Category Archives: Novels

Review: “The Prison In Antares” by Mike Resnick

Title: The Prison In Antares
Author: Mike Resnick
Series: Dead Enders #2 (The Birthright Universe)
Rating: ***
Publisher/Copyright: Pyr, 2015

Colonel Nathan Pretorius is the best agent the Human-led Democracy has in their war with the alien Transkeii Coalition. Fresh from a suicidally-difficult mission behind enemy lines that went off without even the slightest setback, Pretorius and his team are given a new assignment: rescue or eliminate a scientist captured by the Coalition before he loses the entire war for the Democracy. This time around the team is joined by Iris “Irish” Fitzhugh, a psychologist tasked with determining whether or not their target has given up vital information before being rescued. The rest of the Dead Enders all reprise their appearances from the previous book: contortionist and thief Sally “Snake” Kowalski, cyborg strongman Felix Ortega, computer genius Toni “Pandora” Levi, part-alien empath Circe, and the alien shapeshifter (kind of) nicknamed Proto.

The Prison In Antares is the sequel to Mike Resnick’s 2014 novel The Fortress In Orion. Resnick has an impressive reputation in the sci-fi community, with five Hugo wins and over thirty nominations, so I had high hopes. Too high, as it turned out. The first book was marred by a plot where a seemingly-impossible mission was pulled off without a single setback or casualty. This time around Resnick has at least somewhat improved on the failings in the last book, but not enough. This time the mission doesn’t go off without a hitch, there are setbacks and obstacles that the team must deal with, and the mission isn’t without casualty either. Unfortunately, some of that difficulty comes about because the apparent intelligence of the characters seems to have been markedly reduced between books. Casualties, when they do occur, spur from characters making idiotic mistakes instead of meaningful moments of self-sacrifice or calculated risks to achieve a desired end. The book is still fun and entertaining, and Resnick’s reputation suggests that this series is not representative of his work, but I’d start someplace else in his bibliography.

CONTENT: Moderate amounts of violence, occasionally gruesome. Occasional R-rated language. Occasional sexual innuendo, nothing too explicit.

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Review: “The Fortress In Orion” by Mike Resnick

Title: The Fortress In Orion
Author: Mike Resnick
Series: Dead Enders #1 (The Birthright Universe)
Rating: ***
Publisher/Copyright: Pyr, 2014

As some of you may know, I review for the San Francisco/Manhattan Book Review in exchange for free books. I’m usually careful not to inadvertently get myself dropped into the middle of a new series. Then I requested The Prison In Antares, not realizing it was book two in a new series. So I hastily tracked down The Fortress In Orion to catch up before I set in. Now I find out that everything Resnick has ever written is set in the same universe! (Okay, just most of it.) I’ve got a lot of reading to do….

The (mostly) human Democracy is at war with the alien Transkei Coalition, fighting a war that they may not be able to win. Colonel Nathan Pretorius is the Democracy’s go-to man for crazy, impossible missions…when those missions haven’t left him in the hospital growing a new spleen. This next mission? This one is going to top them all…. The Democracy has managed to clone a replacement for General Michkag, the top Transkei commander. Its up to Nathan and whatever fools he can convince to follow him to capture if possible, kill if necessary, the real Michkag and leave the friendly one in his place to try and bring the war to a peaceful conclusion. The odds of this mission ending in death for the entire team? Not worth thinking about. Failure isn’t an option. Pretorius and his Dead Enders are just going to have to find a way to infiltrate The Fortress In Orion….

This one…this one has me conflicted. I really liked the characters, every one of them felt well-realized and interesting. The setup was good, and had the potential to be a great story. But you know what you need for a great story? There’s this literary device called Things Going Wrong. You see, its just not interesting when everything goes to plan and the good guys carry off their allegedly difficult, nay, impossible mission without a hitch or casualty. Its far more interesting when the crap hits the fan and everything goes wrong but they somehow manage to squeak out victory anyway. Unfortunately, that’s not what happens here. Occasionally a wrench gets thrown into the works, just for flavor, but since Pretorius is following a careful plan of winging it anyway that never seems to matter. Something went wrong? Give me three pages and I’ll turn it to my advantage. There’s never any real danger or tension, despite everyone saying how dangerous everything is. I’m not giving up on Resnick, his reputation is too shiny for one book to tarnish, and I’m obligated to read the sequel anyways, but I will admit this was a disappointment. On the other hand, he managed to keep things moving along at such a clip that I didn’t quite notice until the ride was over that there was never any real danger. The tongue-in-cheek tone was also pretty great.

CONTENT: R-rated language, not gratuitous. Mild sexual innuendo. Occasional violence, sometimes disturbing.

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Review: “The Untold Tale” by J.M. Frey

Title: The Untold Tale
Author: J.M. Frey
Series: The Accidental Turn #1
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: 2015, REUTS Publishing LLC.

