“If the women were so important, why aren’t they in the histories?” -Prince Temmin
If George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series captures the gr“If the women were so important, why aren’t they in the histories?” -Prince Temmin
If George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series captures the gritty realism of medieval history, Lovers and Beloveds reveals the intimate and personal dynamics of power in aristocracies. It weaves together a rich multi-layered story that explores how sex and power shape history and individual destiny—sharing a perspective that’s beyond the “men, swords, and thrones” (capital H) history that’s often seen in fantasy.
It follows Temmin coming of age as he gains a fuller understanding of the responsibilities that he holds with his privilege. He learns about intimacy and dominance from court servants, religious figures, and an ancestor’s curse. What is coercion, trust, and consent? How would he rule differently from previous rulers?
The prose is lush and beautiful, which perfectly reflects the aristocratic steampunk world that Temmin lives in. The setting is fascinating and could be described as a fusion of Victorian England with Classical Greece. The narrative draws you in quickly and immerses you in life in the royal court. The characters of various classes are fleshed out with interactions that are full of wit and colour. Since sex is an important theme in the work, it’s heavy on the erotica, but it’s woven well into the plot and setting that none of it feels excessive. Also, it doesn’t hurt to have plenty of fetish fuel to go around.
Since most of the conflict revolves around Temmin’s personal development, it does follow a spoiled royal heir for over 400 pages, which understandably may not be for everyone. But I found him to be so well characterized and endearing that none of that mattered to me. I find it refreshing to see characters that are such a clear product of their upbringing and personal history. Regarding the world-building, there are some words mentioned that’s only explained in a glossary, but it’s a minor nitpick that wouldn’t affect your enjoyment of this book.
This is an intelligent, insightful, and beautiful fantasy novel. I highly recommend Lovers and Beloveds. The term “fantasy erotica” can’t describe the depth of this work. Even if you don’t think this subgenre is for you, I urge you to read the sample anyway and see if it draws you in. I’m sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Note: a free review copy was provided by the author...more
Zoo City is an urban fantasy set in South Africa. Just when you thought that everything’s been done with animal familiars(Cross-posted from Adarna SF)
Zoo City is an urban fantasy set in South Africa. Just when you thought that everything’s been done with animal familiars, Beukes adds an interesting social dimension to it. After a rapture-like event, people who have committed major crimes (dubbed as zoos) began to appear with animal familiars.
[The truth is we’re all criminals. Murderers, rapists, junkies. Scum of the earth. In China they execute zoos on principle. Because nothing says guilty like a spirit critter at your side.]
Zinzi is a former journalist turned 419 scammer and lost-stuff-finder to pay off her old drug debts. Her magical ability is finding lost things, but after the death of her client, she ends up uncovering the dark histories of characters in the music biz, while trying to figure out a pattern to the unexplainable zoo serial murders.
Urban fantasy and crime noir often bond over the same whisky bottle, drinking it out of a paper bag while hanging out at an abandoned train station, and you can’t get grittier than Zinzi in the zoo slums. The world-building is creative and the setting feels authentic. Beukes throws in details like how a traditional psychic in the healer market sports a top with a D&G logo (so subtle that it could be the real thing) and waggles a brand new iPhone. And the prose is as hardboiled as it can get: “The tea tasted like stale horse piss drained through a homeless guy’s sock, but I drank it anyway.” I’m a sucker for both noir and original fantasy settings, and Zoo City excels on both fronts. This book is worth reading for the world-building alone.
The magic system is unique with enough context to make it believable, but also enough mystery to give it that chilling edge of the supernatural: “All it takes is one Afghan warlord to show up with a Penguin in a bulletproof vest, and everything science and religion thought they knew goes right out the window.” And zoos are pretty creepy to other people, because they are former (or current) criminals and there is no rigorous way of documenting their magical abilities. In fact, many zoos hide their real abilities from the government if it could get them into trouble.
While this book has a lot of strengths, its weakness lies in the plot and pacing. The plot is interesting, but it’s not a page-turner and the pace is actually quite slow. There’s a lot of funny moments and slices-of-life sections that flesh out the very intriguing protagonist, but there isn’t much progress on the main investigation until the last 20% of the book. I loved the plot twists and the surprises, but it all happens suddenly towards the end.
Zoo City isn’t the most riveting crime thriller, but its highly recommended for the innovative world-building....more
A lot of fantasy involves a hero on a fetch quest to save the kingdom from invading hordes. But what if the hero fa(Cross-posted from Frida Fantastic)
A lot of fantasy involves a hero on a fetch quest to save the kingdom from invading hordes. But what if the hero failed? This is exactly the beginning of this book.
The central premise is amazing and makes this book stand out from its contemporaries. Epic fantasy as a subgenre seems to like its epic wars and the threat of invasion, but it doesn’t concern itself much with a logical consequence of war—colonialism. Medair fetches the Horn of Farak, but she dooms her kingdom when she falls asleep in an enchanted labyrinth. She wakes up five hundred years later to find that her homeland is no longer hers. The Ibisian invaders now rule the lands, and Medair’s disappearance and the collapse of her kingdom has become the stuff of legend. Her kingdom’s people mostly have been wiped out, or they’re of mixed blood and identify themselves as Ibisians.
Medair is on the wrong side of history, and has to come to terms with her homeland as a colonized space. What more is that she still has the powerful artefact that is capable of nothing less than genocide. While she hides her true identity, different factions pull her into escalating wars. She has to decide whether to side with her invaders, and what justice really means in this new context. So yes, plenty of engaging ideas there.
