This column features some good reads for all ages which are not currently available in the US. Many US fans are traveling to the UK for conventions and holidays during the summer months so Your Humble Reviewers thought to provide some suggestions for book souvenirs and gifts.
For the middle grades, we highly recommend The Book of Beasts (paperback from Head of Zeus) by John and Carole Barrowman which is the third volume in their Hollow Earth trilogy. The first two books are available in the US, but volume three has not reached the American side of the Atlantic yet. These books are very fast-paced fantasy adventures featuring twins who magically animate through their art. They are set on an island off the coast of Scotland (it doesn’t really exist but features of it come from real Scottish places). The third volume sees the twins separated for most of the book, and so makes the characters change quite a bit and grow in unexpected ways. This is our favorite currently ongoing middle grades series. The pacing and excitement make this a good choice for reluctant readers and since the twins are Emily and Matt, it is a good choice for either sex. Plotting is good enough that older teens and adults will enjoy it too. And yes, if you Doctor Who and Torchwood fans thought the name was familiar, that is the actor who plays Captain Jack Harkness and his older sister who write the series.
For all ages over about ten years, we recommend the War-Fighting Manuals (small hardbacks from Gollancz), an interesting series of little handbooks set in a fantasy world where Orcs, Elves and Dwarves are constantly at war and the humans are sort of bystanders. Den Patrick has written 3 very engrossing little books called, Elves War-Fighting Manual, Dwarves War-Fighting Manual, and Orcs War-Fighting Manual. The manuals are from the viewpoint of a human named Sebastian Venghaus, who has extensively researched the three cultures by living with them for an extended period of time. Each book talks about the weapons, armor, and culture of the race plus you get an idea of how the human is treated when he is a guest. The setting is very interesting, the writing humorous but clean and the books written in such a way that you can open the book to almost any section an enjoy reading from there. As pencil and paper roleplaying gamers since the 1970s, we immediately thought these looked like excellent reference material to run a fantasy adventure campaign, as well as providing some much needed fun reading as an escape from the difficult reading in many of today’s fantasy volumes.
For young adults and adults, we recommend The Boy with the Porcelain Blade by Den Patrick (Gollancz), a coming-of-age story set in a fantasy world with an Italian flavor. It tells the story of Lucien, who is an Orfano, a mutated person. Mutations are cared for by society because the king demands they do so, but they grow up alone and isolated because society doesn’t include them. This is a fascinating setting with a dark tone to it, but it doesn’t have an overall depressing or hopeless feeling; the main character has hope throughout the book, so for those not thrilled with today’s dark fantasy it is still a good read. One of the main activities in the society is fencing, and Patrick provides enough detail to make it feel real but not so much that it feels like the sword is a character in the story. There is quite a bit of death and destruction in the book, but it isn’t gory. However, it is perhaps not a good choice for the very squeamish.
Note that for those of you not traveling, you can still buy these volumes in the US by going online to a British bookseller. Most of the major ones ship internationally.
Review of A Plunder of Souls by D.B. Jackson (Tor hardcover, July 8, 2014)
This is the third novel in the Thieftaker Chronicles. We are back in Boston of 1769 where a minor smallpox epidemic has hit; enough people are sick that there are houses in every neighborhood with illness, but not so many as to overflow the hospital.
Ethan is called upon by the local minister to investigate a case of grave desecration, but it soon becomes clear that more is going on because shades of the dead are hanging around their last places of residence and not passing on. In most cases the shades have the same type of damage as their desecrated bodies.
Ethan’s relationships with Kannice, Janna and Sephira continue to change and mature. Janna meets both the other women in Ethan’s life in this book and those encounters are both very enlightening. As Ethan ages and continues to get beaten up for doing his job, getting another type of employment looks better and better. Read the rest of this entry »
Review of Deadly Curiosities by Gail Z Martin (Solaris Books, June 24, 2014, mass market)
This is a new urban fantasy series set in Charleston, South Carolina. The center of the adventures is an antique shop called Trifles and Folly, which is currently owned by Cassidy Kincaide and her vampire silent partner Sorren. She has a former history graduate student/martial artist named Teag Logan who helps run the place. His boyfriend Anthony is a lawyer from an old Charleston family, who is occasionally enlisted to help find information. Read the rest of this entry »
The Exploding Spaceship Reviews Enoch the Traveler, Cauldron of Ghosts, Morningside Fall, Treasure Planet, Sea Without a Shore, A Case of Spontaneous Combustion and PeacemakerPosted: 23 June, 2014
Review of Enoch the Traveler: Tempestas Viator by Lady Soliloque (World Castle Publishing, January 9, 2014)
This novel is the story of Enoch, a character who is mentioned in the Bible, but we are told nothing about him. Lady’s Soliloque uses the ideas of parallel universes, locations outside of time and space, and great beings to explain the Christian idea of God and angels. Like some other fantasy and science fiction which uses ancient religious ideas with a new twist like Marvel’s versions of Odin or Thor, this science fiction world explains the universe as Christians from our world see it.
