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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Spotlight on March Books

This month Robert Thompson provided most of the book titles with additions by Cindy Hannikman, Liviu Suciu and Mihir Wanchoo. We are featuring 66 books. This month there were considerably more new sff releases but we tried to limit ourselves to a reasonable number and we chose the books most in tune with what's reviewed here.

The release dates are US unless marked otherwise and the books are first edition unless noted differently. The dates are on a best known basis so they are not guaranteed; same about the edition information. Since information sometimes is out of date even in the Amazon/Book Depository links we use for listings, books get delayed or sometimes even released earlier, we would truly appreciate if you would send us an email about any listing with incorrect information.


"Sepulchral Earth: The Long Road" by Tim Marquitz Release Date: March 1, 2010.
Winning Mars” by Jason Stoddard. Release Date: March 1, 2010.
Shadowrise” by Tad Williams. Release Date: March 2, 2010.
Spellwright” by Blake Charlton. Release Date: March 2, 2010.
Coyote Destiny” by Allen Steele. Release Date: March 2, 2010.
Shadows in the Cave” by Caleb Fox. Release Date: March 2, 2010.

Shalador’s Lady” by Anne Bishop. Release Date: March 2, 2010.
“The Dragon Factory” by Jonathan Maberry. Release Date: March 2, 2010.
“The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart” by Mathias Malzieu. Release Date: March 2, 2010.
The Dream of Perpetual Motion” by Dexter Palmer. Release Date: March 2, 2010.
A Local Habitation” by Seanan McGuire. Release Date: March 2, 2010.
"The Timekeeper's Moon” by Joni Sensel. Release Date: March 2, 2010.

"Anastasia's Secret" by Susanne Dunlap Release Date: March 2, 2010
“Dragon Haven” by Robin Hobb. UK Release Date: March 4, 2010.
“City of Dreams and Nightmare” by Ian Whates. UK Release Date: March 4, 2010.
“City of the Snakes” by Darren Shan. UK Release Date: March 4, 2010.
"The Line" by Teri Hall Release Date: 04 Mar 2010
“King Maker” by Maurice Broaddus. UK Release Date: March 4, 2010.

“Farlander” by Col Buchanan. UK Release Date: March 5, 2010.
The Midnight Mayor” by Kate Griffin. Release Date: March 8, 2010.
“The River King's Road” by Liane Merciel. Release Date: March 9, 2010.
The Dead-Tossed Waves” by Carrie Ryan. Release Date: March 9, 2010.
“Angelology” by Danielle Trussoni. Release Date: March 9, 2010.
“Arcadia Falls” by Carol Goodman. Release Date: March 9, 2010.

“Terminal World” by Alastair Reynolds. UK Release Date: March 15, 2010.
“Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror” by Ellen Datlow. Release Date: March 15, 2010.
“Warriors” edited by George R. R. Martin & Gardner Dozois. Release Date: March 16, 2010.
Secret of the Dragon” by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman. Release Date: March 16, 2010.
The Sorcerer’s House” by Gene Wolfe. Release Date: March 16, 2010.
Not Less Than Gods” by Kage Baker. Release Date: March 16, 2010.

The Trade of Queens” by Charles Stross. Release Date: March 16, 2010.
Oath of Fealty” by Elizabeth Moon. Release Date: March 16, 2010.
Bound in Blood” by P.C. Hodgell. Release Date: March 16, 2010.
Dimiter” by William Peter Blatty. Release Date: March 16, 2010.
“The Alchemy of Murder” by Carol McCleary. Release Date: March 16, 2010.
"The Silver Eagle (Forgotten Legion Chronicles 2)" by Ben Kane [US debut] 16 Mar 2010

Lord Sunday" By Garth Nix. Release Date: March 16, 2010
“Thirteen Years Later” by Jasper Kent. UK Release Date: March 18, 2010.
“Metro 2033” by Dmitry Glukhovsky. UK Release Date: March 18, 2010.
"Shadow Princess" by Indu Sundaresan Release Date:23 Mar 2010
Gardens of the Sun” by Paul McAuley. Release Date: March 23, 2010 (US Debut).
Empire in Black & Gold” by Adrian Tchaikovsky. Release Date: March 23, 2010 (US Debut).

