The Exploding Spaceship Reviews A Whisper of Southern Lights by Tim Lebbon


Review of A Whisper of Southern Lights: The Assassin Series Book 2 by Tim Lebbon

This volume revisits Gabriel’s fight against Temple the demon which we saw in a previous novella (Pieces of Hate). Now time has passed so the two are enduring World War II and are in the Pacific theater.

A soldier who had encountered Temple leaves a message behind and tells his best mate where to find it. Gabriel searches for this soldier in the Japanese prison camps and eventually finds him. This leads to a harrowing race against Temple through the jungle.

whisper of southern lights cover

The scene descriptions leave nothing to the imagination regarding the horrors of war. And particularly when Temple is involved even hospitals, doctors, and nurses are not safe. There are several battles depicted as well as some marches and the race through the jungle. All these are detailed and make you feel like you are there. You feel sorry for the soldiers who encounter Temple and get in his way as well as feel for Gabriel who is still on his tortured journey following Temple through time. The secret that Temple and Gabriel learn in this story will likely impact their futures, but it is not clear exactly how. We will be interested to see what happens in future volumes.

A dark, war-filled time travel tale with a strange protagonist and a nasty demonic villain. An excellent choice for lovers of grim-dark.

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Paul Kincaid’s From the Hardest Part, April 2016: Clarke Award shortlist, Nick Wood, Jenni Fagan, Ali Shaw, and Jurassic London’s Extinction Event

[Editor’s Note: From the Other Side is Paul Kincaid’s monthly column on books and news from the other side of the Atlantic.]

From the Other Side, April 2016
By Paul Kincaid

This year will see the presentation of the 30th Arthur C. Clarke Award, so, for reasons that I am sure made sense when they were explained to me, everything is running late. The award ceremony isn’t until August, and the shortlist has only just been announced. The six books this year are:

 Europe at Midnight (Fractured Europe Sequence #2) 

I confess, this isn’t the most inspiring shortlist I’ve seen. Of the four books I’ve read, only two seem to me to fully deserve a place on the shortlist. It is a list that seems more populist than challenging, designed to elicit more likes than arguments. Even so, it is head and shoulders above the decidedly insipid Hugo shortlist announced only the day before. Continue reading

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The Exploding Spaceship Reviews Their Favorite Anthologies and Short Story Collections from 2015


Review of Accessing the Future: A Disability-Themed Anthology of Speculative Fiction edited by Kathryn Allan and Djibril al-Ayad (, 2015)

This anthology alternates between short fiction pieces and illustrations. The black and white illustrations all fit with the theme of the volume and show wonderfully imaginative futures with disabled participants. Our favorite image was the astronaut on the cover who appears to be having a great time in zero gravity moving their graceful body about.

acessing the future cover

Every one of the stories in this volume offered a unique look into a disabled character’s world. You saw disabled people dealing with issues we have today and also with new issues which will appear when we get off Earth and into space. Our favorite story was the first one, “Pirate Song” by Nicolette Barischoff. A young woman gets rescued off a ship, but the pirates who take her have no idea that she needs a chair to move around, nor do they realize that she is a VIP’s daughter. They end up with more than they bargained for and both she and they end up learning about parts of their world they never knew existed. For Angela, the story was a poignant reminder of the life her cousin could have had. Her cousin was also a young adult with spina bifida but he passed away a few years ago. Continue reading

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May Newsletter: Jay Posey’s Outriders, Free Comic Book Day, Gabriel Dunston’s Purgatory Pub, Animazement, Manly Wade Wellman Award nominations deadline, and more

Vol 6 No 5. Friday, May 6, 2016: Is it May already? It is, with plenty going on as soon as tomorrow morning with Free Comic Book Day in comic book shops everywhere, not the least of which being festivities here in the Triangle at Ultimate Comics (both Durham and Raleigh locations), Atomic Empire, Chapel Hill Comics, Capitol Comics in Raleigh, Enterprise Comics in Pittsboro, and probably a few other places nearby as well, many with their own lineup of local and visiting comic book creators, writers, and artists.


