Ancillary Justice

Thousands of years in the future humans have created an inter-planetary empire, and they've done it by using powerful starships to take over human and alien planets. While the starship officers are human, the crew is comprised of ancillaries, people who resisted empire annexation of their home planets, taken into custody and stored for future use. An ancillary's mind and identity is wiped when they're hooked into the ship's central AI--in essence, an ancillary is the ship.

Breq used to be an ancillary to the starship Justice of Toren, but is the only survivor. The separation from her ship is sometimes disorienting for her, but at the same time what she learned while an ancillary has made her deadly. And she plans to use that ability to seek revenge for what was taken, even from the Lord of the Radch herself.

Ann Leckie takes her time telling Breq's story in ANCILLARY JUSTICE. We're told in parallel the current story (the quest) and past events when Breq was an ancillary (the why for the quest). The result is a slow narrative as Leckie attempts to reveal piece by piece the whole sordid story and the politics surrounding it. The prose is clean with the feel of Le Guin or other writers of that era, without being overbearing. The writing doesn't draw attention to itself, but I still found myself stepping back to study what Leckie was doing because it seemed so effortless yet evocative.

While the second half of the book moves quicker that the first, it's still slow, and that will put off more action-oriented science fiction readers. The plot is straightforward, but it's the deliberate pace of the story that will deceive you into thinking it's more complicated than it really is. So what's the problem causing this tepid pacing? It's Breq's navel-gazing.

ANCILLARY JUSTICE tries to be a space opera, but first-person narration focuses the story so pin-point small on the PoV narrator that there's not a lot of room left to help readers understand the true scope of events. Don't get me wrong, I was utterly fascinated with Breq's story, what she was, or rather what she had been, and how that defines her. How she misses what she once was and doesn't seem to wonder who she was before she was an ancillary. But it is this very character-oriented story that will frustrate readers because Leckie hints that there is so much more, but can't give it to us because of the limitations of the narrative.

And what else is there? There are many different worlds. There are aliens. There are AI ships and an ever-expanding empire--and don't forget the ancillaries. There's the Lord of the Radch, who has cloned herself in order to rule said empire, and is in effect immortal...yet also at war with herself. There is a sort-of caste system. There is some gender bending (the Radch language uses "she" for male and female) that drove me crazy but at the same time was also oddly liberating--it kept me focused on what made these people tick beyond their gender, which can influence how we see even fictional characters.

There's early buzz for this book, putting it on the short-list for awards season. Certainly ANCILLARY JUSTICE was different in a lot of good ways, and written by a lady with serious writing chops. But at the same time you can't compare her to a Lois McMaster Bujold or an Ian M. Banks, obviously, because Leckie is starting out and Bujold/Banks (and others too numerous to mention here) are firmly established in the genre, and have even broached the same issues Leckie has. But where Leckie is scratching the surface, Bujold/Banks have been digging in the trenches for years and have shown us consistently the wonder and awe of the universe. Whether Leckie deserves the buzz is yet to be seen, because right now ANCILLARY JUSTICE isn't enough to stand on its own.

Recommended Age: 16+ more for comprehension than content
Language: Maybe five instances
Violence: A handful of instances, and while blood is referenced there is little detail
Sex: None

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Luna Masterson can see demons. Unfortunately most other folks can't, so she's concerned that everyone thinks she's crazy. Like her brother, Seth, who is patiently skeptical. She lives with him and her one-year-old niece so she can help out after his wife abandons them. Luna does her best to not shake things up so she can be there for her family.

Until she meets Reed Taylor, who talks to something that people can't see...only it's not a demon (yep, it turns out that angels do exist!). Luna and Reed's mutual interest is apparent from the start, and he asks her out. But in true Luna style she messes up their first date; of course, she can blame the demons for that one.

The fight with the demon turns out to be game changing because it "marks" her, which is like sticking a homing beacon on her, only she can't get rid of it. Now every demon she happens across has it out for her, and she begins to realize that there's a reason the stakes have changed, and she knows she needs to find out why or else her very soul is at risk.

