PositiveTor.comWhile I have made this sound like it is solely a novel of memory, information control, mistaken assumptions and recollection, and the mistakes we make when we have very much have the situation wrong, the novel has action beats in spades ... Chases via Gondola, shootouts in slums, deadly swordplay and lots more keep the action beats coming at sometimes unpredictable intervals ... the action scenes are very engagingly and clearly written, even when mixing up the timeline ... After a pirate adventure, and a study of memory, forgetfulness, magic and politics in this second book, I am very curious as to where Van Loan proceeds with the series.
PositiveTor.com... easy and immersive style ... As our point of view character, Cox...has the skills to figure out the invented fantasy realm that the mercenaries that are her escorts are much less familiar with. The novel does slip a bit here, I feel, the mercenaries feel a little more of an older generation, and a little more mundane than I would have expected. That just makes Cox all the more valuable, because this IS a situation and problem that guns can’t always solve (although the power and problem of guns are treated like dread magic weapons). But for that, Vaughn has Cox grounded ... The novel gives us a whirlwind tour of the three realms: the Realms of Sword, Shield and Arrow. Not least for reasons of copyright and rights in the book itself, but also within the world of the novel, Insula Mirabilis attempts to create a fantasy world and landscape from public domain and invented fantasy materials rather than trying to precisely be \'Tolkienland.\' That said, the three realms definitely lean on existing properties or generic ideas from the same original materials pretty heavily ... Reading the book and following Cox’s travails is immersive, but wouldn’t you want to see Robin Hood’s camp for yourself? Or visit a dwarven hall? See a unicorn? Vaughn taps into that, with her easy and page turning writing style, with delightful results. One thing that the novel does delightfully address, is that Cox might be a geek’s geek ... Questland charmed and ensorcelled me, and while I left the island, I recognized that the book stands alone, a complete and satisfyingly immersive story complete in a volume. That, too, is magic.
PositiveTor.comLeicht’s talent for action sequences comes really to the fore throughout the novel, the skills honed in previous novels really pay off here as Angel’s team gets themselves on the mission ... Leicht goes in for a lot of the tropes and gives then a shiny chrome finish. When the bullets fly, the pages especially turn. Leicht’s previous novels and taste for speed and high octane action really pay off here. I, as a reader of her previous fiction, was left wondering why she hadn’t tried her hand at this sooner ... Further, rather than making them faceless figures to stand and die, Leicht takes great pains for us to care about these ex-soldier mercenaries caught on the horns of this conflict, as well as others in the city, and also in Serrao-Orlov as well, and building the world through those characters, in sometimes unexpected ways ... I suspect that the author began with characters and the world grew out of their creation, rather than the reverse, here, because this subplot and worldbuilding by character development is the hallmark of this book. We get a slice of the universe that the author has created by the backstories of the characters, making for a complex and complicated world we get spotlights on as being relevant to the persons on the page. It’s a worldbuilding technique that makes for a somewhat akin to pointillism to give the reader the ability to form the dots to a coherent whole ... It does mean that a reader looking for large infodumps on how Leicht’s space opera universe works are going to be sorely disappointed. But it does mean the world sections we do see and experience and explore are in the end character relevant and tie into the narrative. And Leicht can’t resist fun bits like naming the AI of a ship Kurosawa, or name the town that Rosie’s Bar is in West Brynner. The book really loves its inspirational source materials even as it puts them into a new framework ... I think Persephone Station could have used a little more in different points of view to complete the circle and really make this a transcendent leap from fantasy into space opera for the author. A couple of missing points thanks to, I think, not seeing enough or certain perspectives leaves the novel for me only very very good and a great way to start 2021. Given Leicht’s style of worldbuilding and all that is introduced, and all that is left to be explored, the author certainly could put out many more novels in this verse, with or without Angel’s team. I for one would be quite eager to read them.
Erin K. Wagner
MixedTor.comAn Unnatural Life’s focus on justice, police brutality, the rule of law, and who will speak for those who are not heard has only become even more pointed and relevant by events that have occurred since it was written, and now upon its publication. For me, the strength of this work is not so much on character, or worldbuilding, but the themes and questions that it raises. Our knowledge of Aiya in the end is relatively thin, even given a novella length. There are some interesting worldbuilding bits, but those are relatively thin on the ground except where they wrap around 812-3 and how we got here ... The personal story of Aiya and her personal and costs are not quite as well rendered as the larger, global questions. They are indeed painful, but I didn’t think that they were foregrounded or laid down enough to really see and feel and connect with Aiya’s personal story as much as I would have liked ... What An Unnatural Life makes clear, even at professional and personal cost to Aiya, is that without the bravery and willingness to put oneself on the line, that arc never will bend at all. That’s a sobering and thoughtful message, for any age, especially our own.
