Partials

I don't often read YA, but when I do, I read Dan Wells. His writing is just so accessible to younger and older readers alike. So when he approached me a year ago about reading a draft of his newest novel--a dystopian SF titled PARTIALS--I jumped at the chance.

You read that right. I've been sitting on a draft of this review for a year. For the sake of full disclosure, I am one of Dan's alpha readers. He shoots me his stuff well in advance and asks for my feedback. Honestly? I was worried about it. It's not that the draft wasn't good--it was--it's that for me the difference between PARTIALS being good or excellent hinged on some pretty big concerns for me. The mark of a great author is one who can take feedback and make that story into something everyone should be reading.

I'm not going to bore you with the details of how each of my comments was doubtlessly met with Dan Wells' tears of pure joy. I won't tell you how the inspiration behind my comments made the final version of PARTIALS--the one you should be buying RIGHT NOW--one of the best YA novels I've ever read. No. I'm faaaar too humble for that. Plus I'd be lying. Kinda. Maybe. Not really.

The important thing is that PARTIALS really is one of the best YA novels I've ever read. Why? It would be my pleasure to tell you.

PARTIALS takes place in a future where a deadly virus, RM, has killed off 99% of the world's population. Those that survive are unable to have a child that lives for more than a few days. The "Partials" are created beings that the humans made to fight their wars for them...and then these soldiers rebelled and released the RM virus. It's a bleak world. All human females 18 and older are required to get pregnant and have children with the hope that one of them will be immune and live.

The PoV of the novel is Kira. She is one of 40,000-ish humans alive on the planet (as far as they know). She is also a promising medic and researcher. She takes it upon herself to do what no one has been able to--cure RM. The novel is told in 3rd Person Limited, and Kira is the only PoV. Dan does an amazing job of helping the reader really understand Kira. Her reactions are perfectly believable, as is her youthful enthusiasm in a world with no real hope. The side characters are all fleshed out as well as needed, though I will say it's hard sometimes to remember the ages of them all. My only real complaint is in regards to the adult characters. They all are pretty flat.

PARTIALS is longer than most YA novels, but the pacing just flows along. Remember, I've read this book twice now, and the pacing didn't lag at all upon a second read. In fact, it was even better. Dan throws some twists in that less experienced readers will love, and more experienced readers will enjoy for how well they are executed. The themes of choice, lost youth and freedom are perfectly pitched to the feel of this novel.

And then there is the ending. I loved it. PARTIALS has the perfect mix of success and failure to give a reader the satisfaction they need, and then the need for the sequel.

I don't know what else I can say. PARTIALS more than deserves a spot on your bookshelf, and it would be just criminal to not do your civic duty and buy it.

Plus I have a cameo in it. What else could you want?

Recommended Age: 14+
Language: Very little, and never strong.
Violence: Yeah, but it never is "shock-value" or full of gore. Dan is more of a suspense type of writer than going right for cheap violence.
Sex: Talked about a lot. Remember, all females are required to get pregnant. It's on all their minds. But there are no scenes.

No, seriously. Stop reading the review and buy the book:

PARTIALS

Shadow's Master

SHADOW'S MASTER is Jon Sprunk's concluding volume (maybe) to his assassin-themed series published by Pyr. It's a series of books that I quite enjoy due to its fast-paced nature, fun characters and extreme quantities of action. The first novel, SHADOW'S SON, was a great debut novel that lacked some polish while tempting readers with its potential. SHADOW'S LURE was about as good of a sequel as I could ask for. It improved on nearly all my problems from the first novel.

So all that was left was my wondering whether or not the third novel in the trilogy could effectively close out this series. For the most part it succeeds.

Again our story mainly follows Caim as he trudges ever further north in search of answers to his past. The ending of SHADOW'S LURE hinted at some things in his family's past that he finds impossible to ignore. As Caim travels north with a few companions, the story will shift periodically to Josey who is leading her empire's army to repel an incursion by enemy forces.

There was never any real doubt in my mind that Caim's sections would be good. Sprunk understands exactly what he wants to accomplish with his assassin, and it shows in the PoVs. Caim never does anything out of character, allowing the reader to just sit back and enjoy his sections. His relationship with Kit is well done if a tad predictable. His companions that travel north with him are fairly flat, but Sprunk never really pretends they are anything more than what they are. The focus is on Caim and his personal and physical journey.

