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


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)


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.”


Book Review: Spellsinger by Alan Dean Foster (Three Stars)

Book Review: Spellsinger (Spellsinger #1) Alan Dean Foster

Three Stars

“The strange quasi-science [he] called magic. Or was the wizard right and science was really quasi-magic?”

Dreadfully slow pace. Almost quit after fifty pages; almost quit again fifty pages from the end when I realized nothing was going to happen in this volume. This story merely introduces the characters, world and issue for the greater series. Still, Foster tells a good story.

“This land he now found himself in was no more alien-appearing than Amazonian Peru, and considerably less so than Manhattan.”

Populating his world with human-like mammals is automatically works against stereotypes. In addition, Foster works counter expectations with an artsy male, who is repelled by the fantasy work he’s been thrown into, and an athletic female who embraces it.

“The appetite for evil far exceeds that of the benign.”

Many readers love these never-ending tales; I don’t. I won’t be back.

“It wouldn’t be any fun if it didn’t have any danger.”

Book Review: Hunter by Mercedes Lackey Three Stars


Book Review: Hunter (Hunter #1) by Mercedes Lackey

Three Stars

“This wasn’t a job you picked, it’s a job that picks you.”

Lost a star in the last fifty pages. Great setup. Great storytelling. Good world building, wonderful voice and emerging character for the narrator, then shifted focus to an artificial “test” and a fake ending, obviously expecting readers to rush to buy the next volume. Note to writers: you have to deliver the goods–at least some goods–in the first book or no one will buy the rest.

“Guilt and self-loathing tend to make you cranky.”

The premise: what if all the evil spirits of all world traditions were real. And what if Continue reading

Book Review: “Little Wren and the Big Forest” by Michael J. Sullivan (Three Stars)

Book Review: “Little Wren and the Big Forest” by Michael J. Sullivan

Three Stars

“That was the nature of the forest. Things went in and never came out.”

A brief excursion into the greater world of Sullivan’s First Empire. This short story appears in Unfettered II, but I got it separately, so I’m reviewing independently. Not up to the quality of most Sullivan fiction, but a fun read.

“Naive. Innocent. Dumb. Maybe, Wren thought as she followed the sheep, but I’m not a coward.”

A modern fairy tale heroine. Pretty introspective for an eight-year-old.

“The moment you thought of something terrible, that’s exactly what would happen.”

Book Review: The Falling Woman by Pat Murphy (Four Stars)

Book Review: The Falling Woman by Pat Murphy

Four Stars

“Each culture defines its idiosyncrasies and then forgets it has done so.”

Maybe 4.5 stars. An exceptionally fine story which defies neat genre assignment. It won a Nebula Award, so I feel somewhat safe calling it fantasy, but this is a great, thought-provoking tale for any reader.

“One frightens oneself; it is not the shadow that frightens us.”

Published in 1986, it argues against the proposition that women didn’t write or weren’t recognized for writing first-class fantasy and science fiction. In fact, all the major characters of this tale are women. The men seem included for merely verisimilitude.

“Archeologists are anthropologists who don’t like people.”

Much good information about the ancient Mayans and the field of archeology, without the clumsy data dumps so intrusive in so many novels. It also explores how mothers and daughters have extra power to drive each other crazy and/or help each other out of it. Good job.

“Many people we call insane are just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Quibble: The paragraphing is so awkward that the reader must often stop to puzzle out who is acting or speaking the actor often changes midway through paragraphs.

“The dead teach us things.”

Book Review: Unbound, Shawn Speakman, editor (Three Stars)


Book Review: Unbound: Tales by the Masters of Fantasy, Shawn Speakman, editor

Three Stars

“The world conspires to take everything from us in the end.”

Like most anthologies the junk outweighs the jewels, but in this case the good stories are very good: worth the price of the whole collection. I’ll ignore the garbage and review the gems. Skip the first two, they’re trash. If there’s a theme to this collection, other than raising money for authors with medical bills, is that these are stories about story.

“To cling to common wisdom, no matter the evidence right in front of one’s nose, was an affliction as old as love.”

By far the best story in the set is “The Game” by Michael J. Sullivan. If you read no other, read this one. It’s the best take on “Dial ‘F’ for Frankenstein” I’ve seen in decades.