The narrative is introspective and filled with flashbacks, but it works so well because Medair is such a complex heroine. She is deeply loyal to her dead kingdom, feels disgust towards the Ibisians, but is also a very compassionate human being. The rest of the cast is interesting even if mysterious, and the rich dialogue is filled with carefully chosen words and courtly intrigue. Every moment changes her relationship with the Ibisians, creating an intense build up to her final decision which could alter the fate of her homeland.
Höst’s intricate prose and world-building is a joy to sink into. I wanted to race through the pages because I couldn’t wait to see how the story unfolds, but I forced myself savour each word. I stopped to re-read scenes several times because they were so emotionally powerful and I wanted to hold on to the moment. But it’s quite possible that I sympathized with Medair so much that I also felt her sense of dread.
I love how this story brings a historical understanding of culture and politics to an epic fantasy setting. It’s very refreshing compared to some of the epic fantasy I’ve read over the years where different factions are racially essentialized into a couple of simplistic traits, are forever foes, and are unchanging for millennia. But I thought this novel approaches race as more of a social construct–a fluid category. Medair notes the subtle differences in pigmentation and body type, which may be may be significant for neighbouring peoples turned colonizer and colonized, but perhaps not that significant to someone outside of those countries. Different ethnicities are described with certain attributes, but the attributes are ultimately cultural. As Medair notices, culture mixes and changes over time, and that changes how she relates to the Ibisians.
It’s also interesting how Medair becomes a political symbol. An extremist group calls themselves Medarists, and their goal is to overthrow Ibisian power and put any person with Ibisian blood into slavery. They’re also waiting for Medair’s fabled return and consequent call to arms. I liked the disconnect between the politics-using-the-person-as-a-symbol, and the actual politics of the person herself. The only other story I recall seeing this point of view is from Ursula K. Le Guin’s short story “The Day Before the Revolution”, but Medair isn’t an aging revolutionary–she wants nothing to do with the movement named after her. I liked the inclusion of this group, and I thought they added more depth to the politics of this world.
It took a few chapters for it to really grab me, and I wanted more from the plot because I felt like it was just the beginning of something bigger. Some of the formal titles of the nobility are hard to remember because they’re similar and all start with the letter K, but these are very minor complaints. This book may be too introspective and brooding for some, but the earnest emotional core, original ideas, and beautiful prose definitely makes it re-read material for me.
The Silence of Medair is an intelligent, absorbing, and poignant fantasy novel. Readers should take note of this work, especially if you’re interested in an epic fantasy or a memorable heroine. It’s an excellent read and it’s highly recommended.
Note: A free review copy was provided by the author. ...more
God’s War takes place on a brutal desert planet with a centuries-long holy war fought between Muslim colonists. It makes Herbert’s Arrakis seem like aGod’s War takes place on a brutal desert planet with a centuries-long holy war fought between Muslim colonists. It makes Herbert’s Arrakis seem like a nice place to retire. It’s a world filled with a black-market organ trade, underground boxing rings, and writhing insects that enable magicians to put bodies back together.
As most of the boys die for the war, it’s dames like Nyx that run the town. She and her team of bounty hunters are on the hunt for an alien with knowledge that could end the holy war, and they clash against competing factions who want Nyx dead.
I really enjoyed this book, it combines acid-gun-wielding action with nuanced world building on the dimensions of sex, race, and religion. It first eases the reader into Nyx’s world of boxing rings and assassinations and then launches turns into an epic thriller. The hardboiled prose and dystopian world can sometimes get too heavy, but thankfully some black humour emerges when least expected.
While most of the spotlight is on Nyx, the other members of the five-man band are well developed and break out of the typical SF tropes. I like how the magician is underpowered and the muscle is a woman with a skill set that brings to mind the “specialization is for insects” Heinlein quote. Their experiences as refugees and immigrants are also integrated into the narrative with an authenticity that I’ve never seen before in SF.
I highly recommend this book. If any of you are familiar with Mieville’s Perdido Street Station, God’s War has similar strengths and weaknesses with regards to plot–although it has a better ending. I’m eagerly awaiting for the sequel and other works that Hurley will produce next.
Cyborg meets alien admiral; space opera meets romance. This results in an awesome premise with twice the pulp, as if the(Cross-posted from Adarna SF)
Cyborg meets alien admiral; space opera meets romance. This results in an awesome premise with twice the pulp, as if the half-naked guy in front of a spaceship didn’t already spell that out for you. There are space battles, insurgent separatist movements to throw off the yoke of a caste system, and sexual tensions of the you’re-hot-but-you’re-kinda-the-enemy! variety. Morgan’s Choice has the makings of an action-packed space opera adventure (with all kinds of action).
The prose is slick and easy to get into, and the story wastes no time in piling up the conflict. Morgan finds herself being used for the military and political factions of an alien world, because her Supertech abilities make her a powerful weapon. She can compromise security systems, fly enemy spaceships, and pretty much hack everything. But it’s difficult for her to figure out which side she should be on, especially when things heat up with the Admiral.
The repulsion-attraction dynamics between the two are well-done and manages to avoid major unfortunate implications, which is important given that Morgan’s a prisoner and the Admiral comes from a super patriarchal society. Van der Rol writes Morgan well as a resourceful heroine doing her best in an unpredictable environment. I really enjoyed the first half of this book and would give it a solid 4 stars.
Unfortunately, I don’t think that the final portion is as strong. The antagonists are underdeveloped, the chase sequences feel lacklustre, and the world-building around the Supertechs could be clearer. Why could Supertechs only reproduce with other Supertechs? What are the limitations on a Supertech? Morgan’s special abilities are treated like magic without a cohesive rule system. I didn’t have a problem with it early in the book, but as the story went on without these abilities being explained and the Rule of Cool lost its effect, my suspension of disbelief drifted away.
