Book Review: The Librarian of Crooked Lane by C.J. Archer (3.5 stars)

Book Review: The Librarian of Crooked Lane: A Fantasy Mystery Novel (The Glass Library #1) by C.J. Archer (3.5 stars)

“Sir, I need to understand where I come from.”

Historical fiction with magic. Set in post-Great War, post-pandemic London focusing on how those who survived adjusted. Or didn’t. Beyond the main characters, the cast lapses into stereotypes.

Willie exploded with a string of expletives until Cyclops ordered her to pipe down. She fell into a stroppy silence.

Quibbles: protagonist is smart and clueless simultaneously. The risk she puts rare books into is as appalling as those to which she subjects herself. “Ain’t” doesn’t make an American accent. Willie was the most unconvincing character.

Daisy had warned me that men who had everything handed to them in life didn’t understand the realities of the world for the rest of us. In this instance, she might be right.

Plenty of hooks into the next story, but a satisfactory conclusion to this book. Mysteries aren’t my cup of tea, but Archer threw in enough confusion and misdirection to keep the detectives (and readers) confused.

… should have kept alert as I walked alone through a quiet lane.

Book Review: The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson (three stars)

Book Review: The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson (three stars)

She would change nothing about herself. It was lucky, she thought, lucky she had learned so early that there was no solid ground.

Wonderful historical fantasy. Female protagonist well drawn and developed. Enough angst to be relatable; enough chutzpah to be entertaining. Finding truth in a world of liars. Several redemption tales.

“When God really wants to test you, He gives you exactly what you desire,”

Good sense of time and place, marred by modern attitudes superimposed on medieval history. Fantasy version of tolerant Islamic Granada versus totalitarian Spanish Reconquista.

“No one offers me peace or safety except to keep me as a possession,” she said aloud. “No one reaches out to me except to take what little I have.”

Book Review: The Adams Gambit: A Thieftaker Novella by D. B. Jackson (four stars)

Book Review: The Adams Gambit: A Thieftaker Novella by D. B. Jackson (four stars)

“You’re a good man, Kaille. Sometimes I fear you’re too good.”

Excellent historical fiction novella. With a side of the mystical.  Jackson continues to develop Ethan Kaille into a nexus for the unraveling threads of British hegemony in Boston in the 1770s. Players on the great stage of American independence have walk-on parts in this thieftaker tale.

“One grows accustomed to such attention after a time.” “No,” Warren said, “one really doesn’t.”

Characters are varied and well-developed. Ensemble players from the series return and new characters appear. Despite everyone’s agnosticism toward the Salem trials a century before, witches and conjurers abound. And they’re real.

“She won’t be happy with me.” “Well, it wouldn’t be morning in Boston if Sephira Pryce wasn’t unhappy with you over something.”

Quibble: a round trip to Philadelphia would be the stuff of weeks if not months. Travel in general is too fast and too easy. Except when it fits the plot to not be.

“All’s calm just now, but I believe that’s an illusion.”

Book Review: Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal (five stars)

Book Review: Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal (five stars)

“Noch ein gespenstiger Spion … Another ghost spy.”

Well done. Cobbling together history and popular interest in spiritualism at that time, Kowal writes dramatic, credible historical fantasy set in France during 1916.

“You are a contradiction.” “I like to keep you guessing. It is the role of an intelligence officer to avoid predictability at all costs.” “Mm … and here I thought you just enjoyed being difficult.”

Kowal weaves together a diverse and occasionally real cast to create an engaging mystery as well as highlight the prejudices and practices of that day. Excellent denouncement; set the stage for possible (as yet unannounced) sequels.

“You are as stubborn as your mother was.” “I take that as a compliment.” “I meant it as one.”

Better than her already good Lady Astronaut series. Readers new to Kowal might start here. Excellent cover art, unfortunately not credited in the electronic edition.

“Your hearing is damaged, but your soul isn’t.” “After the war, I’m not sure any of us can claim to have undamaged souls.”

Book Review: A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark (four stars)

Book Review: A Master of Djinn (Dead Djinn Universe #1) by P. Djèlí Clark (four stars)

‘First story of djinn, steampunk, and Cairo’

One ring to rule them all. Sure it’s been done, but not in Cairo a hundred plus years ago with an all-female primary cast. Males appear only to make the females look better

“Boilerplate eunuchs generally don’t have much in the way of thought.” “And how is that different from men?” 

A well-done message story, though occasionally overselling the message distracts from the story. Readers who sit back and let it flow over them will be more satisfied than those who think too much. Better development than Ring Shout. Satisfying resolution.

“What would you think my motive?” “I feel a villain rant coming on.” 

(2022 Hugo Award novel finalist)

Book Review: The Silver Bullets of Annie Oakley) by Mercedes Lackey (four bullets)

Book Review: The Silver Bullets of Annie Oakley (Element Masters #16) by Mercedes Lackey (four bullets)

“If what you saw the Wolves turn into was real . . . what else is out there? Was every nightmare creature from fairy tales real?”

Well-done historical fantasy. The sixteenth instalment of a series is not the recommended place to start, but Lackey fills the reader soon enough and fast enough that there no gagging on data dumps.

“Wear somethin’ that won’t show blood. Well, that ain’t ominous.”

Annie’s character, history, and inner voice are established before she becomes aware of the supernatural realm she’s lived in all her life. A touch of humor.

Mama used to say, “All a poor person has is their reputation, so be careful never to lose it.”

Vocabulary and action appropriate for young adult readers, yet engaging reading for all ages.That said, like all Lackey stories, it’s all a bit too easy.

‘But part of her kept reminding her that she was not the heroine of a dime novel. That she was not, in fact, what she pretended to be in the Wild West Show.’

Book Review: She Who Became the Sun (The Radiant Emperor #1) by Chelly Parker-Chan (three stars)

Book Review: She Who Became the Sun (The Radiant Emperor #1) by Chelly Parker-Chan (three stars)

In that one terrible moment, she knew what her fate of nothing meant. She had thought it was only insignificance, that she would never be anything or do anything that mattered. But it wasn’t.
It was death.

If Leo Tolstoy had written Mulan instead of War and Peace. Right down to the confusing naming conventions. Deeply insightful light historical fantasy into the nature of desire and destiny.

The monastery was never to have been forever; she was always going to be expelled into that world of chaos and violence—of greatness and nothingness.

Even the bad guys are three-dimensional and engaging. Come to think of it, there aren’t any good guys. None the really interesting characters are men. Telling more might spoil things, but Chinese history is a strong clue.

Zhu felt a stab of uncharacteristic pity. Not-wanting is a desire too; it yields suffering just as much as wanting.

Why only three stars? Pornography. The first two-thirds of the story treats sex indirectly and subtly, then Parker-Chan dumps the reader into a graphic, gratuitous sex scene. Doesn’t just violate the flow of the story, cheapens everything before and after. Totally unnecessary. They had great sex; it changed their lives. Okay, but close the bedroom door.

“Even the most shining future, if desired, will have suffering as its heart.”

Won’t be back for more. Sad. So much potential.

Book Review: Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark (four stars)

Book Review: Ring Shout (The Balance of Power #1) by P. Djèlí Clark (four stars)

“My point remains, we must dare to imagine a more equal world.” “Imagining a thing don’t make it so.”

A story superficially like—but totally unlike—many of its contemporaries. Clark sees the anguish and hate clearly but also sees that hate and revenge is not the answer. Maybe it’s justice. Maybe it’s redemption.

“We’re not asking you to switch sides. We’re offering to come over to you.” “What?” “Be our champion. Lead our armies. Give your people the one thing they lack—” “Hate?” “Power.”

Successfully combines historical elements leading up his 1922 apocalypse. Real events lend this supernatural fantasy instant credibility. Something in here to offend everyone. Good job.

“The enemy, they are the Lie. Plain and simple. The Lie running around pretending to be Truth.”

The accents make it hard reading, but the patois is essential for grounding the characters and story. Having established who’ who, he could have eased off as a mercy to the readers.

“Devil wouldn’t be the devil if he didn’t know how to tempt.”

(2021 Hugo Award Novella finalist)

Book Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow (Four Stars)


Book Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

(Four Stars)

“I was out the door and down the back stairs before I’d had time for anything so mundane as conscious thought.”

Entertaining historical fantasy set in the turn of the century (nineteenth to twentieth) by this world’s reckoning. Excellent inner voice of young female protagonist. Many a good turn of phrase.

“It’s much easier to break the rules of reality when you don’t know exactly what they are.”

Plotting starts in the middle and expands naturally outward. Nobody gets a break; whenever things seem to be settling into a comfortable pattern, Harrow tosses a sabot into the loom.

“… the desperation of an old man who understands that time is a precious and finite thing, beating away like a second hand in my chest.

Few quibbles. “Silver coin-knife” Silver is much harder than gold, such that forming the weapon/tool described with the materials described would take much, much longer.

“I intend, after all, to spend the rest of my life diving in and out of the wild in-between—finding the thin, overlooked places that connect worlds, following the trail of locked Doors the Society left behind and writing them back open. Letting all the dangerous, beautiful madness flow freely between worlds again.”

That January succeeds is demonstrated by the dissolution of the proud, orderly civilizations of her days into the chaos and horror of the Great War and worldwide pandemic. Good job. (Wink)

“A dividing point between here and there, us and them, mundane and magical. It is at the moments when the doors open, when things flow between the worlds, that stories happen.”

Book Review: “The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington” by P. Djéli Clark (Four Stars)


Book Review: “The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington” by P. Djéli Clark

(Four Stars)

“For the blacksmith understood what masters had chosen to forget: when you make a man or woman a slave you enslave yourself in turn.”

Excellent speculative historical fiction. Since the root–that George Washington bought the teeth of nine slaves as his own rotted away–this might have made an excellent historical fiction. The speculative musings–while fun–are so over-the-top that they dull the edge on what would be righteous indignation over the behavior of our first president.

“… from the ramparts English mages hurled volleys of emerald fireballs that could melt through iron.”

The storytelling is compact and fast moving. Clark makes his points and Continue reading