Best of 2010

2010 was an interesting year for novels. Honestly it was a struggle to put together a limited list that contained our favorites for the year. Depending on the type of reader you are, this could have been the best year in recent memory, or even a disappointment. Below you will find our list of best reads of 2010 (in no particular order). Keep in mind that this is based upon US releases only, so there may be a few omitted titles. Also keep in mind that Steve cheats and uses full releases by authors rather than just single titles.


BEST OF 2010--These were our collective favorite reads of the year.

GEOSYNCHRON by David Louis Edelman
James Barclay's novels -- ELFSORROW and SHADOWHEART
SWORDS & DARK MAGIC edited by Jonathan Strahan and Lou Anders
MR. MONSTER by Dan Wells
TWELVE by Jasper Kent
SHADES OF MILK AND HONEY by Mary Robinette Kowal
BLACKOUT and ALL CLEAR by Connie Willis
NIGHTS OF VILLJAMUR by Mark Charan Newton

HONORABLE MENTIONS--any other year these would have made our "Best Of" list:

HABITATION OF THE BLESSED by Catherynne M. Valente
ANTIPHON by Ken Scholes
ROT & RUIN by Jonathan Maberry
THE WAY OF KINGS by Brandon Sanderson
THE NEW DEAD edited by Christopher Golden
TERMINAL WORLD by Alastair Reynolds
THE DUST OF DREAMS by Steven Erikson

Is there stuff missing here? Probably. A bunch of UK only releases (Chris Wooding we love you!). We had to cut it off somewhere. What about you? What are your picks of the year?



Yep. These books happened. Don't feel insulted if we hated a book you loved, we just have different taste than you do.



COMING IN 2011...

2011 is shaping up to be amazing. Just browsing Tor's and Pyr's catalogs has our hearts pitter-pattering with excitement. We've already read some of these...yep we are rubbing it in. Check this out:

New Chris Wooding
THE SCARAB PATH by Adrian Tchaikovsky
THE CRIPPLED GOD by Steven Erikson
EMBASSYTOWN by China Mieville
THE DRAGON'S PATH by Daniel Abraham
BLUE REMEMBERED EARTH by Alastair Reynolds
THE HEROES by Joe Abercrombie
WISE MAN'S FEAR by Patrick Rothfuss
A MEMORY OF LIGHT by Sanderson/Jordan (could get pushed to 2012)
RIVER MARKED by Patricia Briggs
THE INHERITANCE by Robin Hobb (hopefully more like her early writing)
MISTBORN: THE ALLOY OF LAW by Brandon Sanderson
VORTEX by Robert Charles Wilson
DEATHLESS by Catherynne M. Valente

That's just scratching the surface...

The Habitation of the Blessed

Let's get this out of the way right at the beginning. Catherynne M. Valente is made of magic. She is composed entirely of some strange magical awesome that I would love to have just a fraction of. Are we clear on that? Good. Let's move on.

This particular brand of awesome is THE HABITATION OF THE BLESSED, Volume One of A Dirge for Prester John. The work is based loosely on the legends of Prester John--stories told between the 12th and 17th centuries in Europe. These legends told of a Christian King ruling a lost land full of countless wonders. From this Catherynne M. Valente weaves her own unique narrative to bring those legends and that man to life.

The story is told from the PoV of Brother Hiob, a missionary in search of John's fabled kingdom. What he finds is a tree that bears fruit in the shape of books—readable, fascinating books that wither away and spoil like fruit. He is allowed only three books and spends the whole of the novel reading them (one hour at a time so as not to let one sit and spoil and be lost forever). The three books are John's own tale of his adventures, the tale of John's blemmye wife (a blemmye being a humanoid creature that carries their face on their chest) and the stories of Imtithal, nanny to the royal family.

If that sounds confusing, don't worry too hard. It IS confusing. It's also absolutely wonderful. You are taken on a strange journey through this magical land just as Brother Hiob is. The stories unfold and slowly, you, the reader, build up this world with its weird and strange inhabitants. The stories weave in and out of each other like a tapestry, often character from one story commingling with the others. Slowly, through the telling of all three stories a greater tale emerges. I don't want to give it away, I'll let you read it for yourself.

