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- Winners of the Catching Fire and Clockwork Phoenix...
- Getting to Know the Characters of "Fire" Blog Tour...
- "The Year of the Flood" by Margaret Atwood (Review...
- “Servant of a Dark God” by John Brown (Reviewed by...
- "Her Fearful Symmetry" by Audrey Niffenegger (Revi...
- "Dreaming Anastasia: A Novel of Love, Magic, and t...
- "Nocturnes" by Kazuo Ishiguro (Reviewed by Liviu S...
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The 3 winners for the Catching Fire Prize Pack have been picked. Congratulations to Dottie Taylor (Illinois), Lori Walker (Virginia), and Elizabeth Mays (Michigan). Thank you to all who entered this contest! And a big Thank you to Scholastic for providing the giveaway! Look for some more YA contests happening in October!
The 3 winners for the Clockwork Phoenix 2 giveaway have also been picked! Congratulations to Tiffany Salvia (Alabama), Patty Rosenberg (Connecticut), and Marty Halpern (California). Thank you all who entered! Thank you to Mike Allen for providing the giveaway!
Last year my first review for Fantasy Book Critic was for an up and coming new author Kristin Cashore, author of Graceling. Now Fantasy Book Critic has the opportunity to host the 13th stop in a 15 stop blog tour for the upcoming companion novel to Graceling, Fire scheduled to be released October 5, 2009.
Wondering what Fire is about? Here's the blurb borrowed from Goodreads:
"Fire, Graceling's prequel-ish companion book, takes place across the mountains to the east of the seven kingdoms, in a rocky, war-torn land called the Dells. Beautiful creatures called monsters live in the Dells. Monsters have the shape of normal animals: mountain lions, dragonflies, horses, fish. But the hair or scales or feathers of monsters are gorgeously colored-- fuchsia, turquoise, sparkly bronze, iridescent green-- and their minds have the power to control the minds of humans. Seventeen-year-old Fire is the last remaining human-shaped monster in the Dells. Gorgeously monstrous in body and mind but with a human appreciation of right and wrong, she is hated and mistrusted by just about everyone, and this book is her story."
For the past two weeks Kristin Cashore has been making stops all over the blogosphere and introducing readers to characters that will appear in Fire. So without further ado Fantasy Book Critic is please to present you, in Kristin Cashore's own words an introduction to 4 characters from Fire:
"Lord Mydogg and his sister, Lady Murgda. Lord Gentian and his son, Lord Gunner. Did ever two more villainous teams come betwixt and between? They hate the king; they hate each other; both teams have their eyes on the throne; but only one team can win this fight!"
Does the introduction to these characters have you wondering what's in store? Below is a 40 page look at Fire:
Fire by Kristin Cashore
Wait There's more to this tour! I have one autographed copy of Fire to giveaway. The rules to enter are as follows:
1. This contest is open to the US only.
2. To enter you must help spread the word on this great novel, either by linking to this post, or twittering using the hashtag of #firetour or by getting creative in your own way! Even just telling a friend counts! If you didn't tweet, or post a link that's okay you can still enter!
3. Email fbcgiveaway@gmail NO SPAM.com (please remove the no spam) and tell me how you helped spread the word on Fire! Please include links if possible and the subject line "Fire". Also include your name, and mailing address please!
4. The contest runs until October 3rd, 2009 at 12:01 PST.
Look for a review of Fire here at Fantasy Book Critic in the coming weeks!
Margaret Atwood at Wikipedia
Order "The Year of the Flood" HERE
INTRODUCTION: Margaret Atwood is so famous that I will forgo the usual more detailed discussion about authors which are reviewed for the first time here and stick to talking about her new dystopian near future series, of which "Oryx and Crake" was the beginning and "The Year of the Flood" is the middle volume. However as time frames go, "The Year of the Flood " covers pretty much the same period as "Oryx and Crake" though it advances the story at the end; in many ways I would consider it the best place to start the series.
The main reason is that "Oryx and Crake" was a pretty good mainstream novel with sff elements, but one that had almost no world building and in consequence the external reality was so blurry that everything could be interpreted as a dream for example. Reading Oryx and Crake was fascinating but I just could not imagine myself living in its world since it lacked any depth so I just could not take it seriously beyond the obvious metaphors, ideological points and the "literary" qualities like prose style or psychological depth of characters. But core-sff requires much more than that in terms of plausibility of the external reality.
The Year of the Flood is a true sff novel, the dystopian world of the author acquiring depth, color and "reality". From this point of view, this book is so much superior as to be no contest, while in terms of characters and prose I would argue that both novels are on equal footing and actually I liked much more the main characters here than in Oryx and Crake, but that is subjective.
OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: In a nearby future dominated by corporations like "HelthWyzer", in which the state has broken down under its fiscal burdens and environmental damage, humanity is separated in several categories. On top and living in isolated gated compounds and rarely interacting with the outside for fear of contamination, kidnapping or worse, the "corps people" themselves, then the "pleebs" eking out a leaving in the corporations commercial outlets ("Secret Burgers", "Happicuppa", "A Noo Yoo"...) and finally the "human refuse", the easily disposable and killed for their organs, protein calories or carbon components. Genetic manipulations and strange new life forms (liobams, enhanced pigs and many more) created in labs for various purposes, some more benign, some not so, are the order of the day.
Everything is policed by the corporate thugs "CorpSeCorps" who dispense summary "justice" at gunpoint, being the only ones allowed to be armed with their famous "sprayguns". For offenders against corporate interests there is usually summary arrest and torture under the "internal rendition" acts, followed by killing or occasionally a chance to be a "painballer", modern gladiators whose deaths in special fighting forest-arenas are filmed for the benefit of the masses. And there are pseudo green-religious fringe cults like the Gardeners or the WolfIsaiahists which are tolerated as long as they seem nonthreatening.
Familiar and strange, mundane and imaginative, the world of the two novels as described above comes to magnificent life in so many little details in "The Year of the Flood" that it becomes one of the most important characters of the book; as we know from the beginning, during the title year, or Year Twenty-Five in the Gardener chronology, this world is murdered by the "Waterless Flood" which in a biblical parallel sweeps most humanity away by means of a deadly virulent pandemic which leaves most animals including the new lab species untouched and inheritors of the Earth with only selected Noah-like humans as survivors.
