The Price of War

It is with no small amount of irony and quite a large piece of humble pie that I finally sit down to write this review a full month after the book's release.  With how much I harped on the poor treatment Mr. Abraham received surrounding the publication of his Long Price series and the single fact that I consider Daniel Abraham to be my current favorite fiction author today, you'd think that I'd be more on top of things when it came to the release of this book.  The U.S. trade omnibus paperback treatment of his story has been a long time coming--longer than I think it had any right to be--but I am supremely happy to see it finally happen.  In my mind, this is one of those stories that deserves all the praise and publicity that can be heaped upon it.

THE PRICE OF WAR is an omnibus of the final two novels in the Long Price quartet (AN AUTUMN WAR and THE PRICE OF SPRING).  The first two are found in the omnibus SHADOW AND BETRAYAL, which was released earlier this year.  The four books in this series make up one of the most engaging and engrossing fantasy stories that I've ever read.  It's just that good.

AN AUTUMN WAR picks up about 15 years after the close of BETRAYAL IN WINTER.  The characters that we've been introduced to in the first half of the series have grown again from those that we know.  Maati, the andat Poet.  Itani become Otah Machi and Khai of the Cities Khaiem.  Liat, past lover of them both and mother to Maati's child.  New to the cast of characters is the Galtic general, Balasar Gice.  The story herein revolves around these few as the Galts finally come within reach of their ever-present drive to destroy the power protecting the cities of the Khaiem and thus the people themselves.  Although there is little actual "war" in this book, the characters and their lives are all intimately affected by the results of the devastating punishment inflicted upon the cities of the Khaiem by the Galts.  It is devastating and yet supremely powerful in its portrayal of the events.

THE PRICE OF SPRING comes in another 15 years after the close of AN AUTUMN WAR and brings to a close the story of Otah and Maati that began in A SHADOW IN SUMMER.  The people of the Khaiem are suffering the effects of the Galtic war, reeling from the blow dealt to their power and learning a new way of living.  But there are those that will not give up the old ways, those that want the Khaiem to return to their position of power, and they will give anything to see them have it once again.

The ultimate strength of this series is found in the presentation of its characters and their intimate connection both with the world at large and with each other.  They are strong and nuanced and driven.  There's no real "bad guy" in this series, and although the Galts can definitely be seen as the antagonist of the series, their motives and passions are relayed to us through Balasar Gice and given a humanity and level of sympathy that makes the lines of "good" and "evil" disappear completely.  It is through these characters, through the morals and decisions of each, that the world is shaped and changed.

And oh boy is it changed.

It was so easy to get caught up in these books.  Every story line and every character was my favorite.  I loved them all.  Seriously.  So often in books there'll be a character or two that I just want to get done with.  I think we all have them.  There weren't any like that in this series for me.  True, the story is a fairly slow-moving one.  None of these are books that fly by and quickly forgotten.  They build slowly and surely, and every piece weighs upon the next.  The amount of extraneous in this series is essentially nil.

Don't read this series to learn everything there is to know about the Khaiem and its people, although you will learn of them.  Don't seek to understand completely their religion or the economy of their enemies, but you will see plenty.  Find these characters and let them live and breathe through the pages.  It'll be an easy path from there.  Mr. Abraham will take you on a trip through their lives and the strength and heartache and even devastation that comes to both them and the world around them.

This is an amazing series and not one to be missed by anyone that loves fantasy.  This guy has everything in his stories that I, over three decades of reading, have come to love and admire.

He makes me believe.  And a little bit more of that is exactly what this world needs.

Recommended Age: 16+
Sex: It's been a while since I read these, but I don't remember there being much
Violence: The war fallout gets pretty brutal
Profanity: Infrequent but strong

Buy these books and read them all!  Start your year off right with some goodness from the mind of Daniel Abraham:
SHADOW AND BETRAYAL
THE PRICE OF WAR

Ruins

PATHFINDER, the first book in Orson Scott Card’s Pathfinder series (of which RUINS is the second book), kind of blew me away (read my review here). I am a big fan of Card’s older work. ENDER’S GAME is a classic. I loved the rest of the Ender series, (the Shadow series not so much) and I loved both WYRMS and TREASON. But I have had a hard time getting into his work lately. This series however feels like a bit of that Old Card coming through.

The plot, for those of you who haven’t gotten on board, follows Rigg a boy who can see paths, the paths that humans have traveled in and how recently. To some extent it lets him see the past, who went where and when they did it. I’m gonna get all spoilery of the first book in a second so if you want you can just jump down to the bottom of the review where I will tell you if this is a good book or not (hint: it is).

The first book, PATHFINDER, ends with Rigg having found his sister, who can manipulate time as well, though in different ways, and together with her, his friend Umbo and two ex-soldiers Loaf and Olivenko have crossed the barrier between their land and the land bordering it. RUINS deals with Rigg and his pals exploring some of the other lands that make up the planet Garden. The scope of the series is almost immediately widened and a bigger view of where the series is going as a whole is brought to the forefront. I thought maybe Card would spend this book dealing with just the one one new place and the problems that the new Wallfold faces, but I was wrong. Card wastes no time moving from one place to the next, and indeed even one time to the next. It was difficult at times seeing the characters go back and forth in time. The group would travel forward and backward in time to see certain events or bypass various obstacles. There was a lot of it and at times I wasn’t sure WHEN the book was happening. It didn’t matter. The story unfolded pretty smoothly and was a fun quick read.

During the book as Rigg and his friends go from land to land (called Wallfolds in the book), the group would discover something new, something that those particular inhabitants had spent the last ten thousand years cultivating and exploring. As I was reading I had an uneasy sense that I’d read that before. Card is plagiarizing someone else’s idea I thought. Then I realized where I had read the idea before. It was in a previous Orson Scott Card book called TREASON (an excellent book, one of my favorites of Card’s writing). The idea is still cool here and going from place to place to see what each different set of people had created or discovered was one of the joys of the book.

That being said, I think I enjoyed the idea a bit more in TREASON. The book was shorter, more action packed and to the point. That’s not to say that RUINS wasn’t a lot of fun (it was). Just that particular idea seemed better used in that shorter work.

RUINS is still a lot of fun. At a time where I had almost given up on Card’s work he comes out with this Pathfinder series to remind us all of why we liked him in the first place. This series isn’t destined to be another ENDER’S GAME. But then what is? RUINS is still fun and worth your while.

Age Recommendation: I dunno, whenever they want to read it I guess. The time travel stuff can be a bit confusing and the two boys Rigg and Umbo, are immature and make a few rude jokes, but nothing really offensive here.
Language: Not really
Violence: Nothing I recall was too bad
Sex: Maybe mentioned but nothing to get upset about.

Want to give this series a try? Here are your links:
PATHFINDER
RUINS

A Red Sun Also Rises

I don't know if I can accurately describe just how excited I was to dive into this book. Mark Hodder's Adventures of Burton and Swinburne were some of the most amazing books that I read in the last few years. Major anticipation in this corner. So the fact that this book was nothing like I thought it would be, AND ended up being Science Fiction, AND I still really liked it says something impressive about Mr. Hodder and his burgeoning array of great stories.

A RED SUN ALSO RISES, to all appearances, is a stand-alone novel in the same vein as Hodder's previous trilogy and definitely a not book that you'd find Arthur Krystal picking up at your local bookstore. Go ahead and check out the very fine book cover and tell me that it doesn't make your mind just go, SPROING! Seriously great artwork there. And the story ain't half bad either!

Inside, we delve into the life of Aiden Fleischer, a priest struggling to make the connection between playing the part of a man of the cloth and actually being one in truth. In short order, a woman comes into his life, Miss Clarissa Stark, and the both of them are soon romping around an alien planet, filled with the weird and strange lifeforms of Mr. Hodder's supreme imagination and trying to understand just what kind of world they've been thrown into. Massive bag aliens, and hybrid wolf aliens, and aliens erupting from other aliens-aliens. Seriously wild stuff.

The background is built upon many aspects of the history of our world, introduces a very large change, and then flies into the speculative stratosphere. Unlike Hodder's previous books, RED SUN was very much enamored with two foci that I see as being highly important to Science Fiction: exploration of the unknown and the exploration of God. An overwhelmingly large portion of the book was devoted to these two ideas, and yet they were all wrapped up and woven throughout the tapestry of the over-arching story so well that they frequently disappeared amongst the strata. A good thing in my book.