The strong points for this book come in the imagination and beautiful prose of the book. This in not the type of whiz-bang magic that feels cheap and flashy. This is real magic here. It is strange, dark, gritty and completely mesmerizing. On top of that Valente's language is second to none. I know from Valente's blog that she doesn't necessarily like it when her prose is compared to poetry, as if she's pulling a fast one on you (Ha, you thought you were going to read a novel and I got you to read poetry!) The only thing is, her writing IS so beautiful and poetic that it makes most other books look like crap. If other books are a pencil drawing then Valente's work is a masterpiece of oils, an explosion of color. Valente is an artist and her words are her medium. There is definitely a story there to follow with fun and interesting characters, but often times I would have to sit back and reread a sentence (and possible reread it again) because it was so beautiful.

However, this is not a book that proceeds at a breakneck pace. The book actually feels very even throughout, but that pacing isn’t like what you’d expect from, say, a Sword & Sorcery tale. It doesn't build up to some large climax at the end. The good news is that it starts off beautiful and ends the same way. The tale is told like a real life, there are ups and downs, but it's not resolved neatly in a nice package at the end. There are writers who write all about the ending, the destination at the end. Valente writes about the journey and the moments in between. To those expecting a strong easily identifiable story arch, you won't find it here—remember, this is just Volume One. To be honest I'm still not sure where the overall story is going. It follows some fun characters, talks about a fascinating world, but I really have no clue what's going to happen next or what the end goal will be.

And you know what, I don't care. All I know is that I'll be there for every step of the journey.

This book is magically delicious. I pick up Valente's work as soon as it comes out and so should you. This is something special. Let's all go buy her books so she can keep writing more.

Age Recommendation:
16+ for a bit of sexual reference
Language: A bit here and there, but not much.
Violence: Not much to speak of.
Sex: A bit. One of the main characters, a female, has eyes on her breasts and it's mentioned quite a bit. A few other small scenes as well.

Echo City

A while back I read and reviewed a collection of short stories titled SWORDS & DARK MAGIC (read the review here). Hopefully after reading that review you went out and grabbed a copy, because it was fantastic. One of the surprise stories contained in that anthology was The Deification of Dal Bamore by Tim Lebbon. It was a dark, grim and violent tale that impressed me and left me with the desire to read more of Lebbon’s work.

Set in the same created world as Dal Bamore, Lebbon’s new novel, ECHO CITY took some of the interesting concepts from the short story and twisted them even more. The short answer is that ECHO CITY is a great read…for a certain kind of reader.

Have you read China Miéville’s PERDIDO STREET STATION? It is one of those novels that people generally seem to love or hate. You should know by now that Miéville is one of my favorite authors, with PERDIDO being high on my list of favorite novels. What does Miéville have to do with Tim Lebbon’s ECHO CITY? If there is one book (or series) that ECHO CITY is comparable to, it is Miéville’s creation of New Crobuzon. After reading that last sentence, you will probably already know if you want to pick up a copy of ECHO CITY.

The premise of ECHO CITY is that this sprawling city is surrounded by a vast and poisonous desert. Echo City is in a constant state of decay, but it has nowhere to go for aide. It is a veritable prison. Things start getting wild when someone arrives from beyond the deserts, apparently immune to that poisonous environment.

Immediately from reading descriptions of the Echo City, Miéville’s work comes to mind. It’s not really fair to compare anything to Miéville (whether you like him or not, his writing is incredible), but the comparisons are almost mandatory. The dingy, gritty, stagnated Echo City is realized in such an evocative way that it could be New Crobuzon’s sister city. Within this city the science of “chopping” is prevalent. The inhabitants of Echo City can be chopped and have extra appendages added, or really anything else for that matter. Some become so altered after being chopped that they aren’t even human. Anything biological can be chopped and altered, and it gives Lebbon’s setting and created society virtually absolute freedom. Yeah, it is very similar to New Crobuzon’s Remade. The comparisons are natural.

Really once one gets past the setting similarities, the differences are key. First is Lebbon’s writing. His approach, especially in the beginning of the novel, is more akin to Horror than Fantasy. ECHO CITY isn’t quite as dense in trying to come across as overly-literary. This serves to increase the pacing of the novel without actually adding faster-paced elements to the story. The scope of the story also seems bigger than that of PERDIDO. There is so much history alluded to in ECHO CITY that I can’t help but wish for novels set in those time periods.

