Review of A Call to Duty, Manticore Ascendant: Book One by David Weber and Timothy Zahn (October 7, 2014, Baen)
Timothy Zahn is writing in David Weber’s Honorverse and he presents a story from the early days of the Royal Manticoran Navy. And at 354 pages, it has to be one of the shortest books in the series. Zahn has made himself as much at home in Weber’s extensive universe as he did when writing in the Star Wars universe.
The first four years of Travis Uriah Long’s enlistment parallel the story of the RMN during the same period. There are many people who don’t care about being battle ready, more who lie, cheat and steal, and those honest, hard workers like Travis get punished when they don’t accept that behavior. His refusal to back down to someone who is wrong leads him to switch from Impeller Tech to Gravitics Tech during his post-basic training. This ends up serving him well to get him posted to a ship which is a tightly run place like he imagined they all were before he enlisted.
His outside-the-box strategies to get himself, his mates, and his ship out of danger or to rescue others are just what the revamped RMN will need. For those of you who haven’t read any of this series, this one is a good place to start because it is shorter and occurs earlier in the RMN’s timeline than the books focused on Honor Harrington.
As with all Honorverse books, you get naval battles, ship techie talk, and personal interactions of the crew. This volume was an easy read compared to some previous volumes and is of normal novel length. The plot and pacing are good and we see quite a bit of Long’s character and even what some of his officers think of him, which can be enlightening about that particular officer’s character. Hopefully we will see another volume with Travis Long in the near future.
Review of Falling Sky by Rajan Khanna (October 7, 2014, Pyr)
Airships, feral zombie-like humans created by a disease, and a Jewish hero named Ben Gold all come together to make a very interesting post-apocalyptic first novel. Ben has an airship named the Cherub, which he inherited from his father. Because of the risks of being on the ground, he lives in the airship most of the time.
Ben has hooked up with a group of scientists who want to cure the disease, but their refuge gets attacked by inhabitants from a floating city. Now he must work with the scientists, some old friends, and some new acquaintances to get them and their airships all out of the clutches of their attackers.
It’s fast-paced with good characterization and the background of the world and Ben’s history is a steady trickle throughout the story rather than being dumped on you all at once. Background information pops up as it becomes relevant to the narrative, as it should do in a well-written novel.
Ben balances a current love interest with an old girlfriend but does eventually end up with only one girl. We are left hanging as to their future beyond their surviving the final battle, so hopefully there will be another volume coming soon. This one was around 250 pages, so perhaps a second book was written at the same time and we won’t have to wait long!
Review of The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton (August 26, 2014, Ecco)
Well, the first thing about this book is that the publishers didn’t market it as a fantasy. It’s classed as a historical novel because it is set in 1680s Amsterdam, The Netherlands. However, the premise of the story is that someone is making tiny copies of Nella’s actual house contents and dolls of her family and people who visit the house, and then sending them to her to fill the doll house she was given as a wedding present. Nella can’t figure out how they are doing it, even when she does determine who. So it is obvious there is a sort of magic or superpowers or something going on here but it is not explained.
The weirdness with the doll house contents is not the main plot of the story. The story is about Nella and the family she has married into. Her husband is not able to be a husband really and his sister still thinks it is her house although Nella is technically the lady of the house. The servants play a big role in the story and as is usual in historicals, the mixing of upstairs and downstairs makes for secrets the entire house tries to hide from outsiders.
The setting of the house is well done with good descriptions of not just the objects but the mood people feel from the furnishings. The city is also well done: Nella walks around and you get a feel for the city. Winter makes everything feel different because of the ice and lack of easy movement in boats.
Note that although Nella is a young adult, there are some adult sex scenes in this book, some of which have same gender participants. It has a bit of blood and violence and some death. All of this is well done with enough visual to demonstrate the horror of something or show the forbidden love being revealed. The weirdness with the doll house gives the entire book a sort of creepy undertone because real world events are reflected in the parcels Nella receives from the miniaturist.
The book is very well written, particularly for a first novel. Note that the main character and her cabinet house are real but the story is made up. The novel has a definite European flavor to it, and does a good job exploring race, sex and class in a way no American writer could manage unless they had spent a great deal of time traveling. Although we primarily read and review speculative fiction, this book attracted our attention because Angela loves dolls, and like much “general” fiction today has a speculative fiction feel to it as well as the historical aspect. We would love to see what UK writer Jessie Burton would do with a historical based in the UK.
In Memoriam: a Review of Returning My Sister’s Face, a collection of Far Eastern tales by Eugie Foster
For those who haven’t heard yet, Eugie Foster lost her battle with cancer and its complications today. Instead of flowers, her husband Matthew wants everyone to buy and read her books and tell everyone else how wonderful her fiction was. So to encourage our readers to do that, we review her wonderful anthology of Far Eastern tales published in 2009 by Norilana Books.
The “Kitsune” cover art by Ahyicodae is beautiful enough to draw buyers without even looking at the stories inside. However, Your Humble Reviewers are extremely interested in Asian culture and art (we are martial artists who like Asian art galleries) so the Far Eastern tales would have drawn our attention even if we didn’t know Eugie. We offer info on all the tales in this collection to encourage our readers to go looking for her work. Please retweet, re-post, and link to this column so the wonderful work of Eugie Foster can be discovered by others.
