Perhaps Ursula K. Le Guin's most recognizable work, her Earthsea stories are categorized as YA—but are definitely worth reading as adults. The first novel, A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA was published in 1968, and revolves around the wizard Ged and the islands and sea of Earthsea itself. It starts off with Ged leaving home to learn magic at a school. Sound familiar? Le Guin is the reason why it does.
Told in an omniscient narrative, it can get a little distant, but the prose is lyrical and lovely, particularly her descriptions of the people and their history, the land and sea, and the way the magic works. The novels are short so it would be easy to read the entire series quickly—each is as good as the last.
The books continue to be in print and will be available at most libraries. Le Guin is best known for tackling societal themes of culture and race with finesse, so it's worth picking up her other works, including her Hugo and Nebula winning THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS (1969); while not as accessible as Earthsea, it's worth the effort.
A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA (1968)
THE TOMBS OF ATUAN (1970)
THE FARTHEST SHORE (1972)
TALES FROM EARTHSEA (2001)
THE OTHER WIND (2001)
Recommended Age: 11+ to read; could be read to younger children, but there are themes of evil and darkness that may disturb children younger than 8
Violence: Moderate peril, but it's rarely graphic
You may remember that THE UNINCORPORATED MAN followed the adventures of Justin Chord, a man who had frozen himself in a time capsule to be reawakened when the cures to his diseases were found and he could be revived to live again. Justin indeed was awakened to a world run by the system of incorporation, the selling of personal shares to individual lives. The vast majority of mankind was working, not able to make their own decisions, towards being a majority share holder in their own stock thus taking control of their decisions and their lives. Justin saw the system as tantamount to slavery and started to oppose it immediately. The end of THE UNINCORPORATED MAN saw Justin forced into space towards the outer planets starting a revolution that pitted the outer planets and asteroid belt versus Earth and its incorporated system.
THE UNINCORPORATED WAR picks up where MAN left off. Justin is now president of the outer colonies and trying to fight a war with the inner planets. Meanwhile Hektor Sambianco, Justin’s main opposition in the courtroom in the first book, is the only one who sees just how dangerous Justin is to the world and his perfect incorporated system. Hektor rises to power on earth to continue to fight against Justin.
I don’t expect all of you to get all of that. There’s a lot going on here and more to it, as well. Characters who appeared in the first book take on new significance here, showing more depth than they had originally. New characters appear and the world seems to shift from the courtroom to battles in outer space. This isn’t to say that the book turns into an all-out action novel. It felt more like reading Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy. The action is never so much described as discussed later. The joy isn’t in the battle scenes themselves, but in the strategy behind them and the tactics of the various military leaders. I loves me a good action scene as much as the next guy, but I was happy with the way the Kollin brothers sucked me in with the various scenarios that played out in space.
It’s weird how a series of books, the first playing out in courtrooms with legal battles and the second dealing with very real wars out in space, can have a similar feel to it, and yet it really does. It still all about maneuvering and outwitting your opponent, and that’s where the book really shines. The battles are fun and engaging. There are twists and tricks to them as each battle is played out. The reader thinks that the battle is going a certain way only to have the rug pulled out from under them as it quickly turns.
Sadly there were some other things that I was disappointed with. Let’s start with Justin. As the unincorporated man back on earth, he was a fun character. He was brash and self assured. He was the main driving force back on earth for the events that happened there. Such is not the case here. Justin as President of the Outer Alliance really is quite boring. He is relegated to talking in meetings while all the real fun character action and motivation is left to other characters. Indeed it seems like the story has left him behind.
Which leads me to my other complaint about the book. I know it is a cardinal sin for a reviewer to talk about what they wanted the book to be instead of talking about what it is, but darn it I’m going to do it anyway, so let’s get it out of the way. As a Military SF book about war between the outer planets and the inner planets of the solar system (mainly Earth and Mars), the book works just fine: it’s a good, solid read. But (and this is a big BUT I’m talking about here), it’s called the unincorporated war, emphasis on incorporation! You know, that really cool idea from the first book? Where people sell stocks in themselves and are run like mini companies? Doesn’t that sound cool? You’d think something like that, an idea like that, would trickle down into every aspect of the book. Every character back on earth or mars (who by the way is incorporated) should think about incorporation or act on some aspect of it all the time! It should come up all over the place. It should affect every decision they make, every action. The ramifications of such a system should be so wide spread that it encompasses everything. And the characters in the outer alliance? They should feel the lack of it (I mean they’ve been living with it their whole lives right?) It should affect what they are doing as well.
But you know what? It doesn’t. Not for a second. Not for even a brief microsecond. All we get are a few scant references as to why the war is being fought. “We must put an end to this evil system of incorporation.” Why? As far as I can see it does absolutely nothing. Every character on earth behaves just as he or she wants without any thought or consequence. The system has disappeared in everything but name only. And that’s my biggest complaint. This story of the war is fun and well done, but it could have been written in any other bland SF universe. The Kollin brothers have invented something else, something truly fun to think about, and then they left it by the wayside.
