Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Age of Ra

This series was a recommendation from a rather bloodthirsty friend we'll call Starkiller. He evidently preferred The Age of Odin, which is later in the series, but I decided to start at the beginning. Odds are you'll get a review of Odin's volume next year, since the books aren't strictly sequels and I'm intrigued by the worldbuilding.

Rating: 2.5 stars
Length: Moderate (443 pages)
Publication: July 28, 2009 from Solaris
Premise: David Westwinter is a British solider living in a world where the Egyptian pantheon of gods has killed off all the rival powers and divided the earth up among themselves for areas of influence. They demand that their followers worship them and have wars in their name, so humans are doomed to eternal war under their orders. David has never known another life until his men are killed and he finds himself in Freegypt, where the Lightbringer is gathering followers to try to overthrow the warring gods.
Warnings: incest between adults, mention of past incestuous rape (son to mother), one brief and non-graphic incident of an adult raping a child, gore
Recommendation: If you're really into the Egyptian pantheon of gods and/or military fiction, this one isn't a bad bet, but it doesn't deliver quite as satisfyingly on the premise as it could and I spent half the books wanting to slap the characters around.

Fair warning that I'm trying to dodge around a major spoiler that influences mostly the second half of this review, and will be dropping some fairly broad hints about another. If you want to be surprised, I'd recommend stopping before the red pen kicks off.

Thursday, November 15, 2012


This one was a recommendation from my friend Empress Rainbow, who pushed the series my way with the following: "MacKayla is the rainbow girl that got washed with black, but in the end found out that all of the colors can co-exist.  Her character development from a rather unconcerned happy-go-lucky girl to a survivor in a war she never thought she'd be involved in is the main reason why I read the series."

Rating: 3.5 stars

Length: Sharp and snappy (384 pages)
Publication: November 2006 from Delacorte Press
Premise: MacKayla Lane is happy to relax by the pool in Georgia until she gets a call that her older sister Alina has been brutally murdered in a Dublin alleyway. She recovers a frantic voicemail from hours before her sister's death and flies to Ireland herself to try to get the police to take her seriously, but soon she's in far over her head. MacKayla is a sidhe-seer, able to see their true forms as they hunt among the humans, and it's all too likely that she'll be next.
Warnings: attempted rape, with magically-induced lust being used to erode consent
Recommendation: If you're interested in the Fae or in a protagonist being dropped into magical situations cold and having to learn how to cope on the fly, this one might be your light cup of tea.

The Blade Itself

This one was a recommendation from Smartypants and Cookie Monstress, my martial arts instructors.

Not to be confused with Broken Blade or The Fallen Blade, both of which I reviewed earlier this year. "Blade" is one of those words that fantasy authors absolutely cannot resist. 

Rating: 3.5 stars
Length: Hefty for mostly good reasons (531 pages in trade paperback)
Publication: September 6, 2007 from Pyr
Premise: An infamous barbarian warrior, a young officer who's never had to work for anything, and a crippled torturer are all trying to live their own lives when the wizard Bayaz enters their lives. The realm is threatened, and he is determined to save it by whatever means necessary, even if it means working with unconventional tools.
Warnings: graphic depictions of torture, physical family abuse, gore
Recommendation: If you're interested in every main character being a bad person with just enough good traits to make them likeable, absolutely pick this one up. It accomplishes that better than anything I've ever seen, and the action and tone are quite good as well.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Rook

I initially goofed on the timing for this one, so I've been waiting gleefully for the paperback release to actually post the review. This one was another excellent loan from Misanthrope, who owns the hardback.

Rating: 4.5 stars
Length: Beautifully paced to carry the intricacy (512 pages in trade paperback)
Publication: January 11, 2012 from Little, Brown and Company
Premise: Myfanwy Thomas wakes up in a park surrounded by corpses in latex gloves and with no memory of who she is. A letter in her pocket tell her what her name is and where to go to hide, and the next letters present her with a choice: to hide somewhere safe, or to step into a position of supernatural power and figure out who washed away her body's former inhabitant.
Warnings: disturbing threatened use of tentacles, gore, threatened and implied torture of secondary characters
Recommendation: If you're all patient with books that take time to dig into the mysteries that they present, give this one a shot. It has a great hook and a fascinating cast of characters; I'm already looking forward to the sequel.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Grand Central Arena

I snagged this one off the shelf at work on a whim for the title, odd cover art, and imprint. Baen science fiction, even and especially the cheesy over-the-top stuff, was part of what got me through the duller bits of high school.

