Best of 2011

It was our New Year's Resolution for 2011 to make sure that our Best of 2011 post actually made it into 2011. And yeah, we totally nailed it! (Barely)

This year was just unreal. How do you pick the best books when there were so many freaking amazing ones? The answer?

Dart-board...........OK not really. Maybe. And like usual, we cheat if an author had more than one book out.

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BEST OF 2011
--These were our collective favorite reads of the year.

I DON'T WANT TO KILL YOU - Dan Wells
THE SCARAB PATH - Adrian Tchaikovsky
THIRTEEN YEARS LATER and THE THIRD SECTION - Jasper Kent
THE CRIPPLED GOD - Steven Erikson
VARIANT - Robison Wells
THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE CLOCKWORK MAN - Mark Hodder
AMONG OTHERS - Jo Walton
THE HEROES - Joe Abercrombie
THE DRAGON'S PATH and LEVIATHAN WAKES - Daniel Abraham, James S. A. Corey
DEMONSTORM and RAVENSOUL - James Barclay
EMBASSYTOWN - China Miéville
READY PLAYER ONE - Ernest Cline
HARD MAGIC and SPELLBOUND - Larry Correia
IRON JACKAL - Chris Wooding

HONORABLE MENTIONS--any other year these would have made our "Best Of" list (and that list is already crazy awesome and long!!!!!):

THE ALLOY OF LAW - Brandon Sanderson
STONEWIELDER - Ian C. Esslemont
THE SOUL MIRROR - Carol Berg
CHILDREN OF THE SKY - Vernor Vinge
THE GIRL WHO CIRCUMNAVIGATED FAIRYLAND IN A SHIP OF HER OWN MAKING and DEATHLESS - Catherynne M. Valente
WITH FATE CONSPIRE - Marie Brennan
DEADLINE by Mira Grant

Yeah...as you can see this year was just AMAZING. The books above are a mix of all the reviewers' various picks. We feel absolutely horrible for leaving off any other awesome books, but we had to cut it off somewhere.

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COMING IN 2012...


After the year we just had, you'd think we'd be jaded. No freaking way. 2012 is set to blow our (and therefore, your) minds!

REPUBLIC OF THIEVES by Scott Lynch (for real this time)
THE KING'S BLOOD by Daniel Abraham
CALIBAN'S WAR by James S. A. Corey
EXPEDITION TO THE MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON by Mark Hodder
BLUE REMEMBERED EARTH by Alastair Reynolds
THE SKYBOUND SEA by Sam Sykes
THE GAMES by Ted Kosmatka
FORGE OF DARKNESS by Steven Erikson
A MEMORY OF LIGHT by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
THE DAEMON PRISM by Carol Berg
A RED COUNTRY by Joe Abercrombie
MONSTER HUNTER LEGION by Larry Correia
THE SEA WATCH by Adrian Tchaikovsky
ORB SCEPTRE THRONE by Ian C. Esslemont
THE BONEYARDS by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
THE CHOSEN SEED by Sarah Pinborough
BLACKOUT by Mira Grant
THE DUSK WATCHMAN by Tom Lloyd


There are a bajillion other books coming out next year that we didn't list. Let's face it, we are book readers. There are probably dozens more books coming out y our favorite authors that we don't even know are coming out yet. That's the nature of the game.

So, sound off in the comments below about your own choices for best of the year and which ones you are the most excited for.

Planesrunner

You know him for his Science Fiction like THE DERVISH HOUSE and others, but now Ian McDonald invades YA territory with PLANESRUNNER and a world where the Earth exists in almost limitless parallel universes.

Our PoV character is teenage Everett Singh, soccer goalie, science smarty-pants, and son of the brilliant Tejendra Singh, who created the infundibulum--a sort of map to the parallel universes, or "planes". Before now only the ten Earths that have been able to create gateways can visit each other, but with Tejendra's invention any earth can be jumped to. But agents from the E2 plane will do anything to get the infundibulum, even kidnap Tejendra from under Everett's very nose. Little do they know that it's Everett who his dad left it to for safekeeping, and he'll do anything to rescue his dad.

The majority of the book is spent in E2, where electricity was discovered in the 1789, and as a result oil-related technology was never developed...including plastic. In this Steampunk-like world Everett befriends the eclectic Sen, the teenage pilot of the cargo airship Everness, and via her a new family among the airship's small crew.

PLANESRUNNER was fun to read, with a creative mix of Steampunk and SF, and after visiting E2, I expect Everett will jump to other planes, so I'm looking forward to reading about those--he leaves hints for what the other earths would be like. The science is interesting and explained without feeling like it's over my head. And following Everett's adventures felt realistic, although he seemed a little too smart for a teenage boy.

Everett is a well-drawn character, but my favorite is Sen, the snarky bohemian orphan, who finds Everett fascinating, and is quickly drawn into his predicament. The other characters add eclectic flair: Captain Sixsmyth, the young captain of the Everness and her sense of honor; Mr. Sharkey, the American "gentleman" who spews bible verse; Mchynlyth, the Scottish engineer; and Charlotte Villiers, the E2 agent with the killer shoes and fascinators who is determined to get the infundibulum.

The storytelling itself is almost stream-of-consciousness as Everett goes off on tangents in the middle of the action--which is stylistically reminiscent of McKinley's DRAGONHAVEN. I like it, but it may frustrate some readers as it slows the story's pace. McDonald also has the habit of stringing scenes one after another, making the pacing lumpy and disconnected feeling, although by the end it makes sense. One other problem is Sen's frequent use of slang. While it adds "authenticity" it can get confusing; fortunately the book contains a dictionary of slang terms.

Despite the jumble of events, they lead up to an exciting ending, where Everett is backed into a corner with no obvious solution. And while there's no clear "win", and McDonald leaves the ending open for the following books in the series, it is a fun ride.

Recommended Age: 13+, more for comprehension than content
Language: None
Violence: Some fisticuffs and peril, but no blood and gore
Sex: Teenage hormones, but no direct references or innuendo

Buy the book here:

PLANESRUNNER

Ready Player One

READY PLAYER ONE, by Ernest Cline, is a book I'd come across in various online blogs and forums. Going into it, I knew it was some sort of love letter to 80s pop culture. Since I'm sort of an 80s pop culture nut myself, I figured I'd give it a go.

What I got was so much more.

There are few books these days that can make me stay up late, read during breakfast, and keep reading during my lunch breaks (or skip my lunch breaks altogether). This is one such book. I finished it in under a day. Once I started reading, I just had to know what happened next.

Part of this is due to the great, simple setup: it's the future. A Steve Jobs-like man (James Halliday) has just died. He created the basis for the world wide virtual world everyone calls their home away from home now. He'd become a recluse, and he had an enormous fortune--and no heirs. So on his death, he announced that he'd hidden the fortune somewhere in his virtual reality. He'd left clues to find it. Whoever gets it first wins.

So a very clearly defined objective. Super.

It also helps that Ernest Cline (the author) gives us a main character in Wade Watts that is so easy to relate to. He's a senior in high school who has an awful life. Abusive foster parents, terrible living conditions, very little hope of ever breaking free. So of course he dreams of winning this contest. The book is in first person, and the immediacy that brings keeps everything moving quickly.

And what a contest it is. Halliday was obsessed with the 80s. He loved it. And so all his clues are hidden in layers of 80s nostalgia. Since such a great fortune is on the line, the earth as a whole suddenly takes a huge interest in 80s nostalgia, too. You've got more pop culture references than you can believe, on so many different layers. But it's all well-incorporated, and explained for those who don't get the references. Again, the explanations aren't burdensome--they work.

