My first experience with author V. E. Schwab was through her middle grade/young adult novel, The Archived (which she published as Victoria Schwab) a novel that is a bit darker and subtler than one would expect given its target audience. I later listened to the excellent Vicious on audiobook and its genre-bending take on a superpowers that examine some familiar comic book tropes in new and intriguing ways. Both novels set a high bar for what I, as a reader, except from Schwab. A Darker Shade of Magic, is the most traditional of Schwab’s novels that I’ve read but with enough of her own subtle touches that it easily keeps pace with her previous work while also managing to be one of the most entertaining fantasy novels I’ve read in recent years.
End Time isn’t Keith Korman’s first novel but it appears to be his first solo novel written in quite some time. As a fan of the apocalyptic genre I was definitely intrigued by the title alone. The publisher’s description of the novel reads like a fascinating mashup of science run amok and a rising tide of supernatural occurrences. I found this to be an interesting combination and one that we don’t see too often. Unfortunately I found End Time’s combination of supernatural horror and weird science a bit too hap hazard.
I really enjoyed Daryl Gregory’s We Are All Completely Fine wherein the titular hero of Harrison Squared, Harrison Harrison, is introduced. It was a quiet, contemplative novella about monsters and scars that was equal parts heart-warming and chilling. A prequel of sorts Harrison Squared is Harrison’s origin story featuring his first brush with the supernatural. It also borrows heavily from H. P. Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth so reader’s familiar with Lovecraft’s work may be able to telegraph where the novel is going. Despite this fact (or maybe because of it) I found Harrison Squared to be an entertaining supernatural yarn.
Malice, the first book in The Faitful and the Fallen series was an entertaining debut to a new series. Valor picks up mere moments after the last novel as Corban, Edana, and the handful who escaped the taking of Dun Carreg make their getaway. As in Malice, Gwynne walks a nice middle ground with his prose. There is a darkness to Valor, with the odds stacked against the heroes and with the people (at least some of them) firmly on the “villainous” side of things not necessary villains themselves. There is violence in the novel but nothing over-the-top though Valor delves a bit further into murky waters when it comes to sexuality; a fact I’ll touch on later. By and large this is an excellent continuation of the series managing a brisk pace while simultaneously deepening the lore of the world that Gwynne has created.
California Bones by Greg Van Eekhout is the first in a new urban fantasy series that takes place in California. In the world of California Bones osteomancy is the form magic takes as power if gained through distilling and consuming the bones of other creatures. Daniel Blackland, the son of a famous osteomancer was present when his father was killed by the powerful Hierarch of Southern California (I’ll leave to your imagination exactly how he was killed). Daniel escaped and was raised in the underworld of Los Angeles where he has survived through his wits and using just enough of the magic his father taught him so as to stay beneath the Heirarch’s radar. When his estranged criminal mentor contacts him for one last job Daniel assembles an Ocean’s 11 style magical team to rob the heart of the Hierarch’s magical kingdom, the La Brea Tar Pits.
Terms of Enlistment by Marko Kloos is another new book in the military sci-fi genre from an up and coming author given a boost by solid reviews and the advent of Amazon’s new ventures into print publishing. Terms of Enlistment is a novel that falls directly in line with the likes of Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War and Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. On the Earth of 2108 life is hard. Humanity has wrecked the environment and the majority of the population is limited to living in massive crime-ridden welfare tenements. One of the only ways out of the tenements is through enlistment (the other being the colony lottery). Andrew Grayson, lacking the pull to get the most out of the colony lottery, opts for enlistment. The novel is fairly straight forward following Andrew as he makes his way through basic training and is later assigned to active duty in one of the military’s three major branches.
The superhero novel is something that’s relatively new or, at the very least, a rather specific sub-genre of the greater speculative fiction world. Tom King’s A Once Crowded Sky is a meta-fictional superhero novel. It’s an original tale but one that plays within and with the conventions and tropes of the comic book world. As a result King’s novel will likely be a bit obtuse for readers who aren’t well versed in the tropes and in-jokes of the comic book world. Indeed, one of the novel the novel’s primary themes and oft-repeated phrases that heroes “always come back” is one of the biggest and most well-known tropes of the comic book world. There have been numerous real-life comic books that have addressed, avoided, lamp-shaded, acknowledged this trope. A Once Crowded Sky tackles the effects from the death of heroes and massive change enacted by the many large crossovers that occur in the comic book world and examines them in greater detail.
While King’s novel is enhanced by illustrations from Tom Fowler (Venom, Quantum and Woody) it is a story primarily told through text rather than image. There is a part of me that wonders why A Once Crowded Sky wasn’t written as an original graphic novel. However, while there are many scenes that could be beautifully conveyed through art (and Fowler would certainly have chops to convey it) the novel’s heavy focus on the interior lives of its heroes, and the need to quickly construct a familiar yet unique comic book world, is well served via prose rather than sequential art. The novel opens in the fictional city of Arcadia where all the superheroes have given up their powers to the world’s greatest superhero Ultimate so that he could defeat the mysterious threat known only as the Blue. The only hero that refused the call to action was Ultimate’s former sidekick PenUltimate who has retired from the superhero life. Now, as Arcadia’s only hero Pen finds the call back to action growing ever louder.
Lauren Beukes’ The Shining Girls is a novel that combines the approach-ability of the mainstream novel with the complexity of time travel creating something rather unique. Opening with a chilling prologue detailing the first confrontation between our protagonist and our antagonist the novel quickly segues into what feels like a straightforward chase scene during the Great Depression. It is during this opening scene in which Harper Curtis stumbles upon the house that will change his life, a house that allows him to open the door onto just about any time and a house the contains links to the titular Shining Girls. The novel bumps back and forth between time and perspective detailing the Harper’s escapades across time, the lives of his Shining Girls, and experiences of Kirby as she embarks upon a quest to find the man who tried to kill her.
Guardian by Jack Campbell marks the first of the Lost Fleet books that I’ve read in print (the rest I’ve listened to on audio) and it was an interesting experience. Insofar as I could tell the digital galley sent to me by the publisher was a pdf or at least a very very poorly formatted mobi file. This is a fact that is inconsequential as far as the novel’s content goes but certainly makes a big difference in my enjoyment of the reading experience. The formatting wasn’t too horrible however and I speed through the novel at lightning speed. Audiobooks have the benefit of control the rate at which I consume (assuming I don’t want to increase the playback speed) fiction, however they also have the benefit of allowing me to enjoy a book a can’t put down while actually doing other things. Reading Guardian in print definitely saw my attention to other responsibilities greatly lessened as I wanted to know what was going to happen next with an almost feverish desire.
Austin Grossman’s You has drawn some comparisons to Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One from many venues but is a very different beast in many respects. While both lean on the nostalgia factor of readers You trades the frenetic action and bright palate for a more subdued story that occasionally stumbles but manages on the whole to be an engaging and entertaining read. Where Ready Player One is an open love letter to the 80s, You is a paen to a lost age an exploration on how the heart of an industry has changed over the long years.