Enoch has traveled around a great deal and caused some problems (see previous books with main character Heather, sister to Violette the main character in this volume), so at the beginning of this volume he meets Violette when she gets him out of trouble, and they go on adventures together, running from some beings who want to end Enoch, and exploring places to explain the multiverse to Violette. Some of Heather’s friends appear on the scene because they are concerned about Violette and soon after Alastair and Annie are brought into the adventures. They bring their boss, Deacon, into the group and this allows them to access all of Deacon’s knowledge and cool technology. Read the rest of this entry »
In this column Your Humble Reviewers take a look at a couple of recent conventions, and a look forward to some coming up, focusing our attention on writing tracks and family activities near the convention site, which can be used to turn a weekend getaway into a longer vacation. Featured are some of the smaller conventions in the Southeast from Virginia to Louisiana which are family-friendly and offer tracks for aspiring writers.
Timegate: Centered mainly on the Doctor Who and Stargate television shows, this Memorial Day Weekend convention in Atlanta, Georgia boasts a strong writers’ track. The dealer room is well organized and not crowded and has a wide variety of merchandise, with a particularly heavy lean toward Doctor Who items, much to the detriment of our wallet. Other British shows are also strongly represented here.
The Doctor Who guests this year were Terrance Dicks, who wrote for the classic TV series from the late 1960s to the early 1980s, and Gareth David-Lloyd, of Torchwood fame. Writer guests of note were Lee Martindale, Lady Soliloque and Gillian Summers.
This year featured a special announcement by North Carolina author Lady Soliloque that her book Enoch the Traveler will be made into a TV series by a cable network. Filming will be in North Carolina in the Fall for broadcast in 2015. See review of the novel here.
A Teenage Girl Goes on a Science Fiction Adventure – The Exploding Spaceship Reviews Recent YA Science Fiction: Glaze, Salvage, These Broken Stars and Earth StarPosted: 7 June, 2014
Female SF authors write teenage girls having science fiction adventures – a type of read I wanted as a teen but wasn’t available!
The last few months have seen several great new teen science fiction adventures come into our review pile, all featuring a female lead character (although one really has a male as co-lead) and all written by female authors. Given the rarity of female focused science fiction adventure and female science fiction writers work being reviewed, I thought it was proper to give them a column all their own. A special thanks goes to Flyleaf Books for their panel in April called Girl Power! where we got to meet the authors of two of these books.
Review of Glaze by Kim Curran (Jurassic-London, May 22, 2014)
This is the story of Petri, a 15-year-old girl from London whose mother thought the name was a good way to tell everyone that her daughter’s father was a petri dish. Petri does have a father figure in her life, Max, her mother’s boss at the company which controls all the hardware and software of the biggest social media company on the planet. You can’t have the hardware installed until you are sixteen, so Petri can’t join her classmates in using the network, called Glaze. Read the rest of this entry »
Review of The Moon King by Neil Williamson (hardcover and trade, NewCon Press April 22, 2014)
This is Neil Williamson’s first novel, and after starting and not finishing several other first fantasy novels this year, Neil must be congratulated that I not only finished his novel but read it in two days. I didn’t find any of the usual first novel writing craft issues which can jar me out of the story.
As a reviewer I get presented with many fantasy novels to review, but I never get past the first chapter in some of them either due to content (I read six similar ones last year), craft (the writing and editing can make you want to cry) or it is so heavy on setting that I lose track of the characters or can’t find a plot. However, I found this novel to not only have more balance between character, plot, and setting, but I also thought all those parts were interesting.
Glassholm and its captured moon are a very unique fantasy setting, with a feel reminiscent of a child’s fairy tale land mixed with a bit of steampunk. The poor confused characters that have lost their memories are quite endearing, particularly when you figure out how they got that way. The poor confused ones have a plot centered on getting their memories back, of course, but it soon becomes clear that this plot coincides with that of other characters in the narrative. Read the rest of this entry »
Review of the Doris Betts Spring Writers Festival at Mitchell Community College in Statesville, NC
Your Humble Reviewers were surprised to learn there was an annual writers’ event in our town, since we had not heard of it prior to about one week before the event. When we looked it up, we discovered that not only were three local writers attending, but that fantasy author N.K. Jemisin was also coming in from New York for the event. A chance to be in a writing workshop with her was too good to miss, especially since it was close enough for us to walk there if it wasn’t a rainy day.