Rating: 3 stars
Length: Quite long, but mostly for good reasons (671 pages)
Publication: April 27, 2010 from Baen Books
Premise: Ariane Austin, a manual-control space obstacle pilot in an age of AI steering, jumps at the chance to be a backup pilot on the first Sandrisson Drive test flight and see whether faster-than-light travel is possible. She, Dr. Sandrisson himself,  the mysterious power engineer Marc DuQuesne, and five other crew members anticipate seeing the far reaches of space. They don't anticipate almost running into a wall, or ending up in the cryptic Arena, where they have to compete to survive.
Warnings: portrayal of something fairly close to PTSD, but otherwise pretty clean
Recommendation: This is ideal airplane reading, since it's long and involved and avoids the problem I had of losing track of characters if I set the book down for a day or two. It's certainly not bad, but it's probably better if you've read lots of classic sci-fi and have a lot of patience with exposition.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Devil in the Details

The quick and dirty: 
Rating: 3 stars
Length: Short and sweet (307 pages)
Publication: July 6, 2010 from Roc Fantasy
Premise: Jesse James Dawson acts as a champion for those who have sold their souls and come to regret it, putting his own soul on the line to win back the souls of others. Not many people are willing to go into such a line of work, and now one of them is missing, without any of the normal signs to indicate that he has lost a fight. The duels always follow specific rules, but now those rules are somehow changing, and Jesse needs to find out what's happening before he's caught in the same trap.
Warnings: There's a bit of gore, but nothing too objectionable.
Recommendation: Give this a try, particularly if you're interested in a protagonist who really is living a normal life (complete with a child and a mortgage) instead of balancing an exciting career with his adventures.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

I've seen this one recommended on quite a few progressive/activist blogs as an example of epic fantasy without the normal faux-English trappings, so I may have gone into it with inflated expectations. It's solid, but not remarkable, so odds are I'll try something in the author's other series sometime next year. 

The quick and dirty:

Rating: 2.5 stars
Length: Solid but not interminable (432 pages in trade paperback)
Publication: February 25, 2010 from Orbit Books
Premise: When Yeine Darr's mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to Sky, the glorious civilization that her mother fled years ago in order to marry her father. She expects to make a quick visit and leave, but instead she is named as a potential heir to the competition with two heirs who have been trying to destroy each other for years. Ancient gods who have been trapped as enslaved weapons for the ruling Arameri family make the situation even more complex, and Yeine has to choose between more loyalties and dreams than she ever thought possible.
Warnings: graphic torture, implied child sexual abuse, past non-detailed account of rape
Recommendation: If you're really short on novels that place the gods as equal to mortals in some way, or sci-fi/fantasy with a non-white protagonist, this one might be enjoyable. Otherwise, enthusiasm for this one is tepid at best.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

A Madness of Angels

This one is another recommendation from Longshanks and Misanthrope. I read it maybe two years ago and didn't see the appeal, for whatever reason, but this time around it grabbed my attention and only rarely let go.

Rating: 4 stars
Length: Expansive (640 pages)
Publication: April 6, 2009 from Orbit
Premise: Two years ago, Matthew Shift died in a telephone box and didn't leave a body behind. Now he's alive again, with something extra along for the ride in his mind, and he's determined to take his revenge on both his killer and on the one who brought him back into mortal flesh.
Warnings: Some fairly nasty gore (described in moderate detail, we're not talking Saw here)
Recommendation: If you have the patience to wait for answers to show up, give this one a try. It's creative, dreamy, intensely dangerous, and unusual in a way that not many things I've read recently are.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Slow Train to Arcturus

Rating: 3.5 stars
Length: A sneeze on the long side, but uses space well (432 pages)
Publication: October 7, 2008 from Baen Books
Premise: A crew from the planet Miran has been sent to investigate the enormous spaceship that's headed toward their system. Their scientists have speculated for years about the possibility of parallel intelligent life, so the crew is wildly enthusiastic about communicating with these humans....until the primitive people they've found try to slaughter the whole landing crew. One scientist, Kretz, is injured but escapes through an airlock into the next "bead." He will have to pass through several alien habitats to get to a landing craft near the front of the train, and each one is its own harrowing challenge.
Warnings: attempted rape, offscreen rape or attempted rape of an adolescent (ambiguous sequence), threats of castration
Recommendation: If you're looking for something that's just plain fun and pulpy, give this one a try. It's not going to blow your mind with originality, but it's a good adventure. It's likely worth it in mass market, and lots of libraries tend to stock up on Eric Flint, so give it a whirl. 

Minor spoilers in the red pen section to discuss the attempted rape; steer clear if you're worried about that. I also describe some of the habitats, so if you'd prefer to be surprised by each one, maybe wait and read this afterwards. 

Monday, September 24, 2012


The winter is going to have to pass without more young adult reviews because my schedule has gotten terrifying, but they'll be back next summer once I've rebuilt a buffer and gotten more sleep. As always, feel free to let me know what you want to see on the docket in the next few months.