My final criticism is that the romance becomes dreary in the absence of richer character development. One of the most interesting tensions is Morgan’s romantic feelings for the Admiral versus her dislike of his arrogance and being a product of a very repressive and patriarchal culture. This gets resolved, but not in a way I found impressive, because it relies on a formula romance resolution which trivializes the conflict. I think romance readers who want a tidy ending would be satisfied, but I was looking for something more.
If you’re looking for a space opera/romance adventure, Morgan’s Choice serves up some fast-paced pulp, but don’t expect much else.
Note: a free review copy was provided by the author. ...more
Kat is the dark-haired Amazon in black biker leathers with a pair of .45-caliber hand cannons named Bonnie and Clyde. Her partner, Mouse, is the dameKat is the dark-haired Amazon in black biker leathers with a pair of .45-caliber hand cannons named Bonnie and Clyde. Her partner, Mouse, is the dame in the trenchcoat wielding the Japanese short swords. This book features 14 episodes of their pulp action adventures from the Kat and Mouse webserial.
The writing style is fast, fun, and minimalist with a hardboiled aesthetic. It’s a thrill ride as the sassy duo shoot and slice their way through mooks in Bay City. The fight scenes are fantastic; Senires doesn’t get bogged down with explaining the cyberpunk weaponry as he leaves the best stuff to the imagination:
[Twenty meters before the onramp, the aerodyne dropped out of the sky right in front of us, a three-meter long, gray metal brick suspended in mid-air by four ducted vectorthrust engine pods. Its chin-mounted 30mm chaingun swiveled toward the Shelby’s windshield.
[The muscle went for their guns.
A subvocalized command flooded my body with adrenaline stimulators and the world slid into slo-mo.]
The characters are lively and interesting. They’re based off familiar types (slice-happy sidekick, support guy with Cockney accent, broken-English Russian barkeep), but they’re instantly likeable and their interactions give off Joss Whedon vibes. The cast has a dynamic that works well, and I can see myself continuing to read the series for them.
While the writing and the characters are excellent, the world of Bay City and the episodic stories themselves need either more meat or flavour. Bay City is a standard big city with turf wars. It has a cyberpunk aesthetic as far as weapons and tech goes, but it isn’t different from a gang-ridden city of today. The gangs and joyboys are cute, but they’re run-of-the-mill Italians mafiosos and punks in biker leathers. There are punks in red leathers, but that’s as colorful as it gets. I would love for Senires to make Bay City and its groups more unique and theatrical.
Some repeated information could be removed from the ebook edition. The episodes are standalones, but I found it distracting to be reintroduced to the cast half a dozen times. I wish there’s more meat to the episodic stories themselves. I love reading frivolous pulp stories, but the ones here didn’t grab me. I’m happy to read such stories if they’re compensated with extra sensationalism, but Kat and Mouse doesn’t push the envelope far enough.
Kat and Mouse is an entertaining read and I can see myself following their future adventures. I could easily give it more stars if it has a bit more sensationalism or substance in the story and world-setting department. There’s a lot of great stuff here so I’m following Senires to see where he takes the series. While this review is critical in some respects, it’s also a review from a potential fan in waiting.
I recommend this book if you’re looking for some light pulp action fun with a cyberpunk/hardboiled aesthetic. It’s an enjoyable read as long as you don’t expect much else.
Note: a free review copy was provided by the author. ...more
[“That’s the way the universe works. Not random at all. The universe is passive-aggressively hostile.” - Polly (she(Cross-posted from Frida Fantastic)
[“That’s the way the universe works. Not random at all. The universe is passive-aggressively hostile.” - Polly (she who may or may not be God)]
Polly! is a quirky contemporary fantasy with a hopeful message. It follows Herodotus, a middle-aged man down on his luck, as he undergoes a process of rediscovery upon meeting the enigmatic Polly. The story is comparable to the Frank Capra film It’s a Wonderful Life, but it speaks to non-religious skeptics and has a weirdness that makes it more interesting. It’s never clear what Polly is, but she fights entropy, gives some serious tough love, and has plenty of thoughts on dealing with a passive-aggressively hostile universe.
The reader follows Herod’s journey from sorrow to renewed hope and wonder. Goldin’s prose is really enjoyable, it moves quickly with just enough description to make a scene memorable. The pacing is smooth, there’s never a dull moment, and it’s always engaging and unpredictable. There’s some offbeat humour which helps lighten the mood, and all of it feels natural to the story and Herod’s point of view.
While there’s only two major characters, they’re done excellently: Herod is a sympathetic everyman and Polly is vibrant force to be reckoned with. Another aspect I liked was the timelessness of the setting and the themes–it could be set any time in the next thirty years and it would still feel contemporary.
The worst part of the book has nothing to do with its contents—it’s the cover. The cover is confusing to potential readers, and Polly doesn’t even look like that. But hey, don’t judge a book by its cover. Polly has a French maid that is funny but a bit too over the top, and there’s a line or two or dialogue that rubbed me the wrong way, but those are insignificant nitpicks.
I advice checking out the longer sample at Smashwords to see if you like Herod and Polly and its agnostic themes. The book is filled with interactions between these two characters getting all Socratic-method style discussing life, the universe, and everything else. Polly pulls out all the stops on her criticism of organized religion, so if that’s not up your alley, well yeah, you’d think it’s blasphemous. It’s a quirky book that’s not going to appeal to everyone, but I enjoyed the ride and it made me feel warm and fuzzy inside.
Note: A free review copy was provided by the author. ...more
Voice is a supernatural horror novel that follows a rock band from obscurity to fame, with bits of gore trailing the way.(Cross-posted from Adarna SF)
Voice is a supernatural horror novel that follows a rock band from obscurity to fame, with bits of gore trailing the way. It’s terrifying, tragic, and freaking amazing.
