Review: The Lyre Thief by Jennifer Fallon
Reviews / March 14, 2016

The Lyre Thief by Jennifer Fallon is packed full of all my fantasy favorites. Assassins, thieves, undesirable arranged marriages, scandalous secrets, switched identities, bandits, magic. Oh, and dragons. It checks lots of boxes, and honestly, it does it all quite well. I quickly became engrossed with the characters. The story is told through numerous POVs, but all are done well and all provide clearer insight to the overall picture. Quickly you can identify a pair of sisters as being central to the story. Rakaia is a princess of Fardohnya, which on the surface sounds like a pretty good life. Until you learn the real details. She is one of scores of daughters of the King who has a harem, so lots of wives, lots of children. In addition to his wives, the harem also includes court’esa. These are men and women who are experts in the art of sexual pleasure. Somehow of out of all the children born to the King from his legitimate wives, only one of them is a son. The rest? Daughters that he can use for political or economic advantage as they are traded off as wives to secure some advantage for the king. Pretty much, they are just a commodity he…

Review: Snakewood by Adrian Selby
Reviews / March 11, 2016

Once they were a band of mercenaries who shook the pillars of the world through cunning, alchemical brews, and cold steel. Whoever met their price won. Now, their glory days behind them, scattered to the wind, and their genius leader in hiding, they are being hunted down and eliminated one by one. A lifetime of enemies has its own price. Now that description made Snakewood one of my most anticipated reads of 2016.  I mean, how could a grimdark fan not love the idea of a story about past their prime mercenaries dealing with unknown enemies who are trying to slaughter them for past wrongs.  At least, I couldn’t help myself, so I was overjoyed when I received an advanced reading copy of this one. And, as promised, this story opens with the surviving members of “Kailen’s Twenty” (a legendary band of mercenaries) discovering they are being hunted down one by one.  Why they are being killed is both a mystery to them and to the reader, but one which the author attempts to slowly reveal by adding “historical” chapters regarding the group’s past endeavors  — as relayed by different people. Through this interchange between past and present, the survivors of Kailen’s…

Review: The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu
Reviews / March 10, 2016

As much as I wanted to love The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, I have to be honest in that I only thought it was okay. I mean, I can see how these stories established a reputation for Ken Liu, and there’s no doubt that some of them are indeed award worthy, but I didn’t connect with nearly as many as I would have liked. Before you start getting disappointed, however, let me say that I blame the format, not necessarily the content. I’ve always been drawn to doorstopper fantasy novels like The Grace of Kings, where we have six or seven hundred pages to immerse ourselves in the world, so it’s not a surprise that many of these stories fell flat or felt a little shallow. Having said all that, I’d be remiss if I didn’t heap some praise on those stories that did work for me. “State Change” hooked me from the start, with a young woman’s strange obsession with freezers, glaciers, and ice cubes. Rina lives in a world where our souls physically manifest as small items that we must keep close at all times, which is easy enough if your soul is a rock or a…

Review: The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle
Reviews / March 9, 2016

It wasn’t until I had finished reading The Ballad of Black Tom that I found out it was based on an H.P. Lovecraft short story called The Horror at Red Hook and that several of the characters have the same names. This would have been more interesting to me had I actually read Lovecraft’s story first, but I did enjoy going back afterwards and looking up the details (thank God for Wikipedia!). What’s much more interesting about LaValle’s take on it is that he’s turned Lovecraft’s famous xenophobia on its head and written a story about one man’s experiences with racism in 1920s New York City. I mean, think about it: an African-American author, writing a story that deals with racism, based on a story by a famous racist. It sounds crazy, but LaValle pulls it off, although I have to say I was more interested in the mechanics of what he was trying to do, rather than the story itself, which to me lacked cohesion. The Lovecraft elements are subtle, and unless you’re familiar with the story it’s based upon, you may not notice them at all until the end. What did scream “Lovecraft” to me, however, was the unsettling feeling that runs…

Review: Arkwright by Allen Steele
Reviews / March 8, 2016

Rarely can a book captivate me so strongly so quickly, but Arkwright hooked me from the very first page. I literally could not put the book aside until I got through the first section. It is a story of vision, aspiration, determination, progress, changing the world and it’s expectations and it is also the story of family, friendships and loyalties. It is a story of genre and evolution that includes the loss of the previous masters of genre as time goes by as readers move on and start to neglect reading the household names of generations past. This story takes generations to tell, but after a gripping opening, it starts with a character named Kate reading incomplete memoirs left by her recently deceased Grandfather. Kate was not close to him, I’m not sure she new much about him beyond the fact that he was a very successful Science Fiction author whose series launched TV spinoffs, catapulting him to genre’s most recognized authors. The same facts anyone of her generation would know about him. The memoirs illustrate the life and aspirations of a young aspiring author named Nathan Arkwright. It outlines his life, his friends, his successes and then most importantly, his dreams and goals….

