Sunday, January 25, 2015

Books in the Mail (W/E 2015-01-24)

This is the biggest batch of arrivals in quite a few weeks. I've already read two of them, but the other books look very interesting indeed.

Impulse (The Lightship Chronicles #1) by Dave Bara (DAW Hardcover 03/03/2015) – A brand new Space Opera from DAW, and in hardcover release which shows the publisher has faith in his work. I think Dave’s agent may have mentioned this book to me a while back and I know his editor/publisher mentioned it when he and I chatted at the imprint launch party. I finished this one last week and really enjoyed it, I hope it does well for Dave because I want to read more books in this series.

Lieutenant Peter Cochrane of the Quantar Royal Navy believes he has his future clearly mapped out. It begins with his new assignment as an officer on Her Majesty’s Spaceship Starbound, a Lightship bound for deep space voyages of exploration.

But everything changes when Peter is summoned to the office of his father, Grand Admiral Nathan Cochrane, and given devastating news: the death of a loved one. In a distant solar system, a mysterious and unprovoked attack upon Lightship Impulse resulted in the deaths of Peter’s former girlfriend and many of her shipmates.

Now Peter’s plans are torn asunder as he is transferred to a Unified Space Navy ship under foreign command, en route to an unexpected destination, and surrounded almost entirely by strangers. To top it off, his superiors have given him secret orders that might force him to become a mutineer.

The crisis at hand becomes a gateway to something much more when the ship’s Historian leads Peter and his shipmates into a galaxy of the unknown — of ancient technologies, age-old rivalries, new cultures, and unexpected romance. It’s an overwhelming responsibility for Peter, and one false step could plunge humanity into an apocalyptic interstellar war.

Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear (Tor, Hardcover 02/3/2015) – Bear churns out novels and stories with remarkable quality and regularity, something not many authors can say. My review for this engaging novel goes up this week.

“You ain’t gonna like what I have to tell you, but I'm gonna tell you anyway. See, my name is Karen Memery, like memory only spelt with an e, and I'm one of the girls what works in the Hôtel Mon Cherie on Amity Street. Hôtel has a little hat over the o like that. It’s French, so Beatrice tells me.”

Hugo-Award winning author Elizabeth Bear offers something new in Karen Memory, an absolutely entrancing steampunk novel set in Seattle in the late 19th century—an era when the town was called Rapid City, when the parts we now call Seattle Underground were the whole town (and still on the surface), when airships plied the trade routes bringing would-be miners heading up to the gold fields of Alaska, and steam-powered mechanicals stalked the waterfront. Karen is a “soiled dove,” a young woman on her own who is making the best of her orphaned state by working in Madame Damnable’s high-quality bordello. Through Karen’s eyes we get to know the other girls in the house—a resourceful group—and the poor and the powerful of the town. Trouble erupts into her world one night when a badly injured girl arrives at their door, seeking sanctuary, followed by the man who holds her indenture, who has a machine that can take over anyone’s mind and control their actions. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the next night brings a body dumped in their rubbish heap—a streetwalker who has been brutally murdered.

Bear brings alive this Jack-the-Ripper-type story of the old west with the light touch of Karen’s own memorable voice, and a mesmerizing evocation of classic steam-powered science

Footsteps in the Sky by Greg Keyes (Open Road Media, Trade Paperback/eBook 05/26/2015) – I’m very happy to see some new original novel-length fiction from Greg Keyes. I’ve read most of his stuff (Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone, Age of Unreason, and The Chosen of the Changeling) though lately he’s been keeping busy with tie-in work, most recently the novelization/tie-in for Interstellar

The pueblo people who landed on the Fifth World found it Earthlike, empty, and ready for colonization . . . but a century later, they are about to meet the planet’s owners

One hundred years ago, Sand’s ancestors made the long, one-way trip to the Fifth World, ready to work ceaselessly to terraform the planet. Descendants of native peoples like the Hopi and Zuni, they wanted to return to the way of life of their forebears, who honored the Kachina spirits.

Now, though, many of the planet’s inhabitants have begun to resent their grandparents’ decision to strand them in this harsh and forbidding place, and some have turned away from the customs of the Well-Behaved People. Sand has her doubts, but she longs to believe that the Kachina live on beyond the stars and have been readying a new domain for her people.

She may be right. Humans have discovered nine habitable worlds, all with life that shares a genetic code entirely alien to any on Earth. Someone has been seeding planets, bringing life to them. But no other sign of the ancient farmers has ever been discovered—until one day they return to the Fifth World. They do not like what they find.

The Eternia Files by Leanna Renee Hieber (Tor, Hardcover 02/3/2015) – Victorian/Gaslight Mystery in the mid-1800s. Hieber seems to really know this era, she is after all a well known actress and Gothic Historian.

London, 1882: Queen Victoria appoints Harold Spire of the Metropolitan Police to Special Branch Division Omega. Omega is to secretly investigate paranormal and supernatural events and persons. Spire, a skeptic driven to protect the helpless and see justice done, is the perfect man to lead the department, which employs scholars and scientists, assassins and con men, and a traveling circus. Spire’s chief researcher is Rose Everhart, who believes fervently that there is more to the world than can be seen by mortal eyes.

Their first mission: find the Eterna Compound, which grants immortality. Catastrophe destroyed the hidden laboratory in New York City where Eterna was developed, but the Queen is convinced someone escaped—and has a sample of Eterna.

Also searching for Eterna is an American, Clara Templeton, who helped start the project after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln nearly destroyed her nation. Haunted by the ghost of her beloved, she is determined that the Eterna Compound—and the immortality it will convey—will be controlled by the United States, not Great Britain.

The first ina new Victorian fantasy series, Leanna Renee Hieber’s The Eterna Files is available February 10th from Tor Books. Read an excerpt below!

The Thorn of Dentonhill by Marshall Ryan Maresca (DAW Mass Market Paperback 02/03/2015) – This debut sounds like a fun mash-up of superhero fiction & sword and sorcery, in a similar vein to the very enjoyable Shield and Crocus by Michael R. Underwood. That cloak gives me a superhero feel and the cover evokes Scott Lynch. The second book/sequel is set to publish in the summer, giving Maresca (who was a Book Country member where he work-shopped the book) some fairly quick shelf presence.

Veranix Calbert leads a double life. By day, he’s a struggling magic student at the University of Maradaine. At night, he spoils the drug trade of Willem Fenmere, crime boss of Dentonhill and murderer of Veranix’s father. He’s determined to shut Fenmere down.

With that goal in mind, Veranix disrupts the delivery of two magical artifacts meant for Fenmere's clients, the mages of the Blue Hand Circle. Using these power-filled objects in his fight, he quickly becomes a real thorn in Fenmere's side.

So much so that soon not only Fenmere, but powerful mages, assassins, and street gangs all want a piece of “The Thorn.” And with professors and prefects on the verge of discovering his secrets, Veranix’s double life might just fall apart. Unless, of course, Fenmere puts an end to it first.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Friday Round-Up: SF Signal and SFFWorld Goodies

The Bagel Lord of SF Signal John DeNardo recently put SF Signal into a new magazine theme, and has dubbed the look as SF Signal 5.0, go take a look. In addition, John recently "promoted" Kristin Centorcelli (aka My Bookish Ways) as the New Associate Editor. Kristin is one of the most active bloggers in the genre so this is great news for both John/SF Signal and Kristin.

Over at SFFWorld, the forums are still alive, despite twitter, facebook, and reddit drawing conversation away from discussion forums. We've come to realize this is not localized to the forums at SFFWorld (for example, the once lively forums of Terry Brooks's Web site recently closed). But with SFFWorld having active  forums since 1999 or so, we (the moderators and members) don't want to see the place go away. So check out what other fans of the genre are talking about. Site owner Dag Rambruat is cleaning up the forums and layout based on some member feedback.