It’s an absorbing and intense read from cover to cover. The musician who makes a pact with the devil at the crossroads is a well-known rock and roll myth, and the horror elements themselves aren’t unique, but Garraty’s delivery is pitch-perfect and will make your hair stand on end. The author masterfully executes the classic “less is more” approach to horror, letting your own paranoia fill in the blanks and scare you sh*tless.
What makes it great is that the supernatural horror blends into the setting naturally. The creep with thinning hair at the back of the dive bar could be either a man with unfortunate features or a demon creature out to disembowel you. I was glad that I didn’t read some scenes in public because they made me scream like a crazy person. You know that time when you watched Alien for the first time and didn’t see that chestburster coming? Yeah. That.
The everyday tribulations of being a musician are convincing and immerse you into the character’s lives. I loved details like when Case, the lead guitarist, explains to someone that their band wasn’t hard rock like Nickelback but more like the New York Dolls or Motörhead, she’s promptly met with a blank look. Garraty is as much an expert in music as in horror, and has a way of fleshing out details without overburdening the reader with obscure trivia.
I could go on and on about why I love this book, but I definitely must praise Voice for the characters. Everyone’s fascinating with great internal conflict, adding layers to the plot. There’s illicit relationships, band drama, and the daily struggle to prove their worth to themselves. Heck, even the minor bit characters are intriguing too, and I wished there was more uncovered about them!
The entire line-up is strong, but two characters steal the spotlight. Case is a fantastic heroine, a no-bullsh*t woman in a macho scene. While she walks around in leather pants and knows Krav Maga like nobody’s business, she’s a multidimensional tough dame and not merely a caricature of one. You could call her the spiritual successor to Ellen Ripley.
But Johnny’s internal conflict–that’s main star of the book. Johnny, Johnny, Johnny. What do I do with you? Every time I read a chapter in his POV, my heart soared or twisted itself in sympathy. He’s the lead vocalist whose talents are unremarkable compared to the rest of the band, and it’s his hunger to prove himself which leads to the pact with the devil. No matter what the reader thinks of his choices, deep down, you feel that you would same thing. It makes the story even more chilling, and that is the mark of an outstanding horror novel.
As Johnny would scream to the audience between his Elvis sneers, “Is it hot enough for you, m*therf*ckers?” Yes, it is m*therf*cking hot. Read it.
Note: a free review copy was provided by the author. ...more
Generation pitches itself as a “crime-thriller with an injection of horror” and “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo meets th(Cross-posted from Adarna SF)
Generation pitches itself as a “crime-thriller with an injection of horror” and “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo meets the X-Files.” That’s an accurate description of the concept, but not of the quality.
Hendrix Harrison, the protagonist, is a British Mikael Blomkvist with Fox Mulder’s interest in the paranormal, and he uncovers a conspiracy surrounding an experimental drug treatment that turns its test subjects into the living dead. The concept is intriguing, and I was hooked by the prologue and the body horror. I love my body horror and Knight knows how to write it excellently.
[A row of teeth ran alongside a swollen tongue and Hendrix tried to discern where the tongue ended and the lips began. Translucent red skin was stretched tight across the chin and one cheek providing a window on a network of black veins and white nervous tissue. It was a mass of putrescent flesh dripping onto the pillow, soaking into the sheets, and being washed down the drain every time Thora cleaned.]
While many of the horror elements are good, Generation is not a solid thriller in its current form. The first 25% of the book is a massive infodump, and I would have stopped reading it if I didn’t commit to writing a review. Sometimes, a slow build-up to the conflict is effective in horror fiction (Voice by Joseph Garraty is an example, and that’s a five-star book), but in Generation, it’s simply tedium. There are scenes of boardroom meetings, corporate Powerpoint presentations, lonely meals in greasy pubs, long-distance drives to meet with leads that go nowhere… it felt like it was going exactly in that direction–nowhere. But it significantly improves as the story goes on, and it fully hits its stride at the 75% mark.
This would have been a leaner and meaner book if chapter 10 was the beginning, and the background info in previous chapters were included in subsequent scenes that moved the plot forward. The novel has potential but there needs to be more focus on what’s important.
There was an obligatory sex scene that took place without foreshadowing (out-of-character sex seems to be the domain of thrillers, no idea why), and it was awkward because it disrupted the momentum of the story. It happened during a race-and-chase portion of the plot where the protagonists could be gunned down. I read on while thinking “This is the last thing I care about!”, flipping through it with growing frustration, hoping that the scene wasn’t too long because I wanted to get back to the story. I apologize for being crude, but the experience can only be described as the “reader blueball”.
The prose itself is good, and I could tell that the author was an experienced writer, but likely not as experienced with fiction. Small mistakes litter the work: typos, awkward adjectives (“rain-coloured sky”), redundant sentences summarizing the previous paragraph, problems with compound words, and so on. I’m not a professional editor, and I focus on enjoying the story as reader, but the mistakes kept on taking me away from the story.
Some of the differences in compound words are likely a difference in British spellings (I’m a reader based in Canada), and I’ve reviewed books by other British writers, but none of these differences bothered me. I think it’s because the errors in this book kept on switching on my inner editor and I couldn’t help but scrutinize the most minor of details.
I didn’t warm up to the characters at first, I actually had trouble telling them apart because their characterizations were so bland. But I grew to like them and root for them once Big Pharma was out to tear them apart limb from limb. This happened midway through the book, and again, I wish it took place earlier.
Overall, Generation has its moments, and it has the foundations for a solid sci-fi/horror conspiracy thriller. Unfortunately, it’s not polished enough in its current form, but I hope there will be a re-edited version. Considering the major problems with story focus, pacing and infodumping, I’m not ready to read another full-length novel by this author. But Knight writes excellent body horror, so if he has some short horror fiction, I’d definitely be interested.