Rating: 1.5 stars
Length: Briskly meandering (480 pages in trade paperback)
Publication: May 25, 2010 from St. Martin's Griffin
Premise: Nick Gautier has enough to do just dealing with bullies at school and trying not to upset his mother, but when an illegal job with his friends goes wrong, he has to deal with a whole new world. Kyrian, the man who saved him from his friends' attack, has offered him a job. Finding himself accepted by Kyrian's wealthy associates is odd enough...and then the school is suddenly threatened by zombie attacks from living students.
Warnings: Lots of faux-zombie bites, threats to kill brainwashed civilian teenagers, very offscreen past statutory rape
Recommendation: This one....I don't know, it's a fun exercise in honing your trope-spotting abilities, but if I didn't have a blog, I would have sent it packing somewhere around the end of chapter two. It has redeeming qualities, but it gets lost too easily and distributes detail in an odd way.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Better Part of Darkness

The quick and dirty: 
Rating: 3.5 stars
Length: Decently long without dragging (394 pages)
Publication: November 24, 2009 from Pocket Books
Premise: Charlie Madigan is an investigator with the Integration Task Force, a group created to help the Elysians and Charbydons from the magical realms work their way into normal life. Some days the job is quiet, but this time a supernatural drug is going around the streets and has finally struck someone close to Charlie's daughter. Being a divorced mother isn't easy, especially when you're still recovering from being dead, and solving the newest case tests Charlie's already-frayed limits to the breaking point.
Warnings: Abundant blood and gore, occasional sexual harassment vibes
Recommendation: There's enough that's unusual about this one in good ways to make it well worth trying; give it a spin and see if you like the style despite Charlie's absolutely baffling lack of common sense in places.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Warded Man/The Painted Man

The quick and dirty: 
Rating: 2 stars
Length: Respectably long, but mostly uses space well (480 pages) 
Publication: This was released in the UK as The Painted Man on March 8, 2008 from Voyager and in the US as The Warded Man on March 10, 2009 from from Del Rey.
Premise: In a world where humanity fears the night for the demon Corelings that rise from the earth, people sit huddled behind their wards and pray to live until the dawn. Three young people hold the potential to do more, though they will take very different paths to get there. Arlen wants to become a Messenger, one of the men who braves the night between towns and cities to carry important news, but his desire to fight the demons will carry him farther. Leesha forsakes her earliest dreams of family to become a healer, guarding the knowledge of the Herb Gatherers in the hope that it can be used to hurt and cripple the demons. Rojer has one crippled hand and dreads the way people who try to protect him die, but his music can charm or repel the corelings. Together, they may manage to lead the world in another war.
Warnings: attempted rape, offscreen gang rape, incestuous abuse, abundant gore
Recommendation: It' If you're okay with incredibly casual and stupid treatment of rape and don't mind an overly pedestal-perching main character, by all means, don't let me stop you. It's rare for a book this conceptually interesting to annoy me this much. Absolutely get it at a library or on a large sale; this isn't worth paying full price.

The are spoilers down in the red pen section once I start talking about Leesha, partly because I think the "Beautiful Leesha, who has suffered at the hands of men as well as demons" tag on the back of the book is a heavy hint and partly because it's such a badly executed plot twist that I don't care about spoiling it.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment

Rating: 3 stars
Length: Average but snappy (422 pages in trade paperback)
Publication: April 11, 2005 from Headline Books Publishing
Premise: Six genetic experiments, children who had avian DNA grafted into them in the embryo, escaped from the School, the laboratory that created them. Now they're living in isolation and trying to maintain a tenuous family when Angel, the six-year-old among them, is kidnapped and taken back to the School. Maximum Ride and her flock go to rescue their lost member, but venturing back will rip open the wounds of the pasts....and raise more questions.
Warnings: some fairly brutal beatings, children being abused in laboratory experiments
Recommendation: If you're looking for something snappy and don't mind style over substance, you could do a lot worse than this one.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Across the Nightingale Floor

It's time for another look at slightly older books. Two friends of mine who we'll call Misanthrope and Longshanks recommended Across the Nightingale Floor to me five years ago, promising that it was unusual, vivid, brilliant at alternate-Japan historical details, and above all cool. I just read raced through this book and am delighted to say it: you were right.

Rating: 4.5 stars
Length: Beautifully complex, but tightly paced (287 pages in trade paperback)
Publication: June 3, 2003 from Riverhead Books
Premise: A youth who has grown up in a small village learning only the religion of peace is forced into violent adulthood when his village is burned by the forces of Iida Sadamu, a warlord. Otori Shigeru, one of Iida's rivals, rescues the youth and renames him Takeo. They soon discover that Takeo possesses the powers of the Tribe, spies and assassins who use their remarkable gifts to move and kill in secret. Obligations and treachery threaten to upset the fragile life he is building, especially when Shirakawa Kaede, a young woman with a unsought reputation for death, steps into the dance.
Warnings: fairly gruesome treatment of prisoners, two brief and non-graphic attempted rape scenes
Recommendation: If you enjoy assassins, feudal Japan, political wrangling, tragic love affairs, or really just good writing, give this one a try. It somehow lands precisely in the YA/adult divide, showing gruesome fates and hard choices without either flinching away or wallowing in them.

