's very cool and very inspiring.

So basically, at that summit, I had to digest the things they wanted me to accomplish physically with the area and see if I could create details within the framework of my story that would get us to that point. That process continues as I go through the series. Still being perfectly honest, it was a blast. I felt like there was a life to this book, a freshness to it, as if I was exploring the world beside my old friends. Which is exactly the point of the dramatic changes in the Realms, and exactly where I knew I had to place Drizzt.

EBR: How does the destruction of Neverwinter by the Spellplague affect Drizzt in this new series, and do you as a writer look forward to these types of big, landscape-changing events?

Bob: Why, whoever told you that the Spellplague destroyed Neverwinter? Oh come on, I can come up with something more explosive than that! I finally get to trash a section of the Realms (sorry Ed [Greenwood]!) and I wasn't going to let that happen without putting my touch on it. Come to think of it, I took care of Luskan, too, a couple of books ago. I sense a trend here...

Generally speaking, I don't look forward to these big landscape-changing events in a shared world, because the nature of the place puts too many limitations on what I can do versus what I want to do. I went through this from the other side of the coin during The War of the Spider Queen series, where I had to put the brakes on the level of destruction and carnage in Menzoberranzan, because I, after all, am likely to be the guy who will go back to the place in future works and I didn't want to set a book amidst smoldering ruins.

In this instance, though, I didn't really mind it. The big events for the book physically aren't the big events for the book emotionally. That's not a subtle distinction. The physical landscape, the city of Neverwinter, are more affected by the big events than are my characters and ultimately, this book, like all of the others, is about the personal journey of those characters. I realized early on that I could accomplish what Wizards of the Coast and Cryptic needed from me, not only without detracting from the story I wanted to tell, but through actually tying together the big events here with things I had written about previously. Surprisingly, the earlier tales dove-tailed beautifully with the events of Gauntlgrym, and so tied the journeys of Drizzt even more tightly than I had anticipated.

EBR: You’ve been killing off characters lately. Personally, we love it because it lends more danger to the situations you put your characters in. Has there been any thought to the possibility of Drizzt meeting his end?

Bob: Glad you love it, because for me, it hurts like hell. That aside, death is a necessary element of an action/adventure series that has gone on for 22 years, I suppose.

Any thought of killing Drizzt? Only for the last 22 years. Seriously, there was a time in the mid-90s when I came to actually resent the Dark Elf. I'm not kidding. Drizzt was my blessing and my curse, I thought. My blessing because what writer wouldn't want a breakout hero and a breakout series? And my curse because the popularity of the Legend of Drizzt overshadowed all of the other work I was doing, including some work which I thought very important (to me, at least). When people ask me my favorite book, I tell them Mortalis, the 4th book of my DemonWars series, and I mean it. I don't think I've ever written anything better than that, and doubt I ever will, and yet, more than half the people who know of my work, know only of my Dark Elf work.

So for a while, I admit it, I came to resent Drizzt. I wasn't working for TSR (the previous publisher of the Drizzt books, before Wizards of the Coast bought them) at that time, however, and fortunately so, I guess! I did have this story of Drizzt tripping on a root and falling in a hole and dying of exposure.

You know, just because.

That's all long past, however, and I no longer view Drizzt as a blessing and a curse. Rather, I've come to realize that my work, particularly my Drizzt work, is a shadow of my own personal journey. Through this character and his friends, I've been given the opportunity to not only share my point of view, my fears and my hopes, with others, but to explore those things within myself. I can relate to Carl Sagan when he wrote Cosmos and called it his "spiritual journey." As that was his -- searching for the universal truths of the universe -- so this is mine, searching for that which is in my heart and soul.

And now you come along and ask me if I'm going to kill the bloke!

To that, I can only answer, "I don't know!"

EBR: Where do you go from here, Bob? Any surprises in store for your readers?

Bob: Of course. Surprises for the reader, and for me, or I'll stop writing these books. I've always maintained that I'd write Drizzt books as long as people want to read them and they're fun for me. The way I know it's fun for me is when I'm surprised. I don't write like many other writers I know. I have an outline, sure (that's part of getting the advance checks, after all), but once I get going, I might as well not have one. I write the same way other people read. I don't know what's coming on the next page, so I have to get to it. That's always been the joy of writing for me.

I always find it interesting when some reader proclaims that he knew I was going to kill Character X several books ago. Interesting and amusing, because I assure you that I had no idea such a thing was going to happen. Perhaps I'm tipping off the readers as I'm tipping off myself, subconsciously, as I write the stories.

Or maybe people just want others to think they're really smart.

So yes, to answer your question directly, there are certainly surprises to come. And changes, so many changes, in the life of Drizzt Do'Urden. I wouldn't have it any other way.

EBR: Again, Bob, thank you for stopping by our blog. What do you say we make this an annual deal? Before you go, any parting words for our legions of faithful readers?

Bob: Seems to be morphing into an annual deal, doesn't it? And that's great with me. I love your site and the way you guys treat books: with a sharp eye, a dose of honesty, but always with respect for the effort.

To the readers, I can only say, please don't stop reading. And I don't even mean my works, necessarily. We've lost 3,000 bookstores over the last few years and the industry is in a state of flux. These are scary times, but also promising ones, with the new technologies coming on line -- and by that, I mean not only the e-books and the greater ease in producing audio books, but the technologies that allow for smaller inventories and just-in-time printing and shipping, and even self-publishing. When you see a book you love, don't be quiet about it, please! And I mean that doubly for beginning or lesser-known authors. I've watched publishers brought to tears over their inability to break out wonderful new authors in this difficult corporate framework, and far too many important voices are being silenced because of sales numbers.

So keep reading and keep championing those authors who have brought you joy, or entertainment, or enlightenment. The only person who really matters in the production of a book is the reader, after all.


What can we say, Bob Salvatore is one of the classiest guys in the business. Period.

Below are the links to the prior stops on Bob's blog tour, as well as links to the next stops. We suggest you show these other bloggers some love by visiting them and clicking all over their sites. Being a blogger takes more work than you think...

