Book Reviews for August
The Burning Dark (2014) by Adam Christopher
You learn as the main character learns and the scary bits often outweigh the learning bits. The character is cool - a starship hero set out to pasture to monitor the decommissioning of a space station orbiting a purple anomaly star. The plot is similar to the movie, The Ring, where when you watch the video, you die. In this instance, something came out of subspace and it is not friendly and people who come into contact with the strangeness disappear. When the captain tries to find out what happened to his friends and crew, their lives have been erased just like his record. It does all tie together, even though in the beginning it is difficult to see how, but the author does a great job of making it seem real. I liked it a lot and read it really fast - but only during the day.
Jinx's Magic (2014) by Sage Blackwood
I loved the first one (Jinx from earlier this year) and loved this one too, even though it is a kid's book. Jinx grows more in this book as he is forced by Simon Magus to go to Samara and enroll in knowledge school to learn KnIP (Knowledge Is Power) and find something Simon desperately needs to break the Bonemaster's spell on his life force. The moral quandaries Jinx confronts would make most adults squirm; but while Jinx's moral compass never wavers, the author does a great job of not turning Jinx into a goody-two-shoes. He does finally learn something useful, rescues Sophie from prison and opens a portal to the Urwald while trying to escape. Reven makes it clear why he is considered the Terror and Simon again becomes the prisoner of the Bonemaster. There is a good ending to this one, but now I have to wait for the next installment. This is a great series for kids and even adults will love it.
The Nethergrim (2014) by Matthew Jobin
When children start disappearing in the town of Moorvale, the return of the Nethergrim is assured. Only three people know what happened when the heroes sent to dispatch the evil return; but now it appears they didn't dispatch it entirely. Edmund and a few companions travel to find and kill it, but this may be more than they can handle if the three greatest heroes of the land couldn't manage it. Edmund just wants to be a wizard, but when he finds out what that entails, it may be too late to change his mind. The characters were great and while the setup is a little longer than you might want, it sets up the character's backstories and gives some serious foreshadowing. The end seems to be the end but there is room for sequels or stories set elsewhere in this world. I'll definitely be reading them, even though this is a kid's book.
No Hero (2014) by Jonathan Wood
If you liked, Ben Aaronivitch's Rivers of London series you'll like this one too. It has cops out of their depth, magic and an alien invasion that puts the entire universe at risk. The characters are fun and quirky while still being serious about the gravity of the situation. London police detective, Arthur Wallace's hero is Kurt Russell, but Arthur is no hero and he reminds us of that often. The author isn't afraid of killing off major characters and the red herrings lead us in many directions other than the one that gives us the answer and when we get there, I totally hadn't seen that twist coming and I love when that happens. There is lots of room for sequels as the back of the book tells me that Yesterday's Hero is coming in September 2014 and Anti-Hero is coming in March 2015.
Unwrapped Sky (2014) by Rjurik Davidson
This book has been getting a lot of hype for its unusual take on mythology - it has minotaurs; but they play such a small part in the story that their history feels wasted. The author could have used satyrs or aliens or dolphins and it would have had the same impact on the story. The post-apocalyptic setting is the basis for everything that happens - the alien overlords want things to remain the same, but the human servant class/revolutionaries want things to change for the better and are willing to fight to make that happen. Kata is a philosopher-assassin, (it's never made clear what that is, other than errand-girl for her boss) who kills minotaurs to pay off her debt. Her new assignment is to infiltrate the revolutionaries and I hoped the action would pick up but the characters never seem to lift themselves off the page no matter how much I loved the setting and the idea of the plot. However, it's been a week since I finished it and I can't get it out of my head, so this one is a sneaky-sleeper and I like it much more now than when I first finished it - maybe because all the history and mythology bits have to percolate in your mind a little.
Artemis Awakening (2014) by Jane Lindskold
Post-apocalyptic scifi is what you get here with great characters and a plot that leaves room for a sequel, but still has a complete ending. Artemis has been hidden for so long, it is a mystery world; but when one historian crashes there trying to be the first to reveal it to the galaxy he's not sure what he will find. Rescued by a gorgeous woman from the terminal loss of his shuttle in a series of landslides, they must make their way to the largest town to try to find help for him from The Old One Who Is Young, who may not be human. There are double-crosses, romantic triangles, stolen children and Griffin's search for a way off the planet. This could easily become a great series along the lines of Catherine Asaro's Ruby Empire series, which also has star-spanning empires and great characters. Asaro is still the only writer to win both a Nebula Award for science fiction and a RITA Award for romance for the same novel (Quantum Rose ), but if this turns into a series, it could be a great candidate for that to happen again.