Note: a free review copy was provided by the author. ...more
When was the last time you saw a choose your own adventure space opera book with plenty of sex scenes? You’ve never seen one before? I thought so. ThaWhen was the last time you saw a choose your own adventure space opera book with plenty of sex scenes? You’ve never seen one before? I thought so. That’s why I decided to read this book, and I enjoyed it more than I expected.
A choose your own adventure (CYOA) or a gamebook, is like a normal book, only that once in a while you make decisions for the protagonist. In one of the scenarios, Becca finds a mysterious cryogenically preserved prisoner in the cargo hold. Should she investigate the cryo prisoner herself, or should she alert the Captain? There are hyperlinks provided for the two options, and clicking on one of them will take you to a different page and change the course of the story. There are sixteen different endings in total that lead to glory, love, or failure.
Thankfully, unlike the CYOAs I’ve read in the past, this book is in third-person so it’s easy to get into it. It’s a fast-paced adventure and I was at the edge of my seat the entire time. Becca is a young engineer intern that’s in a rather dangerous space trader, and the choices she makes has important consequences for her safety and the safety of others. The danger doesn’t come from outside the spaceship, but from the people that she works with. Some are involved with an interstellar mafia called the Brotherhood, some are sleazy and possibly abusive supervisors, and there are alien race relations to deal with on board too—all of which she could benefit from, or leave her dead.
I really liked Becca as a protagonist. She’s an ambitious, capable, and passionate woman, and I was invested in her by the time I was confronted with the first choice. All the available options are valid and there are no obvious answers. There are just risky choices and less risky choices, but some pay off while others kill off. Each choice changes Becca’s nature slightly, but everything is in character within the story thread.
My first read led to a demoralizing ending, but the book has a clickable table of contents, making it easy for readers to go back and explore each path in any order. Unlike some CYOAs where some storylines feel like a waste of time, every storyline is engaging and reveals a different side to the character. I also liked the ambiguity of some of the endings, and whether it’s good depends on the reader’s values. In one scenario, Becca loses everything but becomes a hardened survivor. I found that very inspiring and it’s one of my favourites.
I was curious to see if there were any storylines that didn’t lead to sex, but every thread involves some sexual intimacy, so make sure you’re ready for that. She becomes intimate with men, and some of them are humanoid aliens that are just a little bit different. The sex scenes are written in a candid, lusty, and delightfully audacious sort of way. It’s interesting that body parts and bodily functions are referred to by their actual names, but it’s logical coming from the POV of an engineering intern. It’s passionate and yet the complete opposite of purple prose. Some of the intimacy made me giggle because of the ridiculous sexiness, but I consider that as part of a fun erotica romp.
I don’t really have any criticisms, but I found one of the endings a bit cheesy because it was a fairytale happily ever after set in space. It fits the story and the genre, so there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just my comment as a reader that doesn’t read romance. Possible turn offs for other readers may be the exotic aliens (e.g. humanoids with tails or wings) and some of the misogynistic characters. For me, the aliens felt natural to the setting, and Becca doesn’t have to take crap from the misogynistic characters if she doesn’t want to.
Becca can get intimate with a lot of people, and while some it is dangerous, she’s always portrayed as a person with agency. She can choose to go with the heat of the moment or follow a more cautious route, then she lives with the consequences. The way she handles external pressure and conflict is written quite well so it doesn’t wander into unfortunate implications. If you read the sample, you’ll get a good sense of the space opera setting and the other characters, so you can decide if that’s up your alley.
Becca, Reporting for Duty is a surprisingly fun space opera adventure. It has danger, sex, and a strong female protagonist. If you’re looking for a tale that moves at a breakneck speed and filled with highs and lows, I recommend checking this out. Space opera, CYOA, and erotica aren’t the sort of stories I read often, but damn this was good. I want more of the first two, and I’m more open to the last one. The 16-different endings format doesn’t naturally lend itself to a sequel, but if there is more to Becca’s adventures, I’d love to read on.
Note: a free review copy was provided by the author. ...more
Ghosts of Rosewood Asylum is a paranormal suspense/contemporary fantasy novel with a fun and original premise. It’s about(Cross-posted from Adarna SF)
Ghosts of Rosewood Asylum is a paranormal suspense/contemporary fantasy novel with a fun and original premise. It’s about a reality show that investigates paranormal activity, and the investigators are students from the Catholic Saint Xavier University in Chicago. Zach is a pretty ordinary guy working on his PhD in Psychology… other than the fact that he’s worried about network ratings, he’s possessed by the spirit of his dead uncle, and the abandoned asylum he’s investigating has something in it that’s keen on setting him and his team ablaze.
The prologue was okay, but it was chapter one that won me over. I was instantly charmed by Zach, and the story moves quickly into the world of supernatural investigations, TV production politics, and the creepy grounds of Rosewood Asylum.
I truly enjoyed the TV production aspect to this book–it’s interesting how it structures the investigation and the interactions between the characters. There are several scenes where the characters would have the real interaction (greeting each other or relaying information), then they’d have to do it all over again and adjust their dialogue for the camera. It was enlightening and it cracked me up. The rivalry between the two paranormal groups is amusing (“the Demon Hunters looked like a pack of Hells Angels who’d ridden their motorcycles through the entire length of a circus train”) and a lot of scheming takes place. Other than having an evil spirit/arsonist on the premises, they also have casting/promotion politics and planted evidence to deal with.
An abandoned insane asylum isn’t the most original location for a paranormal investigation, but Prosapio brings such a convincing history to the setting that I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a real place. The causes of the asylum’s haunted fate are tied to real events in Chicago, adding a richness to the world-building.