“Petrodor” by Joel Shepherd. Release Date: March 23, 2010 (US Debut).
A Conspiracy of Kings” by Megan Whalen Turner. Release Date: March 23, 2010.
The War of the Dwarves” by Markus Heitz. Release Date: March 23, 2010.
“A Matter of Blood: The Dog-faced Gods Trilogy” by Sarah Pinborough. March 25, 2010.
"Chasing the Dragon" by Nicholas Kaufmann Release Date: 29 Mar 2010
The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year: Volume 4” edited by Jonathan Strahan. Release Date: March 29, 2010.

The Ware Tetralogy” by Rudy Rucker. Release Date: March 29, 2010.
“Pinion” by Jay Lake. Release Date: March 30, 2010.
The Age of Zeus” by James Lovegrove. Release Date: March 30, 2010.
Solar” by Ian McEwan. Release Date: March 30, 2010.
The Barbary Pirates” by William Dietrich. Release Date: March 30, 2010.
The Divine Sacrifice” by Tony Hays. Release Date: March 30, 2010.

Secrets of the Sands" by Leona Wisoker. Release Date: March 30, 2010.
“He Walked Among Us” by Norman Spinrad. Release Date: March 30, 2010.
"I Am Not a Serial Killer" by Dan Wells Release Date: 30 Mar 2010
“Dweller” by Jeff Strand. Release Date: March 30, 2010.
“The Tale of Halcyon Crane” by Wendy Webb. Release Date: March 30, 2010.
Changeless” by Gail Carriger. Release Date: March 30, 2010.

The Gaslight Dogs” by Karin Lowachee. Release Date: March 30, 2010.
“Birthmarked” by Caragh M. O'Brien. Release Date: March 30, 2010.
Weaver” by Stephen Baxter. paperback Release Date: March 30, 2010.
"A Grey Moon over China" by Thomas A Day (wide release reprint) 30 Mar 2010
“Necessary Heartbreak” by Michael J. Sullivan. Release Date: March 30, 2010.
Bone and Jewel Creatures” by Elizabeth Bear. Release Date: March 31, 2010.
Friday, February 26, 2010

“The Dragon Factory” by Jonathan Maberry (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Official Jonathan Maberry Website
Order “The Dragon FactoryHERE (US) + HERE (UK)
Read An Excerpt HERE
Sign Up for the FREE Short StoryDeep, DarkHERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Review of “Patient Zero

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Jonathan Maberry is a professional writer and writing teacher and since 1979 has sold more than 1100 articles, seventeen nonfiction books, and six novels, as well as short stories, poetry, song lyrics, video scripts, and two plays. The multiple Bram Stoker Award-winning author’s bibliography includes “Ghost Road Blues”, “Bad Moon Rising”, “Zombie CSU: The Forensics of the Living Dead” and “Patient Zero”. In 2004, Jonathan was inducted into the International Martial Arts Hall of Fame largely because of his extensive writings in that field and is also a martial arts master holding an 8th degree black belt in Jujutsu, and 5th degree black belts in Kenjutsu (Japanese swordsmanship) and Hapkido.

PLOT SUMMARY: Having protected the world from a zombie plague in “Patient Zero”, ex-Baltimore cop turned Special Ops soldier Joe Ledger and the DMS (Department of Military Sciences) are thrown into an even more frightening crisis.

This time, Joe Ledger and the DMS square off against two separate groups of corrupt scientists. The beautiful but twisted Jakoby Twins are creating transgenic monsters and genetically-enhanced soldiers for sale to the highest bidder, while their father Cyrus—who takes evil to an entirely new level—is using cutting-edge science to complete the Nazi Master Race Program. To stop these madmen, Joe will have to elude the NSA who are gunning for him and the DMS, fight his way past mercenary Spetsnaz teams, and stop the Extinction Clock before it runs out.

But when the bloodbath claims one of his own, Joe Ledger declares total war on those people who would burn down the world in order to reshape it in their own dark image...