NAMELESS is the first book in a new Urban Fantasy series called The Bone Angel Trilogy by Mercedes M. Yardley. The story is told from Luna's funny (seriously, I lol'd) and witty first-person PoV. It's her narrative that carries the story as she tries to figure out not only what's going on, but also her place in a world where demons influence people, but 99.9% of the population doesn't see any of it or even believe it's happening. She hasn't quite figured out her role in all of this--it doesn't help that she's inherited this ability from a father who never really understood his purpose, either.

And therein lies the rub. She doesn't know why she sees demons. She can do some sort of thing that protects a house from them, but we never learn how. Does this mean she has magic? Or is it as simple as pouring salt around the foundation? She can beat up the demons, but I'm not sure how she can (she uses her fists, knives, and general cat-like fury), or even what happens to them when she's successful. Demons talk to her, and most want to possess her, while others sort of float around, and yet others want to "help"--which pretty much only involves warning her that bad things are going to happen. She doesn't seem much interested in solving her lack of education in all things demon. There are the beginnings of world-building--demon hierarchy, demons can only come in a house when invited, etc--but it falls flat because so much is left unexplained. The concept for the book is there, but the story still felt full of holes, like it's a glorified outline without the detail to give it depth and interest.

The plot is a simple one that moves forward in a straightforward and predictable fashion clear up to the end. The pacing and flow suffers from the occasional hiccup in scene movement and jumps in time--the short, choppy chapters don't help this problem. The novel reads more like an introduction to Luna and her relationship with Reed than a set-up to a trilogy. I'm not clear what Yardley was trying to accomplish with this first book, but since the book read fast and I enjoyed Luna's voice, I'm willing to try book two and see where the story goes.

Recommended Age: 14+
Language: A handful
Violence: A fair amount of blood and other unpleasant imagery
Sex: A reference to an affair but without detail

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The Tale of Telsharu

One hundred years ago Telsharu was imprisoned after a failed attempt to kill the emperor. Telsharu still lives, and in the opening pages of THE TALE OF TELSHARU, he secures his escape from prison in order to finish the quest he began all those years ago.

Xansul, the youngest son of a noble house, secretly leads a group of rebels who struggle for freedom against a tyrannical emperor. He risks his own life and the future of his freedom fighters when one night he sneaks onto the palace grounds to test the security.

ShianMai, the emperor's youngest daughter, wants only to gain her father's favor, and works via politics to bring down the rebels by exposing their sympathizers and leadership. But her naiveté puts herself and those she loves in danger.

Daryun and Aisina operate their own martial arts training school in the mountains far north of the Imperial City, but even that remoteness doesn't shield Daryun from his duty to aid the empire when the famed prisoner Telsharu escapes.

Sure TELSHARU borrows from well-known stories like The Scarlet Pimpernel, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, and even Kung-Fu Panda--but then Mechling and Stubbs turn those stories on their heads, taking the familiar and breathing into it new life. It's a good thing, too, because the opening prologue and chapters felt a little quaint and even silly, the prose too self-aware (even by the end when I was used to the prose's rhythm, I still stumbled over some of the phrasing), the setting rather ordinary and full of unfamiliar words. But what will grab you here are the characters and the very difficult circumstances in which they find themselves.

Told in a rotating third-person PoV between Daryun, Aisina, Xansul, ShianMai, and Telsharu, we come to appreciate their distinct personalities: Daryun's humble strength, Aisinia's determination, Xansul's sense of justice, and ShianMai's innocence. These are their strengths and their weaknesses. I enjoyed each couple's relationships with each other, how they support each other, and become better people by knowing the other--it is these characters who will carry me to the sequel. Even the villainous Telsharu's actions and motivations were choreographed with an empathetic hand.

The setting is a pretty standard Sho-gun Era meets Ancient China. However, the authors weave more details into the story about martial arts itself, the different disciplines, how warriors incorporate it into their own lives. This knowledge isn't tacked on, it's an integral part of the story. Even the way demons are introduced into the story feels seamless and natural. The fights had a sense of detail about how true fights worked, and as a result they felt real and visceral, even if flashy at times (not necessarily a bad thing).