1 -
2 -
3 -
4 -
5 -
6 - Uhh, you're already know, Elitist Book Reviews...
7 -


Lastly, go take a peek at the online scavenger hunt that is going on. You have a chance to win all sorts of prizes; from a signed copy of GAUNTLGRYM and a D&D Starter Set, to stuff even MORE full of win. Go to our other post to check it out:

Black Hills

Right from the moment you pick up a Dan Simmons novel and first set eyes upon the page, you know you're in for a whole new kind of reading experience. It took me an entire paragraph (yes, the first one, because it’s just that obvious) to realize this would be the case. There is detail, flow and a sense of perfection in the way Simmons has crafted the first scene in BLACK HILLS, and I have to admit that I readily gobbled down every delicious bite of it. What’s more, I found that I continued to devour the pages by great sheaves despite the growing concerns niggling at the back of my neck.

Dude can write.

Paha Sapa is the promised hero of BLACK HILLS, and we get him in full measure. The story starts with the young Sioux boy being jolted to his core by the invasion of a white man’s ghost. But this isn’t just any white man. It’s General George Armstrong Custer, who has just been killed in his famous Last Stand against the American Indians. In the confusion and chaos of the battle, Paha Sapa (Sioux for “Black Hills”) rolls and flops on the ground as the ghost asserts itself within him. In time, Paha Sapa gains control and returns to his father with the prattling voice of this white man echoing in his skull.

We see Paha Sapa’s life as it stretches across time, covering a vast portion of the United State's history. The time of his youth is fraught with danger; from continued ranged attacks by the ever-expanding white settlers and the soldiers protecting them, to the frantic attempts of Chief Crazy Horse to know his future from Paha Sapa’s forward-looking visions. The narrative also carries us into his adult life, through times of economic depression, through the great Dust Bowl, and finally into his marriage and fatherhood. Then last--with the story line that most intrigued me--we read of Paha Sapa as a dying senior, working as a powder man on nothing less than the slowly emerging face of Mount Rushmore--a monument which he plans to utterly destroy.

Simmons weaves us through this man’s life, jumping from one timeline to the next, and paints a picture both beautiful and sublime. At several points we also get some of what the general has been raving about for so long as Paha Sapa eventually comes to understand the white man’s language. These sections are constructed as the General speaking to his beloved wife, of the memories they have made and the times they have shared, while he supposedly lays in an extended healing-darkness after what he can only assume has been a grievous wounding at the Battle of the Greasy Grass.

So much goodness, and as I said I found that I couldn’t stop turning the pages. At various times I would lift my head and stop to think a moment, forcing myself to look at the story as a reviewer duly should, and though I found some concerns and difficulties waiting for me there, I very easily dove right back in and lost myself in the pages once again.

Alas, all good things must come to an end, and in this case it really is too bad.

Multiple times over.

Let me make something perfectly clear: when you write a story (Take notes people. I’m only going to say this once.) you are, very literally, making promises to your readers.

When we see that a ghost has chosen to inhabit our main character, we expect that this is going to have some impact upon him. BLACK HILLS doesn’t do this.

When we see focused intent within our character, driving him toward a particular purpose, we expect that he will either see it to fulfillment or turn from it for justifiable reasons. BLACK HILLS doesn’t do that either.

And when we read those first words on that first page, we expect an ending. We expect that we’ll have made the journey, and enjoyed the trip, and that the time we spent within its pages has been well spent. All of these things are important. But BLACK HILLS doesn’t even attempt do this.

BLACK HILLS is not a novel. It’s a history, plain and simple. Have you ever watched a movie that’s based on historical events, and at the “end” instead of including something even approximating a real ending they just have an explanation session about who died and who lived and what the live ones are doing now? (No, zombies do not count here.) I’m good with additional facts. I really am. It’s the lack of an ending that just kills me. (Great example: Valkyrie. Awesome movie. No ending.) This book is exactly like that.

But it gets even worse.

Due to the extreme backlash that would result upon my person from the Great Overlords of the Elite were I to divulge any specifics from the “end” of Black Hills, I shall instead parrot an early review for Towers of Midnight (which I recently read over at Tor) and give you only my responses while reading such specifics.

1) Ooh! Here it comes, everyone! "Hold on to your butts." (Loads of meaningless points here for knowing the quote on that last one)
2) Uh...what?
3) Are you freaking kidding me?
4) Okay, so where is this going now?
5) Well, that sucks.
6) "Coincidence? I think NOT!" (Double those meaningless bonus points for knowing this one)
7) What just happened? Seriously. I’m completely lost.
8) The end? Alllll right...

When I sat down to write this review, I had a song running through my head that just wouldn’t quit. So, I jumped over to YouTube and found that the song did indeed say it all. Ah, what insight we can receive from the Naked Eyes. They say it best: Promises, promises. Indeed.

As I mentioned above, this is a history book. A very well-written history book, granted, but a history book nonetheless. If you like history and only care about history, then you will very easily be able to love this book. Me, I like stories. When I read a novel, I expect story. I expect an ending. I expect closure. And I got none of those here.

This comment from the Acknowledgments page at the back of the book is the very epitome of the book:

“A special thanks here to the members of the Dan Simmons Forum at for their help on the long and amusing chase through original newspaper accounts and other printed materials to discover which way Mr. Ferris’s original wheel rotated.”

If this is the kind of stuff you’re willing to just kill for, READ THIS BOOK.

If not (and I mean “not” in the most meager of senses possible) "LEAVE NOW AND NEVER COME BACK!" (Triple those meaningless bonus points if you get this last one as well)

BookInTenWords: One Indian’s battle to defeat the white man. Just kidding.

Recommended age: 18+ for content
Language: Two or three minor characters spout off for a bit each.
Violence: Little. There is a major war, but no real detail.
Sex: Two scenes, both pointless to the story and reminisced by General Custer.

Dan Simmons’s Website

Final note: Though I will absolutely try reading another Dan Simmons novel (probably an old one), I plan on staying away from anything of his that looks too historical in nature. I just don’t think I could handle another let down like this.

