Throne of the Crescent Moon is Saladin Ahmed’s first fantasy novel.
It’s good. You should read it.
What, you want more? Okay, fine. Here’s the officialThrone of the Crescent Moon is Saladin Ahmed’s first fantasy novel.
It’s good. You should read it.
What, you want more? Okay, fine. Here’s the official summary from the publisher:
The Crescent Moon Kingdoms, land of djenn and ghuls, holy warriors and heretics, Khalifs and killers, is at the boiling point of a power struggle between the iron-fisted Khalif and the mysterious master thief known as the Falcon Prince. In the midst of this brewing rebellion a series of brutal supernatural murders strikes at the heart of the Kingdoms. It is up to a handful of heroes to learn the truth behind these killings.
One of those heroes is Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, “the last real ghul hunter in the great city of Dhamsawaat,” and he’s awesome. He’s old, he’s burnt out, and dammitall he’s doing the best he can. He’s not invulnerable or superhuman, and he’s facing a darkness more powerful than anything he’s encountered in his long career as a ghul hunter.
You also have Raseed bas Raseed, a badass holy warrior whose time with Adoulla creates a wonderful conflict between the rigid purity of Raseed’s religious beliefs and the messiness of the real world. He and Adoulla are joined by Zamia Badawi, who is just as deadly as Raseed, but where Raseed is disciplined and focused, Badawi is raw and passionate and angry.
Ahmed does a great job with his characters, making you feel for them in a way few authors can. The worldbuilding was refreshing as well. I love that Adoulla’s magic is faith-based, and the contrast between his faith and Raseed’s. The city, the tribes, the history … everything feels real. Ahmed isn’t just slapping in two-dimensional set pieces.
The book gets rather dark at time. Our villains are genuinely Evil, and that comes through from page one.
Much as I loved this book (and I’ll definitely be picking up the next), the ending didn’t sit quite right with me, and I’ve been trying to figure out why. It’s hard to get into details without spoiling things, but I think it comes down to the emotional payoff not quite matching up to what I was hoping for. That might just be a matter of personal taste.
Overall, a strong first novel, and I’m looking forward to the sequel....more
Arctic Rising is a bit of a change from other Tobias Buckell books I’ve read. While it’s definitely science fiction, it’s near-future SF with a strongArctic Rising is a bit of a change from other Tobias Buckell books I’ve read. While it’s definitely science fiction, it’s near-future SF with a strong “thriller” feel. (The genre, not the Michael Jackson song. There are no dancing zombies in this book.)
The protagonist is Anika Duncan, an airship pilot for the U.N. Polar Guard who gets shot down after discovering a nuclear missile being smuggled into the Arctic. She soon finds herself in the middle of a global power struggle. The Gaia Corporation have devised a plan to reverse global warming, but the technology can also be used as a deadly superweapon. (And I can’t say what the technology is without spoiling things, which sucks, because it’s pretty darn cool.)
I like the extrapolation Buckell has done on a world where the icecaps continue to melt and the oceans continue to rise. He’s done his research, and it shows. (Some aspects of the book should be familiar to anyone who reads his blog.) The dwindling ice caps create a rush to tap previously inaccessible oil reserves, leading to a proliferation of arctic settlements and colonies. Those settlements in the arctic have a bit of a science fiction feel as well, which was fun. Yes, I’m reading the book through more of an SF lens than a thriller one.
This was a pretty fast read, with colorful characters, a bit of dangerous romance, international intrigue, spies, guns, all leading to a desperate, high-stakes climax.
If you’re familiar with Buckell’s work, this book has some of his trademarks: awareness that there’s more to the world than the United States; significant nonwhite characters (Anika is neither white nor straight); sailing ships written by someone who’s actually lived on one; and lots of action.
Given that climate change is a hot political topic right now, I suspect some readers will denigrate the book as leftist liberal propaganda, and that’s unfortunate. I’ll admit there were a few points early on where I felt like the message started to overtake the story. But then I started wondering if this was due to the fact that in the U. S., any mention of climate change has become so highly politicized. In other words, it’s not that Buckell is preaching; it’s more that political groups have been screaming and squawking and flat-out lying at me about global warming issues for so long that it affected my reading of the book, which is unfortunate.