Thursday, August 23, 2012


The quick and dirty:
Rating: 3.5 stars
Length: Long, but smooth (416 pages)
Publication: September 29, 2009
Premise: Fifteen years ago, the scientist Leviticus Blue destroyed downtown Seattle with his digging machine. The hole released Blight gas, which kills some people and turns other into rotters, zombies who run in packs around the city. Today the year is 1880, and the Widow Blue is struggling to raise her son Ezekiel in the shadow of the walled-off ruins of Seattle. Zeke goes into the city in an attempt to clear his father's name, but his plan to be in and out by sunset doesn't go as planned.
Warnings: quite a bit of gore with the rotters
Recommendation: Despite some slow spots, Boneshaker provides a fresh spin on steampunk, combining the best of the quirky technology with the building horror of a zombie movie and echoes of a dusty Code of the West. Give this one a try, especially if you can find it on sale or at your library.

Monday, August 20, 2012


Rating: 2.5 stars
Length: Solidly average (352 pages)
Publication: November 6, 2007 from Simon & Schuster
Premise: Years ago, the Pro-Choice and Pro-Life armies reached an agreement: children cannot be touched from conception until age thirteen, but from thirteen to eighteen they may be "unwound," reduced to their component parts and donated to people who need those organs. Connor, Risa, and Lev are all scheduled for unwinding before they are pulled away from that path, and they will have to struggle for life and understanding.
Warnings: mild attempted rape scene, fairly gruesome extended murder/surgery
Recommendation: Not many teen novels examine the debate abortion in any real detail; this one doesn't go terribly deep, but it does move beyond "such a bad thing" or "it's a necessity" to at least acknowledge nuance.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A Kiss Before the Apocalypse

Rating: 2 stars
Length: Somehow both cramped and repetitive (269 pages)
Publication: May 6, 2008 from Roc
Premise: The angel Remiel walked away from his angelic nature after the war in heaven, eventually becoming a private investigator called Remy Chandler. He fell in love with Madeline, a mortal woman, and has been unhappily dealing with her aging and inevitable death when his former angelic comrades track him down. The five scrolls that can start the apocalypse have gone missing, the Angel of Death isn't doing his job, and only Remy can track him down and avert the end of the world.
Warnings: Some of the violence can be gory or disturbing, but as a whole this is pretty mild.
Recommendation: Give this one a miss unless you're absolutely desperate for something with an angelic protagonist-- even then, you can probably find something better.

Thursday, August 9, 2012


The quick and dirty:
Rating: 3 stars
Length: Middling (368 pages)
Publication: June 9, 2009 from Tor Books
Premise: A child who has forgotten her own name is sold into luxurious captivity, trained to be an elite courtesan for the pleasure of rulers. She is forbidden to even speak her own language, but she secretly holds on to rebellion, never losing hope that she can find her way back. Her nightly lessons in silent movement are to a greater purpose than she knows, and conspiracies catch her up in ever-deeper layers.
Warnings: Several attempted rape scenes, treatment of children as prospective sexual objects, mild whipping, dramatic age gaps in sexual encounters
Recommendation: It's hard to muster up much emotion for this one either way, honestly. The plot feels scattered and distracted, but the initial character building is quite vivid. All in all, this one is probably a good library or discount bet if you're looking for sort of a mythic or dreamlike tone.

Monday, August 6, 2012


Rating: 3.5 stars
Length: Trim but thorough (384 pages)
Publication: March 22, 2011 from Simon & Schuster
Premise: Rhine Ellery has been struggling to survive in New York with her twin brother Rowan when she's kidnapped to be a bride. A genetic virus caused by the first wave of gene splicing means that women die at age twenty and men die at age twenty-five, so people are forced into marriages to reproduce before they succumb to the virus. Rhine is sixteen and doesn't want to spend a single day of her four remaining years on a locked compound in Florida, but she is trapped in a marriage with Linden Ashby. Trying to escape is hard enough, but her sister-wives and her husband's sinister father make it all the more difficult.
Warnings: Offscreen murder, implied dissection of human corpses of non-consenting people, attempted rape, dubious-consent underage sex
Recommendation: If you're interested in jumping on a very different flavor of the dystopian train, take a look at this one. Lots of books are worried about the danger of life, but this one is defiantly determined to make the most of every day before the inevitable end.  