The downside was that the development of these aspects overtook a few of the other very important pieces of the story. Those being characterization and direction. Fleischer's character is well-drawn during the beginning of the book. Inner-torment over his priestly duties and his understanding of God and the presence of evil in the world (by way of a Jack the Ripper cameo) paint the conflict within Fleischer very well. Once the new venue made a showing however, the book made a pretty large shift. The adventure portion of the story took hold, and consequently the direction of the plot also became a bit more nebulous. This did make the story drag a bit in parts, especially toward the middle, but the end made for a rip-roaring mash-up where all the cards finally came tumbling out of Mr. Hodder's hand. I really liked how it all turned out.

I think Hodder's fans will like this new adventure, especially those whose tastes tend more toward the realm of Science Fiction. It's a relatively short read with a interesting premise, logical plot progression (peppered with wandering exploration), and a satisfying ending that will remind Hodder's readers of all the things they love about his work. Definitely one to add to the old bookshelves.

Recommended Age: 18+
Sex: Inclusion of sex without any scenes or real description
Violence: Themes surrounding Jack the Ripper. Quite grisly and violent in sections.
Profanity: Very low.

Find the book here: A Red Sun Also Rises

KOP Killer

Like the hair in your panna cotta, or the blow fly in your bisque, a bad salesman will most often destroy the goodness that surrounds it, no matter how much of that goodness may be available. At least, it will often destroy the idea of large-scale goodness for me. This single idea represents one of the most important reasons why I just couldn't bring myself to love this most recent read. And yet, I will often pull the fly out and eat the soup anyhow. I mean, who can resist a good soup!

KOP KILLER, by Warren Hammond, is the third book in his Kop series, but is handled well-enough that it has little problem standing on its own. The story is set on the planet of Lagarto, where the long day and night cycles make for some interesting dynamics, and nearly every inhabitant living there understands that their lives can sink no further than this.

Juno Mozambe is a waste of a man. His wife is dead. He's lost his job with the Koba Office of Police (KOP), where he and his now dead partner ran the joint with a pair of fists dirtier than septic tank cheese balls. Now all he has left is his wits, a few of his old connections, and his drive to see KOP taken down. So he's hired a few cops that are still on the beat and still dirty as he is and starts a business as a thug for hire. But things are never as simple as they seem, and very soon Juno is juggling more pins than he has hands.

This book really has a lot going for it. It's dark, gritty, and fast-moving. Right from the get-go we have a large number of characters with history that shapes the way they interact with one another. Juno is strong and driven toward a single goal, and the frenetic pacing of the novel never once lets you rest. It's part police procedural, and part dystopian science fiction, but all punch and kick and scream. The largest hit to its karma, though, comes through the poor sales of Juno as a “bad guy”. From the very beginning he's out to let everyone know just how terrible he really is, and yet the way that he thinks about and responds to the various situations in which he finds himself made me think of him more as weak and scared and often incompetent.

Also despite his rock-solid driving force at the beginning, as the end of the book gets closer his driving force wavers all over the place: from destroying KOP, to setting up a new leader for KOP, to avenging the deaths of several people, to killing someone that is even worse than he is, to... It soon got very confusing why he was doing anything that he did, other than the fact that one event led him to next and the next and finally to the end.

The second bad sell was the alien planet bit. There's very little to no atmosphere or detail contained in the story to give the impression that these events are actually happening anywhere other than Earth. Yes, there's a long day/night cycle. And a spaceship blasts off into the sky once. And he eats four different gecko tacos that dribble hot sauce onto various parts of his anatomy. But still. It was a tough sell for me.

And yet, despite these fairly large flaws, I liked the way that things played out. Hammond's prose isn't amazing by any stretch of the imagination but it's strong and connective. It pulls you along, and relays a story that is twisted, and strange, and ultimately engaging, even if it's not perfect. Reminded me quite a bit of the little Richard K. Morgan I've read, though I've seen that comparison bandied about a lot lately.

Sound decent? If it does, give it a whirl. It's probably a book for you.

Recommended Age: 18+
Sex: Numerous, strong references throughout
Violence: Very high. Gory, bloody, and descriptive
Profanity: Frequent. Strong. Sometimes distracting.

Want it? Here's your link!

KOP Killer

The Iron Wyrm Affair

Emma Bannon is a sorceress in the employ of the Queen herself, tasked with protecting Archibald Clare, an unregistered and failed mentath. Why? Because other mentaths all over Londinium are dying unexplainable and grisly deaths and there's more to it than a serial killer.

Set in an alternative Victorian England, THE IRON WYRM AFFAIR blends magic and steampunk with enthusiasm. Known for her Urban Fantasy series, Lilith Saintcrow tries something different with a steam-sorcery-mystery tale that threatens Britannia herself.

In chapter one our PoV characters meet through Clare's eyes as he deduces who Emma is as well as her Shield Mikal, her protector. Clare's character is interesting because he sees the world differently and Saintcrow paints him well (despite some later inconsistencies). Emma is a sorceress with a knack for darker magic, who is powerful enough to expect to get everything she asks for. Their PoVs aren't particularly disparate, and sometimes I even confused their dialogue. But they're likable characters well aware of their own strengths and weaknesses. Mikal could have been a more interesting secondary character if only his brooding glowers were less frequent. Saintcrow's other characters are fun to read and she gives them the details they deserve.

From the beginning we're thrown into Saintcrow's world of magic. There's Victrix, the vessel of Britannia, the soul of the kingdom itself. Magic-wielders with varying degrees of ability. Gryphons who are the protectors of Britannia, but love to eat sorcerer flesh above all. Young dragons who live in the shadows while their elders sleep. Mentaths whose abilities with logic and deduction border on the obsessive and require constant work or they go mad. Tideturn re-supplies magic-wielders the energy for creating their magic. I could go on but that would ruin the story for you--you'll have to discover Saintcrow's cleverness for yourself.

But where WYRM's strengths of setting is what makes this a fun read, it's also unfortunately its weakness. Saintcrow has so much information of place, magic, verbiage, and people and she immerses us into the story so quickly we get lost amongst all the New Words. Not everything is explained. And while it's great when authors move a story along and reveal as they go, it's not so great when the reveals are choppy or arrive frustratingly late. Add to that transition issues between scenes and within action scenes, which made it hard to sometimes know what was going on. And alas I'm not sure I can bear to discuss Saintcrow's sometimes florid prose.

I almost gave this book a Like rating, it barely made it into Mediocre, the main reason being that I don't want to steer dear EBR readers wrong thinking that this book is without much flaw. But those who like the flair of typical Urban Fantasy but with a Victorian romantic twist will likely enjoy this addition to Saintcrow's body of work.

Recommended age: 15+
Language: A couple instances
Violence: Throughout the novel, and it's occasionally gory
Sex: A few references only, and without detail

You can find the start of this new series here:
THE IRON WYRM AFFAIR

Cold City

Do you know Repairman Jack? If you don't, you've been missing out on a terrific series of books by F. Paul Wilson. The Repairman Jack series has, over the years, grown into one of my favorite series. It has a near perfect mix of horror and thriller elements while managing to inject humor here and there.

Through the series, I've always had questions in my mind about Jack. I know what happened to his mom (and his reaction to it), but what did he do after? How did he meet Julio and Abe? What events forged him into the man we meet in THE TOMB?

Those questions start to be answered in COLD CITY.

COLD CITY is the first in a trilogy of the the early years of Repairman Jack...when he was just Jack. He's just a young guy who has decided he wants to live completely of the radar. He's just moved to New York City, and it's 1990. That cold and calculating professional we all know and love? Yeah, he doesn't exist yet. This Jack is still figuring things out. He does more on the fly than we the readers are used to. He makes knee-jerk decisions without thinking, and gets out of control. The natural fear here is the reader's ability to buy into this, and perhaps a lesser author would have had difficulty pulling this off. Not F. Paul Wilson.

COLD CITY feels like a perfect line was drawn from Repairman Jack's present self to his youth.