Science Fiction 101

Science Fiction 101

Instructors: Shawn Boyles, Steve Diamond & Nick Dianatkhah

Course Info: What you can expect from this course is a selection of recommendations from your instructors to give you a doorway into the science fiction genre.

Introduction: As we did with the University of Fantasy series, we wanted to give our readers who wanted to expand their horizons (or just nibble a bit) in the Science Fiction genre a good starting place. This is not to be taken as a list of the best books in the SF genre (though many books on the list are excellent). Instead this is a "If you're new to SF and want a good start" type of list. The novels on this list should be easily accessible to anyone who picks them up. The weird sciency stuff doesn't overwhelm and the geek factor should be relatively low. If you have a friend or neighbor who doesn't really read SF, these would be a good place to start their conversion process. Enjoy.

In our University of Fantasy entries, we each made a few selections. That won't be the case here. Together with one of our newer reviewers, Shawn Boyles, we talked much more about what to include here. It was one of those "Go Team" moments. We even had a group hug after. Honest. Shawn really took the lead here, because he likes SF better than we do. Kudos to him for justifying nearly all of these picks.

Our picks:

ENDER'S GAME by Orson Scott Card:
This book could very well be the SF 101 course in and of itself. For anyone who has ever thought of reading SF, and has wondered where to start, this is THE book. It's a fast fun read with excellent characters and a killer plot. It won both the Hugo and the Nebula and it is rumored to be one of the most stolen book in school libraries around the country. It's one we have each read several times. The other novels in the series never even come close to ENDER'S GAME in terms of quality, because it is just THAT good.

This is a recent addition (it came out a year and a half ago). It is here because of it's accessibility. It's about a boy who meets a version of himself from another reality. The main character gets tricked into going to another reality, and then spends the rest of the book trying to get home. the reason it is so accessible is because all of the earths our hero visits are just variations on our own earth. The science is light and most of the book is about the character. It's also a lot of fun trying to see the hero try and make a quick buck by inventing pinball in a universe that has never seen it before.

I, ROBOT by Isaac Asimov:
This is the SF books that our parents game to us to get us started on the genre, and it worked. I, ROBOT is a series of Asimov's robot stories (and has almost nothing to do with the movie of the same name. The book is WAAAY better). We feel that Asimov is at his best in short stories and these are among the best the genre has to offer. They are simple, beautiful, touching and frightening in equal measures.

Come on. You knew this was going to be on this list. This is an amazing starter book because it doesn't try and cram SF down your throat and make you take it seriously. The book doesn't even take itself seriously. It's a comedy about the end of the earth and the last two humans to survive. It's also about a two headed three armed president of the universe, trans-dimensional mice, endless paperwork and the answer to life the universe and everything. A pure fun read. Just remember, DON'T PANIC!

DIVING INTO THE WRECK by Kristine Kathryn Rusch:
We reviewed this novel back when it came out last year. If you want a complete view of why we loved it, go check out our review HERE. In short, and like many of the novels contained in this list, we love this novel because it take no effort to enjoy. It is deep-sea wreck diving put in space. Completely awesome. Rusch doesn't try to make you feel like you need an advanced degree in physics to understand the story, which is a nice departure from what a lot of SF tries to do.

STARSHIP: MUTINY by Mike Resnick:
Really, any SF by Resnick fits here. You want popcorn SF? Look no further. His pacing is always lightening-quick, and fueled by adrenaline. We reviewed the finale to his STARSHIP series HERE. Go check it out to see why Resnick hits the right notes for us.

So what do you all think? Is there anything you think should be worthy of SF 101? If you justify your suggestion in a way we like, we might even add it to this list...


You know that kid that you grew up with? The one that dressed like he lived in an abandoned trailer park, who was always talking about death and fire and explosions? He’d creep out your parents, and always get away with the worst things, and the girls you wanted all seemed to go ga-ga every time he walked by?

Well this story is not about that guy.

But he's in it. And what with this being a horror novel and all, you KNOW that can't be good for him.

HORNS is Joe Hill’s second novel. I read his first one, HEART-SHAPED BOX, mostly because his dad looked familiar and afterward thought, Hey, this one’s probably worth a shot. It most certainly was.

This time around, Joe’s changed gears on us, completely, and not just by writing a different kind of book. In HORNS, instead of having the psycho devil-man play the bad guy, he’s made him the protagonist. Seriously? Is there any way that I might like this guy? To a certain extent it worked like crackerjacks, and regardless of how everything came out in the end, I'm giving him props for taking such a big risk. High five, Joe!

Ignatius Martin Perrish, affectionately known as Ig to his family and friends, wakes up one morning with a huge hangover, having some vague sense that he has spent the previous night drunk off his rocker and doing horrible, horrible things. He walks into the bathroom, scrubs his face, and notices the pair of sharp red horns sticking up from top of his head.

Well those weren’t there yesterday...

For the next fifty pages or so we get a good idea of just what these things do for Iggy. For one, they make everyone he talks to go glassy-eyed and pretty much forget he’s ever been around. Second, they make them all spill their guts about what they want, what they think, and pretty much brings out the worst of what they’re capable of. They’re also all sorts of impressionable and for the most part willing to do exactly what Iggy tells them to. This makes for some absolutely hilarious scenes as well has some horribly creepy ones.

Then he runs into someone that blithely tells him exactly what he's wanted to know for the last year, and suddenly the story pulls a one-eighty. Because, you see, Iggy’s girlfriend got killed last year, and everyone (yes, everyone, even his own family for crying out loud) thinks he was the one that did it. Since then, his life has gone straight down the crapper, and no matter what he does it's all he can think about each and every day.

But now things are different.

And it’s time for a little payback.

The single idea behind this novel, I thought, was really great. Essentially, give a brow-beaten, down-on-life, shot-to-Hades nobody the power of the devil and see what he does with it. The problem is that the main story line develops so fast that in order to keep the book from being finished in fewer than a hundred pages, Mr. Hill has to pull the e-brake on things and give us the back story.