Josey's sections, unfortunately, still don't do it for me. I never really felt her story was adding much to the progression of...well, anything really. She's a side character that is flushed out a little more than the others, but I personally found it difficult to really buy-in to her predicaments. Her physical condition (no spoilers for those of you still on the fence about the series) really doesn't end up mattering much, so I found myself wondering why it was even part of the story.

The action, as expected, is extremely well done when it relates to small groups fighting each other. It's fun, smooth and easy to visualize. Caim's issues with his magic are appropriately cloudy I think. There is a fine line in many novels between learning how to do things with a new power and accidentally solving everything with your powers to save the day. Caim seemed to learn enough to actually make his accomplishments believable--plus he didn't do everything on his own, another thing I like.

On the other hand Sprunk makes an attempt at some large-scale battle towards the end of SHADOW'S MASTER, and it doesn't fare as well. It's not that it's bad, it just doesn't have any detail at all. There is all this build-up to a huge mass battle...and then it is essentially over in a page or two. It really makes that portion of the finale feel lacking.

All that said, this was a very enjoyable book that was on-par with the second of the series. The ending, while feeling rushed, was actually pretty solid--I just wish it had been 50 pages longer to give me a real sense of the chaos going on. The relationship resolution between Josey and Caim was handled well, and I also thought the body-count amongst the side characters was well done. The bad guys were a nice mix of straight-up bad to sympathetic. Yeah, I liked SHADOW'S MASTER quite a bit.

Now, a couple of things before I finish off this review. First, due to the improvement I've seen in Sprunk's writing, I will read anything he puts out in the future. And after reading the ending of SHADOWS MASTER I was left wondering if he was going to revisit this world. There is a ton of potential here, and there were some hints that Sprunk would be perhaps giving some more assassin novels in the future. I certainly hope so.

Lastly, an observation. As a reviewer I often will finish off a book and feel slightly bummed out. Why? Because I have little faith that the author would be able to actually improve his/her craft in future works. On the other hand, after reading books by a guy like Jon Sprunk, I end up a little excited over the problems a book has. I know it sounds weird, but stick with me. Even with the small problems, I have a really good feeling about Sprunk's writing future. I think he has all the skill and potential to fix all this stuff and write some truly awesome novels. I see 3 places for improvement. 1) Detailed descriptions to make environments easy to visualize. Right now I often feel like I'm in a blank room with the characters floating in it. 2) Mass battles need some research and work. I'd like to see Sprunk get to Barclay's CRY OF THE NEWBORN and Tchaikovsky's novels in terms of detail for large-scale battles. 3) Side characters need improvement. I shouldn't ever wonder what the point of a side story is.

It sounds like a big deal, but I'm actually really excited to see Sprunk pull it off. I've already seen a ton of improvement in his ability, so I have every bit of confidence that he can do it going forward.

The short version? Go buy Sprunk's novels. They are great pieces of assassin-themed fantasy that everyone should be enjoying.

Recommended Age:
17+
Language: Quite a bit more in this novel that in the others.
Violence: All sorts. The brutality of a few scenes was just awesome.
Sex: Lots of innuendo and conversation, but nothing detailing like in the last novel.

Here are you links to pick up this series:

SHADOW'S SON
SHADOW'S LURE
SHADOW'S MASTER

Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon

In my experience, history is a dry and rather boring subject that has made me more prone to "study by osmosis" than other, obviously more effective, methods of gray-matter absorption. There has been but one exception to that rule in my short lifetime, and that exception was my high school AP history teacher. History was not just another subject for her. History was LIFE. It had substance, it had breath; it had body and it had soul. Her passion for the stories of history and the people that populated those tales made me open my eyes and want to learn--not just to get a good grade in the class, or to see what I might glean from mistakes of the past, but to feel and know what it was like to be a part of that past. She made me love History, and no one else has ever had that same effect.

Until now.

EXPEDITION TO THE MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON by Mark Hodder is the third book in the Burton and Swinburne series and continues the tale of an alternate version of our own history’s Victorian England. It is a world filled with the power of science and steam. It is a world gone horribly awry--a world in which flora and fauna have been genetically altered and grown in giganteum to provide the utmost to mankind and their myriad devices. It is a story of a world fraught with the danger of extinction by forces and powers that were never meant to be wielded by the people of such an age. And yet, even though it's a fantastical world, it's populated with actual figures and places from our past, and what's not to love about something like that?