Overall, Arctic Rising does exactly what a lot of good science fiction does: examines the current science and research, makes predictions about the future, and writes a rousing story about that future....more
After I finished reading this book, I spent several weeks trying to figure out how best to review it. I kept coming back to the word “thoughtful.” EveAfter I finished reading this book, I spent several weeks trying to figure out how best to review it. I kept coming back to the word “thoughtful.” Everything from the worldbuilding and mythology to character to sentence and word choice.
The book opens to Temur, heir to the Khaganate, stumbling through a battlefield. His hand has gone numb from clasping the bloody gash along the side of his neck– You know what? Let me just give you a few paragraphs from the first page.
Beyond the horizon, a city lay burning.
Having once turned his back on smoke and sunset alike, Temur kept walking. Or lurching. His bowlegged gait bore witness to more hours of his life spent astride than afoot, but no lean, long-necked pony bore him now. His good dun mare, with her coat that gleamed like gold-backed mirrors in the sun, had been cut from under him…
He walked because he could not bear to fall. Not here, not on this red earth. Not here among so many he had fought with and fought against.
And then you have Samarkar, who fled her home and gave up her title for the hope of becoming a wizard.
When the news of the fall of Qarash reached Tsarepheth, the Once-Princess Samarkar did not even know that a woman in red and saffron robes sat alongside her, because on that day Samarkar lay drowsy with poppy among rugs and bolsters in her room high up in the Citadel of wizards. Silk wraps wadded absorbent lint against a seeping wound low in her abdomen. When she woke–if she woke–she would no longer be the Once-Princess Samarkar. She would be the wizard Samarkar, and her training would begin in truth.
She had chosen to trade barrenness and the risk of death for the chance of strength.
One thing I think both of these introductions capture is the complexity of Bear’s writing. Wizardry isn’t a simple thing; you pay a price, and there’s no guarantee you’ll gain the power you hope for. We meet Temur as his dreams of battle and glory have been shattered by reality. In many stories, we see characters who change by the end of the tale. In this book, we meet characters already in flux, scared and confused and struggling.
I should mention the plot too, right? Okay, let’s see … we’ve got warring kingdoms and dark magic and gods and armies of ghosts and tiger warriors and kidnapped lovers and a journey over a fascinating world.
The world is one of my favorite parts of the books. This is a world where the sky literally changes depending on the nature of the kingdom below. In Temur’s land, there are moons for every heir, including himself. He looks up at the night sky to see which of his cousins have died based on how many of those moons have vanished. And then, later, he crosses into another land, and his family’s moons are nowhere to be seen. I love it.
Bear also does a wonderful job on her horses. I’m no expert, so I can’t say if she got every detail right, but she certainly avoided the “Horses = medieval motorcycles” mistake some epic fantasies fall into, and Temur’s new mare Bansh is one of the best characters in the book.
I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone looking for a quick read. Thoughtful writing requires thoughtful reading, and I couldn’t zip through this one the way I do some books. But if you’re looking for more complex, non-Western epic fantasy, I’d definitely suggest checking it out.
I will note that this is book one of a series, so you shouldn’t go in expecting things to be all wrapped up by the end....more
The story is set in the fifteenth century in the fictional Romanian kingdom of Sylvania. Reveka is an apprentice herbalist, though thanks to her studiThe story is set in the fifteenth century in the fictional Romanian kingdom of Sylvania. Reveka is an apprentice herbalist, though thanks to her studies, she’s as skilled and knowledgeable as her master, if not moreso. She’s determined to break the curse on the twelve princesses and use the reward money to gain a position as an herbalist for an entire abbey.
For those unfamiliar with the fairy tale, the twelve princesses disappear every night, returning in the morning exhausted, their shoes worn to tatters. All who try to watch and see where they go fall asleep. In Haskell’s version, it’s a sleep from which they never awake, a coma which eventually leads to death.
This is basically a two-act book. In the first half, we follow Reveka’s investigation into the curse, an investigation which grows more urgent as people she knows and cares for fall into the cursed sleep, and neighboring kingdoms prepare for war upon Sylvania. Act two takes on a more mythological and otherworldly feel … and that’s about all I can say without spoiling things.
The Princess Curse is a fast read. At times, some of the complexities of the warring kingdoms and such felt a bit rushed, and I occasionally lost track of secondary characters (it’s hard to keep track of twelve princesses, let alone everyone else). I suspect this was in part due to its being written for a YA audience.