I actually quite liked the deviation though. We get to see Mr. Perrish as a kid, his older brother Terry, Iggy’s friends--Merrin Williams and Lee Tourneau--and a bit from a girl that both Iggy and Lee have liked at various times, Glenna Nicholson. Not to mention the pack of typical local hoodlums, which you can all remember quite well from the good-old days of grade school. The way it all plays out is picture perfect to the one I have in my head of those years. The author does a great job of characterization here for all the main players. There’s also a good sense of progression, as he always gives us something to look forward to: meeting Merrin for the first time at church, riding a shopping cart down a massive hill, setting off the last cherry bomb of the summer...ah, the good life. Piece by piece, the author leads us along and makes us like Iggy Perrish more and more.

Stacking up that Sympathy for the Devil.

There were a number breaking points for me though. The first would be having the same stuff being explained a number of times. There’s one whole section that could easily have been cut and I doubt I would have noticed in the slightest. It did nothing for the story. Nothing. There was also a scene in the middle of the book that makes absolutely no sense. Preaching to snakes? Yeah, whatever. Then, we have the details. Don't get me wrong, there are lots of them here and like every good story they all attempt to tie everything together into one, big, cohesive whole. The problem is that most of them have little impact other than eliciting an, “Oh, so that’s how that worked,” moment for the reader. Last, reading this book has made me want to find a novel that does memory loss well. Having critical details just show up at the climax pretty much annoys the Hell out of me (going with the theme here, people).

In the end, lots o’ good, lots o’ meh; enough of the latter unfortunate to garner a mediocre vote this time through, but I'll probably still give him another go next time around. Before I sign off though, a note. We had a few observations from readers a while ago that there were sooooooo many books in the Books We Like category and "Where should one start when tackling such a list?". I think you'll find that, as opposed to the others here, most of my reviews fall into the Books That Are Mediocre category. Know though that this book, although garnering a mediocre rating, is one of the much better ones on the pile. Yes, this is a mediocre book, but it is one that I think is well worth reading for those aficionados of horror.

In the end, if you’re looking for a story that’s enough like Stephen King to be good, but enough different from him to make a difference, pick something up from Joe Hill.

BookInTenWords: When you're the devil, life gets simpler. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Recommended age: 18+, as for content, it has everything his father would have included.
Language: Loads.
Violence: Yeah, things gets pretty dicey at points.
Sex: Two scenes with a low-level of detail (one violent in nature), and pervasive references throughout.

Joe Hill's Website

Dexter is Delicious

What a piece of garbage.

Sorry, usually we begin with a thought provoking introduction that has you pondering the world around you in a completely different light. Jeff Lindsay's latest novel, DEXTER IS DELICIOUS, is just awful. It really is as simple as that. Seriously, is there even any sense to this series of novels anymore? Rhetorical question. No.

Just so you understand how we feel about this series of novels, here are a couple Dexter-isms:

Dexter the Decidedly Dreadful
Dull-as-Dishwater Dexter

Yeah. That about sums up the whole novel. Oh, and we didn't make those up. That's how Dexter is described in the first chapter of the novel. No, we aren't joking in the least. This Dexter novel is not Delicious as the title would have the reader believe, it is effing boring and pointless.

Jeff Lindsay's creation, Dexter Morgan, begins this novel by becoming a father. He suddenly has feelings, and has decided to no longer give in to the murderous urgings of his Dark Passenger. Yeah, Dexter no longer wants to be the killer we root for. Well, I suppose we haven't really cheered him on since part way through book 2, but still, you get the point. The issue with all of this is that you know Dexter is going to break his new resolution. You don't buy his new persona, because it isn't believable in the context of the story. You know that Dexter, predictably, is going to somehow rationalize his killing as protecting his new child. From cannibals! Get it? Delicious? Cannibals? Yeah, lame. Just like the whole novel.

Keep an eye out for that word "predictable" later on in this review. It becomes a theme.

Lindsay has a major problem with this series. The main one is that this series is now just a shallow parody of its early incarnations. Books 1 and 2 are where the magic happened. After that, Lindsay has been lost with what direction he wants to take. He tried supernatural, shock-value, and now parenting. And you know what makes these novels--especially this last one--worse? The brilliance of the TV series. You know how movies end up having a novel released that says "Based on the Motion Picture"? They are typically terrible. That is how this series of novels feels. It's like poor fan-fiction.

Lets get back to the predictability of this novel. Every freaking moment of the novel is telegraphed. From the obvious “Oh no, I’ve been trapped” moment, to the WHOLE FREAKING ENDING AND RESOLUTION, it is spelled out the whole time. This isn’t foreshadowing. It’s poor writing. Dexter's brother, Brian, shows up pretty early on in the novel. Gee, do you think he is going to play a major part in the investigations taking place in the novel? Literally our first thought when Brian showed up was, "Oh, so he will probably save the day after Dexter acts like a complete amateur." Yeah. Predictable.

Another thing that bothered us was the portrayal of the cops. We've been around law enforcement nearly our whole lives. Steve's dad is a high-ranking officer. So, when Lindsay makes every cop he writes stupid, we just can’s suspend our disbelief any more. Really? These people can actually catch killers? They don’t even know their own police procedures for Pete’s sake. Pro tip: if you have to rely on your main characters and supporting cast being completely idiotic to move your plot, you're doing it wrong. Along with ALL of the Brian moments, this all just screams laziness.

Our personal favorite was when Jeff Lindsay pokes fun at CSI: Miami by having Dexter imitate the main, pathetic character from that how. The thing is, by Lindsay putting that thought in our heads, all we could think was, "Man, this is like on of the REALLY bad episodes of that show."

The characters in DEXTER IS DELICIOUS are all idiots, and/or completely useless to the story. For example, why is Doakes still even around? He isn’t funny. He just takes up a couple thousand words of story for no reason. Rita? Yeah, the TV series did this right by getting rid of her. In the series we have to be subjected to her idiocy. Deb? Speaking of Deb, this novel is actually about her as Dexter watches her piss-poor detective skills. Even when she isn't "on screen" Dexter ponders her existence, and the way she wants a family. Blah. Blah. Blah. Go kill someone, already, we are bored.