"The Year of the Flood" alternates third person narrative with first person narrative from two such survivors:
Toby, a middle aged manager of a "A Noo Yoo" spa for the rich pampered corps women, is formerly known as Eve 6 of the most influential Gardener group led by famous "preacher" Adam One whose superb sermons scattered through the book are a big highlight. A young woman in Year Five when she escaped the clutches of her violent boss Blanco to live among the Gardeners, Toby discovers a talent for plants, bees, teaching life-lore and becomes an influential Gardener, while she develops friendship with Adam' "second in command", mysterious tough guy Zeb who is partner of jealous fugitive corps wife Lucerne and "stepfather" of second pov Ren. Her narrative is the "adult" one through which the fate of the world unfolds.
Ren aka Brenda is currently a trapeze artist and occasional prostitute in the famous "Scales and Tails" establishment. Born with the Gardener chronology, so twenty five at present, we see the unfolding events through her childhood eyes since her mother ran away from her luxurious but cramped position as corporate wife to take refuge with lover Zeb in the Gardener compound.
At thirteen Ren meets a pleeb girl Amanda who becomes her best friend and later she meets Jimmy, Glenn aka Crake and Oryx and through her we have the main link with "Oryx and Crake" point of view of the events.
The ending is excellent tying up quite a few things from both this novel and the previous one, though of course there is a big To Be Continued sign and the next novel of the series became a big expected one for me. Another major novel of the year, "The Year of the Flood" is sff at its best from all points of view.
Order “Servant of a Dark God” HERE
Read Excerpts HERE
AUTHOR INFORMATION: John Brown is the author of various short stories including the award-winning “The Scent of Desire”. “Servant of a Dark God” is his debut novel and the beginning of a brand new epic fantasy series with sequels currently slated for release in 2010 and 2011.
PLOT SUMMARY: Young Talen lives in a world where the days of a person’s life can be harvested, bought, and stolen. Only the great Divines, who rule every land, and the human soul-eaters, dark ones who steal from man and beast and become twisted by their polluted draws, know the secrets of this power. This land’s Divine has gone missing and soul-eaters are found among Talen’s people.
The Clans muster a massive hunt, and Talen finds himself a target. Thinking his struggle is against both soul-eaters and their hunters, Talen actually has far larger problems. An ancient being of frightening power has arisen, one whose diet consists of the days of man. Now trapped in a web of lies and secrets, Talen must struggle to identify his true enemy before the Mother finds the one whom she will transform into the lord of the human harvest...
CLASSIFICATION: “Servant of a Dark God” is a mostly traditional epic fantasy novel in the vein of David Farland, Greg Keyes and James Clemens with elements of Brandon Sanderson, David Keck and Kate Elliot...
FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 448 pages divided over forty-nine titled chapters, a map of the Clan Lands of Whitecliff, and a short glossary. Narration is in the third person via Talen, Sugar, Hunger, Argoth and various minor characters including the Skir Master Rubaloth. “Servant of a Dark God” is somewhat self-contained coming to a satisfactory stopping point, but is the first book in a series that will see at least two sequels: “Curse of a Dark God” and “Dark God’s Glory”.
October 13, 2009 marks the North American Hardcover publication of “Servant of a Dark God” via Tor. Cover art provided by Raymond Swanland.
ROBERT'S ANALYSIS: I love starting fantasy series, especially those written by brand new authors. Visiting a whole new secondary world; learning about new magic systems, religions, and cultures; getting to know new characters . . . I find it very exciting, and in this regard John Brown’s debut novel delivers. In particular, I was enthralled by the world John had created. A world full of strange and dark magic (Weaves, Divines, Sleth, Dreadmen, Victors, Skir, Ravelers), mysterious secrets (Grove of the Hismays, Mother) and compelling racial tensions between Mokkaddians and the slave-like Koramites. There’s a lot of information to process though, so the first half of the book can be a bit hard to follow, even with the glossary, while the frequent info-dumping sometimes affects the pacing. Creatively, the magic system possesses more than a few similarities to David Farland’s Runelords concept, but John introduces enough of his own ideas to keep it fresh and interesting.
As far as the writing, John delivers a solid effort. The prose is a bit dry and workmanlike, but flows with a nice rhythm and pace. Characters, both the main players and the supporting ones, are well-developed for the most part and likeable—my favorite was Hunger, a sort of anti-hero comprised of the souls and personalities of different people. The narrative voices do tend to sound the same though, and John has a tendency of staying with one character longer than necessary before switching viewpoints. Dialogue however, is terrific, especially the repartee between characters—even if the banter sometimes occurs at inappropriate moments—and I loved the simple names (Purity, Crab, Legs, River, Leaf, Serenity, etc). One thing I really noticed about John is that he’s much better at writing actions scenes than emotional ones...
Story-wise, “Servant of a Dark God” is a fairly traditional epic fantasy setup with youthful protagonists, undiscovered abilities, characters who are not what they seem, ancient powers, forces of good and evil, and so forth. Fortunately, John shakes things up a bit with the Mokkaddian/Koramite dynamic, Sleth prejudice, the blurry line between good and evil, and the idea that all humans are nothing more than cattle—livestock serving higher beings. Personally, I thought the first half of the novel was excellent, with its sense of mystery, engaging world-building, and the drama faced by the characters. However, after the plot advances, secrets are revealed, and the characters converge, the story starts to falter and becomes a less interesting generic adventure tale, although the book does pick up at the end with an explosive climax and a touching epilogue.
In the end, John Brown’s “Servant of a Dark God” is a better than average entry in the field of epic fantasy, with its own set of problems and promise. Happily, the good outweighs the bad, and with improvement, John Brown could become a fantasy author to watch...
CINDY'S ANALYSIS: Like Robert, I always enjoy reading new series and new authors. It's the excitement of learning something about a world that someone has completely made up from scratch and brought to life through words in a book. So when I picked up “Servant of a Dark God” I had no idea what to expect.
My experience with this book was mixed. I found the whole concept and world fairly exciting. There seemed to be an honest effort in bringing readers a new epic fantasy-like story. However, there were a lot of barriers while reading the book that prevented me from having the experience I usually enjoy while reading epic fantasies.
First, the writing seemed to be a bit choppy at times. There weren't details missing so much as the sentences didn't seem to flow as I was reading them. For example, while retelling a fight scene there seemed to be a lot of short sentences put together. This prevented me from really jumping into the story and enjoying the book.
