RaveTor.comLet’s get this out of the way upfront: Cadwell Turnbull’s second novel No Gods, No Monsters is absolutely worth your time. If you’re at all a fan of science fiction and fantasy, if you’re at all interested in deep characterization and interiority playing out against the fantastical, if you’re into the interplay of how genre can operate in conversation with the real world, if any of that is your bread and butter, then you’re good; you can stop reading this review and go pick up the book. You’re welcome ... I can’t get over how impressive this book is ... What you get from this formula of plot is much better than the standard focus on these secret societies. What Turnbull has made a priority, among many things in this novel, is the laser focus on character interiority and perspective ... And for all that the above balancing act requires, Turnbull refuses to smooth over or shove aside the complexity of the everyday world we live ... a staggering achievement of literary craftsmanship, a complex juggling act of plot, tension, character interiority, worldbuilding, thought experiment, using trust from the reader as the fuel that pushes the book forward, page by page. It is a piece of narrative alchemy, and I’m in awe, knowing just how much work must’ve gone into this book to make it the piece of art it is. I said it at the top and I’ll say it again: Cadwell Turnbull’s new novel is absolutely worth your time. Go and grab a copy now, and then join me in the waiting line for whatever he’s got coming next, because I know that will be worth it, too.
RaveTor.comIf you had evidence the world was ending and no one else believed you, what would you do? And even when evidence rears its terrible head, when everyone else catches up to you, what do you do with the time that’s left to you? Such are the big questions looming through Levien’s incredible debut novel ... [the] book socks them in the gut, leaving them full of feelings, watching as the night sky fills with stars and wondering at the beauty of it all. This is a debut novel that I think I would have loved regardless, but especially after a year and a half of a pandemic, of watching countless people face a monumental catastrophe and have to figure out to respond to that as individuals, well . . . this book certainly resonated ... Levien’s debut is a gentle, graceful look at the struggle of never being able to live life on your own terms and then barely being given a few weeks to give it your best shot.
RaveTor.comIf you took the godly and human affairs of Robert Jackson Bennett’s Divine Cities trilogy, paired them like a fine wine with the intricate and complex magical mechanics of Brandon Sanderson, and made the main course a Hannibal-esque murder mystery in a well-realized, complex city on the edge of a China Miéville-esque disaster, you would get The Helm of Midnight ... Rich with lore and worldbuilding, Lotstetter lets her epic fantasy flag fly in this engrossing, engaging, and dark story of sisters, trauma, magic, and murder ... from the very first page, Lotstetter brings you smoothly into this new world of gods and investigators and death-masks, where the talents of the dead can be wrestled into use by the living ... Lotstetter brings in new players and swivels the spotlight among them with nimble prose and rich detail, giving the reader just enough new information and mystery in each separate story thread to keep them pinned to the page. It is not an easy feat, and Lotstetter manages it seamlessly ... As detailed as the world is, the story wouldn’t work unless the characters were compelling, and in Krona, Melanie, and yes, even Louis Charbon, Lotstetter has created a cast of characters pushed to their limits, each fearing with the consequences of their failure ... that Lotstetter uses each thread to further the plot and explain/explore the mechanics of her world and magic system is genius and works beautifully ... If there are a few moments of the narrative where Lotstetter elects to be more straightforward, to tell the reader something directly about the world or the magic or a character, it never slows anything down, nor breaks any level of immersion ... an engaging, enthralling first installment in a world I wanted to keep reading about for ages more. If your epic fantasy tastes run in the same vein as your murder mysteries, this gem from Lotstetter is sure to make its way to the top of your TBR pile.