I think I'm going to have a difficult time relaying just how ridiculously much I enjoyed this novel. Right from page one, when Sir Richard Francis Burton is hiding beneath a bush to try and get a good shot off at Spring-Heeled Jack--a character from the very first book in the series and the divergence point for all of the mass-chaos and mayhem that has ensued ever since--I knew that I was going to love it. I would think that anyone who reads it would.

There are two main story-lines to this book, and each is immediately distinctive. The first is told mostly from Burton’s point of view as he’s traveling toward the Mountains of the Moon, and the oft-thought-of and once sought-after source of the Nile River, at the behest of the Prime Minister of England, Lord Palmerston. The second story-line is also headed by Burton, but in this one he’s suffered a mild form of amnesia and thrown into the war-torn fields of Africa forty years into his future. I know. Amnesia? When was the last time you actually read a book anywhere near half-good wherein a main character had suffered any form of amnesia. I agree, but Hodder totally pulls this one off. It’s so well-done, with locations and events naturally triggering Burton’s memories and not seemingly at the author’s whim, as so many other attempts I’ve read have sounded.

As with our previous outings with Burton and Swinburne, characterization is great, pacing is break-neck, and imagination soars through the upper stratosphere. Spider-Harvesters, flying fortresses, carnivorous plants, and even plant-human hybrids filled the pages with so much fun that I honestly had a hard time keeping up with it all. Another of the great things that Hodder has done with this novel is bring nearly all of the characters from the previous books into play again and then knock a bunch of them off. And let me tell you, my heart twisted each and every time one of them was lost. I’m not a man for tears when reading novels, and twice during this ride I was brought closer than I’d been to that point in a long, long time. The value and importance of every secondary character in this series was driven home by this book. Awesome. Just awesome.

And I even got more parakeets. Ha! Well, that’s actually a pretty large understatement. What I really got was a veritable tidal wave of parakeets, and let me tell you, I couldn’t have been more pleased.

The end of the book was completely satisfying for me, though it certainly didn't leave everything tied up with a bow. It was, however, a spectacular way to close the three-book story arc that started with The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack. If there’s any possibility though of this being the end of line for these two fine gentlemen, you very well may find me curled up in a closet somewhere, sucking my thumb. There’s definitely room for more stories here, and if given the opportunity I will devour every last word that I’m able to get my hands on.

Hodder has completely won me over with this series. Finding authors like Mr. Hodder is the single-most important reason why I read. What more can I say? Buy these books. Read them multiple times. They are just that entertaining. May this only be the beginning of his long and illustrious career.

Cheers.

Recommended Age: 16+
Language: Very little, but for a copious amount of parakeet insults!
Violence: A moderate number of grisly war scenes
Sex: None

Stop screwing around and buy this series:

THE STRANGE AFFAIR OF SPRING HEELED JACK
THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE CLOCKWORK MAN
EXPEDITION TO THE MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON

The Language of Dying

Horror writers often get a bad stigma attached to them. It seems like no matter who you are (with a few notable exceptions), once you are a “Horror author” you are looked at as not being a good writer. I’ll admit that I was one of those super judgmental folks before I began this blog. I’ve since learned that genre has nothing to do with writing quality.
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Remember Sarah Pinborough? She wrote A MATTER OF BLOOD and SHADOW OF THE SOUL, and I loved those books to death. Sarah is currently one of my absolute favorite authors, largely due to her ability to not only write awesome horror stories, but mainly due to the high quality of her writing. I was at World Fantasy and happened across a copy of Sarah Pinborough’s . It’s a limited edition novella, but don’t let that turn you away. Sarah told me at the convention that this was the best thing she’d written. So is it?

By far.

Horror is typically (and erroneously) associated with blood, guts and shock value. But Horror is much more than that. It can be complex, and focused on the things that terrify individuals and/or families. THE LANGUAGE OF DYING is about the horror of dealing with some of the most horrible situations a family can go through – the impending death of a father.