The first tale in this volume caused a personal discussion with Eugie at a convention and us showing off our phone photos, because she had no idea we were bunny people. We loved her take on the three rabbits chasing motif, “Daughter of Bótù” and we quite agree that people underestimate rabbits. We have been owned by house rabbits since 1994 and think a rabbit warren should be the setting for more fantastical stories. This story is an Asian fairy tale of animal shape changers, humans, and love. It has quite a traditional Chinese feel to it, which is uniquely Eugie, as most other fiction with this feel has been translated, not written in English. Read the rest of this entry »
The Exploding Spaceship Reviews Recent Science Fiction Good Reads: Trial by Fire, Ghosts of Time, and The SaviorPosted: 26 September, 2014
The Exploding Spaceship Reviews Trial by Fire, Ghosts of Time, and The Savior.
Review of Trial by Fire by Charles E. Gannon (July 27, 2014, Baen)
Your Humble Reviewers found this volume to be much more accessible than the previous one, Fire with Fire, with a tighter plot and without such a jarring plot twist. In this book the fledgling Terran Republic is faced with an alien invasion, and that serves to bring the series into much greater focus.
Many of the mysteries left hanging in the first volume are explained in this one, but most were not surprises. The battles are well described with most everything being from an individual’s point of view, with a few larger views thrown in. The smaller attacks on Caine Riordan as an individual are well written with enough fear and confusion as well as fighting to make them realistic and believable.
Usually the viewpoint is of one person and this is done well without information creeping into the scenes which the viewpoint person should not really know. Caine’s love life continues to be a driving factor so interpersonal relationships are as believable and just as confused as those of real people. Read the rest of this entry »
These volumes are young adult or young adult friendly volumes of fantasy we have read in the last few months. Some are from smaller publishers so we thought many of our readers might have missed them. Only the first volume is marketed as a young adult novel, the others are fantasy with appropriate content for most young adults.
Review of War of the Seasons, Book 3: The Hunter by Janine K. Spendlove (Silence in the Library, Dec 2013)
This is the third volume about Story and her adventures in Ailionora, the land of her mother. Elves and dwarves are real, but fairies aren’t what you would expect. Steel harms the beings there, so Story’s knife is a deadly weapon.
Story is engaged to the hunter Eírnin and in this volume that relationship is tested by the arrival of Story’s best friend Josh at the very end of Book 2. Eírnin thinks it’s a love triangle because he doesn’t realize Josh is like Story’s brother, so she wouldn’t think of him in that way. So while the entire kingdom is planning a war against the Winter King to get Story’s sister back and save the entire multiverse, Eírnin and Story spend a great deal of time talking around the problem and avoiding each other. Read the rest of this entry »
The Exploding Spaceship travels to Winston-Salem for Bookmarks Festival of Books and Authors!
Bookmarks is a festival of books and authors held in Winston-Salem, NC. Lev Grossman, the featured fantasy author, drew us to the event because we had never heard him speak. The festival has indoor venues for author talks and outdoor space for food vendors and vendor and publisher tents. There was a photo booth in the theater lobby where you could dress up in funny hats and props to get a free strip of pictures and this was very popular. The Hanes Brand Theatre is where the events we attended were located. This is a nice venue for events on a stage, but the concessions booth is very expensive, even more extreme than movie theater prices, with some small snacks being four times the grocery store price.
Lev Grossman had a very interesting talk about his new book The Magician’s Land (August 2014, Viking) and the universe in which the book is set. He comes at fantasy from a classical literary background and was raised by parents who were also traditional literature trained. Lev was always a fantasy reader even though by day he read other things. When he began writing fantasy he wanted a universe with a different take on magic. His main character has no advisor to guide him and so wanders around sort of lost and there are no straight-up evil guys, just characters who can be viewed as a darker gray. His stories try to address the question, “What is magic for?”
Lev writes his fantasy in a contemporary American voice and humor is used frequently. His characters are normal people with drinking problems and a sex life to worry about. They do traditional epic fantasy things, like engage in single combat against a champion, but never say or do anything in the manner you expect. He writes to please the teenage version of himself, who wanted magic to be real, so the language including the slang and bad language all reflects modern society. This makes his fiction very approachable for those put off by the trappings of genre fiction.
Maggie Stiefvater gave a very interesting talk about her fiction, and her life in a celtic band while dressing like a punk band member. Maggie is from Virginia and so she drove to the event. This enabled her to bring her daughter who was seeing her Mom’s writer talk for the first time. Nothing puts pressure on a speaker like an audience whom you see over the breakfast table every morning. She is a great speaker though, particularly for the young adult audience. We had two young adult males with us for the event and they were very entertained.
Maggie has written several fantasy series for Scholastic Press. Her most recent release, Sinner, is a volume which is almost general fiction but uses characters and background from her werewolf universe. The setting is LA instead of Mercy Falls, and you see some of Maggie’s knowledge about bands being used in this volume. Her more traditional fantasy series is based on Welsh myth and is called the Raven cycle. The next volume of this comes out in October and is called Blue Lily, Llly Blue.
Both of these fantasy authors were extremely good speakers, even for young adults with short attention spans. Keep a look out for their appearances near you! Maggie has a book out October 14 so check for events near you on www.maggiestiefvater.com and via Twitter @mstiefvater . Lev can be found on www.levgrossman.com and on facebook as lev.grossman and on Twitter as @leverus.
Overall, Bookmarks was a good day out for us. The speakers were great and they all had signings. Note that the signings are under tents with the queues in the sun, so hats and sunglasses are recommended for those wanting books signed. This is an every year free event, so Your Humble Reviewers hope to see many of you there next time! Keep watch on www.bookmarksnc.org for next year’s event and author events around the area also sponsored by Bookmarks.
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. Read the rest of this entry »