The second weakness that I found while reading the novel was the complex story line. While going in I understood that the story was going to be complex, however this particular plot seemed overly complex. There were times when it was really hard to understand who was doing what, and what type of magic was being used. This, more so then the choppy writing, really made the book a difficult read.
Maybe with a reread of the novel it might become easier to follow the storyline, but on the first read it was hard to understand what was going on. The world was developed mostly throughout the whole novel, so while reading a certain part of the story an important fact would be thrown out, only to be found that it becomes important to a section of the novel.
Despite the weaknesses and complex story, I will still follow the series that John Brown has started. Many of the weaknesses could be made by a debut author, so I hope to see Mr. Brown touch on a few of these in the second novel. After all, there were characters that I really enjoyed in the novel and want to read more about.
Overall, John Brown’s first novel is a good effort at writing, but comes across as a little over eager with the details. I truly believe that Mr. Brown has the talent and mind to be a great epic fantasy writer though, and with a few improvements could have a great writing career. I look forward to seeing where he does go with this series.
Official Audrey Niffenegger Website
Read an Excerpt or Listen to the Author Reading from the Novel
INTRODUCTION: Audrey Niffenegger is the author of the big hit romantic sf novel "The Time Traveler's Wife" recently made into a movie and in her second offering she pens a darker novel which is a modern fantasy with weird characters and a strange but superb setting, featuring "real ghosts", identical twins, a cemetery and much more...
I was very excited about the novel when I heard of it and I jumped at an unexpected arc offer, read the novel on arrival since it hooked me from the first lines and I could not put it down to the end.
OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: "Her Fearful Symmetry" is a stunning novel full of surprises, twists and turns with beautiful prose and great characters as well as a page turner. A true ghost story with twin middle-aged women and twin daughters of one of the original twins, set near Highgate Cemetery in England and featuring a very - and that's an understatement - eccentric cast of characters, the novel has a simple premise: what if ghosts are real and can sense their surroundings but only very weakly interact materially with it?
Some 21 years before the start of the book in 2004, Elspeth and Eddie are well off twin Londoners in their early 20's sharing everything for all their life until Elspeth meets Jack Poole a young American banker and gets engaged with him; later Eddie marries him and runs with him to Chicago where they raise energetic elder twin Julia and dreamer younger twin Valentina who is a mirror twin this time so she has some medical complications due to her unusual body configuration (heart on the right hand side and so on...)
Except for a short visit to see grandma when the twins are 4 months old, their mother and aunt remained estranged for the rest of their lives, while some years later Elspeth who was living near Highgate Cemetery and was about 31 "picks up" 22 year old "historical researcher" Robert who is obsessed with the cemetery and they remain together until her untimely cancer death in 2004 when Julia and Valentina are 20.
In her will Elspeth leaves all to the twin youngsters with the condition that on turning 21 they come and live one year in her apartment while Eddie and Jack are forbidden to enter it; Robert who kept his downstairs apartment and is cemetery tour guide, apartment building manager and writing his PhD thesis on the Highgate history is supposed to help the girls settle in.
Add to that the upstairs ultra-eccentric older neighbor Martin whose Dutch wife just took an "extended vacation" from him, the 85 year old Jessica who is Robert's"boss" at Highgate - not that they are paid anyway - and her 94 year old husband James, a stray kitten, the ghost of Elspeth and some twists and turns that will pull the rug from under your expectation and you get an inkling of what the novel is about.
For me the strongest points of the novel were:
1: The cast of characters: Julia, Valentina, Robert, Martin and Elspeth and her ghost are absolutely memorable and they stayed with me for a long time. The moody Robert and the lovable but strange Martin bring a good "masculine" balance to the exuberance and willfulness of Julia and dreaminess of Valentina and all four became great favorites, while Elspeth and her slowly revealed secrets add the needed narrative tension.
2: The Highgate Cemetery and its environs are pitch perfect described and while I have not visited London yet, I could imagine that particularly area so well from this book that it is clear the author has a shine to it.
3: The style of the book which is beautiful, clear and keeps you turning page after page as you can check from the excerpts - text and audio - linked above, while the twists and turns of the novel kept me on the edge of the seat till the end.
If there is one negative about "Her Fearful Symmetry" is that it ended since I would have loved another 100 pages of it for sure, though at 400 pages and with several Highgate images scattered through it, the novel has enough "heft" to be satisfying. But I wanted more since the characters really grew on me!! The ending ties in most of the story threads, though it leaves enough "open-endness" to allow our imagination to roam with our characters. Overall the one short description would be "very entertaining novel".
Order Dreaming Anastasia from Amazon HERE
When I heard about Dreaming Anastasia I had mixed feelings as to what to expect. Sometimes stories that involve history just don't seem to pull it off, or the author can completely ignore what happened in history and go off on their own. However Joy Preble's YA story was a pleasure to read and it didn't disappoint me at all.
Overview: Anne Michaelson is just like any other 16 year old. She has all the problems and worries that go along with been a teenager. But she has one little difference, sometimes at night she dreams that she is someone else. Anne dreams that she is Anastasia Romanov. She has vivid dreams of the famous evening that destroyed the Romanov family, and sometimes she even dreams of being Anastasia trapped in some cabin in the far off woods. All the history books say that Anastasia is dead, but Anne doesn't seem to believe that.
One day Anne has a chance meeting with a strange young boy who seems to keep a constant eye on her. When their bodies accidentally touch, a spark flies between the two, and the boy, Ethan seems to know that this is the girl he has spent decades looking for. On top of that he knows all about Anne's dreams and has an explanation to them.
Anne finds out that Anastasia wasn't really killed that evening that she dreams about, but instead was magicked away to a small cabin of an evil witch who has vowed to keep her safe until someone with the Romanov blood can free her.
However there are a group of people who used to live over a 100 years ago that seem to want to keep the daughter of the Tsar captive. Only Ethan and Anne can work together to free her.
Dreaming Anastasia, is a historical fiction/fantasy with a romance flare. It stands at 310 pages and shifts from the point of view of Anne, Ethan and some letters written by Anastasia.
Analysis: Although this book is a YA fantasy/romance there is so much more involved. Without having too many expectations I wasn't really sure what to expect from this book. When I walked away from reading it I was blown away with the ability that Joy Preble has to make me not only care about the plot line but to also care about the characters.