So what is this novel about? Like I said, this is about the fire that forges Jack into the vigilante we cheer for. Trouble is drawn to Jack, and COLD CITY wastes no time throwing Jack into the deep end of the pool. He gets a job driving a truck smuggling cigarettes. The pay is outstanding, the job easy for a bright kid like Jack. And then everything goes wrong. Jack finds himself the target of some vengeful Dominicans and Islamic terrorists. He starts up a love affair with an old friend. And then there is the whole thing with helping Julio with a couple of problems.

You know, business as usual for the fixer that Jack will become.

The pacing of the novel is relentless. There's no fat needing trimmed here, and for me, the pages flew by. When I absolutely had to put the book down to get some sleep, I dreamed about it. I couldn't stop telling my literate friends at work about it.

So yeah, I freaking loved COLD CITY.

I do have a few things I need to point out. First, for all you veterans of the series, there's none of the the monster/supernatural/Adversary feeling in this book. That stuff starts in THE TOMB. Secondly, this book is not a standalone like the rest of the books in the series. In fact, my biggest complaint of COLD CITY is the ending. It just stops. Huge, massive cliffhanger. I literally screamed at the book that it could NOT BE DONE YET!!!! Needless to say, it didn't listen. None of the plot threads are resolved. In a way, it's frustrating. The year waiting for the next book is going to be complete agony. Last, the love affair Jack starts up didn't really click for me. It may not bother you at all, but it did me.

All that said, I loved this book. Have you ever gone a looooong time without a truly amazing steak dinner? When you take that first bite, and the medium cooked morsel (or however you personally like it cooked) melts in your mouth. You don't mean to, but you close your eyes and chew in pure, decadent pleasure. Every bite thereafter is like the best treat ever...and then suddenly, the steak is gone. You've eaten it all. That's how COLD CITY was for me.

Maybe you've never read a Repairman Jack novel before. Maybe you read the first few, but now catching up seems daunting. If you fall in either of those two camps, COLD CITY is a great place to start (or re-start, if you will).

Enough talk. Go buy this book.

Recommended Age: 17+
Profanity: Yep. It can get pretty strong depending on the character talking.
Violence: Oh geez. Some scenes are just crazy in their brutality.
Sex: A couple of detailed scenes, not to mention some frank discussions. Additionally, one of the main themes of the novel is sex slavery.

Here's you link to buy COLD CITY, and the first Repairman Jack novel, THE TOMB:

COLD CITY

THE TOMB

Andromeda's Fall

Military Science Fiction, oh how I've missed you. In the never ending journey to expand my interests I find that I have neglected my favorite of all genres. The recent release of Halo 4 had me jonesing for a military sci-fi fix. Fortunately, around that time the notorious William C. Dietz asked if I would be interested in reviewing ANDROMEDA'S FALL, the latest Legion of the Damned novel.

This marks my first Legion of the Damned novel, and it tells the story of Catherine Carletto, a wealthy socialite. In the blink of an eye Catherine's life is turned upside down when the Emperor's sister makes a bold power grab. In order to consolidate power and excise the threat of rebellion the newly crowned Empress has the dead Emperor's friends and supporters assassinated. Catherine's and her family fall under this category. Orphaned and on the run, Catherine enlists with the Legion under the alias Andromeda McKee.

ANDROMEDA'S FALL is the tenth book in the Legion of the Damned series, though as I understand it is also the beginning of its own mini-arc. A prequel of sorts. I've always wanted to get into the Legion of the Damned series but I just never got around to it. The more books that have been published the more daunting it seems to begin. ANDROMEDA'S FALL strikes me as a middle ground - a good starting point for beginners and a glimpse into the background lore for the fans.

ANDROMEDA'S FALL is very accessible. Though largely military oriented the hardcore jargon is kept to a minimum. I was looking forward to learning about the Legion but ANDROMEDA'S FALL is primarily focused on McKee. Not that I'm complaining. I mostly like McKee as a character. She's a strong woman, a dedicated soldier, and a quick thinker. The transition period between celebrity Carletto and soldier McKee might be a little too smooth. For someone who has lived such a privileged life Catherine Carletto adjusts to life on the run and then life in the military rather well. McKee does express moments of self doubt and sadness however, and these scenes help to flesh out her character.

The supporting cast could use some development. Trooper Larkin is a lovable rogue and I find his relationship with McKee to be interesting. I like the way it is handled and I appreciate the fact that Larkin lives in a moral grey area. I do want to see more from the rest of the cast, especially some of the cyborgs. I find the Legion's use of cyborgs fascinating and I would love to learn more about them and catch some more from their perspective.

I like Andromeda McKee and Trooper Larkin well enough but I will be sticking around because of the Legion. I've read about future Marines, future Navy, and future Army plenty. ANDROMEDA'S FALL is the first I have ever read about the future of the French Foreign Legion (Legion etrangere). What a fascinating organization! From the bits and pieces I picked up from this novel I am now hooked on the history of the Legion. I just want to read more. Both the Legion's past and future are highly interesting. I love the use of cyborgs alongside standard infantry. I've seen mechs and power armor in Military Sci-Fi but I like this approach.

ANDROMEDA'S FALL is full of action and suspense. I usually rate one of these novels by how memorable the battles are and two from ANDROMEDA'S FALL are emblazoned in my brain. I can't wait to continue the story of Andromeda McKee (there are definitely sequels on the way) and in the meantime I'll try and grab a few copies of the earlier books.

Recommended Age: 14+
Language: Some, what do you expect from soldiers?
Violence: Lots, what do you expect from soldiers?
Sex: Suggested but nothing vivid.

Want it? Get it here. While you're at it you may want to check out the LEGION OF THE DAMNED video game on iPhone and iPad. I bought it a couple days ago and it's a really cool way to round out the ANDROMEDA'S FALL experience. If you enjoy strategy games it will be right up your alley.

V Wars

Most anthologies contain a collection of unrelated stories from various authors. That's just the way it goes. Unless the anthology is done by Baen Books and is set in one of their authors' worlds, the stories are rarely even set in the same universe. Heck, even the anthologies I've written for (THE CRIMSON PACT: Vol 2, 3 & 4) have had very few links to connect anyone's work.

And then I read V WARS. V WARS is a vampire (mostly) anthology edited by Jonathan Maberry. That name alone should be enough to grab your interest. Maberry puts out quality work 1000% of the time. This anthology is about a global outbreak of a virus that converts the "junk DNA" in some people. Depending on their heritage, those affected by the virus turn into vampires and werewolves (which in folklore are traditionally related).

And the best part is every story is set in the same world under the same calamity.

You have no idea how refreshing this was to me. Maberry tells a series of short tales following the so-called "patient zero" and his transformation. Maberry's stories serve as a continual frame and big-picture narrative to the entire anthology. The execution across the board is fantastic, and the story feels equally cohesive from the shared story element, to fittingly diverse since it is written by a variety of authors. Obviously, Maberry's portions were stellar, but in many cases they were just vignettes to move the overall narrative forward.

I had some personal favorites in this collection, but I feel a bit crappy about pointing out specific stories. Due to the nature of this anthology, and the connected nature of every story, it would almost be as if I were picking certain chapters in a novel that I didn't like. So instead--and thus avoiding a ton of spoilers--I'm just going to talk about some of the ideas here and what made the entire collection strong.

The ideas in this anthology are what carry it. We get a werewolf themed political thriller, a vampire pyramid scheme, biker gangs, tales from the Mexican-US border, and even a tale from the Antarctic. Even the variety in vampires is pure awesome. How many anthologies play it safe these days? V WARS takes a risk here by having such a crazy variety of stories. I don't know whether or not Maberry planned this whole thing out, or if he just edited it all together, but it all flows so well considering the multitude of authors involved in this project.

I do have a few issues. Firstly, the title of the collection is V WARS...and yet this anthology is really about the spread of the virus and how the world reacts to it. The anthology ends right when we are about to get into some actual wars. So this begs the question: is there going to be a follow-up anthology? If so, great! If not, the title of this collection makes promises it can't (and doesn't) keep. There were a few cases where the segments just didn't work, and were inconsistent with the overall narrative. Also, one story delves into the cliche on a bad level.

Here is what I hope: that this becomes a trend. I want more projects like V WARS. Lots more. A bajillion more. Why? Because readers get to have some great short-fiction while at the same time experiencing a big narrative. This seems like such a win-win for authors and readers alike.