Which is a bummer. THE UNINCORPORATED MAN started off on a pretty decent start, but I was hoping for more with this one.
Recommended Age: 14+ I'd say. It’s a bit slow for younger readers. Not enough explosions and whatnot.
Language: Scattering of words. The Kollins aren’t in to a ton of profanity.
Violence: Nothing gory. Space battles, but all impersonal.
Want to give this novel a shot? Here are the links to the various books in this series, in order:
1 - THE UNINCORPORATED MAN
2 - THE UNINCORPORATED WAR
3 - THE UNINCORPORATED WOMAN
In THE FALLING MACHINE you were left with a cliffhanger: during the battle with Lord Eschaton, Tom is dismantled and Sarah leaves home after a fight with her father.
The continuation, HEARTS OF SMOKE AND STEAM begins over a month later. Even though Tom was destroyed, Sarah was able to recover his heart in the chaos. Unfortunately it's broken, and she needs to find someone to repair the heart, but doesn't trust the majority of the people in New York who are able to do it. Her search leads her to Emilio Armando, an Italian immigrant and inventor—whose past, if Sarah knew it, would make her think twice about trusting him with Tom's secret.
In the meantime, the Paragons have lost two of their rank, and must find help, as the remainder of them aren't getting any younger. They interview new applicants—a strange and varied assortment—and discover King Jupiter, who appears to not only be able to create amazing technology, but who may just have supernatural powers. Don't forget, however, that in FALLING we learn that one of the Paragons is a traitor. The Paragons are in great danger, and as a result so is New York.
After a slow start, the action in HEARTS moves very quickly, even more than in FALLING. I read the books in succession, and after I was finished I had to sit on it for a while to absorb everything before I could disseminate how I feel about this series thus far. The action moves fast and is detailed, but like in FALLING the actual plot isn't much further than when we started; I could probably number the main plot events on one hand. This doesn't mean, however, that FALLING and HEART aren't lots of fun to read, because they are. I only wished there were more. (Hrm. Wanting more isn't necessarily a bad thing, is it?)
There are more PoVs here compared to the previous book, and the switching back and forth isn't strictly chronological. Mayer will move PoVs around in time in order to cover simultaneous character viewpoints in an important scene. While it's helpful for knowing all the events in a scene and each character's motivations, it does get confusing. Mayer did it in FALLING, too, but not as much as he does in HEART and it got frustrating when I was more interested in the forward movement of the plot.
Sarah must deal with the reality of being a working-class girl in 1880s New York, find a trustworthy repairman, and keep her identity secret from the Children of Eschaton who will do anything to retrieve the heart. She wants to be a hero like her father and the Paragons, but she's discovering that it isn't all adventure—it's dangerous and frightening work. But Sarah is determined, and works past her worries in order to restore Tom, which she believes is the only thing that can stop Lord Eschaton and his 'children'. Tom was the most interesting character in FALLING, but in HEART there's very little of him—and most of that is his disassembled parts. This was a frustration. The story is about him, and yet we see very little of him. Fortunately we are introduced to some new characters, including Emilio, who's trying to move past his complicated history. These new viewpoints add flavor to the storytelling.
The majority of the setting is established in FALLING, but in HEART Mayer doesn't set it aside in favor of plot advancement. We still get to see new and exciting inventions, learn more about what life was like in 1880s New York, and discover some fascinating things about Tom and the true genius of Dennis Darby, his inventor.
More self-contained than the first book, HEARTS ends without as big of a cliffhanger...comparably. Not that Mayer doesn't like to leave you at the edge of your seat. He promises more adventure, and has set up for a spectacular continuation.
Recommended Age: 14+
Language: Very little
Violence: People get stabbed or shot, some death, but not detailed enough to be gory
Sex: Innuendo—there was none at all in FALLING, but here there's the potential for a romantic relationship, and the prudish mores of New York's high society are addressed; there are also references to erotic art
Want to give this series a shot? Below are the links:
1 - THE FALLING MACHINE
2 - HEARTS OF SMOKE AND STEAM
James Barclay. You know the name. You know that his Raven novels made him one of my favorite authors. If you live in the US, finally getting his novels has been a welcome breath of fresh air. That’s all great and dandy, but there is something we in the US are missing that our UK buddies still have exclusive.
The Ascendants of Estorea.
You see, James Barclay, being the ambitious writer that he is, decided he wanted to write something that could be used not only for the pleasure of reading, but also for weight-lifting. CRY OF THE NEWBORN is a huge novel, both in size (a trade paperback of 800+ pages), and scope (covers 15 years of time). This isn’t the flashy, up-close-and-personal Raven series. No, this is a tale of the Estorean Conquord, a religious empire that has stood for 850 years. It feels very much like the Roman Empire. There are two main stories going on here, spread across numerous PoVs.
