I'm always swearing I'm not going to start any new series, but when I read the first chapter of this book, "The Red Empress," included as bonus materiI'm always swearing I'm not going to start any new series, but when I read the first chapter of this book, "The Red Empress," included as bonus material in Unseaming, I was instantly hooked. (Proof: I haven't reviewed Unseaming yet.)
Dark, disturbing, and inventively disgusting, The Black Fire Concerto envisions a post-apocalyptic America where The Storms, otherworldly and deadly, have mutated the land and its people. They also brought magic, new and powerful and sometimes very black. Here there be ghouls -- and worse than ghouls: cannibal cultists and megalomaniac magicians who aren't afraid to harness the horrors the Storms left for their own ends.
This book really is unflinchingly gory and body-horror heavy, but there's also something that is bright and refreshing about The Black Fire Concerto: its two protagonists. Erzelle, a young harpist in servitude as house musician at a gruesome gastronome's club, and Olyssa, the imposing, mysterious traveler that rescues her -- are both women. So rarely do we see women cast as epic heroes that Allen's tale took me by surprise.
And it certainly is something different. When Erzelle joins the majestic Olyssa (think King's Gunslinger crossed with the goddess Athena in a bad mood) on a quest to find Olyssa's missing sister, they face events and obstacles by turns magical and utterly nightmarish. But it's their master-and-apprentice pairing that makes the story pure gold. I don't usually get exerted over lack of adequate female representation in fantasy, but I guess it must be pretty bad for me to react so strongly to seeing it done right.
Not for everybody, and definitely not for the squeamish, The Black Fire Concerto is luxuriously nightmarish dark fantasy, and I'm going to be tapping my foot impatiently for the next book in "The Stormblight Symphony." Now, please, Mr. Allen....more
Clever and fast-moving, this Lovecraft goes West story is good fun. I'm curious to see how the sometimes slapstick antics of Bain's characters play ovClever and fast-moving, this Lovecraft goes West story is good fun. I'm curious to see how the sometimes slapstick antics of Bain's characters play over the long-form Riders Where There Are No Roads, so I'll be picking it up!...more
Funny, original, suspenseful. A total page-turner, even. The Martian and its author Andy Weir deserve every accolade they are earning, and I can't waiFunny, original, suspenseful. A total page-turner, even. The Martian and its author Andy Weir deserve every accolade they are earning, and I can't wait to see the movie (which already has a stellar array of talent attached).
My half-star dock is purely about my own ignorance, but be forewarned -- if you don't have much of a scientific background, some passages may make your eyes glaze over. I'm sure the science is impressive (and accurate, I'm told), but sometimes it made me feel stupid.That being said, if one has to be trapped on Mars, Mark Watney is an excellent companion. (And I'm sure he'd be happy to explain the science stuff if I could only ask.)...more
As a kid, I absolutely loved this book, but for the life of (the adult) me could not remember the name. A GR trivia question brought it all back -- IAs a kid, I absolutely loved this book, but for the life of (the adult) me could not remember the name. A GR trivia question brought it all back -- I need to read this one again! It might seem a little tame by today's standards, but when I was 8-or-9 reading The Saturdays felt like having the adventures myself. A classic....more
Though bleaker than the first book -- if that's even possible -- The Curse of the Wendigo is another cracking adventure in monstrumology from Ri4.5/5
Though bleaker than the first book -- if that's even possible -- The Curse of the Wendigo is another cracking adventure in monstrumology from Rick Yancey. This time, Pellinore Warthrop and young Will Henry trek to the trackless wilds of Canada, seeking a fellow monstrumologist who has gone missing in search of the infamous Wendigo. Their ordeal in the virgin forest nods to a certain other tale of The Wendigo, but this time it doesn't end there: the "curse" follows them home to America, and in its ravening hunger, this beast will leave a trail of bodies strewn across Manhattan . . . some of them belonging to beloved friends. This monster is even more dangerous than the slavering, subhuman Anthropophagi of the first book . . . for the cunning Wendigo not only hunts its prey, it knows its prey, and once you hear it call your name, there is no escape.
Darker, scarier and far more devastating than its predecessor, The Curse of the Wendigo once again serves buckets of blood and viscera, but also engages more deeply with the emotionally scarred monstrumologist, and baldly shows how punishments for our past actions can reverberate on our present. I'd say the themes are actually fairly adult -- the moral weight of guilt, love lost, hope slashed, and aspirations denied sits heavy on the book; even the "victory" is imbued with loss and a sense of failure. Definitely for older teens, who may better intuit the emotional world this book charts.