V WARS isn't perfect, but it is dang good. I've been begging Maberry through email to do a sequel anthology, and I'm just praying he gets his group together and does it. You should read V WARS, and so should your friends.

Recommended Age: 18+
Profanity: All sorts.
Violence: Holy crap, yes!
Sex: Actually, there is a really explicit scene in one of the stories. To me, it wasn't needed.

Buy it here:

V WARS

21st Century Dead

One of the anthologies that renewed my faith in short fiction was THE NEW DEAD, edited by Christopher Golden. There were just so many fantastic stories that after I closed the cover, I just sat back and said, "Wow!" Since then I've been more than happy to tackle any collection of short fiction, and I've read a lot of absolutely stellar work. With all that said, it shouldn't be too difficult a stretch of the imagination to say that my expectations of 21ST CENTURY DEAD were extremely high. Unfairly so, even.

21ST CENTURY DEAD is edited by Christopher Golden, and should appeal directly to the shambling masses that loved Golden's first collection. It contains stories from Jonathan Maberry, Orson Scott Card, Simon R. Green, Brian Keene, and tons more. While THE NEW DEAD was solid pretty much from start to finish, 21ST CENTURY DEAD is far more uneven.

I'll start with the good:

"Jack and Jill" by Jonathan Maberry
This story actually takes place concurrently with his novel DEAD OF NIGHT. It follows a brother and sister (Jack & Jill) and their family as a massive superstorm hits their town. Everything about this story is fantastic, and it serves as a perfect alternate PoV from the novel. It also follows perfectly the hopeless theme of the novel, with I completely loved. For me, this was the best story in the anthology.

"Ghost Dog & Pup: Stay" by Thomas E. Sniegoiski
A radically different story, and one that I didn't think would work at the onset. See, part of the story is told from the PoV of a phantom dog. Yeah. In all, it is a very cool story about the faithfulness of a dog even after death has separated it from the boy it wants to protect. This was the most surprisingly good story in the collection.

"Biters" by Mark Morris
This is the lead story of the collection, and gets it off to a mostly good start. It starts off shocking and crazy, just the way a zombie anthology should. Without getting too much into it and spoiling it for you, I'll just say that part of the tale revolves around kids who are charged with taking care of zom-babies. There was some mild disappointment when one part of the horror just gets glossed over, but this story actually has a "happy" ending. Pretty good overall.

"Tender as Teeth" by Stephanie Crawford and Duane Swierczynski
Such a different story. It's about a girl that has an infamous moment as a zombie, then gets "better".  I'm not gonna say much about this one other than it was one of my favorites.

"Antiparallelogram" by Amber Benson
This story had, bar none, the best ideas. People can take vials of fluid that turn them into whatever they want. Addiction factors into it all, and then there is a vial that can turn you permanently into, say, a zombie. This story could have done with being a bit longer to flesh out the world more, but I really, REALLY liked that Benson didn't play it safe.

"Couch Potato" by Brian Keene
Keene's story was short, sweet, and complete. No fluff. It was equal parts sad and funny the way Jerry Springer is. For me, this was the guilty pleasure story of the collection. It did exactly what it was supposed to do, and I just loved it.

As for the rest? Many of the stories had good parts in them, specifically good beginnings...and then they just fell apart. The prime example of this was Orson Scott Card's story. It had such an awesome beginning. Such stellar ideas. But then the ending was terrible. It's a story that went on too far, too long, and just unraveled. Ken Bruen's "The Dead of Dromore" and Kurt Sutter's "Tic Boom: A Slice of Love" had weird formatting styles that did not work for me at all. They became a chore to read.

Here is my main issue: very few of the stories satisfied me completely. So many of the stories were stunningly mediocre. Were my expectations too high? Maybe. I loved the prior anthology, and I just expected that every story in 21ST CENTURY DEAD would be killer. There were enough stories here that saved the entire collection from becoming mediocre, but so many "meh" ones to keep it from being great.

Should you read it? I think it's worth a try, especially if you feel the need for a short-fiction fix.

Recommended Age: 18+.
Profanity: TONS.
Violence: Quite a bit, seeing as this is a zombie anthology.
Sex: Talk about it, but nothing super explicit.

Want it? Here is your link, plus a link to THE NEW DEAD:


THE NEW DEAD
21ST CENTURY DEAD

American Sniper

Nonfiction! What is this black magic? You all must be thinking that I'm a pretty contradictory person. I don't read books about dragons. I love James Maxey's GREATSHADOW. I don't read anthologies. I love ARMORED by John Joseph Adams. Now I'm going to tell you that I don't read nonfiction. Ever. But it turns out that I really liked AMERICAN SNIPER, written by Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice. An autobiography about a Navy SEAL? Well if you're going to read nonfiction you might as well read the most exciting nonfiction available.

Chris Kyle served as a Navy SEAL during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Kyle and his platoon were part of some of the thickest fighting the US Armed Forces were involved in, from pacifying Fallujah to cleaning out Sadr City. AMERICAN SNIPER is an unapologetic, patriotic, and personal look at the conflict in the Middle East from the perspective of a special forces sniper.

AMERICAN SNIPER begins with Kyle's first sniper kill and then follows his path from childhood all the way through his enlistment until he leaves the Navy in 2009. Reading about the way Kyle grew up and the life he led before becoming a SEAL really gives insight into what sort of person it takes to be a special forces operator. Kyle is a legitimate cowboy, a Texan, and a "good ol' boy". He's the sort of guy that you would really like to buy a beer and it shows through his writing. The autobiography is broken up into chapters with sub-chapters, making for quick easy reading and the tone of the narrative is so laid back that it's really more like having a conversation than reading.

The personal bits are all very compelling. Kyle's wife Taya even writes small excerpts here and there that add an even more delicate touch. The parts written from Taya's perspective are often about the toll Kyle's enlistment and service took on the family. These parts serve as a reminder that SEALs aren't just warriors. They are sons and brothers and fathers and husbands as well. But enough about the touchy-feely stuff.

The legend of Chris Kyle is really what makes this book a must read. During his service, Kyle wracked up 160 confirmed sniper kills. This is just the confirmed kills, but the number claimed is actually 255. Kyle doesn't once brag about his tally, in fact he is completely humble about his whole experience as a SEAL. Kyle fought in Iraq, not for any medals, but to protect his country. Kyle doesn't regret any of his kills and he refuses to make apologies for what he has done. Some people are likely to be offended by the candid nature of the autobiography, but I doubt many of these people are likely to buy a book about snipers in the Iraq War to begin with.

AMERICAN SNIPER is a great read. If you are curious about Navy SEALs and the way their operations have changed with the emergence of the War on Terror this is the book for you. This is a very personal story with no shortage of action, humor, mourning, and hope. If you have a problem with patriotism you should skip this one, but I found it to be a fun time.

Here's a thanks to all who serve in America's Armed Forces for their service and sacrifice.

Recommended Age: 16+
Language: Chris Kyle cusses like the cowboy he is, but he doesn't overdo it. Still, be warned. Violence: Yes, sometimes morbid but never gruesome.
Sex: None.

Interested in this book? Find it here:
AMERICAN SNIPER

The Watchtower

Garet James is the last in a line of women "watchtowers" who protect humanity from evil--particularly the magic kind. In BLACK SWAN RISING she had to learn about her unknown powers and save New York City from destruction. She had the help of fairies, goblins, as well as that of the rich and handsome vampire Will Hughes. But he has disappeared, leaving clues for Garet to follow.

If you remember my review for BLACK SWAN RISING, I had a hard time with the love story between Garet and Will. It was sudden and inexplicable and emotionless--it's hard for a romance to be believable when you don't understand why two characters love each other. So when the second book, THE WATCHTOWER so depended on their love in order to explain Garet's motivation to follow Will...it didn't bode well.

Garet must travel to Paris and find the path to the Summer Country to find Will on his quest to cure himself of his vampirism. Those details are interesting and creative as Carroll draws out the history and lore surrounding the magic of the Fae and their lives in Paris. Carroll also does well painting a picture of Paris itself and its view from an up-close street level--much like was done successfully with New York City in SWAN.