Review: The Last Days of Magic by Mark Tompkins
Reviews / March 7, 2016

Diving into a debut novel is always a bit of a gamble, but it can also prove exciting and extremely rewarding—especially when a book ends up surprising me or blowing away all my expectations. These are the moments I live for and this is exactly what I felt with Mark Tompkin’s The Last Days of Magic, a breathtaking historical fantasy saga about mysticism and mythology through the ages. I am absolutely in love with this novel and its premise, which posits that magic is real but merely forgotten, suppressed and denied. Today we dismiss the tales of the Sidhe as nothing but folklore and legend, but just a few centuries ago humans co-existed with all kinds of supernatural creatures, and in no other place was that bond stronger than in Ireland, the last bastion of magic against the encroaching powers of the Vatican Church. Much of island’s strength comes from the protection of its patron deity the Morrígna, a goddess whose three aspects come together to rule over the Celts and the Sidhe. One of Her aspects resides in the Otherworld as a source of power, while the other two—known as Aisling and Anya—are always reborn in the mortal realm…

Review: The Silver Tide by Jen Williams
Reviews / March 4, 2016

Just finished reading The Silver Tide by Jen Williams.  This series is so good that it makes me want to cry because it’s now come to an end.  Literally, I could cry right now!  Enough about me though, to the book with a small cautionary note about spoilers for the first two books in the series. This book is so good, I absolutely loved it.  It’s jam packed with so many goodies that I’m sure I developed an ache in my jaw from just gaping ridiculously whilst reading.  Not only do we get to return to this fantastic world and spend time with, frankly, three of my most favourite characters from fantasy at the moment, but we go on some totally crazy adventures. At the start of the story the Black Feather Three are going to be enlisted by none other than Devinia the Red.  Their mission: to delve, boldly I might say, into the heart of the cursed Island of Euriale (otherwise known as the Island of the Gods) where hopefully heaps of treasure lies waiting for their little grabby hands.  Why, you may ask, is this treasure left lying around?  Well, nobody who wandered into the jungles of…

Review: Speak by Louisa Hall
Reviews / March 3, 2016

Speak by Louisa Hall is a very unusual book.  I admit that my curiosity was piqued by the cover and I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I picked it up.  As it is I found this a totally fascinating and thought provoking read.  It certainly isn’t an action book and I’ll just make that perfectly clear from the outset but in spite of the lack of any action this was a compelling read that drew me in. This is a combination of five stories that intertwine.  I’ve heard comparisons to Cloud Atlas and whilst I can see where those comparisons are coming from this is a story that stands on it’s own two feet.  Each story is told in a certain style, so we have a diary, letters, court transcripts, a memoir and also direct communication to us through one of the characters. The main threads are told as follows: We follow a young woman called Mary whose family take the decision to uproot and relocate to America during the 1660s.  Mary’s tale is told in the form of a diary.  It’s a somewhat sad tale but told in a fascinating voice and a style that I really…

Review: A Song for No Man’s Land by Andy Remic
Reviews / March 2, 2016

A Song for No Man’s Land is a brutal and bloody triumph for Andy Remic. The portrayal of Robert Jones (British soldier in World War I) a gripping snapshot of the true horrors of war after all illusions of glory and honor are stripped away, leaving behind only the ghastly reality. And, somehow, while capturing the spirit of Tommies in the trenches, Mr. Remic was also able to imbue this tale with fantastical elements; mysterious beings appearing to our protagonist during the most horrible moments; their connection to him explained in numerous flashbacks. All of these diverse elements meshing together perfectly to tell a most compelling and riveting story. From page one, Robert Jones is the focus of the narrative; his past life as a womanizer, alcoholic, and dedicated debaucher slipping away as he prepares to ship out to the front lines of the Great War in France. Naturally, though, he is out drowning his fears one last time in his favorite vices. At least, he attempts to before some of his “mistakes” find him, leading to a confrontation he survives only due to the unexpected intervention of one Charlie Bainbridge. This huge, mountain of a man becoming Robert’s steadfast…

Review: Fire Touched by Patricia Briggs
Reviews / March 1, 2016

Coyote shifter Mercy Thompson has faced some truly formidable foes in the past, ranging from vampires to fae assassins and even a god….not to mention Adam’s horrible ex-wife Christy. Somehow Mercy always survives, even if it’s just by the skin of her teeth. But the latest threat is one that Mercy alone cannot hope to beat alone: the Grey Lords, the elders of the fae community. The Grey Lords are tired of living as second-class citizens when they’re actually apex predators, and they’re finally ready to show the world just how powerful they can be. Mercy, Adam, and all their allies will need to work together if they want to stop a war… Although I’ve enjoyed all the books in the Mercy Thompson series, I couldn’t help but feel that the last installment, NIGHT BROKEN, was something of a filler novel. Not a whole lot happened in that book generally, and even less occurred to drive the series’ plot arc forward. But Patricia Briggs is in fine form with FIRE TOUCHED, juggling characters both old and new with the increasingly complex inter-species politics that makes up the foundation of the series. A new species or supernatural type is introduced in…