The main difference is the characters. To say Lebbon’s characters or Miéville’s are better shouldn’t really enter the conversation beyond this mention. Apples and oranges. They all feel distinct, and all have hefty flaws. The majority of the novel follows Peer, a political exile. She is the one who discovers the man from beyond the deserts who she Rufus. Gorham is the head of the organization that has been waiting and watching for an event that is supposed to change everything about Echo City. He is also Peer’s former lover. Nadielle is the Baker. She is the most gifted person in the city at chopping, and is the only person that can stop a rising calamity. She is Gorham’s new lover. All the characters are great, with Nadielle being my personal favorite.

This book wasn’t perfect. The middle of the novel lags with little movement towards the end goals of the novel. I’ve continually compared ECHO CITY to PERDIDO, and that goes for content as well. Sex, violence and language. Lebbon seems like he uses it as more shock value than other authors perhaps due to completely and purposefully avoiding the “questionable” content in other sections of the novel. Lastly, the “big bad” of the novel doesn’t get enough screen time. It was the perfect time for Lebbon to really outdo himself, but for some reason he holds back. It’s made up for by a near perfect end-piece that bookends the prologue, but man, that lack of power behind the “big-bad” really hurt the story.

In the end, ECHO CITY is a very good novel. It makes me want to go back and pick up some of his faster-paced stuff to see how it compares. Will you like it? Well, if you like Miéville’s work, you should like ECHO CITY. If you hate Miéville’s work, there’s still a chance that Lebbon will grab you with his more Horror-ish writing style, but I'm not going to promise you anything. I found ECHO CITY to be well worth the read, and we hope you give Lebbon a shot.

Recommended Age: 18+
Language: There are moments with a ton, and then moments where Lebbon completely avoids using it. The inconsistency actually bothered me a bit.
Violence: Yeah. And Lebbon is GREAT at describing violence and the grotesque.
Sex: Talked about in detail a few times. If Miéville’s scenes in PERDIDO bothered you, these might a tad bit more.

The Bards of Bone Plain

A bard is more than he or she first appears. Certainly the beautiful music, impressive memory, and courtly manners are part of the trade. But there is magic in music, and in words--even the everyday variety.

THE BARDS OF BONE PLAIN is Patricia A. McKillip's latest creation. You may recognize her name for her award winning THE FORGOTTEN BEASTS OF ELD or her Riddler-Master Trilogy, among others. Her stories are subtle, beautiful, and full of magic. But the real magic in BARDS is McKillip's prose, which is lyric and enjoyable; even after decades of delighting her fans McKillip hasn't lost her touch.

BARDS tells two stories: they both happen in the same country, yet occur hundreds of years apart. There's the present day, an almost steampunk-type world where the youngest princess Beatrice practices archeology and drives around in her steam-powered car, much to the chagrin of her overbearing mother. Phelan is a brilliant musician in his final year at the bardic school; however he lacks ambition and plans a final paper that will write itself...but it turns into a mystery he is compelled to unravel. Zoe is the heir apparent to the king's bard, with the voice of an angel and a sense of the real power of music.

Then in the past, hundred of years ago, there's the mysterious story of the harpist Nairn, who is untrained but gifted. He's discovered by the king's bard and finds himself helplessly drawn into Declan's circle of influence. Declan founds his own bardic school on the plain outside the capital city, rebuilding the tumble-down tower there, and drawing in new students, including a hesitant Nairn who only stays because one of the female students catches his eye.

When the king's bard retires and a competition is announced to choose the successor, an interloper appears to vie for the position, hypnotizing everyone with his magnetic personality and magical voice. The stories are told in parallel: Nairn in the past and Zoe-Phelan-Beatrice in the present must stop the interloper from winning and thereby assuming the powerful position of Royal Bard.

The characters are quirky without being gimmicky and are influenced as much by their family and environment as by their own personalities. Yet with so many present-day PoV characters there just isn't enough time to tell more of their story, and as a result they lack depth and interest. Fortunately Nairn is more multi-dimensional and steals the show--this is his story, after all--with the antagonist Declan a close second. The interlopers Welkin and Kelda leave too many questions to be more than a mystery.