Unfortunately, that's the best part of the book, and it's not enough to keep the reader interested. Instead, we get the love story of Will and Marguerite (Garet's grandmother+great I don't know how many times, it wasn't clear) of 400 years ago mixed in with Garet's present-day search. What's wrong with that, you ask? Carroll already told us how that particular story ends in SWAN. So I'm reading a story of a spoiled and emo 19-year-old Will falling in swooning love at first sight, and I already know what's going to happen...and, yeah. Had a hard time enjoying that. Add on the fact that Garet and Will spend the majority of the book apart, and when they're together I'm still not sure why they love each other.

If I had liked Will more, I might have been more interested in his origins, but he behaved so erratically and took Garet's stuff only to leave her behind in SWAN, so going into THE WATCHTOWER I would have been fine if she'd washed her hands of him. My other question is: Why name the book THE WATCHTOWER if Garet doesn't do watchtower-ish things? Sure she is clever and able to follow the clues, but she leaves the hard stuff for others in the end. Again. Maybe the book is about Marguerite the original watchtower? But we don't see Marguerite protect the world from evil, she just moons over Will. Now I understand where Garet gets it from. But I still don't understand why.

And then the Summer Country and time travel and magic watches and...I just got confused at where the story was taking me. Why the characters did the things they did. Why magic worked the way it did. By the end I just wanted it to be over. There will be a sequel. I don't plan on reading it.

Recommended Age: 16+
Language: Very little
Violence: Some, although without detail
Sex: One brief scene

This book is the second in a series:
BLACK SWAN RISING
THE WATCHTOWER

The Coldest War

What are they putting in the water down in New Mexico?  Seriously!

There are two books that I’ve read this year (and I really read my share of books) that I’ve gotten to the end and thought, “WOW!”  The first was Daniel Abraham’s excellent THE KING’S BLOODTHE COLDEST WAR, by Ian Tregillis is the second.  The weird thing is they both hail from New Mexico.  They seem to be in the same writing group or something down there.  You can see each other’s names in the acknowledgment section of their books.  Whatever they are doing down there, keep it up.

I remember getting to the end of BITTER SEEDS, the first book in Ian Tregillis’s Milkweed series, and liking it more than I had expected.  My thoughts on finishing THE COLDEST WAR? “Holy (bleep)ing (bleep)ity (bleep)ing (bleep)!!!!!!  Why isn’t the last book in this series out RIGHT NOW!!” Or something along those lines.

I’ll try and talk about THE COLDEST WAR without spoiling much from the series.  It helps that this book takes place years and years after the first one.  The characters from BITTER SEEDS have aged and grown in the intervening years.  If you’ve read Abraham’s Long Price Quartet think of the time lapse between the books there.  The events from the first book have taken their toll on Raybould Marsh leaving him in a loveless marriage while caring for a disabled son.  Will is doing well at the beginning of the book but is haunted by demons of his own.  Klaus and Gretel are prisoners of the soviets who are trying desperately to find the secret to their power.  I could go on, but I don’t want to.  I want you to see it for yourself.  I want you to see what’s happened to these characters, how they’ve grown.

There were scenes here that were simply stunning.  There were cool ideas and wonderful moments backed up with excellent prose.  But that’s not what kept me going back for more again and again (sometimes when I really didn’t have the time to read but I just had to read a few pages more anyway).  It was the character interaction.  It was the way the story wove in and out of various viewpoints and crisscrossed each other.  Every time I thought I knew where the story was going, a new twist would be added.  Gretel’s character in particular was a favorite.  We never get her as a viewpoint character, instead focusing more on her brother Klaus (who was really fascinating to read about as well).  Throughout the last book and this one it’s seen that Gretel has a plan for this grand future ahead and every action she takes is helping her get to that foreseen future.  Some of the actions appear meaningless and others confusing.  I loved reading about her and seeing her scheme her way towards her goal.  The ultimate payoff of that work at the end of this book was great.  The book tied up well while at the same time leaving me salivating for more.

Sadly this book took a long time to come out.  Reading Ian Tregillis’ blog he talks about problems he had getting in touch with his (then) editor and a few years went by before we could get our hands on it.  It’s upsetting.  You mean I could have read this two years ago?  I could already have the last book in the series in my hands?  I could be holding it, hugging it and telling my friends what an amazing series this is?  Well fine, I’ll do it anyway, but I’m still not happy that I have to wait until April for the last book.

What can I tell you more than I already have?  THE COLDEST WAR is a fantastic novel. An incredible one. Hugo worthy. This is a series you need to be reading.  This is great, great stuff.  I can’t wait for the next one.

Age Recommendation: 16+ nothing especially egregious, just a bit of stuff here and there.
Language: Not a ton, but there.
Violence: A bit. Fascinating and cool, but a bit.
Sex: Mentioned but not shown.

Get the novels here:

BITTER SEEDS
THE COLDEST WAR

Mind Storm

The description of MIND STORM by K.M. Ruiz would have you believe that is a story about Threnody Corwin, a soldier-slave of the Earth government. Well, it is and it isn't. As it turns out Threnody is really more of a supporting character than a primary protagonist. The story is really about Nathan and Lucas Serca and a family feud that has the potential to burn the world to cinder. MIND STORM is what you get when you take the hard-edged, dystopian Science Fiction of Richard K. Morgan's Takeshi Kovacs novels and spice it up with some psychic powers.

More than a century has passed since the Border Wars and the Earth is still in the throes of recovery. Much of the world is uninhabitable due to nuclear warfare and the populace is segregated by registered humans with clean genetics, the unregistered with "trash" DNA, and psions. Those fortunate few with a sparkling bill of health use the psions to enforce the law. Threnody Corwin is one such psion, a high-classed agent of the Stryker Syndicate with the ability to control electric with her mind. In the face of shifting alliances and with an iron-core of duty, Threnody must fight to secure a future for life on Earth.

Ruiz's vision of the future is a bleak one to say the least. Prejudice against gene-trash isn't only rampant but encouraged. The World Court has enslaved those with psionic powers and impels them into service with the threat of excruciating death. On top of this the government is less concerned with restoring the planet than it is with fleeing to the comfort of another world. It turns out that this authoritarian government isn't the only force in play, the Serca Syndicate has been secretly pulling the strings for decades. Behind the facade of human politician, Nathan Serca operates the infamous rogue psions known as Warhounds. Nathan is about to enact his own plans for survival at all costs, even if it means sacrificing his own family. The only person who can possibly stop him is his son Lucas.

Regardless of the book description, Nathan and Lucas are the main characters. Nathan is ice to the core, willing to sacrifice his own flesh and blood to further his agenda. Lucas is no basket of sunshine and flowers himself. He has no problem sacrificing others to meet his needs either, but his end goal is considerably brighter. Threnody and the others are just pawns of these two super powered sociopaths. More character development will be required before Threnody can outshine the others as a protagonist but the foundation is there to build upon.

This all makes for a great set-up but is hampered by some indelicate world building. I am pretty ambivalent about info-dumps. I prefer world building that is integrated seamlessly into the fabric of the story but I can stomach dense downloads of information when handled properly. Ruiz avoids the cardinal sin of massive amounts of exposition, but the info-dumps she does incorporate are indelicate and unwieldy. The world she has created has the gritty vibe of a Richard K. Morgan novel but lacks the little details. A lot of the explanation behind the Border Wars is unnecessary, readers could connect the dots without a load of exertion. While Ruiz details the life of the wealthy elite as well as the duties of psions of the Stryker Syndicate, there is a lack of focus on the gene-trash humans at the bottom of society. Later in the novel the Salvagers are introduces as allies of Lucas, and though they exist on the fringes of a crumbling civilization it never becomes apparent that they live much differently from the psions. Other than saying "ain't" the vocabulary of the Salvagers is identical to that of the World Court justices. An opportunity was overlooked to establish the world and culture that the psions are trying so desperately to rescue and create a striking contrast between the privileged and the less fortunate.