I like Reveka a lot, and not just because Reveka could totally be a goblin name. She’s smart, determined, impulsive, and very human. Her study of herbalism and the way she applies her knowledge to various problems adds a lot to the story. She is in many ways a scientist in a fantastic world. I approve.
So if anyone here is into fairy tale retellings with smart, independent heroines, I’d suggest heading over to Harper Collins to check out the first three chapters....more
So here’s the thing. Girl Genius is a Hugo-winning webcomic, and the entire archive is available online. And I’ve tried several times to read it … andSo here’s the thing. Girl Genius is a Hugo-winning webcomic, and the entire archive is available online. And I’ve tried several times to read it … and was never able to get into it. However, when Tor’s review copy showed up in the mail, I devoured the entire book in a day and a half.
I think the full-color artwork, with all its detail, was just too much for me to read online. But when packaged in such a gorgeous hardcover book, it all works. It’s a fun steampunk adventure with kick-butt men and women, an interesting world, and a pretty fast-moving plot. I could have done without quite as much Agatha-in-her-underwear in the beginning, but it didn’t feel overly gratuitous.
The book starts with the very first strip, presenting Agatha’s origin as a failed student who lacks the “spark” that allows her to invent and create … or does she? (Really obvious spoiler alert: yeah, she’s got the spark, and she soon creates some kick-ass stuff.)
You learn a lot in those packed panels, and the book ends in a good spot: with some closure, but leaving you hungry to find out what comes next. Thank you Tor for shooting this one my way!...more
This is the third book in her Riders of the Apocalypse series, but I picked it up without having read the others, and had no problem jumping into theThis is the third book in her Riders of the Apocalypse series, but I picked it up without having read the others, and had no problem jumping into the story.
This is a book about Billy Ballard, a fifteen-year-old who is tricked into taking up the bow of Pestilence, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. But first he must confront the old Pestilence, also known as the Conqueror, who … well, let’s just say that centuries on the job have done bad things to his sanity…
It’s also a book about bullying. Because Billy is that kid. The one everybody picks on. The one who gets teased, tormented, and beat up on a regular basis. The one the teachers ignore. The one the other kids avoid so as not to become targets themselves. The one who’s learned perfectly well that platitudes like, “Just ignore it” don’t do a damned thing.
Billy’s home life isn’t much better. He lives with his mother and grandfather, where most of the energy attention goes into managing his grandfather’s Alzheimer’s, keeping him from wandering into the street, cleaning up after him, and dealing with verbal and physical outbursts.
The Four Horsemen aren’t a new idea for fantasy. Piers Anthony’s Incarnations of Immortality was probably the first horsemen series I read. But Kessler’s take is more grounded, treating both the real world and the fantastic more seriously. These are real people with real conflicts and struggles and pain.
Except for Death. He’s not a real person. He’s just a badass.
I only had two complaints. By the end of the book, I wanted to know more about the horsemen, about their magic and origins and purpose in the world. But this might be something that’s covered in the first two books, so that could be my own problem.
Secondly … well, with a book like this, you know there’s got to be some sort of resolution between the bully and the hero. Without going into detail, that resolution didn’t really work for me.
Overall though, I think Kessler has done an admirable job with Loss. Billy’s struggle with bullies, his dread of walking into certain classes, the way he plans out his schedule every day to give him the best chance of avoiding certain tormenters, it feels real and at times all too familiar. And I loved Pestilence’s horse.
The short version: I read the book in a day and a half, and I hope to go back and read the first two....more
The book begins with a preface from Lieutenant Gretchen Schafer, an analyst involved in reviewing and transcribing BrainPal memories from Special ForcThe book begins with a preface from Lieutenant Gretchen Schafer, an analyst involved in reviewing and transcribing BrainPal memories from Special Forces soldiers like Sagan. Written as a letter of protest, Schafer complains that “what we have to work with are data-poor bits in which Lt. Sagan thinks about what appears to be a romantic partner of some sort…” She describes the files as “of some anthropological interest … but for our purposes these files are near useless.”
I read this as a nicely-done warning to the reader: this is not Old Man’s War. This is not action-heavy space battles and supersoldiers. It’s the musings and philosophizing and reflections of a soldier. A rather loving character study. It’s almost poetic at times:
I am not Death. I am killing; I am the verb. I am the action, I am the performance. I am the movement that cuts the spine; I am the mass which pulps the brain. I am the headsnap ejecting consciousness into the air.