Naturally, every good story must have a great villain, and in this case, it's a rival company--the rights to Halliday's virtual software are on the line, too--and they want them. If they get them, they're going to start raising prices on what everyone has come to view as a basic right: a free virtual world, with access to all. The company starts buying up competitors, recruiting the best of the best to come work for them and help solve the puzzle. These are mean, nasty people who aren't afraid to get their hands dirty if it'll get them ahead in the game. There are no rules. They do whatever they can to win.

Now remember: I'm a pop culture nut myself, and I love me some 80s, so this was a bowl full of Crunchberries for me. But I imagine that it would be bliss for just about anybody. The pacing is great and the mystery is well-developed. Like I said, I don't remember a book that's gotten me this involved in a long time. It also helps that on top of all this the story is great science fiction as well. Cline has created a very believable world not too far in our future, and I wondered throughout just how close to reality his predictions will become. Some of it is bleak, but some of it also had me wishing there was a fast forward button to life.

Are there weaknesses? Hardly any. The ending is perhaps a bit more schmaltzy than I'd like. But we're talking the last page or two, and even that was probably me just being sorry to see the book come to a close. READY PLAYER ONE is a blast of a read, and if any of this review has sounded even remotely interesting to you, you owe it to yourself to check this book out.

Recommended Age:
14 and up.
Language: Some naughty words of all the varieties you can think of, but nothing too prevalent.
Violence: Video game-esque, although there are some real world violent scenes, too. Still, nothing too gory or gruesome.
Sex: Very minor. A few references here and there, but nothing in scene.

Want to grab this book? Here's the link:

READY PLAYER ONE

The Crimson Pact, Volume 2

I had massive reservations about trying to review this one. Yes, I reviewed the first volume, and so it only makes sense that I should review the second...and yet... How does one go about reviewing a short-story anthology that includes the first authorial offering of one’s near-perfect boss? Or even how does one have the audacity to review such an anthology that is so closely connected to the review site itself? I mean it. How do you even start to tackle something like that? To tell you the truth, I have absolutely no idea. So, I’m just going to tell you what I thought about it--straight up--and hope that it comes across well.

THE CRIMSON PACT, VOL 2 is a continuation of the demon-themed anthology offered in VOL 1, both edited by Paul Genesse. For those that haven’t read VOL 1, the premise of the over-arching story is that a certain number of knights have pledged themselves to fighting against a horde of demons that has decimated their world and then fled into the multi-verse. These knights are The Crimson Pact.

The stories in both volumes give you a range of offerings--from fantasy to science fiction, from epic to flash--and usually stay with that theme of demons. One of the new facets of this volume is that several of the stories were continuations from the first volume. I was interested in seeing where a number of these stories would go, but mostly seeing where the anthology would go as a whole. Would it develop that theme of the Crimson Pact more, or would it just be another bundle of demon stories?

For me, a majority of this anthology was a pretty big let down, with an even showing in the Didn’t Like, Mediocre, and Liked categories. This kind of variation is partially to be expected, as this is a collection of stories from not only lots of different authors but also from a lot of new authors. The main focus of my disappointment came from the fact that I had liked a much larger portion of the stories in VOL 1.

There were four stories in VOL 2 that I really liked, and one that completely blew all of the others away in a wispy cloud of chaff. I’ll mention those here.

“Still Life” by Steve Diamond is about an FBI detective that is dealing with the trauma of having his seven-year old son taken from him, the connection of that abduction to a criminal named The Photographer, and the ultimate resolution to the long-standing case. This story was killer. I loved it unabashedly. And yes, Steve is my boss here at EBR. Have I been obvious enough about that?

“Dark Archive” by Sarah Kanning is a continuation of a story that I enjoyed in VOL 1 and deals with the fallout of what happened to the main character, Danielle, and her connection to the magical book being held in the library where she works. Not to mention the demon that is now caged within her. This one started great, and even though it ended a bit abruptly, I really liked where this story went.

“Trail of Blood” by Alex Haig is one of the few flash stories that I enjoyed. It’s a western-themed, trailing-the-bad-guy epic that really caught me up in its grip. It had a feel similar to King’s The Gunslinger, which I really enjoyed. It also introduced the wider story behind this one in very few words, making a quick believer out of me. More of this in future Crimson Pact anthologies would be welcome.

“Seven Dogs” by Suzanne Myers is a continuation of a story from VOL 1 that I didn’t remember at all. In my defense, it was one of the shorter pieces. Anyhow, this one had some great atmosphere that painted the picture of a post-apocalyptic world in which seven demon-dogs are trying to destroy the remaining vestige of humanity on a far-flung planet. It had this science-fiction flair and sense of foreboding that was just great. Not to mention the plight of the hunted, which I loved.

And then there’s the last. Yeah. My opinion of this story was the kicker when I first sat down to write this review, because not only was my boss’s story really good, but his co-authored story absolutely knocked it out of the park. Yup, that’s right. The best one of the bunch is:

“Son of Fire, Son of Thunder” by Steve Diamond and Larry Correia. I mean, just wow. This story comes from a combination of the character that Steve gave us in “Still Life” and Larry Correia’s Diego Santos, a United States Marine that has been shown exactly how and when he will die. In typical Correia fashion, this offering to the reading masses was a glorious feast of hot lead and biting humor that brought these two characters into the same demon-killing shooting range. So much fun to be had with this one. I seriously need some more of this. Like now.

So can you see now where I was coming from at the beginning of the review? Just frustrating! The really tough part is that without the one-two punch of "Still Life" and "Son of Fire, Son of Thunder", this anthology would have landed solidly in the Mediocre range for me. On the whole, VOL 2 is just another demon anthology. I’d love to see something more pointed in the direction of the Crimson Pact. I can totally understand wanting to keep the anthology general enough that a wide array of author-hopefuls could contribute, but in order for it to stand out, for me, I think it needs a bit more direction.

Still, for five bucks? The two best stories in the anthology make it worth every one of those pennies. I just hope you can take all this for what it is: my honest opinion.

Okay, Steve, you can put that lightning bolt away now.

Recommended Age: 18+
Language: Some of the stories are fairly profane, but in general there's not much
Violence: Some of the stories are pretty violent and gory/graphic
Sex: One story has a 13-year old in a sexual situation, a couple scenes

The Crimson Pact Website

Grab the collections here:
THE CRIMSON PACT: VOLUME ONE

THE CRIMSON PACT: VOLUME TWO

Ghost Story

I realize this review is fairly (really) late. I simply wasn't sure what I should say about Jim Butcher's latest. Overall I love this series, but there have been some moments that have driven me absolutely crazy (like the whole novel, TURN COAT). The newest Dresden Files novel, GHOST STORY, is not the absolute best in the series, but is isn't the worst either. In the end, it's fairly solid.

What GHOST STORY amounts to is "It's a Wonderful Life, Dresden Edition"...kinda.

Coming right out the gate I'm just going to say there are some spoilers in here. If you haven't read the past few novels, then I'm going to ruin a few things for you. There's no way around it, and frankly if you are reading this review of the thirteenth novel in the series without having read the rest of them...well, you deserve to have some stuff spoiled. So there.

Harry Dresden is dead. He's a freaking ghost. At the end of CHANGES he gets totally shot and we are left wondering what the heck happened to our snarky hero. So GHOST STORY is essentially about Harry being a ghost and attempting to solve his own murder while also trying to help the friend who he left behind when he ate a bullet. Through it all, Harry sees just how crappy Chicago and his friends are without him around.

The interaction between the physical world and the spirit world that Harry is part of is pretty well done. In addition, the way characters have changed since Harry has been gone is believable and really well done. Seeing the anger and anguish in many of these characters was fantastic. The point of it all was to allow the readers of the novel and the characters within the novel to see that Harry really was the glue holding everything together. No one acts out of character, and that consistency is really the strong point here.