Dreaming Anastasia opens up with the retelling of an old Russian folk tale about a little girl who was sent away into the woods by her step mother and had to battle an evil witch. It was through the help of her doll that was made for her by her mother that helped save her.
Preble takes this folk tale and uses it as the base of her novel. Anastasia has been magicked away from the world and is being held captive by the evil witch. While this might seem a disaster waiting to happen, Preble thoroughly explained the background to the tale so that when it was referenced throughout the story, readers were able to understand what was going on.
This twist on the retelling of the disappearance of Anastasia was a fresh and unique way to see it. While there have been many novels based off of this, the use of the folk tale was captivating enough to hold teen and adult readers alike. There wasn't a lot of predictability to the story so it always kept readers guessing.
Beyond the use of the folk tale was the ability of Preble to bring to the novel characters that were likable and acted age appropriate. While Anne was a 16 year old girl that was facing problems that a normal 16 year old wouldn't have to face, she did so with a believability to it. Anne would ask questions, stand up for herself, and even at times admit that what she was doing didn't seem the smartest idea and would look for ways out of it. Ethan the other main character, has a lot of background to him, and seemed to be a very developed character.
As mentioned this does have a bit of romance to it. However the characters of Anne and Ethan don't instantly fall in love and know that they are right for each other. Instead it takes plenty of time for the two of them to admit that there might be a romantic spark, and even then they are more focused on the problems at hand then in finding love. An all very realistic approach to this situation.
As with all books there were a few weaknesses of the book.
The first weakness was that of the font choice for the letters from Anastasia. The book was a very fast read for myself but when I'd get to the cursive writing of the letters I found them very difficult to read and often times had to reread them several times to understand what was going on. While it was nice to have these letters in there, I'm not sure if it really added to the story. The difficulty of reading the letters, mixed with the rather random feeling of them made them for a part of the story I could do without.
The second and last weakness if that of the magic system and the brotherhood that used it. While it was explained to readers I felt a sense of vagueness to the magic and why the brotherhood even cast the spell in the first place. It wasn't too much of an issue as far as throwing off the plot line but it was a nagging question in the back of my mind.
Overall I was highly impressed with Joy Preble's debut novel. The believability of the characters and the ability to bring a unique look at a story that has been around forever make Preble a YA author that readers will definitely be hearing more about. I look forward to reading any of her future novels that she may come out with.
Order "Nocturnes" HERE
INTRODUCTION: Kazuo Ishiguro should not need any introduction as one of the most famous British contemporary authors with six well known novels under his belt, of which Remains of the Day won a Booker prize and got made into a superb movie too, while When We Were Orphans - a play on both the historical mystery genre and the unreliable narrator style of storytelling - and the most recent Never Let Me Go - speculative fiction of the highest order - were both shortlisted for the Booker.
So when his new book, "Nocturnes" was announced I was very excited and I got it and read it on publication earlier this week and was enchanted as usual by Mr. Ishiguro's style, humor and superb storytelling. While not a novel, "Nocturnes" is more than a short story collection since the five stories inside are thematically linked and feature recurring characters; all five stories are told in first person as is Mr. Ishiguro's wont, though not all the narrators are the "main character" of the respective stories..
OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Subtitled "Five Stories of Music and Nightfall", "Nocturnes" starts with "Crooner", a low key story about a late middle aged famous singer who feels that he is losing his "place at the top" so he decides he needs some radical changes in his life; this story is more distant and less involving than what comes next, but paves the way for the increasingly emotional and powerful stuff that culminates into two brilliant stories at the end.
The middle two stories "Come Rain Or Come Shine" and "Malvern Hills" are similar to some extent, though they feature a narrator who understands a musical couple and a musician who is not really understood by another couple he works with. They are both very good stories which build emotion and mood.
And now we come to the pieces of resistance of the collection, "Nocturne" and "Cellists" which are as good as anything I've read recently.
Written as a semi-funny, semi-pathetic confession of a second rate musician whose wife leaves him for a rich friend but as a sort of consolation prize , arranges for her new beau to pay for cosmetic surgery for him since as she puts it, only his looks keep him for elevating his career to the top level, "Nocturne" is hilarious, sad and choke full of surprises at turns and it's just a pitch perfect story.
Showing the author's range, the boisterous "Nocturne" is followed by the wistful story "Cellists" in which the tale of a poor East European musician who finds a beguiling and unexpected muse in an Italian hotel is told from a distance by an acquaintance of his. "Cellists" is another story I could read ten times without getting bored by it, being so beautifully written and satisfying.
Overall with two A++ stories, two A stories and a good B like beginning one, "Nocturnes" is a highly recommended collection and a good introduction to Mr. Ishiguro's art.
Official Iain Banks Website
Order "Transition" HERE
INTRODUCTION: Iain M. Banks' early Culture books, "Use of Weapons", "Consider Phlebas" and "The Player of Games" as well as the standalone "Against a Dark Background" are among my top sff books of all time, with "Use of Weapons" still at #1 after 17 years since first read and many re-reads in the meantime.
While his mainstream non-M books have been less of a hit with me since they combine horror and "Englishness" and both are very hit-or-miss for me as opposed to space opera, I got all M book as soon as possible and read them on arrival for 17 years now.
So I was a bit in a conundrum with "Transition" which is billed as a non-M book in the UK, but an M book in the US and while very excited by it from its description, I was not sure what I will get. On first read I still kept being puzzled, since the book combined both mainstream elements (superb style, psychological depth) with core sff ones (larger than life characters, Multiverse and travel in between alt-Earths) in a multilayered tale of extraordinary sophistication, but one I was not sure till the end how it will mesh.
However once I finished the novel and I started understanding its nuances, I immediately got back into it and read it twice again and it was worth, Transition becoming indeed my top sff novel of the year and one of top two overall 2009 releases so far. I will explain why in the following and argue that you definitely need at least one re-read to fully appreciate the subtlety and depth of the novel.
OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: I started on the re-read - I re-read already many passages several times trying to fully understand the book, but a full end-to-end re-read is needed -
For now I do not really know how to rate the book - from brilliant to very good but not coherent, or as a review put it a bit of a mess...