While the characters, setting, and subplots are great, the central paranormal plot is a bit predictable. There were key points that I saw coming from a mile away. A character was introduced early in the book, and I wrote a comment on my Kindle: “It’s gonna be revealed eventually that this person is dead all along Sixth Sense-style”. Yep–it happened. And I suppose exorcism-style books could only really end in one way, especially if the author is working on a sequel. Maybe I’m just not as attuned with this genre, but I wish that the author would subvert paranormal tropes a bit more.
Also, some lines came off a bit weird at first. In a scene where Zach and a psychic consultant exchange movie lines as they greet each other, the narration explains that these lines are significant because the consultant resembles the lead of the film and “it also mocked the stereotype that black people, at least those not practicing Voodoo in New Orleans, weren’t psychic and never dabbled in the occult.” I was confused by that comment until later on, I realized that consultant was African-American himself, and this is a book where the protagonist is a white Catholic boy possessed by the spirit of his dead uncle. I guess it wasn’t immediately clear to me that this was part of the fantasy world-building.
The central plot could’ve had more surprises, but it’s still fun novel overall and the other story elements make it a refreshing read. Ghosts of Rosewood Asylum is a well-written book and it’s recommended if you’re into the paranormal genre. Give the sample a try–I’d be surprised if chapter one didn’t suck you in instantly.
Note: A free review copy was provided by the author. ...more
This book is so meta that anything else you thought was meta would seem banal in comparison. A writer (Peter Refton) and the people who he had writtenThis book is so meta that anything else you thought was meta would seem banal in comparison. A writer (Peter Refton) and the people who he had written biographies about are on a quest to fight Grandfather Quest, because Quest ensnared them as characters in his story. Grandfather Quest isn’t the only metaphysical character in this book, it includes heavy-hitters like Time and Fate—and all intrigue and plot their way to directing the story unfolding before the reader’s eyes. There are multiple narrators, stories absorb each other, and the scenes fly through time and space with settings that are historical, mythological, and metaphysical.
This book’s ambitious premise is commendable, and I also really enjoy reading experimental narratives. One of the reasons why I read speculative fiction is to push the boundaries of how I perceive reality-as-it-currently-is. With this book, I was expecting to look at stories and storytelling under a different light.
Exaltations has an epic worldview to match its impressive scope. I liked how it made little distinction between mythological, historical, and biographical stories because over time, they really do become the same thing. The inclusion of mythologies and persons outside of the Western world added a breadth and depth to its vision. The Chinese ancestress and the celestial bureaucracy that she belongs to are especially well-conceived, and there are plenty of allusions to stories from other cultures including Indian, Scandinavian, and Greek.
I have mixed feelings about this book. The ideas, characters, and settings in of themselves are interesting–but I’m not as thrilled with how they were written. Exaltations is full of riddles and power-wrestling between characters both physical and metaphysical, which by itself could be fascinating—but it wasn’t engaging for the most part.
The characters are interesting (even the metaphysical ones), but they all seemed so static and invulnerable. It’s sort of like they could be outmaneuvered in the one scene, but none of that mattered, because they could be reconstituted in anew in the next. That would be fine if the focus wasn’t on how they were trying to struggle out of story A or story B, but that struggle is the focus and the cause for all the action. The characters live on in an eternal limbo of changing scenes without any of the events changing them as characters. My favourite scene was when Fate created a different reality where their individual conflicts ended up badly for them, and I wish there were more scenes like this where the power of abstract forces could be felt on the individual level. Again this could be subjective as I tend to like character-driven fiction, but I thought that in order to explore how stories affect human experiences, the cause and effect is best shown and not merely talked about.
There are many sections where the bodiless story-characters discuss riddles and Big Concepts. They outline unique spatial models to visualize the relationships between ideas, stories, and lives, but they didn’t get me to think about those concepts differently. I was really hoping to have my ideas challenged, but instead I felt like I mostly read wordplay.
There are brilliant scenes and ideas, and I highlighted a number of passages to further ruminate over, but I can’t say I was satisfied with the entire experience. I love the subject matter, the characters, and the concept of reading a story that’s being fought over by different writers… but ultimately I didn’t connect much with most of the scenes in the book itself. I’m perfectly willing to entertain the idea that I just didn’t “get it” or had the wrong approach with this read, and so I’m settling for a somewhat non-committal three stars.
If you find the book’s description interesting, liked the sample, and aren’t afraid of an experimental narrative full of scenes where bodiless speakers discuss Big Ideas with the Important Concepts capitalized—then give it a go. I’m interested to see what others think of this book, and I hope that they will find it more engaging than I did.
Note: a free review copy was provided by the author...more
The Sable City is a fun and refreshing D&D epic fantasy romp set in the 14th century. There’s muskets and magic, and dwarves and samurai. Blood geThe Sable City is a fun and refreshing D&D epic fantasy romp set in the 14th century. There’s muskets and magic, and dwarves and samurai. Blood gets spilt along the way due to encounters with nefarious demon hordes and such, but a wry sense of humour is maintained throughout the book.
The book grabbed my attention from the first page and I found it hard to put down, which is a bit of a problem considering its epic word count of 183,000. Hence, be warned. It first starts as a quest for two, then a diverse cast of characters are introduced; their paths get tangled and it builds up to a fun dungeon-crawl and boss fight. I’d like to talk about some of the twists and surprises, but I won’t spoil the fun for you.