Back to SF Signal, I've posted a couple of articles/reviews over the past couple of weeks to SF Signal. Two weeks ago, my January Mind Meld was posted:

Lastly, about a week ago, my January Completist column posted, which features Eric Brown's Bengal Station Trilogy:

Eric Brown has written and published just about one novel per year since his first in 1992. Many of those novels have published through Solaris Books, including his Bengal Station Trilogy. At their heart, the books of “The Bengal Station Trilogy” are a modern Psychic Detective novels, albeit set on a space station in the future and involving aliens. That “psychic detective” would be Jeff Vaughan, a cynical, distrustful man who, at times, is trying to run from his past. As the title of the series implies, the novels are set on (or launch from) Bengal Station, a space ship station above India and Thailand.
What becomes clear over the course of these three books is how Brown sets up a framework for the series, but with each novel in the series, tweaks the dressing for that framework in fun and interesting ways. Part of the fun in reading such books is revisiting with the characters in each installment.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

100 Page Thoughts: IMPULSE by Dave Bara

In what has become a regular feature here (this is the third such post, natch), here are my thoughts on a book after hit the 100 page mark.  The other two posts on this "feature" also highlighted debut novels.

Impulse, Dave Bara’s first novel is a Space Opera/Military Science Fiction novel set in the far future. Far enough into the future that “Old Earth” is not the focal planet for humanity in the story…at least after the first 100 pages. Like many Military Science Fiction novels, Impulse is told in the first person. In the case of Impulse, the viewpoint character is Peter Cochrane, who is assigned to the titular ship to investigate a disaster in space which claimed the lives of fellow military personnel, including his girlfriend.

Peter received this news from his father, initially, though the assignment comes from his superior. The orders he’s given are not 100% standard operating procedure as he is going into the mission under one set of orders and he’s told to “disobey your superior if that means being loyal to the Navy.”

Much of the narrative is laying groundwork for the novel, setting up the conflict Peter must face, introducing Peter and his supporting characters, and giving a hint of the future history of the human race out in the stars.

At the outset, the best ‘high-concept’/mash-up description I can give is Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet plus James S.A. Corey’s Expanse with a slight dash of Fringe thrown into the mix. I like the future Bara has mapped out for this one and look forward to where the story goes and what Dave reveals about this future history.

Monday, January 19, 2015

From the Archives: Crystal Rain by Tobias Buckell

I first read Tobias Buckell's Crystal Rain when it initially published in 2006 and I thoroughly enjoyed the novel. In fact, I recall receiving the book.  It was a very snow filled day and I was out shoveling my driveway, a very long driveway at that (well over 100 feet long) and at the time I didn't have a snow-thrower. Thankfully, now I do.  I *think* the book came via UPS, whomever delivered it delivered it right to me since I was outside. I remember feeling as if the book's arrival was a reward for the long hours of snow shoveling.

Back to the book...Prior to reading Crystal Rain, I'd read some of his short stories and liked those as well.  Since Tor is relaunching the series, I thought I'd repost my SFFWorld review from January 2006 here on my blog to give the book the extra attention it rightly deserves. Crystal Rain (and the subsequent books, Ragamuffin and Sly Mongoose) are getting new covers to give them more of a Space Opera feel. I like them a lot though I admit to having a soft spot for the original art by Todd Lockwood (down in the middle of the review). This was an excellent debut and I enjoyed the subsequent books in the series a great deal. So here's what I thought of Crystal Rain back in late 2005 and posted the review on 01/01/2006...

Here it is Tobias Buckell’s Crystal Rain comes with a fair amount of buzz, not the least of which are the quotes from notable writers such as Nalo Hopkinson, Mike Resnick, and Robert J. Sawyer. In addition, Buckell has been crafting short stories for a few years now, with appearances in various anthologies and the pre-eminent genre magazines. What I’ve read of his short fiction, I’ve enjoyed, so I was looking forward to seeing how he could flex his creative muscles in the longer form of the novel. If Crystal Rain is any indication, I’ll be reading more novels by Tobias.

For a first novel, any novel really, Buckell hits a lot of the right notes in this one. The protagonist, John deBrun, has lived for many years; however, he can only remember the last 27 years. He knows he appeared on the shores of Nanagada one day, but everything prior to that is a blur. In the intervening years between washing up without his memory and the start of Crystal Rain, he has married and has brought up a child. We follow John as struggles with this mystery, while, at the same time, he attempts to make his way towards a device his adoptive people think will help stave off the threat of the attacking Azteca. John is pretty complex, but he is only one of a number of memorable characters in the book. The character of Pepper, a man of John’s past who remembers John sets an ominous tone whenever his presence is “on screen,” and whose motivations are almost as much of a mystery as John’s memories.

There are elements of both Fantasy and Science Fiction in this one, with wormhole technology as the method of travel the people employed to reach (and become stranded) on Nanagada. One of the fantasy element flavoring the whole novel is the idea of humans living alongside gods. What I liked was how Buckell brought these elements, as well as a number of elements together in a pepperpot of a delectable, enjoyable story. Other tasty elements in this stew is the almost Dying Earth feel in the way that technology is treated and was phased out, as well as the sense of humanity’s readjustment to civilized society. John’s internal identity struggles parallel those of the external struggles of John’s people staving off the Azteca invasion, which I also thought worked very well.

Original Cover Art by Todd Lockwood

The world comes vividly alive through the action of the plot, as well as the eyes of the character. The alien Earth-like planet seems a veritable jungle of conflict, with gods living amongst men, warring tribes and villages comprising the majority of human habitation. The invading Azteca, a tribe of men resembling Aztecs of our world, provides perhaps a hint of a deeper connection to our world. Floating in the sky are vessels, which seem a combination of blimp and boat. This, coupled with the sea vessel passages, gives the feel of what Robin Hobb did with her Liveship Traders saga, which is a good thing. The exoticness of the locales in both books are similar, if not in specifics, then in the contrast to much of the other science fiction and fantasy on the shelves.

Crystal Rain stands apart from the run-of-the mill fantasy and science fiction, while also providing that sense of wonder SF all too often neglects. Buckell is a deft, assured storyteller who will, hopefully, continue to publish novel-length fiction with the same eye for intricate setting and rounded characterization he’s exhibited here in his debut novel.

Review originally appeared at SFFWorld on January 1, 2006

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Books in the Mail (W/E 2015-01-17)

Just two books, one of which is electronic.

NO COVER (R)evolution by PJ Manney (47North 06/01/2015) – Manney’s debut looks to be a near-future techno-thriller. Not surprising since Manney is a Futurist, and she’s also spent time in television writing for Hercules and Xena.

Bioengineer Peter Bernhardt has dedicated his life to nanotechnology, the science of manipulating matter on the atomic scale. As the founder of Biogineers, he is on the cusp of revolutionizing brain therapies with microscopic nanorobots that will make certain degenerative diseases a thing of the past. But after his research is stolen by an unknown enemy, seventy thousand people die in Las Vegas in one abominable moment. No one is more horrified than Peter, as this catastrophe sets in motion events that will forever change not only his life but also the course of human evolution.

Peter’s company is torn from his grasp as the public clamors for his blood. Desperate, he turns to an old friend, who introduces him to the Phoenix Club, a cabal of the most powerful men in the world. To make himself more valuable to his new colleagues, Peter infuses his brain with experimental technology, exponentially upgrading his mental prowess and transforming him irrevocably.