There is very little Forsyth Turn doesn’t know. As Shadow Hand, the king’s spymaster, he wages in secret the war his famous older brother carries out in songs and tales told in every tavern throughout the three kingdoms. Kintyre is everything an epic fantasy hero is made of—strong, brave, and oblivious to what’s going on around him. While Kintyre is off gallivanting about the world with his loyal sidekick and magic sword, slaying first and asking questions later if at all, Forsyth quietly manages the family’s holdings and keeps up with the mountains of paperwork generated by his legion of spies. Through this legion, Forsyth knows nearly everything there is to know about the world he lives in…which is what makes the girl so fascinating. Rescued from the clutches of the evil Viceroy by Forsyth’s men, Lucy Piper (Pip to her friends) is brought to Turn Hall to recover from the tender attentions of the Viceroy’s sidekick and torturer Bootknife, attentions that have left an intricate lattice of artistic scrolling vines carved into the flesh of her back. For anyone to have resisted Bootknife long enough for the carvings to become so intricate is alone enough to earn Forsyth’s attention and respect, but Pip also represents a complete mystery. In a world where Forsyth can usually match a face to its family heritage at a glance, Pip’s bronzed skin and the shape of her eyes are like nothing he’s ever seen. Then too there are the things she cannot know but does—such as the fact that mild-mannered minor nobleman Forsyth Turn, Kintyre’s worthless younger brother, so shy and graceless, is really the Shadow Hand of the king. Could it be true? Could the Viceroy really have managed to call down one of the legendary Readers, one of those all-powerful beings who watch all that happens from on high? But surely not. Readers, the Great Writer, the world being born from the nib of a pen, that’s all just mythology and nonsense…isn’t it?

“Yeah, yeah,” you say. “It’s a metafictional world, the girl is trapped inside her favorite book, we’ve seen that before.” Well, yes. I suppose you may have. It does bring Inkheart to mind, though that was sort of the polar opposite to what’s happening here. Such a metafictional narrative is itself a fantasy trope, if not a widely used one. But that just strengthens my point. J.M. Frey is a master of the fantasy trope, both the good and the bad. The central conceit here is that The Adventures Of Kintyre Turn were written by a stodgy (and frankly, downright lecherous) old man who ripped off, er, faithfully followed every single convention of his genre when creating the world his characters inhabit. Women exist solely to be damsels in distress, fainting at danger and then falling into the arms of the Conquering Hero. Minorities and non-humans are scattered through for flavor, but only in background roles or to be the Exotic Other. Quests all follow a certain formula. These tropes are so ingrained in the fabric of the world that they remain true even when the author isn’t writing. By dropping in an outside observer, Frey is able to really examine each and every one of these tropes even as she makes use of them herself. The result is truly incredible, a novel that is by turns hilarious and heartrending, at times a love letter to the entire genre, at others a biting indictment of its more appalling conventions. Beyond its agenda, though, the fact remains that this is simply a stellar book. The characters, while initially suggested to be little more than the stereotypes they inhabit, are all real living breathing people, and whatever you think you know about what’s going on is just waiting to be upturned. I would recommend this book to anyone with a healthy love of the fantasy genre, or just a love of good stories. I do offer fair warning, though, there’s quite a bit of sexual content in the back half of the book. It’s necessary to what Frey is trying to do here, but does render the book unsuitable for certain audiences.

CONTENT: Intermittent R-rated profanity. Strong violence, occasionally gruesome. Moderately explicit sexual content, scattered throughout the back half of the book.

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Review: “Star Wars–Rebels: The Fake Jedi” by Martin Fisher & Bob Molesworth

Title: The Fake Jedi
Writer: Martin Fisher
Artist: Bob Molesworth
Series: Star Wars: Rebels
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Egmont UK Ltd, 2015

Here’s another Star Wars: Rebels short! This one was first published in Germany (sensing the trend?), translated and published in the UK in Star Wars Rebels Magazine #3, and should be published stateside eventually. Until then, happy Googling!

This one is a solo adventure for Kanan as he is forced down by the Empire on a strange planet. Taken in by the locals, he is taken to their lightsaber-wielding leader who, despite his weapon, is no Jedi. Of course, this is when the Inquisitor decides to show up looking for Kanan….

This one wasn’t bad. The story was predictable, but that’s par for the course on these I’m thinking. As with previous stories illustrated by Molesworth, I think his art is perfectly serviceable and possibly better than these comics could reasonably hope for. Is this one essential reading? Not really, but it was fun nevertheless.

CONTENT: Mild violence. No profanity. Scantily-clad alien women, not played for titillation.

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Review: “Star Wars–Darth Vader Vol. II: Shadows And Secrets” by Kieron Gillen & Salvador Larocca

Title: Shadows And Secrets
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Salvador Larocca
Series: Star Wars: Darth Vader #7-12 (Official Canon)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Marvel Comics, 2015

New Star Wars comics! No time to chat!

Still reeling from the revelation that the pilot who destroyed the Death Star is named Skywalker, Darth Vader redoubles his efforts to track him down off the books. For that, however, he’s going to need funds. Staging a heist is easy. Getting away with it is less so….especially when he’s partnered with a genius investigator and ordered to solve the crime at all costs! Vader is soon forced to play a deadly game, one in which his catspaw Dr. Aphra may just become a pawn to be sacrificed….