Though I did miss the slightly quippier tone of the first book, The Curse of the Wendigo is certainly haunting, and beautifully written in a style that would please Mr. Blackwood immensely. I'm fully invested in this series -- cannot wait to read The Isle of Blood...more
First thoughts: Why would anyone ever want to climb Everest? (The famous rejoinder "Because it's there" really doesn't clear it up for me.)
This one wi First thoughts: Why would anyone ever want to climb Everest? (The famous rejoinder "Because it's there" really doesn't clear it up for me.)
This one will be short and semi-sweet, as I see my feelings are pretty much echoed in all the long, thoughtful reviews below. I'm a long-time Dan Simmons fan, and have read and enjoyed the majority of his novels, both horror and sci-fi (though I have not read the Joe Kurtz books). I was really excited when my pre-order of The Abominable showed up on my birthday . . . I could not wait to get home and crack it. (Yeah, I spent my birthday evening with a book. That's just how I roll.)
So last night I finally finished it. (It might tell you something that my birthday was three weeks ago.) And, much like the expedition recounted in its pages, parts of this book were beautiful and exciting, but most of it was hard work, spent in long, slogging preparation for the actual adventure. I loved the characters -- the Deacon and Cousin Reggie in particular -- but frequently felt overwhelmed by the mountains of information (if you'll pardon the pun) about 1926 climbing gear and techniques that Simmons felt the need to include. He obviously enjoyed his research, and almost despite myself, I felt thoroughly schooled and ready to join the expedition by the time our intrepid heroes finally set out from Darjeeling.
Unfortunately, that prelude to Everest is almost 400 pages -- nearly 2/3 of the novel. But at about that point, the story takes a jarring, dark turn at a Tibetan sky funeral and the long-awaited suspense and sense of foreboding kick in. If you make it this far, the story pays off, albeit not in the way one might have imagined. I'm no history buff and I won't presume to question Simmons' references to actual people and events, but when political intrigue starts to compete with the mountain for the lives of the characters, the pace picks up immensely, and that last third goes down like an icy shot of vodka.
The Abominable earns three stars from me. It's not a bad book, and sometimes beautiful, moving, and exciting . . . but it really could have benefited from losing about 100 bloated pages up front.
Short version: I *really* enjoyed Hide Me Among the Graves, but don't even contemplate reading it if you've not yet read The Stress of Her Regard, firShort version: I *really* enjoyed Hide Me Among the Graves, but don't even contemplate reading it if you've not yet read The Stress of Her Regard, first published in 1989 (and one of my perennial faves). While HMAtG isn't billed as a sequel per se, the reader definitely needs TSoHR to set up the unique type of menace our protagonists (who include Dante Gabriel and Christina Rossetti as well as descendants of characters from the 1989 book), are grappling with. As a stand-alone, it might confuse, but as a sequel, it's a long-awaited treat.
My advice? Read both. Also? Don't take the word "vampire" at face value....more
Libba Bray's The Diviners, yet another YA novel with a seriously dark streak, is set in the glittering Manhattan of the 1920s -- where jazz club4.75/5
Libba Bray's The Diviners, yet another YA novel with a seriously dark streak, is set in the glittering Manhattan of the 1920s -- where jazz clubs are hopping, stars are being made, illegal hooch is flowing, and just about anything can happen.
Including the apocalypse.
A small-town girl from Ohio who commits a tipsy and socially ruinous party-foul, seventeen-year-old firecracker Evie O'Neill has been packed off to stay with her bachelor uncle Will in Manhattan (some punishment, right?). Despite the fact that she's stuck with a stuffy academic who runs a creepy museum (formally known as "The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition and the Occult," but mostly referred to as "The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies"), Evie is thrilled at the chance to taste big-city life for herself, and proceeds to duck Will and drag her quiet friend Mabel into fabulously-attired trouble at every opportunity.