I really liked the concept that everyday words, or words from the Circle of Days, have power. These words are ancient, and mostly forgotten, but even a word like 'bread' or 'laundry' has a sense of magic. The magic is subtle and the mystery is revealed slowly throughout the plot, but it's an important element of how music contains magic, and how it affects those who understand it. As a result the story isn't as much about the music itself as it's about the magic inherent in it. The other mystery to be unraveled is not only where the Bone Plain is, but also what it is, and what it has to do with Nairn's tragic history. Academia has spent centuries hypothesising, and as Phelan writes his final paper I enjoyed watching him discover that the Bone Plain affects him more personally than he would have thought possible.

The BARDS OF BONE PLAIN was a delightful book to read. It's tightly written and straightforward...but perhaps too much so, as the mystery unravels predictably and there's not enough time to fully explore the characters. While it's a good addition to her body of work, it's not her best--but BARD is still worth reading, since even an average McKillip book is still better than most.

Recommended Age: 14+
Language: None.
Violence: References to blood and war, but even that's mild.
Sex: Referred to but nothing shown.

The Walking Dead - Book 1

It is natural that various art mediums look to each other for inspiration. The movie industry has been looking to novels for, well, ever. TV looks to movies and novels. Graphic novels, lately, has become to go-to source for new visual material. While watching AMC’s Mad Men and Breaking Bad, new ads began showing for a new show. A show about zombies. The Walking Dead. It looked fantastic.

The first season of the show came and went in a six episode spurt. On the whole it was quite good, though it was lacking fairly heavily in the pacing department. That’s not what this review is going to talk about (though you absolutely should watch the series!). What this TV series did was direct all sorts of attention to the comic series that inspired the TV show. There was a blog post on Jonathan Maberry’s blog back in November talking about zombies (THE NEW DEAD Zombie Authors Speak Out). In it, there were several mentions of the Robert Kirkman comic series THE WALKING DEAD. If all those authors in that blog post like it, then it needs to be read.

This series has been going on for a while now, and it is easy to see why. After reading THE WALKING DEAD: BOOK ONE (a hardback collection of the first 12 issues of the series), we were struck by the very human element in it. After all, what are zombies if not a reminder to what we become without our humanity?

The art in the first 6 issues is tremendous. We follow Rick Grimes as he wakes from a coma into a world that has suffered a zombie apocalypse. Just the surface detail there is very 28 Days Later, but it diverges from there quickly. Rick is looking for his family. He is trying to grasp his new reality. He encounters fellow survivors and makes his way through zombie infested Atlanta. The story and art are gripping.

One of the main reasons we don’t read too many comics or graphic novels is due to the poor dialogue. Typically you get panel after panel of people looking shocked and amazed while they repeat over and over, “What?!” It gets old. Or the characters will say and do completely ridiculous things—things that stand out because of the art medium used and because there are so few words. Even the great graphic novels have these issues (WATCHMEN, for example). THE WALKING DEAD isn’t immune to these issues. It has them in abundance. But even with them, the story and the characters help overcome the shortcomings.

A brief comparison to the TV show: the show does a great job of taking the important parts of the comic series and using them effectively. The sections where Rick & Co. cover themselves in zombie guts are terrific. There are dozens of little things that make the comic series great that were used by the TV series (many of which we can’t get detailed about without spoilers). However, as graphic as the TV show can get due to their amazing make-up skills (seriously…they need an award), the comic still manages to be even more shocking. The end of the first 6-issue arc is fantastic and shocking while the TV series covering the same material isn’t quite as good, but shocking in a different way.

With that comparison out of the way, we were left with all new (to us) material to read—namely the second half of BOOK ONE.

The first thing that jumped out was the change in art. Chris Adlard took over for Tony Moore starting at issue #7, and the difference is jarring. Mainly the problems come about with character recognition. Since the entire series in is black-and-white, it is extremely important for characters to look very different—otherwise they start blending together. This is the case frequently in the last 6 issues compiled in this hardback collection. As the pages go by we became more accustomed to the change in style, but we still had problems. These art clarity problems begin a domino effect. It becomes harder to keep track of the large cast (a cast that grows and shrinks dramatically with the casual flip of a page), as well as their races. Dialogue becomes harder to follow. But again, this all becomes manageable as the reader grows used to the new art style.