The first story is of the Conquord itself as it does what all huge empires do: expand. There comes a point in an empire’s life that in order to survive, it has to continually expand. This idea has been illustrated in Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Shadows of the Apt series, and is presented to us with amazing clarity here in CRY OF THE NEWBORN. The thing is, the bigger an empire becomes, the easier it is to become complacent, over-confidant, and foolish. It lends to disaster. The first half of the novel is showing the pride before the fall. The second half of the novel is of everything going wrong.
The second main story follows four children from birth until the age of fourteen. They are the first pure Ascendants. They have control over all the elements, and can shape them to do their bidding (read: magic). Some see them as salvation. Most everyone else sees them as an affront to God. Blasphemy incarnate.
I could go on for pages about the setting, the characters, and the story. There is an amazing level of detail and world-building in this novel, all of it executed with care and precision. This world feels alive. Rich. Vibrant. The first half of the novel is very slow due to all of the set-up, but its payoff is truly incredible.
None of the setting, or any of the time and effort put into the history of this world would be worth two pennies if the characters weren’t solid. But this is James Barclay. Character is what makes his Raven novels work, and it is what makes CRY OF THE NEWBORN live. The four children Ascendants are great—a nice mixture of childishness and beyond-their-years maturity. Paul Jhered, a tax collector for the Conquord, was my personal favorite. Seeing his attitude change over the course of the novel was once of the best parts. Then of course there are the dozens of other PoVs, all of which are interesting and unique. I loved some characters, hated others, and felt a bit of both towards others still. Loved it.
There is a lot of war in this novel. Sieges, open-field battles, and naval warfare. Where Barclay’s Raven novels tend to focus on the few of the Raven taking on other small groups attacking them, CRY OF THE NEWBORN showcases big, epic battles. There’s no flash to them, just hard, brutal fighting and carnage. As a reader, you will truly feel the devastation war brings. There is a particularly poignant section towards the very end of the novel where an army begins a battle-chant about how they understand that each side of the conflict is made up of singular people who want nothing more than to survive and return to their families…but death will prevent that. The battles in this novel will cause your heart to pound in your chest, and no one is truly safe.
The only thing, in my mind, that keeps this novel from being absolutely perfect is how long it takes to get going. But once it does, CRY OF THE NEWBORN is a prime example of incredible Epic Fantasy. Hey, it has a Steven Erikson cover quote on it. CRY OF THE NEWBORN is epic, ambitious, thrilling, and horrifying all at the same time. It is one of the finest novels I have read in quite some time. Now I know first-hand what all you UK readers have known for ages; The Ascendants of Estorea is freaking incredible.
And I still get to read the second half of the series, SHOUT FOR THE DEAD. Folks, this is why I read books. You should totally import this. Now.
Recommended Age: 17 and up.
Language: Very, very sparse.
Violence: This book is FULL of war and violence. You feel the horrific devastation, but you never feel it was just thrown in.
Sex: One very brutal scene that was handled as well as I have ever read.
Sadly I think I can write up this review for Ken MacLeod's THE RESTORATION GAME in one, short sentence. Ready for it?
Too little, too late.
I’m gonna write my review. I’m gonna tell you a bit about the story and various other things, but everything you need to know is right there. This book was hard to get through (and it was only like 250 pages), and while there was some very cool stuff that happened (really really awesome stuff that I think deserves more attention than it got here), it happened too late in the story and honestly most of the story didn’t seem to lead up to the conclusions.
I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with a recap of the story shall we?
There is no such place as Krassnia. Lucy Stone should know—she was born there. In that tiny, troubled region of the former Soviet Union, revolution is brewing. Its organizers need a safe place to meet, and where better than the virtual spaces of an online game? Lucy, who works for a start-up game company in Edinburgh, has a project that almost seems made for the job: a game inspired by The Krassniad, an epic folk tale concocted by Lucy's mother, Amanda, who studied there in the 1980s. Lucy knows Amanda is a spook. She knows her great-grandmother Eugenie also visited the country in the 1930s and met the man who originally collected Krassnian folklore, and who perished in Stalin's terror. As Lucy digs up details about her birthplace to slot into the game, she finds the open secrets of her family's past, the darker secrets of Krassnia's past—and hints about the crucial role she is destined to play in THE RESTORATION GAME...
I took that right off the back of the book and really it fits well. If that sounds like your type of book, then by all means dive right in and enjoy.
The problem I have with it is that there’s really no mention of anything remotely Science Fictionish about it. Sounds like a political thriller doesn’t it? I have news for you, that’s what this is. About 225 of the 250ish pages are devoted to a political thriller type of story. There are plots and schemes and revolutions and more factions and groups of people than I could keep track of (literally—I was very lost in who was working for whom and double agenting for what). The other 25 pages deal very briefly on some very interesting science fiction ideas, almost all of which occur at the end after I’ve already slogged through the rest of the book.