Issue #9-bajillion: everyone knows Dexter's secret. The more people that know, the less interesting his dilemma becomes. It's like any costumed super hero. The fewer people that know the true identity, the more potential internal conflict we have.

Problem #86-bajillion & 2: Lindsay we get it, traffic in Miami is bad. But do you have to make a big deal about it in EVERY EFFING CHAPTER? How about you write an actual story that makes sense rather than telling us the traffic patterns of Miami?

There really isn’t any way for Lindsay to fix this series. He has made so many mistakes in these novels--particularly these last three, and specifically DELICIOUS--that there isn’t any redemption possible for the characters in these novels. No effort is made in this latest novel to push the series in a believable direction. No effort is made to get into the motivations of the main "villains" of the novel. What happened to the Dexter who was brilliant, and who was extremely proficient in martial arts? All prior character traits and development has been abandoned to make the characters of the series easy to manipulate through their new and improved stupidity. DEXTER IS(n't) DELICIOUS isn't worth anyone's time or money.

Move on to a new creation, Jeff.

No, we won't be reading the next novel in this series. We will stick to the REAL and superior Dexter series on TV, and reading truly excellent novels by Dan Wells.

What a piece of crap. We felt like we were in Billy Madison. "Mr. [Lindsay], what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things [we] have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. [We] award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul."

Recommended Age: We're sorry, but what part of "isn't worth anyone's time" wasn't understood?
Language: Yep. Swearing for the sake of swearing. This novel was written THAT well.
Violence: Oddly, considering the story was about canabalism, it was all fairly tame and boring (and predictable).
Sex: Yep, though not described. The one scene was so contrary to the unbelievable "progression" Dexter was making, that it almost made us throw the ARC we were reading away.

The Reluctant Mage

Morg is not dead. Rafe is in trouble. Asher is sick. Danthe has given up. Lur is dying. By the end of THE PRODIGAL MAGE everything has gone wrong and it looks pretty bleak.

The only one left to save them is mousy Dennie, the young woman too timid to do anything. Or is she? She's spent the last months caring for her comatose father and taking over the household responsibilities of her deteriorating mother--and she's the only one who believes that Rafe is still alive, and that he needs help only she can provide. Dennie is not the girl she used to be before her world changed, and she's beginning to realize her new role in it.

At the same time, across the blight in Old Dorana, Rafe and Arlin have discovered that Morg, while not to his full powers, isn't dead either, and is gathering his strength to begin anew his campaign of horrors.

PRODIGAL was the set-up novel, where we got to know the characters, the setting, the back story, and the dilemma. It was fairly predictable, with a cliffhanger ending, the plot not much more than building up a nebulous impending doom.

Fortunately, THE RELUCTANT MAGE doesn't have the problems of its predecessor. It's faster-paced, the characters more interesting and engaging, and Karen Miller takes full advantage of PRODIGAL's set-up to move the story forward toward a rewarding conclusion. If you spent the time to read the first book, it's definitely worth it to finish the second in the Fisherman's Children duology.

In RELUCTANT we get into the heads of three different main characters, departing from those in PRODIGAL. There's the mousy Dennie, who finds the courage necessary to do the hard thing. We spend some time in arrogant Arlin's head--Rafe's boyhood nemesis--who is all mixed up with conflicting wants, yet is ultimately a good guy. We finally really get to see the world beyond Lur, where we meet Prince Ewan who is determined to do what he can to protect his own people from the horrible life they lived before Asher 'killed' Morg twenty years ago. And it will take Rafe, Arlin, and Dennie--the three strongest mages alive--working together to even have a small chance at saving everyone from bondage. It's a story in black and white: the heroes are likable and the bad guy is truly disgustingly evil.

While the setting is your standard fantasy world and the magic nothing beyond the usual, Miller still manages to give it flavor and interest. The prose flows smoothly, the PoV switching effortlessly between characters. Miller mixes in humor to keep the bleakness from becoming over-wrought; plus the romance between two main characters helps lighten the tone of the story, even if you can see their impending coupledom coming from a hundred pages away. The character arcs are well-developed and satisfying, if sometimes heavy-handed. The dialogue is quick-witted, and while most of it involves arguing, at least it's not at the annoying level of PRODIGAL's constant bickering.

Yet, for all its strengths, RELUCTANT feels more geared toward female audiences because of the way the story is told, the romantic elements, and the focus on relationships among the main characters, which is too bad because it wouldn't have taken much tweaking to make it appeal to a wider audience. And while it is faster paced, it still could have moved quicker--in fact the duology would have been better as a tighter written standalone novel. Other problems? Miller's sense of distance and time aren't always clear or consistent; foreshadowing lacks subtlety, which makes it predictable; and the main characters keep secrets from each other without obvious motivations, the explanations coming too late and petty.

If you read and liked the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker duology then you'll like PRODIGAL and RELUCTANT because Miller is anything if consistent with her writing. If you haven't read any Miller, and if you like the standard fantasy fare--heavier on the romance/relationship/character development--with lively prose, I'd recommended starting with THE INNOCENT MAGE.

Recommended Age: 14+ for violence.
Language: A few instances, but otherwise mild.
Violence: It's more graphic and intense than PRODIGAL; but compared to other violent fantasy novels, it's more in the moderate to low range.
Sex: None.

The Prodigal Mage

Ten years ago Asher saved Lur from destruction. Now he and his wife Danthe, and their two children Rafe and Dennie, look forward to a more peaceful life, free of prophecy and fear.

No such luck. Of course.

The earth itself has become sick with turmoil--flooding, earthquakes, whirlpools--as a result of hundreds of years of magical manipulations. Asher worries he must use his WeatherWorking magic again to save the land, even at the expense of his own life. At the same time the most powerful mages of Lur turn their noses at Asher's help, and instead seek their own way to escape a land in danger of famine. Unfortunately, Lur is surrounded by an impassible reef on the coastline and an even more dangerous blight across the mountains.