The psions, on the other hand, are a very well rounded creation. A lot of reviews propose that MIND STORM is X-Men meets Bladerunner. That's a fair enough comparison, though I see a lot more Bladerunner than X-Men. Critics overuse the X-Men comparison when it comes to books that involve super powered individuals (I, admittedly am in error of this as well). Yes, this book does have people that can control electricity/fire/gravity with their mind but it is all fairly grounded and limited by the world of the book. Ruiz also introduces some capabilities of mind powers that I had never considered, such as a sort of mind-radar that tracks the location of others with psychic abilities. The combat is brutal. There is no shortage of collateral damage. The psions carry conventional weapons to supplement their abilities but these prove little use when brought to bear against skilled opponents. What I appreciate is all the ways in which the psionic powers interact and negate each other. There are some grisly stalemates brought on by the nature of the powers and the ranking of the individuals.

MIND STORM has rough edges. The characters need to fill out, and the world building needs to be smoothed but I still read this book in two days, eager for more of that bloody psion on psion goodness. All the pieces are here for a dystopian science fiction thriller of epic proportions. Ruiz just needs to refine her craft and I am confident that the sequel TERMINAL POINT will be a big improvement.

Recommended Age: 16+
Langauge: F@#% yeah.
Violence: Duh! Why else would you have mind powers?
Sex: None

Want it? Buy it here.

The Blinding Knife

THE BLINDING KNIFE picks up where THE BLACK PRISM ends, throwing you into the exciting action from page one.

Oh, yeah.

If you haven't read book one, the opening chapters of BLINDING won't make any sense to you. Sure Weeks refreshes our memory here and there, but it won't be enough to get new readers up to speed. So if you haven't read THE BLACK PRISM, stop here, go read it, then come back, or else what follows will have spoilers.

Gavin Guile is the Prism, the master of light and magic in a world that's growing unbalanced. After a crushing defeat, he and his followers must escape and find a new place to live to protect them from the Color Prince and his army. Karris has discovered his secret, his own magic is beginning to fail him, and the Chromeria doesn't believe that war is imminent. Everything seems to be going wrong. Despite all this, Gavin has a few bright hopes left.

Kip, Gavin's son, has started classes at the Chromeria as well as training with the Backguard. If his professors don't kill him, then his father's enemies (including Gavin's scheming father) might just finish the job. But Kip's about his father's work at the Chromeria, with his own dangerous assignment.

Persuaded by the Color Prince's altruism, Liv has turned against the Prism. She questions the need to kill drafters when they 'halo' and wonders if it's murder and not the mercy everyone claims it is. The Color Prince keeps hinting that he has great plans for her, but she has yet to guess what they are.

Brent Weeks began the Lightbringer series with a fresh new story in THE BLACK PRISM, and surprisingly enough, the second installment, THE BLINDING KNIFE builds then warps and even crushes the plots that went before. Like I mentioned above, BLINDING starts with exciting action that carries over from book one. The middle slows down as Weeks builds up for the Big Event at the end of book two, setting us for what's going to happen. Then about 2/3 of the way through, the dominoes start to fall and everything explodes. It's messy. It's gruesome. It's awesome.

In THE BLINDING KNIFE we get a couple of new PoVs and main characters. The Color Prince isn't any less saintly than the Prism himself, but has the drive to change the world for the better, even if it means breaking everything first to do it. Liv still isn't completely sure about him, but he delivers results in a way that's more even-handed than the Chromeria. There's Teia, a young Blackguard in training who can only draft in sub-red and befriends Kip despite himself. Weeks weaves in the new cast, each fascinating and adding depth to the magic and setting: like the beautiful seer, the madwoman artist who draws game cards that mirror truth, Gavin's domineering father, and while we don't get much of Karris' PoV she's still an important part of this story.

Here, Weeks also spends a lot of time on the setting itself, particularly the magic that influences the world and its people, weaving it more naturally into the story than he did in his first series. Some of it is just plain weird, but I love the originality. He doesn't make magic only about drafting, and we even learn there's more to drafting yet to be revealed. More layers and details that only enrich the world and the magic.

Sure Week's prose has the occasional blips, sometimes making readers stumble at wording, transition, or flow. There are a couple of infodumps. But these issues are so minor as to be petty. Most of the characterization problems from book one, as well as the problems I had visualizing the magic, were fixed here (mostly). I'm still trying to define Week's style--to myself, anyway. There are those brief moments of goofy camp...but then the very next chapter is darkly disturbing, sometime enough to be nearly barf worthy. His action scenes are still flashy, but by this point I think less about their Jackie-Chan-ishness than I attribute them to being a Brent Weeks book. He has such unabashed joy with showing us the strange and wonderful, and the characters to go along with it, that you can't help but enjoy the ride.

While his Night Angel Trilogy introduced the world to him, it's THE BLINDING KNIFE that will give him a name.

Recommended Age: 17+ for sexual content and violence
Language: Yes
Violence: Lots, including deaths with gory detail
Sex: Many detailed references (sometimes crass), and a couple of scenes

Find this exciting series here:
THE BLACK PRISM
THE BLINDING KNIFE

Kitty Steals the Show

In Carrie Vaughn's last Kitty Norville book, KITTY'S BIG TROUBLE, she raises the stakes (ahem, no pun intended) regarding Kitty's dealings with the vampire Roman. In the next installment KITTY STEALS THE SHOW, we come to understand that his plans are big and his reach is even bigger.

Kitty has been invited to be a keynote speaker at the first ever Paranormal Conference in London. Scientists, lawyers, doctors, and paranormals themselves are not only presenters but attending the historic conference. Well, and a group of protesters, too. Of course.

Her vampire ally Alette sends her to stay with a friend, Ned. Despite the unassuming name, he is the master vamp in London, and he's got his fingers in everything from the cops to Parliament. Fortunately he's the good guy. While there, Kitty meets Caleb, the Alpha for the entire British Isles, a concept she'd never before conceived: a werewolf pack that extends beyond city borders, working with each other in solidarity.

But in true Kitty fashion, her mouth gets her into all sorts of trouble, and it's just so much fun to see the fireworks. Unfortunately, the fireworks are flammable and dangerous and when she confronts the master vampires in town for the conference, she stirs things up a little too much.

Vaughn has done great with the progression of our three main characters: Kitty, Ben, and Cormac. Their evolution is engaging, and I particularly enjoy their interactions with each other. There is trust, love, and camaraderie that only comes from true friendship. Kitty still struggles with the limitations her life as a werewolf has dealt her, but she's determined to make the lives of other werewolves more livable, even at a danger to herself. It's easy to admire her and see how far she's come in the series. After Cormac's strange reveal of what went on in prison in KITTY GOES TO WAR, we got to read Vaughn's explanation in KITTY'S GREATEST HITS, so the extra from that storyline which we get in STEALS is only more cool. And Ben only gets better (who knew he'd be such great husband material?).

She's also done well building Kitty's world of magic and the paranormal. It's not as detailed as the heavier fare out there, but despite that every book adds a little more interest and we get to see some clever stuff added to the story as a result.

Some of Vaugn's previous novels have been disjointed, but STEALS flows well and quickly, with each event building on the other, leading to an exciting conclusion--with a promise for an even more exciting next installment. Even if you haven't read the previous novels, KITTY STEALS THE SHOW is still worth reading. Sure it's a fluffy good-fun series, but it's one of the best fluffy good-fun series out there.

Recommended Age: 15+
Language: Less than a handful
Violence: Some deaths and blood, but not much gore or detail
Sex: Referenced only

Find the latest installment of this fun series here:
KITTY STEALS THE SHOW

Southern Gods

Every so often I buy a novel purely based on the cover. I don't read the synopsis on back of the book. I don't read any reviews. Nothing. Now granted, you can get a fairly decent idea of the type of novel from the cover art, but buying based purely on cover alone has made for some interesting reads in the past.  Usually they end up being novels I would normally avoid, but that please me nonetheless. So, real quick, look at the cover of John Hornor Jacobs' SOUTHERN GODS. Do you see what I see? Do you get the impression I got and say, "Huh, that looks cool"? Can you see why I bought the novel without knowing anything about it?

To me, it looks like the blending of Horror and 50's music. Everything about the cover--from the pose, to the macabre figure, to the tentacles, to the night club look--literally forced me to buy the novel.

And then I started reading.

SOUTHERN GODS follows WWII vet, Bull Ingram. He provides muscle for persuading people to do various things (or give back certain things...). Sometimes he goes out and finds lost people. After an opening scene that perfectly establishes Ingram's character and skills, he is hired to find a missing promotional guy, Earl Freeman, that was out delivering records to radio stations in Arkansas.  Ingram is also tasked with finding a musician named Ramblin' John Hastur. Rambin' John's music is said to cast a spell over the audience. And not a good spell. This is the kind of spell that makes you want to murder the man next to you. It makes you despair and want to end your own life.

