Robert Jackson Bennett’s American Elsewhere was an interesting and complex novel that blended horror, science fiction, and the notion of the American Dream into a cohesive and entertaining whole. City of Stairs is Bennett’s first foray into more “traditional” second world fantasy. The city of Bulikov, the titular City of Stairs, was once not only infused with the magic of the gods but home to one as well. That was before the oppressed slaves from a distant land managed to find a way to kill gods and transformed themselves into a world spanning empire. With Bulikov’s patron diety dead the city’s magical nature is a thin spectre of what it once was. When a regional imperial judge is found suddenly dead the mousy, middle aged Shara Divani is sent to investigate.
Prince of Fools runs parallel, at least chronologically, to Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire trilogy. Lawrence is close to the top of my list of new(er) fantasy writers and the Broken Empire trilogy is one my favorite reads probably in the last decade so seeing a new title is exciting news. Prince Jalan is a bet far down the line from the throne currently occupied by his grandmother The Red Queen. Jalan spends his time shirking responsibility, running from conflict, and basically spending all of his considerable effort in looking out for the most important person in the world: himself. The Red Queen summons her lineage to hear the testimony of several prisoners who claim that war is coming and hear the Jalan first sees the Northman named Snorri ver Snagason. Jalan thinks little of Snorri’s tale of the dead returning to plague the living and see him for what he: potential profit in the fighting pits. Jalan’s selfish decision to suborn Snorri’s freedom sets forth a chain reaction of sort that snags the young prince and the stoic Northman in events both dangerous and dire.
I actually had to listen to this audiobook twice since I couldn’t remember if I had listened to it or not. Turns out I had but the refresher was necessary since I had seemingly forgotten quite a bit since I last checked in with Currie’s Oddysey series. While enjoyed the first novel there is a sort of generic feel to this series that is difficult to same. This is a bit of a shame since Currie sets forth some fascinating mysteries in The Heart of Matter. In the first novel Currie introduces a ship taking its maiden voyaging using an untested, instantaneous FTL drive. Of course, on this maiden voyage the Odyssey encounters a seemingly human alien species that is facing a terribly world-destroying enemy. The Heart of Matter picks up where the previous novel ended as Captain Weston and his new allies are back on Earth recovering from their ordeal against the Drasin. Fleet brass isn’t necessarily pleased that Captain Westin has embroiled Earth in yet another conflict but is at least understanding the necessity to intervene in what would have amounted to genocide. The novel sees the Odyssey retasked on a diplomatic mission to establish a more formal relationship between Earth and the Priminae people; a task that involves getting the Priminae ground forced trained and ready to face the Drasin.
I love reading series fiction. I’m less a fan of reviewing it; particularly when it comes to long-running series. When you’re looking at a trilogy this aren’t so bad but when a series is 15 books in things get difficult. Who is the review aimed at? New readers picking up Skin Game certainly aren’t going to have the same experience as long-vested fans and I’ve been reading this series so long that I’m not even sure how a new reader would react to Skin Game on its own. While Butcher’s Dresden Files don’t really break down into distinct arcs I feel like the last several novels starting with, appropriately enough, Changes have been a sort of transitional shift in narrative both in terms of Harry’s character and the focus of the plot itself. Where the early focus of the novels was primarily on Harry dealing with the magical shenanigans in and around Chicago the scope of the series has gradually broadened to encompass something much larger. It hasn’t been until the last several novels where the scope and nature of magical conflict in Harry’s world has really come into focus and I’m beginning to suspect that Butcher has something epic in store as the series winds towards its conclusion (Butcher envisions 20
“casebooks” plut a 3 book “apocalyptic trilogy“). Changes’ finale started a new chapter in Harry’s life with a single gunshot. Since then Ghost Story and Cold Days were transitional novels as Harry deals with the fallout of his decisions and actions. With Skin Game I feel like readers get the first glimpses of light at the end of a long tunnel of darkness that Harry has been travelling down. There has been a certain air of melancholy and isolation in the previous novels that is markedly present in the beginning of Skin Game but is slowly peeled away the further we get into the novel.