As for the story itself? It is slow. Much of the danger present in the first six issues of the collection dissipates in the in the last six. This isn’t to say it didn’t hold our attention, but it WAS slow. Really it isn’t until the final events on the farm they encounter, and the last two pages of the collection that things suddenly are thrust back into chaos. Awesomeness indeed.

What struck us was the bleakness of this first volume. Everything is harsh. No character can truly stay happy of free of sorrow for long. Characters die with no regard or how important they were up until their demise.

THE WALKING DEAD: BOOK ONE is a fantastic read. It clocks in at over 300 pages, and contains a bonus short story as well as a ton of other extras. We aren’t gonna lie, it’s pricey. $35 for the hardback. Is it work getting? We think so (as evidenced by the subsequent purchases we made of the following two hardback volumes). Look, we don’t read comics ever. They just don’t interest us. However THE WALKING DEAD has become an exception. The strength of the story has us hooked.

In the coming months we’ll be reading and reviewing each of the hardback collections (currently numbered at six). There may be spoilers from prior issues in our reviews. We want to treat these as almost more of a discussion beginner rather than just a straight review. We encourage you to read along with us. If the hardback is slightly too pricey, you can also pick up trade paperback editions that come in six-issue collections (Links: Vol. 1 and Vol. 2). Obviously this review covered the first two trade publications. We don’t plan of reviewing graphic novels with any frequency. THE WALKING DEAD is our exception.

Recommended Age: 17 and up.
Language: Tons. Not to mention a liberal does of sexism mixed with the profanity by certain limited characters.
Violence: Zombies eat people.
Sex: Mentioned fairly frequently as survivors begin pairing off. No nudity is ever shown.

Up Jim River

You know what I’m getting tired of? Book covers that have absolutely nothing to do with the content of the book. I get the whole “first impression” bit. I understand the very essential concept of getting a potential buyer to just pick up the book. I also know that publishing books is a business. But honestly? The amount of false advertising present on book covers today just ticks me off. Then again, I have no idea what kind of cover might have persuaded me to pick this book up in the first place had it had only dealt with the concepts presented therein, and not been entirely based on a metaphor of the story instead. So, a quandary for you: False-advertising? Or no sales? Option number three, if you ask me.

UP JIM RIVER starts out quite interesting, even though each character has about four names and breaks into complicated dialectal speech seemingly at random. Méarana is the daughter of a semi-famous Hound named Bridget Ban that has gone missing. Naturally, she’s out to find her mom, but she needs some help because the Hounds (kind of the big-bad FBI of the science-fictional world Flynn has developed) have given up the search and, well, she just needs some help. Thus, she enlists the aid of Donovan, an old drunk that used to work with her mother on occasion, but whom has recently been imbued with multiple personalities via the work of some very nasty people. These personalities of his each have a name/title, have unique control over several faculties of Donovan’s body, and all speak through different fonts on the page. Bold, brackets, script, italics, a couple others. There are seven of them present in total but for the most part they all sound just about the same, so it’s tough to distinguish between any particular one of them. I found it was best to just take their thoughts at face value and move on. Too confusing, otherwise. At length, our two adventurers set of across the galaxy to find their missing Hound/mother and make Méarana feel whole again.

Flynn’s writing is just grand here. Poetic, fluid, descriptive. Awesome, in a word--it was one of the reasons why I decided to give this book a try over the others I saw on the shelf--but I found that the more I read of it, the less I liked it. I realized that I just wasn’t sinking into the story. In fact, it felt more like an acid trip than anything else (err...from what I've been told...). Floating along, experiencing the world and seeing the characters interact. It was only when I’d pull out and come back from la-la land that I could realize exactly what was going on in the story and consequently put two and two together. As such, the world is fairly fleshed-out, the characters well-done, but the actual progression of the storyline difficult (at best) to follow.