Death – especially of a personal nature – is often glossed over. People don’t like to talk about it, and when they do, it is limited to fairly general terms. The complete personal thoughts of a person rarely are spoken. Why? Because sometimes those thoughts aren’t good. THE LANGUAGE OF DYING follows the main PoV - the middle, female child out of a family of five - as she deals with the imminent death of her father. It’s a terrible situation, and then she deals with the rest of her broken and dysfunctional family. Every member of the family feels extremely real. They each act in utterly believable ways, and not all of their actions are noble. Actions of extreme selfishness in the novel are countered by moments of sincere love from unlikely places.

I kid you not when I say Sarah Pinborough effortlessly handles the raw emotions inherent in this type of situation. Honestly, having personally experienced a sliver of this type of situation, the emotions are perfect. Perfect. Towards the end of the novella, I was in tears.

Don’t go into this novel expecting Horror in the hack-and-slash vein. This is a more personal Horror. It resonates on a deeper level, thus making the suspense and terror of the situation much more powerful. Honestly, I’m completely blown away by THE LANGUAGE OF DYING. Is it for everyone? No. Some people just won’t get it. That’s a shame, because this is one of the best works of short fiction I’ve ever read.

Recommended Age: 16+ more for theme than content
Language: Hardly any. Just in one little section.
Violence: There are some horrible situations described here. Again, they are more of a family and personal nature.
Sex: Nope.

Red Claw

Wow! Is it just me or has Orbit quietly become one of the better SF&F publishers out there? It seems that just a few years ago I was joking about them, yet here we are now, and they have Daniel Abraham publishing some excellent books (THE DRAGON'S PATH and LEVIATHAN WAKES). Jeff Somers has been writing some addictive and fun SF with his Avery Cates novels. Mira Grant and N.K. Jemisin both were nominated for Hugo’s last year for best novel. And now I’ve discovered Philip Palmer.

A while ago I was given a big pile of random stuff sent to us by different publishers among them two books by Philip Palmer. I found myself with a bit of extra time and rolled the dice to see what I would read next (No seriously. I took out a dice and rolled it to see what I would read next. It’s quite a bit of fun and adds an element of spontaneity to my reading schedule sometimes. You should try it). Palmer’s book came up and I quickly devoured it. Just as a note, this book is from 2009. I had the book sitting for a while...

I don’t know if all of Palmer’s work is this interesting, pulpy and flat out fun, but you can bet I’m going to be reading the rest of his stuff to find out. That kind of sounds like the last line in a review doesn’t it? Let me back track.

RED CLAW takes place on a distant planet where a group of scientists is studying the alien flora and fauna and cataloging them. Along for the ride (and there to protect the scientists) are a bunch of genetically engineered and programmed soldiers. Stuff starts blowing up, people start dying--important people too. More than a few viewpoint characters. There are plenty of redshirts to soak up the carnage, but the list of survivors grows surprisingly thin. It’s soon a race of survival against the planet, the attacking robot hordes and even amongst the survivors themselves.

Sounds like a summer blockbuster doesn’t it? And it reads like one too. The book just keeps throwing cool stuff at you the whole time. Big action, cool aliens, bang bang bang. It just keeps going. I don’t want you to get the impression though that the book is dumb. Far from it. The characters were interesting and well thought out. And even some of those character that were more of a stereotype had a purpose. Palmer took those old tropes and twisted them a bit and gave them purpose. Were they the most three dimensional character ever put on page? No. But they weren’t totally flat either. They served the story well and I cared about them in the end. There was intrigue and backstories that came into play. The plot twisted and turned and surprised me a few times. The whole thing felt like a pulp novel yet here I am a few weeks later still thinking about it. I’ll say it again. Wow!

I have another of Palmer’s books on my shelf from that same stack of random goodies. This time around you can bet it won’t take a roll of the dice to get me to read it.

Age Recommendation:
18+ Palmer doesn’t pull his punches with the soldiers. This one’s got it all. Language, violence and sex
Language: Yeah. Tons.
Violence: Yeppers. Tons
Sex: Mentioned quite a bit and even a scene or two in there.

The Highest Frontier

I grew up in a small farming community in Oregon, so when I left for university--with a student body three times that of my hometown--it's reasonable to say that it was an intimating experience. THE HIGHEST FRONTIER by Joan Slonczewski reminded me about those first overwhelming months. Except with way cooler stuff.