Queen of Dark Things (2014) by C. Robert Cargill
The end of the first book Dreams and Shadows left me in a fury. I needed to know what was going to happen with Colby after the loss of his best friend, Ewan, but I had to wait a whole year to find out, but this one gave me everything I wanted and more. We find the wizard Colby wallowing in guilt, we meet the avatar for the city of Austin and a young Australian girl caught in the web of demons and blaming Colby for putting her there. It will take all of Colby's wizard skills and a ton of tricky tact and diplomacy to make a bargain with demons and djinn that will see him live through this. The ending is masterfully contrived to tie up every loose end and the big question is - can Coyote be trusted? Read it and find out.
The Martian (2014) by Andy Weir
This book states that everything in it is theoretically possible with the technology we have now, so this could be considered more fiction-about-science than science-fiction, but I still finished it in about 5 hours as I couldn't stop reading. An astronaut gets left on Mars when a storm forces the rest of his team to evacuate. NASA and the flight crew think he is dead, so he has to find a way to let NASA know he isn't and then he has to survive until they can get a ship back there to rescue him, which will be at least a year, maybe two. What he does to let them know and how he survives with going crazy is well within our present technological limits - but sometimes it isn't pretty. You will never look at potatoes the same way again. I loved the ending and whatever else Andy Weir writes, I'll read.
The Pillars of Sand (2014) by Mark T. Barnes
47North is an offshoot company of Amazon, but don't let that stop you from enjoying it. This is the finale to the Echoes of Empire trilogy that began with The Garden of Stones and The Obsidian Heart. While this is the end of this trilogy, it still leaves many unanswered questions that I hope will create enough interest for the author to carry the series forward, perhaps from a different character's storyline. I did like how this story arc ended and there was much to learn about the history of the world and of Indris and the families, but it was very nicely spread out over the 450 pages. The battle at the end was, somewhat, a foregone conclusion, but it was fascinating how Indris, Mari and their companions brought it all together. The worldbuilding was unique and intense and kept me hooked from the beginning to the end. As soon as I got each book, it went right to the top of my to-be-read pile as I couldn't wait to find out what happens. Once you start, you'll see what I mean; this is epic fantasy at its most epic, yet still tightly plotted with few wasted words and great character development.
Blood Red (2014) by Mercedes Lackey
Ninth in the Elementary Masters series, this story takes us to Germany and the surrounding area as Rosamund hunts shapeshifters and vampires. Rosa is an earth master - but not the nurturing kind, she is a hunter and the first female Hunt Master because of her exceptional skills and abilities. She's a strong character so I was concerned when, as part of her training, she has to be turned into a fashion plate, but then never uses what she learns of society to uncover evil. I didn't see the point other than to let us know Rosa is really pretty. I liked the setting and the new characters and the climax was very well-written, but the end fizzled for me as I don't feel I got a good resolution. The series is still ongoing so we may see more of Rosa later and her story will continue.
Kinslayer (2013) by Jay Kristoff
Kinslayer is second in the Lotus War series after Stormdancer and Yukiko has just killed the Shogun, wounded her lover, Hiro, saved the Guild mech-boy, Kin and is prepared to lead the rebellion; but things never go as planned and this book is no different. The Kenning is making her sick and unable to control her powers she sets off an earthquake that lets more oni loose. Sent to the north with Buruu to learn more about her power, she leaves the rebellion in the hands of Daichi and the hidden rebels in the city. We meet new very interesting characters and revisit some of our favorites. Kristoff isn't squeamish about killing off my favorite characters so I was not prepared for the story to go in a direction I didn't see coming. The kicker ending of the first book was downplayed here and we don't learn much new about the lotus fields, but I'm sure they will play a bigger part in book three, Endsinger, out soon. I'm already on the waiting list for this one because of the awesome discovery at the end of this book.
The Severed Streets (2014) by Paul Cornell
London Falling was so good, I had to have the next one. This is a little more involved with the magic underlying London and how today's police forces are totally un-equipped to handle something so out of the ordinary, poorly defined and not subject to the niceties of police protocol and procedure. The characters are more intricately nuanced here with hidden motives and lying, self-centered actions and not telling each the whole truth but they still get the job done. Lots of loose ends left at the end of this one so I'm hoping there will be more books in the series. These two books were different in tone and atmosphere than Aaronovitch's Rivers of London series, but the magic was there infusing London with that certain something that lets you know you're not alone.
Afterparty (2014) by Daryl Gregory
This was a fast read and an interesting take on the future with the ability to make any designer drug on your 3D printer available to anyone with a miniscule chemistry background. The characters were very well-developed with cool quirks, in-depth background histories and storylines that were nicely integrated with the other characters' storylines. It kept me guessing all the way to the end with every new reveal adding coolness to the story. I like this author a lot and will have to go find his other books, the first one: Pandemonium, and the second one: The Devil's Alphabet (nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award and named one of the best books of 2009 by Publisher's Weekly).