The Mote in God’s Eye is a classic of the genre and one of the most well regarded tales of first contact. The plot is fairly straight forward: in the future humanity has developed the ability for instantaneous transportation across the vast distances of space thus allowing the colonization of many worlds across countless systems. After a mission putting down a rebellion the vessel MacArthur is undergoing repairs and refueling when a probe from a distant system suddenly arrives. Dispatched to investigate the crew of the MacArthur find within a dead alien creature. This discovery sends the crew of the MacArthur on a mission to the distant Mote to discover the origin of the alien probe vessel.
The Strain is a book written by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan and first released in 2009. It’s the first book in a series followed by The Fall and The Night Eternal. I reviewed The Strain back in 2009 and you can check out the full review here, I also pulled in my friend Val to do another review which you can find here. If you don’t want to read both reviews let me give you the highlights. We both agreed that The Strain featured a fascinating update to the vampire myth. del Toro and Hogan took familiar elements of vampire folklore and gave them reasoned scientific approach (with the exception of the whole won’t cross running water thing) while at the same time equating the notion of vampirism with that of a virus or parasite. I found that del Toro and Hogan while having a fascinating take on vampires were not terribly great at their character creating a handful of characters that were boring and uninspired and several who were downright fascinating and woefully underexplored. By and large both Val and myself found the The Strain to be a enjoyable and entertaining update to the vampire myth.
Needless to say I was definitely excited about the prospect of The Strain as a television series. del Toro is a masterful visual artist and his distinct eye and unique vision are always a pleasure to watch. Given that the novel had a certain amount of cinematic flair to it it seemed certain that very little would have to be discarded in order to make an entertaining television show. Turns out I was a little bit wrong about that as the pilot episode of The Strain is an enormous mess.
The sequel to 2012’s Scourge of the Betrayer opens the world up quite a bit. Jeff Salyard’s expands upon the Syldoon and their culture giving readers a more in depth look at the culture and society that produced Captain Killcoin and his brothers. Picking up bare moments after the first novel Veil of the Deserter’s see’s historian/narrator Arki and his Syldoon employers holed up in an inn nursing over Captain Killcoin who still suffers under the grievous effects of his flail, Bloodsounder. With the loss of Lloi in the previous novel the Syldoon are desperately searching for a new witch to help the Captain deal with stolen memories that Bloodsounder forces upon its wielder. Unfortunately for the band of soldiers they are instead found by a pair of Syldoon memory witches, one of which is Captain Killcoin’s sister Soffjian. While part of the Syldoon power structure the members of Captain Killcoin’s company view the memory witches with distrust a fact compounded by the obvious bad blood between Captain Killcoin and his sister.
John Charming is the descendant of the renowned Charming line; famed for princess rescuing and monster slaying. Bound to defend the Pax Arcana (a magical enchantment that prevents humans from seeing the otherworldly, monstrous, and fey) John was trained, like his father, by the Knight’s Templar. Unfortunately for John his mother was bitten by a werewolf while pregnant and while she perished from the bite John was cursed with variant of lycanthropy; granting him many of the gifts and few of downfalls of being a werewolf. Despite these facts John was exiled from and sentenced to death by the Knight’s Templar and has been on the run since. Working under an assumed name John works as a bartender trying to keep a low profile to avoid the notice of the Knight. Things change when the beautiful Sig walks into his life and John is forced to confront a nest of vampires that has been growing right under his very nose.
After four planes crash simultaneously in geographically disparate locations, three child survivors emerge unscathed from the wreckage (the presence of a fourth child is possible but neither confirmed nor denied). Instant media darlings the Three, as they come to be known, are viewed as miracles by some and as harbingers of greater doom yet to come by others. The Three is presented as fact; the novel cleverly written as if it were a manuscript of a nonfiction book investigating the crash, its aftermath, and the survivors and their families. As I’ve said in the past this is a format that horror fiction leans on heavily stemming as far back as Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto in 1764 to the modern film equivalent of found-footage.
I would consider any horror novel beginning with its main character asking himself “What would Kurt Russel do?” to be well worth my attention. Thankfully, Jonathan Wood’s No Hero manages to back up his grin inducing first lines with a solid story full of interesting characters and an exciting, if somewhat bleak, world. In No Hero, Oxford police officer Arthur Wallace has a near fatal encounter with a sword wielding woman seemingly responsible for several murders across town. As he recovers from his injuries he finds out that the truth is far more complex and far more terrifying.