CLASSIFICATION: Like “Patient Zero”, “The Dragon Factory” is an exciting, action-packed techno-thriller in the vein of James Rollins’ Sigma Force novels and 24. Instead of the Resident Evil/28 Days Later-like zombie/horror elements though, the book brought to mind 80s-era G.I. Joe and James Bond due to the villains and their outlandish ideas.

FORMAT/INFO:The Dragon Factory” is 496 pages long divided over four titled Parts, 133 numbered chapters, and an Epilogue. Narration alternates between the first-person POV of the protagonist Joe Ledger and numerous third-person POVs including heroes (Major Grace Courtland, Mr. Church, First Sgt. Bradley Sims, Eighty-two), villains (Cyrus Jakoby, Otto Wirths, the twins Hecate & Paris Jakoby, Conrad Veder) and minor charactors. “The Dragon Factory” is the second Joe Ledger novel after “Patient Zero”, but is mostly self-contained, although the ending does leaves room for the next sequel, “The King of Plagues”.

March 2, 2010 marks the North American Trade Paperback publication of “The Dragon Factory” via St. Martin’s Griffin. The UK edition (see below) will be published on April 15, 2010 via Gollancz.

ANALYSIS: Jonathan Maberry’sPatient Zero” was quite possibly the most entertaining novel I read in all of 2009. As a result, the sequel couldn’t come fast enough for me. Unfortunately, “Patient Zero” must have set the bar too high, because even though “The Dragon Factory” was another entertaining reading experience, the book never lived up to the first Joe Ledger novel...

Side-by-side, there’s not a lot of differences between “The Dragon Factory” and “Patient Zero”. Both books star Joe Ledger, the DMS and a supporting cast that includes Mr. Church, Grace Courtland, Rudy Sanchez, Dr. Hu, Echo Team, etc. Both feature diabolical villains with their diabolical plots to take over or reshape the world. And both are fast-paced action-thrillers propelled by ultra-short chapters and multiple narratives. Basically, “The Dragon Factory” is a lot like “Patient Zero” except bigger. Longer page count, eviler villains, a crazier plot, higher stakes, and so on. In this case though, bigger doesn’t mean better.

For one, the story took well over 200 pages before getting to the good stuff thanks to an uninteresting NSA/Vice President subplot and an inordinate amount of time spent on establishing how evil Cyrus Jakoby, Otto Wirths, the Extinction Clock, and the twins were—information that could have been expressed in less than half the time. On top of that, the plot was predictable with very few surprises, not to mention the use of such tired ideas like mad scientists, secret labs, Russians, Nazis, a master race program, and references to the Cold War and Josef Mengele.

Two, the villains were just over-the-top, so much so that they felt cartoonish rather than scary, and I was much more impressed with El Mujahid, Amirah and Sebastian Gault from “Patient Zero” rather than anyone from “The Dragon Factory”. This actually ties in with another problem I had with the book: a lack of plausibility. While “Patient Zero” featured zombies in it, the zombies were based on actual science and was a scenario that I could somewhat imagine happening in the real world. The stuff depicted in “The Dragon Factory” is based on actual science as well, but it was just too over-the-top. Plus, there was so much of it that between weaponized genetic diseases, cloning, Cyrus’ actual identity, the New Men, berserkers, tiger-hounds, Stingers, and the Chamber of Myth, it just became impossible for me to suspend my disbelief.

Finally, Jonathan Maberry uses too many POVs in the book. Normally I enjoy the multiple narrative format, especially when it includes villians as well as the good guys and minor characters, but in this case I felt it was a detriment to the novel, in particular to Joe Ledger who seemed lost in his own book. In other words, Joe’s narrative lacked much of the rough charm and biting humor that made him so cool and interesting in “Patient Zero”...

On the flipside, the action portrayed in “The Dragon Factory” is still fast, furious and pulse-pounding; the pacing remains electric; the writing is once again skillfully executed; and the book, like “Patient Zero”, is just a lot of fun to read. Plus, Jonathan Maberry shows that he’s not afraid to kill off his characters, and the ending is a powerful one, promising some interesting directions to explore in the next sequel.