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Hell Train

The quick and dirty: 
Rating: 3.5 stars
Length: Locked in a tight race along the tracks (319 pages)
Publication: January 1, 2012 from Solaris
Premise: Shane Carter, a recently unemployed America script writer, is invited to Hammer Films to discuss writing a script. He is given a week to finish it, and turns to an old board game in the studio's library for inspiration. The script seems to take on a life of its own, combining the suspense of any good story with the flavor of an old horror film. Carter's players must confront their weaknesses on a train bound for a destination scratched off of every map, and the stakes are nothing less than each rider's soul.
Warnings: All the gore you'd expect from an older horror movie; everything from bloody bodies to rotting corpses grabbing at the living to suicide.
Recommendation: Give this one a go if you're looking for a very different framework. If you're really into Hammer Films or just classic horror, definitely pick it up.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Omnitopia Dawn

The quick and dirty: 
Rating: 3 stars
Length: Solidly long (381 pages)
Publication: August 3, 2010 from Daw Books
Premise: Dev Logan is the mastermind behind Omnitopia, one of the most popular online games in the world. It already provides more player universes than any other company, but there's a big expansion in three days and the company is poised to hit the button and go live. The system is vulnerable in that window because of the updates, and rivals are trying to send in hackers to destroy the system. Dev and his team are good, but superior numbers draw closer and closer, even as the system itself starts reacting in unpredictable ways.
Warnings: People being mean to each other? There's a very brief mention of past pedophilia being hidden in one of the Microcosms, but there's nothing nasty front-and center here.
Recommendation: If you're into online gaming of any sort, this one is definitely worth a look, both for the humor about the existing culture and the speculation about what it could be. If you're not....the early parts move slowly, but the middle is quite good once it takes off, so it depends on how much patience you have this week.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ill Wind

I was a little suspicious of Jim Butcher's recommendation at first, since the last thing I read with his stamp of approval on it was the frankly disappointing Child of Fire, but I really couldn't have been more pleasantly surprised.

The quick and dirty: 
Rating: 4 stars
Length: A hair on the short side of average (337 pages)
Publication: December 2, 2003 from Roc Books
Premise: Joanne Baldwin is a Weather Warden, able to control air and water to tame storms before they cause massive death and destruction. She's always been nervous about having more power than the other Wardens would like, but now she's taking the fall for the death of another Warden. Being caught will mean the removal of her powers....but explaining exactly what happened will mean her death for carrying a Demon Mark. Her only hope for clean survival is Lewis, a powerful Warden who's been on the run for years himself and isn't exactly easy to find. The other Wardens are closing in, she doesn't know who to trust, and no matter where she goes, there's a storm (yes, a literal one) coming for her.
Warnings: One magical attack that feels very much like violation.
Recommendation: If you think that you're going to scream at the sight of just one more werewolf or vampire or magical detective story, definitely give this one a try. It can get a touch wobbly in places, but it's delightful fun and the heroine feels like an honest-to-god real person; I'm going back for seconds when I have time. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Amulet of Samarkand

Here's the next installment of my young adult series. This time we're skipping back a little bit to a book that friends have been trying to get me to read for roughly five years. I finally got around to it, and this one absolutely does not disappoint.

The quick and dirty: 
Rating: 4 stars
Length: Comfortably expansive (480 pages in trade paperback)
Publication: September 29, 2003 from Doubleday Books
Premise: The eleven-year-old Nathaniel is a magician's apprentice, learning to summon the demons that are the source of all magicians' powers. When he is publicly humiliated by an adult magician, he teaches himself magic far beyond his years in order to seek revenge. Bartimaeus, the djinn he summons, is not what he expects-- he had wanted a predictably obedient servant, not someone intelligent enough to second-guess his plans and mock him at every opportunity. When Bartimaeus gains a measure of power over Nathaniel in turn, the two have to work as uneasy allies if they are both to survive.
Warnings: muted child abuse (things like offscreen whipping, humiliation, isolation)
Recommendation: If you're looking for something clever and unusual, absolutely give this one a try. Nathaniel is physically eleven but far older in  cynicism, and Bartimaeus's odd sense of humor really makes the book; it's a lot more interesting from an adult perspective than many books with protagonists who are technically older but stumble through their adventures with no plan. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012


The quick and dirty: 
Rating: 2.5 stars
Length: Ponderous brick (784 pages)
Publication: June 12, 2007 from Doubleday
Premise: Leodan Akaran has tried to be a good king, but his rule of the Known World is based on generations of slavery, cruelty, and drug addiction. He dreams of teaching his children to succeed him, but he's assassinated before he can do so and the invasion force follows close behind. His children are scattered to the four winds to keep them safe; three of them find new homes and identities away from their past lives, while one is trapped in the enemy's stronghold. All of them are drawn together by the desire to defeat the Mein and rebuild their family's rule in justice.
Warnings: Some sex that may well be based on Stockholm Syndrome, gore
Recommendation: If you're really desperate for an ethnically diverse cast of characters or something morally grey without excessive gore, then go for it, but otherwise the characters are too flat and distant to make this one worth it.

