The Pax Arcana series by Elliott James is one my favorite recent additions to the urban fantasy scene. Fearless, is the third novel in the series and continues the series excellence. One of the things that I find interesting about this series over some other urban fantasies is that its setting is particularly unmoored. John Charming’s past, particularly his having been on the run for so long, means that sense of place that for me is a strong part of the urban fantasy genre is instead refocused onto John himself and the home creates (or is trying to create) with the people he surrounds himself with. While Fearless and the Pax Arcana series buys into many of the familiar tropes of its subgenre the laser-like focus on John himself, and his peculiar brand of self-awareness, lend the series a surprisingly different feel. The uniqueness of the series is further enhanced by the menagerie of supernatural creatures that James includes throughout the series. Fearless, in particular introduces a whole new cast of creatures both terrifying and surprisingly normal from a variety of cultural backgrounds with a strong focus in Japanese mythology.
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.
Peter Clines Ex-Heroes has quickly become one my favorite series in recent years. In fact, it is just about the only zombie-related series I’m currently reading or listening to. The Ex-Heroes series takes place in a world ravaged by a tide of undead (referred to in the series as ex-humans) where the last vestiges of humanity in the Los Angeles area are defended by a group of superheroes. Throughout the series Clines has done an excellent job of creating heroes who feel similar to more familiar comic book heroes while maintaining enough originality to let them stand on their own. Together with the people they defend the heroes of Peter Clines’ series have survived numerous ordeals from battles with former L. A. gangs, the obligitory hordes of zombies, to the remnants of s secret military project. Ex-Purgatory shakes things up a bit with a bit of a cold open. Readers are introduced to a young girl in the midst of a therapy session as she discusses with her doctor the fact that every night she dreams of a world full of zombies and heroes; a world that she insists is real. Immediately after readers are thrust into the life of George Bailey, who series regulars will immediately recognize as St. George/The Mighty Dragon, however this is a George whose life is fairly normal and who lives and works in a L. A. seemingly untouched by neither zombie or apocalypse. It is a clever play, clever enough to make even me wonder if what we had read before in the previous novels was reality or dream.
I seriously enjoyed Victoria Schwab’s The Archived so I decided to give her adult novel Vicious a spin. At its most superficial Vicious is a novel about people with superpowers and how those power affect their lives. Upon close inspection Vicious is in truth a deconstruction of a superhero mythos wrapped up in a careful psychological character study of two very similar men. The comic book fan in me can’t help but note the similarities in Vicious’ story to the history between the Fantastic Four’s Reed Richards and his own arch-nemesis Victor Von Doom. While Vicious’ Eli and Victor are friends at the start of the novel their is a toxicity and volatility to their relationship that makes their eventual conflict feel almost inevitable.
The internet, in all it’s messy democratic glory, has opened up the door for not only the exploration of new formats of storytelling but also to once explore formats of old. The notion of the “serial” is nothing new from Dickens,to radio, to television, to comics it is a long lived means of telling a story. In the 21st century the proliferation of the internet, and particularly its mobility, have opened the floodgates for the serial’s return. Sean Platt and David W. Wright are the founders of Collective Inkwell where they have focused on telling serialized stories. Recently, the duo signed a deal with Amazon’s 47North which is how I came to stumble upon the audiobook version of Yesterday’s Gone: Season 1.
The Human Division is at equal measures a thrilling absolutely engaging novel and at other times wholly frustrating. By and large the latter wins out over the former and I’m willing to say that The Human Division is Scalzi at the top of his game. Originally published as a series of e-book “episodes” from January through April of 2013 The Human Division was released in its entirety in May. The Human Division encompases both the tradition of the serial novel and the advances in the series format prompted by the changing world of media entertainment (primarily television but there is a moment here and there that reminded of “the issue where the X-men play a team sport”). The Human Division typically follows a stable cast of characters with relatively few diversion from the core protagonists typically Colonial Union’s diplomatic outcasts of the Clarke advised by CDF officer Lieutenant Harry Wilson.