RaveTor.coMMartine is a practiced hand at precision storytelling; no taut thread ever loses tension, no one character outweighs another, dramatic moments never sap energy from the events before or after it ... Martine keeps the reader in efficient, dazzling motion alongside an incredible cast of characters ... Martine ups the ante by allowing every character, in their own way, to confront and define their own boundaries—the things that make them who they are, and not just cogs in a machine ... These character beats create some of the best moments of the book: the sheer friction that comes of language and meaning, of want and desire, of basic agreed upon reality between beings before a word is even said, and what can happen when those realities are different ... Amid these huge questions of identity and empire, Martine continues to shine like a star, her prose as gorgeous and cutting as the edge-shine of a knife. Her worldbuilding continues to excel in ways both enthralling and contemplative, even traipsing into some aspects of the Weird, especially in moments where we are given some small insight into the thought process of the alien beings; these interludes are some of the richest, most experimental parts of this book, and some of my favorites. Her flair for distinctive characters set in a rich tapestry of a world whose weaves we know mean that she can run wild in building out the already complicated and intriguing cast that we fell in love with from the first book. It was such a joy to spend time with these characters again, and fall in love with the new ones, too. Swarm, Mallow, and Cure each live in my heart; that’s all I’ll say for now, but trust me, you’ll understand once you’ve read. Plus, there are space kittens, and who doesn’t love a good space kitten? ... it rocketed me through one of the best science fiction books I’ve read in quite some time. As a writer, it challenged me to see how seamlessly Martine crafted her world, looking for a place where the stitches showed and finding only smooth fabric in their place. Overall, it left me breathless with awe, this book that so effortlessly balances being a high-octane, science fiction action thriller, while also simultaneously being a thoughtful, complicated examination of identity, language, personhood, and truth. Arkady Martine has done it again, and made it bigger, bolder, and more beautiful than ever. Don’t hesitate. Read this book.
RaveTor.com... excellent ... Chen is a writer that effortlessly takes lofty concepts and whittles them down to reveal the human stories within. This novel could easily have been the psychological ramifications of messing with a person’s mind, and how taxing it can be to live a super life in a world of regular people. Instead, Chen deftly maneuvers his characters and his stories to be about human issues: identity, belonging, self-worth, self-awareness, guilt, and redemption are just some of the many currents running through this book. In some ways, the superheroics in this book are not the focus (though Chen does write a good action sequence) but are often more of a side effect of larger stakes ... Jamie and Zoe are two well-drawn characters, and even with the challenge of not knowing who they are themselves, Chen does a wonderful job of telling us as the story unfolds ... Chen infuses this story with charm, kindness, action, heroics, and enough grounding touches of humanity that reminds you that for all the bullets they can catch and all the memories they can erase, Jamie and Zoe are just people trying to figure out who they are, who they were, and ultimately as this information is gleaned, who they want to be ... There is a level of breeziness and humor, of camp and wit that sparkles throughout the book, with just enough tongue-in-cheek and knowing nods and references to make a reader grin, but not enough to detract from the momentum of the story or lower the seriousness of the stakes ... If there are some slight stumbles here and there, it’s only for the breathless pace Chen sets or hurdles of the story he’s telling ... a wonderful examination of humanity, relationships, identities, and how when we work together, we’re better for it.
C M Waggoner
RaveTor.comIt was a joy to return to the world of C. M. Waggoner, whose first novel Unnatural Magic, I absolutely loved. And though we’ve left behind the characters of the first novel for the most part, there are some delicious details here and there for astute readers ... Delly Wells is the best kind of protagonist. Selfish, skittish, anxious and overwhelmed, smart, opportunistic, a good heart under all the bluster, and yes, ruthless ... the other characters...make this world as rich and alive as can be ... Waggoner’s characters absolutely shine, and she writes with an ear for the cadence and rhythm of their voices ... At turns tongue-in-cheek, acerbic, sorrowful, romantic, and epic in the scope of what could happen if it all goes wrong, Waggoner never loses sight of what each scene needs in order to get the reader invested wholly in the story. No, the world won’t exactly end if our heroes don’t succeed, rather it is the lives of regular people at stake, and those are just as important as the systems by which the world run—probably more ... daring sequence of events that kept me enthralled and rooted to my seat for hours on end ... It may seem like a lot to juggle, but Waggoner does it with ease, keeping you rapt the entire time.