As he’s exposed to unimaginable wealth and influence, Peter’s sense of reality begins to unravel. Do the club members want to help him, or do they just want to claim his technology? What will they do to him once they have their prize? And while he’s already evolved beyond mere humanity, is he advanced enough to take on such formidable enemies and win?

Flex by Ferrett Steinmetz (Trade & Mass Market Paperback Angry Robot 03/03/2015) – The tag line of Breaking Bad meets Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files is enough for me to give this one a try. Plus, look at that eye-catching cover (looks almost like a Little Sister from Bioshock).

A desperate father will do anything to heal his daughter in a novel where Breaking Bad meets Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files.

FLEX: Distilled magic in crystal form. The most dangerous drug in the world. Snort it, and you can create incredible coincidences to live the life of your dreams.

FLUX: The backlash from snorting Flex. The universe hates magic and tries to rebalance the odds; maybe you survive the horrendous accidents the Flex inflicts, maybe you don’t.

PAUL TSABO: The obsessed bureaucromancer who’s turned paperwork into a magical Beast that can rewrite rental agreements, conjure rented cars from nowhere, track down anyone who’s ever filled out a form.

But when all of his formulaic magic can’t save his burned daughter, Paul must enter the dangerous world of Flex dealers to heal her. Except he’s never done this before – and the punishment for brewing Flex is army conscription and a total brain-wipe.

File Under: Urban Fantasy

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Books in the Mail (W/E 2015-01-10)

Four books this week, the first full week of 2015 so it would seem the publishers are all back in their offices after a week-long hibernation period.

The Three-Body Problem (The Three-Body Trilogy/Remembrance of Earth’s Past #1) by Cixin Liu translated by Ken Liu (Tor 11/11/2014) – This one intrigued me when I first learned of it, then I saw some really good response to it at the end of the year. Glad the fine folks at Tor were able to get me a copy.

Three-Body Problem is the first chance for English-speaking readers to experience this multiple award winning phenomenon from China’s most beloved science fiction author, Liu Cixin.

Set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.

The Autumn Republic (Book Thee of The Powder Mage Trilogy) by Brian McClellan (Orbit Hardcover / eBook 02/10/2015) – This brings the Powder Mage Trilogy to a close and I thoroughly enjoyed booth the first (Promise of Blood) and second book (The Crimson Campaign) in the series, the first of which I thought was the best fantasy debut novel I read last year.


The capital has fallen...
Field Marshal Tamas returns to his beloved country to find that for the first time in history, the capital city of Adro lies in the hands of a foreign invader. His son is missing, his allies are indistinguishable from his foes, and reinforcements are several weeks away.

An army divided...

With the Kez still bearing down upon them and without clear leadership, the Adran army has turned against itself. Inspector Adamat is drawn into the very heart of this new mutiny with promises of finding his kidnapped son.

All hope rests with one...
And Taniel Two-shot, hunted by men he once thought his friends, must safeguard the only chance Adro has of getting through this war without being destroyed...

THE AUTUMN REPUBLIC is the epic conclusion that began with Promise of Blood and The Crimson Campaign.

Deeds of Honor: Paksenarrion World Chronicles by Elizabeth Moon (Jabberwocky Literary Agency, Inc. 12/22/2014) – I’m a fan of Elizabeth’s writing and the Paksenarrionso when her agent contacted me and asked if I wanted to review the collection, I had to say yes.

Elizabeth Moon, the New York Times bestselling author of the celebrated Deed of Paksenarrion and Paladin's Legacy epic fantasy series, presents Deeds of Honor, a brand new collection of short stories set in the world of Paksenarrion.

With two exclusive, never-before-published stories featuring characters from the Paladin's Legacy series, Deeds of Honor gathers together lore and legends from Paksenarrion’s world, along with tales from the Paladin’s Legacy era, all revised and updated for this special compilation.

Rich with the vivid and immersive storytelling for which Elizabeth Moon is known, the eight short stories in Deeds of Honor—collected here for the first time, with all-new author notes—are certain to please any fan of the Paksenarrion saga.

Deeds of Honor: Tales of Paksenarrion’s World
“Point of Honor” – “Falk's Oath” – “Cross Purposes” – “Torre's Ride” – “A Parrion of Cooking” – “Vardan's Tale” – “Those Who Walk in Darkness” – “The Last Lesson”

Inside A Silver Box by Walter Mosley (Tor 01/13/2015) – Mosely seems to be a writer’s writer – one of those authors who other authors often point to when asked for suggestions.

Walter Mosley’s talent knows no bounds. Inside a Silver Box continues to explore the cosmic questions entertainingly discussed in his Crosstown to Oblivion. From life’s meaning to the nature of good and evil, Mosley takes readers on a speculative journey beyond reality.

In Inside a Silver Box, two people brought together by a horrific act are united in a common cause by the powers of the Silver Box. The two join to protect humanity from destruction by an alien race, the Laz, hell-bent on regaining control over the Silver Box, the most destructive and powerful tool in the universe. The Silver Box will stop at nothing to prevent its former master from returning to being, even if it means finishing the earth itself.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

2014 Leftovers & Regrets - Unread SFF Books Published in 2014

With as many books for review that I receive and the books I’ll occasionally purchase, I clearly can’t get to everything published in a calendar I’d like to read. There were a handful of books published in 2014 I received for review I haven’t yet read. Here are 10 SFF books published last year still atop Mount ToBeread.

Nice Dragons Finish Last (Volume 1 of The Heartstrikers Series) by Rachel Bach (07/15/2014) – As my recent write up about Rachel for indicates, I’m a fan of her work. She’s dipping her toes into the self-publishing realm with this one, which looks fun.

As the youngest dragon in the Heartstriker clan, Julius survives by a simple code: stay quiet, don’t cause trouble, and keep out of the way of bigger dragons. But this meek behavior doesn’t cut it in a family of ambitious predators, and his mother, Bethesda the Heartstriker, has finally reached the end of her patience.

Now, sealed in human form and banished to the DFZ--a vertical metropolis built on the ruins of Old Detroit--Julius has one month to prove to his mother that he can be a ruthless dragon or lose his true shape forever. But in a city of modern mages and vengeful spirits where dragons are seen as monsters to be exterminated, he’s going to need some serious help to survive this test.

He only hopes that humans are more trustworthy than dragons....

Half a King (Book one of The Half a King Trilogy) by Joe Abercrombie (Del Rey Hardcover 07/15/2014) –Joe’s first venture into the waters of Young Adult. It is a new Joe Abercrombie book, nothing else needs to be known about it.

”I swore an oath to avenge the death of my father. I may be half a man, but I swore a whole oath.”

Prince Yarvi has vowed to regain a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains, and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea. And he must do it all with only one good hand.

The deceived will become the deceiver.

Born a weakling in the eyes of his father, Yarvi is alone in a world where a strong arm and a cold heart rule. He cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he must sharpen his mind to a deadly edge.

The betrayed will become the betrayer.

Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast and the lost, he finds they can do more to help him become the man he needs to be than any court of nobles could.

Will the usurped become the usurper?

But even with loyal friends at his side, Yarvi finds his path may end as it began—in twists, and traps, and tragedy.

Dust and Light (A Sanctuary Novel #1) by Carol Berg (Roc, Trade Paperback 08/05/2014) – Berg has been on my radar for a couple of years, even more so over the past few years as a few SFFWorld forum members whose opinion I trust (Erfael, NickeeCoco, and suciul specifically) and my friend Sarah Chorn, have recently been raving about her work. This book looks like it is friendly to readers who haven’t read her previous books, which is just what I need.