Action, of course, is handled well. It has a different feel to it which was a tad refreshing for a series that has been going on as long as the Dresden Files has. There is a lot less of the overt "and then he put all of his remaining anger and emotion to cast one last spell" crap.

So, I've pointed out a lot of good stuff here. The story is solid, the characters are great, etc. But there are some things that, in my opinion, hold it back a tad. Nothing game-breaking, but there were things that bothered me.

On a minor side, the middle 100 pages of the novel are slow and repetitive. We get to see some of Harry's younger life, and while that may seem cool on the surface, old Harry just isn't near as interesting as the current Harry is (if the reverse was true, we'd have serious problems). These moments are cool on the surface, but when I sat and really thought about them I realized that they weren't really needed at all and were repetitive. Some readers will no doubt absolutely love them, but they didn't work 100% to me.

My main gripe is that I'm starting to get a little jaded to Harry's ability to be so much more clever than everyone. This drawback (in my opinion) shows it's ugly head late in the novel and darn near killed it for me. I mean, I get that he is a rock-star wizard at this point, but would it hurt to actually have him fail in a meaningful way that isn't totally swept under the rug or easily rectified later? I need that sense of danger. I need to see that Harry fail in a big way to make his accomplishments seem even better. Right now I feel I bit like I am seeing the Green Bay Packers take on a high school powder puff football team. There's just no competition for Harry.

What saves this book for me is the raw character emotion of the other characters other than Harry. The ending of GHOST STORY specifically has some real moments of pure emotion that are near perfect. It helps me overlook most of the above nit-picks that I have.

So does GHOST STORY keep the Dresden Files relevant? I think so. It's still one of the best Urban Fantasy series out there today. My opinion is that I need to start seeing a direction for the latter books in this series. I don't want things to return to the status quo in the next book, but right now that is my greatest fear for this series. Until then, GHOST STORY is well worth your time.

Recommended Age: 15+
Language: There can be some strong language, but it never gets out of control
Violence: Not near as bloody this time around since most things are ghosties
Sex: Far lighter of the innuendo and what not this time


If for whatever reason you are reading this review and have not started the series, well, you're crazy. Don't worry, we still love you. Here is the reading order and their Amazon links:

1 - STORM FRONT
2 - FOOL MOON
3 - GRAVE PERIL
4 - SUMMER KNIGHT
5 - DEATH MASKS
6 - BLOOD RITES
7 - DEAD BEAT
8 - PROVEN GUILTY
9 - WHITE NIGHT
10 - SMALL FAVOR
11 - TURN COAT
12 - CHANGES
Short Story Collection - SIDE JOBS
13 - GHOST STORY

Dark Descendant

Nikki Glass is a descendant of Artemis. Yes, that Artemis. But it isn't until she unwittingly becomes one of the Liberi that she becomes immortal and her powers of the hunt manifest.

The result of this sudden change in status is that the two warring groups of Liberi—who happen to be based in the Washington D.C. area—want her on their side. You see, Liberi are descendants of gods from many different pantheons (Greek, Hindu, Norse, etc.), and have inherited the abilities of their god ancestors. Unfortunately for most of them that doesn't include a sense of morality or responsibility for the human race and Nikki would be the perfect person to hunt down their enemies. She wants nothing to do with it, but they won't let her off that easily.

Jenna Black isn't new to the Urban Fantasy scene, considering her Morgan Kingsley Exorcist novels (there's a short story from CHICKS KICK BUTT). But here Nikki is less 'kick butt' than Black's previous series, and that seems to be on purpose. Sure she's a P.I., but not the take-risk type, and as a result this more about how this once normal woman must now cope with a supernatural world.

For the most part Black does pretty well. Nikki is likable (despite feeling a bit Mary Sue-ish), and her attempts to deal with the situation are believable and entertaining enough to read. The Liberi who work for Anderson Kane are the more interesting assortment of beauty, brains, and brawn, each with their unique set of abilities and personality. Black writes in black and white: the bad guys are truly evil and while the good guys aren't spotless angels, it's hard to see much grey area. Still, they are entertaining in their own way.

Black's first person narrative is straightforward and quick paced, despite hiccups in narration, the occasional suspension of belief, and the cliche prose. Black does her best to explain things (for example, why a virgin goddess has descendants in the first place), but it isn't exactly subtle. There are other oddities like how Nikki's relationship with her adoptive sister feels awkwardly written, as well as clunky references to Nikki's emotional baggage.

But by the end, Black hits her stride and delivers on all her promises in a tidy resolution, even if we're left with some questions in the end. Even better: no cliffhanger, and the book still suggests a continuing series.

This is your typical Urban Fantasy fare, but promises a new twist a la Rick Riordian. Dark Descendantis a fluffy palate cleanser with some fun ideas. But don't let yourself get caught up on the details.

Recommended Age: 16+
Language: A smattering of stronger profanity
Violence: Mostly peril, a few deaths, but the scenes are only moderately graphic
Sex: One of the main characters is a descendant of Eros, so there's plenty of strong innuendo and references, but no graphic scenes


Want to give this book a shot? Here's your link:
DARK DESCENDANT

The Unincorporated Woman

In case you can’t tell from the titles, THE UNINCORPORATED WOMAN is the third in the Unincorporated series by the Kollin brothers Dani and Eytan. It follows THE UNINCORPORATED WAR which was a sequel to THE UNINCORPORATED MAN. I believe subsequent volumes will be titled The Unincorporated Gas Station and The Unincorporated (fill in here).

I kid about the titles. In all honesty I like these books overall. I was thrilled to read the first one and really rather enjoyed it. It felt like something Heinlein would have written in his prime (and that’s saying a lot). The second volume was a large departure from the tone of the series in my mind. It did some things I didn’t expect. It had one flaw that kind of irked me, but on the whole I was able to enjoy it (though not as well as the first.)

This latest book follows in much the same vein as the second book. It’s better, in my opinion, and I was happy about the changes made. I’m looking forward to the next book (which I think is the concluding volume, but don’t quote me on that), but I still wish they would get back to what made the first book so good.

The best addition in my mind to this book is the Unincorporated Woman herself. By the way I’m about to get all spoilery here on the Unincorporated War so if you haven’t read it--and plan to--then just skip to the end of the review where I’ll say, this was a fun read, and be done. If not then by all means keep reading. Where was I? Oh yeah, the Unincorporated Woman… So at the end of THE UNINCORPORATED WAR, Justin dies...well, is assassinated more accurately. So to fill a void there, another stasis pod found with another human alive from the 20th Century. It also happens to be the person that helped Justin set up his own stasis pod. Welcome back to life, Sandra.

Sandra is a much more interesting person than Justin was in the last book. We get back to the "wow" factor of someone coming back to life and experiencing this world with fresh eyes. She’s also headstrong, manipulative and brilliant. That makes for a fun character. On top of that she’s thrust into the role of president--a position that is supposed to just be a figure-head type of role with no real power, and a lot of the fun in the book comes with watching her gain some power through manipulation. I was glad to have her in the book and the series definitely took an upswing with her addition.

The rest of the book was much the same as the last. It is still fun to read about Janet Delgado winning battles and plotting the strategy of the Outer Alliance. I’ve really enjoyed the story line of the AI’s trying to keep themselves hidden from mankind while still twisting and turning events to their favor. All in all the book was fun.

I do however have the same complaints with this book that I did with the last one. The world is built upon (and indeed the war itself is being fought over the idea of) incorporation. The idea that a person can sell stock in themselves and lose the ability to make major decisions for themselves (those decisions would be left to the stock holders). The idea of buying a majority in oneself. The whole idea of running a life like a major business. What a great idea! Yet once again that idea is shoved to the background and remains completely unused. Bummer.