But then Will is called to consult on a brutal murder with ritualistic occult overtones, and Evie brashly invites herself along to the crime scene. Here, her "party trick" again rears its ugly head: Evie has the ability to see a person's history just by touching their belongings. And, when she unthinkingly straightens the buckle on the dead girl's shoe, Evie has a vision like never before: she sees the killer, and he's not like you or me. In fact, it's the infamous occultist John Hobbes (also known as Naughty John) . . . and he's been dead for 50 years. Impossible as it may seem, he's back, and he's got a plan to bring on the end times -- one that's going to take several more bloody rituals.
Though it takes Evie, Will, and a host of friends (among them Will's taciturn assistant Jericho, shy Mabel, and street-smart scoundrel Sam Lloyd) almost 600 pages to unravel the supernatural killer's complex and gruesome intentions, The Diviners has never dull moment. Manhattan in 1926 is a huge canvas, and Bray brings it to life with flair -- the catchy slang, the clothes, the music, the promise in the air -- so "everything's jake," as Evie might say. The cast is also quite large, and full of vivid characters like iconoclastic Ziegfeld girl Theta; her charming "brother" Henry (read: gay bestie); Memphis, a poet who longs to be part of the Harlem Renaissance but runs numbers in the meantime; and Memphis's little brother Isaiah, who is having apocalyptic visions of his own. Each provides additional interest and intrigue, since they all have unique secrets and nightmares to conceal.
And, as the plot thickens and the killer counts down to a rare comet's appearance in the sky, they all, knowingly or not, play a part in the action.
I'll freely admit I thoroughly enjoyed every page of The Diviners, but do have one or two slight reservations, the foremost being that at times this book is extremely frightening and/or bloody, and it also includes scenes of sexual violence. While I found the book (appealingly) disturbing as a horror-jaded adult, it certainly would have scared the bejayzus out of me when I was the tender target age for YA lit.
Also, some aspects of the novel are almost laughably revisionist. For example: were seventeen year-olds really nightly fixtures at underground gin-joints, and did unescorted white girls often go to Harlem to hear jazz and flirt with black musicians, or wind up at hush-hush gay nightclubs? True, Bray is focused on boho underground culture -- theatricals, artists and musicians -- but the easy attitudes her characters have about race and sexual preference certainly weren't the norm at the time. In fact these kinds of "transgressions" regularly got people beaten or killed up until at least the 1960s, and (sadly) still might in some places. I guess I really can't fault Bray for trying to inject a little tolerance into her imagined 1920s -- after all, if we can buy a supernaturally resurrected serial killer, I guess Theta can fall for Memphis and Henry can dance cheek-to-stubbled-cheek with whomever he likes.
In the end, I might hesitate before handing The Diviners to my (imaginary) thirteen year-old cousin, but it's most definitely going on my Best-of-2012 list. And despite frequent rants about "sequelitis" on the YA and paranormal fiction shelves, I am not at all unhappy to hear Evie and company will return for further adventures. If nothing else, they bring the kind of clever vibe to fighting apocalyptic evil that calls to mind a different set of supernatural white-hats, also led by a sassy blonde. In fact, sometimes you can almost hear Will cleaning his glasses -- and if you get that reference, you'll love The Diviners....more
The rare sequel I enjoyed more than its predecessor (2011's A Discovery of Witches, which was more a 4/5), the second book in her "All Souls Trilogy"The rare sequel I enjoyed more than its predecessor (2011's A Discovery of Witches, which was more a 4/5), the second book in her "All Souls Trilogy" gives scientific historian Harkness an even wider canvas on which to strut her stuff. The story of time-walking witch Diana Bishop, her vampire lover Matthew Clairmont, and the search for the mysterious manuscript Ashmole 782 continues. Shadow of Night, however, eschews laboratories and yoga in modern Oxford, instead name-dropping its way around Tudor England and Emperor Rudolf's Prague, where the couple have time-traveled seeking answers about Diana's burgeoning powers, and the manuscript prior to its corruption.
But Diana has difficulty adjusting to the role of women in the 1590s, as well as wife to a 1,500 year old vampire with a host of secret identities. She clashes openly with Kit Marlowe (who is not-so-secretly in love with Matthew), practices alchemy with the Countess of Pembroke, trains her power with a London coven, and (barely) escapes the advances of a certain smitten Hapsburg. (Also present and accounted for? Magicians John Dee and Edward Kelly, Sir Walter Raleigh, Shakespeare and Queen Bess herself, also overly fond of Matthew.) The couple also spend some idyllic time at the deClairmont family fortress Sept Tours, where Diana finally meets Matthew's legendary father Philippe (dead since WWII in the present). But Diana's presence in the past -- and her relationship with a vampire -- draw unwanted attention at a time of witch hunts and fear, and forces both human and supernatural threaten danger from all sides.