National bestselling author Carol Berg returns to the world of her award-winning Flesh and Spirit and Breath and Bone with an all-new tale of magic, mystery, and corruption....

How much must one pay for an hour of youthful folly? The Pureblood Registry accused Lucian de Remeni-Masson of “unseemly involvement with ordinaries,” which meant only that he spoke with a young woman not of his own kind, allowed her to see his face unmasked, worked a bit of magic for her....After that one mistake, Lucian’s grandsire excised half his magic and savage Harrowers massacred his family. Now the Registry has contracted his art to a common coroner. His extraordinary gift for portraiture is restricted to dead ordinaries—beggars or starvelings hauled from the streets.

But sketching the truth of dead men’s souls brings unforeseen consequences. Sensations not his own. Truths he cannot possibly know and dares not believe.

The coroner calls him a cheat and says he is trying to weasel out of a humiliating contract. The Registry will call him mad—and mad sorcerers are very dangerous....

Codex Born (Magic Ex Libris #2) by Jim C. Hines (DAW Books, Hardcover 08/05/2014) – I read and thoroughly enjoyed Libriomancer when I read it a few years ago and look forward to picking up Isaac’s story here.

Five hundred years ago, Johannes Gutenberg discovered the art of libriomancy, allowing him to reach into books to create things from their pages. Gutenberg’s power brought him many enemies, and some of those enemies have waited centuries for revenge. Revenge which begins with the brutal slaughter of a wendigo in the northern Michigan town of Tamarack, a long-established werewolf territory.

Libriomancer Isaac Vainio is part of Die Zwelf Portenære, better known as the Porters, the organization founded by Gutenberg to protect the world from magical threats. Isaac is called in to investigate the killing, along with Porter psychiatrist Nidhi Shah and their dryad bodyguard and lover, Lena Greenwood. Born decades ago from the pages of a pulp fantasy novel, Lena was created to be the ultimate fantasy woman, strong and deadly, but shaped by the needs and desires of her companions. Her powers are unique, and Gutenberg’s enemies hope to use those powers for themselves. But their plan could unleash a far darker evil…

Prince of Fools (Book One of The Red Queen’s War) by Mark Lawrence (Hardcover 06/03/2014 Ace) – I’m a big fan of Mark’s Broken Empire trilogy and so are the members of the SFFWorld forum. They voted the final novel in the trilogy, Emperor of Thorns as their favorite 2013 novel!

Hailed as “epic fantasy on a George R. R. Martin scale, but on speed” (Fixed on Fantasy), the Broken Empire trilogy introduced a bold new world of dark fantasy with the story of Jorg Ancrath’s devastating rise to power. Now, Mark Lawrence returns to the Broken Empire with the tale of a less ambitious prince.

The Red Queen is old but the kings of the Broken Empire dread her like no other. For all her reign, she has fought the long war, contested in secret, against the powers that stand behind nations, for higher stakes than land or gold. Her greatest weapon is The Silent Sister—unseen by most and unspoken of by all.

The Red Queen’s grandson, Prince Jalan Kendeth—drinker, gambler, seducer of women—is one who can see The Silent Sister. Tenth in line for the throne and content with his role as a minor royal, he pretends that the hideous crone is not there. But war is coming. Witnesses claim an undead army is on the march, and the Red Queen has called on her family to defend the realm. Jal thinks it’s all a rumor—nothing that will affect him—but he is wrong.

After escaping a death trap set by the Silent Sister, Jal finds his fate magically intertwined with a fierce Norse warrior. As the two undertake a journey across the Empire to undo the spell, encountering grave dangers, willing women, and an upstart prince named Jorg Ancrath along the way, Jalan gradually catches a glimmer of the truth: he and the Norseman are but pieces in a game, part of a series of moves in the long war—and the Red Queen controls the board.

Crown of Renewal
(Book Five of Paladin’s Legacy) by Elizabeth Moon (Del Rey Hardcover 05/24/2014) – I liked the first two in this series (Oath of Fealty and Kings of the North) and the first trilogy set in this world, The Deed of Paksenarrion has a special spot on in my Omnibus Hall of Fame [© PeterWilliam]. However, I sort of fell behind on this series but did catch up with Echoes of Betrayal and Limits of Power earlier in the year. I’ve got a few months so I should be able to manage…unless of course her Vatta’s War five book set, which I’ve just begun with Trading and Danger grabs me too strongly.

Acclaimed author Elizabeth Moon spins gripping, richly imagined epic fantasy novels that have earned comparisons to the work of such authors as Robin Hobb and Lois McMaster Bujold. In this volume, Moon’s brilliant masterwork reaches its triumphant conclusion.

The mysterious reappearance of magery throughout the land has been met with suspicion, fear, and violence. In the kingdom of Lyonya, Kieri, the half-elven, half-human king, struggles to balance the competing demands of his heritage while fighting a deadly threat to his rule: evil elves linked in some way to the rebirth of magic.

Meanwhile, in the neighboring kingdom of Tsaia, a set of ancient artifacts recovered by the former mercenary Dorrin Verrakai may hold the answer to the riddle of magery’s return. Thus Dorrin embarks on a dangerous quest to return these relics of a bygone age to their all-but-mythical place of origin. What she encounters there will change her in unimaginable ways—and spell doom or salvation for the entire world.

Tower Lord (Raven’s Shadow Book Two) by Anthony Ryan (Ace Hardcover 07/02/2013) – Second novel in Anthony’s series, the first of which was his debut Blood Song which blew me away last year. This is the final version of the ARC which arrived about a month ago. My reading plans are pretty tied up for the immediate future, but as soon as those are finalized, this will be one of the first books I jump into.

“The blood-song rose with an unexpected tune, a warm hum mingling recognition with an impression of safety. He had a sense it was welcoming him home.”

Vaelin Al Sorna, warrior of the Sixth Order, called Darkblade, called Hope Killer. The greatest warrior of his day, and witness to the greatest defeat of his nation: King Janus’s vision of a Greater Unified Realm drowned in the blood of brave men fighting for a cause Vaelin alone knows was forged from a lie. Sick at heart, he comes home, determined to kill no more.

Named Tower Lord of the Northern Reaches by King Janus’s grateful heir, he can perhaps find peace in a colder, more remote land far from the intrigues of a troubled Realm. But those gifted with the blood-song are never destined to live a quiet life. Many died in King Janus’s wars, but many survived, and Vaelin is a target, not just for those seeking revenge but for those who know what he can do.

The Faith has been sundered, and many have no doubt who their leader should be. The new King is weak, but his sister is strong. The blood-song is powerful, rich in warning and guidance in times of trouble, but is only a fraction of the power available to others who understand more of its mysteries. Something moves against the Realm, something that commands mighty forces, and Vaelin will find to his great regret that when faced with annihilation, even the most reluctant hand must eventually draw a sword.

Shattering the Ley (Erenthal #1) by Joshua Palmatier (DAW, Hardcover 07/01/2014) –A brand new series for Palmatier whose work I’ve read and enjoyed. This cover is really eye catchy (though the fonts could use a little work).

Erenthrall—sprawling city of light and magic, whose streets are packed with traders from a dozen lands and whose buildings and towers are grown and shaped in the space of a day.

At the heart of the city is the Nexus, the hub of a magical ley line system that powers Erenthrall. This ley line also links the city and the Baronial plains to rest of the continent and the world beyond. The Prime Wielders control the Nexus with secrecy and lies, but it is the Baron who controls the Wielders. The Baron also controls the rest of the Baronies through a web of brutal intimidation enforced by his bloodthirsty guardsmen and unnatural assassins.

