Book Review: “Seasons of Glass and Iron” by Amal El-Mohtar (Three Stars)

issue13coverv2_large-340x510Book Review: “Seasons of Glass and Iron” by Amal El-Mohtar

Three Stars

“What’s strong is the shoes women are made to wear: shoes of glass, shoes of paper, shoes of iron. Heated red hot; shoes to dance to death in.”

Good story. Well-developed. A finalist for 2017 Hugo Award for short stories.

“Magic is magic is magic and there is always a stronger magic.”

Contrary to the tag, not a “gay” story. It’s a story “about two women reaching out of their respective tales,” the author says in her notes. “The enormity of what friendship means.” I try to read stories cold–that is, without reading liner notes, blurbs or other reviews–because I don’t want the opinions of others getting between me and the author.

“You climbed a glass hill by accident.”

Goodreads.com displays the cover art associated with another story is shown for this. I assume because both stories appear in the same issue of Uncanny magazine. It fit the other story better.

“She loved him for loving her as he loved no one else.”

Book Review: All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders (Five Stars)


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Five Stars

“We don’t need better emotional communication from machines. We need people to have more empathy.”

The Two Cultures meets American Gods.

“Sometimes I wish I was crazy, it would make everything easier.”

The final war between magic and science happens in San Francisco. Seriously good fiction about magic, science, love and machines. Oh, and the end of the world.

“Children are adults who haven’t learned to make fear their hand puppet.”

Excellent character development and plotting. Drew readers in without boring us with four years of magic academy. Philosophic reflection over Continue reading

Book Review: The Tomato Thief (Jackalope Wives #2) by Ursula Vernon (Four Stars)

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Book Review: “The Tomato Thief” (Jackalope Wives #2) by Ursula Vernon

Four Stars

“When someone in the desert asks for water, you give it to them. There weren’t many rules in the desert, but that was one of them.”

Good use of Arizona native and desert history and lore to add depth to this short story, a 2017 Hugo Awards finalist for novelettes. Another story with a mature–very mature–female protagonist. There must be a special on them this year. (They’re special every year.)

“There’d been a time, when she was young and immortal, when [redacted] she could have danced in the track that they left in the sand. She felt old and mortal now.”

Excellent slow slide from the mundane into the supernatural.

“‘I ain’t dying yet,’ and that may or may not have been a lie. She wasn’t quite sure.”

Book Review: The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle (One Star)

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Book Review: The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle

One Star

“Mankind didn’t make messes; mankind was the mess.”

Fantasy historical fiction. I wouldn’t have finished this once I realized what kind of story it was, but felt constrained to read it all if I was to vote on it for the 2017 Hugo Awards. Can’t conceive why it was nominated, much less became a finalist.

“He thought of himself as an entertainer. Others … called him a scammer, a swindler, a con, but he never thought of himself this way. No charlatan ever did.”

Good storytelling, good character development and good voice. Good sense of time and place, which gradually–then with increasing speed–veers into the horrible. Shifting away from the main character propels the story, but dilutes the impact. If this is set in the Lovecraft universe, LaValle has done me a favor by warning me away forever.

“Walking through Harlem first thing in the morning was like being a single drop of blood inside an enormous body that was waking up.”

I don’t normally post negative reviews, but I am reviewing all the 2017 Hugo novella finalists. Not fair to the others to pass over this one just because I don’t recommend anyone read it, let alone vote for it.

“There was more to this world than what we touch to taste or see. His time as a detective made him sure of this.”

Book Review: A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson (One Star)

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Book Review: A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson

One Star

[Spoilers follow]

“No one is guilty … the guilty exist, but they are also human beings, just like their victims.” Joseph Brodsky

What a waste. This isn’t science fiction or fantasy. It’s a sappy, regency romance with boys. Tries to fill all the diversity squares hoping perhaps its political correctness gives it protected status.

“It feels as if there were a … whole episode missing from my memory of that day. As if asleep I can remember it, but once awake the event slides away.”

Had to force myself through it. Nothing to grab or hold my attention. Wilson repeats and clarifies his plot device lest we miss it in his tangled chronology. Nice, relevant cover art.

“Men and women, side by side, yet further apart than this earth’s from the stars.”

Aside from not being of sufficient quality to recommend to others, this story hardly qualifies as a Hugo Award finalist.