As political thrillers go does the book work? I honestly don’t know. I don’t read a lot of them. I prefer SF (that’s kind of why I review them). There were moments that I enjoyed and even parts of it that I was engaged in, but more often than not I was trying to bull through it hoping that it would turn around.
As far as the SF stuff at the end, well, I liked it a lot. There were some very cool ideas. Ideas that made me think, ideas that I would like to see explored some more. But in the end those ideas seemed rather tacked on to the political story. I think I would have preferred a much shorter story (novelette perhaps) with the same SF, but a more streamlined version of the rest of the story.
Maybe this is your cup of tea. I’ve seen some good praise for the book out there. Honestly this could be a case of just being the wrong book for the wrong reader. If you’ve liked Charles Stross’s near future thrillers (HALTING STATE and RULE 34) then I think this is more up your alley.
Recommended Age: 14+ because of the complexity of the factions, a bit of language and sexual innuendo.
Violence: Very little. Only one specific reference I can think of.
Language: Moderate. There’s language but it isn’t extreme.
Want to give this book a shot for yourself? Here is the link:
THE RESTORATION GAME
Yeah, yeah, don't roll your eyes at me. The title CHICKS KICK BUTT sounds totally cliché and dumb and silly. But it's totally fun and entertaining. CHICKS is a short story compilation of several popular female Urban Fantasy authors—some you've heard of and some you haven't—and other than a couple of mediocre entries, is a solid group of stories. So let's get to it, shall we?
Shiny by Rachel Caine starts off the book with a story from this popular author's Weather Warden series. Joanne has weather magic, and her boyfriend David is a powerful Djinn. On an outing to the beach, they come across a photo shoot for a Bugatti Veyron—and the woman draped across it is none other than a new Djinn. David makes them stop to investigate her, as she's something of a troublemaker. And, of course, trouble ensues. One of the better stories in this compilation, the characters are interesting, the story moves quickly, and the situation and ending unfoldes unexpectedly.
In Vino Veritas by Karen Chance is about Dory—from Chance's Dorina Basarab series—a dhampir (child of vampire and human), and vampire hunter. A previous job with the Chinese mob has come back to bite her, and she must deal with the fallout. This selection is predictable, and in order to remember what it was about I had to go back and re-read it again, which is never a good sign, even if the first read through was enjoyable enough. In the end I wasn't really sure what it was about, it was a little convoluted, and as a result it was easy to dismiss.
Hunt by Rachel Vincent is about college student Abby, recently turned werecat. While on a campout with some friends, they're attacked, and Abby's secret is in danger of being revealed. Traumatized in her youth, Abby must deal with her fears in order to save her friends. Despite the steady writing and believable emotions, it was had to get the full effect in so short a story without feeling like I was being bludgeoned with Abby's emotional baggage. Still, it finishes well.
Monsters by Lilith Saintcrow is my favorite of the compilation. It's about Eleni, a vampire Preserver, with the special skills and abilities that involve protecting "what would otherwise be lost...[those] skilled in an art that would reach its highest expression when freed from the chains of mortality." When her charges are killed in an unexpected attack by humans, she must avenge their deaths. For such a short story, the worldbuilding was well written, and the characters interesting. While the ending leaves the larger story open for more, the conclusion is still satisfying. On her site, Saintcrow says she may write more about Eleni.
Vampires Prefer Blondes by P. N. Elrod is one of the few in this collection where the main character is completely human. Set from Elrod's Vampire Files series, this short takes place in the 1930s, and Bobbi is the headliner for a traveling act in the Chicago area. After one evening's show, a group of roughs come looking for one of her chorus girls, and it turns out a vampire is involved. The writing is slick—the main character's PoV is entertaining to read, gives a feel for the era, and makes me believe that even though Bobbi isn't trained to fight, she's still willing to help someone in trouble with the undead.
Nine-Tenths of the Law by Jenna Black is about exorcist Morgan Kingsley, who happens to be 'possessed' herself (not something she advertises on her business door). She's approached by worried parents who believe their wayward daughter is possessed illegally. Demons are allowed to possess humans who are of legal age and volunteer for it—there are some benefits, after all, to having a powerful spirit inhabit a mortal body. But there are fanatical groups who will do anything to rid the world of demons. An entertaining story, if a bit predictable. The characters are well drawn, and the world interesting without being overbearing. From the Morgan Kingsley Exorcist series, which is complete.
Double Dead by Cheyenne McCray starts off with a sort of glossary of terms, which I'm certain is hardly ever a good thing for a short story. It's about Nyx, part-human part-Dark Elf, whose Drow abilities make her day job as a PI much less dangerous than her night job as enforcer for the paranormal council. While main character Nyx is interesting, the story was a contrived confusion of motives and behavior that didn't make sense, and the ending action scene was gimmicky.