THE PRODIGAL MAGE catches up with Asher and Danthe from the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker duology (THE INNOCENT MAGE and THE AWAKENED MAGE) which are set 10-20 years before PRODIGAL. While it's not necessary to read those two books in order to understand what's going on, it will prevent a high learning curve about the world, the story, and the characters.

The main character of PRODIGAL is Rafe, Asher's son, who has inherited his father's unique mixed magic--that is, he has the magic of his own Olkin race which is subtle and nature-focused, and the Doranen magic which is not only much stronger, but dangerous. Asher, however, is afraid of magic and what it can do. He's seen enough destruction and death caused by magic to last his lifetime, and as a result doesn't want to have anything to do with it. But when his son is born with his own gift, he and Danthe block Rafe's abilities so no one knows what he can do. Or how strong he really is in Doranen magic.

Rafe loves his parents, but he hates that his parents keep secrets from him. He hates that they stifle his magic. He doesn't understand his parents, and they don't understand him. It's a frustrating dynamic how he can still love and want to honor his parents, but they can at the same time be blinded to their son's needs as a result of their own fears. Then there's Dennie, Rafe's little sister, whose own powers take a truly unique form, but requires even more over-protection by their parents. Asher is still the common sense fisherman's son, who's bullheaded and yet soft-hearted. Danthe is still the fiery woman trying to make the right decisions. All of this is established pretty early on.

But like in the first duology, it all turns into blah blah blah.

I had hoped that Karen Miller learned from the mistakes in her first series. The beginning chapters of PRODIGAL were setting up to be a more streamlined and exciting promise, but by a quarter of the way through repetition and over-wrought emotion become a crutch for building tension. In INNOCENT and AWAKENED the repetition consisted of constant yammering about a prophesy that didn't have much bearing on the plot. In PRODIGAL we read the same arguments between the characters in practically every chapter, and all the yelling and tears get old fast. I liked Asher in the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker duology, but here he's a bitter old man, and Danthe has become shrill and overbearing. Rafe wanders around aimless and grouchy. It just wasn't as fun to read. The conversations re-hash the same things over and over. The internal monologues are characters with one-track minds. Blah de blah de blah. Just get on with the story, already.

Not a lot happens in PRODIGAL, and like INNOCENT is fairly predictable, the book a big set-up for the sequel. Mostly this is because Rafe needs to grow up. He first has to come into his powers, otherwise he's pretty useless, since he's got no profession and his father won't teach him magic beyond what he learns in school. The problems with Lur's climate and landscape spend the entire book to reach a breaking point before anything gets going. And while it's not uninteresting, it means that the tension has to do with a nebulous danger instead of the result of active plot, which hurts the story's momentum. Then the novel ends with a cliffhanger. Again. Just like in INNOCENT. Would it kill the author to write the first book in a series in a different way?

What PRODIGAL and others of Miller's books have going for them is the prose. Each PoV chapter, whether it be from Rafe's PoV or his Doranen schoolboy nemesis Arlin, is flavored with their own ways of speaking and seeing the world. Add to this smooth flow and pacing and it's easy to keep reading, hoping that perhaps the next chapter will move the story along.

But is it worth all this boring set-up for what comes next? Find out tomorrow when I review the sequel to THE PRODIGAL MAGE: THE RELUCTANT MAGE.

Recommended Age: 14+
Language: Not a lot, and what there is isn't very strong.
Violence: An exciting scene where people are in danger or die, but nothing graphic or very violent.
Sex: None.

Silver Borne

Mercedes Thompson, car mechanic and shape-shifter, leads a complicated and exciting life. Considering the vampires, werewolves, and fae that surround her, whether friend or enemy, there's usually something dangerous involved. But the great thing about Mercy is that her friends can always count on her when there's trouble.

Only this time, in SILVER BORNE, it's Mercy who needs help.

She's the unwitting owner of a fae item that someone would kill to get. Unfortunately, while Mercy is trying to discover the identity of her would-be assassin, her long-time werewolf friend Sam is in another kind of trouble: after hundreds of years he no longer has the will to live, but Mercy refuses to let him give up. Yet there just doesn't seem to be enough time to solve these problems before lives are at stake.

There's many reasons why I like to read Patricia Briggs' stuff over and beyond any other urban fantasy. Foremost is that she's excellent with setting. While others gloss over the intricacies of living in a werewolf pack or having a vampire as a friend, Briggs doesn't stop at the obvious--she goes deeper and it enriches her stories and the relationships between her characters. After two different series (if you also include Alpha and Omega, Charles' and Anna's story) to build onto the setting, there's only that much more to grab you. So while the books in the Mercy Thompson series are fine to read as stand-alones, it would be hard to believe any urban fantasy lover wouldn't want to read the entire series and get the full brunt of what Briggs has created. It's also kind of fun that it's set in the atypical location of Tri-Cities Washington.

Mercy is an enjoyable mixture of bold and thoughtful, loyal and independent, courageous and vulnerable. Her shape-shifting is inherited from her Blackfoot Indian father: she's a 'walker' who can become a coyote (not to be confused with weres), and as a result she's also able to see ghosts and has some resistance to magic. Adam is her werewolf alpha boyfriend, whose overprotectiveness is sometimes creepy, but oddly endearing because it doesn't stop him from letting Mercy be who she is. Sam, the son of the the North American Alpha of all Alphas, and a dominant in his own right, is a friend from Mercy's childhood. His story is a fascinating one, and it's interesting to see how his age and experience affects his behavior. He's been around since early in the series and needed a resolution, so I was glad that his story finally wrapped up in a satisfying way (ok, I admit the resolution was probably too easy, but I just went with it). Side characters, such as members of Adam's pack and Mercy's friends and co-workers, are all a diverse group without being too many to keep track of--and they're easy to care about because Mercy sees them for who they are and loves them for it anyway. Briggs has been consistent across the series with her characters and setting, yet is still true to Mercy's development as her story has unfolded from book to book.