Other than that I have no real complaints for the book. It was a little hard to believe that a newly awoken person would be thrust into a presidency (you’d think such a job would require a basic understanding of the world they live in). But hey, I’m willing to suspend my disbelief. It was fun. This isn’t the greatest thing I’ve ever read, but it’s certainly good enough that I’ll keep buying them and enjoying the ride.

Age Recommendation: 15+ This is pretty tame stuff. A word here and there but nothing too major.
Language: A small smattering. Nothing bad.
Violence: Again nothing too harsh.
Sex: Mentioned a few times. Alluded too more than talked about.


Want to give this novel a shot? Here are the links to the various books in this series, in order:

1 - THE UNINCORPORATED MAN

2 - THE UNINCORPORATED WAR

3 - THE UNINCORPORATED WOMAN

This Shared Dream

Siblings Jill, Megan, and Brian were orphaned while in their youth—but now as adults they still don't know what really happened, since their parents simply disappeared. It turns out that their parents had something to do with the development of Q, a sort of world network of education and communication, and its later incarnation: the Device, the machine that will change the world.

But someone wants the Device for their own use, and Jill and her family are in danger.

THIS SHARED DREAM by Kathleen Ann Goonan is the sequel to IN WAR TIMES, but having not read the first book, I think I went into THIS SHARED DREAM lacking some key information and connection with the characters. In a desire to be up-front, you need to know that even though this book is well written and thought out, it took me weeks to trudge through--it just didn't appeal to me personally, so read this review with that in mind.

The story begins several years after the first. Goonan packs the first handful of chapters with enough characterization and backstory to keep new readers from getting lost. However, it does mean there's not a whole lot of action.

Fortunately it's the characters who make up for this lack of a quicker pace. Jill, Megan, and Brian are all complex people, with a believable relationship with each other as siblings, as well as with their spouses and children. At times the connections they feel with each other and with their parents Bette and Sam are poignant. I admit I'm rarely touched by character inter-relationships as much as I was in THIS SHARED DREAM.

The story revolves around time travel. Bette, Sam, and their friend Eliani Hadntz want to stop war for all time, but it means changing events that would have happened—such as the assassination of JFK—and as a result the timeline we know is much, much different. They use the Device in order to move around in time and know what events to change. Bette and Sam travel timestreams as though they're everyday vehicles, and not some abstract concept. Goonan does the best she can explaining how they move in time, but there's only only so much she can do without making my brain warp from the details.

As a result THIS SHARED DREAM is really a concept story. Goonan's prose is subtle, but it's clear even from the beginning that this is about the steps Hadntz is willing to take in order to create a new world, a world without war—a utopia. Her altruism leads her to attempt to change human nature itself via social engineering. Unfortunately, in this novel she's a rather mysterious creature, and rarely makes an appearance (perhaps we see more of her in IN WAR TIMES?). It's via Bette, Megan, and especially Jill that Hadntz achieves the results she wants. They make a pretty convincing case that their motives are pure. I still wonder, however.

In the end, I'm simply the kind of girl who reads books for the plot and action--and while this book has a definite story, it's so deliberate and pedantic that I had little motivation to pick it up again between chapters. If you enjoy the concepts of time travel and developing utopias, then this book is full of what you're looking for. If you want quick-paced, lighter time-travel fare without overt agendas, try Connie Willis instead.

Recommended Age: 16+ more for reading comprehension than content
Language: Fewer than five instances
Violence: Referenced, but nothing detailed, and even then infrequent
Sex: Rape is referenced


Want to grab this novel? Below are the links to it and the prior novel as well:

1 - IN WAR TIMES

2 - THIS SHARED DREAM

Elitist Classics: Le Guin's Earthsea Cycle

Perhaps Ursula K. Le Guin's most recognizable work, her Earthsea stories are categorized as YA—but are definitely worth reading as adults. The first novel, A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA was published in 1968, and revolves around the wizard Ged and the islands and sea of Earthsea itself. It starts off with Ged leaving home to learn magic at a school. Sound familiar? Le Guin is the reason why it does.

Told in an omniscient narrative, it can get a little distant, but the prose is lyrical and lovely, particularly her descriptions of the people and their history, the land and sea, and the way the magic works. The novels are short so it would be easy to read the entire series quickly—each is as good as the last.

The books continue to be in print and will be available at most libraries. Le Guin is best known for tackling societal themes of culture and race with finesse, so it's worth picking up her other works, including her Hugo and Nebula winning THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS (1969); while not as accessible as Earthsea, it's worth the effort.

A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA (1968)
THE TOMBS OF ATUAN (1970)
THE FARTHEST SHORE (1972)
TEHANU (1990)
TALES FROM EARTHSEA (2001)
THE OTHER WIND (2001)

Recommended Age: 11+ to read; could be read to younger children, but there are themes of evil and darkness that may disturb children younger than 8
Language: None
Violence: Moderate peril, but it's rarely graphic
Sex: None

The Unincorporated War

You may remember that THE UNINCORPORATED MAN followed the adventures of Justin Chord, a man who had frozen himself in a time capsule to be reawakened when the cures to his diseases were found and he could be revived to live again. Justin indeed was awakened to a world run by the system of incorporation, the selling of personal shares to individual lives. The vast majority of mankind was working, not able to make their own decisions, towards being a majority share holder in their own stock thus taking control of their decisions and their lives. Justin saw the system as tantamount to slavery and started to oppose it immediately. The end of THE UNINCORPORATED MAN saw Justin forced into space towards the outer planets starting a revolution that pitted the outer planets and asteroid belt versus Earth and its incorporated system.

THE UNINCORPORATED WAR picks up where MAN left off. Justin is now president of the outer colonies and trying to fight a war with the inner planets. Meanwhile Hektor Sambianco, Justin’s main opposition in the courtroom in the first book, is the only one who sees just how dangerous Justin is to the world and his perfect incorporated system. Hektor rises to power on earth to continue to fight against Justin.

I don’t expect all of you to get all of that. There’s a lot going on here and more to it, as well. Characters who appeared in the first book take on new significance here, showing more depth than they had originally. New characters appear and the world seems to shift from the courtroom to battles in outer space. This isn’t to say that the book turns into an all-out action novel. It felt more like reading Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy. The action is never so much described as discussed later. The joy isn’t in the battle scenes themselves, but in the strategy behind them and the tactics of the various military leaders. I loves me a good action scene as much as the next guy, but I was happy with the way the Kollin brothers sucked me in with the various scenarios that played out in space.

It’s weird how a series of books, the first playing out in courtrooms with legal battles and the second dealing with very real wars out in space, can have a similar feel to it, and yet it really does. It still all about maneuvering and outwitting your opponent, and that’s where the book really shines. The battles are fun and engaging. There are twists and tricks to them as each battle is played out. The reader thinks that the battle is going a certain way only to have the rug pulled out from under them as it quickly turns.

Sadly there were some other things that I was disappointed with. Let’s start with Justin. As the unincorporated man back on earth, he was a fun character. He was brash and self assured. He was the main driving force back on earth for the events that happened there. Such is not the case here. Justin as President of the Outer Alliance really is quite boring. He is relegated to talking in meetings while all the real fun character action and motivation is left to other characters. Indeed it seems like the story has left him behind.

Which leads me to my other complaint about the book. I know it is a cardinal sin for a reviewer to talk about what they wanted the book to be instead of talking about what it is, but darn it I’m going to do it anyway, so let’s get it out of the way. As a Military SF book about war between the outer planets and the inner planets of the solar system (mainly Earth and Mars), the book works just fine: it’s a good, solid read. But (and this is a big BUT I’m talking about here), it’s called the unincorporated war, emphasis on incorporation! You know, that really cool idea from the first book? Where people sell stocks in themselves and are run like mini companies? Doesn’t that sound cool? You’d think something like that, an idea like that, would trickle down into every aspect of the book. Every character back on earth or mars (who by the way is incorporated) should think about incorporation or act on some aspect of it all the time! It should come up all over the place. It should affect every decision they make, every action. The ramifications of such a system should be so wide spread that it encompasses everything. And the characters in the outer alliance? They should feel the lack of it (I mean they’ve been living with it their whole lives right?) It should affect what they are doing as well.