While the characters don’t deviate from the common fantasy types (kleptomaniac rogue, gruff dwarf, snarky mage, antisocial melee guy, female healer, … even the novel samurai isn’t characterized beyond stoic), they’re very likeable, lively, and sympathetic. I cared about them as real individuals and desired to see their stories through. There aren’t any faux action or TSTL heroines here as Tilda and the other women are skilled and resourceful. There’s plenty of moxie and quipping to go around.
McNally develops a rich and detailed world full of history. It pays greater attention to resource wars, changing boundaries, and taxes than other stories with this fantasy setting. It’s a world where an accursed city of doom opens up… and the first thing that happens is that hobgoblins levy taxes on any treasure carried out. It’s dungeons and business.
One of The Sable City’s greatest strengths is its energetic tone and sense of humour. The characters have their troubles and despair, so while it has its poignant moments, it never gets too serious for its own good. It plays with some fantasy tropes while keeping the reader immersed in the story, and it strikes this balance masterfully.
The book’s weakness lies in the “building” of world-building. The first fifth is difficult to read because of the massive infodumping about the world. It made me feel like I was reading a game world wiki than a novel, but once you’re past the infodumping, it’s smooth sailing and turns out to be a really fun read. I think it could still benefit from more editing to fix excessive exposition and some awkward early scenes–but the way it is now, it’s still a great 4 star book.
There are a few anachronistic phrases (like “teamster”) and moments where I felt like I was playing an RPG instead of reading a novel. Its preoccupation with equipment and armour can only be described as obsessive, a mage attempts to cast Know History, and the party has a penchant for climbing up towers full of mooks just because the towers are there. But the quirks work well with the tone and story, so I just find them charming.
Due to the beginning 20% of ridiculous infodumping, I advice readers approach to that section with some blinders on if you’re overwhelmed by the details. Once you’re past that, it greatly improves and reveals itself as a rewarding and fun dungeons & dragons romp. I highly recommend The Sable City if you’re looking for an entertaining epic fantasy adventure.
Note: a free review copy was provided by the author....more
The Canary Review describes this book as “Cyber Opera” (cyberpunk + space opera) and I think it’s a fitting phrase(Review cross-posted from Adarna SF)
The Canary Review describes this book as “Cyber Opera” (cyberpunk + space opera) and I think it’s a fitting phrase. Cyberpunk generally has a focus on “high tech and low life”, but the virtual reality in Fate’s Mirror shares space opera’s delight in the fantastic. Cyber attacks take the form of naval combat in this VR world, resulting in some pretty amusing metaphors:
[Icy fear trickled down Morris’ ribs. No ship had sunk under him yet, but taking on water meant the possibility—no, the probability—of viral contamination.]
Readers looking for a serious discussion on tech, cybernetics, and AI won’t be satisfied with this book, but if you’re looking for a VR adventure with a unique anti-hero, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything else that compares.
It grabbed me quickly after the first chapter. The plot moves fast, and the problems and intrigue just keep piling on. The prose style is so seamless and consistent that you wouldn’t guess that it was a co-written work. M. H. Mead is a pen name for the team of Margaret Yang and Harry R. Campion, and I have to commend them both for their excellent writing.
Morris is a snarky anti-hero, but he is a memorable character because of his agoraphobia, an anxiety disorder that makes it difficult to do many things. It’s difficult for him to be in crowds, board a plane, eat food he didn’t prepare, and so on. This provides extra challenges for Morris, especially when the book begins with a rogue AI hacking his house’s utility systems–making said house explode in flames. All the racing and chasing forces Morris to grow out of his anxieties, resulting in a lot of character development. The agoraphobia makes things interesting, but it is never melodramatic and it doesn’t solely define him as a character. The other characters are also compelling even if there are only brief glimpses into their lives. I really liked Aidra; she’s Morris’ former boss, a private investigator, and a single mom. Their teamwork on the case advances their relationship past strictly-professional, and Morris’ affections for her makes him more human.
While the characters are great, the exceptions are the artificial intelligences. Their motives aren’t sufficiently explained. They could be fearsome antagonists while still having sympathetic motives, but they seem to be evil for no reason. This is especially noticeable as the AIs are digital reproductions of real people who don’t share their traits.
I have two other criticisms. The chapters jump across more POVs than necessary. Did the reader need to know about a security agent’s former career from his internal monologue? Not really. I also noticed that the female characters are magnets for tragedy to fuel Morris’ angst. It heightens the drama, but it distracted me from the story whenever I became conscious of the Disposable Woman trope being used again and again.
Fate’s Mirror is a fun cyberpunk read. If you like well-developed characters, a fast-paced plot, and fanciful VR worlds complete with pirate ships and naval battles, you’ll enjoy this book. I wished the antagonists had more depth and the Disposable Woman trope wasn’t used so often, but it’s still an entertaining romp and a unique addition to the genre.
Note: a free review copy was provided by the author.
The Emperor’s Edge is a charming and exhilarating fantasy adventure set in an era of steam. It follows Amaranthe, a lawful good-type police officer, wThe Emperor’s Edge is a charming and exhilarating fantasy adventure set in an era of steam. It follows Amaranthe, a lawful good-type police officer, who ends up being charged for crimes against the throne. She finds herself working with unlikely allies, including an amoral assassin, as they try to stop nefarious plots to kill the emperor, with a lot of adventure, mystery, and humour.
It’s fast-paced, action-packed, and it grabbed me right from the first page. It keeps a playful tone with a lot of banter and witty commentary on each page. With the writing style’s wit and genre-savvy moments, I’ll venture out on a limb and compare it to Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series. Buroker also does the world-building so smoothly that the reader doesn’t notice that they’ve absorbed essence of the city of “Stumps” with each newspaper headline of bear attacks on Wharf Street and each strange beheaded statue.