Essentially, the story reads like a mystery novel minus the process of finding the clues, set in a story bent on world-building the heck out of the galaxy. The first 80% of the book deals with the two protagonists (which each have their bundle of flip-flopping point-of-view time) as they move from one world to the next, finding the next clue (notice there’s no mention of the "finding process" here) as to where Bridget Ban might have gone, or what she was doing before she disappeared. There’s a nice, large info-dump about each planet and its history and its inhabitants (and sometimes, strangely enough, their eating habits) before finally moving into what’s actually happening to the people we’re trying to care about. They find the next clue, though about half the time one character or the other just comes back with it after wandering around on a hunch, and then move on. Kind of anti-climactic that way.

There was one point in the book that I actually started understanding what this was all, possibly, supposed to be about. This happened within about 20 pages, in a single section inside the last 10% of the book. We finally get something that starts to make sense, that starts to look exciting. An interesting question is raised--which is what any story, science-fictional or not, should do--but then it’s all left behind, and the climax of the anti-climactic story is left to wallow in its anti-climactic stagnancy. At least it was consistent.

There were a number of things that I didn’t understand going into this book. The first was the fact that this is apparently a sequel to THE JANUARY DANCER (not mentioned anywhere on the book, but the ship January Dancer is mentioned a few times in the book, and I’m no dummy). The second was that it was possible to find writing that was so well put-together that it could actually inhibit the story experience. First time for everything, I guess. The third and final thing that I didn’t understand was just how far out on the made-up word scale a science fiction book could go. (And here I will give you a not-so-humble reminder of xkcd's opinion on this matter.) Of course the author is sure to point out all his work to future-mangle actual words from present-day languages, so these aren’t really made up words. Whatever.

So what do I think about this one?

It’s science fiction. Nuff said.

Recommended age: 14+, though why you’d want to bore any of them with this is beyond me
Language: Maybe five words worth
Violence: A few people die and there are some implicit threats spoken
Sex: Little, mediocre, fertility analogies to a planet

Michael Flynn’s LiveJournal

The Cardinal's Blades

Come on. Historical France. Musketeers. Dragons. Magic. Spies. You can't tell us you don't want to read a book with all this awesomeness in it. Fortunately for everyone, all these things are in Pierre Pevel's novel THE CARDINAL'S BLADES, and for the most part this is a great read.

THE CARDINAL'S BLADES takes place during an alternate 17th century Paris. Paris (and therefore all of France) is under threat from Spain's Black Claw cult. Depending on who you are, one of the main hooks of this novel deals with the various incarnations of dragons. From small pet-like dragonnets, to wyvern mounts, to humanoid-looking dracs...if dragons are your thing, this novel attempts to make them a big deal. Along with the promise of musketeers, adventure and sword-play there is a lot that looks good on paper.

The idea here is Cardinal Richelieu, in an effort to counter the threats to France, recalls the Cardinal's Blades back into service. Disbanded five years earlier after a failed mission, the Blades are immediately put back into their prior lives of espionage and adventure.

Did you catch all those not-so-subtle references that not everything worked here? Pevel attempts to evoke the feeling of Dumas while simultaneously adding a speculative fiction element. In places it works, but overall that atmosphere is lacking. This could be taken as a good thing depending on your tastes, but we could have used more setting, political and character detail to really highlight the fantastic ideas here. Yes this is the first in a series, so we'll cut it some slack, but we feel like it was a missed opportunity.

As we alluded to, the dragons are supposed to be everywhere. And yet they never really capture and scene that they are in. Instead of, "Wow, that was an amazing way to incorporate the dragons here!" it was, "Oh. So the only real important dragons we see are like carrier pigeons or look just like humans. Whatever." In short, the speculative elements of the novel (dragons, magic, etc.) weren't stressed enough. They were well integrated, but never really felt like a focal-point or an any real relevance.

All that said, the novel is still extremely fun. The translation (from French to English) really kept a foreign feel. The adventure was fantastic, the sword-play fun, and the characters were well rounded. A small nit-pick on character: it would have been nice to have a character list that included their various titles. The number of characters and PoVs is quite large for what is actually a very short novel. There are times when they would all start to mesh together. On the whole, however, they were all pretty great. From their pasts that are alluded to, to the humor they manage to bring to each situation, they are all pretty well done. We aren't going to get into details on each character (again, there are tons for how small the novel is).