CONCLUSION: All in all, “The Dragon Factory” was a disappointment compared to “Patient Zero”, but I still enjoyed reading the book and look forward to “The King of Plagues”. I just hope the sequel is more like “Patient Zero” instead of “The Dragon Factory”...
Thursday, February 25, 2010

"Napoleon Concerto" by Mark Mellon (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Mark Mellon Website
Order Napoleon Concerto HERE
Read FBC review of Escape from Byzantium

INTRODUCTION: Despite reading only one short novel - or a long novella - from Mark Mellon, I was so impressed by Escape from Byzantium, that anything of interest from him became an asap. So when he graciously let me know about his new novel Napoleon Concerto available now from the small publisher TrebleHeart Books, I was very excited and I even amended my Anticipated 2010 Books post to add this one since it definitely belonged there. After I finished Napoleon Concerto, I could say that Escape from Byzantium was no fluke and Mr. Mellon delivered another winner, this time a full length novel which is somewhat more conventional than Escape but with all the goodies one expects from an alt-history romp.

FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: "Napoleon Concerto" stands at about 340 pages and follows the adventures of Captain Wolfe Sheridane, an Irish naval officer of noble origins who is under a death sentence in the United Kingdom for "treason" and makes a meager living as dance instructor and lover to ladies of nobility in the glittering Paris of 1806 when Napoleon is at his apogee. As befits the title, the novel is divided in three "movements" with musical allusions.

"Napoleon Concerto" is straight-up alternate history which starts from a simple premise: what if the engineering genius of Robert Fulton was married with the practicality and seamanship knowledge and skills of a daring "doer" and put in the service of Napoleon, with the result of actually delivering a new kind of warship, way beyond the then current state of the art?
The ending is superb and completes the main arc of the novel, however I would love to see a continuation of the story in this great alt-history Earth.

The setup of "Napoleon Concerto" is straightforward; the glittering Paris of 1806 where Empress Josephine is the godsend of all clothiers, jewelers and purveyors of fine merchandise, merrily spending from the loot her husband brought home from his European conquests, while the Emperor thwarted in at Trafalgar in his attempt to subdue England is busy crushing the continental powers.

Wolfe Sheridane knows he is a sailor, so he persistently refuses a commission in the Irish auxiliaries created by Napoleon and scraps a living as a "dance instructor" while nursing dreams of going back to sea and getting revenge against the hated British.

Robert Fulton the famous American inventor is also poor and makes a living as a draftsman; he tried once Napoleon's patience by promising a submarine who did not quite work and spending a good sum from the (at the time) First Consul' s treasury; while he is remembered as a "charlatan" by Napoleon and he even tried to sell his inventions to the English who refused him politely, Wolfe Sheridan believes in him and thinks that with some ideas of his own as an experienced seaman, they could "be in business".

Of course this needs lots of funding and with Fulton's reputation with Napoleon in tatters, while Sheridane is not taken seriously outside salons and ladies bedrooms, the two need to get inventive...

Napoleon Concerto has everything I want from alt-hist romp, with action, great memorable characters, battles, inventions, intrigue and romance.
The atmosphere of Paris 1806 is pitch-perfect - the combination of opulence based on the immense sums of money and art treasure "contributed" to the French treasury by the defeated countries, militarism, old vs new nobility, with the muted but always there thought that this glitter may prove to be temporary since it ultimately depends on battlefield fortunes is so immersive that the novel is worth reading for that only.

is also pitch-perfect described, from his well documented mannerisms, to his easily changeable moods; a very smart tyrant, but an ambitious and jealous one that would not let anyone eclipse him. Later in the novel, the Emperor becomes a main character and almost outshines Wolfe, though the Irish Captain has a few surprises of his own. Notable ministers like Talleyrand and Fouche spin their webs carefully and our heroes have to navigate a very careful path if and until they deliver the tangible results the Emperor wants, though too much success comes with a considerable risk of its own as noted above.

Later, when the action moves to actual engineering and then to sea, again the author is very convincing and even the romance part is pretty well handled. Wolfe Sheridane is a great character and the epitome of the "adventure hero", while Fulton as the genius scientist with a penchant for living
well and the consequent need for wealth that comes from that is not quite the stereotype "unworldly scientist", though he is far from practical outside his field.