And while you’re out… tomorrow afternoon also sees the book launch party for Durham author Jay Posey’s latest novel, Outriders, which launches a new military science fiction series from Angry Robot Books, at the Barnes & Noble Streets at Southpoint in Durham at 4 pm. Continue reading

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The Exploding Spaceship Reviews Tuesday Releases: Fran Wilde, Wesley Chu, and Jay Posey


Review of The Jewel and her Lapidary by Fran Wilde (, May 3, 2016)

This vibrant fantasy novella deals with friendship and family when betrayal occurs. Sima and Lin are trapped in a space far below the floor after being drugged. A fight among the adults goes on above and the actions of Sima’s father cause great destruction and many deaths. The girls try to escape with their lives and some of the jewels to which lapidaries can speak. However, things don’t go well because soldiers arrive and search among the rubble.

jewel and her lapidary cover

The setting has beautiful descriptions of costumes which are brightly colored, have long veils for young women, and include many bracelets and jewels. Young men wear chainmail, but also chains, and gems. The women are not educated, so Lin and Sima must sneak to learn about the world through overhearing gossip. They are veiled at age 11 until they are engaged to be married. Lin is highly sought after to be a wife because she is a Jewel and this ultimately saves her life at least temporarily, but females in the royal court don’t have very pleasant lives in this world. Even the woman military leader they meet is a harsh, unpleasant woman who lives just to get her son married to a Jewel. The girls are just starting to discover kissing and holding hands. Regardless of her initial actions Sima shows that she loves her Jewel very much by her final actions in the vase. Continue reading

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The Exploding Spaceship Reviews Black City Saint by Richard A Knaak and Chaos Choreography by Seanan McGuire


Review of Black City Saint by Richard A Knaak (Pyr, March 1, 2016)

This is an urban fantasy set in Prohibition-era Chicago with a very vividly described real-world history which includes bootleggers, mobs, and the turf wars between different factions. The main character is a very old detective of the supernatural who is actually in Chicago to guard the gate between our world and Feirie.

Nick is cursed to always guard the gate because, as Saint George, he slew the dragon guarding the gate. Now that dragon is part of Nick and it wants to escape, so he has to fight mobsters and Feirie folk backing Oberon as well as his internal dragon. Nick has a traditional period view on women, but his friend Claryce has other ideas and she always gets her way. Every time she doesn’t it leads to disaster so Nick learns to let the woman make up her own mind and stop trying to put her out of the action. Several times she saves him which makes him realize that she is destined to be involved and help him, regardless of his wish to save her from the death suffered by her previous incarnations during his 1600 years.

He has a companion named Fetch who is a werewolf who can’t turn back into a human. When he is near Nick and a few other Feirie folk he can talk, so he likes to be near Nick. He is able to go places and observe then report back to Nick, greatly expanding Nick’s spying and observation capacity. Oberon has allied with several mob groups in order to further his own agenda so it is important to keep an eye on his activities to determine when he is going to move.

black city saint cover

Nick has a sword gifted to him by the Lady of Feirie which helps him fight the nasties which have been leaking through the gate. Without the sword he, Claryce and Fetch would have died several times. They also have the help of several other support characters like priests and an honest policeman.

Chicago is detailed with real buildings including several churches and some buildings under construction. Nick’s house has been magically protected so that no one notices it, so it is the point of some interesting scenes when people go there. The violence and alcohol issues of this period make it a great setting for an urban dark fairytale. This rendition of Saint George and the dragon is very different from the usual depictions and he works well as a flawed hero who is serving out a punishment. The dragon is quite a sneaking and conniving fellow as is to be expected of him and this version doesn’t disappoint even if he is stuck inside Saint George. The supporting characters are interesting and not really what you would expect for the time period and setting, so they are a nice surprise there. Claryce is almost more of an assistant than a girlfriend because Nick is so scared to get involved. She is a working woman who is very strong physically and mentally so the Feirie elements don’t really faze her. Nick gets more surprised by her than she does by him, once he explains the situation.

The fight scenes are a combination of period guns, knives, and swords, with magic gauntlets and some magical creatures thrown in as well. It works out well with the reader seeing the limitations of one type of attack against the other.

This is a fast-moving story with a dark creepy feel to it set in a Chicago Your Humble Reviewers would definitely not like to visit. We hope to see more of Nick and his friends!

chaos choreography cover

Review of Chaos Choreography by Seanan McGuire (Daw, March 2016)

Verity Price is back! The tough, street-smart cryptozoologist has returned and this time she’s on a dance reality show called Dance or Die. The contestants didn’t know it was going to involve them actually dying though, so there is much mayhem, blood, fighting, magic, and creeping around old basements so Verity can keep herself and her fellow contestants alive.

The mysterious Grandma Alice finally makes an appearance and Verity’s husband Dominic plays an important role. Between the last book and this one they eloped to Las Vegas en route to the Portland, Oregon area where the Prices live.

Verity has help from some non-human allies she met while dancing on the show previously, and meets some new non-humans who help too. She and her allies make an interesting flea market trip to get weapons and stumble across an old friend of Alice’s.

There are some great scenes on the dance stage both of dancing and fighting. The nasty magician even goes bonkers on the stage for the last big battle. The combination of Verity’s free-running skills and the backstage area make for some epic scenes.

This is one of Your Humble Reviewers favorite urban fantasy series. The whole science basis for the non-humans appeals to we science geeks. The books all move very quickly, much like their heroes. The background is extensive and feels like our real modern world with a few strange things around the next corner. This is the fifth volume and we hope they don’t stop anytime soon!

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The Exploding Spaceship Visits Norwescon 39 in SeaTac, Washington!


Review of Norwescon 39 March 24-27, 2016 (Seatac, Washington)

After enjoying ourselves in the Pacific Northwest last year, we decided to venture out that way for another convention. Norwescon is primarily focused on SFF literature but also covers anime, costuming, art, gaming and other things of genre interest. It is also the host for the Philip K. Dick Awards each year. This award is for distinguished science fiction books published for the first time in the US as paperback originals. In 2016 the nominee list happened to include several authors whom Your Humble Reviewers have read and reviewed books from in previous months, so we were excited to see who would win and see what else the convention had to offer.

The facility at the Doubletree is quite spacious and there was plenty of room to walk around. The hall tables were placed so that different ones weren’t crowded together; when they got busy there was still room to walk. The dealer room was fantastic! It had a great mix of vendor types, including many with very nice craft items like jewelry and geeky clothing as well as many costuming pieces. It also had some nice book vendors.

Norwescon Logo

The area around the hotel had some reasonably-priced local restaurants which were quite good, such as Pancake Chef and Ivar’s Seafood Bar. Pancake Chef has epic breakfasts in a very quaint building which has the original designs from the 1950s. Ivar’s is a local Seattle legend which has been serving quick but excellent seafood for years: think a local Captain D’s which is actually good! A word of warning though: the Seatac area and Seattle itself are very tight on parking so be prepared to pay a steep price and it might be advisable to use the hotel shuttle or a taxi for short trips away from the hotel.

The choice of panels was quite extensive, and not repeats of the same old things. There were many writer- and artist-oriented ones, so many we couldn’t attend them all; the number of writers attending was staggering! There were parties at night, but we found them to be inconveniently far from the convention space and each other. The hotel is huge so you have to walk a great deal; those with mobility issues might need some wheels. All the spaces are accessible but some require knowledge of where to go because the elevators are hidden. There were a few autograph sessions in a very big room, but even so there were so many authors that they wouldn’t all fit at once! We saw every type of fan imaginable and costumes and cosplay which were amazing. The convention runs a Tumblr page for everyone to post pics so to see the wonderfulness go here: .

Naam Dick Award pic Norwescon 39

We were very pleased that a book we really liked won the Philip K Dick award: Apex by Ramez Naam. A special citation went to Archangel by Marguerite Reed. We had reviewed the second book in Naam’s series, Crux. The series explores what would happen if someone wrote software for the brain which was delivered by a drug and allowed people to link their minds together. The young adult main characters have quite an interesting ride through the trilogy, as they had no idea of some of the implications of their invention until it is already out in the world. They spend the series trying to fix problems and chasing people who hurt others using the software. But they also discover some wonderful things being done with it, so you see both sides of their invention.

Overall this is a very good convention for writers to meet fans and sell books, for writers wanting to learn about the craft or the business of writing, and also for general fans. It definitely felt more welcoming to everyone than some southeastern US conventions have been in the past, so it might be one to try if you want to try a more welcoming convention experience.

Next year the convention is April 13-16, 2017 in SeaTac, Washington and the theme is Over Hills and Far Away. The spotlight publisher will be Angry Robot Books. Artists Guest of Honor will be Cory and Catska Ench and the Science Guest of Honor will be Dr. Ethan Siegel. Visit to find see further announcements.

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Friday Quick Updates: a packed weekend, Felicia Day on Wednesday, news and new events, and more!

Friday, April 22, 2016: There’s plenty of reasons to get out and about this weekend, including Durham County Library’s first Teen Lit Festival, Fred Chappell’s last of three Triangle appearances, and a Game of Thrones watching party:

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  • April 23 (Saturday) 11 am to 5 pm — Durham County’s Main Library (300 N Roxboro St) hosts its first Teen Lit Festival with authors Nathan Kotecki, J.J. Johnson, Jen McConnel, and John Claude Bemis (among others). “Participate in author talks and workshops. There will be food and swag!” [Facebook]
  • April 23 (Saturday) 2 pm — Fearrington Village’s McIntyre’s Books hosts World Fantasy Award winner Fred Chappell for his new fantasy novel A Shadow All of Light. [Facebook]
  • April 23 (Saturday) 3 pm — Steel Strings Brewery (106 S Greensboro St, Carrboro) hosts Craft Beer & Comic Pairing presented by Chapel Hill Comics.
  • April 24 (Sunday) 8 pm — The Baxter (108 N Graham St, Chapel Hill) hosts a Game of Thrones watching party for the premiere of Season 6: “Game of Thrones Seson 6 comes back and we will be here showing it on the big screen. Come out for a night of celebration to one of the most popular shows. Drink specials, free pizza, prizes and more! Stay tuned for more info.”

And this coming week’s big event is (no surprise) on Wednesday April 27th at 6 pm, as Flyleaf Books presents Felicia Day at Cat’s Cradle for her memoir You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost). “The instant New York Times bestseller from queen of the geeks Felicia Day, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) is a “relentlessly funny and surprisingly inspirational” ( memoir about her unusual upbringing, her rise to internet stardom, and embracing her weirdness to find her place in the world. Showcasing Felicia’s engaging and often hilarious voice, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) is proof that everyone should celebrate what makes them different and be brave enough to share it with the world, because anything is possible now–  even for a digital misfit.”

And next weekend has plenty going on as well, from Independent Bookstore Day and International TableTop Day events, to ballet, to a local author’s book launch party: Continue reading

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The Exploding Spaceship Reviews The Emperor’s Railroad by Guy Haley


Review of The Emperor’s Railroad by Guy Haley (, April 19, 2016)

The child’s viewpoint really worked for this story. The boy’s admiration for the knight is quite clear, the descriptions really making the knight seem larger than life. His love for his Mom was clear from his description. His descriptions of his world and the attitudes of people in it (like being educated-sounding meant you got teased) were written in a way which made it clear that he knew nothing else, that this was just the way of the world. His world was so sad and full of death and destruction that you immediately empathized with him. Having to go to battle to defend your town at age twelve and it getting overrun would get any journey off to a bad start.

The trip across the bridge was terrifying, the creaky, nearly falling down bridge combined with the dead chasing them and heading towards a dragon made us concerned poor Abney or his Mom were going to meet a horrible end!

The situation for the Mom in regards to being safe from men and being forced into marriage was definitely a post-apocalypse situation which we could understand given the limited number of people and the power of the wealthy in this setting but was not welcome in our reading material even so. Same could be said for the implication that children would be sold into slavery if they could be forced away from their responsible adults.

emperors railroad cover

The cities, towns and abandoned buildings they come across on their journey all add to the feeling of a mostly destroyed world now ruled by angels and infested with zombie-like people who died and came back to life. The ultimate fate of Abney and his mother was sad, but Quinn just rode off to the north still searching for what had shamed him. Quinn’s story isn’t done so perhaps we will see him again and learn who he is looking for in Columbus, Ohio.

This story has a very bleak setting with mostly destroyed towns, men damaged by war, a dragon rampaging one area, and awoken dead rampaging most of the southeast. It is vibrantly described without being too bloody and disgusting. Quinn is the most interesting character. He reveals some of his past to Abney, but still kept most details a secret. Abney is described best as a twelve year old, older Abney is narrating but you don’t get a good picture of him. To Abney this is the story of the most important and life-changing portion of his life so everything else is flat and uninteresting by comparison, so he gives his current self little attention in the narrative. Abney’s mother is his hero and he describes her that way even if some of her actions are questionable. He tries to view Quinn as a hero but Quinn discourages this because he won’t take Abney with him on his quest to right his shame.

Overall, this is a rather depressing journey story about Abney and his mother’s travels to reach her cousin with help from Quinn who is on a larger quest which isn’t completed in this tale. It is very entertaining and exciting but very dark. If grim-dark is your thing, then this is a great read for you.

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The Exploding Spaceship Reviews Shadow and Flame by Gail Z Martin and Grave Visions by Kalayna Price


Review of Shadow and Flame by Gail Z Martin (Orbit, March 2016)

This is the fourth volume of the Ascendant Kingdom Saga. Blaine McFadden has to deal with the aftermath of restoring the magic to the kingdom. Some of the fighting appears to be due to an unknown enemy pushing some factions to fight Blaine and his allies, so they try and uncover who is behind the problem. The vampires are gearing up for a civil war which would leave Donderath a land full of death and destruction so Blaine and his vampire allies are trying to find a solution which can prevent the war.