I have some quasi-spoilers in here, but I tend to think that if someone's death is mentioned on the jacket flap, I can go ahead and discuss that; the very first page is an assassin plotting the deed, so it's not much of a secret. I also know that the positive and negative sections are quite unbalanced in length, which might point to a lower rating; however, the broad strokes have enough promise to partially mitigate the work's failings.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Santa Olivia

The quick and dirty: 
Rating: 4 stars
Length: Solid but not ponderous (341 pages in trade paperback)
Publication: May 29, 2009 from Grand Central Publishing
Premise: When disease cuts a swath across Mexico and America, the US Army moves in and declares the town of Santa Olivia a buffer zone: it is to be renamed Outpost Twelve, and no one can leave. In the midst of this dusty prison town, Carmen Garron meets a man who was genetically manipulated to have exceptional strength and well as a complete lack of fear. Although the man is theoretically sterile, Carmen becomes pregnant just before he is forced to leave before he is caught. Loup Garron, their daughter, grows up to be just as fearless as her father as she tries to hide her differences.
Warnings: one offscreen rape and quite a few threats of it, underage sexuality (mostly between young teenagers of about the same age)
Recommendation: Give this one a try, especially if you've been in a reading rut lately. It hops lightly between many different potential stories and expectations; Carey gives you time to expect that things are going to go one way and then tugs at them to expose all the problems standing in the way of the easy resolution.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Hunger Games

This marks the first review of a young adult book; I'm hoping to do one every other week. The plan is to be fairly flexible and take suggestions so I can get an overview of what the genre's doing. I read this one a few months ago, but I thought it deserved a closer look. Panem (Latin for bread because symbolism) manages to create an intriguing dystopia in a small amount of space, but it's also the home of the latest YA phenomenon. I can never resist trying to figure out why things get popular when they do, although for The Da Vinci Code I have no answer beyond "people like fake scandal and mediocre writing."

The quick and dirty: 
Rating: 3.5 stars
Length: Compact (374 pages in largish-print trade paperback)
Publication: September 14, 2009 from Scholastic
Premise: Katniss Everdeen has been struggling to keep her family safe when her sister Prim, who is only twelve, is selected as a tribute in the Hunger Games. Prim would undoubtedly die in the arena, so Katniss steps forward to take her place and try to live. Not only must she compete against tributes from the other eleven districts, but also against Peeta Mellark, a local boy who once saved her life but may have to kill her in the arena. Katniss must test her skills to the limits if she wants to survive....but can she win with her humanity intact?
Warnings: Many murders of teenagers, some of whom verge on being children; implied threats of torture
Recommendation: This one is short enough and popular enough to be worth reading just for the pop culture heads-up. It's far from the most excellent thing ever written, but Suzanne Collins does pacing magnificently; almost every word feels necessary, and it was hard to set down on the first reading. 

Thursday, June 28, 2012


The quick and dirty: 
Rating: 2 stars
Length: Long in a distinctly clunky way (465 pages)
Publication: August 5, 2008 from Daw Books
Premise: The planet of Harmony is supposed to exist in a balanced seven-caste system, but the system is starting to waver. The planet is venting its displeasure with disasters like earthquakes and storms, the old High Priestess died when the Temple collapsed, and her successor is Sissy, a common Worker girl who has been hiding her unusual marks of all seven castes for years. Jake, a spy from the Confederated Star System, was sent to Harmony to steal a secret that could help humanity win its war with the Maril. When the two are thrown together, change starts to sweep the planet with the force of an earthquake.
Warnings: Assassination of children and families, imprisonment and mistreatment in asylums
Recommendation: Give this one a miss. Blending science fiction and fantasy elements in a single setting is difficult, and Bentley hits a halfway point that misses the best elements of both.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


The quick and dirty: 
Rating: 3.5 stars
Length: Pleasantly solid (339 pages)
Publication: March 7, 2006 from Roc Fantasy
Premise: Caliban Leandros is half-human, half-supernatural, and his father's demon race has been hunting him for his entire life. He and his older brother Niko have been on the run for years, moving to another city every time they run into one of the creatures that they've termed Grendels. This time, however, Cal wants to stay; he and Niko have started building a life with friends, and he's sick of running. Refusing to flee will put both of them in types of danger that they never anticipated, and they may finally learn what makes Cal so valuable...and why he was born.
Warnings: There's one scene of wandering in on a violently dismembered body and another vivid one of someone being stabbed and feeling it in great detail, but those are only a page or so each and the book as a whole isn't too graphic. There is, however, quite a lot of childhood emotional abuse (and implied slapping) of both brothers, particularly Cal, in the backstory.
Recommendation: Give this one a shot; some of the plotting is rough around the edges, but you really can't ask for a more engaging narrative voice than Cal's. Thurman delivers the humor and character relationships in spades. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Court of the Air