Briggs' prose is unencumbered, and Mercy's first-person PoV is intelligent without being melodramatic or too flippant. That's one thing that drives me crazy with the current urban fantasy chit lit: authors think that the females have to be brash and kick-butt, or at the very least sassy, but it always comes off as annoying and unbelievable. That, or else they're so powerful or know-it-all that they have too easy a time coming up with solutions to problems. Mercy approaches her dilemmas in a realistic way, accepts her limitations and will work around them in order to get the job done (she's not so ultra modern female as to not ask for help), no matter how scary the situation is.

SILVER BORNE's plot is straightforward, although with a touch of Briggs' usual convolution to complicate things. There's a big scene about a quarter of the way in where lots of crazy stuff starts happening, and there's all these names, so I got lost--Briggs could have been more careful with how she handled the entire chapter. But there seems to be a complicated event like that in all of her books; for example, the entire end of book 1, MOON CALLED, was a confusing explanation of motives and actions that still doesn't make sense to me. You'd think she'd know better by now, especially considering how many books she's written, but I guess even experienced authors will overreach.

Briggs plans on writing two more books before finishing up Mercy's series. Fortunately, she's just starting her Alpha and Omega series, so it looks like she's not leaving that world anytime soon. In the meantime, if you haven't read any of Mercy's story, go find MOON CALLED and get to know her and her friends.

Recommended Age: 16+
Language: A few scattered here and there.
Violence: Yes. There are werewolves after all, and they are temperamental creatures.
Sex: Innuendo throughout, and one detailed scene.

The Wolf Age

After reading a ridiculous number of novels, we’ve managed to glean a few morsels of wisdom. The key to reading and enjoying novels of different genres and sub-genres is to know what to expect. With Epic Fantasy you prepare for large novels, and slow-paced sections punctuated by sprawling battles. With Mystery/Thrillers, you expect contrived dialogue, and a mandatory twist. Hard SF? You have a dictionary handy for those unavoidable moments where the author makes you feel completely dumb. When it comes to Heroic Fantasy/Sword & Sorcery, however, you need to be prepared for something completely different.

Sword & Sorcery is like white-water rafting. You let yourself get carried by the torrent. Sometimes it is rough. There will be brief, calm moments that lull you into complacency right before the next series of rapids. If you fight against the current, you get nowhere. If you go with the flow, and become part of the ride, you soon find you are grinning ear-to-ear, and having the time of your life.

Reading a James Enge novel is like that, and his latest novel THE WOLF AGE is no exception.

THE WOLF AGE stars Enge’s crooked-shouldered protagonist, the Maker Morlock Ambrosius. When sober, Morlock is a terrible foe. When drunk, he is a different type of foe altogether. He can seemingly make anything. It is his gift. It is also, as the saying goes, his curse. THE WOLF AGE finds Morlock having abandoned everyone dear to him. His self-imposed exile removes his loved-ones from the danger and imminent doom that is focused on him.

And of course, this being Morlock, nothing goes right.

The novel begins with Morlock being taken captive by a community of werewolves. And by community, we mean a civilization. Morlock’s goals, in the beginning, are simple. Survival. Escape. All the while, the Strange Gods are using him and everyone else in the area to attain a goal.

THE WOLF AGE is Sword & Sorcery. That means all sorts of death and destruction, followed by more death and destruction. The pacing is fast, and the action is visceral. Enge usually has a fair bit of humor to offset the grim tones, but that humor is largely absent for the beginning quarter of the novel. It is done to great effect. An early action sequence pits Morlock against a werewolf. The resolution had even us saying, “Well geez, that was BRUTAL.” Grim doesn’t even begin to encompass the beginning. The reader feels just how hopeless Morlock is. So amazingly well done.

As the novel progresses, the humor returns. Enge writes dry wit better than most authors, and it is what keeps his novels from being dragged down in hopelessness. As we mentioned earlier, beware the lulls in the novel. Beware those points where everything is rainbows and jellybeans for the characters. Enge is about to sucker-punch you with awesomeness.

THE WOLF AGE is the third Morlock novel, but if you felt like it, you could read it first. Enge does an incredible job making the werewolf civilization seems unique and realized, and he inserts Morlock into that learning process along with the readers. What this does is let new and old readers alike learn about what kind of man Morlock is. Would you be better served reading the novels in order? Well duh. You always are. And Enge’s first two novels are freaking great.

THE WOLF AGE isn’t perfect. There are times when progression in the novel is jumbled and overly chaotic. Sometimes descriptions—especially of Morlock’s inventions—aren’t clear enough. The werewolf names can really blend together. But really all this doesn’t matter. The novel is just plain enjoyable. The themes of racism and individualism are abundant. And even more than that, loyalty and the ability to look past the surface of things.

James Enge might be one of the most underrated novelists out there at the moment. For whatever reason, authors like Enge, JV Jones, and others don’t get the recognition they deserve. If you haven’t read anything by James Enge, you are missing out. Go grab the first two novels, BLOOD OF AMBROSE and THIS CROOKED WAY. Also read his short story “The Singing Spear” in the SWORDS & DARK MAGIC anthology. If you let yourself get washed away in the flood of Enge’s stories, you may find yourself with another author to put on your “favorites” list.

Recommended Age: 18 and up.
Language: Hardly any. There are a bunch of made up werewolf insults and insinuations though.
Violence: Oh yes. Werewolf politics is a violent practice.
Sex: Two graphic scenes.

The Queen of Sinister

THE QUEEN OF SINISTER is the second book in the Dark Age Trilogy by fantasy author Mark Chadbourn. This trilogy is the second of three that tells of the time when the boundaries between our world and next have run thin and allowed Celtic gods and nightmares of legend to cross over. If you caught my review of THE DEVIL IN GREEN (the first of this trilogy) you’ll probably understand that I was a bit hesitant going into this book. Like a good reviewer though, I dove into it with my eyes and arms open, hoping for some goodness, because I just love you that much. Ah, the things we do for you...