A Rose by Any Other Name Would Still be Red by Elizabeth A. Vaughan is the shortest of the stories, and the action scenes are exciting and fast-paced. Unfortunately, the result is that I never got a clear vision of the setting (is it medieval?), of the main character Red's abilities, and the point of the story.
Superman by Jeanne C. Stein is about a newly turned vampire. "Superman" has a prologue and even 'chapters', which results in a drawn-out story. I could handle an overlong short if it were tightly written, but it's not, and even worse it's cliché and overwrought. Skip it.
Monster Mash by Carole Nelson Douglas takes place in Las Vegas, where werewolves and vampires own and run casinos. Delilah, from Douglas' Delilah Street series, is called in to investigate the haunting of a local casino, and get rid of the problem if she can. She's human, but walks among the supernaturals with confidence. Douglas lays on the setting pretty thickly, so it's hard to keep up with all the lingo. But the fast-paced dialogue, clever mystery, and likable heroine make this story one of the top five in this compilation.
Wanted: Dead or Alive by L. A. Banks is about recently turned vampire Tanya, and the short opens with an overwrought woe-is-me monologue. Then we're launched into pre-story of Tanya's bounty hunter past, and her 'lucky' kill of master vampire Dimitri. As his killer she inherits Dimitri's wealth and the vamps he's turned; and today, a month later, we learn that other vampire masters want her dead. Her distaste of bloodsucking has turned her into an altruist who'll only kill the truly criminal. The story is contrived and feels unfinished.
Mist by Susan Krinard is probably the most ambitious of the stories, with so much worldbuilding taken from ancient Norse mythology that the learning curve is a little high for a short story. An Earth-bound Valkyrie believes that the final battle is past...but is it? The action moves along at a steady clip, and by the end you're invested in the story and how it ends. And even though "Mist" feels more like the beginning of a novel than the other more self-contained contributions, it's an entertaining read.
Beyond the Pale by Nancy Holder is about Meg, former U.S. border agent, and now Fae border agent, due to her recently manifested second sight. But the battle with the Fae is not so much about illegal immigration as it is about keeping the Erl King from stealing children and replacing them with changelings. A fast-paced and interesting story, "Beyond the Pale" has magic and a cool Black Forest setting. PoV character Meg is a complicated woman; the writing does lack subtlety with her feelings and motivations, but the characterization was pretty good for a short. The ending wasn't what I expected, and I still have some unanswered questions, so I'm not sure if I'm satisfied with it—but at least it was memorable. Holder's site says she plans to continue this story in novel form, and if she continues on as she has here, it's easy to see the potential for a great series.
Recommended Age: 16+
Language: Depending on the story, but most are relatively clean; a couple of them have a smattering of stronger profanity.
Violence: All of them have violence; some are stronger than others; almost all contain death, and some of them get very gory.
Sex: Mostly reference and innuendo; "Superman" and "Wanted: Dead or Alive" have graphic scenes.
Want this book? Go here:
CHICKS KICK BUTT
By now most of you faithful readers should have picked up a copy of Jasper Kent's novel, TWELVE. If you are like me, TWELVE completely blew you away with its terrific blend of Historical Fiction and Horror. I mean, come on, that ending? That was freaking awesome. And the twist made it even more horrific and awesome. TWELVE easily became one of my favorite books last year. The sequel, THIRTEEN YEARS LATER, was awesome in its own way, but fell juuuuuuust short of its predecessor.
And now we get book three, THE THIRD SECTION.
The third entry in the Danilov Quintet has us following Aleksei Danilov's two children (who don't know they are siblings), Dmitry and Tamara. Naturally this novel follows their (re)discovery of the vampires, and the machinations of the Aleksei's nemesis, Iuda (now known as Vasily).
The first thing that stood out was how different Dmitry is. This novel starts in 1855, thirty years after the events of the previous novel. Aleksei is in exile, and thus not a PoV character. Yet Aleksei's legacy still has such an enormous impact on the two main characters. Dmitry has been molded and changed by the past 30+ years, and it paints a starkly different picture of his persona. For Tamara, the quest to find out who her father really is (Aleksei was exiled before she was old enough to realize what was going on) leads her right into the crossfire of the vampires.
These characters are so refreshingly different from those in the prior two novels. Don't get me wrong, I loved Aleksei's PoV, but I think this is one of the main failings of series fiction. Far too often we follow story after story of just one character, and if the author isn't careful the characters get dull. Kent has avoided this issue entirely, and has handled it expertly.
The way Kent handles the historical facts is awesome, unsurprisingly. The action is terrific. The pacing is great. None of these should surprise you. All the same, it is a relief to me that Kent has managed to remain so consistent from novel to novel.