Marketed as an M book in the US and a non-M (mainstream) in the UK, Transition can be read in a dual way - as core/adventure sf with the Multiverse, assassins, conspiracies, The Concern a...more The main conceit of "Transition" is that our and many other Earths are part of the Multiverse in which special people, "Transitioners"- usually of the assured, selfish type - can travel in between by temporarily occupying the bodies of unsuspecting persons with the help of a drug called "septus" which is native to Calbefraques, the one special, "Platonically perfect", totally open Earth where everyone knows about the possibility of transition and the "Speditionary Faculty of the University of Practical Talents" delves into the mysteries of the Multiverse as does the associated "L'Expedience" aka "The Concern" which tries to influence - to the good as it claims - other "Earths".
"Calbefraques was the ultimate Open world, the mirror image of one of the numberless perfectly Closed Earths where nobody knew about the many worlds; a place where possibly every single adult soul who walked its surface knew that it was merely one world within an infinitude of worlds, and a nexus at that, a stepping-off point for as much of that infinitude as it was possible to imagine.
And a world, an Earth that was close to unique. Logically there had to be other versions of this Earth that were close to the Calbefraques that we knew, but we seemed to be unable to access them. It was as though by being the place that could act as a gateway to any other version of Earth, Calbefraques had somehow outpaced all the other versions of itself that would otherwise have existed. It seemed that in the same way that the true consciousness of a transitioner could only be in one world at a time, there could only be one world that was perfectly Open, and that world, that unique Earth was this one, called Calbefraques."The above quote from the book clarifies the key core-sf element of the novel, while the intricate interlinked tales of the various characters both explore it and connect it to "our" Earth on which a good chunk of action happens.
Ostensibly there are five threads in the novel, following one Transitioner agent, one unreliable narrator who is a mental patient on an obscure "closed" Earth but believes himself to be a former agent of the Concern on the run, a philosophical torturer from an alt-Earth with some twists, the current CEO of L'Expedience and the one up-to-no good character from the first pages, Madame D'Ortolan, and finally on our Earth, social climber, former drug runner and current hot shot financier Adrian Cubbish of "The Market is God. There is no God but the Market" refrain...
Hovering over everyone is the mysterious Ms. Mulverhill who claims to have proof of dark deeds and intentions at the heart of The Concern and is on the run from its agents while recruiting allies to her cause. At least this is how the novel starts and what we are led to believe at the beginning...
Transition can be read in a dual way - as core/adventure sf with the Multiverse, assassins, conspiracies, The Concern and its research and purposes - and as mainstream novel about the abuse of power, the nature of morality, drugs, torture, greed and money, subjects which are always omnipresent in the IM novels but here they are directly related to our world and analogs with some twists. As mainstream it probably tackles more than in such ten novels, and in a very energetic, take no prisoner ways familiar from his sf novels, so it will administer a jolt to unwary readers...
As core sf, its subtlety will be appreciated only on the reread when much more will make sense, though the novel raises more questions than brings answers and offers a great opportunity for a Culture-like cycle of novels in this extraordinary milieu.
For veteran IM Banks readers there are a lot of allusions to his Culture novels and their themes, and you will re-encounter Diziet Sma's arguments with Zakalwe about the "morality of intervention vs non-intervention" from Use of Weapons, or GCU's Grey Area' sense of justice and its implacable execution from Excession as well as quite a few other similar tidbits.
The one major negative of the novel are the "let me show how clever I am" moments that jar in their (multiple) Earth context, including the references to momentous events in our history like the Fall of the Berlin Wall or 9/11 which have no particular significance in the novel and could have been skipped without missing a beat.
I loved the ending, though in the usual Banks' style, you better re-read at least the prologue at the end since like in "Use of Weapons", the prologue will not make real sense at the beginning since it's actually the first part of the epilogue....
Superb, deep, and a great absorbing read I strongly recommend "Transition" both for veteran IM Banks readers and as an introduction to his work.
Official Andy Remic Website
Order "Kell's Legend" HERE
BOOK & AUTHOR INFO: This is Andy Remic's 6th novel after three previous near future military tech-thrillers and two far future hardcore mil-sf novels. This is also his first fantasy effort. The book is being published by Angry Robot & is released in UK under this imprint in paperback form. The novel has a prologue & fifteen chapters. There is also the entire poem of Kell's Legend given in the end. Each chapter features various characters & the story is narrated in third person. This is book one of the Clockwork Vampire chronicles.
BOOK OVERVIEW & ANALYSIS: The book title and cover will make all David Gemmell fans nostalgic as well as curious. My interest was also piqued when Andy Remic's book was announced by Angry Robot & I jumped at the opportunity to be able to read it. Andy has dedicated this book to David Gemmell whom he considers one of the finest fantasy writers [an assumption which I heartily agree with].
Most David Gemmell fans will instantaneously draw similarities in Andy Remic's fantasy debut & with David Gemmell's Drenai books. The 1st similarity would be with the title, next the titular character as depicted on the cover & in the book is rather cut close to the character of Druss. However if one can look past these connections Kell's Legend turns out to be an enjoyable, fast paced & visceral read.
The primary characters that are featured as POVs are:
Kell, grizzled war veteran & fabled hero, who is forced to reexamine his past as he deals with the invasion of his homeland & other events in the book.
Nienna, Kell's granddaughter who along with her friend Katarina flees her college in rather unfortunate circumstances
Saark, fabled sword master, disgraced hero & who is currently living out life as a thief & gigolo. He then meets Kell & agrees to his plan for his own purpose.
Anukis, a Vachine who is deemed impure by her peers due to her ability to drink pure blood & not the blood oil which sustains all other vachines.
Kat, Nienna's friend who escapes along with her & is forced to re-evaluate the past, as concerning Kell.
There are other POVs as well which are present in the novel however to reveal their names would be a bit too spoilerish. These characters however are few in between the major characters mentioned above.
Andy Remic has to be credited for creating a steampunk-like world within a fantasy setting. His concept of the race of Vachines is a combination of Vampire & clockwork machines, while their nourishment is via a substance called "blood oil". This brings a new twist on familiar tropes. The Vachines are shown to be of a higher technological setting than the other races appearing here.
The main character of Kell is a rather darker shade of Druss, with roughly the same amount of strength & formidable will but with a murkier past. He even has a butterfly bladed axe (which is homage to Druss's axe Snaga) however with the difference that this axe is black to Snaga's polished steel & also has a voice which speaks rather too clearly for Kell's comfort. The author has not clarified much about his origins and this rather heightens the intrigue in the tale as you read snippets of information about him and his past deeds which will leave you wanting more.