RaveTor.comThis is a delightful, odd book, and I was by turns fascinated, enthralled, and a little confused, but ultimately happy with the twists and turns of the text. Walton combines many of her passions into this story, and you will find yourself at times going on digressions with her, as our unnamed narrator delves into the importance and meaning of various works of art, restaurants and ways of preparing food, the creative works of Renaissance Italy, as well as what can almost be described as Shakespearean fanfic ... If you think there are layers to this story, don’t worry, there absolutely are. But while the meta-commentary can be a lot, and the digressions entertaining but seemingly without reason, the two combine artfully ... the sort of book that may be doing a bit too much at any given time, but you’d never fault it for that. As a treatise on art, and the things we make, and the love we put into making them as we hope they will outlive us, Walton must. She must spin multiple plates, each of them rich moments of drama or education, or relationships, because this is the sort of book that demands that level of richness. If one is to pursue immortality, nothing can be left on the table ... may be at times quirky and rambling, but it truly captures the heart of what it means to make art, to tell stories, and why those things are so important. I can honestly say I’ve never read another novel like it, and I’m very glad, in reading it, to have had the chance to do my small part in contributing to immortality.
Robert Jackson Bennett
RaveTor.comBennett wastes no time in putting the reader right back in the action, bringing us swiftly through the streets of Tevanne, reacquainting us with the four heroes of Foundryside, and giving us gentle reminders into scriving, magic that can imbue inanimate objects with sentience, and argue reality into working in ways it was not intended. Which is good, because our understanding of every single one of those things aspects of the book flip and change, evolving through Bennett’s expert touch and effortless prose. Through Shorefall, we watch as from chapter to chapter, characters are challenged and new facets of their personalities bloom, driving and nuanced ... It’s always a sheer pleasure reading Robert Jackson Bennett because of his talent at writing work that is both seamless and balanced. For every moment of plot momentum, there is an equal moment dedicated to Sancia and Berenice’s deep love for each other. For every glimpse we get into Gregor’s terror that he’s not in control of his mind or body, there is an equal moment given to someone arguing about the nature of humanity ... Bennett’s work has always been fine-tuned, but Shorefall is a testament to his ability to make a modern epic fantasy flow so seamlessly from scene to scene, never bogged down by excess or pontification. If his books were a scriving rig, they’d be masterworks in convincing reality that somehow a book with ideas, action, characters, and lore this massive isn’t somehow two thousand pages long ... as packed as this book is, I still could’ve spent another four hundred pages in Bennett’s story ... a riveting epic fantasy that gives you a little bit of everything, but so seamlessly, you’re going to wonder when you got to the ending. It has heart and intricate characters who love and care for each other. It has wonder and danger, oftentimes attached at the hip. It has upheavals and twists and morality and action, that culminates in a breathless series of events that will have you eagerly awaiting book three. Bennett has written another stunning novel that shows exactly what this genre can do and why we love it.
RaveTor.comBouncing up and down this timeline across many stories in the collection, Liu explores with painstaking clarity, the reality of giving up one’s body, leaving a world behind, the mystery and thrill of a digital frontier and mindscape, and the heartache of leaving your known world behind ... This collection has something for everyone: science fiction, some fantasy, flashes of historical fiction, interlinking stories, a novel excerpt, and more. Liu truly is a writer with no limits, whose ability to craft a story that folds interesting characters with high-minded concepts with effortless worldbuilding, while commenting on the modern world around us at the same time is nothing short of magical. Like I said, there’s a reason he’d be on a list of authors that are masters of the form. Whether it’s one thousand words or ten thousand words, Ken Liu is a master at crafting short stories that pack a punch, and linger in your mind long after they’re over ... four hundred pages of effortlessly beautiful, haunting fiction, that will have you coming back for more.