Here's the thing. If you have read the first two novels in this series, you know what to expect. If you haven't read the first two books, I'm a little unsure why you are reading this review. Quit fooling around and go treat yourself. So the only thing I want to mention is how INCREDIBLE the last quarter of THE THIRD SECTION is. This novel is batter than book two, and has me debating on whether it is better than book one. And this is all due to the ending. It blew me away. If you had any doubt or fear that THE THIRD SECTION wouldn't live up to the standards set in the first books, take my word for it.
Seriously, just go out and buy the book.
Recommended Age:b 17+
Language: Some, and it can get strong.
Violence: Remember, these vampires don't try to sparkle you to death.
Sex: A lot of references and some scenes that border on being really detailed.
Buy this whole freaking series! It is completely awesome!
1 - TWELVE
2 - THIRTEEN YEARS LATER
3 - THE THIRD SECTION
I’m not sure if I’ve ever read anything quite like GATEWAYS. On the outside it looks like any regular old collection of short stories and novellas. Sometimes those collections have a central premise or theme, and this one certainly does. But it’s the premise and how it’s put together that really got to me. The premise is “Isn’t Frederick Pohl awesome? Let’s have a book to celebrate him.”
I’ll admit that before I read this book I knew little of Frederik Pohl. I’ve read through almost all of the Hugo winning novels and came across Gateway (the book from which the title of this collection is based). It was one of the rare old Hugo winners that really knocked my socks off. It didn’t feel dated, it still stood out as an exceptional book. Based on that I picked up a few more of Pohl’s Gateway books. I wish I could say that they were as good, but sadly they didn’t capture the magic the original did. Reading online I am not alone in that opinion.
But that’s it. That’s all I knew about Frederik Pohl. I opened this collection thinking that maybe all of the stories would be set in Pohl’s gateway universe, (I still think that’s a cool idea by the way. Somebody get on it.) Instead I found that the stories were written to the intent of capturing the spirit of Frederik Pohl and his work.
To my surprise the thing I found most fascinating about the books were the dedications at the end of each story. After each novella or story, that particular author would write his own thoughts on Pohl. They ranged from years of shared experiences and lifetime friendships, to simple crossing of paths. Some of the names on the cover didn’t even write stories for the anthology, but rather they just wrote out their thoughts and feelings about Pohl.
It was fascinating for me to read through those dedications and see a story unfold. The story of modern SF as we know it. To see and hear accounts of Pohl as a writer and editor and even agent and see how it affected the authors in the book (most of whom I read regularly) and Science Fiction in general was amazing. The characters in their respective stories were interesting, but nothing compared to the character of Frederick Pohl, the man who helped shape Science Fiction.
I’m not going to spend a bunch of time dwelling on the stories in GATEWAYS. The stories are there and they are for the most part very good. They range from short to long, comical to poignant and everything in between. But they are not the focus, nor should they be. The focus is throughout the book a simple heart felt dedication to this man who helped inspire, and shape a generation of SF writers and readers.
As tributes go, I can’t think of anything better.
Recommended Age: Depends on the story. I can’t remember anything too harsh however. 14+
Violence: Nothing too bad.
Sex: Referenced a few times. Never shown.
Language: A scattering of words depending on the author.
Want this awesome tribute of stores? Follow this link: GATEWAYS
In BLOOD SONG, Celia was attacked by a vampire, but not turned completely. Instead she's an "abomination", a sort of vampire limbo, with both perks and disadvantages. She also learned that her great-grandmother is a Siren—yes, the magical variety who can sing men to their deaths—and since being bitten it appears that these traits have finally manifested for Celia. The perk: men come when she needs. The disadvantage: women hate her.
One would think that having some supernatural abilities might make life a little easier. Not for Celia, who's convinced that everyone thinks she's a monster: the Sirens, the vampires and the humans. It's all a big mess. And because of who and what she is, someone wants her dead, and will do anything, even call up demons, to finish the job.
SIREN SONG begins with a big action scene right off the bat. After the events in BLOOD SONG, Celia was being taken to an institution that would make sure she's safe to be roaming among the general public. On the way her and Dr. Scott are attacked, physically and mentally. They survive, but her relationship with the good doctor is irrevocably damaged, and she's no closer to discovering the assailants' motives.
Unfortunately, that opening scene consists of the majority of the book's excitement for the first three-quarters, and the story moves forward much slower as Adams builds up the piecemeal plot. The pace hiccups in places, as Adams tries to move quickly from scene to scene, event to event, making the pacing less consistent compared to the first book. Fortunately, the sundry information and events finally tie up nicely in an exciting conclusion.
