RaveBookPageRelentlessly cynical and sarcastic, Mat Johnson\'s Invisible Things offers sociopolitical commentary wrapped in the trappings of a classic space adventure ... avoids soapbox territory as Johnson focuses instead on engaging, often funny conflicts between his well-drawn characters while the plot circles around two key questions: Will New Roanoke\'s inhabitants and the crew of the Delany band together to escape the colony? And who put them there in the first place? The intriguing mystery combined with Johnson\'s irreverent sense of humor make it easy for the reader to engage with the satirical elements—a refreshing trait given that social commentary in modern sci-fi is often either watered down, thrown in by default or both ... a wonderful sci-fi ride full of lovable characters that dissects modern American capitalism with a barbed, sardonic wit.
PositiveBookPageRather than overwhelming the reader with multiple plotlines and a sprawling cast of characters, The Stardust Thief focuses on its central trio and the locales they visit. The various settings never feel empty or underpainted, especially in the sections told from Prince Mazen’s perspective: Forced to live cooped up in the palace for most of his life, his eager delight at finally experiencing the broader world is infectious. As the party draws closer to the lamp, Abdullah slowly unveils new truths about this world, resulting in a narrative that grows richer as it intensifies in pace. With each revelation, from the nature of relics to the existence of ifrit (hyperpowerful jinn), Abdullah propels the reader forward, heightening anticipation for what the next few pages will bring ... Loulie, Aisha and Mazen are drawn in exacting detail, with all their strengths, faults and feelings on full display, and The Stardust Thief is full of captivating intrapersonal conflict. Abdullah does a fine job creating realistic protagonists with clear differences and opposing philosophies: Loulie despises the task she has been given, Aisha despises the work Loulie does and Mazen just wants everyone to stop fighting ... an enjoyable read that slowly enchants its readers.
PositiveBookPageThe realistic rifts between characters, conveyed via broody monologuing from each unique perspective, allow readers to compare each person’s opinions, providing a rich depth of relationships for readers to explore despite the relatively limited core cast. Last Exit has a relentlessly oppressive atmosphere, with the rot barely giving Zelda and her companions room to recover, but the compelling protagonists keep things engaging ... Gladstone avoids in-depth detail, leaving the reader to conceptualize a scene by leaning on their imagination (their spin, you might say) to flesh out the details ... a book enriched through sharing; it’s easy to see a book club discussing their varied interpretations of this phrase ... The beginning of Last Exit feels like the start of an archeologist’s excavation: new clues are popping up in unexpected places and nothing makes sense. But that process of discovery and excavation is where Gladstone’s novel shines, as each chapter revises and adjusts the reader’s understanding. By the end of the book, their individual vision of Gladstone’s world reaches something like clarity, enough for the intrepid archeologist to piece together most of the picture. While not a light undertaking, Last Exit is a satisfying read for those with a lot of imagination—and a little spin.
PositiveBookPage... a brooding horror story that incorporates Japanese mythology in colorful, excruciating detail, including spirits such as yōkai and bake-danuki in addition to the malicious, ghostly bride. Cat’s relative familiarity with Japanese culture (she is Chinese and grew up in Malaysia) means that she is quick to identify certain beings but doesn’t spend unrealistic amounts of time explaining significant details for the audience, a careful balance of clarity and obscurity that will appeal to Japanese horror aficionados and newcomers alike ... Khaw builds horror slowly and evenly. Rather than sporadically appearing to frighten and terrorize the young squad of not-quite-friends, the spirits of the house appear with steadily increasing frequency until they are simply present in every scene. By the novella’s climax, the tension has increased to such an unbearable degree that the final burst of violence is more expected than surprising ... Readers looking for bite-size horror on a stormy night will appreciate Khaw’s twisted tale of foolish young adults, all of whom are poorly prepared for the effects their decisions will have on their psyches (and lives).
Peter F. Hamilton and Gareth L. Powell
RaveBookPageDespite its short length, Light Chaser plunges into both soul-bound, possibly fated love and universe-spanning conspiracies. Readers who love unique science fiction settings will enjoy how Hamilton and Powell reveal new worlds with each new chapter. Both world building and suspense increase in tandem, complexity and depth building throughout the story while each new reveal amps up the tension. An ideal read for a flight or a cozy afternoon at home, Light Chaser will make an afternoon seem like minutes.