The quick and dirty: 
Rating: 3 stars
Length: Long and shows it (608 pages)
Publication: June 10, 2008 from Tor Books
Premise: The kingdom of Jackals has reigned supreme for years with the strength of its aerostat ships and its fey-touched Special Guard, easily pushing back incursions from the neighboring state of Qatershift. But the head of that state has found a different set of allies, ones who have been locked away and scheming for millennia, and the entire face of the game is about to change. Treachery is everywhere, and two ill-prepared teenagers are thrust into the center of the conflict, trying to live out destinies they don't understand. 
Warnings: Extremely frequent character death, torture
Recommendation: If you're looking for richly woven worldbuilding and are willing to accept the plot twists as happening "because," this could be the one for you. Following its twists and turns can be cumbersome at times, but it doesn't lack for exciting sequences.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Taken: release day!

I managed to pick up this as an ARC (Advanced Reader's Copy) when I stopped by the bookstore where I used to work; I'll be trying to find more where I can so that I can put up reviews on the day that each one comes out. If you or your publishing house would like to send me one, drop me a line and I'd be happy to take a look.

The quick and dirty: 
Rating: 3 stars
Length: On the long side of moderate (432 pages in trade paperback)
Publication: June 12, 2012 (today) from Harper Voyager
Premise: Griffin Shaw was a P.I. when he died fifty years ago, and he's spent the years since unable to let go of his memories as he escorts departed souls into the Everlast. One night he lets a recently murdered woman back into her body for a moment, and she has just enough time to write her friend a note when Shaw isn't looking. That small action dooms the rockabilly reporter Kit Craig to die and gets Shaw banished into mortal flesh until the time when he watches Kit's death and experiences it as his own. But this P.I. lost a bold woman to violence in Las Vegas before, and he won't stand by and let it happen again.
Warnings: Attempted rape, attempted gang rape, coerced prostitution, and offscreen sexual abuse of children; this one seems to be trying to go for Shock Value Bingo in places.
Recommendation: If you have a strong attachment to the trappings of the 1950s or to the idea of angels on earth, you could do worse than this one, but otherwise it's too predictable in some areas and not quite intense enough in others to make up for that. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Left Hand of God

Not to be confused with The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursala K. LeGuin, which I hear is a lovely book; one day I'll actually write a review of it just for the excuse to read the thing.

The quick and dirty: 
Rating: 1.5 stars
Length: Longer than it needs to be (400 pages)
Publication: June 15, 2010 from Dutton
Premise: Thomas Cale has been raised as a Redeemer in an enormous prison, trained to be the perfect warrior and killer. Escape is too dangerous to attempt until he comes across one of his teachers dismembering one of the first women he's ever seen. He, two fellow students, and a young woman from the locked-off part of the building have to flee in order to escape being tortured and killed, but life outside the monastery is more difficult than any of them had bargained for.
Warnings: Minimally detailed dismemberment, lots of discussion of death by torture, implied child prostitution, massacres.
Recommendation: Give this one a miss. It has some interesting ideas in the beginning, but it turns into deathly dull work to read when none of the characters grow into actually interesting people.

This one has a few spoilers down in the red pen section when I start in on the female characters, so if you're planning to read the book then I'd recommend skipping that bit.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Downbelow Station

It's time for another fifth Thursday review, this relic courtesy of a friend who's been pestering me to read this author for months now. I read Cherryh's Faded Sun trilogy years ago and vaguely remembered enjoying it, so I gave this one a spin and ended up enjoying it quite a bit.

The quick and dirty: 
Rating: 3.5 stars
Length: Surprisingly long and intricate for the pagecount (432 pages)
Publication: 1981 from Daw Books
Premise: The station of Pell stands in neutral territory between the Earth-based Company Fleet and the Union, which has taken over the outermost stars. The two sides are at war, but the Company Fleet is run by Mazian, who long ago stopped taking orders from Earth and is willing to resort to desperate measures to hold the Union back. The people of Pell and the planet below are caught in the middle, forced to take in refugees and pass on supplies, and there is no guarantee that they can preserve their neutrality, or their lives.
Warnings: implied offscreen sexual assault
Recommendation: If you're partial to intricate worldbuilding, particularly with plenty of politics mixed in, give this one a try. It does move a little slowly, though, so don't go into it expecting standard space opera. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Lost Fleet: Dauntless