When the rebel Kormanley seek to destroy the ley system and the Baron’s chokehold, two people find themselves caught in the chaos that sweeps through Erenthrall and threatens the entire world: Kara Tremain, a young Wielder coming into her power, who discovers the forbidden truth behind the magic that powers the ley lines; and Alan Garrett, a recruit in the Baron’s guard, who learns that the city holds more mysteries and more danger than he could possibly have imagined . . . and who holds a secret within himself that could mean Erenthrall’s destruction — or its salvation.

Blightborn (Book 2 of The Heartland Trilogy) by Chuck Wendig (Skyscape Mass Market Paperback 07/29/2014) – The writing machine that is Chuck Wendig gives us the sequel/second book in the this trilogy, the first (Under an Empyrian Sky) of which I enjoyed a great deal.

Cael McAvoy is on the run. He’s heading toward the Empyrean to rescue his sister, Merelda, and to find Gwennie before she’s lost to Cael forever. With his pals, Lane and Rigo, Cael journeys across the Heartland to catch a ride into the sky. But with Boyland and others after them, Cael and his friends won’t make it through unchanged.

Gwennie’s living the life of a Lottery winner, but it’s not what she expected. Separated from her family, Gwennie makes a bold move—one that catches the attention of the Empyrean and changes the course of an Empyrean man’s life.

The crew from Boxelder aren’t the only folks willing to sacrifice everything to see the Empyrean fall. The question is: Can the others be trusted?

They’d all better hurry. Because the Empyrean has plans that could ensure that the Heartland never fights back again.

Sleeping Late on Judgment Day (Bobby Dollar #3) by Tad Williams (DAW Hardcover 09/02/2014) – I am a big Tad Williams fan (as anybody who has read my blog knows) and I really like this series. This is the last Bobby Dollar novel for now, I hope Tad returns to this angel.

Where does an angel go when he's been to Hell and back?
Renegade angel Bobby Dollar does not have an easy afterlife. After surviving the myriad gruesome dangers Hell oh-so-kindly offered him, Bobby has returned empty-handed – his demon girlfriend Casmira, the Countess of Cold Hands, is still in the clutches of Eligor, Grand Duke of Hell. Some hell of a rescue.

Forced to admit his failure, Bobby ends up back at his job as an angel advocate. That is, until Walter, an old angel friend whom Bobby never thought he’d see again, shows up at the local bar. The last time he saw Walter was in Hell, when Walter had tried to warn him about one of Bobby’s angel superiors. But now Walter can’t remember anything, and Bobby doesn’t know whom to trust

Turns out that there's corruption hidden within the higher ranks of Heaven and Hell, but the only proof Bobby has is a single feather. Before he knows it, he’s in the High Hall of Heavenly Judgement – no longer a bastion for the moral high ground, if it ever was, but instead just another rigged system – on trial for his immortal soul...

Sleeping Late on Judgement Day is the third installment of Tad Williams' urban fantasy Bobby Dollar series!

Monday, January 05, 2015

Reading Year in Review - 2014

I’ve done this for a few years now (2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006), so in order to maintain my flailing credibility as a a genre blogger/book reviewer I have, I'm doing it again for 2014.

As I have in the past, I’ll start with some stats: I read (or at least attempted* to read) 74 books in 2014, depending on how you count omnibus editions. I say attempted because a few books I simply dropped because nothing about the book compelled me to keep reading. About one third of what I read were new/2014 releases.

In 2014, I posted 34 reviews to SFFWorld and 6 to In addition to the book reviews I posted to, I published 7 posts in my Locke & Key reread (6 review/recaps of the Graphic Novel “chapters” plus intro post).

I did more for SF Signal in 2014, too. My Completist column continued with 15 installments in 2014. Keeping with the gender theme, 6 of the 15 Completist columns featured books by women. Still short of a fair and balanced 50%. I also became a regular wrangler of the popular Mind Meld feature, having organized 6 in 2014. Lastly, two of my book reviews appeared at SF Signal.

So all of that said, I think it was a fairly productive year, in terms of what I wrote/edited and posted – a total of 70 things I wrote were posted to those three Web sites. Plus whatever I rambled on about here on my blog. Whew…

Aside from the regular gamut of current year releases, some of my ‘catching up’ reads included a couple of installments of Butcher’s Dresden Files, a re-read of Tad Williams’s Memory, Sorrow and Thorn Trilogy, and a couple of installments of Elizabeth Moon’s Paladin’s Legacy series that fell by the wayside over the past couple of years.

Here are some stats:
  • 31 2014/current year releases
  • 45 can be considered Fantasy
  • 28 books by authors new to me
  • 28 books by women
  • 20 can be considered Science Fiction
  • 13 can be considered Science Fiction
  • 13 can be considered Horror
  • 6 can be considered 2014 debuts
  • *4 books I started and did not finish
I made a concerted effort to read more books by women, and on a quantity basis, I’ve doubled and almost tripled the number for past years, which amounted to 38% of my reading. I’d like to do better than that, but I feel as if I’m on a good path to getting closer to a 50/50 divide.

All that said, on to the categories for the 2014 … which,  I'll continue to call the Stuffies. As I said last year, this isn’t a typical top 10 or 12 or anything, but whatever you want to call them, here are some categories for what I read in 2014 and what I put at the top of those categories.

Rob’s Favorite Fantasy 2014 Novel(s)

I’m lumping Horror into Fantasy because (a) we do that at SFFWorld and (b) the two categories often overlap, at least more than Horror and SF. With all of that having been said, a fair number of novels I read, and those I enjoyed the most, had a mixture of horror and fantasy / dark fantasy.

Determining the Fantasy novel to take my very top spot is probably the toughest nut to crack in years of tallying up my favorite reads so I’ll just call it a draw because these two books worked so well for different reasons.

I’ll go alphabetical, which means for the third year in a row, Robert Jackson Bennett makes an appearance on this list. His offering for this year is set in the imagined city of Bulikov, the novel is the first Bennett has penned which does not take place in a version of our world (although the parallels and echoes are there), but rather a fully realized secondary world., City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett and is one of those two I mentioned splitting the top vote.

Bennett seamlessly brings together elements of spy fiction and epic/secondary world fantasy together in City of Stairs. Think a female James Bond set in a novel of Steven Erikson/Ian Esslemont’s Malazan. Right, that’s not exactly an exact “high-concept” for City of Stairs but rather a jumping off point into something much more complex. In some parts of the world, Bennett’s world feels more technologically advanced even if parts of Bulikov seem to be stuck in time while much of it could be analogous to one or two hundred years in our past. There’s a steampunk/clockpunk feel to the world in places, but I wouldn’t say that is a dominant aesthetic of the setting; Bulikov seems to be at a nexus of many things. I couldn’t help but feel a strong resonance between City of Stairs and the landmark graphic novel Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Both begin (as superficially), politically charged mysteries, only to unfold into a story with more globally affecting ramifications. While there was only one (two if you include Adrian Veidt) godlike beings in Watchmen with many of the heroes no longer active, the sense of their absence and the void of power left in the wake of their absence felt similar here in City of Stairs in a way that worked very well for this reader.

There’s a lot to unpack in the novel and Bennett is such a smart and engaging writer that none of what he packs really bursts the seams; instead, City of Stairs is a smooth novel of near perfection. I cannot recommend this novel highly enough.

Myke Cole brought his Shadow OPS ‘trilogy’ to a close with the extremely satisfying Breach Zone:

With Breach Zone being the third installment of the Shadow OPS trilogy, Cole can focus on action and physical conflict since much of the character foundation for the protagonists (Alan Bookbinder, Jan “Harlequin” Thorsson, and to a lesser extent, Oscar Britton) and support characters was laid down so strongly in the first two volumes. This physical conflict is the complete war zone the island of Manhattan becomes when the rogue Probe Scylla makes a bold comeback after disappearing in Fortress Frontier to make war against the human (mostly American) government.