Blackdog (2011) by K. V. Johansen
This was a great story. The timeline was long, but allowed for in-depth character growth and gave us enough time for plot setup. At 546 pages, the ending didn't feel rushed and was given the full treatment it deserved. Only one goddess in this world has chosen to incarnate as a human for a full lifecycle and be reborn anew upon her death. This gives Attalissa both some strengths and some weaknesses, but with her protector, the Blackdog, many of those weaknesses are offset by having an immortal protector that can watch through the times of her childhood where she is the weakest. This cycle a wizard arrives at their town and conquers it and Attalissa barely escapes. The Blackdog is not so lucky and must take over another human body in order to live but this is not one of Attalissa's chosen. Who is the wizard, what does he want, why start with Attalissa? This sets up the rest of the story, by showing how Attalissa grows outside of the confined areas of the temple and with only the guidance of a good man and the protection of the Blackdog. I loved this story when it first came out in 2011 and since K.V. Johansen's new book, The Leopard, is out already, I thought a re-read of this one was timely.
Cibola Burn (2014) by James S.A. Corey
The fourth novel in the Expanse series, Cibola Burn gives us what happens when ships start to go through the Ring, settling planets on their own and "things" start to wake up that have been dormant for over a billion years. This story shows the colonists and the corporations that they don't know everything and can't control everything. We meet Miller, Holden, Naomi, Amos and a host of other great secondary characters that bring the story to life with a very real sense of danger and a smidge of "this planet hates us." Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, team- writing as Corey, have been signed for more titles in this series and while the end of this book leads us to believe we've seen the end of Miller, I hope it's not true.
Shattering the Ley (2014) by Joshua Palmatier
While I found the initial setup to be similar to his earlier series, The Throne of Amenkor, with a young girl who is coming into her powers as the main protagonist, the worldbuilding was sufficiently different, that I found this very entertaining. The idea of using ley lines as a power source is not new, but what Palmatier does with it is very different from the approach that Kim Harrison takes with The Hollows series or that Kat Richardson takes with the Greywalker series. Several great supporting characters compete for time, but when they all come together, you can see that their stories were integral to the plot resolution. The book is the first in a series, so be prepared for an ending that makes you want to read the next one.
California Bones (2014) by Greg Van Eekhout
Indiana Jones meets the wizard Harry Dresden in a Mission Impossible story or The Italian Job with gondolas and motorboats. Daniel Blackland is an osteomancer, a magician who ingests bones from extinct magic creatures, such as the sphinx and the basilisk, to fuel his power in an alternate history, Los Angeles. Daniel's father made a sword with his magical essence infused within and when it gets captured by the Hierarch, Daniel and his team of magic misfits has to get it back or become nothing more than a tool of the Hierarch. The characters are cool, funny and tragic and the end leaves room for a much-needed sequel. Why hasn't this been optioned for a movie? I would definitely go see it.
American Craftsmen (2014) by Tom Doyle
Another book in the style of Weston Ochse's Seal Team 666 or Chris Farnsworth's The President's Vampire, this debut novel by Tom Doyle gives us magic users in the military called Craftsmen. There are a variety of them, the Puritans, the Pagans and the Left Hand (the bad guys in this story). Captain Dale Morton, US Army, leads a pack of magicians fighting evil, even when that evil is one of his ancestors. The character development is good and the supporting characters are integral to the plot. When a mission goes wrong and Morton gets possessed, he needs to find the traitor in the organization. I loved the snarky banter Morton and his nemesis Major Endicott play on as they learn to respect each other and work for the common good. This is worldbuilding that I would like to see more of and that is a good thing because this is the first in a new series, so I have lots to look forward to.
This Case is Gonna Kill Me (2012) by Phillipa Bornikova
Vampire lawyers and werewolf security companies make practicing law more dangerous than ever. When an inheritance dispute threatens to dislodge werewolves from control of the biggest security firm in the country, newly graduated human lawyer Linnet Ellery finds herself under attack. Her boss has been killed by a rogue werewolf, she's been attacked and if she's not careful, on top of all that she may lose her job. The legal bits were funny and yet spot-on for how lawyers operate. The vampire and werewolf subplots gave us just enough danger to keep us interested and the number of beautiful people, vampires and elves made Linnet that much more interesting. This sets us up for the next in the series (Box Office Poison, 2013) and it looks to be as much fun as this one.
Terms of Enlistment (2013) by Marko Kloos
After the first 100 pages, I still didn't know the main character well and the story hadn't actually started yet. It does build a lot of support for what happens later but it moves so slow that when you get to the last 100 pages, it feels really rushed. It's obvious the author knows his military stuff because that is perfectly written, although a little boring for anyone already familiar with the military. There isn't a lot of secondary character development because (spoiler alert) most of them get killed off as the book progresses. Worldbuilding is also weak as the beginning is set in a slum on earth and the rest is set in various tightly controlled environments such as military barracks or space ships. That last 100 pages is pretty cool and mostly makes up for the sad state of the first 200 pages. I have the second one on my pile so maybe it gets better.