Fast forward to several decades in the future and Jenny Ramos Kennedy, a girl from a rich and politically powerful family, is beginning her freshman year at Frontera College--a school in a space habitat. It looks like a regular college on earth, with buildings for classrooms, dorms, faculty offices, and cafeterias. There's also a community of farmers who emigrated from an earth under attack from global warming and ultraphytes--an unknown alien seeded them into the Great Salt Lake and they've been reproducing ever since, creating mass quantities of cyanide in the process. It's all a big mess.

Jenny must navigate hard classes, new friends, an odd roommate, an athletic team, volunteering as an EMS, a budding romance...and so much more. Readers will follow along as she attends classes, takes counsel from the local pastor, and tries to keep up in all the social activities and coursework--as well as pressure from her politically minded family. FRONTIER is actually a pretty exhausting book to read, because not only are we trying to keep up with an active co-ed and understand all the new science and imagery being thrown at us, but about a third of the way through we're presented with a mystery, and Jenny is compelled to understand what's really going on.

At first I had a hard time getting into this book. Since FRONTIER is almost exclusively a concept novel, it contains ideas and 'what ifs' about earth's climatic and political futures. There's slanball, a null-grav scoccer-like game, where minds are used instead of actually touching the ball. Instead of smart phones, everyone wears 'diads' over their eyes that connect them to ToyNet, with instant news feeds, texts from teachers and friends, invites to parties. It's all sensory overload and Slonczewski immerses you in it from page one, and drags you along until you finally get your footing. Even though it's light on plot, FRONTIER has more than its fair share of ambiance and setting.

Jenny is the main narrator, with President Dylan Chase occasionally piping in with college administrative issues. Jenny has recently suffered the death of her twin brother, Jordi, and begins as an uncertain, emotionally distant young woman. Slonczewski does a great job with Jenny's growth and characterization. She's a smart girl, but still quite normal for her age, with her hang-ups and moments of clarity. Her relationships with the other kids in her class felt real--for the most part, some of them I didn't quite understand.

Slonczewski is a professor of biology at Kenyon College (the college hosts a 3D image of what Frontera College looks like) and her love of the subject shines in FRONTIER. She peppers it with questions about ultraphytes. The space hab residents create food and homes from amyloid and carboxyplast--it's cheaper than shipping up everything from the planet. The space hab is twenty years old, practically ancient technology, with potentially serious problems if the power ever goes out. My favorite: you can print out things, from your printer, such as clothes. No need for a closet, or wearing the same thing everyday! Well, assuming you can afford it.

The story takes place during the presidential election, and I'd probably be more interested in that if I weren't so numb from the recent onslaught of the current news. But again, Slonczewski handles it well, and makes it an important part of the story. In a way it's a very timely commentary on the current political climate in the U.S., without being overbearing or agenda-ridden.

In all, it's a thoughtful book to read, with a likable heroine and some cool concepts. While it took time for me to become immersed in the story, it was worth the time.

Recommended Age: 14+, although comprehension might be difficult for readers less experienced with Science Fiction
Language: Mild
Violence: Minor
Sex: Referenced but without detail: rape is referenced; sex with animals is referenced; homosexuality is commonplace

Sound like a novel you want to try? Here's your link:
THE HIGHEST FRONTIER

Know No Fear

KNOW NO FEAR marks the 19th book of the Horus Heresy series. For those of you who are unaware, Warhammer 40,000 is a table top game set in the 41st millennia: in the grim darkness of the future there is only war. Anyway Warhammer 40,000 is epic in the truest sense of the word, a science fiction universe with a slathering of dark fantasy thrown in for good measure. For a table top game it has a surprisingly rich and detailed history due to contributions from some great fiction authors. The greatest of those authors is without a doubt, Dan Abnett and the greatest event in the history of the game's whole shared-world fiction is the Horus Heresy.

All the above was written for the benefit of those unfortunate enough never to have heard of WH40K. That said, KNOW NO FEAR is NOT a good starting place for the uninitiated. If you have an interest in genetically enhanced superhuman warriors battling against all manner of vicious foes then I suggest you start with HORUS RISING, the first book in the Horus Heresy and a wonderful way to test the waters and see if this is a series for you.