I am not Death but she follows close behind…
It’s a fairly quick read, and an interesting change from the other things I’ve read by Scalzi. I definitely recommend reading his Old Man’s War books for context....more
Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death won the 2011 World Fantasy Award for best novel and made a number of other award shortlists and “Best of the Year” liNnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death won the 2011 World Fantasy Award for best novel and made a number of other award shortlists and “Best of the Year” lists. This is a powerful book, one that looks unflinchingly at issues like rape and genocide, slavery and female circumcision. Unlike many books I’ve read, Okorafor’s approach never felt exploitative; she writes honestly. The book is sometimes brutal and sometimes beautiful and occasionally both at once.
The book is set in post-apocalyptic Africa, and tells the story of Onyesonwu. The bones of Onyesonwu’s story will be familiar to fantasy readers. She is an outsider in her village, marked as a child of violence by her sand-colored hair and lighter skin. She possesses magical powers that she must learn to master. There is a prophecy she hopes to help bring about, one which leads her to leave her home and set off on a quest with her companions.
But Who Fears Death is so much more than a quest story. What impresses me most is that this book never looks away. It never glosses over beauty or ugliness, love or hate. It doesn’t present simple answers, and never shies away from the complexities and contradictions of life. Good things can come from the most evil or brutal acts, while evil and darkness can come from the best intentions.
Okorafor has talked about the genesis of Onyesonwu’s story, some of which is posted on the Amazon listing for the book.
“My father’s passing caused me to think about death, fear, the unknown, sacrifice, destiny and cosmic trickery. Only a week or so after my father’s passing, I read the Washington Post article, We Want to Make a Light Baby: Arab Militiamen in Sudan Said to Use Rape as Weapon of Ethnic Cleansing by Emily Wax. I was absolutely infuriated. The storytelling spider in my head started weaving faster. I realized that this article was showing me why the people in my story’s town disliked Onyesonwu and why she was so troubled.”
The result is a book that feels both universal and intimately personal.
The ending was fascinating, and while I’m not going to spoil things by going into details, I’ll say it’s another example of Okorafor refusing to follow the simple, oft-trod paths of the fantasy genre.
I suspect the book would be triggering for some readers due to rape and other violence, but with that disclaimer, I strongly recommend it....more
Set a hundred years after Midnight Never Come in seventeenth century England, book two follows Lune, now queen of the Onyx Court, and Antony Ware, theSet a hundred years after Midnight Never Come in seventeenth century England, book two follows Lune, now queen of the Onyx Court, and Antony Ware, the human who rules at her side as Prince of the Stone.
As England falls into civil war, Lune must face enemies both from other faerie realms and within her own court. Her enemies attack the Onyx Court and London above. Intrigue and betrayal and would-be assassins, all leading to the release of a dragon who threatens to burn them all.
The historical detail in these books is mind-blowing, resulting in a London that feels real down to every last detail.
The first part of the book felt a little slow to me. Brennan takes us through the beginning of the English Civil War and the execution of King Charles. While the story is interesting, I find this series most engaging when we see the parallels between the human and faerie realms, and the faerie side felt a bit nebulous in the beginning. (By the end, on the other hand, you couldn’t pry the book out of my hands.)
I loved the secondary characters: the giant Prigurd Nellt, the faerie knight Sir Cerenel, the doctor John (Jack) Ellin … and of course, the Goodemeades are always wonderful.
It’s a fascinating world. The details of the Onyx Court and its magic, the rituals of faerie, the intertwining of human and fae history. The third book, A Star Shall Fall, comes out on August 31 of this year.
If you’re looking for action-heavy page-turning adventure, this might not be the book for you. If you enjoy richer worldbuilding and historical fantasy, I highly recommend the series....more
Dead Matter is the third book in Anton Strout’s light urban fantasy series, in which Department of Extraordinary Affairs agent Simon Canderous uses psDead Matter is the third book in Anton Strout’s light urban fantasy series, in which Department of Extraordinary Affairs agent Simon Canderous uses psychometry and a big bat to fight the nasties of New York.