The thing is, THE CARDINAL'S BLADES really shines when it ends. It is the epilogue that really makes you sit a little straighter and pay attention. It essentially promises the reader that the next novel is going to be crazy. Hopefully Pevel makes good on that promise.

If you are looking for a fun-filled adventure novel, THE CARDINAL'S BLADES is worth picking up. The mix of alternate history with speculative elements is a great change of pace from the dense Epic Fantasy novels you are using for door-stops. Give it a try.

Recommended Age: 16 and up.
Language: A little. Strong in some places but entirely absent in others.
Violence: Lot's of sword-play, but this isn't a bloody novel at all.
Sex: Alluded to, but never shown.


Miles Vorkosigan is reliable. Reliably clever. Reliably entertaining. Reliable at finding trouble. But does reliability equal excellence? For Miles it does because he's reliably awesome, but for Lois McMaster Bujold, who can and has written better, CRYOBURN is merely better-than-average entertainment.

Something's rotten on the planet Kibou-diani, and Miles is trying to sniff out the secret. Known for their use of cryonics to preserve the ill or aged until medicine advances enough for a cure, the crybobanks pretty much run the planet and are looking to expand and provide services for a new population on another planet. But there's more to it than a business making money, and Miles is determined to get to the bottom of it--even if it means breaking a few rules and stretching beyond his own diplomatic immunity.

The story opens with our rascally Miles lost in underground cryobanks after a botched kidnapping. He eventually escapes and is taken in by the young Jin, a homeless boy, who has a problem that Miles is just itching to solve.

And thus sets off the usual mayhem that surrounds Miles' long career as a mercenary and now as problem-solving auditor for Barrayar's Emperor Gregor.

Bujold is one of the best speculative fiction writers out there, she can do it all: prose, plot, characterization, dialogue, science, setting. And yet. After reading this I just didn't get the buzz I usually do when I read her stuff. Sure it's a fun story, with subplots and subtlety, interesting science, fascinating characters....hmm, I don't make it sound very bad, do I? Perhaps she's spoiled me too much in the past with her brilliant CORDELIA'S HONOR, THE WARRIOR'S APPRENTICE, and etc. But she probably should have let her fans continue to clamor for more Miles Vorkosigan books and just let the series end its already long and glorious run, especially if it meant dragging it out with a random side-story like this.

And yet. It's still a good book by any standard. What's nice about the series is that even though we follow many of the same characters throughout, we watch them grow and change; events alter the characters and we see those consequences. In CRYOBURN that doesn't happen, which is one reason why it falls short of the excellence of previous novels in the series. Perhaps Bujold was just looking for some good, cathartic fun, in which case she succeeds here.

For Bujold, the science in the Vorkosigan series is about the morality of life and death (no technical over-my-head showing off for the sake of it), and these dilemmas often drive the story. In CRYOBURN it's about the problems inherent in a society that relies on being frozen indefinitely until there's a cure for death. It's this speculation and focused view of these dilemmas that give her science a human aspect with more immediacy.

CRYBOBURN is fast-paced, because that's the only pace Miles knows. In this novel, however, the PoV is not exclusively Miles: we experience things from armsman Roic and then also young Jin. We get to see Miles from outside eyes, and understand how much Miles affects the people he comes in contact with. The ending gets a little bogged down with explanations and wrapping up the various characters' stories. But it's satisfying to see everything explode and then watch the pieces fall into place as they land.

Once it's ended, we get a 'second' ending with a mind-blowing revelation that begs for sequels. This second ending feels tacked on, so long-time Vorkosigan readers may be frustrated that the subject is given so little storyline, and new readers won't feel the full impact.

Certainly you can read this book and enjoy it without having read the previous ones. But, really, you should read CORDELIA'S HONOR and THE WARRIOR'S APPRENTICE to begin to understand this big universe Bujold has crafted.

Recommended Age: 12+
Language: A handful of instances.
Violence: Mild to moderate; but the medical procedures are more graphic than any violence. It's a YA friendly book, and having a 12-year-old PoV character may give it appeal to a wider audience.
Sex: None.

Enjoy some of her books (or parts of) for free online at her website including the first ten chapters of THE WARRIOR'S APPRENTICE where we meet Miles for the first time.