The quick and dirty: 
Rating: 4 stars
Length: Slim and snappy (293 pages)
Publication: June 27, 2006 from Ace Books
Premise: The Alliance has been at war with the Syndics for nearly a century, and their desperate mission is turning into a failure when they find Black Jack Geary, a legendary war hero who they thought had died, in a frozen survival pod. His temporary command of the fleet during negotiations becomes permanent when the discussions go south, much to his dismay. Tired and worn, John Geary faces threats from the Syndics, from his own fleet, and from the gaps in his own knowledge about how and why the war has spiraled in the way it has. He has to try to get the fleet back home without dying on the way...and find out how to live up the reputation of the greatest war hero in Alliance history.
Warnings: For all the grimness, the worst this book gets is discussing concerns about killing enemy prisoners and some off-screen deaths on other spaceships.
Recommendation: If you're into science fiction, space opera, or military fiction at all, check this one out. My largest complaint was that it felt like it ended too quickly, and the rest of the series is on my list of popcorn reading. The book is intelligently written but also compact and delightfully easy to follow.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Red Hot Fury

This one was high on my list of anticipated fun when I made up the stack for the next month; Furies are some of my favorite mythological creatures, and I've seen them done right in fantasy more than once before. My disappointment here introduces what's going to be a common theme on this blog: if you show me something I'm excited to read and execute it poorly, it's so much worse than just writing a mediocre book.

The quick and dirty: 
Rating: 2 stars
Length: Moderate but dragging (341 pages)
Publication: June 29, 2010 from Ace Books
Premise: Marissa Holloway, a member of the Sisterhood of Furies, is called in to a murder scene to examine a body. At first glance, it appears to be a fellow Fury: specifically, her best friend, who has been missing for three years. But things are more complicated than they seem; when Marissa is suspended from her police duties, she's forced to seek help from Scott Murphy, the former lover who betrayed her years ago. They and their allies have to combat old tensions to continue the investigation, and each step leaves them less certain about who they can trust.
Warnings: References to past serial rapes and forced impregnation, only non-graphic combat and a mild consensual sex scene in the present. 
Recommendation: Unless you have a deep attachment to mythology manifesting in the present day, give this one a miss. The author's worldbuilding makes me hope that she'll write a better series in the future, but this one is just grating to read in places, and by "places" I mean about three-quarters of the book. I read it, and you really don't have to. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Year of Our War

The quick and dirty: 
Rating: 3.5 stars
Length: A touch long but speedy nonetheless (400 pages)
Publication: February 1, 2005 from Eos Books
Premise: Jant Comet is a member of the Emperor's Circle, one of the chosen fifty who cannot die. He is the only person in the Empire who can fly, and he uses that talent as Messenger to relay everything from diplomatic concerns to battle orders in the war against the Insects who constantly threaten to expand the sterile Paperlands throughout the Empire. When the heroic King Dunlin of Rachiswater dies in battle, his younger brother's cowardice starts to pull the delicate structure of the Empire to the edge of destruction.
Warnings: Sex with very dubious consent in the backstory, sexual harassment, a few sequences of intense gore, and graphic depiction of needle-based drug use and side effects
Recommendation: Give this one a try just for the sake of all the unusual flavors of fantastical oddness that it pulls together. None of the characters are loveable, but the world they inhabit stands as a character in its own right. 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Except the Queen

The quick and dirty: 
Rating: 3 stars
Length: Solid but quick (384 pages)
Publication: February 2, 2010 from Roc Books
Summary: The sisters Serana and Meteora live in the Greenwood with careless ease until they see the deadly Queen with a mortal lover and accidentally let the fact slip to others. The sisters are banished to the mortal world, transformed into middle-aged women, and trapped in different cities. Each sister encounters a troubled young adult touched with the scent of magic and tries to root out their secrets. As they exchange letters and experiences about the mortal world, the dangers of the UnSeelie Court draw ever closer on all sides. Every character hides a different agenda, and one false step can easily spell disaster.
Warnings: Two instances of attempted rape and murder, not graphic; one is against a child. Some of the tattooing scenes have a non-consensual eroticism that reads as....drugged sexual/magical assault, perhaps, though the tattoo artist isn't actually touching them much.
Recommendation: If you like your modern-day fantasy laced with humor and an echo of an older world, this might well be for you, though if you demand that everything be explained properly then you'll be better off looking elsewhere.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


The quick and dirty:
Rating: 4 stars
Length: Nicely long without getting bogged down (434 pages)
Publication: February 2, 2012 in trade paperback from Headline Ome; February 8, 2012 in hardback from Grand Central Publishing

At a guess, the weirdly close release in these formats is a marketing move.  
Premise: Pressia Belze dreads her sixteenth birthday, the day when she'll be kidnapped from her grandfather and conscripted. Partridge Willux dreads his future of being mentally and physically recoded, and the faint hint that his mother might actually be alive drives him to escape the Dome that has sheltered him for years. The years since the Detonations have left both of them adrift and unsure of the truth, and the journey that follows when they finally meet teaches them more even as it unravels the little they thought they knew for sure.
Warnings: some fairly traumatic backstory on both sides, brief scene with maiming
Recommendation: I'd say to buy this one in paperback, especially if you have a soft spot for dystopian coming-of-age stories. Odds are it'll be available at plenty of libraries given the huge marketing bubble, though, so take a look there first.