In the meantime Celia must deal with her new abilities. It's rare for abominations to live as long as she has, because usually their sires turn or kill them soon after they're first bitten—fortunately hers is dead. She refuses to drink blood, but she's limited to a liquid diet, and watching her try to deal with it can be amusing. Add to that her Siren abilities and no man can really trust her and all women hate her. She handles these wrenches in her life with aplomb...mostly. At this point it's just getting through it day by day, but she refuses to give up. We see few other characters from book one (alas very little of the sexy werewolf and Celia's Italian former boyfriend), other than a big scene with the ghostly Vicki. We instead get to know others better, including John Miller, the mage who owns a bodyguard firm (potential romance?); Bubba, the bail bondsman whose office is on the same floor as Celia's (fisherman, tough guy...Mensa member?); and Celia's Siren relatives.
In fact the entire second half of the book deals with the Sirens. We get to see their culture, with their queens and their island isolated from the rest of the world. It doesn't feel like anything special, though, and not particularly interesting other than to learn about Celia's origins. It turns out, though, that it's a good thing Celia goes, because it appears that their role in all of these events, even the ones in BLOOD SONG, may be deeper than first thought.
We see more of how mage magic works, which was interesting and well done. The roles of magic in this world are important—from the everyday variety to creating protective wards to how they fight with it. Adams used clairvoyants a lot in BLOOD SONG, and they were interesting and affected the plot. This time around there are several clairvoyant 'prophecies' but they're vague and pointless, which was frustrating.
For a middle book in a series, SIREN SONG is rather mediocre, and not worth trying to read as a standalone, because the story depends a great deal on what came before. Despite this, at least we're clearer who the bad guys are, and their motives—which was my big frustration in BLOOD SONG. Still, the world building, character progression, and cast is what keeps me interested, and I'm looking forward to reading the conclusion, DEMON SONG.
Recommended Age: 16+
Language: A couple handfuls, not as much as in BLOOD SONG
Violence: Lots more peril than BLOOD SONG, and the couple of fight scenes are as exciting and detailed as the ones from the previous book
Sex: Referenced, with only minor details
My favorite works by Brandon Sanderson are his Mistborn novels. From the moment I picked up THE FINAL EMPIRE all the way through the last page of THE HERO OF AGES, I was loving the series. I like all of Sanderson's novels, but the Mistborn series, for me, is far better than all the rest.
And now we have a new Mistborn novel, THE ALLOY OF LAW. When I received a copy of this in the mail, everything else went on hold.
THE ALLOY OF LAW is set 300 years after the events of THE HERO OF AGES. The city of Elendel is in the midst of an industrial awakening, and the characters of the past Mistborn novels are all referenced by way of varied religions. The story follows Waxillium Ladrian as he goes from being a frontier lawman of sorts in the Roughs to a lord over his house in the city--think equal parts Bruce Wayne and Wyatt Earp. The woman Wax is to marry is kidnapped, and thus begins the adventure.
First things first: THE ALLOW OF LAW is a standalone novel. While I imagine a bunch of the stuff from here will end up referenced in Sanderson's next Mistborn Trilogy, this is a stand-alone novel. The first two things that stood out while I was reading this novel was first, the evolution of the setting. Sanderson does an excellent job showing how this world has evolved from the city, to the religion, to the culture. It is all done logically and descriptively. It felt like the Mistborn world had actually evolved rather than just painted over with a vague, western facade.
The second thing that jumped out was the evolution in the magic. Waxillium (Wax) is a Twinborn. He can use both Allomancy and Feruchemy. Not only did Sanderson avoid falling back on having his hero be an all-powerful Mistborn (a nice touch), but he still managed to make his hero powerful by mixing powers together. It was an extremely refreshing blend of familiar and new, and honestly has me super excited for future possibilities. Seriously. Just think about it for a minute.
Yeah. Awesome, right?
The side characters feel like just that: side characters. They are fleshed out enough to give the story weight, and to make the reader like them. But don't expect the other characters to be fleshed out like you would from Sanderson's THE WAY OF KINGS. THE ALLOW OF LAW is a short (by Sanderson's standards!) novel. I'll tell you why I'm OK with this: the novel is focused. I wanted to get to know Wax, and Sanderson did that. No fluff. No wandering. No repetitive sections. Nope. THE ALLOY OF LAW is a focused and well-paced novel.
Did I love everything about it? No (when do I ever?). A lot of this comes to personal taste, so none of this may bother you readers at all. Remember WARBREAKER? Where all the characters thought they were comedians? THE ALLOY OF LAW has the same sort of vibe. Now I get that Brandon doesn't do super dark and gritty (which I would LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOVE him to do...he would KILL it!!!), but to me the humor in this novel was too much. Just when I would start to completely lose myself in this beautiful progressing world, Wax or his friend Wayne (another Twinborn with some awesome abilities) would do something so silly that I would be thrown completely out of the novel. Now perhaps this is my fault for expecting an actual Western...and when I think of Westerns I think of Unforgiven. ALLOW OF LAW is hardly Western at all. It's light Western, and light Steampunk.
But here's the thing, that humor only makes up a very small portion of the novel. If you are OK with Sanderson's humor, then you'll love this book. If, like me, you aren't a fan, then simply ignore the humor and focus on the gunplay and magic--you'll likely love the novel this way.