RaveTor.com... an intricate, affecting, haunting, and beautiful science fiction story that spans time, space, and lives ... Reader, I cried ... takes a winding, heartbreaking, joyful wandering through an immense galaxy, and answers questions about love, duty, age, time, relationships, sorrow, and so much more, while spiraling toward an answer about jaunting ... this book truly shines because of the deep, complex web of relationships, consequence, and character built by Jimenez, that start in very intricate places and then only grow richer as the novel marches on, as characters grow, are challenged, are confronted with fears and hopes and hates and loves. As we see new worlds, visit new stars, given new technologies or advancements, Jimenez never lets us forget why science fiction succeeds as a mode of storytelling: the living, beating hearts of characters confronted with the future, and how they react to it, can tell one hell of a story. The Vanished Birds is a story of one such future, and whether it’s worth it, if it means even one person suffers ... The reason this novel succeeds so well, and why it made me cry, and why I think it’s so important, is that everyone’s story is given the chance to be important. Jimenez shows us exactly where our main characters come from, why they are the way they are, the ironies and contradictions and quirks that make their personalities, and the hardships, torture, banality, frustrations, and pain that force them to grow or change or overcome them ... may be one of the best debuts of 2020, and that it should be remembered in the year to come. Simon Jimenez is a brilliant author (I didn’t even get to how lush and consuming his prose is!), and a writer to watch. If you enjoy science fiction with heart, if you love stories about stories, about people and the future and the things we do to keep making a future for each other, then read The Vanished Birds. You’re not going to want to miss this one, I promise.
MixedTor.comThere is a great idea at the core of Fate of the Fallen, and that is mostly what sustains this novel. To play so drastically with the rather bloated trope of the chosen one by murdering him in the very first act is a rather confident move, and quickly adds adrenaline to a novel slow to get moving. And that idea, that whatever cataclysm is to come can now not be averted, fuels a lot of the interesting relationships in this book ... Aaslo’s personal journey is a delightful read ... Unfortunately, many parts of Fate of the Fallen fail to hold up to the excitement of the core premise. Without really knowing who the chosen one is, we don’t have any investment in his loss. Without really understanding what the prophecy and this supposed world-destroying calamity is, we don’t feel the consequences of his demise. As Aaslo begins his quest, we get drips and drabs of information, but so much is thrown at the reader at once regarding worldbuilding, cosmology, godhood, mages, side characters, and more, that there’s no chance for any of the stakes to sink in before we’re whisked away. While I believe being vague about stakes is being done on purpose, it holds the reader back from any investment in the story or the characters ... Without clear stakes, either on a character or a worldbuilding level, then all the reader is doing is watching characters go from place to place being as confused as they are. It’s a shame, because Kade obviously did a lot of work constructing this world and these characters, and the love they have for them on the page is palpable. I only wish we had gotten a chance to fall in love with them, too, before being thrown in the deep end without a paddle.
MixedTor.comThere is a great idea at the core of Fate of the Fallen, and that is mostly what sustains this novel. To play so drastically with the rather bloated trope of the chosen one by murdering him in the very first act is a rather confident move, and quickly adds adrenaline to a novel slow to get moving. And that idea, that whatever cataclysm is to come can now not be averted, fuels a lot of the interesting relationships in this book ... Unfortunately, many parts of Fate of the Fallen fail to hold up to the excitement of the core premise. Without really knowing who the chosen one is, we don’t have any investment in his loss. Without really understanding what the prophecy and this supposed world-destroying calamity is, we don’t feel the consequences of his demise ... we get drips and drabs of information, but so much is thrown at the reader at once regarding worldbuilding, cosmology, godhood, mages, side characters, and more, that there’s no chance for any of the stakes to sink in before we’re whisked away. While I believe being vague about stakes is being done on purpose, it holds the reader back from any investment in the story or the characters ... Ultimately, if you’re a fan of epic fantasy narratives that live in a very classic space, while exploring ideas of destiny, prophecy, and choice, then you’re going to enjoy Fate of the Fallen. There are some great ideas explored here, a world rich in character and lore, and some very nice scenes played out on the road to this prophecy’s end.