Of the opposition, the main villains are clearly described as such from the beginning, but there are some surprise ones and there is a lot of subtlety especially in the portrait of British seamen who are nothing but courageous even against powerful odds.

The novel is also a page turner that you do not want to put down until its superb conclusion. A highly recommended strong A from me and another great story from Mark Mellon.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Winners of the Matthew Hughes/Henghis Hapthorn Giveaway!!!

Congratulations to Jackie Hagman (Nebraska) who was randomly selected to win a SET of Matthew Hughes’ Henghis Hapthorn novels including Hardcover copies of “Majestrum”, “The Spiral Labyrinth”, and the new book, “Hespira”, all thanks to Night Shade Books!!! Jackie will also receive the Subterranean Press Trade Hardcover edition of “Songs of the Dying Earth” edited by George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois, and a copy of “Enemy of the Good: A Postscripts Anthology” edited by Peter Crowther & Nick Gevers courtesy of Matthew Hughes!

Congratulations also to Stuart Nelson (Minnesota) who was randomly selected to not only win a SET of Matthew Hughes’ Henghis Hapthorn novels, but also the GRAND PRIZE for correctly answering the question: “What parts of himself did Guth Bandar diminish?” The GRAND PRIZE, courtesy of Matthew Hughes, will include the following items:

1) Rare Subterranean Press Slipcased Hardcover Edition of “Songs of the Dying Earth” edited by George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois which is SIGNED by all contributors (George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Dean Koontz, Jack Vance, etc). On top of that, this is a rare Unnumbered version that was sent out to the contributors!

2) Rare PS Publishing Slipcased Hardcover Edition of Matthew Hughes’Template” signed by both Matthew Hughes and Jay Lake!

3) Rare PS Publishing Slipcased Hardcover Edition of Postscripts 15 SIGNED by contributing authors including Matthew Hughes, Michael Moorcock, Ian McDonald, Stephen Baxter, Mike Resnick, Paul McAuley, and many others!

4) Super-Rare T-shirt emblazoned with the cover art from the original Maxwell Macmillan Canada edition of “Fools Errant”, Matthew Hughes’ very first novel!

For more information about the author and Henghis Hapthorn, please visit the Official Matthew Hughes Website or the Official Night Shade Books Website. And in case you’re wondering. The answer to “What parts of himself did Guth Bandar diminish?” is his head & hands...

"The Folding Knife" by KJ Parker (reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

KJ Parker at Wikipedia
Order The Folding Knife HERE (Read Inside available)
Read FBC review of Purple and Black

INTRODUCTION: After a slightly inauspicious beginning - when I read The Company on publication several years ago, it was my first KJ Parker novel and I was so shaken by it that I quipped "first and last KJ Parker novel" as my first impression, though I read it breathlessly in one setting - KJ Parker's books have vaulted to the top of my fantasy lists.

Despite the quip above, The Company stayed with me for a while and I decided I have to explore my reaction to it. I tried something else from the author, namely "Devices and Desires" (Engineer 1) and "Shadow" (Scavenger 1) and when those books turned out to be superb and became big time favorites, I got and read all the author' s books to date and any new KJ Parker became an automatic top five anticipated title.

In consequence The Folding Knife was my most anticipated fantasy of the early 2010 and possibly of the whole year and it was all I have expected and more.

FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: The Folding Knife stands at about 440 pages and follows the main hero Bassianus Severus, aka future First Citizen Basso "The Magnificent" for about 40 years from the day of his birth. The years before accession to the elective executive power in the Vesani republic are snippeted in about 50 pages recounting various incidents that will form Basso or that highlight his character, so in a sense the main action of the novel starts on page 51; of course what came before is crucial to what follows. There is a prologue which actually is the first half of the epilogue, so it will make complete sense only later since it is interrupted in mid-story and completed at the end of the novel.

