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: Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear (Three Stars)


Book Review: Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear

(Three Stars)

“Friends don’t keep score.”

Well-developed steampunk with engaging characters. It’s as much parallel universe as alternate timeline, but it mostly works. Good weaving of historic and imagined elements. Good storytelling.

“Don’t tell me I’m better off for being an orphan.” “No more so that I’m better off for having been a slave.”
Most of the primary characters are social outcast for no reason of their own. Their bonding works, if a bit idyllic.

“These feelings ain’t nohow sensible. They just is.”

The narrator and main character has twisted syntax in order to contrast her native wit with Continue reading

Book Review: A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan (Four Stars)


Book Review: A Natural History of Dragons (The Memoirs of Lady Trent #1) by Marie Brennan

Four Stars

“Alas for my well-being, I was young and therefore far too stupidly stubborn.”

Jane Austen does Dragons. Great fun. Great world building. Great storytelling.

“Why should I give up the company of a man who would love me to run a household and otherwise bore myself into porridge?”

Perhaps the best grasp of the Victorian Age I’ve found in modern fantasy. Yet intensely close and personal. Captures both young Isebella’s sharp, questing mind and her childlike impulsiveness.

“… the harmless sort of fluff-brained, not the sort I actually was.”

Three times uses “stoop” describes a dragon attacking from the air. It seemed “swoop” would have been closer to right, but, no, stoop describes the attack mode of birds-of prey, which dragons would mimic. (I’ve seen a peregrine falcon stoop from a high perch. Impressively fast and deadly.)

“Relatively approachable” dragons?  … “(Where I would become an easy meal. The deranged side of my mind invented these ideas, but the practical side knew where they would end.)”

Book Review: Waking the Fire by Anthony Ryan (Four Stars)


Book Review: Waking the Fire (The Draconis Memoria #1) by Anthony Ryan

Four Stars

“Overreliance on your ingrained gifts can be deadly.”

Steampunk with dragons! What fun. Excellent world and character building. Enough double-crossing (of the reader) to keep our attention. Literary, musical, costume and historical references gives depth to various cultures. Excellent storytelling.

“… like all choices it involves consequences.”

Quibbles: The principal river of the focus continent has two outlets and seems to flow uphill. Glorifying smoking? How quaint. (Odd that this culture had not developed blood-augments flying/floating machines.)

“The great commander is nothing more than a pig fat on the blood of wasted youth.”

Even though the climax was what the reader comes to expect, it seems contrived. Too obviously a setup for the next book, rather than the logical end to this one.

“Overconfidence is frequently fatal.”

Book Review: The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher (Four Stars)

Book Review: The Aeronaut’s Windlass (Cinder Spires #1) by Jim Butcher

Four Stars

“[The universe] reflects a great deal more of yourself to your senses than you probably know.”

Not your typical post-apocalyptic steampunk space opera. Not at all. Better that the Dresden series  which made Butcher famous. The tone follows Sanderson’s Mistborn series, with a philosophic nod to C. S. Lewis’ essay “Transposition.” But not as derivative as this implies. A rich, engaging plot.

“Truth does not become untruth because its existence upsets [someone].”

Rich cast of fully developed characters, not all what they appeared to others or even to themselves: Rothfuss’s Aurie, Horatio Hornblower, Continue reading

Book Review: Music Box Girl by R. A. Dawson (Three Stars)

Book Review: Music Box Girl by K. A. Stewart

Three Stars

(Warning: There be spoilers here.)

“We gravitate toward disaster.”

Phantom of the Opera starring R. Daneel Olivaw. Too obscure? How ‘bout C3PO?

Great concept, borrowing liberally from Phantom and Pygmalion, Frankenstein, and Aladdin. Was wavering between four and five star ratings until I reached the climax. If it’d been a book (rather than an iPad), I’d have thrown it against the wall. You’ve got to be kidding. Syrupy and illogical for starters.

“Life is too short to censor oneself.”

It shouldn’t be too short to proofread one’s writing however. Parts read like a rough draft. Awkward sentence structures and confusing antecedents. Not to mention the ending. Stewart can do better.

“Age brings perspective.”

Don’t see that happening to the main human characters. Yes, Tony, you should have told them, but if you’d had a brain there wouldn’t have been a story. Still, this has great potential as a movie. The Marvel crowd would love it, silly ending and all.

“You never know when there won’t be a ‘later.’”

A thought: aficionados of science fiction are so used to Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics that we forget those are just one man’s construct. Stewart reminds us that robots–even self-aware robots–know nothing of empathy or compassion. They focus on effectiveness and efficiency. If human beings happen to get in the way, they get crushed.

“Sometimes you just couldn’t wait for Spring.”

Book Review: Nefertiti’s Heart by A. W. Axley (Three Stars)

Book Review: Nefertiti’s Heart (Artifact Hunters #1) by A. W. Axley

Three Stars

“Crowbars are great for working out parental issues.”

I originally marked this as a young readers’ book. Oh no. It was pornographic enough that, despite its being a well-constructed and well-told tale, I won’t be reading more of this series. And mostly it’s unnecessary.

About the good stuff: Axley takes us right into the protagonist’s head and we’re comfortable fighting her fights, feeling her pain and sharing her victories. Leavened with humor. Good job.

Quibbles: Too short an interval lapses for the villain to worm his way into the heart of subsequent victims. His notes decry how long it takes, but according to the book’s chronology it’s a matter of single digit days. Alternate reality or not, if you bare handedly plug an electrically hot conductor into a battery pack (and fry whoever is wearing said battery pack) odds are you will be fried too.

Nice cover art.

As I said I won’t be back, but others may not be so put off.

Book Review: Sun of Suns by Karl Schroeder (Three Stars)

Book Review: Sun of Suns (Virga #1) by Karl Schroeder

Three Stars out of Five

Great new setting for steam-punk science fiction: inside a planet-sized balloon of gases (Virga). “Gravity” is inertial, “suns” heat and light local areas of the temperate zone, and the politics and technology is mostly nineteenth century. The characters begin in mystery and opposition but must work together for a greater good. An outsider knows about the evolved technology (and biology) outside the bubble, but her motives and theirs may not coincide. Good plot flow and development.

Having said that the narrative seemed appropriate for young readers except the gratuitous sex. And it was gratuitous, not necessary to plot or character development. (In retrospect, it gave clues to the fate of certain characters.) While mostly only suggestive, its inclusion makes the book unsuitable for younger readers. Likewise the three uses of the F-bomb.

Still, The rating teetered between three and four stars until the end. And end the story did. It didn’t finish, it just stopped. Schroeder came close to a satisfying conclusion, but didn’t deliver. So, unless you’re in for five books, you may be dissatisfied with the series opener.