But you know what? It doesn’t. Not for a second. Not for even a brief microsecond. All we get are a few scant references as to why the war is being fought. “We must put an end to this evil system of incorporation.” Why? As far as I can see it does absolutely nothing. Every character on earth behaves just as he or she wants without any thought or consequence. The system has disappeared in everything but name only. And that’s my biggest complaint. This story of the war is fun and well done, but it could have been written in any other bland SF universe. The Kollin brothers have invented something else, something truly fun to think about, and then they left it by the wayside.

Which is a bummer. THE UNINCORPORATED MAN started off on a pretty decent start, but I was hoping for more with this one.

Recommended Age: 14+ I'd say. It’s a bit slow for younger readers. Not enough explosions and whatnot.
Language: Scattering of words. The Kollins aren’t in to a ton of profanity.
Violence: Nothing gory. Space battles, but all impersonal.
Sex: None


Want to give this novel a shot? Here are the links to the various books in this series, in order:

1 - THE UNINCORPORATED MAN

2 - THE UNINCORPORATED WAR

3 - THE UNINCORPORATED WOMAN

Hearts of Smoke and Steam

In THE FALLING MACHINE you were left with a cliffhanger: during the battle with Lord Eschaton, Tom is dismantled and Sarah leaves home after a fight with her father.

The continuation, HEARTS OF SMOKE AND STEAM begins over a month later. Even though Tom was destroyed, Sarah was able to recover his heart in the chaos. Unfortunately it's broken, and she needs to find someone to repair the heart, but doesn't trust the majority of the people in New York who are able to do it. Her search leads her to Emilio Armando, an Italian immigrant and inventor—whose past, if Sarah knew it, would make her think twice about trusting him with Tom's secret.

In the meantime, the Paragons have lost two of their rank, and must find help, as the remainder of them aren't getting any younger. They interview new applicants—a strange and varied assortment—and discover King Jupiter, who appears to not only be able to create amazing technology, but who may just have supernatural powers. Don't forget, however, that in FALLING we learn that one of the Paragons is a traitor. The Paragons are in great danger, and as a result so is New York.

After a slow start, the action in HEARTS moves very quickly, even more than in FALLING. I read the books in succession, and after I was finished I had to sit on it for a while to absorb everything before I could disseminate how I feel about this series thus far. The action moves fast and is detailed, but like in FALLING the actual plot isn't much further than when we started; I could probably number the main plot events on one hand. This doesn't mean, however, that FALLING and HEART aren't lots of fun to read, because they are. I only wished there were more. (Hrm. Wanting more isn't necessarily a bad thing, is it?)

There are more PoVs here compared to the previous book, and the switching back and forth isn't strictly chronological. Mayer will move PoVs around in time in order to cover simultaneous character viewpoints in an important scene. While it's helpful for knowing all the events in a scene and each character's motivations, it does get confusing. Mayer did it in FALLING, too, but not as much as he does in HEART and it got frustrating when I was more interested in the forward movement of the plot.

Sarah must deal with the reality of being a working-class girl in 1880s New York, find a trustworthy repairman, and keep her identity secret from the Children of Eschaton who will do anything to retrieve the heart. She wants to be a hero like her father and the Paragons, but she's discovering that it isn't all adventure—it's dangerous and frightening work. But Sarah is determined, and works past her worries in order to restore Tom, which she believes is the only thing that can stop Lord Eschaton and his 'children'. Tom was the most interesting character in FALLING, but in HEART there's very little of him—and most of that is his disassembled parts. This was a frustration. The story is about him, and yet we see very little of him. Fortunately we are introduced to some new characters, including Emilio, who's trying to move past his complicated history. These new viewpoints add flavor to the storytelling.

The majority of the setting is established in FALLING, but in HEART Mayer doesn't set it aside in favor of plot advancement. We still get to see new and exciting inventions, learn more about what life was like in 1880s New York, and discover some fascinating things about Tom and the true genius of Dennis Darby, his inventor.

More self-contained than the first book, HEARTS ends without as big of a cliffhanger...comparably. Not that Mayer doesn't like to leave you at the edge of your seat. He promises more adventure, and has set up for a spectacular continuation.

Recommended Age: 14+
Language: Very little
Violence: People get stabbed or shot, some death, but not detailed enough to be gory
Sex: Innuendo—there was none at all in FALLING, but here there's the potential for a romantic relationship, and the prudish mores of New York's high society are addressed; there are also references to erotic art

Want to give this series a shot? Below are the links:

1 - THE FALLING MACHINE

2 - HEARTS OF SMOKE AND STEAM

Cry of the Newborn

James Barclay. You know the name. You know that his Raven novels made him one of my favorite authors. If you live in the US, finally getting his novels has been a welcome breath of fresh air. That’s all great and dandy, but there is something we in the US are missing that our UK buddies still have exclusive.

The Ascendants of Estorea.

You see, James Barclay, being the ambitious writer that he is, decided he wanted to write something that could be used not only for the pleasure of reading, but also for weight-lifting. CRY OF THE NEWBORN is a huge novel, both in size (a trade paperback of 800+ pages), and scope (covers 15 years of time). This isn’t the flashy, up-close-and-personal Raven series. No, this is a tale of the Estorean Conquord, a religious empire that has stood for 850 years. It feels very much like the Roman Empire. There are two main stories going on here, spread across numerous PoVs.

The first story is of the Conquord itself as it does what all huge empires do: expand. There comes a point in an empire’s life that in order to survive, it has to continually expand. This idea has been illustrated in Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Shadows of the Apt series, and is presented to us with amazing clarity here in CRY OF THE NEWBORN. The thing is, the bigger an empire becomes, the easier it is to become complacent, over-confidant, and foolish. It lends to disaster. The first half of the novel is showing the pride before the fall. The second half of the novel is of everything going wrong.

The second main story follows four children from birth until the age of fourteen. They are the first pure Ascendants. They have control over all the elements, and can shape them to do their bidding (read: magic). Some see them as salvation. Most everyone else sees them as an affront to God. Blasphemy incarnate.

I could go on for pages about the setting, the characters, and the story. There is an amazing level of detail and world-building in this novel, all of it executed with care and precision. This world feels alive. Rich. Vibrant. The first half of the novel is very slow due to all of the set-up, but its payoff is truly incredible.

None of the setting, or any of the time and effort put into the history of this world would be worth two pennies if the characters weren’t solid. But this is James Barclay. Character is what makes his Raven novels work, and it is what makes CRY OF THE NEWBORN live. The four children Ascendants are great—a nice mixture of childishness and beyond-their-years maturity. Paul Jhered, a tax collector for the Conquord, was my personal favorite. Seeing his attitude change over the course of the novel was once of the best parts. Then of course there are the dozens of other PoVs, all of which are interesting and unique. I loved some characters, hated others, and felt a bit of both towards others still. Loved it.

There is a lot of war in this novel. Sieges, open-field battles, and naval warfare. Where Barclay’s Raven novels tend to focus on the few of the Raven taking on other small groups attacking them, CRY OF THE NEWBORN showcases big, epic battles. There’s no flash to them, just hard, brutal fighting and carnage. As a reader, you will truly feel the devastation war brings. There is a particularly poignant section towards the very end of the novel where an army begins a battle-chant about how they understand that each side of the conflict is made up of singular people who want nothing more than to survive and return to their families…but death will prevent that. The battles in this novel will cause your heart to pound in your chest, and no one is truly safe.