In many ways (as I said on twitter while reading the book), Scylla is like a sexier, younger (maybe more dangerous) version of the Marvel Comics/X-Men ‘supervillain’ Magneto. Over the fifty or so years since the X-Men first appeared, Max Eisenhardt aka Erik Lehnsherr aka Magneto has been cast in many different lights (Evil Overlord, Leader of the X-Men, Misunderstood Social Activist), but the one thing that has always remained was the character’s pursuit of mutant rights and that mutants were the next step in human evolution. He was the less peaceful counter-argument to Professor Charles Xavier. Like Magneto, Scylla was wronged by the system and is seeking retribution on a global (or even multi-planar) level. Her clash of ideals with Harlequin both as “Grace” and as “Scylla” is equally fascinating as the dialogue in the past is a strong parallel to her actions in the “present.”

Another top read of the year for me is technically partially a 2013 release, since it is a trade paperback compilation of comics published in 2013. I speak of course of Locke & Key: Alpha & Omega:

I think my copy of “Alpha & Omega” had a lot of dust mites in it or maybe I’m allergic to the glue used on the binding because my eyes kept watering up. Seriously though, it isn’t always the case that storytellers can promise something in the early stages of a story and not only deliver on that promise, but surpass the hopes of what may come. Hill and Rodriguez, for me, far surpassed my expectations.

The final issue, as mentioned, is a coda. Hill and Rodriguez aren’t letting readers go without some more tugging of the heart strings. In some of my earlier posts on the series, I mentioned the potential for redeeming Lucas’s character. I wrote those thoughts that without having read this volume, and I’m more than pleased with how the scenario played out. Tyler truly learned from his father and is not doomed to repeat the mistakes Rendell mad.

Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb is the other fantasy novel sitting atop all others I read in 2014, splitting the number one spot with City of Stairs:

Years have passed since readers were last privy Fitz’s thoughts, he is now married to his boyhood love Molly, his daughter Nettle (whom Molly’s first husband Burrich raised as his own and is now very much enmeshed in the life of Buckkeep court) has appointed him the Holder of the Withywoods Estate she’s been bequeathed. In short, life for the man many know as Tom Badgerlock is far more bucolic than the courtly intrigue in which he spent much of his life embroiled. Then one Winterfest, a traveling group of minstrels and performers arrive; these strangers are very different indeed and bear little resemblance to any folk to have passed through Withywoods as far as any of the staff and people can remember. Life soon returns to its leisurely pace for Molly and Fitz until Molly boldly proclaims she is pregnant. This is something she and Fitz always wanted for many of the children she bore were from Burrich, her first husband and the man who served as a father figure to Fitz.

I suspect this novel might be a bit divisive for readers, if a few twitter conversations I had can be insightful. When examined from afar, not very much happens in the novel over the course of the many wonderful words Hobb spins into the story. As such, the pacing of this novel is deliberate and because of Hobb’s delightful prose I never felt as if the events needed to be moving at a different pace. That said, the only elements that I found a little problematic is how certain events were recounted multiple times in Fitz’s internal dialogue with himself. Those were the few spots for me that slightly impeded the lovely stroll through our narrators’ voices..
Kameron Hurley’s The Mirror Empire, was also a standout and while not perfect, really blew me away:

Another aspect of Epic Fantasy Hurley plays with in The Mirror Empire (and likely The Worldbreaker Saga) is the trope of Destiny. With two of the main characters, Roh and Lilia, Destiny comes into play over the course of the story arcs. For Roh, he is fighting against his destiny of being a meager farm boy, he wants to be more. For Lilia, she has a destiny, that for most of the novel, which does not become clear to her despite what other people know of her.
Hurley is one of the most brutally honest writers spinning words in the genre today whom I’ve read; nothing is safe in her fiction (or her non-fiction for that matter). The world is uncompromising to a degree surpassed only by some of the more steadfast characters in the novel (Zezili, I am pointing my finger at you, and don’t think I’ve forgotten how much you are sticking to your guns with your promise to your mother Lilia). The world building here is nothing short of imaginative and eye-opening. In addition to the recast genders, Hurley leaves no leaf unturned. Well, rather, some leaves are best left unturned in this world because they’ll eat you, the plant life gets hungry. Some leaves and plant life are fashioned into swords and other weapons; bears are used as draft and mount animals, dogs are used as mounts, too.

Although I read both of Django Wexler’s Shadow Campaigns novels this year back-to-back and enjoyed the first one a great deal (The Thousand Names) the second in the series, which published this year, really took a hold of me - The Shadow Throne
One of the things that Wexler does so well in both of these novels is to really lay down a level playing field for gender and sexuality. The groundwork was laid in The Thousand Names with Winter’s character and again, the theme continues when she is reunited with her friend / companion / lover Jane, whom she last saw in the women’s prison from which she escaped prior to the beginning of The Thousand Names. What I found most effective in this point is how matter-of-factly Janus works with Winter and Jane to bring their female-only battalion into the military fold. In fact, Winter is the one who made the biggest deal out of it and was surprised at how amenable (and frankly figured into his plans) Janus was to Winter’s plan. Janus places the same rules and restrictions as he would on any military unit, but adds the caveat that the men alongside whom they serve may not be as friendly.

The Shadow Throne is an extremely successful second-in-a-series book, and nearly perfect in that regard. Wexler takes the characters we know from the previous volume and puts them in challenging situations which allows them to grow along the track charted in the first novel, with some surprises as well. Things hinted at in book one come more into the light as fully formed developments in the world / series and Wexler expands the cast in a smart and exciting fashion. It is a novel that, a week after finishing it, still has me thinking strongly about it, realizing upon reflection how very good it was/is, and anticipating the third book in the series.

Other fantasies that really stood out to me were:

  • Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson - "Brandon’s storytelling managed to transport me to Roshar quite quickly and would have done so even had I opened the pages of Words of Radiance without scanning those posts at … Words of Radiance was a thoroughly enjoyable reading experience for me, it delivered what I’d hoped it would deliver, and has me very excited for where Brandon is taking this series. Much as I thought The Way of Kings was an excellent Epic Fantasy novel, Words of Radiance is even better."
  • The Gospel of Loki by Joanne Harris - "Through a first-person narrative, Loki tries to convince us that, even if he isn’t the hero, he shouldn’t be considered the villain history and mythology have cast him. At best, Loki is a misunderstood being and one who is thrust into a situation that provided little chance for him to be anything other than a heel. At worse, he is the Father of Lies. … The story begins when Loki’s wildfire essence is extracted from Chaos by Odin, who bonds Loki as a brother. When Odin brings Loki back to Asgard, the distrust Odin’s people have for Loki is immediate, and most strongly exhibited by Heimdall, the watcher who sees all who not only distrusts Loki, but shows a great hate for the trickster. "
  • Sworn in Steel by Douglas Hulick - "One could easily say of Sworn in Steel, compared to its predecessor: more of the same. I don’t intend that to be a reductive back-handed compliment because I enjoyed Among Thieves a great deal and I was hoping for just that, more of the same. However, by expanding Drothe’s world, plumbing the depths of its history, and revealing that fact has been glossed over by years of assumption Hulick has brought more to the table. Two books into the Tales of the Kin and Hulick is building something quite enjoyable. The easiest comparisons is Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos novels; as both authors employ a first person, intimate narrative with a healthy dose of snark."
  • Revival by Stephen King – Although this one hit some familiar King beats, I was enthralled from the very beginning of the novel. King rarely does first person narratives but after this, I’d love to see more. A fine balance in the story between hinting and revealing.