The character of Saark is somewhat secondary as we are given a slice of his past but nothing concrete can be processed from it. He might feature prominently in future books as his past comes back to haunt him. Anukis is from a rather prestigious lineage but faces a lot of abuse & humiliation due to her nature & heritage. Nienna & Katarina are forced to go alongwith Kell as they escape the invasion and they have to face a lot of tests in order to survive and along the way they also become acquainted with the unspoken part of the epic poem about Kell.
This novel if approached as substitute for David Gemmell's book will lead to great disappointment. Instead of this approach readers might like to look upon this book as, Remic building his own tale using a template created by David Gemmell. He has even peppered it with several of David's trademarks like the words "Laddie, old horse" etc. & with nicknames like "Black Axeman of Draanach" to get a Gemmellian flavor; however this tale is entirely his own.
There are a few negatives in this book. The dialogue seemed clunky in lots of places & the prose could have been better. The world-building is done to benefit the story & is not deep enough to satisfy world-building junkies, however works within the premise of the story. Alas no map is provided & this can be distracting in course of the story as the characters move from place to place & with a map being provided, the travels of the characters & of various situations which are geographically linked would have been clearer.
The novel is extremely fast paced & will keep the readers on their toes with constant action & mini-cliffhanger chapters. The action sequences & chapter endings reminded me a lot of Matthew Reilly & his books so if you are a fan, you are definitely going to enjoy this book as well. The body count is high as Remic often brutalizes his characters, even the primary ones. The action & gore is also very visceral and stakes in this tale are often kept high & bloody [Joe Abercrombie, you have a competitor now & a British one to boot!].
In the end I would like to reiterate, though this tale will remind you a lot about DG & his books, keep in mind it is Andy Remic who is writing it & based on this foundation he's extrapolating his own story. To compare it, would rob you of the vivid pleasure found in this story. This is an epic tale with lots of violence & Gemmellian characters. It remains to be seen how Mr. Remic develops this saga forward as the last few chapters do leave the readers with trepidation for almost all the POV characters. However it will be fun to read about Kell, his past & his family in the future. Andy Remic you got me hooked old horse! I'm eagerly awaiting the 2nd chronicle of the Clockwork Vampire series.
Order “Canticle” HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Review of “Lamentation”
AUTHOR INFORMATION: Ken Scholes' short fiction has appeared in various magazines and anthologies including Realms of Fantasy, Polyphony 6, Weird Tales and his first collection, “Long Walks, Last Flights and Other Journeys” (Fairwood Press). Ken also has a degree in history and was a winner of the Writers of the Future contest. “Canticle” is the second book of the Psalms of Isaak.
PLOT SUMMARY: It is several months after the events of “Lamentation”. At the Keeper’s Gate, which guards the Named Lands from the Churning Wastes, a strange mechanical figure appears, with a message for Petronus, the Hidden Pope.
Petronus though has retired back to his old fishing village after having dissolved the Androfrancine Order and is now trying to decipher the Rufello cipher that are the events surrounding the Desolation of Windwir.
Vlad Li Tam, who has fled into the Scattered Isles with his entire family—all save Jin Li Tam—is also trying to solve this Whymer Maze and seeks the source of the threat that frightened the Androfrancines so much that they were willing to bring back Xhum Y’Zir’s Seven Cacophonic Deaths that ultimately destroyed Windwir.
Meanwhile, many noble allies have come to the Ninefold Forest for a feast in honor of General Rudolfo’s firstborn child. Jin Li Tam, his wife and mother of his heir, lies in childbed.
On this Firstborn Feast night, several acts of unmitigated violence are sprung, setting into motion events that will change the Named Lands forever...
CLASSIFICATION: Despite featuring robots and other science fiction elements, the Psalms of Isaak are mostly character & plot-driven epic fantasies that in terms of tone, style, and prose strongly reminded me of Daniel Abraham’s The Long Price Quartet. The books have also brought to mind Lian Hearn, Daniel Fox and Elizabeth Haydon, and are recommended to readers who like their fantasy fast-paced, mystical and emotional...
FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 384 pages divided over twenty-six chapters, a Prelude and a Postlude. Also includes a map of the Named Lands. Narration is in the third-person via returning protagonists Rudolfo, Jin Li Tam, Petronus, Neb and Jin’s father Vlad Li Tam with each viewpoint marked by the character’s name. New viewpoints include Winters the Marsh Queen, General Lysias who previously served under the Overseer Sethbert, and Rae Li Tam, another of Vlad’s many daughters. “Canticle” is the second volume in the five-part Psalms of Isaak saga, and like its predecessor, is somewhat self-contained with a beginning, middle and end, although it also serves as a bridge novel to overarching events. The third volume, “Antiphon”, will see publication sometime in 2010.
October 13, 2009 marks the North American Hardcover publication of “Canticle” via Tor. Cover art is once again provided by Greg Manchess.
ANALYSIS: Ken Scholes’ debut novel, “Lamentation”, really impressed me although I felt the book suffered from a number of problems. Some of those same issues like minimalist world-building (a glossary or refresher of certain topics would have helped immensely, i.e. House Y’Zir), an unimaginative magic system (powders, dreams, prophecies) and underdeveloped subplots (Vlad Li Tam’s betrayer) are still present in “Canticle”, the second volume in the Psalms of Isaak, but as a whole the new book is a much stronger effort...
The reasons why “Canticle” is stronger than its predecessor are simple and twofold. The first is that Ken Scholes is just a much better writer the second time around. In “Lamentation”, it felt like the author was trying to figure out how to write a long form novel as he went, while also juggling characters, plot and world-building. As a result, “Lamentation” was a bumpy reading experience. Reading “Canticle” on the other hand, was like cruising in a Mercedes Benz or a Lexus. The flow of the novel was much smoother and more engaging, Ken’s command of the story and its many branching subplots was executed with greater effect, and the prose was once again elegant bordering on poetic. In short, the progess made in Ken’s writing between the two novels is simply amazing and a large factor in why I enjoyed “Canticle” so much more than the author’s debut.