PositiveBookPageEven readers unfamiliar with Staveley’s earlier books will enjoy this lengthy, immersive fantasy ... The world of The Empire’s Ruin is unremittingly bleak, and while Staveley embraces the physical violence that’s all too common in this world, he focuses far more on the psychological impact of living in a crumbling society ... At times, this focus on introspection can make certain sections feel interminable. And while this feels like an intentional choice on Staveley’s part, to demonstrate each character’s narrow focus on their own struggles, it does hurt the book’s overall pacing. But by the end of The Empire’s Ruin, most readers will still be itching for more. Those looking for a thoughtful, dark fantasy with action and well-earned twists would do well to pick this one up.
P Djèlí Clark
PositiveBookPage... the literary equivalent of a cup of lovely mint tea: a refreshing, delightful and magical mystery to enjoy while absorbing vitamin D on a crisp spring day ... smooth and welcoming ... provides the perfect amount of fan service to engage returning fans without alienating new readers ... Clark’s characters have wholesome, wonderful interactions with each other, never waiting long to address their interpersonal conflicts and always resolving on friendly terms. \'Friendly\' is an apt description of the book as a whole. While there is certainly conflict, tension and danger in A Master of Djinn, the reader will find themselves propelled along through the book by the likeability and relatability of Fatma. Even if you guess the plot’s various twists and turns, Fatma’s endearing style, gruffness and no-nonsense approach make A Master of Djinn worth reading ... While A Master of Djinn admittedly breaks little new ground, Clark has created an engaging mystery and a vivid world with intrigue, arcane secrets and an epic climax.
RaveBookPage... well-executed ... Lostetter brings together a cast of relatable, remarkably human characters across three separate timelines to tell a beautiful story of struggle, loss and, eventually, triumph ... While the setting is rich and full of layered, complex culture, the core draw of The Helm of Midnight lies in its characters and their plights ... While clearly setting up for a series, Lostetter tells a complete and satisfying story within the 400 or so pages of The Helm of Midnight. Tears, smiles and surprise await any reader that opens this book.
RaveBookPageWe Could be Heroes by Mike Chen is a refreshing, light take on the superhero origin story ... heartfelt interactions and charming dialogue are the backbone of We Could Be Heroes ... a well written, elegantly structured tale of joy and friendship.
PositiveBookPageLeicht takes influence from cyberpunk novels and Star Trek, pulling together an action-packed plot ... Persephone Station gathers narrative speed with all the grace of a snowball rolling downhill in an old cartoon, sliding and bounding from the moment our heroes find themselves in over their heads, which happens almost immediately ... Leicht has crafted a fully imagined world that functions like a living, breathing member of the story. Various aspects of the world beyond Persephone bleed into the story, but never in a way that feels cheap or unearned ... The highly likeable characters help balance Persephone Station’s erratic pacing ... a positive, entertaining story of grit and determination in which the will to do good prevails despite great cost.
Yoss Tr. by David Frye
PositiveBookPage... a simple, elegant narrative ... Yoss goes beyond a reliance on overused storytelling methods to craft an entire story from overwrought science fiction tropes slamming into detective noir cliches. The premise should make for a predictable story at best. However, Yoss’ choice of narrator and ability to converse with the reader make Red Dust a breezy, fun read perfect for summer afternoons ... With its copious amounts of cliche, a reader could easily lose interest or find themselves unattached to characters in Red Dust. Raymond, however, keeps the reader engaged, sarcastically pointing out obvious literary references as they happen. The first-person narrative shatters the fourth wall with constant, direct allusions to the story’s noir influences. The resultant quirky lightheartedness creates the feeling of watching a cheesy movie with a good friend, joking about each plot hole and contradiction. As a result, the plot holes don’t matter, and the contradictions are fun instead of frustrating ... If you are looking for either hard science fiction or gritty noir mystery, Red Dust is not for you. If you want to peruse those worlds through a rosy tint and listen to the narration of a sardonic positronic companion, then this book will happily fill a short few hours of your time.
PositiveBookPageThe Tower of Fools by Andrzej Sapkowski will be a fitting read for an enterprising European history enthusiast ... The Tower of Fools brings readers into a richly referential world of Christian history as it casually dissects the events leading to the Protestant Reformation ... While the book is strongly grounded in the real events and politics of Catholic history in Europe, Sapkowski delights in depicting a range of magical abilities and creatures in his version of medieval Europe ... Sapkowski’s primary draw is his ability to weave rich historical context with a complex atmosphere of magic and superstition ... The Tower of Fools is not an easy read, but it’s quite rewarding for readers ready to take the plunge.