This was a lot of fun. Watching Vader scramble to work both sides of an investigation and cover his tracks was interesting, and the interlude on Tatooine was great. It makes perfect sense, of course–Vader’s just learned that the boy he’s hunting is named Skywalker and hails from Tatooine. The logical starting point is the Lars homestead. It’s not every writer/artist team that can wring emotion from Vader’s expressionless mask, but Gillen and Larocca manage it brilliantly. Unlike the first volume, this one has no tie-in with the corresponding arc of the main Star Wars series. They still happen more or less simultaneously, but separately. That will change again next time, and I look forward with great anticipation to the upcoming crossover event: Vader Down….

CONTENT: Mild profanity. Moderate violence. Little to no sexual content.

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Review: “Midnight In The Garden Centre Of Good And Evil” by Colin Sinclair

Title: Midnight In The Garden Centre Of Good And Evil
Author: Colin Sinclair
Series: Invaders From Beyond
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Solaris, 2015

This is not how it was supposed to work. A couple months ago, Miller was knee-deep in a graduate degree studying agricultural science. Now, after a bender left him and his future father-in-law’s car upside down in a lake, he finds himself without a fiancé and cut off by his parents to find his own way in the world, working a dead-end job at a garden centre in the middle of nowhere alongside an eclectic crew of fellow misfits. Then just as Miller adjusts to his new life, starts to think the future might not be so bleak after all, that’s when the aliens show up….

Midnight In The Garden Centre Of Good And Evil is a very British book in its language and vocabulary. That’s not a bad thing, to my mind, but is something to know going in. Not everyone watches as much Sherlock and Doctor Who as I do. Equal parts comedy and horror, the book demands comparison with Shaun Of The Dead, possibly crossed with Kevin Smith’s Clerks (I can’t say for sure, not having seen that one). It’s a quick read, and I managed most of it at a single sitting–the last two-thirds, to be precise. While not bad, it didn’t really suck me in until that point. The only real complaint I had with the book is how much information is left obscure, lost between the lines. While Brackett’s establishment is undeniably shady, it took most of the book for me to connect the various offhand hints and realize that its real income is dependent on the marijuana being grown in the basement tunnels. (Admittedly, this may have had something to do with my own lack of experience with that particular plant beyond the requisite stoner characters in various films.) Plus, you never do find out Miller’s first name so far as I can find looking back. It’s not a big deal, given the first-person narration, but serves to illustrate my point. Anyway, if you’re looking for an irreverent comedy-horror combo, this just might be the book for you.

CONTENT: R-rated profanity. Strong horror violence, occasionally gruesome. Moderate sexual innuendo, mostly in the form of crude jokes made by one or more of Miller’s coworkers.

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Review: “Magic Brew” by T. Rae Mitchell

Title: Magic Brew
Author: T. Rae Mitchell
Series: The Edge Chronicles
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Original Mix Media, 2015

Alright, let’s get one thing out of the way up front. Yes, this is an Urban Fantasy version of The Warriors. If you can’t get past that idea, this book isn’t for you. Everyone else, you’re in for a treat.

Even in a city overrun with supernatural creatures, Edge is special. While elves, demons, vampires, were-whatevers and the Fae are a dime a dozen, Edge is the only Djinn in New York City. Well, half-Djinn anyway, which means the Forsaken are the only family he knows. The Forsaken take in the rejects and the half-breeds of the city, those not good enough for the purebloods that run the other gangs. They have power beyond imagining, but also their share of weaknesses—both physical and emotional. And when they are betrayed by the one man they’ve trusted above all others and lured into a trap, the journey back to their home turf may be the death of every last ­­one of them….

Like I said, this one was a pleasure. The world created here is imaginative and engaging enough to make it well worth overlooking the recycled plot, and every single character you meet is a fully-rendered person with their own personality, strengths, weaknesses, and desires. There’s Edge, obviously, half Djinn and half mystery, reeling from having his entire world pulled down around his ears. There’s Pandora, Nyx and India, three half-pixie sisters dealing with the effects of their other halves. Pandora is half Chaos demon, killing anyone who hears her voice. India is half succubus, driving everyone who enters her bar mad with desire just by looking at them. And Nyx is half Shadow elf, able to disappear and move unseen through shadows. Then you have Justice, half cherub and half Chinese Mogwai demon. I know, I thought the same thing….”You mean an angel came down here and ****ed that creature from Gremlins?” Turns out Mogwai is a generic Chinese word for demon, so that makes more sense. Less funny though. You care about every one of them. This matters, because as the body count climbs you feel each casualty as acutely as the survivors. Bottom line: if you’re a fan of Urban Fantasy (or The Warriors, for that matter) I cannot recommend this highly enough.

CONTENT: Strong violence. Some R-rated language. Strong sexual innuendo. Various occultic topics such as demons and magic, handled as fantasy.

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