Rob Favorite 2014 Science Fiction Novel(s)

Rachel Bach / Rachel Aaron brought her Paradox series to a close (hopefully not permantly) with the thrilling Heaven’s Queen is the first installment of Paradox:

Bach builds each novel upon its predecessor extremely well. We start out in a personal story on an intimate level about the adventures of one character (and what a character Devi is) in the first book and by the third book the scale has expanded greatly (though the intimate nature of the narrative is still present). While the story begun in Fortune’s Pawn comes full circle here in the final novel, the universe has plenty of room for more stories about Devi or many for the characters who inhabit the world. If anything, the closure at the end of the novel, which acts as the closure to the series as a whole, was a little too neat and clean. This isn’t to say that Devi didn’t earn her ending, because she did.

All told, The Paradox Trilogy is edge-of-your seat science fiction that is fun and entertaining. The characters struck a great balance between believable and over-the top. The setting felt fleshed out and rich, Bach revealed enough to both make for a fascinating backdrop and also leave room for conjecture. In short, Wherever Rachel (Bach or Aaron) spins her tales, I’ll follow.

The fantastic two-headed writing machine James S.A. Corey (AKA Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) continue the best space-based science fiction series on the shelves with the fourth installment of The Expanse; Cibola Burn (The TV show kicks off next year!)

Corey has always populated these novels with strong characters. We’ve come to know Holden fairly well over the course of these four novels, and while it is great to see returning characters (Bobbie Draper was a POV character and she returns as a POV character in the prologue here), meeting new people is always a feature. The standout here was Elvi, a determined scientist who fits the mold of ‘scientist hero’ in the same vein as many protagonists from the Golden Age aside from her gender. One of the most telling things we learn through her is how the “life” on New Terra cannot be really measured by any known means.

While Cibola Burn is the fourth book of an ongoing series, it is really can also work as an entry point for new readers; perhaps the best example of a series novel that can work as such. In other words, the book is set on a new world, with new characters and starting with a relatively new status quo from the previous novels. Not bad timing considering The Expanse is quickly going to be a television show.

The next in my batch of favorite SF is a mash-up of a parallel worlds tale and post-apocalyptic tale Extinction Game by Gary Gibson:

Through Jerry’s first person voice, we get an intimate portrait of a man losing his sanity despite surviving the initial apocalypse. He speaks with his dead wife, he wants to make sure the people responsible for her death, Red Harvest, get their just desserts. When Jerry finally ventures out of his ramshackle hovel, he finds other people.

One of the many strengths of Extinction Game is Gibson’s well-rounded, inclusive cast. While the protagonist is male, the two most prominent supporting characters are women. Those two women are in a romantic relationship with each other; and other characters come from diverse backgrounds, as well. This is only logical (and a logic many writers might be blinded to seeing) since by definition the characters pulled into the Pathfinder organization are literally from all over not just one Earth, but multiple Earths. Gibson portrays each character quite well and with an emphasis on how important their relationships are, especially how important trust is between them as the novel rushes forward.

I read about half as much SF as I did Fantasy this year, which is a slightly lower percentage than usual. There were a few standouts, but the one that stood out the most was Defenders by Will McIntosh:

What makes Defenders such an incredible novel is McIntosh’s pure elegance, the beauty of its simplicity. Each element of the novel, the characters, the situations, the world, the results of the world’s actions, organically feed into each other as the novel progresses. Oliver could very easily have been the typical geeky scientist and there are elements of that in him; he’s a bit socially awkward for example. However, it isn’t a defining trait. Wiewall could, in the hands of a writer with lesser skill at fleshing out characters, been the proverbial bitch on wheels so many women in power are painted as with shallow strokes.
However, in the (relative to other characters) small amount of space we are in Wiewall’s head, she comes across as a woman who is admirably head-strong, as well as flawed and nervous. In other words, she’s reads like a real, living and breathing person.

Rob's Favorite 2014 Debut(s)

My favorite debut of the year was from Tor in the US and was surrounded with a fair amount of hoopla Brian Staveley’s The Emperor’s Blades, the first installment in his Epic series Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne:

As is par for the course in many fantasy stories, the Emperor is murdered leaving the Unhewn Throne somewhat vacant with Kaden, the next in line, half a world away with the monks. Each of the Emperor’s three children must deal with conflict and pressure in their training; though the majority of the plot focuses on Valyn and Kaden’s training. Like many Epic Fantasies before it, so begins The Emperor’s Blades, the first installment of Brian Staveley’s Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne.

A recommended debut that brought, if not a sense of closure, a sense of completion to the first stage of Kaden, Valyn, and (to a much lesser extent) Adare’s journey at filling their father’s shoes and determining why they are required to fill his shoes prematurely. Staveley pushed many of the buttons I like to see pushed in Epic Fantasy with The Emperor’s Blades while living ample room to take the story in directions and paths of his own charting. What readers enjoy most about Epic Fantasy and why it is such a successful subset of the greater Science Fiction & Fantasy genres, is that they look for “more of the same but different, and done well.” Here, Staveley has delivered on what this reader seeks; an embracing of what is enjoyable about the genre in a fun, very engaging debut and launch book for Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne.

Another debut which I enjoyed is a slight nudge for 2014; the ebook published in August 2013 and the physical book published in December, which in the publishing world pushes the book to a 2014 copyright year. I wanted any excuse to highlight the very engaging debut from Jacqueline Koyanagi, Ascension, which is the first book of the Tangled Axelon series. Koyanagi takes many of the gender and identity issues highlighted in Anne Leckie’s award winning debut, I found Koyanagi’s storytelling far more engaging.

Alana Quick dreams of the sky and working on starships, she is a sky surgeon. She understands machinery much better than people, especially better than she understands her sprit guide sister Nova. One of Alana’s many complications is the rare illness that can be crippling if left unchecked. People come looking for Nova, and when Alana leaves her world and stows away on a ship at the suggestion of a member of the ship’s crew, Alana gets far more than she expected. Her job doesn’t pay well, so she hopes that stowing aboard the star vessel, the Tangled Axon, will allow her to connect the crew with her sister to help Alana get the money she needs to help bring her disability under control. Alana is also not white and prefers women to men, additional characteristics that set her very much apart from the typical Space Opera protagonist, and this is just one standout element in Ascension, Jacqueline Koyangi’s debut novel.

So ultimately, what do we have here with Ascension? Well, lots of good things and many of which are what Science Fiction needs. We’ve got a very unique perspective and voice in the main character – a disabled woman of color who finds herself attracted to the same sex. That alone sets the novel apart, and fortunately, the novel is not simply about what makes Alana stand out from a gender/sexuality/disabled perspective. If that were the case, the novel wouldn’t have been so engaging for me. Koyanagi doesn’t use Alana’s uniqueness to be the lone standout element of the novel and tells a good, engaging story, with great character interaction and plot momentum, and sets up a potential foundation for more stories to be told.

Favorite Backlist / Book Not Published in 2014 Read in 2014

Elizabeth Moon has really been impressing with her fantasy writing for the past few years so I shouldn’t have been surprised with how much I enjoyed Trading in Danger, which is the first book of the Vatta's War series. I have the four remaining books on Mount Toberead and I hope to get to them soon.