Howard Andrew Jones
PositiveTor.comJust as the first novel threw a number of fantasy elements and tropes into the story, Upon the Flight of the Queen keeps all of that layered goodness and goes for more. This novel throws in more surprises and fantastic elements into the mix...As a writer, Jones is clearly delighting in his invention, complicating and deepening his world’s tapestry ... entertaining fun. Sieges, infiltrations, dragon riding, high magic, duels, and larger than life characters trying trying to be big damn heroes of their own story. Jones does an excellent job not only giving plenty for Elenai, Rylin and their older mentors plenty to do but to increase tensions, problems, and extending the canvas and scope of the world and the people who inhabit it. Dark things happen in the book, and its not easy sometimes to read about a population under tyranny but the heroic optimistic focus of the first book abides in this second. It would have been easy to go grimdark in the second novel, especially in the Alantris scenes, but the novel keeps its ethos and the novel is stronger for it ... continues to show the promise and strength of the author’s world, characters, style, and ethos in an excellently readable package. This is a middle novel, and although it does more than tread water waiting for the concluding volume, you still can’t start here—but readers of the first book will be well satisfied with this second installment.
S. C. Emmett
PositiveTor.comFor a 650-page epic fantasy, the cast is actually somewhat limited, focusing instead on intense and concentrated character relationships ... Readers impatient for immediate explosive results are going to be disappointed. I, however, think that the author does an excellent job in arranging matters before unleashing the full power of action, on all axes. I came to understand and sympathize with all corners of the conflicts and the various factions ... readers looking for a truly alien secondary fantasy world are going to be disappointed. The world is close to our own, the characters entirely human, and their concerns, fears and actions entirely within our ken. While individual elements are unique, Emmett/Saintcrow successfully evokes a East Asian that never was in the cultural details and touches that she brings to her world ... The world is also extremely heteronormative in terms of depicted sexuality. The book also includes footnotes, used exclusively for definitions and explanations of things to extend that rich world. As such, I don’t think they are used quite as effectively as in Alix Harrow, Jenn Lyons or Alex Rowland’s work, which are much more willing to use metatext as well ... well written, and the novel’s narrative momentum and characters carried me through to the end and I enjoyed the experience. I’d return to these characters and this world.
PositiveTor.comReading A Choir of Lies is like sitting in a room with two full length mirrors, reading the book and yet seeing reflections of yourself doing the same thing. It’s an unnerving experience, having the reflections mimic your actions, and comment on them at the same time by their presence. The reflections are inescapable, and to take as a whole, necessary to a full appreciation of the text and what it is trying to do ... It is a strange thing to read a book, to consume a story, with a commentator who believes ardently that the act of writing a story down that I can later read is a vile act ... My decision on whether I enjoy the metafictional, metatextual, cosmopolitan, erudite and engaging fantasy that Alex Rowland creates is clear–I most certainly do.
Howard Andrew Jones
PositiveTor.comThe novel’s real heart and center is the action beats and strong sense of pacing. The novel sometimes wants to hurry a bit too much to get to the next good bit, but it’s in service of getting Elenai and Rylin into the crucible of conflict, fire-forging them as they face various obstacles and setbacks. I have found a tendency in Amber-like novels to have the elder characters be over-powered and capable of everything, with the less experienced or younger characters pushed to the sidelines as observers or shadows of the major players. Happily, For the Killing of Kings manages to avoid this pitfall ... The novel doesn’t end on a good off-ramp—it’s clearly meant to be the first of a series, unapologetically, with its story only begun. But the entertainment value, and the hints of even greater revelations about the past of the iconic characters, and the world, make me very interested in how Jones continues the story.
PositiveBarnes and Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy BlogEveryone’s favorite killer cyborg returns ... this novella’s chief strength is Murderbot’s narration. Snarky, independent, and keen to be left alone, Murderbot is an AI like no other. Their quest to discover their origins only increases the depth of their character ... Wells has also shown skill writing from an alien point-of-view in her celebrated Raksura fantasy novels...and she has turned it to good effect with her title character here ... Wells realistically shows us the slow-budding, often prickly relationship between Murderbot and another artificial mind ... This volume (the first of three out in 2018) reveals more of the world, and gives us more of the worldbuilding the first novella only hinted at ... Artificial Condition answers key questions about the characters and the world and sets up mysteries to be unpacked in future installments.
PositiveTor.comThe book’s title refers not only to lies between characters, in conversation and politics, but to falsehoods within the very terrain and nature of the city itself, its establishment, nature, and ongoing existence. This approach makes for a fantastic dive into worldbuilding. It truly helps make Silastra feel like a real place that you can go and follow the trade routes and reach and explore, especially as we learn more and more about Silatra’s dark past and obscurely dark present. It also makes that aforementioned siege feel like the slowly constricting grasp around its inhabitants ... The book has a interesting, diverse, and compelling set of secondary characters ... The novel is much more than its setting and its excavation of that setting, however. You cannot succeed in this subgenre if you don’t have compelling protagonists who avoid being swallowed and consumed by the city they belong to. In this, the author mainly succeeds, although Jov comes off better than Kalina ... By the end of City of Lies, which does end a bit frustratingly without a great off-ramp, there is clear direction and room for a sequel ... Bring forth more city-state fantasy!