The only thing, in my mind, that keeps this novel from being absolutely perfect is how long it takes to get going. But once it does, CRY OF THE NEWBORN is a prime example of incredible Epic Fantasy. Hey, it has a Steven Erikson cover quote on it. CRY OF THE NEWBORN is epic, ambitious, thrilling, and horrifying all at the same time. It is one of the finest novels I have read in quite some time. Now I know first-hand what all you UK readers have known for ages; The Ascendants of Estorea is freaking incredible.

And I still get to read the second half of the series, SHOUT FOR THE DEAD. Folks, this is why I read books. You should totally import this. Now.

Recommended Age: 17 and up.
Language: Very, very sparse.
Violence: This book is FULL of war and violence. You feel the horrific devastation, but you never feel it was just thrown in.
Sex: One very brutal scene that was handled as well as I have ever read.

The Restoration Game

Sadly I think I can write up this review for Ken MacLeod's THE RESTORATION GAME in one, short sentence. Ready for it?

Too little, too late.

I’m gonna write my review. I’m gonna tell you a bit about the story and various other things, but everything you need to know is right there. This book was hard to get through (and it was only like 250 pages), and while there was some very cool stuff that happened (really really awesome stuff that I think deserves more attention than it got here), it happened too late in the story and honestly most of the story didn’t seem to lead up to the conclusions.

I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with a recap of the story shall we?

There is no such place as Krassnia. Lucy Stone should know—she was born there. In that tiny, troubled region of the former Soviet Union, revolution is brewing. Its organizers need a safe place to meet, and where better than the virtual spaces of an online game? Lucy, who works for a start-up game company in Edinburgh, has a project that almost seems made for the job: a game inspired by The Krassniad, an epic folk tale concocted by Lucy's mother, Amanda, who studied there in the 1980s. Lucy knows Amanda is a spook. She knows her great-grandmother Eugenie also visited the country in the 1930s and met the man who originally collected Krassnian folklore, and who perished in Stalin's terror. As Lucy digs up details about her birthplace to slot into the game, she finds the open secrets of her family's past, the darker secrets of Krassnia's past—and hints about the crucial role she is destined to play in THE RESTORATION GAME...

I took that right off the back of the book and really it fits well. If that sounds like your type of book, then by all means dive right in and enjoy.

The problem I have with it is that there’s really no mention of anything remotely Science Fictionish about it. Sounds like a political thriller doesn’t it? I have news for you, that’s what this is. About 225 of the 250ish pages are devoted to a political thriller type of story. There are plots and schemes and revolutions and more factions and groups of people than I could keep track of (literally—I was very lost in who was working for whom and double agenting for what). The other 25 pages deal very briefly on some very interesting science fiction ideas, almost all of which occur at the end after I’ve already slogged through the rest of the book.

As political thrillers go does the book work? I honestly don’t know. I don’t read a lot of them. I prefer SF (that’s kind of why I review them). There were moments that I enjoyed and even parts of it that I was engaged in, but more often than not I was trying to bull through it hoping that it would turn around.

As far as the SF stuff at the end, well, I liked it a lot. There were some very cool ideas. Ideas that made me think, ideas that I would like to see explored some more. But in the end those ideas seemed rather tacked on to the political story. I think I would have preferred a much shorter story (novelette perhaps) with the same SF, but a more streamlined version of the rest of the story.

Maybe this is your cup of tea. I’ve seen some good praise for the book out there. Honestly this could be a case of just being the wrong book for the wrong reader. If you’ve liked Charles Stross’s near future thrillers (HALTING STATE and RULE 34) then I think this is more up your alley.

Recommended Age: 14+ because of the complexity of the factions, a bit of language and sexual innuendo.
Violence: Very little. Only one specific reference I can think of.
Language: Moderate. There’s language but it isn’t extreme.
Sex: None

Want to give this book a shot for yourself? Here is the link:

THE RESTORATION GAME

Chicks Kick Butt

Yeah, yeah, don't roll your eyes at me. The title CHICKS KICK BUTT sounds totally cliché and dumb and silly. But it's totally fun and entertaining. CHICKS is a short story compilation of several popular female Urban Fantasy authors—some you've heard of and some you haven't—and other than a couple of mediocre entries, is a solid group of stories. So let's get to it, shall we?

Shiny by Rachel Caine starts off the book with a story from this popular author's Weather Warden series. Joanne has weather magic, and her boyfriend David is a powerful Djinn. On an outing to the beach, they come across a photo shoot for a Bugatti Veyron—and the woman draped across it is none other than a new Djinn. David makes them stop to investigate her, as she's something of a troublemaker. And, of course, trouble ensues. One of the better stories in this compilation, the characters are interesting, the story moves quickly, and the situation and ending unfoldes unexpectedly.

In Vino Veritas by Karen Chance is about Dory—from Chance's Dorina Basarab series—a dhampir (child of vampire and human), and vampire hunter. A previous job with the Chinese mob has come back to bite her, and she must deal with the fallout. This selection is predictable, and in order to remember what it was about I had to go back and re-read it again, which is never a good sign, even if the first read through was enjoyable enough. In the end I wasn't really sure what it was about, it was a little convoluted, and as a result it was easy to dismiss.

Hunt by Rachel Vincent is about college student Abby, recently turned werecat. While on a campout with some friends, they're attacked, and Abby's secret is in danger of being revealed. Traumatized in her youth, Abby must deal with her fears in order to save her friends. Despite the steady writing and believable emotions, it was had to get the full effect in so short a story without feeling like I was being bludgeoned with Abby's emotional baggage. Still, it finishes well.

Monsters by Lilith Saintcrow is my favorite of the compilation. It's about Eleni, a vampire Preserver, with the special skills and abilities that involve protecting "what would otherwise be lost...[those] skilled in an art that would reach its highest expression when freed from the chains of mortality." When her charges are killed in an unexpected attack by humans, she must avenge their deaths. For such a short story, the worldbuilding was well written, and the characters interesting. While the ending leaves the larger story open for more, the conclusion is still satisfying. On her site, Saintcrow says she may write more about Eleni.

Vampires Prefer Blondes by P. N. Elrod is one of the few in this collection where the main character is completely human. Set from Elrod's Vampire Files series, this short takes place in the 1930s, and Bobbi is the headliner for a traveling act in the Chicago area. After one evening's show, a group of roughs come looking for one of her chorus girls, and it turns out a vampire is involved. The writing is slick—the main character's PoV is entertaining to read, gives a feel for the era, and makes me believe that even though Bobbi isn't trained to fight, she's still willing to help someone in trouble with the undead.

Nine-Tenths of the Law by Jenna Black is about exorcist Morgan Kingsley, who happens to be 'possessed' herself (not something she advertises on her business door). She's approached by worried parents who believe their wayward daughter is possessed illegally. Demons are allowed to possess humans who are of legal age and volunteer for it—there are some benefits, after all, to having a powerful spirit inhabit a mortal body. But there are fanatical groups who will do anything to rid the world of demons. An entertaining story, if a bit predictable. The characters are well drawn, and the world interesting without being overbearing. From the Morgan Kingsley Exorcist series, which is complete.

Double Dead by Cheyenne McCray starts off with a sort of glossary of terms, which I'm certain is hardly ever a good thing for a short story. It's about Nyx, part-human part-Dark Elf, whose Drow abilities make her day job as a PI much less dangerous than her night job as enforcer for the paranormal council. While main character Nyx is interesting, the story was a contrived confusion of motives and behavior that didn't make sense, and the ending action scene was gimmicky.

A Rose by Any Other Name Would Still be Red by Elizabeth A. Vaughan is the shortest of the stories, and the action scenes are exciting and fast-paced. Unfortunately, the result is that I never got a clear vision of the setting (is it medieval?), of the main character Red's abilities, and the point of the story.