In other hands all of this might feel like overload, but Harkness's encyclopedic knowledge of the period, deft character sketches (who knew Elizabeth the Great was such a brat?), and an almost supernatural attention to detail transport readers as effortlessly across time as . . . well, a time-walking witch. Also? Diana and Matthew's romance is (finally!) steamier, despite all the layers of muslin and brocade. And there's a dragon! (Sort of.) I thoroughly enjoyed every page. Almost certainly on my Best of 2012 list. ...more
George R.R. Martin writes a lot, having set his hand to everything from television scripts, to short stories, to epic series. Horror, science fiction,George R.R. Martin writes a lot, having set his hand to everything from television scripts, to short stories, to epic series. Horror, science fiction, fantasy, he's done it all. He's also been at it quite a long time. Fevre Dream, the story of a magnificent steamboat, her captain, and the vampires struggling for control of the Mississippi region, is one of his earliest novels -- 30 years old now -- but already his talent for world building was dazzling.
Let's get something straight up front. I can already hear people saying "Vampires? I am so over vampires . . .," and tuning out. But consider: this novel was written ages before the good vampire/bad vampire dichotomy became rote, years before they became rock stars, and decades before they sparkled. Do yourself a favor and try to approach it unjaded, because . . .
Fevre Dream is also fantastic historical fiction, as much about the vanished world of steamboats and their captains plying the eternal river as anything else. Martin's magic way with details transports the reader straight to the Mississippi waterfronts of the 1850s. There we meet the blustering Abner Marsh, owner of the Fevre River Packet Company. Abner has come on hard times; his once-prosperous fleet reduced from six boats to one by the vagaries of fire and weather. And so it is we find him entertaining a too-good-to-be-true offer of partnership from one Joshua York, a mysterious, and very rich, businessman. The offer includes not only the purchase of half the company, but the promise to build Marsh the most glorious steamboat the river has ever seen. The catch? York will of course be in charge, and his retinue aboard . . . And Abner is to ask no questions.
Dubious at first, Marsh is finally seduced by the idea of a steamboat so fast that it can beat the Eclipse, the current star of the Mississippi. And when she's done, it's love at first sight:
The mists gave way for them, and there she stood, high and proud, dwarfing all the other boats around her. Her cabins and rails gleamed with fresh paint pale as snow, bright even in the gray shroud of fog. Way up on her texas roof, halfway to the stars, her pilot house seemed to glitter; a glass temple, its ornate cupola decorated all around with fancy woodwork as intricate as Irish lace. Her chimneys, twin pillars that stood just forward of the texas deck, rose up a hundred feet, black and straight and haughty. Their feathered tops bloomed like two dark metal flowers.
Shrugging off any ominous associations, he names her the Fevre Dream, and the river's finest new showboat sets off with a full load of passengers and cargo, headed first to St. Louis, and on to New Orleans. It's the happiest day of Abner Marsh's life.
It's not long, however, before Abner tires of his partner's secrets and strange behavior. York sleeps all day, requests the Fevre Dream make unscheduled stops and disappears, sometimes for days, delaying the increasingly irritated passengers and, more importantly, spoiling the reputation of his boat before she has had a chance to prove herself. Suspicious, Marsh takes matters into his own hands, searching York's cabin while he is away. What he finds there will thrust him, and the Fevre Dream, into the middle of a decades-long feud between two vampires struggling for ideological control of their species.
It doesn't surprise me to find beautiful passages and sensuous detail in a book by Martin, or complicated relationships and complex reversals of fate. He's a magnificent writer. But it's clear in Fevre Dream that he's still honing certain talents. One of the weaker areas is characterization, which in some cases (looking at you, Abner) is more vivid than subtle. He is not yet the creator of the ridiculously lifelike Tyrion Lannister, and ASoIaF lovers might feel the characters approaching caricature some of the time. (So, really, Fevre Dream only suffers in comparison to his later awesomeness.) It's also hard to read old-school vampire stories with a straight face in the wake of the pop-cultural deluge. But do try to get past it: a 4-star novel from GRRM is probably better than whatever you're reading right now. ...more