“Ignore it the way all rational men ignore all irrational things.”

“Jury Duty” by Jim Butcher is great if you like Dresden Files, which I do.

“No man’s an island. Not even the ones that think they are. Especially not them.”

“Uncharming” by Delilah S. Dawson started so bad, I almost quit. But it got better–much better.

Nice cover art. I don’t see a credit for it, but it’s good.

“Stories brought relief, comfort, and hope.”

Book Review: The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu (Three Stars)


Book Review: The Grace of Kings (Dandelion Dynasty #1) by Ken Liu

Three Stars

“A bright, tenacious flower will not bloom in obscurity.”

Both the book and the author demonstrate the potential for greatness, as reflected by its winning several notable awards. However, despite being over six hundred pages, it feels rushed. Liu tries to create a world and fully develop all the players in a major turning point of history. He almost succeeds.

“All the works of men must be trivial in the fullness of time.”

Medieval culture on cusp of industrial revolution, geography like Japan though the culture seems more Chinese, I’ve heard it called silkpunk. As in Homer, the gods exist but don’t directly act. They meddle as forces of nature and impersonations of common people.

“Understanding nature is as close as man can get to understanding the gods.”

The underlying thesis is that conflicting views of reality, values, and perceptions lead inevitably to conflicts. Common enemies may produce common goals, but even those you love are Continue reading

Book Review: The Drawing of the Dark by Tim Powers (Three Stars)

Book Review: The Drawing of the Dark by Tim Powers

Three Stars

“The next step is always unimaginable until it’s occurred.”

Variations of Arthurian legend has been a cottage industry of western literature for almost a millennia. Power’s take is innovative and well-developed. That his sixteenth century embodiment of the Briton hero is egotistic and a rogue fits the pattern. The melding of the fantastic and the historic worked, mostly. A nod to the history of beer.

“I never used to think much of coincidences, but these days I practically trip over them in the street.”

Quibbles: Modern vocabulary jars the reader out of the sixteenth century setting. Words like bouncer, toast, sleeping bag, bowling pins. A week and a half to travel from Trieste to Vienna? I wouldn’t count on rusty, old chain mail to stop a rapier thrust.

“A morning for a nigh-density volley of prayers.”

The story telling was better than the rating implies, but it’s been done.

“Am I one of the cards? Or a coin in the pot?”

Book Review: Flatlander by David Niven (Three Stars)

Book Review: Flatlander by David Niven

Three Stars

“The thing about poetic justice is that it requires a poet.”

A series of self-contained mysteries involving a man with extra sensory powers a hundred years in the future. Most of the stories involve some sort of locked-room crime which Gil Hamilton must solve, often at personal risk, using his “imaginary arm.” Our hero is clueless about females but, unlike Mike Hammer, sensitive to three sets of ethics confusing lunie morals.

“Having a hole shot through him can make a man think.”

One unique problem of writing science fiction about the future is the pace of technological innovation now. These stories are only twenty years old, but read as if they were written half a century earlier. Niven’s twenty-second century protagonist lacks many abilities you take for granted: cell phones, the internet, for example. Though his “programming” information searches sounds a lot like googling. Data bases are still seen to be separate, restricted with the go-to information source being a 180-year-old man.

“Having babies is basic.”

Also, from the perspective of 1995, Niven foresaw world population of eighteen billion, resulting is a kind of subsistence-level existence for many. “I don’t see how we can avoid the crowding or the rigid dictatorial population control without the blessing of a major war or plague.” Malthus has at least one disciple. In contrast, even China has abandoned its draconian one-child policy. World population has not yet stabilize (and a lot could go wrong even then), but it appears that world population will peak nearer ten billion. Body part transplants play a major role in several tales, as he explores the morality of harvesting parts from unwilling donors. Niven claims, “India has been disassembling condemned criminals for transplants since 1964.”

“Nobody looks like a killer when he’s asleep.”

Side note: Niven assumes believe the great discovers will still be made by brilliant, if eccentric people like Howard Hughes and Albert Einstein.

Quibbles: A lunar landing would not “pass north of the city and curved around.” A high-powered continuous wave laser would explode flesh, not neatly slice it. (Seen Star Wars too many times.)

“Criminals don’t like locked doors.”