My favorite part of this novel was the ending. Not only do we get a very cool set-piece that shows how far the world has come, but we get some great action, a light twist, and then Sanderson has characters choose duty over desire. I was worried Brandon was going to go all "happily ever after" on me. Whew. Didn't happen.
It's hard for me to rank this book in terms of Sanderson's other novels. I like it better than ELANTRIS and much better than WARBREAKER. The jury is still out on how Stormlight Archive series is going to turn out. But THE ALLOY OF LAW isn't quite up to the standards of the other other Mistborn novels. I think this is due to it feeling more like a long novella that was able to sneak into novel-form. That's not a criticism, just an observation. The long and short of it is fans of Brandon's work will love this novel.
Now I know I said this is a stand-alone. I know Brandon has said this is a stand-alone. But c'mon, man! Give the readers another novel or novella in this setting using the Roughs you describe in the beginning. Do it Deadwood style. PLEEEEEEEASE!
Recommended Age: 13 and up.
Language: Hardly any. Abercrombie this is not.
Violence: Lots of gunplay and magic fighting. I dig it.
Sex: Nope. Abercrombie this is not.
If you are a fan of Larry Correia's work, you've had a sweet year. MONSTER HUNTER ALPHA. DEAD SIX. HARD MAGIC. Yeah...that's some good reading. You know from my reviews that I have liked all of these books. But of all of them, HARD MAGIC is the one that grabbed my attention. It marked the start of a terrific Alternate History Urban Fantasy Dieselpunk Science Fiction Fantasy novel. For the sake of having a usable category, I call it Urban Fantasy.
The second book in the Grimnoir Chronicles, SPELLBOUND, is out, and it has everything good from the first book plus even more awesomeness. This is my favorite series by Correia. Period. Look, I love his other works, but this alternate take on 1930's USA is freaking great.
Following up on the crazy events on book 1 (in other words, go buy book one now and stop reading this review), all (mostly) of the main characters are back. No one really believes that Faye is as powerful as she is, or that she accomplished what she did in the first book. All of the main people in the government are pointing fingers at the Grimnoir knights and saying how dangerous they are (think Mutant Registration Act from X-Men), and they seem to be proven right when the President of the US is nearly assassinated. The crime is pinned on the knights, and things go from bad to worse.
Here is what impresses me about Larry Correia: he is always trying to get better. His books sell well and entertain a huge number of people. But even he knows that he had issues in his early books. There would be pacing problems here and there, and often the female characters needed a bit more depth. The mark of a good author is when that author looks at the fair critiques of his work and busts his butt to improve in those areas. Correia exemplifies this trait, and all you have to do is look at the insane difference in quality between MONSTER HUNTER INTERNATIONAL and SPELLBOUND. Night and day, people. Night and day. And it's not like MONSTER HUNTER INTERNATIONAL was a bad book. I thought it was great.
What I noticed in SPELLBOUND was how Correia was able to better control and juggle a large cast of characters. Even a step further; not just juggle them, but let them grow before the readers' eyes. Both Faye and Sullivan are freaking awesome. The side characters have enough detail to carry the scenes from their PoV, but not so much to take away from the studs of the show.
I also feel like Correia's plotting is better. He's good at having a very defined focus for what he wants to accomplish in the novel. As a result, I never really felt like this book was the middle book in a series or purely setup. It has a life--and a vibrant one at that--of its own.
Do I even need to mention the action? I mean, really? The day Larry Correia stops writing awesome action sequences is the day I will recommend Dan Brown as the greatest ever (never going to happen). We've got giant monsters and freaking robots in SPELLBOUND. And a samurai. And more demons. Yeah.
Now. There is one thing I want Correia to work on. He isn't bad at it by any means, but when so many things are going right in a novel, even little things tend to stand out. I need more tragedy. When Correia puts it in, he does it pretty well (just look at the very end of ALPHA). But I feel like we don't get it enough. There are a few good scenes in SPELLBOUND, but I feel like they came juuuuuuuuuust short. It's like the difference between hitting a Triple vs a Home Run in a baseball game. Or a long pass play in football (American version) that goes for 60 yards...only to have the receiver tackled at the 1 yard line. Still great plays, but maaaaaannnn was it almost unbelievable. I don't want it to seem like I'm bashing Correia here. I'm not. His emotionally charged scenes are pretty good, but Correia is right on the edge of absolutely killing it.
So, should you be reading this series? Well duh. In my opinion, the Grimnoir Chronicles has the best story, best characters and best writing of all of Larry Correia's novels. SPELLBOUND is Larry Correia's best book in his best series. I loved it.
Recommended Age: 15 and up.
Language: Yup, but less than, say, DEAD SIX or MHA
Violence: Of course. I'd be a bit worried if there wasn't any.