THE QUEEN OF SINISTER starts off completely different than its predecessor. Where Devin in Green had a car chase, a galloping horse, and a host of nasty bad guys, Queen starts off with a whole host of people dead, a plague ripping across the countryside, and the poor doctor that is torn up that she just can’t do more. I loved the fact that it looked like we were going to get into character in this one. Everything swirled around our doctor-friend, Caitlin Shepherd, and how she was dealing with the mess of a newly mangled world. Then Frank Crowther shows up and says that Caitlin has to come with him, to cross to the other side and help him find a cure for the plague. A quest! To say I was interested would be putting it mildly. Movement! Purpose! Exactly the things that were missing from the last book.

Despite the fact that I liked the opening sequence, I was quickly disappointed by what followed. The cast got pretty large, rather quickly, and I soon found myself wondering why all these people were acting the way they were. In what I read, there was little consistency of character to be found, unless it was the fact that they would all stop and stare agog at the psychedelic colors of some vista or other. I still wanted to see what the end held though, so I did something that I’ve never done before: I gave up on the characters and read the book just for the scope; go in for the ideas and the imagination, for the wonder of the thing. In stepping back, I found that I began to like the book a bit more. It became more of an adventure book, with unknown perils and creepy spies. I just had to remove myself from caring about what the characters were doing. Or in understanding their logic. Or in seeing how one event naturally led them to the next conclusion. Okay. I guess I can do that. Do any of you like books this way though? I don't. Even though there was purpose, the whole thing felt wide open. It seem like a lot of bad stuff happened because that’s the way the world is. But I was okay with it. I may have even been able to finish it all with this somewhat positive outlook, but the end flipped back around and gave me a character/emotional ending.

And I didn’t care in the slightest. Augh!

In the end, this book seems to have given its readers three things:

1) A wider view of the world as it “really is”, including some crazy stuff from the other side—in other words, a whole lotta world-building;

2) A setup for Ms. Caitlin to become a Daughter of Dragons (though by the end I still don’t know if this was even accomplished or not);

3) Solid proof/evidence that mankind is lazy/selfish/crappy, and without helping/goading/forcing from the gods of the Celts, we’d simply never make it. Positively sucks to be us.

On this end of things, I can see that a lot of these three things were in THE DEVIL IN GREEN as well, and I’m not so sure that I’m liking the trend here. Maybe though, it's because I'm not the one doing the manipulating. I certainly have no qualms against pointing any of you in the right direction when necessary... ((Evil chuckle, dry-washing of hands))

Chadbourn’s prose is still good here; world-building, something to be noticed; characters, not much to root for; over-arching story, fairly lackluster. If you’re into books that you can skim through without much involvement, are into it for the author’s imagination, and are looking for a quick read, this book will probably fit right into Slot C (for cool) with you. For me, it was more like Slot I (interested) to A (annoyed) to R (removed) to H (humbug!). I liked some of it. The rest just made me mad. Loads better than its predecessor, but not by enough to matter.

BookInTenWords: Overly flawed heroes find the gods know better than they.

Recommended age: 18+, for a little bit of everything
Language: Not a whole lot, but a bit of every type
Violence: Some, though more should probably be said about the gore of diseased/decaying bodies
Sex: A couple people mentioned as being together under the covers, and one fairly graphic "spiritual ritual" by a female character.

Mark Chadbourn’s Website

The Sword of the Dawn

THE SWORD OF THE DAWN is the third of four novellas by Michael Moorcock in his Hawkmoon collection. The four of these (THE JEWEL IN THE SKULL, THE MAD GOD'S AMULET, and yet to come finale THE RUNESTAFF) are getting singular reprints by Tor and from what I've read here are just some good, old-fashioned, fantasy adventure.

Dorian Hawkmoon and Huilliam D'Averc are friends and compatriots that have gathered their friends and family and fled to an alternate dimension from the attacks of the evil Baron Meliadus. Everything seems well and good for Hawkmoon and his friends when a somewhat familiar visitor shows up in their dimension, saying that he was recently in the court of Baron Meliadus himself. Hawkmoon is certain that this portent spells the end of their peace and safety and so decides to set out with D'Averc to make certain that Meladius is not on their trail. So they take up their crystal rings, which will teleport them through the dimensions, and start their adventure.

For how long ago this story was written (1968), it is still remarkably readable. There is very much the feel of the noble hero about Hawkmoon and D'Averc, on which so many of the protagonists of fantasy past have been built. This comes across very quickly, as does the undeniable hatred that Meliadus has for Hawkmoon and all that are with him. This story was especially interesting in light of the fact that we got to see a bit of the other side of the coin through Meliadus as well. We see some of what he struggles with and parts of the relationship between him and the King-Emperor, whom he serves. We see his fixation upon Hawkmoon. This bit has made me want to go back and read the previous two novels. If nothing else, I want to know how their relationship came to be and what it is built upon. Thankfully, there are two stories previous to this that might just help us out with that.

For the most part, this story focuses on the characters and their quests, though there is still very much the sense of this being an adventure story where we see the strange new worlds and peoples and histories of Hawkmoon's story. I think that Moorcock has done a good job at balancing these two facets of storytelling here, plot and world-building. There are magicians and pirates here, great cities and even greater histories. There's even a solid prophecy for us. Now what would a traditional fantasy be without one of those?

Reading this one has definitely left me with a different flavor in my mouth concerning these kinds of classic fantasy tales. It has intrigued me and got me to wondering just what else is out there, already completed decades ago, that I might enjoy. Granted, I may not come across anything like Abercrombie or Martin or Erikson, the greats of today, but there's a good chance I'll find a quick tale of love or betrayal, adventure or intrigue, mystery or suspense, that will suck me in and make me happy. The rules haven't changed. Good story is still good characters and good plot. You know this. Obviously so does this author.

So pick up something by this guy. Maybe this one, maybe an Elric book, maybe something more recent. Moorcock is still pumping out the goods, but it is nice to see Tor giving his older stuff another push. It's definitely worth the read and the chance to round up some more fans.

Recommended age: 14+, straightforward story that has that sense of wonder.
Language: Nothing that stuck out. Mild, if at all.
Violence: Some sword fighting, a few people die or are drowned
Sex: Implied and very brief.

Moorcock's Official Website