Maybe it can even make the dead walk.

The premise is refreshing. It's promising. The writing, while rough in a small number of spots, conveys the horror and confusion Ingram feels as he witnesses a sequence of increasing horrible things.

I was absolutely riveted as I read the opening of SOUTHERN GODS. The prologue itself could be considered some of the better works of short fiction Horror I've read. Ingram is instantly likeable and recognizably flawed. But then we get introduced to Sarah Williams and her daughter Franny. Sarah is escaping her abusive husband and taking her daughter back to her ancestral home outside of Little Rock. The problem here resides with Sarah not having anything interesting happen to her for half the novel. She is just filler until the final parts of the novel where she becomes important to the plot, but not as a character herself. I could have read any story involving Ingram, because he was such a solid character. Sarah was just a bit too flat and lacking for my tastes.

Fortunately the majority of the novel follows Ingram, and his proximity to Sarah in the latter chunk of the book makes Sarah a much easier character to read.

I want to stress that this novel is Horror. It is violent, and often very disturbing. There is a light Lovecraftian vibe throughout the novel, but the horror is much more visible and physical than being psychological. There is some psychological horror elements in SOUTHERN GODS, and those moments are some of the best, but the novel lands more firmly on the gore and shock-value side of the fence. Usually I prefer the psychological because I think it requires more skill to do right. In SOUTHERN GODS, Jacobs does a terrific job of making the shocking and terrible equally shocking to both the characters and to the readers. It has to do with timing. The reader feels the emotions simultaneously with the characters in the novel, and the effect makes what would otherwise be cheap, shock-value horror feel genuine and actually more horrific.

SOUTHERN GODS is a story about people in a world where gods are constantly in opposition to each other. It is a story about how a family's past can come back and haunt its innocent descendants. Some parts of the novel I absolutely LOVED--usually anything to do with Ingram. The Sarah sections--no matter how hard I tried to like her--were a disappointment to me and hurt the overall experience. Instead, SOUTHERN GODS is good but not great.

Recommended Age: 18+.
Profanity: Lots.
Violence: Tons. Some of it is shocking and sudden (the first walking dead portion should leave you in awe over it's execution). There is quick a bit of violence and gruesome description that has a sexual lean to it. The ending is extremely disturbing. This book is not for the faint of heart.
Sex: One explicit scene, and then a ton of very disturbing descriptions that come from various texts that Sarah reads.

Want to give it a try?  Here's your link:


SOUTHERN GODS

A Guile of Dragons

I've been meaning to try out James Enge's work for some time now. I've seen some high praise (there is a blurb by Lev 'effin Grossman on the cover for instance) and so my expectations were high when I cracked open A GUILE OF DRAGONS. This novel is a prequel to Enge's Ambrose series and I saw that as a perfect opportunity for a beginner to jump in. As a book filling in some background detail for a beloved series fans may be satisfied. For those yet to be initiated this may not be the best entry point.

Here is the book description courtesy of Amazon...

"Before history began, the dwarves of Thrymhaiam fought against the dragons as the Longest War raged in the deep roads beneath the Northhold. Now the dragons have returned, allied with the dead kings of Cor and backed by the masked gods of Fate and Chaos. The dwarves are cut off from the Graith of Guardians in the south. Their defenders are taken prisoner or corrupted by dragonspells. The weight of guarding the Northhold now rests on the crooked shoulders of a traitor's son, Morlock syr Theorn (also called Ambrosius). But his wounded mind has learned a dark secret in the hidden ways under the mountains. Regin and Fafnir were brothers, and the Longest War can never be over."

Sounds pretty epic right? Right? Yeah, I thought so too at first. A GUILE OF DRAGONS starts out pretty well. The birth of Morlock is a cheerless one. The baby Amrbose is left to his own when the parents, both traitors of a sort, are exiled from the realm. The baby soon comes into the care of Tyr, lord of the dwarves and friend of Morlock's father. Morlock grows up under the mountains amongst the dwarves, eventually leaving to become a Guardian. This is where the main story picks up.

The intro is good. I like the way Enge binds our world to his fictional setting with the Sea of Worlds. And the fictional setting of the Wardlands appears very cool at first. The idea of a fantasy land without a monarchy of sorts is refreshing. The Graith of Guardians is an interesting concept, policing the realm and enforcing the law in a mostly benevolent manner. I liked the culture and lore of Enge's dwarves, as he gives reasonable explanation to a lot of genre tropes. I even liked Morlock at first. Orphaned by traitors and raised by dwarves I grew an intimate connection to Morlock.

But all of this cool stuff fizzles out after the opening chapters. The interesting and unique setting becomes a drab and dull affair. World building details are sparse and the majority of the plot takes place in and around the mountain city of the dwarves. The characters become just as bland as the setting. As fascinating as Morlock starts off he completely fails to develop. I was surprised at just how little attention was given to building this beloved character.

I was also under the impression that Morlock is a maker of sorts, a skill learned under the tutelage of the dwarves. As I understand it, this is a major aspect of the series. Morlock does not make anything over the course of A GUILE OF DRAGONS. This doesn't matter to me so much but it may disappoint fans. The action is also minimal and lackluster. Again, I don't know if this is a deal killer for fans but it could be.

Overall this book was pretty blah. I just wasn't feeling it and I struggled to finish. It could be that my high expectations set the bar unfairly high. I don't feel like that is the case but it is something to consider. Fans of the series may know better what to expect. It could be that I'm not the proper audience and all of these things are strengths of Enge's writing. The thing is that there are good ideas here, great ideas really. And there is some solid writing. It's just that the whole thing felt half baked. If you are a fan then you are probably going to buy this to complete the collection. Otherwise I recommend giving this a pass--or at least see if the sequel resolves these problems.

It may be best to just start with BLOOD OF AMBROSE after all.

Recommended Age: 14+
Language: I didn't notice any foul language, if there is some it must be minimal.
Violence: Don't let the cover fool you, the violence is also minimal.
Sex: Nope!

Still want it? Get it here.

Blue Magic

Unfortunately for A.M. Dellamonica, here at EBR we don't have an ecofantasy label. So if you search for more ecofantasy on the site you may have trouble sorting it from all the other fantasy out there. By labeling it ecofantasy Dellamonic is screaming to you her political leanings, but fortunately they don't get in the way of telling a fascinating story.

BLUE MAGIC is the second book in a duet. I didn't have trouble getting into the story despite not having read book one (INDIGO SPRINGS). Dellamonica brings us up to date quickly without burdening the novel with tedious infodumps. If anything, Dellamonica seems incapable of writing a word more than is necessary.

The story revolves around Astrid, enchantress, witch--and now refugee camp leader and potential savior of the world. She's doing her darnedest to keep the vitagua well--the physical source of all magic--from exploding and forcing its way into the world, thereby causing massive death and destruction in the process. The well will explode, of that there's no doubt, but Astrid is trying to make it so the damage won't be as severe.

Too bad that everyone seems to think that just nuking Indigo Springs, the town where the well is located, will solve the problem. While trying to keep the U.S. military off her back, Astrid has her army of volunteers to help spread magic and prevent Armageddon. But she still needs help, because right now she's the only one who can use the vitagua to enchant object and disperse the magic before everything goes boom.

Enter Will Forest, the reluctant wizard. His children are missing, his wife has run off to join the cult of destructive witch Sahara Knax, and his role with the U.S. government military is becoming foggier by the day. Astrid must recruit him or else die of exhaustion from trying to do it all.

Explaining this story in three paragraphs is a gross over-simplification of a complex and twisty novel (it continues what was likely a complicated and twisty first novel). The cast of characters is vast, and since it's a carryover from book one, we don't get as much background, and it's sometime hard to remember who everyone is. Fortunately, we only have four main PoV characters: Astrid, Will, Astrid's "father" Everett, and Juanita (a U.S. Marshal). Since the story anchors around these four, we understand that the rest can be put aside as necessary to keep moving forward.