KNOW NO FEAR takes place shortly after the initial hostilities of the Heresy have kicked off. The XIII space marine legion, the Ultramarines, are caught unaware by a supposed ally-turned- traitor during muster for a campaign against the orks in another sector. The betrayal is so complete that within hours a majority of the loyalist fleet has been destroyed and the planet of Calth is wreathed in flames with casualties accumulating at an alarming rate. KNOW NO FEAR is all about one of the greatest battles of the Horus Heresy, a fight to the death between the stalwart Ultramarines and the fanatical Word Bearers.

To date the Horus Heresy books have fallen into three categories. There are the plot and character development pieces, sparse with action and focused primarily on displaying the character of the players of this galaxy spanning high speed chess match. Then of course there are the novels that bask in hyper violence as only space marines can deliver. These books are so affectionately described as bolter-porn. Last there are the truly great pieces of fiction that transcend the "shared-world" stigma, novels with deep characters, engaging plots, and furious action sequences. Unfortunately KNOW NO FEAR does not fall into this final category, rather it would probably best be described as bolter-porn.

Don't get me wrong though, this does not have to be a bad thing, especially if you've been keeping up with the series. The last few Horus Heresy novels have been lackluster character pieces. I love the new focus on storytelling inherent in the series but it seems as though great action has taken a backseat to overbearing attempts at "literary" writing. KNOW NO FEAR is a much needed change of pace, delivering on the action with one of the highest body counts since the earliest days of the series as the two largest space marine legions duke it out. Abnett writes battle scenes with real talent, showing all the levels of a military engagement from high command strategy to small unit tactical. There is a little something for every adrenaline junkie, from cold void boarding action to siege warfare and even some space marine on daemon melee.

The reason why this is a good book instead of a great one is simple. It lacks character depth. The book starts out great, Abnett's prose is beautiful and striking from the get go and his unique approach to writing this specific novel was awesome. The pacing is brutal and chapters fly by. The POV is split up amongst a rather large cast of characters whose perspectives start just before the tragedy and tie up just after. This method is highly successful in portraying the awful series of events that take place and while I was reading I got a disaster movie vibe. Readers get a unique view of these superhuman warrior elite as spectators, victims of an insidious plot...at least until they get their bearings and fight back.

The problem with this, as successful as it is, is the lack of characterization. Unless you've been following the series very closely you are unlikely to be able to tell who most of these characters are or why they matter. There is no clear main protagonist because the cast is spread so far to get a wide glimpse of the carnage. Readers will be hard pressed to maintain tabs on each of the Ultramarines and as excited as I was to see Ventanus, Captain of the Troublesome Fourth he never shined as brightly as I'd hoped for.

One final complaint. Because of the analytical nature of the Ultramarines they use the terms "practical" and "theoretical" in conversation quite heavily. At first this seems like a neat quirk that can be attributed to their combat effective minds. Eventually though the dialogue does get a little grating. This is nowhere near as bad as Abnett's use of the phrase "wet-leopard-growl" in PROSPERO BURNS, but it can be irritating.

KNOW NO FEAR is a fun read, a must have for WH40K fans. There are some great cameos and even a little foreshadowing to the future of the series. Anyone interested can order the book now at the Black Library website where it has been released a whole month early.

Recommended Age: 14+
Language: Some, including fictional curse words
Violence: To the extreme. These are superhuman warriors created solely for the purpose of winning wars against the most despicable foes imaginable. And now they're having a go at each other.
Sex: None

Start from the beginning here:
HORUS RISING

Or, get the new one:
KNOW NO FEAR

Shadow's Lure

There is just something about assassin novels that I love. A while back when I read Jon Sprunk's SHADOW'S SON, I was immediately struck by how smooth the novel was, and how fun the main character was. Sprunk's first novel wasn't perfect, but it was loaded with promise.

As you all know by now, when it comes to judging new authors I use a slightly different measuring stick. With the first book I want to be pleasantly surprised. The second book is all about improvement. I'm happy to report (and very relieved, because Sprunk is a ridiculously nice guy with an even nicer wife) that Sprunk's second novel SHADOW'S LURE is better in nearly every way when compared to his first novel.

SHADOW'S LURE begins a very short time following the events of SHADOW'S SON. Our awesome assassin, Caim, is off in self-imposed exile attempting to figure out his past. With him, of course, is the ghost-like and gorgeous Kit whom only Caim can see. Josey is back as well, and most of her time is spent adjusting to being Empress.