The other reason is that there’s just so much more happening in the sequel. Basically, “Canticle” is a bridge novel that picks up several months after “Lamentation” which served as the foundation of the series. With much of the setup already established in the debut, Ken was able to jump right into the action at the beginning of “Canticle” and kept the pedal floored all the way through the Postlude: Rudolfo and Jin Li Tam’s baby who is born sick and dying. A betrayer among House Li Tam. Assassins using the forbidden—and what was thought—forgotten blood magick which is five times as potent as earth magick. Winteria bat Mardic (Winters) announcing herself as the Queen of the Marsh. Petronus and Vlad Li Tam facing their reckonings. Civil wars and political machinations among the Entrolusian City-States, Pylos and Turam. A journey into the Churning Wastes in search of Sanctorum Lux, or what is believed to be a complete copy of the Great Library that was destroyed in the Desolation of Windwir. The Great Mother, Child of Promise and Home. A Y’Zirite resurgence... These and many other subplots make up the story of “Canticle” which is jampacked from start to finish with one amazing mystery or revelation after the other. Seriously, nearly every single character section—which on average is only 3-4 pages long—unveils some new intrigue or shock, and after a while I began to doubt whether the author could keep it up for the whole book, but he does, saving the best surprises for the end.
For me personally, I enjoyed learning more about the unknown forces threatening the Named Lands and the various references to the book’s title:
“And it shall come to pass at the end of days that a wind of blood shall rise for cleansing and cold iron blades shall rise for pruning. Thus shall the sins of P’Andro Whym be visited upon his children. Thus shall the Throne of the Crimson Empress be established.”
“But the events of recent weeks had shown him that life was a nonmetrical song at times, one that went where it needed to for the melody without respect for the rhythm of history and tradition. Truly a canticle that one danced to as best one could.”
You would think that with so much happening plot-wise, the constantly switching viewpoints, and the short amount of time dedicated to each section that the characterization would suffer in “Canticle”, but that’s not the case. Instead, Ken’s characters are one of the book’s greatest strengths and goes back to the author’s improvement between novels. In other words, Ken has learned to maximize the time spent with each character, constructing characters that are not only well developed and interesting, but also resonate with the reader on a higher level emotionally compared to “Lamentation”, especially if you’re a parent, in love, or plagued by guilt. Of the already established viewpoints, I was most moved by Vlad Li Tam’s plight and the dilemmas faced by Rudolfo and Jin Li Tam in regards to their newborn child, while I found Winters’ narrative the most compelling of the new perspectives. In truth though, every single point-of-view in the book is compelling in its own way even if Rae Li Tam’s seemed a bit pointless...
Negatively, apart from the issues I mentioned above, I was annoyed by the number of times that Jin Li Tam was described as “formidable”. Of course, this is more of a personal complaint than an actual problem with the book :)
CONCLUSION: After finishing “Lamentation” I felt the book was a good, but flawed debut written by an author with a lot of promise. A novel on the same level as other second/third-tier debuts by the likes of Daniel Abraham, Brandon Sanderson, Robert V.S. Redick, etc. After finishing “Canticle” however, I feel that Ken Scholes has already made the leap from good to great, and I’m super-excited by the potential that the rest of the Psalms of Isaak has to offer. In short, if you thought “Lamentation” was impressive, then just wait until you get a hold of “Canticle”...
Official The Clockwork Century Website
Order “Boneshaker” HERE
AUTHOR INFORMATION: Cherie Priest is the author of six novels including the Blooker Award-winning “Four and Twenty Blackbirds”, “Fathom”, “Wings to the Kingdom”, and the Endeavour Award-nominated “Not Flesh Nor Feathers”. She is also the author of the novellas “Dreadful Skin” and “Those Who Went Remain There Still” published by Subterranean Press, as well as numerous short stories and nonfiction articles that have appeared in Weird Tales, Publishers Weekly, and the Stoker-nominated anthology Aegri Somnia from Apex Book Company. Forthcoming releases include “Dreadnought” (Tor), “Clementine” (Subterranean Press), and the urban fantasy novels “Bloodshot” and “Hellbent” (Bantam).
PLOT SUMMARY: In the early days of the Civil War, rumors of gold in the frozen Klondike brought hordes of newcomers to the Pacific Northwest. Anxious to compete, Russian prospectors commissioned inventor Leviticus Blue to create a great machine that could mine through Alaska’s ice. Thus was Dr. Blue’s Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine born.
But on its first test run the Boneshaker went terribly awry, destroying several blocks of downtown Seattle and unearthing a subterranean vein of gas—dubbed the Blight—that turned anyone who breathed it into the living dead.
Sixteen years later, a massive wall has been built to enclose the devastated and toxic city. Just beyond it in what is known as the Outskirts, lives Blue’s widow, Briar Wilkes. Life is hard with a ruined reputation and a teenaged boy to support, but she and Ezekiel are managing. Until Ezekiel undertakes a secret crusade to rewrite history.
Zeke’s quest will take him under the wall and into a city teeming with ravenous undead, air pirates, criminal overlords, and heavily armed refugees. And only Briar can bring him out alive...
CLASSIFICATION: Set in an alternate history Seattle, sometime around the year 1880, “Boneshaker” is a steampunk-flavored adventure that incorporates elements of zombie horror, pulp fiction and post-apocalyptic retrofuturism. Think The Wild Wild West meets Fallout (a videogame series) meets George Romero...
FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 416 pages divided over twenty-eight numbered chapters, an Epilogue, and an excerpt from Unlikely Episodes in Western History which serves as the prologue. Also includes a map and an Author’s Note regarding the historical and geographical liberties taken in the novel. Narration is in the third-person, alternating between Briar Wilkes and her son Ezekiel with biographer Hale Quarter providing the bookends. “Boneshaker” is self-contained, but is the first volume in The Clockwork Century series which already has two more books (Clementine, Dreadnought) scheduled for release in 2010. Much more information about the books and setting can be found HERE including the free short story “Tanglefoot”.
September 29, 2009 marks the North American Trade Paperback publication of “Boneshaker” via Tor. The gorgeous cover art is provided by Jon Foster.
ANALYSIS: Despite owning a number of Cherie Priest’s novels including last year’s “Fathom”, I’ve never actually read anything by the author until now. “Boneshaker” immediately intrigued me because I’m a huge fan of steampunk and zombie fiction, but what really hooked me was the prologue—an excerpt from Hale Quarter’s Unlikely Episodes in Western History detailing the “Boneshaker incident”. From there, I fell in love with the concept of a walled-in Seattle full of such dangers like the deadly Blight gas, rotters (living dead), and various communities who found a way to live in the unlivable city. It is into this nightmare that the bulk of the novel takes place...