Our story begins with Simon’s partner Connor taking a sabbatical to look for his missing brother, leaving poor Simon to cover twice the workload. Simon eventually manages to slip away for some personal time with his girlfriend (ex-cultist and technomancer Jane). Naturally, given Simon’s luck, Taco Night is interrupted by an angry, lumbering monster with lots of pointy bits.
Pointy monster is just the beginning. Simon, Jane, and Connor slowly uncover a bigger problem — one which puts Simon in the crosshairs of just about everyone, monster and human alike.
I like this series. I like the sense of fun, and there’s much less angst than in your average urban fantasy. (Though sometimes it feels like Strout is trying a little too hard for the funny.) Like the previous two books, this one is a quick read. My only complaint is that the beginning meandered a bit. Taco Night monster seemed like a random encounter, and it took a few chapters to start to get a sense of a larger story.
Dead Matter stands alone pretty well, but you’ll get more out of it if you’ve read the first two books in the series....more
Kara Gillian is a young detective in Beaulac, Louisiana. Also, she summons demons (Like so many things, summoning isn’ t inherently good or evil; it aKara Gillian is a young detective in Beaulac, Louisiana. Also, she summons demons (Like so many things, summoning isn’ t inherently good or evil; it all depends on what you do with it.)
Her first homocide case is to investigate the apparent return of the Symbol Man, a serial killer who tortures his victims and covers the bodies in occult symbols. He vanished years ago, but now he’s back and killing at an even faster rate.
Not only does Gillian have to track and stop her killer, she’s also dealing with the fallout after accidentally summoning a Demon Lord named Rhyzkahl, a creature powerful enough to enslave our world if Gillian makes the slightest misstep.
I liked this book a lot. It fits comfortably into the urban fantasy genre: tough heroine, nasty paranormal threat, a few hot sex scenes, and so on. Sometimes urban fantasy starts to feel formulaic, but this time it worked well. Nothing felt gratuitous, and Rowland’s background as a cop gave the book a much-appreciated level of realism.
Plotwise, there were a few times when it felt like Rowland was trying to hard to paint certain characters as suspicions, but overall the story worked really well, maintaining tension and raising the stakes with every chapter. There were real consequences at the end, and without spoiling that ending, Rowland managed to take one element of the story which could easily have been cliche and write it in a way that made sense and worked....more
This first Truthseekers volume is a collection of intertwined short stories centering around fifteen-year-old Ashley Bennett. When Ashley’s parents arThis first Truthseekers volume is a collection of intertwined short stories centering around fifteen-year-old Ashley Bennett. When Ashley’s parents are murdered, she has to leave Toronto and move to the small town of Blackriver to live with her older cousin Mark. Over the course of the book, Ashley begins to uncover secrets about her parents, her cousin, and herself.
I joked with Rob that the book reminded me of Buffy, only without the angst of the last few seasons. Imagine Sunnydale as a backwater Canadian town, and you’ll start to get a sense of the book’s vibe. Blackriver is located on the junction of several ley lines, so naturally all sorts of supernatural trouble ensues. Ashley and friends go up against vampires, witches, ghosts, secret societies, and cow tippers. Evil cow tippers.Not to mention the thing that killed her parents…
It’s a fun, easyread aimed at a YA audience. (I enjoyed it too, but there are those who’ll argue whether I qualify as a grown-up.) Ashley’s secret is a fascinating one. I saw it coming, but that doesn’t matter; I stilllike the implications about what she is and what she can do.
I liked the format overall. It was nice to be able to read in bite-sized chunks, advancing through the larger story one self-contained adventure at a time. Though there were a few times I’d start in on the next story and think to myself, Wait, why aren’t you guys doing more about X from the last story?
I only had two complaints. The first was that some of the stories started slowly. There’s a pattern of following Ashley through some of the mundane aspects of her life before we get into the weirdness. I can appreciate the contrast, but after a few stories, I found myself wanting to skip the first few pages and jump ahead.
The second issue was with the ending. I didn’t expect the book to wrap up every single loose thread, but I find it ironic that while the individual stories are self-contained, the book as a whole leaves you hanging. Though perhaps that’s a good reason to mention that Truthseekers 2: Birthright is also available?
Every time I try to figure out how to wrap up this review, I keep coming back to the fact that it’s a fun read. Likeable characters, a good balance between the serious and the not-so-much, and an overall arc that has me curious about book two....more