Since the story takes place in a secondary-world which will be examined next, it is core-fantasy. However it has no magic and it is quite different from the rest of the field as all the other KJ Parker's novels are for that matter.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: "On the morning of the day when Basso (Bassianus Severus, the future First Citizen) was born, his mother woke up to find a strange woman sitting at the foot of her bed. Her husband was away somewhere on business, and the servants slept downstairs. The woman was dirty and shabby, and she was holding a small knife."

These lines which constitute the opening of the novel proper, introduce us to the "folding knife" of the title and give a perfect example of the author' seemingly quiet and understated style that actually explodes in intensity from time to time once the impact of what you have just read percolates; the follow-up to the above hook opening which shows the resourcefulness of Basso's mother - let's remember she is nine months pregnant and due any time, when confronted to a possible robber or worse - allows us an inkling of the powerful story that will follow. The knife - kept as a sort of trophy and presented to Basso on his tenth birthday with its accompanying tale - will stay with him for a long time and will become a powerful symbol as we learn in due course.

The world of the novel is a pitch perfect example of how to create an unique setup based on familiar Roman and Byzantine templates but with a crucial difference, namely the lack of a messianic religion.
A good way of looking at it is as a modern world without religion and technology in the way we understand them, or in another way an "what if no messianic religion with a message of the possibility of human betterment" - which however long it took, essentially led to our technological world - appeared, but the flows and ebbs of the ancient Greek/Roman/Byzantine world continued for another thousand years or so.
It is very similar to the world of the Fencer trilogy but without any overt magic like there and lots of names carry over modified a little. There are lots of naming jokes and allusions to the classical world
and while I spotted a few, I am pretty sure I missed some.

The action takes place mostly in the City State of Vesani which has a sociopolitical structure somewhat similar to Republican Rome with its noble families, a parliament of 139 seats based on "wards" and a First Citizen elected every 3 years for a maximum of 3 terms; however as opposed to Rome, Vesani is commercial, maritime without land possessions, the "noble" families are ranked mostly by wealth rather than by ancestry, all fit male citizens are required to serve in the navy galleys, while the army is mercenary and hired at need with several "barbarian" officers as full time staff; same with labor which is based on free or slave non-citizens. So in that respect the Vesani Republic is more like Athens without the hoplites/cavalry or like Carthage but with a western outlook.

Basso (aka Bassianus Severus) is the son and grandson of First Citizens though his father almost ruins himself after losing his reelection to a "sausage maker" when in a fit of pique he buys a ship which sinks on its first voyage for him; he gets lucky with Basso's "dowry" money (Basso gets betrothed at 14 to a rich but less pedigreed girl for 1 million) buying a bank this time and by luck making good money and having one Antigonus Poliorcetes (a financial wizard eunuch slave and one of those naming jokes that add so much to the novel) to lead it.

The Folding Knife is written almost flawlessly with the same understated, cynical voice of KJ Parker's oeuvre, though this one is arguably the most idealistic of all the author's novels and Basso is the author's most idealistic character who wants to do good in a "real world" way through a combination of wealth, populism and intrigue with "war is an admission of failure" as his motto. Of course his past, his relatives, the internal Vesani politics and the geopolitical situation may make this quite an impossible task as his advisers occasionally point out when Basso lets some of his flights of fancy known to them - free the slaves, are you kidding?, extend franchise to non-citizens, sure you are mad, let women of "good families" be more than ornaments and marriage pawns since after all look how well many non-citizen women that work do, this is madness...

But if anyone can pull it off, Basso the Magnificent is the one.

The book is also a page turner that you do not want to put down, though I forced myself to read 100 pages, reread them, read another 100 pages, reread them, another 100 pages, another reread and then the last 150 pages, a reread of them and then a reread of the whole novel, so in this way I could both enjoy and savor the book as well as keep the tension which ratchets through to the finale.

Complete and superb - though of course if the author chooses so, the universe of the novel provides lots of opportunities for further stories - The Folding Knife is master storytelling, great character study and much, much more. An A++ .
Tuesday, February 23, 2010

"The Shadowmask: Stone of Tymora Book 2" by Geno and R.A. Salvatore (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

Visit R.a. Salvatore's website here
Read FBC's Review of The Stowaway here
Order The Shadowmask from amazon here

Author Introduction: Geno Salvatore's writing career began over a year ago when he penned Stowaway, book 1 in the Stone of Tymora trilogy. He has co-wrote this trilogy with his father, R.A. Salvatore. R.A. Salvatore is the author of numerous novels set in the Forgotten Realms world. His most well known character is that of the drow, Drizzt.