Plot-wise, “Boneshaker” is pretty straightforward. 15-year-old Ezekiel Wilkes has grown tired of the animosity he’s had to deal with his entire life because of the deeds committed by a father he never knew, and one day enters the city hoping to discover evidence proving his father’s innocence. Briar, Zeke’s mother, learns of this journey and enters the city as well, hoping to save her son’s life before it’s too late. Along the way, the two encounter a diverse and interesting cast of characters (Alistair Mayhem Osterude, Jeremiah Swakhammer, Miss Angeline, Lucy O’Gunning) including the mysterious Dr. Minnericht who may or may not be the infamous Leviticus Blue. The book also features tons of heart-pounding action (zombie attacks, airship battles, etc), inventive gadgets (the Waterworks, fresh air apparatuses, a mechanical arm, the Doozy Dazer, the Sonic Gusting Gun), one or two surprises, and an ending that mostly wraps up the novel’s most pressing questions like, “what really happened during the Boneshaker incident?”.
Negatively, I didn’t really have any major issues with the book. I thought Zeke was a bit annoying at times and felt the characterization could have been a little bit deeper with a few of the secondary players, but overall the writing was top-notch led by accessible and skillful prose, crisp dialogue and cinematic-like pacing. On top of that, the story was a lot of fun, the setting was creative, and I cared about the characters, especially Briar. In short, I immensely enjoyed “Boneshaker” and can’t wait to read more books in the Clockwork Century series. Cherie Priest, congratulations. You’ve just acquired a new fan :)
INTRODUCTION: The three novels here were read sometime ago and I enjoyed all and wanted to write full reviews for them, but for various reasons I reviewed other books at the time.
While of three different genres in adventure fantasy, adventure sf and adventure historical fiction they share some characteristics in being the first novels in their respective series, with Sapkowski having two short story collections before - I read both, one in English, one in Spanish being untranslated so far in English - while Prophets has 7 previous novels set in the same universe which I also read all years ago on publication or close to, only Gladiatrix being a debut.
They are also fast paced novels that are page turners with lots of violence especially the last two. In what follows I present a "clean, edited" version of my "raw impressions" mini-reviews from the time of finishing each.
Blood of Elves by Andrew Sapkowski
Blood of Elves has an unusual style compared to the "usual English language fantasy novel" with back and forth dialogue that strongly reminded me of childhood favorite author Karl May. The witcher, the magician and the "child of destiny" in a triangle of adventure, fate and intrigue with the big picture glimpsed in the background and machinations of the powerful on both sides.
Prophets by S. Andrew Swann
I have been a fan of the Moreau/Confederacy series since way back in the early 90's, read all 8 books so far (4 Moreau, 3 Takeover + Prophets), almost all on publication, and I have enjoyed all of them with some small niggles- the last Rajahstan book is a bit redundant, though it's good to see the "old" guy back, and the Takeover ending was too open for the whole host of mysteries introduced.
However this one picks up on Bakunin, the "libertarian paradise" and the subject of the previous trilogy and then links with the original series in the character of Nikolai Rajahstan, scion in disgrace of the Moreau royalty. "The Race", or at least its surviving AI's are back too with a vengeance!!
As usual, action galore, sense of wonder and a great series beginning so the sequel is an asap when published.
Gladiatrix by Russell Whitfield
Very entertaining historical fiction of the "blood and guts" type with a twist - the title tells about the twist. Accurate historically - within novelistic license - but in terms of actions of the characters, their beliefs, I cannot fault anything major in the book.
A page turner also, it ends on a great note and promises much more to come with Lysandra aka "Achilia" of the title and the rest of the cast - the surviving ones of course. Excellent and another superior historical fiction showing how good the genre can be when done within the sensibility of the period, rather than a costume drama with modern anachronistic attitudes.
Until now we included the permanent links to these posts in the Contributors Essays Index, but now that we have already 17 such mini-reviews with quite a few more to come, we decided to have a dedicated Index for them. Note that in our Essays we also have more capsule reviews but those are generally part of a thematic discussion (e.g. the novels of the Troy Trilogy by David and Stella Gemmell) so they will remain linked from the Essay Index.
The Index will have the posts in chronological order and we start with 17 capsules in 6 posts.
Current number is 35 capsules and 12 posts.
12. Five Capsule Reviews - October 2010 - Liviu Suciu
"East and West" by Harry Turtledove
"The Black Lung Captain" by Chris Wooding
"The Quantum Thief" by Hannu Rajaniemi
"The Horns of Ruin" by Tim Akers
"In the Shadow of Swords' by Val Gunn
11. Two Capsule Reviews - October 2010 - Cindy Hannikman
"The Crowfield Curse" by Pat Walsh
"No Such Thing As Dragons" by Philip Reeve
10 Two Mini-reviews and One Unreview - April 2010 Liviu Suciu
The Juggler by Sebastian Beaumont
Tome of the Undergates by Sam Sykes
The Hittite by Ben Bova
9. Capsule Review: Children's Books that took place in Scotland
Grey Ghost: Book One in The Wolf's Apprentice series by Julie Hahnke ill. by Marcia Christensen
The Case of the Purloined Professor: Tails of Frederick and Ishbu by Judy Cox
8. Capsule Reviews for books about Vampires and other Mystical Creatures - Oct 09 by Cindy Hannikman
A Practical Guide to Vampires by Lisa Trutkoff Trumbauer
An Illustrated Guide to Mystical Creatures; Illustrations by David West; Text by Anita Ganeri
The Vampire is Just Not That Into You by Vlad Mezrich
7. Three Capsule Reviews 4 - Sept 09 by Liviu Suciu
Blood of Elves by Andrew Sapkowski
Prophets by S. Andrew Swann
Gladiatrix by Russell Whitfield
6. Young Reader Capsule Review 1 - Sept 09 by Cindy Hannikman
The Youngest Templar: Keeper of the Grail by Michael Spradlin
The Dragons of Wayward Crescent: Gruffen by Chris D'Lacey
World's End: Book Three in the Phoenix Rising Trilogy by Erica Verrillo
5. Three Capsule Reviews 3 - June 09 by Liviu Suciu
"The Little Stranger" by Sarah Waters
"Hand of Isis" by Jo Graham
"Far North" by Marcel Theroux
4. Two Capsule Reviews - June 09 by Robert Thompson
Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey