Monthly Archives: August 2015

Review: “The Empress Game” by Rhonda Mason

Title: The Empress Game
Author: Rhonda Mason
Series: The Empress Game Trilogy #1
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Titan Books, 2015

Always a pleasant surprise when a book exceeds your expectations. I feared this one would be a cheap Hunger Games knock-off, but that couldn’t have been farther from the truth. It’s way more interesting and the world is far more fleshed out than that comparison would imply….

Kayla Reunimon is not someone you want to mess with. Her family is dead, killed in a coup orchestrated by treacherous agents of the Sekian Empire in an attempt to bend the advanced technological expertise of the Wyrds to their own ends. Now exiled and presumed dead, Kayla is forced to fight for her life in the gladiatorial pits as the mysterious Shadow Panthe. It’s not much of a life, but it keeps Kayla and her little brother under the radar of the Imperial Diplomatic Corps…until a new Empress Game is called, summoning princesses from across the Empire to the capital to compete for the hand of the Emperor Apparent in brutal combat. Now Kayla finds herself recruited in a daring scheme to fix the games…and perhaps save her people in the process.

At first glance, the central premise of the book seems completely idiotic. A galactic empire that decides matters of succession via gladiatorial combat? Far-fetched is putting it kindly. Except that the author knows this is ridiculous, and so do her characters. Thus, the whole point of fixing the game to put the right person on the throne. There’s even a believable rationale for how that started, though it doesn’t do much to redeem the practice. I was a bit skeptical going into the book, but I have to say that the author won me over. I shall certainly be looking for the next book in the trilogy, especially since this one simply cannot stand on its own.

CONTENT: Minor profanity, along with some stronger fictional swearing. Occasional sexual innuendo, including a sex scene that is frank without being graphic. Strong violence.

This is a longer version of a review I wrote for the Manhattan Book Review.

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Review: “The Star Wars” by George Lucas, J.W. Rinzler, & Mike Mayhew

Title: The Star Wars
Original Rough-Draft Screenplay: George Lucas
Writer: J.W. Rinzler
Artist: Mike Mayhew
Series: Star Wars (Infinities)
Rating: ***
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse Comics, 2014

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away….

No, not that Galaxy Far, Far Away. This is a very different Star Wars than the one you and I grew up with. A maskless, non-Force-using Darth Vader leads the assault against Aquilae, the last holdout against Imperial power, whose military is led by the legendary Jedi-Bendu general Luke Skywalker and his apprentice Annikin Starkiller. Han Solo is a less-mossy version of DC’s Swamp Thing. Yeah, you read that right. This is an official comic adaptation of George Lucas’s original first-draft screenplay, and it bears almost no resemblance to the finished product. Some character names are the same, but their roles are almost all completely different. Other names and concepts would be dropped completely, only to show up later in a different place or form. The plot itself bears no resemblance to anything I’ve ever read, and I’ve read nearly all the Star Wars.

I want to say that this was awesome, but remember that part about it being the rough draft? Yeah, it’s still pretty rough. The dialogue is atrocious. The characters are a bit inconsistent in their behavior, from Annikin and Leia’s romance to one of the villains switching sides with little justification. Nevertheless, it is pretty fun to see what might have been….and the disaster that was averted. The art ranges from solid to incredible, and seeing the different designs for a different galaxy was pretty cool. Like I said, I’d like to recommend this, but I can’t.

CONTENT: Minor profanity. No sexual content. Some moderate violence, occasionally disturbing.

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Review: “Trailer Park Fae” by Lilith Saintcrow

Title: Trailer Park Fae
Author: Lilith Saintcrow
Series: Gallow and Ragged  #1
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Orbit, 2015

As we’ve established, I’m a sucker for urban fantasy. This book was no different, even as it expanded my boundaries a bit. The Fae play a role in the Dresden Files, but this was my first time with something Fae-centric. Gotta say, I can’t wait for the next book in this series to come out, and I think I might look up more of Ms. Saintcrow’s work.

To all appearances, Jeremiah Gallow is just a simple construction worker down on his luck, and that’s just what he wants you to think. Formerly the half-human armormaster for the Queen of Summer, Jeremiah walked away from the world of the Fae years ago for the love of a mortal woman. It’s been five years since his beloved Daisy was killed in a freak car accident, but Jeremiah has no intention of returning to the world of the fickle Fae….until a Faery damsel in distress looking strikingly like his dead wife crosses his path and embroils him once more in the ever-shifting politics of Faery.

This was an incredibly fascinating book, and I loved every minute of it. It is not, however, always an easy read. The prose is beautiful, faintly echoing Shakespeare’s Faery, but like the bard it can get distractingly convoluted at times. I didn’t mind, it just means that if you’re planning to read this you might have to work a little on occasion. On a related note, there is almost zero outright info-dumping, so if you’re unfamiliar with legends of the Fae you might find yourself a bit off balance on occasion. You can usually pick stuff up from the context, but again, that takes a bit of work. There’s a brief glossary at the back of the book for Faery terms, very useful for connecting Saintcrow’s archaic (and I presume faithfully ancient) spelling. The book is pretty dark, without the splash of snark and wit that I’ve grown accustomed to in my urban fantasy, but that’s not so much a fault in the book as it is a problem with my expectations. The plot takes a little while to really get going, largely because so much time is spent establishing the characters, but that extra work definitely pays off and once the plot builds up a head of steam the twists come fast and furious. Some I saw coming, others blindsided me. Bottom line: I absolutely cannot wait for the next book so I can meet up with these characters once again.

CONTENT: Occasional R-rated language. Some frank if not outright-explicit sexual content and discussion. Strong violence, often disturbing. Rampant magic, though I wouldn’t quite deem it occultic.

This is a longer version of a review I wrote for the Manhattan Book Review.

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Review: “Bombs Away” by Harry Turtledove

Title: Bombs Away
Author: Harry Turtledove
Series: The Hot War #1
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Del Rey, 2015

Believe it or not, this is actually the first ever Turtledove I’ve had the pleasure of reading. I’ve managed to build a small collection, grabbing assorted works at garage and library sales over the years, but they always seem to be the middle bits of series. Not this time! This time I’m in on the ground floor for his new series exploring what might have happened had the Cold War gone hot in the early days. In the later days, that’s no fun since it would mostly just result in the planet becoming a cinder….

At the height of the Korean War, with Red Chinese forces pouring over the border, the idea of using nuclear weapons to turn the tide was under serious consideration. In the world we inherited President Truman decided against unleashing that genie, but now Harry Turtledove turns his pen to exploring the potential consequences of such action. Come along for the ride in Bombs Away as Turtledove picks apart the threads of history and weaves them together once again in a different and altogether horrifying configuration….

There’s a reason Harry Turtledove is billed as “The Master of Alternate History.” Several reasons, in fact. The man seems to possess an unparalleled grasp of history, knowing instinctively just where to push in order to set events onto a new, believable course. Just as importantly, his characters all feel very real—figures both fictional and historical leap off the page and pull you into their world. While story thrives on conflict, Turtledove stands testament to the fact that you don’t necessarily need a villain, shying away from easy caricature in favor of focusing on ordinary men doing the best they can. From the White House to the trenches of Korea, from the cockpit of a B-29 bomber to the streets of divided Germany, Harry Turtledove gives a stellar introduction to a hellish world that could have been.

CONTENT: Harsh, R-rated language, widespread but not gratuitous. In a world sprouting mushroom clouds, profanity seems appropriate…. Strong violence, as you would expect from World War III. Occasional sexual content, semi-explicit. Some of the characters are racist, and the fallout of the Holocaust is dealt with to a degree.

This is a longer version of a review I did for the Manhattan Book Review.

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