In Trading in Danger, Elizabeth Moon introduces readers to Kylar “Ky” Vatta as she’s being discharged from the military. Ky, fortunately, is a member of the Vatta family, owners of Vatta Transport Ltd a powerful space trading corporation based on the rich planet Slotter, so she can fall back on her family’s company as a means to an end. However, her heart was in the military and in the first chapter, Moon’s depiction of the Ky’s discharge is one of the strongest novel openings which immediately generates empathy and sympathy for the protagonist. It may seem a simple thing and with little introduction to or knowledge of Ky, but a great sense of emotional turmoil and shock is conveyed through what Ky experiences and how she deals with it through her internal dialogue. I immediately began rooting for Ky to succeed and felt that way over the course of the novel. I think I like the character of Ky Vatta even more than Moon's more famous character Paks.

Overall, I enjoyed the novel a great deal and plan on reading through the remaining books in the series sooner rather than late, which I define as ‘within the next year.’

A late entry to this section is a book I finished in December, a debut I've been meaning to read for the past couple of years.  Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone was such a novel filled with a wonderful mix of inventiveness and familiarity, a novel that worked for me on many levels.
The spine of the plot is fairly straight-forward as a whodunit/legal thriller, but like a great batch of chili, it is the subtle, evocative spicing ingredients where the novel shines. The back-history which informs the current day events evokes a rich tapestry, especially when characters continually refer to events like the God Wars as a defining time in the world. As the world is powered by gods, the church surrounding the faith to these gods plays a large role in the governing and politics of the world.
There’s a great balance in the characters who comprise the main cast; our protagonist is female, as is her boss. Another supporting character, Cat, has a strong character arc that parallels and intertwines with the main plot. These women have power in this world, or are the most forthcoming in their quest to gain a foothold with it. Despite the church’s power being represented by a man, Elayne exhibits no qualms about dealing with him and these people if not on an equal level, then a level on which she has a moral high ground. What makes these women such great characters, especially Tara and Elayne, is that they have agency of their own and are not defined by their relationship to men in the novel. Granted, Tara’s relationship with her former professor at college is an integral element in the novel, but it isn’t the only defining aspect of who she is. Cat, on the other hand, is a bit of a dependent character, but that dependency is not intertwined with her gender. She is, in essence, an addict.

I’ve been reading The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher since about 2006, shortly before the first and only season of the TV show premiered on the then SciFi Channel, but I loved the hell out of Cold Days the installment (14th overall) of the series published in 2013 

This is the closest thing resembling a review I’ve put to words for this, or any of The Dresden Files books, but I was grinning the whole time I was reading the book.

I’ve enjoyed every book in the series and this one seemed to increase the speed at which Butcher is driving towards that hinted at Epic Apocalyptic Trilogy set to close out The Dresden Files.

Plus, this one has more Odin in it and I’m a sucker for fun depictions of Odin and Butcher's depiction of Odin as Donar Vadderung is one of my favorites.

Also, Harry pals around with Santa Claus a wild hunt

Butcher often closes out his books with panache and that was no exception for this one.

Favorite ‘New To Me’ Author(s) of 2014

Disclaimer: I’m only considering writers from whom I read more than one book this past year…. There were a couple of writers who could fit this category, the first of whom is Django Wexler – and not because he’s a colleague over at Douglas Hulick published in is Tales of the Kin series: Among Theives and Sworn in Steel and look forward to where he takes these characters next.

Favorite Publisher of 2014

This is a three-way tie and one and the same, because Ace/ROC/DAW although separate imprints, and especially DAW being separate in many ways from Ace & ROC, still is marketed with the other two. So, in other words, I’ll say the SFF Publishing arm of Penguin. Granted, I may have received more books from them than other publishers, but the percentage of those titles which appealed to me, which I read and enjoyed I think is a bit higher, too. (I’m only mentioning my re-read of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn by Tad Williams, but not really counting it towards this MVP designation). Of course I’ve already mentioned Django Wexler and Doug Hulick in some detail, as well as Breach Zone the closing novel Myke Cole’s Shadow OPS ‘trilogy.’ Ace published two debuts excellent debuts I enjoyed:

The Bloodbound by Erin Lindsey - “The majority of the novel is told from Alix’s point of view, with some scenes through her King’s eyes. Alix comes across as an honest, almost-too-good-for-her-own-good protagonist torn between duty and passion. She finds her passion and romantic feelings for her closest companion Liam growing, so she acts upon it. The thing that throws a monkey-wrench into their relationship is the king himself. Rather, Alix acting as headstrong as ever; she goes against the orders of her superior Allan Green and breaks formation to save the King’s life. He wakes to find Alix draped over her. That physical interaction leads to more emotional interaction between the two.…I liked this one a great deal. Lindsey does a fine job of building tension as in the narrative and while I was hooked into the novel early on, I felt much more invested and glued to the page as the novel progressed. I genuinely liked the characters and want to read more about them. In a genre landscape where darkness in characters and grimdark tone seem to be rather prevalent, The Bloodbound was a refreshing change from that. There’s a great sense of hopefulness and positivity in the characters and paths through which the plot drives.”

The Midnight Queen (Noctis Magicae Book 1) by Sylvia Izzo Hunter - “Set in an alternate England somewhat reminiscent of the Regency era, where Magic is taught to young men at Oxford’s Merlin College, Sylvia Izzo Hunter’s debut novel wastes no time introducing the protagonist, Graham (nicknamed Gray) Marshall, and the situation which propels his plight through The Midnight Queen. Specifically, some of his college friends encourage Gray to join them in a night time escapade, a heist of sorts, which ends in tragedy and Gray receiving a forced dismissal from the school. Gray is taken by Appius Callender, the Professor who sent Gray and his friends on the ill-fated mission to Callender’s estate where Gray is something of a prisoner and indentured servant. The only thing that gives him respite during his dreary days is young Sophie Callender, the Professor’s middle child…. Hunter pulls off the affected and mannered speech very well, both in dialogue and narrative. Early in the narrative, Gray has a stammer that could indicate a genuine speech problem or simply nervousness. The more he interacts with Sophie; however, the less prominent his stammer becomes. Sophie also has a difficulty of her own to overcome, a block is placed on her magic while she was under the Professor’s roof. As the novel’s plot progresses, we (and Sophie herself) learn Sophie is much more than she initially appears to be.”

I will always sing the praises of DAW for doing such a fine job of ensuring their authors work remains in print and / or available for new readers. This is best exemplified in the Species Imperative omnibus they published in celebration of Julie Czerneda’s fantastic trilogy (comprised of Survival, Migration, and Regeneration.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t once again call out Orbit Books for continuing to publish great books (a few of which I called out earlier in this post, Cibola Burn and Defenders by Will McIntosh, as well as a great second book in Brian T. McClellan’s Powder Mage Trilogy, The Crimson Campaign; The Widow’s House, the fourth installment of Daniel Abraham’s hugely enjoyable Dagger and the Coin series.

Other Stuff

2014 saw the second anthology I helped edit (i.e review stories for inclusion and provide editorial comments) publish – Wars to End All Wars: Alternate Tales from the Trenches, featuring a reprint of an Elizabeth Moon story as well as the following new stories: “The Girl with the Flaxen Hair” by Igor Ljubuncic; “Wormhole” by Lee Swift; “Jawohl” by Wilson Geiger; “On the Cheap” by Dan Beiger; “One Man’s War” by G.L. Lathian; and “The Foundation” by Andrew Leon Hudson.

I also appeared not only on a podcast for the first time (SF Signal about Upcoming 2014 books), but three more after that. I suppose my voice isn’t as annoying to other people as it is to me:

I did another series review/catch up for this year. Whereas last year I rewatched Orphan Black, in January and February of this year, I did a re-read of the dark, twisty and fantastic Locke & Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez.

I also re-read Tad Williams’s Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, but more about that next year except to say that its place as my favorite completed fantasy series was reaffirmed after finishing all three/four books.