The pace is consistent throughout the novel, the plot moving forward at a steady clip, with enough twists and tension to suck you into what at first seems a borrowed story, but eventually evolves into something more. It didn't go where I expected it to, and by the exciting end I was drawn into the disastrous choices the main characters make--for good reasons or for bad--and the equally disastrous consequences. I'm interested in seeing how the Tales of the Seventh Empire series continues.

Recommended Age: 14+, it would actually be a great book for young teen boys who like ninjas and whose parents want to keep their books clean
Language: None
Violence: A fair amount scattered throughout; blood, death, torture, but lacking grisly detail
Sex: None

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The sequel recently came out:


Virus Thirteen

James and his wife Linda are scientists at the famous biotech company GeneFirm, where they've engineered a gene therapy that will eradicate cancer as we know it. But the world's population may not get the chance to enjoy a cancer-free future when a deadly supervirus outbreak becomes a world-wide pandemic.

Pat is paid a visit by agents of The Department of Homeland Health Care (HHC) to inform him that his BMI over 30 has qualified him for a mandatory "health retreat" where he will learn to curb his caloric intake as well as explore the benefits of regular exercise. The retreat ends up being as horrific as he expects; but the ray of light is the exotic co-ed Modest, who's inherited her mother's gene-manipulated pink hair and cat eyes.

Joshua Alan Parry starts VIRUS THIRTEEN at a sprint, and the story's pace ramps up as we're carried along as James tries to discover what's really going on, as Pat tries to survive the rigors of the retreat, as the HHC agents go about their job--all clear up to the explosive ending. But despite the pace, the "thriller" label, and the mere 310 page length, I took forever to read this book. Here's why:

I just didn't care.

Maybe it was the flat characters. James--even though he's the main character--wasn't more than a superficial supposedly brilliant scientist with a beautiful wife and smart kids. Pat was the fat guy who...wait, I'm not sure what his purpose was in this book other than to show how horrible the new government bureaucracy is. There's the HHC agents Mac and Marnoy who provide an odd sort of comic relief. There are various other characters we slip into the minds of. All shallow.

Maybe it was the omniscient PoV narrative that flitted between characters within the scene. At first it was okay, but the last couple of chapters caused a severe case of whiplash.  The prose was easy enough on the eyes, but the descriptions were clumsy, including the awkward cliched metaphors.

Maybe it was the simple plot and predictable ending. The science is interesting at a basic level, but it never really fleshes out beyond the idea. Not to mention the inconsistencies and flaws in the narrative (brain surgery but walking and having sex the next day; etc), so many things are left unexplained. Maybe I didn't care because it was all these things together that made this story forgettable.

Recommended Age: 15+
Language: Scattered throughout
Violence: Some blood and death, but not gruesome
Sex: Referenced and brief scenes

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Sold for Endless Rue

Captured as a slave while a child, Laura escapes and finds a new life in the home of a mountain healer and midwife. Clever and industrious, Laura learns her new profession so well that her adoptive mother, Crescia, sends her to Solerno's famed medical school so she can become a physician and bring her worldly learning back to the midwife's humble cottage.

Laura works hard to be accepted among her male peers--this is thirteenth century Italy, after all, so that's no easy task--but her medical brilliance is impossible to ignore. However, having lived a sheltered life with Crescia, Laura finds herself unprepared when she falls in love with another student, and makes a choice that changes the rest of her life.

SOLD FOR ENDLESS RUE is a retelling of the Rapunzel story, but there's no magic. In fact, SOLD treats the fairytale as though it symbolizes the everyday human experience. Let me explain, and even though you know the Rapunzel story, I'll try not to spoil Robins' retelling for you.

Told via the women (and a little by a man), SOLD is the story of women's experience with love, motherhood, profession, and heartache. Laura's family was killed by slavers, but with Crescia's help she overcomes her fears. Not that Laura is weak, she is far from it; in fact she can be rather single-minded, to her detriment. Agnesa is the young, innocent bride of a favorable union of mercer houses. She looks up to the educated medica Laura, and seeks her friendship and medical advice in conceiving a much-wanted child. Beita is Laura's young adopted daughter, willing to please, but also curious about the world around her. Her mother wants her to be accepted into the medical school, but as Beita grows to womanhood she comes to understand that her shortcomings may disappoint her mother.