I won’t lie, I’m a little bit done with the whole zombie genre. The explosion of zombie related books, movies, and games over the last several years has worn me out. Every once and awhile something will draw me back to the zombie infested world. It has actually been awhile since I’ve read a zombie book; in fact I think I made a slight attempt to read Colson Whitehead’s Zone One. Aa result Peter Clines’ Ex–Heroes has likely crossed my path a couple of times without my taking any real notice. However, I decided to give the audiobook version of Ex-Heroes a shot and I’m pretty glad I did; this is an exciting mash up of superheroes and zombies with great characters and some awesome action.
Ex-Heroes and its sequel Ex-Patriots take place in a world where zombies, typically referred to in the series as ex-humans or simply exes, have essentially one. However, the world had previously seen the emergence of real superheroes from the Batman/Ozymandias mash-up Stealth to the living supernova known as Zzap the heroes run the gamut of the extraordinary and the superpowered. A group of these heroes, under the guidance of the paranoid and forward thinking Stealth, made a valiant effort to save the Los Angeles area. Having failed to slowing the emergence of ex-humans the group of heroes have gathered what survivors they could in a Hollywood studio and have done their best to survive. In addition to the threat of the ex-humans the heroes must also face the threat of a rival survivor group comprised mostly of an L.A. street gang.
Fortress Frontier by Myke Cole is the sequel to the author’s debut novel Control Point. Control Point was very much the tale of Oscar Britain and through him served to introduce the readers to the Supernatural Operations Corps. Unfortunately, this was also my problem with the novel I didn’t like Oscar. While there were times in the novel where I certainly sympathized with his plight more often than not I had serious issues with his decision making process. Fortress Frontier sees Cole broadening the scope of his world as the plot delves deeper into the various aspects of the Supernatural Operations Corps and the other “latent” people around the world.
Fortress Frontier primarily divides the story between the fugitive Oscar Britain and his crew (the former members of Shadow Coven plus the healer Teresa) and Colonel Alan Bookbinder, newly latent. The opening chapters of Fortress Frontier take place over the same time span of Control Point as Colonel Bookbinder first manifests his magic and finds himself gated out to FOB Frontier. Much like in Control Point readers get to witness the stark difference between a characters former life and their experiences in the SOC. The perspective in Fortress Frontier is shifted somewhat since Bookbinder, as an officer, offers insights into SOC operations that Oscar Britain never could. Things take a different turn as Fortress Frontier catches up with the finale of Control Point and the change of pace is refreshing.
Into the Black: Odyssey One
Evan Currie, read by Benjamin Darcie
Brilliance Audio, 2012
Evan Currie’s military science fiction space opera novel Into the Black: Odyssey One, originally self-published, was released by Amazon’s new imprint 47north back in March. The novel centers around the exploration crew of the titular Odyssey One, Earth’s first interstellar spaceship, as they embark on the first manned journey beyond the bounds of the Milky Way. The discovery of the new Transition Drive and the creation of the Odyssey One finally saw the end to a decades long war. Of course it isn’t long into this journey that the Odyssey stumbles into a new and more dangerous threat, and that is where the novel’s story truly kicks off.
Steven Brust, read by Bernard S. Clark
Audible Frontiers, 2012
The first of the Vlad Taltos novels, Jhereg, by Steven Brust has been on my “to-read” list for the better part of a decade and a half. Back in August, Audible.com released Jhereg (and just about all the other Vlad Taltos novels, via their increasingly impressive Audible Frontiers label. Jhereg introduces the readers to the assassin Vlad Taltos. Living in amongst a race of tall long-lived sorcerers called Dragaerans, Vlad has risen to a station of respect and power (if of a limited variety) despite his human heritage. Aiding Vlad in his endeavors is his Jhereg familiar Loiosh, earned after Vlad embraced the witchcraft of his human ancestors. The novel sees Vlad hired by a legendary figure called The Demon to track down a kill a thief (Mellar) who robbed the Jhereg Council (the clan that Vlad himself belongs to) of a great sum of money; so great a sum that if Mellar gets away the council will essentially be crippled.