The world is really interesting. It’s high fantasy, yet it takes place in an empire where magic is outlawed and is only used by foreign subversives or urban gangs. Amaranthe working as an enforcer is quite the exception, as women have dominated the eras of commerce, but haven’t been accepted in other sectors of this militaristic empire. It’s filled with lively interactions between denizens of various social classes, and it makes the setting very distinctive.
Amaranthe is a likeable and memorable protagonist. She has some combat ability, but her skill lies in persuading others to work with her and coming up with creative ways to solve problems. There’s quite a bit of chasing, escaping, and combat, and it’s all refreshingly fun to read because of the original methods she employs. She uses a lot of odd props and the environment to her advantage, and comes up with a zany but practical plan to save the emperor. The other characters are also lively individuals with a lot of depth, and I liked every member of their misfit crew.
What makes this book especially strong is the conflict between Amaranthe’s goals and the amoral approaches to attaining them. While there are a few evil guys, everyone else is just a normal person doing their jobs. She feels sympathy for many of the mooks that they have to take down, because she used to be an enforcer just like them. I liked how she didn’t take the decision to harm others lightly, and the choices she made were consistent with her values.
There were a few eyebrow-raising moments. I felt like that a few humourous quips were taken too far, as they didn’t fit the tone of the scene. I was also a bit skeptical of the extent of Amaranthe’s ability to charm others. Somehow for me, it wasn’t established that Amaranthe was that charming until midway through the story. But these moments only happen a couple of times, so these are minor nitpicks that won’t affect your enjoyment of this book.
The Emperor’s Edge is a fantastic novel, and it’s one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read this year. If you’re looking for a fantasy adventure, you really can’t go wrong with this one. It’s highly recommended and I’m definitely reading the sequel.
Note: a free review copy was provided by the author. ...more
How would you like your apocalypse served? Zombie? Nuclear? Machine war? Genocide? Combustion into ash? Mass suicide induced by alien energy beings? WHow would you like your apocalypse served? Zombie? Nuclear? Machine war? Genocide? Combustion into ash? Mass suicide induced by alien energy beings? Well, you get the all-in-one combo with this book.
The Last Man on Earth Club explores the experiences of six apocalypse survivors from six parallel Earths. It’s examined through the therapy sessions run by Dr. Asha Singh, where she treats the survivors recovering on the homeworld of the Interversal Union (IU). The IU is like a multiverse UN where it provides aid to all the parallel Earths, because apparently the end of the world is happening somewhere all the time. While it’s told from the doctor’s first person POV, it often reads like third-person as she often takes the role of a detached observer, and we learn of the patients’ experiences through their dialogue and progress in therapy.
It’s an unusual concept, but it works. The tone is brooding yet clinical, creating an effective contrast to the horrifying apocalypses described by the survivors. It’s not a fast-paced page turner, but it will hold your attention throughout all 170,000 words. The real nature of the apocalypses and the survivors’ experiences are revealed slowly, and each apocalypse experience is memorable with its own set of conflicts to grapple with.
The six survivors are well-developed characters with distinct personalities. Their interactions, conflict, and growth drive the narrative of the story. While they have severe problems and their quarrels can get over the top, they are sympathetic characters and they don’t come off as melodramatic. This is a character-driven story that really makes the connections between adversity, suffering, and healing.
I liked the parallels to contemporary international regimes. The Interversal Union’s resources are strained by the amount of apocalypse refugees that require their need. There’s an organization that parallels the International Criminal Court, and the characters are polarized in their attitudes towards justice, revenge, and prosecuting people for genocide. These real world parallels make the survivors’ ordeals even more compelling–resulting in an emotionally powerful novel that’s never short of ideas worth reflecting on.
My suspension of disbelief was stretched with one survivor’s world where half the population had superpowers. This world had a lot of calamities and bioengineered abominations that came out of some seemingly nonsensical experiments. There are some moments where this book sacrifices practicality for Rule of Cool (or more precisely, Rule of Nightmare Fuel), and it would have been nice if multiverse-travel was explained further. But these are minor criticisms of a very solid science fiction work.
The Last Man on Earth Club is highly recommended, especially for fans of dystopian and apocalyptic literature. If you like the first few chapters and want to learn more about the characters, then go for it, and it only gets better from there. It’s a dark, original, and intelligent science fiction book that continues to give me some food for thought, and also perhaps a little hope.
Note: a free review copy was provided by the author. ...more
Eighteen-year-old Kali McAlister wants to leave Moose Hollow forever. She enters a 3-day dog sled race to win the grand prize of a thousand dollars wiEighteen-year-old Kali McAlister wants to leave Moose Hollow forever. She enters a 3-day dog sled race to win the grand prize of a thousand dollars with her steam-powered “dogless” contraption.
While that’s already a lot of pressure–bandits, treasure seekers, and airship pirates are out to sabotage her race as they want to steal her father’s alchemical secret–the flash gold.
This is an enjoyable adventure novella. The steampunk creations fit well with the Yukon gold rush setting and adds a rich flavour to a fast-paced race and chase plot.
Kali is a fun heroine–she’s got moxie and a host of creative bombs and modified weapons. Her gadgeteer genius skills would make Tony Stark jealous. Most of her interaction with others take the form of banter and gunfire, which makes her my kind of lady.
She’s accompanied by Cedar, a mysterious sword-slinging bodyguard, and the dynamic between the two characters is brilliant. They don’t know what to make of each other, but they still manage to fight off bandits and saboteurs while dodging airborne harpoon attacks.
My only complaint is that it just feels like the beginning of an even bigger adventure, as some of the details are more like hints that teases the reader. The world of steampunk Yukon with Kali and Cedar is rich and promising–calling for a full-length novel. I suppose that’s more praise than complaint, because I’d be the first in line to read any sequels that Buroker releases next....more