With the limitations of a short book and three distinct PoV characters it was hard to get very deep into their personalities; even if what we were shown was interesting, it still felt like only an introduction. Still, I liked Laura, Agnesa, and Bieta (and token PoV male Tibalt), I only wished there were more.

The setting was well-done, and it was easy to visualize the hills above Solerno, the city itself, and the people who lived there. The dialogue, details of everyday life, and even the people themselves added to the story that made the era come alive for me. The pacing was steady, and even though it doesn't move particularly fast, I found myself quickly engrossed in the story. SOLD is an easy book to read, Robins' prose is flawless and carries the story from scene to scene with grace and beauty.

Despite the quality of the writing, the novel isn't perfect. Rapunzel is not an easy story to work around, but Robins does her best to make sense of what the fairytale could have meant underneath the drama of long hair, a maiden in the tower, a handsome prince, and an ugly witch. Some readers may be disappointed by the story's simplicity, no magic, and lack of feeling like a fairytale. Despite the inherent tragedy of Rapunzel's story, the retelling has a sweet tone, and ultimately the theme is one of love and forgiveness.

Recommended Age: 17+
Language: None
Violence: Some peril and death, but relatively mild
Sex: Since there are three different love stories sex is referenced fairly frequently; there is one graphic scene and other less-detailed scenes; rape is referenced

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The Tyrant's Law

After having only very recently lauded praises on Mr. Abraham for a great middle book in his urban fantasy series (EBR review), I found it kind of humorous that I would now be writing a review for a great middle book in his epic fantasy series (no need to go anywhere for that review--you can just keep reading and find it presently). This guy keeps putting out quality books, and it's no surprise that this is yet another in his growing list of entries to our Books We Love.

THE TYRANT'S LAW is the third book of The Dagger and The Coin epic fantasy series by Daniel Abraham. Halfway done now and though it seems like there is so much left to go, there are only two books left to come. This book picks up where the previous one in the series, KING'S BLOOD (EBR review), left off,  and follows the same four characters.

Geder Palliako, Lord Regent of Imperial Antea is continuing his war against the fleeting goal of wide-spread peace and stability for the kingdom.  He's sending his armies and bands of his Spider Priests to bring one nation after another beneath the banner of the spider goddess, spreading himself far beyond the point of thin. Yet despite his success and power, his weakness and driving desire to find true friendship allow him to be shifted by the many winds that are blowing.

Beneath Geder's nose, living in the Antean capital city of Camnipol, Clara Kalliam has begun in earnest to try and manipulate the social and political strings with which she is so familiar and is yet now far-removed from after being ostracized from the court after her husband's assassination attempt on the Lord Regent.

Cithrin bel Sarcour has become an official apprentice of the Medean Bank and is sent to a far off city to work beneath the tutelage of its Magistra and learn how the bank manages its dealings. Yardem Hane accompanies her in the absence of Captain Marcus Wester, and for a time they believe that Geder's war will not reach them.  But they soon find they are wrong.

Marcus Wester accompanies Master Kit in his quest for a rumored poisoned sword in far-off Lyonea with which they mean to kill the goddess of the Spider Priests and terminate the domination that Master Kit is certain will otherwise come to pass.

Again, as in previous books of the series, character development is key to this story. It's just one of the reasons I loved the book so much. Abraham handles each of these stories with a deft hand, showing the shaping and formation of the people each of these characters is becoming. Cithrin, as she grows more into the woman that she's been pretending at for so long now, and in her fight against the inner demons of her past experiences and choices. Geder, as he is torn between wanting what is good and right for the future of Antea and handling the horrible weight and intoxicating power that comes with his position. He wants it all so badly, that it takes very little for those around him to manipulate him to their purposes. Clara, as she learns to control the world from within her new set of limitations and place in the Antean court. In a lesser-author's hands, these character changes could easily have come off feeling weak and contrived. But not here. There is a breath and life to these characters that makes it all just seem...right. This is how it would have happened had it been real.

Purely fiction? Says who?