Superman by Jeanne C. Stein is about a newly turned vampire. "Superman" has a prologue and even 'chapters', which results in a drawn-out story. I could handle an overlong short if it were tightly written, but it's not, and even worse it's cliché and overwrought. Skip it.

Monster Mash by Carole Nelson Douglas takes place in Las Vegas, where werewolves and vampires own and run casinos. Delilah, from Douglas' Delilah Street series, is called in to investigate the haunting of a local casino, and get rid of the problem if she can. She's human, but walks among the supernaturals with confidence. Douglas lays on the setting pretty thickly, so it's hard to keep up with all the lingo. But the fast-paced dialogue, clever mystery, and likable heroine make this story one of the top five in this compilation.

Wanted: Dead or Alive by L. A. Banks is about recently turned vampire Tanya, and the short opens with an overwrought woe-is-me monologue. Then we're launched into pre-story of Tanya's bounty hunter past, and her 'lucky' kill of master vampire Dimitri. As his killer she inherits Dimitri's wealth and the vamps he's turned; and today, a month later, we learn that other vampire masters want her dead. Her distaste of bloodsucking has turned her into an altruist who'll only kill the truly criminal. The story is contrived and feels unfinished.

Mist by Susan Krinard is probably the most ambitious of the stories, with so much worldbuilding taken from ancient Norse mythology that the learning curve is a little high for a short story. An Earth-bound Valkyrie believes that the final battle is past...but is it? The action moves along at a steady clip, and by the end you're invested in the story and how it ends. And even though "Mist" feels more like the beginning of a novel than the other more self-contained contributions, it's an entertaining read.

Beyond the Pale by Nancy Holder is about Meg, former U.S. border agent, and now Fae border agent, due to her recently manifested second sight. But the battle with the Fae is not so much about illegal immigration as it is about keeping the Erl King from stealing children and replacing them with changelings. A fast-paced and interesting story, "Beyond the Pale" has magic and a cool Black Forest setting. PoV character Meg is a complicated woman; the writing does lack subtlety with her feelings and motivations, but the characterization was pretty good for a short. The ending wasn't what I expected, and I still have some unanswered questions, so I'm not sure if I'm satisfied with it—but at least it was memorable. Holder's site says she plans to continue this story in novel form, and if she continues on as she has here, it's easy to see the potential for a great series.

Recommended Age: 16+
Language: Depending on the story, but most are relatively clean; a couple of them have a smattering of stronger profanity.
Violence: All of them have violence; some are stronger than others; almost all contain death, and some of them get very gory.
Sex: Mostly reference and innuendo; "Superman" and "Wanted: Dead or Alive" have graphic scenes.

Want this book? Go here:

CHICKS KICK BUTT

The Third Section

By now most of you faithful readers should have picked up a copy of Jasper Kent's novel, TWELVE. If you are like me, TWELVE completely blew you away with its terrific blend of Historical Fiction and Horror. I mean, come on, that ending? That was freaking awesome. And the twist made it even more horrific and awesome. TWELVE easily became one of my favorite books last year. The sequel, THIRTEEN YEARS LATER, was awesome in its own way, but fell juuuuuuust short of its predecessor.

And now we get book three, THE THIRD SECTION.

The third entry in the Danilov Quintet has us following Aleksei Danilov's two children (who don't know they are siblings), Dmitry and Tamara. Naturally this novel follows their (re)discovery of the vampires, and the machinations of the Aleksei's nemesis, Iuda (now known as Vasily).

The first thing that stood out was how different Dmitry is. This novel starts in 1855, thirty years after the events of the previous novel. Aleksei is in exile, and thus not a PoV character. Yet Aleksei's legacy still has such an enormous impact on the two main characters. Dmitry has been molded and changed by the past 30+ years, and it paints a starkly different picture of his persona. For Tamara, the quest to find out who her father really is (Aleksei was exiled before she was old enough to realize what was going on) leads her right into the crossfire of the vampires.

These characters are so refreshingly different from those in the prior two novels. Don't get me wrong, I loved Aleksei's PoV, but I think this is one of the main failings of series fiction. Far too often we follow story after story of just one character, and if the author isn't careful the characters get dull. Kent has avoided this issue entirely, and has handled it expertly.

The way Kent handles the historical facts is awesome, unsurprisingly. The action is terrific. The pacing is great. None of these should surprise you. All the same, it is a relief to me that Kent has managed to remain so consistent from novel to novel.

Here's the thing. If you have read the first two novels in this series, you know what to expect. If you haven't read the first two books, I'm a little unsure why you are reading this review. Quit fooling around and go treat yourself. So the only thing I want to mention is how INCREDIBLE the last quarter of THE THIRD SECTION is. This novel is batter than book two, and has me debating on whether it is better than book one. And this is all due to the ending. It blew me away. If you had any doubt or fear that THE THIRD SECTION wouldn't live up to the standards set in the first books, take my word for it.

Seriously, just go out and buy the book.

Recommended Age:b 17+
Language: Some, and it can get strong.
Violence: Remember, these vampires don't try to sparkle you to death.
Sex: A lot of references and some scenes that border on being really detailed.

Buy this whole freaking series! It is completely awesome!

1 - TWELVE
2 - THIRTEEN YEARS LATER
3 - THE THIRD SECTION

Gateways

I’m not sure if I’ve ever read anything quite like GATEWAYS. On the outside it looks like any regular old collection of short stories and novellas. Sometimes those collections have a central premise or theme, and this one certainly does. But it’s the premise and how it’s put together that really got to me. The premise is “Isn’t Frederick Pohl awesome? Let’s have a book to celebrate him.”

I’ll admit that before I read this book I knew little of Frederik Pohl. I’ve read through almost all of the Hugo winning novels and came across Gateway (the book from which the title of this collection is based). It was one of the rare old Hugo winners that really knocked my socks off. It didn’t feel dated, it still stood out as an exceptional book. Based on that I picked up a few more of Pohl’s Gateway books. I wish I could say that they were as good, but sadly they didn’t capture the magic the original did. Reading online I am not alone in that opinion.

But that’s it. That’s all I knew about Frederik Pohl. I opened this collection thinking that maybe all of the stories would be set in Pohl’s gateway universe, (I still think that’s a cool idea by the way. Somebody get on it.) Instead I found that the stories were written to the intent of capturing the spirit of Frederik Pohl and his work.

To my surprise the thing I found most fascinating about the books were the dedications at the end of each story. After each novella or story, that particular author would write his own thoughts on Pohl. They ranged from years of shared experiences and lifetime friendships, to simple crossing of paths. Some of the names on the cover didn’t even write stories for the anthology, but rather they just wrote out their thoughts and feelings about Pohl.

It was fascinating for me to read through those dedications and see a story unfold. The story of modern SF as we know it. To see and hear accounts of Pohl as a writer and editor and even agent and see how it affected the authors in the book (most of whom I read regularly) and Science Fiction in general was amazing. The characters in their respective stories were interesting, but nothing compared to the character of Frederick Pohl, the man who helped shape Science Fiction.

I’m not going to spend a bunch of time dwelling on the stories in GATEWAYS. The stories are there and they are for the most part very good. They range from short to long, comical to poignant and everything in between. But they are not the focus, nor should they be. The focus is throughout the book a simple heart felt dedication to this man who helped inspire, and shape a generation of SF writers and readers.

As tributes go, I can’t think of anything better.

Recommended Age: Depends on the story. I can’t remember anything too harsh however. 14+
Violence: Nothing too bad.
Sex: Referenced a few times. Never shown.
Language: A scattering of words depending on the author.