RaveTor...[a] stunning debut ... Martine hits the ground running, and the relentless pace doesn’t let up for the entire book. Aspects of the story that could come across as stiff, detailed worldbuilding or decadent indulgence in the multitude of characters running around in other hands are instead deftly incorporated into the forward motion of the plot. Martine has perfectly calibrated each chapter to do as much as possible to serve character, emotion, plot, and worldbuilding, all in perfect balance with each other. Martine’s writing is a brilliant, measured exercise in raising stakes, propelling emotionally rich and complex characters forward, and delivering information that always feels organic to the situation. Not only that, but her worldbuilding is some of the most elegant and rich I’ve come across in recent science fiction ... A Memory Called Empire is a success by every metric possible. It has compelling, complex characters that made me root for them with every turn of the page...It raises complex, thorny issues about colonization, empire, culture, society, identity, personhood, economics, and so much more—issues that are interrogated and investigated with a clear eye not given over to cynicism. At the end of the day, this novel asks questions of the reader that left me deep in thought for months after I’d finished the book. In fact, I’m still thinking about them. And I’m most likely going to start my second read as soon as I’ve filed this review.
Robert Jackson Bennett
PositiveTor.comRarely do things that I read make me feel sick, but Vigilance, especially the sections of story set during the show itself, made my stomach churn. Not only because of the violence, which is sudden and brutal. And not only due to the growing tension, as person after person is effortlessly taken down. No…it’s mostly because we never see this violence experienced with any empathy or compassion; the victims are faceless, unknown, their lives playthings in the hands of the shooters, the studio executives. The distance Bennett maintains during this section is what sickens the most: the dispassionate observation of studio executives, the senseless enthusiasm of viewers at home. It captures the numbness, the exhaustion, and the constant desensitization to mass shootings in the real world and drives it home ... In the end, Bennett weaves together plot threads that culminate in a vision of what will ultimately come of America’s love affair with firearms, and the answer isn’t pretty. But of course, the reality of the situation now, in both fiction and truth, isn’t pretty either. And as the satire of Bennett’s brilliant novella begins to hue closer and closer to reality, the end becomes more and more evident until it is a barrel staring up at you through the pages like an inexorable threat: this obsession will end in destruction.
N K Jemisin
RaveTor.com\"How Long ’til Black Future Month? illustrates time and again that Jemisin’s skill isn’t limited to novels, nor is it limited to worlds of epic fantasy; her short fiction shows that Jemisin just has talent, and it shines no matter the world ... Jemisin’s vision is limitless, and in every story, in every world, you get the sense that she is testing the waters, tasting the air, getting a sense of how this genre works, and how she can best use it to her strengths. There’s something for everyone in these stories, and while they’re not in any sort of chronological order, there is a sensation throughout of a muscle flexing, of learning and pushing, growing stronger ... I’m happy to report that in How Long ’til Black Future Month? you’re treated to the evolution and growth of one of the best science fiction and fantasy writers currently working in the field, and get to, over the course of twenty and more stories, witness her becoming the writer we know and love today.\
Peter V. Brett
PositiveTor.comActing as a sort of denouement to the Demon Cycle, Barren is a novella with a lot of action packed into its slim volume ... I found this to be a strong novella and enjoyed Selia’s story, especially how she grows to accept that this new chance at life and love is something to be enjoyed, not something to run from. What I find unfortunate is the death of her love interest in the narrative from when she was a young girl. I understand, and I’m sure Brett’s readers understand, that the world of the Demon Cycle is dangerous, but to see—yet again—the death of a queer character used to motivate the protagonist is uncomfortable, and makes for an exhausting read at times ... Overall, Barren is a success, and if you’ve enjoyed Brett’s previous work, you’re going to enjoy this.
Robert Jackson Bennett
RaveTor.comIf there’s one thing I’ve learned reading Robert Jackson Bennett, it’s that when you think you know what he’s going to do at any given moment, you’re most likely going to be wrong ... Bennett is firing on all cylinders, taking what at first seems to be something a little standard, a little rote, and infusing exhilarating new life into it through expert writing, complicated and distinct characters, and an intriguing, deadly, wonderful new city ... While on the surface this seems like a story we’ve seen before, Foundryside is immediately infused with Bennett’s eye for unique systems of magic, what makes people complicated beyond just being good or bad, and a city that has been pushed so far past being a capitalist dystopia, it’s a wonder it’s still functional ... Foundryside lives and dies on its characters, and Bennett’s novel more than thrives with the people he focuses on ... Foundryside is an excellent first novel in what promises to be another home-run series for Bennett.