Solid writing. Steady world-building. Great pacing. Each and every chapter accomplishes something important. All the boring parts of the story have been left out. Hooray! He gives us brick after sturdy brick in this wall, building to an ending that will change everything. I was completely unprepared for just how central Clara is becoming to the story. Or for what Captain Wester and Master Kit find in their travels. Or for the choice that Geder makes at the end that may very well begin the process of his eventual fall. Each piece of this puzzle elucidates more of what is really behind everything that has come before, all that is now, and all that will yet be. While along the way we learn just what The Dagger and The Coin really mean to this world that is painted vivid and replete with texture. 

This is fantasy how it is meant to be done, people. Take a word of advice from those that know. This is not a series to miss. Mr. Abraham is not an author to pass by. Buy his books. Be part of the reason that he gets to keep doing what he loves to do so that we can keep reading the stories that we love to read.

Recommended Age: 15+
Language: Not very much, but offerings from the full gamut are included.
Violence: There is a war going on, so it's discussed quite a bit, low levels of violence, no gore.
Sex: One high-level scene, general references, and some mild discussion.

And the links:


Abaddon's Gate

I swear, I don't have a man crush on Daniel Abraham. Neither does anyone else here at EBR...

...OK that isn't entirely true.

Look, the dude is awesome. Whether he's writing Urban Fantasy under the name of M.L.N. Hanover, or straight-up Fantasy as Daniel Abraham, he's equally good. Same goes for James S.A. Corey, which is the name for Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck working together while writing Science Fiction. I don't want to sound like I'm giving all the credit to Abraham for the works of James S.A. Corey. I'm not. Ty Franck is doing his part, and absolutely killing it. I mean...geez.

I'm gonna open up here. I just don't like Science Fiction that much. I keep trying, and trying, only to find the same things that bother me. Shallow characters. Over-reliance on neat technology. Assuming the reader has a PHD in Theoretical Physics. Ignoring basic Physics that even an idiot like me can see through.

The pair that makes up James S.A. Corey somehow understand my pain, and those that share it.

ABADDON'S GATE is the third novel in The Expanse, and while it has many of the issues of the typical middle book of a series, it is still far-and-away one of the best SF series on the market today.

This newest novel follows Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante as they join a massive flotilla going to investigate the gate opened by the protomolecule at the end of CALIBAN'S WAR. Before I go on, I have to warn anyone reading this:

DON'T READ THIS REVIEW IF YOU HAVEN'T READ THE 2ND BOOK IN THE SERIES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!(yes, extra "!'s" added for extreme emphasis)

That's your warning. Don't cry to me if you ignore it.

So yeah. Freaking Detective Miller is BACK!!! Kinda. Maybe. Is it actually him? That's a big part of the mystery of this book. Holden teaming up with a Miller that only he can see to figure out what the protomolecule was up to when it opened the gate. As is usual in the series, a whole separate group of PoV characters is introduced, who each have a huge role to play in the story.

This is where I had my biggest issues with the novel...though they really aren't that huge. By the end of each book in the series, I become used to the PoV characters outside of the crew to the Rocinante. It usually takes a while. So when they don't show up in the next novel, I lose a bit of that continuity. Same thing happened when I started ABADDON'S GATE. I just had a hard time with the new characters. Only this time I never really got over the newness of them. One seems to solely exist to show how religion and faith have progressed. The other to serve as a villain of sorts for much of the novel (though her agenda felt forced). I think my reactions are partly based on my brain saying, "Don't bother getting attached. They will be gone in the next novel anyway." Not gonna lie; to me it's a problem.

But aside from that, I don't really have much to complain about. In fact, one of those characters I'm bugged about still managed to bring in two of the elements I found most interesting in the novel: religion and faith. I'm a religious guy, and I tend to be bothered a bit by the casual dismissal of religion in 90% of SF novels. It isn't just that it isn't present, but that the authors seem to go out of their way to make it seem like anyone who does believe in any sort of religion as an idiot--including the reader. That isn't the case here in ABADDON'S GATE. Corey seems to take a realistic look at how religion and faith could continue to be a valid and inspiring parts of people's lives, regardless of how far in the future we are. The novel also has the characters tackling very hard religious issues. I have to hand it to the authors, and thank them. Thank you for not taking the easy way out.