And forward we move. Quickly. Dellamonica starts with a bang and carries us swiftly from scene to scene, throwing information and people and plot and setting at us with wild abandon. Don't worry, just drink it in as you go and you'll assimilate enough to understand what's going on, despite problems with flow and transitions. Characters will suddenly decide to act and then magic moves them halfway across the world and there will be a fight and then it's over and everyone is home or dead or dealing with the fallout. The execution of the plot is unruly and sometime awkward. But here it's the ideas that will grab you.

BLUE MAGIC deals with the interesting concept of how a non-magical society would deal with the sudden reality of magic invading our world with strangeness and yet wonder at the same time. For centuries the Fyremen have been suppressing all of the sources of magic vitagua. But trying to bottle magic was an impossible task, and everyone must now deal with the fallout of their good intentions. How would governments try to handle it? Astrid and her altruistic volunteers want to help people, but must release the magic on the sly. The Fyremen won't give up and continue to hunt down any magic user. Those who've used magic for selfish purposes have given people like Astrid a bad name. It's all mixed up and promises an explosion of an ending.

I had a hard time actually liking anyone in the story, with the exception of Juanita. This is likely from not having read the first book. But even Astrid, our heroine, was passive and flat, working to put out fires and let people come to her. She works herself crazy and in ways that seem impossible wish fulfillment--she was hard for me to comprehend.

Ultimately, BLUE MAGIC is less about the characters themselves, than it is about the magic itself and how having magic would affect our lives--for good or evil.

Recommended Age: 15+ more for comprehension than content
Language: A handful
Violence: There are a lot of deaths, some of them more gruesome than others, but they lack detail
Sex: Implied

If this series sounds interesting, check them out here:

INDIGO SPRINGS
BLUE MAGIC

Blackbirds

For a guy who scoffs at the urban fantasy genre I sure have been reading a lot of it lately. Doyce Testerman's HIDDEN THINGS for instance. Now I have to add Chuck Wendig to the list of authors that I need to keep an eye on. BLACKBIRDS is a dark, profane, blistering read that takes an unromantic premise and makes it even more coarse and filthy than you'd suspect possible.

Miriam Black surrounds herself with death. Should her skin make contact with your own she will get a psychic vision detailing your exact time and manner of death. For years she fought to save lives but there is no stopping fate and now she subsists as a vulture, surviving off the remnants of those who pass away. That is, until she meets a truck driver and sees his demise, a horrible murder. But before his death he calls out a name, her name. Now Miriam will try anything in her power to circumvent the natural order.

Sounds pretty morbid to begin with doesn't it? You don't even know the half of it. BLACKBIRDS is like that series of American horror-thriller films, Final Destination...had Final Destination been directed by Quentin Tarantino. Wendig does not flinch away from smearing BLACKBIRDS with handfuls of grime. The attitude is very grindhouse: sex, violence, and bizarre subject matter. Oddly enough BLACKBIRDS never struck me as gratuitous. Wendig paints an intimidating picture, smeared with blood and other bodily fluids, but under the veneer is a very human story.

Miriam Black is the embodiment of everything I want in a good female protagonist and a good anti-hero. I'm more critical of these two archetypes than any other. Miriam loves to hear herself talk. She loves to lie. She likes bad news. She curses like a sailor. She is a tramp and a scavenger. She is damaged, spoiled, cast-off goods. And still, past her razor-wire tongue and paint-thinner sarcasm there is a real person. Miriam is immediately likable. Her caustic demeanor is softened by her hilarious intellect. She has a tragic history that explains her gutter trash behavior and gloomy outlook on life. Here is a person, neither bad nor good, who has done bad and tried to do good. This is a character that has found that fate gets what fate wants and there is no denying the inevitable. Miriam is at once sad and broken, angry and strong beyond measure. She is a survivor.

With such a compelling protagonist it wouldn't have been hard for the supporting cast to be outshone but they manage to hold their own. Ashley Gaynes is probably the strongest of the support. Like Miriam he falls into that grey area between good and bad. Louis is agreeable, sweet, sad, and damaged. He is the most decent of the characters though he could use a bit more detail. The villains could also use more detail but they are still well written.

BLACKBIRDS may be as gruesome as Final Destination but has much more soul. Final Destination is all about the glorification of death for the purpose of fascination and entertainment. In BLACKBIRDS death is dangerous. It is threatening and frightening and mysterious. As I mentioned earlier, despite copious amounts of violence the story never struck me as gratuitous. Everything served to further the plot or the theme of the novel.

What sets BLACKBIRDS apart from much of the urban fantasy genre is that the character is the focus of the novel. Yes, Miriam has the curse of death sight but the supernatural elements are sparse and don't smother the very real human story. I have a copy of the sequel, MOCKINGBIRD, which I intend to begin reading very soon. If you like your fiction reeking of stale whiskey and cigarettes, sporting black eyes, bleeding from nicks and scrapes, sticky with grease and sweat and other fluids best not to mention, with Death peering over the shoulder, then this is the book for you.

Recommended Age: 18+
Language: This probably features the most profanity of any book I've read all year.
Violence: Brawls, torture, and death. It is descriptive and gory. Not for the feint of heart.
Sex: Sexual acts and sexual conversations, also not for the feint of heart.

Want it? Get it here.

Ash

This is my first James Herbert novel. As most of you know, I'm trying to round out my Horror reading. People have been telling me over and over that James Herbert is the guy. Since Herbert had a new novel coming out, I thought that this was a good time jump in.

ASH follows the story of paranormal investigator, David Ash. Now, prior to this novel, Ash was also in the Herbert novels HAUNTED and THE GHOSTS OF SLEATH. To Herbert's credit, I never once had trouble with feeling lost. ASH begins with the investigator taking a job to investigate some mysterious happenings at Comraich Castle--including the crucifixion of a man who was alone inside a locked room. Everything about the contract is shady, but the pay is astounding.

Once again, this is a horror novel. Once the reader is told that the Scottish castle is an asylum/refuge for some the insanely (heh) rich, you pretty much will think to yourself, "Well, there's no way this ends well."

The story is told in that 3rd Person Omniscient style that many Horror authors seem to favor. Herbert executes it well, and I was never once confused. In the beginning, the suspense and feeling of impending doom/terror is perfectly done. Seriously. It make me jealous, and I'm doing my best to study it for my own writing. Absolutely killer. David Ash is a great character, and he is well written as the broken man who has lost everything on more than one occasion.

Side characters are a mixed bag. Sometimes they are just terrific. Other times--sometimes even with the same character--I was left scratching my head. For example, the main female character is pretty good for most of the story, but Herbert introduces a sexual past that feels incredibly forced. Worse, the side characters rarely matter--especially the "guests" of the castle. We are forced to read their sordid backgrounds, very few of which matter at all. I'm not exaggerating. Most of them are just thrown in for a supposed "cool factor". Instead, they feel like filler, and are often poorly executed.

The first half of the novel is entertaining. The hauntings in this castle are pretty awesome. The descriptions are fantastic, and it shows where Herbert feels he most comfortable.

And then things spiral out of control. And I don't mean this in a good way.

Foreshadowing is clumsy. Characters make dumb decisions. Ash has the same argument with a dozen different people multiple times. Information is withheld using the excuse of "that's confidential". The thrill of the mystery slowly fades away, and is replaced by a convoluted, contrived story dealing with Nazis.

The most unforgivable part about the story is the ending. Without spoiling any actual details, it was frustrating when Ash doesn't actually do anything. His entire purpose in the story was pointless. The events would have happened the same way regardless of his involvement. The whole novel I was wondering what kind of crazy thing Ash was going to do to expel these hauntings...and instead the situation resolves itself.

Seriously?

In the end, I liked Herbert's ideas, but I think this story sounded better in the outline and just couldn't stand under the weight of its issues. I'm left feeling that ASH was stunningly mediocre. I almost didn't like it, but the first half of the novel was good enough to keep it from drowning completely.

Will I give Herbert another chance? Yes. From what I understand he is either stunningly terrific, of horribly mediocre. ASH falls into the latter category.

Recommended Age: 18+
Profanity: Tons, depending on the character.
Violence: In extreme amounts, and very "Horror" in presentation.
Sex: One of the most awkward, poorly written and long sex scenes I've ever read. Tons of references to rape, incest, homosexuality, etc...

Still want to try it? Here you go:

ASH