The Shadowmask is the second book in the Stone of Tymora trilogy, that is penned by both Geno and R.A. Salvatore.

Overview: After being robbed of his precious gem by a unknown masked assailant, refuses to leave the theft alone. Maimon sets out on a journey to find out who exactly stole the stone and retrieve it back. Going based off a tip from a talking raven, Maimon decides to cross a dessert in order to catch up to the legendary drow, Drizzt, whom Maimon believes is in procession of his stone. While in the dessert Maimon faces a group of bandits, in which he must first fight off.

After successfully crossing the dessert and reaching
Calimport, Maimon reunites with Captin Deudermont and the crew of the Sea Sprite. With the help of the crew, the Captain, and Drizzt and his group, Maimon prepares to go out in search of his stone.

Maimon armed with a magical cloak and sword, encounters many adventures and difficulties while searching for his stone. Asbeel, an evil demon is also searching for this very special stone. Maimon must find the stone before Asbeel, and along the way must avenge the death of his beloved mentor.

The Shadowmask brings readers further into the world of Marimum and starts to unravel some of the mysteries of the first book and is filled with many adventures from crossing the dessert to facing life on the rough seas, and even dealing with pirates and dragons.

Format: The Shadowmask, is the second book in the Stone of Tymora Trilogy. It's a YA adventure/action novel that stands at 304 pages. It was released by Mirrorstone, November 10, 2009. The third and final book is scheduled for release in late summer/fall of 2010.

Anylasis: I have been a long time fan of Drizzt and the Forgotten Realms series. It's one of the first fantasy series that I got into when I was in high school and really sparked my love for reading fantasy. So when I heard that the Salvatores were working on a YA series that centered around the world that I loved so much I was eager to see what would come of this series.

When I read the first book,
The Stowaway, I was left oddly disappointed. The writing seemed a bit off to me, there were long areas of no action followed by nonstop action. Despite my feelings for the first book, I gave the second book in the series a try, and my opinion has been changed drastically.

The Shadowmask, is a definite turn around from the first book. It feels as though the Salvatores have finally found their groove. It's been said that Geno Salvatore, a debut author, is the main author with occasional help from his father, the veteran writer. The growth as a writer is very evident when reading the second book.

The pacing of the novel feels as if it's changed. There is just the right amount of action mixed with information gathering. There isn't a lot of down time but there is enough to learn about the main character,
Maimon without getting tired or feeling the story is slowing down. The book starts out with action and ends with action. While the first book had action and adventure, I felt it was slightly unbalanced. However, this problem is easily rectified in this volume of the book.

One of the most notable
Forgotten Realms character makes a cameo appearance. He serves as a mentor like character to young Maimon. This time Drizzt serves for a small moment as a central character to the plot. This leaves fans of Drizzt a little less disappointed in that he is around for more then a few pages, but also allows Geno Salvatore to carry on with the story of someone else besides Drizzet.

This series is very much a YA novel. From the action of the characters to the writing, everything is very much for the YA range. For that matter this book serves perfectly as an introduction to the
Forgotten Realms world, to younger readers. In The Shadowmask, readers are slowly introduced to the familiar world of cities such as Calimport, Baldur's Gate, and Waterdeep. As stated I believe this series is a great appetizer of such to the rest of the Fogotten Realms series. It's got a similar world, but doesn't focus on the main characters that the readers will "step" up to in later years. That way there will be new characters to learn about but have the same central world. Also audience wise, The Shadowmask is meant to attract to readers 8-12 so that leaves a door wide open for them to step up to a bit more complex novels that are found in the Forgotten Realms series.

As with the first book,
The Shadowmask ends with a cliffhanger. Authors want to leave the readers wanting more, however in this book it's a case of the enemy coming up and boom the book ends. Not that I think endings like this take away from the book, I just wish there was a more complete form of closure to the book then what is offered, instead of making me hang in limbo waiting for the next book.