And this is why I am so impressed by this novel, and all the others that Abraham writes. It's the attention to detail in all forms. I don't know what his or Franck's personal philosophies are. But I like that, regardless, they seem to be handling them all with respect and with care. Why is this important in storytelling? Because it makes every character that much more believable. Their varied fictional mindsets are real and distinct within the context of the story. The attention to detail here is what set this novel and series apart from all other SF.

Now, as to the story itself, and what is through the gate the protomolecule opens...well. Let's just say it opens this universe up infinitely. The series name "The Expanse" suddenly has more meaning than ever before. ABBADON'S GATE is, in essence, a transitional novel. The scale and the stakes have been increased dramatically. I can't wait to see where we go from here.

ABBADON'S GATE isn't perfect. That's OK. It still adds awesome stuff to, in my mind, the best on-going SF series out there right now.

Recommended Age: 16+
Profanity: Seems like it was more than usual.
Violence: This one was pretty violent in a few parts. As usual, it was handled extremely well.
Sex: Nothing detailed.

Here are your links. Buy them for yourself and all your friends:


Space Eldtritch II

Disclaimer: horror isn't a genre I enjoy. Really, in the slightest. I can count on one hand the number of horror movies I like. I've never read a horror anthology before, so needless to say, I wasn't terribly excited about reading SPACE ELDRITCH II: THE HAUNTED STARS. But I love Science Fiction so...what the heck.

I should lead with a note here, I did read SPACE ELDRITCH (the first anthology) for continuity's sake. This edition contains:

"A Darklight Call’d on the Long Last Night of the Soul" – Michaelbrent Collings
"Dead Waits Dreaming" – Larry Correia
"The Implant" – Robert J Defendi
"Plague Ship" – Steven L. Peck
"From Within the Walls" – Steven Diamond
"Space Opera: Episode Two—The Great Old One Strikes Back" – Michael R. Collings
"The Queen in Shadow" – David J. West
"The Humans in the Walls" – Eric James Stone
"Seed" – D.J. Butler
"Full Dark" – Nathan Shumate
"Fall of the Runewrought" – Howard Tayler

Those are some pretty good names (author-wise). So let's go over the highlights.

We'll start with "Fall of the Runewrought" by Howard Taylor. This is a continuation of Howard's story from the first SPACE ELDRITCH anthology (which I liked). I think the highlight for me here was that Howard has developed a consistent and interesting world. The use of magic runes to create new tech was a great blend of magic and technology and it didn't feel stale after the first story. The change from a single protagonist to a military-unit style storytelling was a different perspective on how his world has adjusted. I think this was the best story in the anthology. Hands down.

"The Implant" by Robert Defendi bothered me quite a bit. It wasn't poorly written or crafted, but I felt like it better belonged as a Warhammer 40k fiction than something original here. It had a lot in common with those stories, so if you like that, then you'll probably like this. Not a story in the plus column, but not necessarily because of Robert's writing. To me, the subject material wasn't what it needed to be.

"From Within the Walls" by our own Steven Diamond was my second favorite story outta the set. It was short, but interesting to read. It starts on a space station prison that operates with a lone "janitor" to take care of the maintenance. Things start to go bump in the night. There's voices and such, and our protagonist discovers some very interesting things. It's a little underdeveloped due to length. It could use some more...fleshing out (heh).

"The Queen in Shadow" by David J. West struggled to hold me. I almost put the book down during this time and walked away. The story treats the reader like they can't understand logical progression and everything needs to be explained to them. And in the greatest faux pas of horror storytelling, the protagonist is a colossal idiot. Just...dumb. I was actually rooting for the demise of several of the characters here.

"Dead Waits Dreaming" by Larry Correia is next. Larry normally writes urban fantasy (not too far removed from horror as is), and this was a little out of his realm. However, I think Larry delivered a strong effort and the story shows the craftsmanship in his writing strongly. This one I enjoyed.

Recommended Age: PG-13 minimum.
Language: Yuuup. Nothing horribly offensive, but there is some.
Violence: It's horror. Things die. Horrifically.
Sex: None that stands out.

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