“It’s you who are the dream, that other man who is flesh and real, the dreamer.”

Book Review: Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire (Two Stars)

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Book Review: Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Two Stars

“The only one who gets to tell you how your story ends is you.”

What happened to Alice and Wendy after they returned from Wonderland and Neverland? What if all the Narnias and Fillories were real? What if there were so many worlds that their differing natures could be plotted along a graph with virtue–evil and logic–nonsense axes? What if the hundreds of children who had visited them lived among us? How would they live in the mundane world, knowing a magic kingdom still called? Such is the premise of Every Heart a Doorway.

“Now I know that if you open the right door at the right time, you might finally finds a place where you belong.”

Skip the “There Was a Little Girl” prologue and be drawn into a home for such disaffected children through the eyes of Continue reading

Book Review: Penric and the Shaman by Lois McMaster Bujold (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Penric and the Shaman (Penric and Desdemona #2) by Lois McMaster Bujold

Four Stars

“Sharing my life with a two-hundred-year-old demon with twelve personalities speaking six languages and an underlying yen to destroy everything in her path …. Try me.”

Wanted to like this, and did. This is my first Bujold fantasy. She delivers the same mix of characters you care about, even the villains, and fine storytelling.

“His powers had not wholly deserted him in craven company with his hope, faith and courage.”

Awesome descriptive ability. With a few words, she takes you right there. Into the scene, into the action, into the mind and heart of the point of view characters.

“Everyone talks to the gods, no one expects them to answer … almost no one.”

Fascinating take on a culture with a fully-developed spiritual dimension. One which occasionally intersects with Continue reading

Book Review: The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson

Four Stars

“Some people change the world, and some people change the people who change the world.”

A well-told, if predictable adventure fantasy. Good development and voice. I really like this story. Finalist for 2017 Hugo for novellas.

“When were women anything but footnotes to men’s tales?”

Unique in that the protagonist is not only female, but a mature woman. And she acts it.

“This is what life is, then. Doing things you hate. I’ll do it. Of course. It’s the right thing.”

I love maps in fantasy stories, however the map in the ebook edition was unreadable. Nice cover art.

“Vellitt waited.”

Book Review: Traitor’s Blade by Sebastien de Castell (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Traitor’s Blade (Greatcoats #1) by Sebastien de Castell

Four Stars

“Make no mistake, girl, the end of this road is a shallow, dirty ditch with your corpse in it.”

Swords and sorcery, with emphasis on swords. Three Musketeers meets Ryria. Improbably good (and lucky) protagonist against most of the world, with a dash of humor. Good voice, good plotting, good pace.

“Unfortunately, my need to live up to his expectations of me has always been slightly stronger than my desire to pinch him in the face.”

Told from the perspective of the leader of the disbanded and disgraced Greatcoats of the deceased king of a small country now run by the dukes as their personal toy. Knights in shining armor are bad guys. Mages are mostly bad news. And he can’t get a break.

“And people ask me why I hate magic.”

Brings this first installment to a satisfying conclusion while setting many hooks for the following tales.

“He looked scared, but he looked solid, and I guess that’s what brave looks like.”

Love the cover art of the hard cover edition, but the credit inside the book leads to a Munich ad agency. Maybe, but …?

“If there is one thing I’ve learned in life, it was that honor just gets you into trouble.”

Book Review: Seven Forges by James A. Moore (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Seven Forges (Seven Forges #1) by James A. Moore

Four Stars

“Every life is forged. We start with raw materials, and we are made stronger by the forging of life.”

Not your typical swords-and-sorcery fantasy. Oh, it starts like one, but evolves into something much deeper and richer. Big, gritty and brutal. A clash of cultures seen mostly from the side of the one which thinks it’s superior. A failure to communicate on many levels, intentionally.

“If I live through meeting my destiny, you might need to get out of here in a hurry.”

Realistic characters–well, some of them. Close and intense immersion into their point of view. They have trouble learning languages, though they learn combat skills too easily; they forget; they don’t know everything; even when it’s their job and supposedly position to know everything. People you care about turn or die.

“Hate was a foolish waste of energy. So, too, anger at what was already done.”

Cliffhanger ending, but the first installment was still a satisfying whole.

“It was hard to say which was more exquisite, the torture of shattered hands or the broken heart. Poets and physicians each have their own answers.”