They find one, but it involves a trip to Velant for some of his allies and they must travel through some monster-infested waters. So, most of this volume has two story streams: Blaine and those who are in Donderath in one; in the other, those who are on the ship going to Velant, traveling overland there and then returning by ship to Donderath. The streams merge briefly then a party goes to solve the vampire civil war problem while the others are trying to hold down all the points being attacked by bad vampires and their allies. These plots are interwoven well and it is easy to follow the flow of the story.

Kestel (Lady McFadden) does many heroic things in this volume to keep her husband alive. She and others are pushing for Blaine to think beyond being the most powerful warlord in Donderath and to actually take the throne as King. Placing a King on the throne will give the country some magical protections which it currently lacks and desperately needs for combatting nefarious folks from across the seas. Blaine isn’t so sure that he wants the throne, but as everyone tells him, that’s a very good reason to place him on it!

shadow and flame cover

Ghosts continue to play an important role in the story, so Tormod Solveig the necromancer plays an important role in the story, as does Connor Bevin who can see, speak to, and be possessed by ghosts, including the vampire Wraith Lord. Connor hosting the Wraith Lord is again crucial for the success of parts of their mission and Connor gets the worse end of the deal again. He does however fall in love in this volume.

This volume has wonderful battle scenes at both the individual and group level, with some great ones featuring various people’s magical attacks or illusions. The good vampires also play a crucial role in several battles and the strategy for their use seems to be improving but unfortunately the bad vampires’ strategy is improving too.

Several characters including Blaine and Connor end the story in rather different personal circumstances than they started, so it will be interesting to see how these changes are reflected in future stories. Several of the supporting characters get more backstory time and this made several of them much more interesting and not just a bit part as they were in previous volumes. Some of these characters are fascinating, especially the long-lived vampire ones, so hopefully they get more story time and maybe even their own short stories.

So it is epic fantasy in a post-disaster fantasy world inhabited by interesting people who are mostly of common origin since the disaster killed most of the nobles. The fight to feed, clothe and house everyone while trying to fight battles makes for a more complete look at the world than just battles would. The characters are complex and have quite interesting senses of humor. Quite an easy read even if it is over 500 pages. This is definitely an epic fantasy series to pick up, particularly if you like things more complex than quest stories.

grave visions cover

Review of Grave Visions by Kalayna Price (Roc, February 2016)

This is the fourth Alex Craft novel. Alex is a grave witch who can raise the shades from dead bodies. This means that she deals with a great many crime victims. Usually she goes to the morgue to raise them but some very strange deaths in locked rooms mean she has to visit some crime scenes in order to determine if the police or the Fae Investigation Bureau is in charge of the case. She discovers she really doesn’t like crime scenes.

Falin has been ordered by his queen to share Alex’s living space, so he is crashing at her place and this causes numerous problems. Alex’s boyfriend Death has been told by his bosses that he can’t see her anymore, but he doesn’t seem to take that as seriously as Alex does. Plus, with her being present at some crime scenes, she encounters him or his coworkers on several occasions. She ends up having to work several cases with Falin which further complicates her life.

To make her life even more interesting, Alex is ill and has little energy, although being in Faerie seems to help. The solution to her illness means she has to do a job for Falin’s queen, so dealing with court and the crazy queen make her life even more difficult. She also has to deal with her father when he sends someone to basically kidnap her since she wouldn’t return his calls. What he has to say doesn’t help matters in the least! However, he is able to explain why she is ill and even presents a solution if she is willing to take it. Alex of course never does anything the simplest way when it would mean giving up some of her freedom so she finds another solution but getting to it requires solving some complex drug ring problems and murders which involve Faerie and Nekros City residents.

This story reveals several sides to Nekros City that we have not glimpsed in previous books, and the details given make it seem even more real. Alex’s male person problems (Falin, Death, her father) make for a young adult life that no reader will envy but she does make progress towards sorting it out in this volume. You get a glimpse of Falin’s past and how he ended up working for the queen which gives you a window into his internal conflicts about Alex and the queen.

This is a very intriguing setting with complex characters and an interesting take on Faerie and magic. Alex is a messed up heroine but her struggles to find out who she is give the reader a deep look into the setting, its history, and politics which are very complex because you have mortals and fae involved.

This is one of our favorite urban fantasy series so we hope it continues.

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