Want this awesome tribute of stores? Follow this link: GATEWAYS

Siren Song

In BLOOD SONG, Celia was attacked by a vampire, but not turned completely. Instead she's an "abomination", a sort of vampire limbo, with both perks and disadvantages. She also learned that her great-grandmother is a Siren—yes, the magical variety who can sing men to their deaths—and since being bitten it appears that these traits have finally manifested for Celia. The perk: men come when she needs. The disadvantage: women hate her.

One would think that having some supernatural abilities might make life a little easier. Not for Celia, who's convinced that everyone thinks she's a monster: the Sirens, the vampires and the humans. It's all a big mess. And because of who and what she is, someone wants her dead, and will do anything, even call up demons, to finish the job.

SIREN SONG begins with a big action scene right off the bat. After the events in BLOOD SONG, Celia was being taken to an institution that would make sure she's safe to be roaming among the general public. On the way her and Dr. Scott are attacked, physically and mentally. They survive, but her relationship with the good doctor is irrevocably damaged, and she's no closer to discovering the assailants' motives.

Unfortunately, that opening scene consists of the majority of the book's excitement for the first three-quarters, and the story moves forward much slower as Adams builds up the piecemeal plot. The pace hiccups in places, as Adams tries to move quickly from scene to scene, event to event, making the pacing less consistent compared to the first book. Fortunately, the sundry information and events finally tie up nicely in an exciting conclusion.

In the meantime Celia must deal with her new abilities. It's rare for abominations to live as long as she has, because usually their sires turn or kill them soon after they're first bitten—fortunately hers is dead. She refuses to drink blood, but she's limited to a liquid diet, and watching her try to deal with it can be amusing. Add to that her Siren abilities and no man can really trust her and all women hate her. She handles these wrenches in her life with aplomb...mostly. At this point it's just getting through it day by day, but she refuses to give up. We see few other characters from book one (alas very little of the sexy werewolf and Celia's Italian former boyfriend), other than a big scene with the ghostly Vicki. We instead get to know others better, including John Miller, the mage who owns a bodyguard firm (potential romance?); Bubba, the bail bondsman whose office is on the same floor as Celia's (fisherman, tough guy...Mensa member?); and Celia's Siren relatives.

In fact the entire second half of the book deals with the Sirens. We get to see their culture, with their queens and their island isolated from the rest of the world. It doesn't feel like anything special, though, and not particularly interesting other than to learn about Celia's origins. It turns out, though, that it's a good thing Celia goes, because it appears that their role in all of these events, even the ones in BLOOD SONG, may be deeper than first thought.

We see more of how mage magic works, which was interesting and well done. The roles of magic in this world are important—from the everyday variety to creating protective wards to how they fight with it. Adams used clairvoyants a lot in BLOOD SONG, and they were interesting and affected the plot. This time around there are several clairvoyant 'prophecies' but they're vague and pointless, which was frustrating.

For a middle book in a series, SIREN SONG is rather mediocre, and not worth trying to read as a standalone, because the story depends a great deal on what came before. Despite this, at least we're clearer who the bad guys are, and their motives—which was my big frustration in BLOOD SONG. Still, the world building, character progression, and cast is what keeps me interested, and I'm looking forward to reading the conclusion, DEMON SONG.

Recommended Age: 16+
Language: A couple handfuls, not as much as in BLOOD SONG
Violence: Lots more peril than BLOOD SONG, and the couple of fight scenes are as exciting and detailed as the ones from the previous book
Sex: Referenced, with only minor details

The Alloy of Law

My favorite works by Brandon Sanderson are his Mistborn novels. From the moment I picked up THE FINAL EMPIRE all the way through the last page of THE HERO OF AGES, I was loving the series. I like all of Sanderson's novels, but the Mistborn series, for me, is far better than all the rest.

And now we have a new Mistborn novel, THE ALLOY OF LAW. When I received a copy of this in the mail, everything else went on hold.

THE ALLOY OF LAW is set 300 years after the events of THE HERO OF AGES. The city of Elendel is in the midst of an industrial awakening, and the characters of the past Mistborn novels are all referenced by way of varied religions. The story follows Waxillium Ladrian as he goes from being a frontier lawman of sorts in the Roughs to a lord over his house in the city--think equal parts Bruce Wayne and Wyatt Earp. The woman Wax is to marry is kidnapped, and thus begins the adventure.

First things first: THE ALLOW OF LAW is a standalone novel. While I imagine a bunch of the stuff from here will end up referenced in Sanderson's next Mistborn Trilogy, this is a stand-alone novel. The first two things that stood out while I was reading this novel was first, the evolution of the setting. Sanderson does an excellent job showing how this world has evolved from the city, to the religion, to the culture. It is all done logically and descriptively. It felt like the Mistborn world had actually evolved rather than just painted over with a vague, western facade.

The second thing that jumped out was the evolution in the magic. Waxillium (Wax) is a Twinborn. He can use both Allomancy and Feruchemy. Not only did Sanderson avoid falling back on having his hero be an all-powerful Mistborn (a nice touch), but he still managed to make his hero powerful by mixing powers together. It was an extremely refreshing blend of familiar and new, and honestly has me super excited for future possibilities. Seriously. Just think about it for a minute.

Yeah. Awesome, right?

The side characters feel like just that: side characters. They are fleshed out enough to give the story weight, and to make the reader like them. But don't expect the other characters to be fleshed out like you would from Sanderson's THE WAY OF KINGS. THE ALLOW OF LAW is a short (by Sanderson's standards!) novel. I'll tell you why I'm OK with this: the novel is focused. I wanted to get to know Wax, and Sanderson did that. No fluff. No wandering. No repetitive sections. Nope. THE ALLOY OF LAW is a focused and well-paced novel.

Did I love everything about it? No (when do I ever?). A lot of this comes to personal taste, so none of this may bother you readers at all. Remember WARBREAKER? Where all the characters thought they were comedians? THE ALLOY OF LAW has the same sort of vibe. Now I get that Brandon doesn't do super dark and gritty (which I would LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOVE him to do...he would KILL it!!!), but to me the humor in this novel was too much. Just when I would start to completely lose myself in this beautiful progressing world, Wax or his friend Wayne (another Twinborn with some awesome abilities) would do something so silly that I would be thrown completely out of the novel. Now perhaps this is my fault for expecting an actual Western...and when I think of Westerns I think of Unforgiven. ALLOW OF LAW is hardly Western at all. It's light Western, and light Steampunk.

But here's the thing, that humor only makes up a very small portion of the novel. If you are OK with Sanderson's humor, then you'll love this book. If, like me, you aren't a fan, then simply ignore the humor and focus on the gunplay and magic--you'll likely love the novel this way.

My favorite part of this novel was the ending. Not only do we get a very cool set-piece that shows how far the world has come, but we get some great action, a light twist, and then Sanderson has characters choose duty over desire. I was worried Brandon was going to go all "happily ever after" on me. Whew. Didn't happen.

It's hard for me to rank this book in terms of Sanderson's other novels. I like it better than ELANTRIS and much better than WARBREAKER. The jury is still out on how Stormlight Archive series is going to turn out. But THE ALLOY OF LAW isn't quite up to the standards of the other other Mistborn novels. I think this is due to it feeling more like a long novella that was able to sneak into novel-form. That's not a criticism, just an observation. The long and short of it is fans of Brandon's work will love this novel.

Now I know I said this is a stand-alone. I know Brandon has said this is a stand-alone. But c'mon, man! Give the readers another novel or novella in this setting using the Roughs you describe in the beginning. Do it Deadwood style. PLEEEEEEEASE!

Recommended Age: 13 and up.
Language: Hardly any. Abercrombie this is not.
Violence: Lots of gunplay and magic fighting. I dig it.
Sex: Nope. Abercrombie this is not.