She was doing a reading at the festival, and it was here that we discovered that Nora and the female half of the Exploding Spaceship were both alums of Tulane. Nora originally comes from Mobile, Alabama and her southern heritage has not been buried by her time in New York. She is a very engaging reader and even the non-genre reading members of the audience appreciated her tale entitled “Sinners, Saints, Dragons, and Haints, in the City Beneath the Still Waters” about a drug-dealer who meets a dragon amidst the flooded streets of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
The writing workshops were kept small: no more than about 12 people were allowed in each. Nora was well prepared and started off by giving several good references including books by Sam Delaney, Orson Scott Card, and Stephen King. There was then a brief discussion on where to find writing exercises: one involved a story starting paragraph with a first line quote and then choosing dialogue or narrative, who is acting, whom they are acting toward or with, the tone, and what action is the person completing. The second involved a mythological creature, a location in Statesville and an object. This one led to some quite funny situations, so the workshop ended on a light note. One interesting thing about the workshop: Nora answers the normal “how-do-you-come-up-with-stories” question by saying that she can’t really describe how her creativity works, and that she is not a visual person, so she doesn’t see it as a movie in her head. Read the rest of this entry »
SF that didn’t peg the engineer’s baloney meter!
Just a quick note of explanation, both of these novels use alternate reality as a way to get around some glaring scientific issues with their universes (one deals with FTL and the other with the Large Hadron Collider). I like my hard science fiction, but these days you can’t really write some types of stories using hard science unless you make up some new science. The trick is to add new science into the story in a way which doesn’t trip the baloney meter of us real science and engineering types. As a bonus both of my favorite SF reads in recent months were by new female SF authors, this is such a rare occurence that I had to feature them in a column here!
Ascension: A Tangled Axon Novel by Jacqueline Koyanagi (Masque, December 2013)
First of all, Your Humble Reviewers rarely buy books from authors and publishers we don’t know. This trade paperback had made its way to our local Barnes & Noble’s new SF section, it had a hot babe in a cool spacesuit on the cover and the blurb indicated that said hot babe was a techie. Okay, so it looked interesting but we had come to the store to buy something else, so we left without it. A couple of days later, having polished off the urban fantasies we had bought that day, I was wishing for that new space opera. Rarely do I find a new author who can do that genre correctly and not make me want to throw it across the room from the magitech used, but the cover and blurb of this one made me think this might be one of the good ones. Besides, as much as I dislike the way B&N decides what to stock, sometimes their system does work and a new gem will surface in the new section, which I would not have found on my own. I did something I haven’t done in years, I drove back to the store (its 25 miles away) just to get that book. Read the rest of this entry »
The Exploding Spaceship Reviews Some Recent Good Urban Fantasy Reads: The Cormorant, Black Arts and Ghost Train to New OrleansPosted: 15 March, 2014
The Cormorant by Chuck Wendig (Angry Robot, January 2014)
This urban fantasy/hard-boiled thriller stars Miriam Black, a woman with the paranormal talent of precisely predicting the date, time, and circumstances of anyone’s death. She does some illegal things to survive, usually conning or stealing from the unfortunate who wants to know about his or her demise.
Miriam and the people she encounters all get gleefully skewered, folded, spindled, stapled, and mutilated by Wendig; there is kidnapping, torture, and a paranormally-sensitive cormorant (yes, the bird.) in this story, as well as an appearance by Miriam’s mother, who is supposedly one of the reasons that Miriam left home. Miriam has one ally who genuinely likes her and helps her out, and since he manages to survive the story we may see him and his run-down Florida hotel again.
Miriam Black is a bad-girl heroine who has some serious issues because of all the morbid and gruesome imagery she has seen in her head. Her primary goal is survival, so she tends to follow the money, which always seems quite elusive. And when the con is on the other foot, Miriam does not react well at all, because people she likes are getting hurt, not just her.
Wendig has set his tale in a world of thrift-store shopping, seedy motels, fast food, public or stolen transportation, petty theft, and repeatedly experiencing messy and painful death; this is a far cry from the usual middle-class apartment, nice car, nice wardrobe and steady paychecks usually seen in urban fantasy. It’s action-packed, has a heroine who is best described as bat-shit crazy, and an engaging, twisty plot, but it isn’t for the faint of heart: Wendig pulls no punches, and some of the vile imagery he describes may have you reaching for the brain bleach more than once.
The Cormorant is Wendig’s third Miriam Black novel, and Your Humble Reviewers are sure that he will be gleefully torturing his protagonist in another volume. Wendig’s urban fantasy is much like his blog posts: well-written, profane, irreverent and hilarious, and never fails to keep you coming back for more.