RaveBookPageReaders will be riveted by powerful world building and deep characterization for the entirety of Rebecca Roanhorse’s Black Sun. Right from the start, the story is on the clock ... While there are a few twists and turns to the plot, Roanhorse paints her story in broad, easy-to-follow strokes, the action serving almost as backdrop upon which to paint her world and to enrich her characters ... attention to detail in character voice creates an engaging story that keeps the reader in the moment through shifting narrative lenses. The world of Black Sun is well built ... Roanhorse’s humanization of Black Sun\'s characters creates genuine connection for the reader, even with the Sun Priestess, despite any lack of sun-star divination skills the reader might have. Also, this book has extremely cool magic ... Readers looking for an open-and-shut story will not find it here. As referenced before, the story is a set piece for the characters to interact with the setting and each other, but there is plenty of fascinating interplay and world building to keep readers engaged and entertained from start to finish.
Erin K. Wagner
PositiveBookPageWagner lets the story unfold in a passive, third-person voice, creating an atmosphere more reminiscent of nonfiction and biography than science fiction. Events play out as if a neutral party were merely reading the thoughts of Aiya, or calmly dictating her actions. As a result, no moral question or dilemma is resolved or answered by the narrative; the reader is left to ponder these questions themselves. This documentarian voice allows Wagner to paint with the brush of a journalist, depicting events clearly and factually. Feelings of disgust, fear or suspense in the reader are neutralized in favor of thoughtful inquiry measured with reasonable skepticism. Similar to most nonfiction explorations of modern events, An Unnatural Life eschews a normal, tidy ending for one that is more realistic. While Aiya’s emotional and social journey is certainly not uneventful, Wagner’s nihilistic take on the state of humanity does not leave room for much to change by the end of the story ... [the] subplot gives the novella an interesting cadence as it bounces the reader between suspenseful exploration and courtroom politicking, sometimes within the space of two paragraphs. An Unnatural Life will appeal to the philosopher within its audience, those who want to cozy up and consider a lightly challenging moral and ethical dilemma.
PositiveBookPageExploring mental illness via ’80s cyberpunk-action vignettes is no easy task, but Ferrett Steinmetz’s Automatic Reload accomplishes it with panache ... . I appreciated that Automatic Reload does not try to \'cure\' Mat or Sylvia. Instead, the narrative leans into their coping methods and allows the characters to work through their pain and trauma. Since most of the plot happens over the course of one day, Steinmetz’s lack of chapter breaks creates a chaotic, stressful pace for readers. You’ll want to read this book in 100-page segments, pausing only when you reach one of Steinmetz’s act breaks. I enjoyed the structure of the book and Steinmetz’s frenetic writing style, but this is certainly not a book for light reading ... perfect for anyone looking for a lighter take on cyberpunk stories ... a fun and engaging read.
PositiveBookPageKerr recreates the feeling of that rose-tinted romp, full of triumph and camaraderie ... a lovely quest with an ever-optimistic, wholeheartedly enthusiastic crew of brilliant women and chivalrous men ... Kerr spends just enough time describing the world to let the reader know the important points ... there’s enough anachronistic attachment to writing, laws and education to make the plot an intriguing mix of political protest, violence and legal procedure ... With a lightly magical, extremely familiar setting and lovable cast of characters, Kerr sets out to take the reader through the Kingdom of Deverry’s evolution to a (hopefully) more just world. She doles out plot points via chatty gossip between noble families and secret messages sent by way of servants. At no point, however, does Sword of Fire contain any real tension. Kerr tells a delightful, relentlessly joyful story; all anxiety is resolved within six pages of its introduction ... Meandering through the pages of Kerr’s Sword of Fire was escapism of the finest quality. For readers looking for a dark drama of epic proportions, these 380 pages will hold nothing for you. Here, you will only find charming banter, happy endings and optimism in prose form.
S. C. Emmett
PositiveBookPage... characters’ reactions and facial tells are artfully crafted, conveying each aspect of social interaction with incredible detail and precision ... The political plot moves slowly, but peeling each layer of conversational detail will keep readers consistently interested. The sheer number of players on the board results in a near-endless web of relationships ... There is a serious learning curve through the first 100 pages (you really should see how many sticky notes I used), but the Zhaon empire and the kingdom of Khir are well worth exploring, despite the time investment required. The world is constructed well: Color is added to the world for context, never dumped on readers like an unfriendly reminder of history class from high school. Inserting colloquial names for plants, creatures and roles is a favorite trope of mine, and Emmett employs it liberally, if a mite too much ... The world feels real and expansive, complete with implied trade relations, a rich diversity of culture and five languages ... will appeal to patient readers; the quick-witted banter of modern superhero movies is nowhere to be found within its pages. Instead of fencing with quick verbal stabs and sardonic ripostes, Yala and crew are brutally sharp social gunfighters, holding their draws, each of their statements spoken with lethal concision. Those without such patience are almost always vulnerable and open to attack from more skilled fighters. Moving through Emmett’s socio-political fantasy drama is quite an undertaking, but definitely one worth attempting.
Ashok K Banker
PositiveBookPageBanker’s world is colorful, full of lush forests, endless deserts and wide-spanning mountain ranges. Each page is filled with vivid depictions of people, places and vistas, easily living up to the novel’s inspiration, the Mahabharata ... While this structure can take some adjustment, especially for readers used to the orderly, chronological storytelling of modern fiction, Banker uses it to surprise and push the reader out of their comfort zone. I grew used to and enjoyed the rhythm of book’s pacing by the end, and anticipating and preparing myself for the next narrator was an enjoyable game ... Banker takes his time to begin weaving this very long tale, clearly setting the stage for the next book, and with so many unresolved loose ends, I’ll probably have to grab a notebook to keep track of them all ... It’s rare to come upon a volume of fiction that manages to set a grand ambition and meet it. While Upon a Burning Throne does not quite deliver the resolution within its pages, it does an incredible job of setting the stage for a dense series that is sure to be well worth the massive time investment.
PositiveBookPage\"A nearly perfect representation of a game of Dungeons and Dragons come to life. A fighter, wizard, cleric and a rogue encounter dragons, magic and much more within the pages of Dalglish’s delightful romp. Tension and action set in right from the beginning of Devin the Soulkeeper’s journey, and the overall sense of unease permeates the book throughout ... Every classic fantasy trope can be found in Soulkeeper’s world, called the Cradle, each with its own twist ... an excellent companion to rainy March days, despite the fact that Dalglish does not shy away from vividly described gore and violence. In the span of twenty pages, Dalglish allows his characters to enjoy days of uninterrupted, wholesome fun and incredible bouts of depression and anxiety. One might think that such quick swings would cause emotional whiplash, but Dalglish handles the pacing well, creating genuine characters with realistic emotional depth. Each protagonist is goodhearted and caring in a way that is increasingly rare in the era of Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead, and I often found myself chuckling or snickering at Dalglish’s lowbrow humor ... brought me back to the nostalgia I had during that first game of Dungeons and Dragons: a sense of wonder, exploration and camaraderie difficult to find anywhere else.\
Charlie Jane Anders
PositiveBookPage\"I never thought I would describe a book as painting a story entirely in different shades of anxiety, but Anders nails the feelings of claustrophobia, fear of acceptance, inferiority and loss of identity all in the span of 360 pages ... The City in the Middle of the Night does not end cleanly, and perhaps it’s fitting that a story so well grounded in realistic and relatable protagonists ends with such an unsatisfying tilt. In this novel, Anders has lovingly crafted a unique world, and finishes with a wild twist that left me endlessly interested in the next book of the series.\
PositiveBookPage\"With a fluid incorporation of Russian diminutives and references, Arden wonderfully blends Russian culture into her novel. Conversations are brought to life in a realistic and relatable fashion, even when half the participants are devilish fey creatures ... Arden writes the mystical and mysterious forces of her fey world well, and keeps the reader engaged with its mysteries. But in answering almost every possible question I could have had, Arden removes that mysticism from the setting. Some readers may find they like a tidy ending, but for a book fraught with sacrifice and cost at every turn, I would have liked to see an ending just as messy. However, The Winter of the Witch was a fantastic way to end my literary year... and I would highly recommend it.\
PositiveBookpageRichard Baker’s Restless Lightning is a wonderful, delectable bucket of vanilla ice cream, set in an idealistic vision of a future age of space exploration. Baker is not afraid to flood the reader with alien and military lingo, flexing twenty-five years of experience designing tabletop role playing games for industry titan Wizards of the Coast. The dearth of unexplained vocabulary avoids obstructing the flow of the story, instead creating a pseudo-realistic atmosphere a la Star Trek ... this book takes a rose-colored detour to a universe where every character has the best intentions ... the only weak aspects of this novel are some poorly timed flashback sequences, where Sikander North faces demons of his past. These sequences try to bring depth to North as a protagonist, but unfortunately end up hurting the story’s otherwise smooth plot. These sections are thankfully few and far between. Four hundred pages later, Baker’s space romp concludes with a space battle, foot chase and an explosion, as it should. Wrapped up in a pretty pink bow, Restless Lightning is a fun fireside read, perfect to break up the stresses of everyday life.