The truly great parts of the novel all take place with Caim "on-screen". He is a terrific character who is as inwardly insecure as he is outwardly stone-cold awesome. I love assassin novels and stories because that typically means I will get tons of action. The body count of SHADOW'S LURE is high as Caim is caught up in a war between the normal world and the Shadow. I judge action pretty hard, because I've read some pretty amazing action sequences over the years. If an author doesn't do action well, I will call attention to that fact every time. Sprunk does action well. It is smooth like the assassin this book contains, and deliciously brutal.

Josey's parts are the weakest of the novel. Caim makes all the side characters around him better, and since he isn't around, Josey's sections lag. What's more is that there is a little bit of Elayne from The Wheel of Time in here--something that strikes fear into the core of my soul. If you notice this like I did, have no fear, Josey does grow out of it by the end of the novel, but I was panicking for a bit there. Overall her character was just "OK" to me. Not bad, but she didn't excel either. Can you guess what one of my main hopes for book 3 is?

What I loved about SHADOW'S LURE was the scope of the story. It was still focused on the individual characters, but events were so much bigger than in book one. For the most part Sprunk handled it all very well, and I'm impressed with his growth in ability from SHADOW'S SON to SHADOW'S LURE.

I still could, however, see where he has room for marked improvement.

The first 200 pages of the novel are tight and effortlessly paced. I utterly devoured them. The next 100 pages after that lagged, and seemed more scattered than the beautifully woven first half of the novel. There were clarity issues regarding who is present in certain scenes--to make a video game reference, it was like the novel had "texture pop-in", but in terms of character rather than scenery. Suddenly a character was there talking when I thought the main characters were alone. It's distracting.

The final 100 pages, including ending, are pretty awesome all the way around. We get some great resolution as well as a solid direction for each of the main characters. I love the little twist thrown in at the end to make the love story not so tidy. Sprunk also gets rid of a metaphorical crutch Caim was using while making him more powerful. Even the villain was way better than the one from the first novel. The setting is way more realized.

As you can see, I liked SHADOW'S LURE a lot. It was a fun, fast, action-packed novel that left me eager to read the follow-up. There is a lot riding on book 3, SHADOW'S MASTER, and SHADOW'S LURE has given me a ton of confidence in Sprunk's writing ability. I absolutely can't wait.

Recommended Age: 17+
Language: It's odd. There are times when Sprunk seems to purposely and noticeably avoid swearing, then others where it comes out super strong.
Violence: It's a novel about an assassin. Did you think it was going to be about bunnies and rainbows? Of course it is insanely violent.
Sex: Towards the beginning of the novel there was actually a fairly strong scene. An orgy-like scene that goes on for just a tad. It isn't overly descriptive, but it stood out since there isn't any in the entire rest of the novel.

These novels are terrific. If you like assassin themed novels, you should be reading Jon Sprunk. If you like assassin themed video games, you should be reading Jon Sprunk.

SHADOW'S SON
SHADOW'S LURE

Elitist Classics: Childhood's End

Aliens have invaded Earth. At first glance, the Overlords' motives appear altruistic—they eradicate war, poverty, and sickness—but some men question their motives, and the aliens aren't exactly forthcoming.

Written in 1953, CHILDHOOD'S END by Arthur C. Clarke shows us the results of an alien-imposed utopia on mankind. With this book Clarke asks a lot of questions—he answers some of them with possible solutions of his own, but leaves others open that are worth exploring. First contact with aliens is a common theme in Science Fiction, from Wells' WAR OF THE WORLDS, to Star Trek, and other, more current fiction. Clarke's version imagines mankind as a small, but still meaningful, part of the universe.

CHILDHOOD'S END is written in Clarke's straightforward style, with subtle humor, and a keen eye for human behavior, but it's still dated in spots. Since it addresses thought-provoking societal issues, the pace is slower than Clarke's more action-based books such as the fun RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA (also worth reading) or the strange 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.

Still in print, it's always available at libraries, and there's even an Audible version. It's well worth your time to pick up this novel and see where our a lot of our current SF novels have come from.

Recommended Age: 12+
Language: None
Violence: None
Sex: None