Readers looking to start this series, will definitely want to start with the first book,
The Stowaway. Many of the characters are found in both book, however when they appear in The Shadowmask there is very little explanation of who or what they went through in the first book. So it takes a bit of memory searching to remember what happened to each person. If the first book isn't read there might be a bit of confusion and a feeling of being lost or not know what is going on when things are referenced.

In the end, I really enjoyed
The Shadowmask. It completely changed my opinion of this series and I eagerly await the third book in the series. Skeptics of the first book really should try out this book, because it changed my opinion of it. I can't wait to see where Geno and R.A. Salvatore takes this series. From an author standpoint, It'll be fun to see Geno Salvatore's writing grow as it's very clear he has a tremendous amount of talent.

Monday, February 22, 2010

“The Dream of Perpetual Motion” by Dexter Palmer (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

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AUTHOR INFORMATION: Dexter Palmer holds a Ph.D. in English Literature from Princeton University, where he completed his dissertation on the work of James Joyce, William Gaddis, and Thomas Pynchon. “The Dream of Perpetual Motion” is his first novel.

PLOT SUMMARY: Imprisoned aboard a zeppelin floating high above a steampunk metropolis, greeting-card writer Harold Winslow is composing his memoir. His only companions are the disembodied voice of Miranda Taligent—the only woman he has ever loved—and the cryogenically frozen body of her father, the devilish genius and industrial magnate, Prospero Taligent.

Amidst a place where deserted islands exist within skyscrapers, where the well-heeled have mechanical men for servants, where the realms of fairy tales can be built from scratch, and where other visionary inventions of Prospero Taligent have changed the world from an age of miracles to one of machines and noise, Harold Winslow heads towards a final, desperate confrontation with the mad inventor in order to save Miranda’s life. But all the while, Harold is an unwitting participant in the creation of the greatest invention of them all—the perpetual motion machine...

FORMAT/INFO:The Dream of Perpetual Motion” is 352 pages long divided over five Parts, with each part divided into numbered segments. Also includes a Prologue, an Epilogue, and four Interludes. Narration alternates between the first-person and the third-person via the narrator of the book, Harold “Harry” Winslow. “The Dream of Perpetual Motion” is self-contained.

March 2, 2010 marks the North American Hardcover publication of “The Dream of Perpetual Motion” via St. Martin’s Press.

ANALYSIS: At the start to Dexter Palmer’s debut novel, “The Dream of Perpetual Motion”, readers are introduced to the hero of the story—and our narrator—Harold “Harry” Winslow, and his remarkable situation: trapped aboard the ‘good ship Chrysalis’ (accompanied only by the corpse of Prospero Taligent and the voice of his adopted daughter Miranda), which was created to travel the skies for all eternity.

Over the bulk of the novel, Harold explains how and why he, Miranda and Prospero ended up in their current predicament aboard the Chrysalis, and it all begins twenty years earlier with a party celebrating Miranda’s tenth birthday. A party where one hundred lucky boys and girls were invited to attend in a scenario reminiscent of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It is at this party where Harold’s life becomes inextricably intertwined with Miranda’s and Prospero’s, including Prospero’s promise to fulfill every child present with his or her’s ‘heart’s desire’. From here, the narrative skips ten years ahead. Harold is a creative writing student at Xeroville University, his older sister Astrid is an artist on the brink of fame, and Miranda is about to leave the Taligent Tower for the very first time. Another ten years and it’s Christmas Eve, the night when Harold, Miranda and Prospero board the Chrysalis, leading back to the start—and end—of Harold’s astounding memoir...

Plot-wise, “The Dream of Perpetual Motion” is fairly straightforward once you’ve finished reading the book, but the actual journey from point A to point B is anything but. A framing device where Harold is constantly speaking directly to the reader; the ten-year gaps; excerpts from Caliban Taligent’s notebooks, Prospero’s diary and the Xeroville Free Press; monologues, rants and philosophical debates on a wide range of topics (miracles vs. Inventions, moral forces, speech, the written word, noise, silence, art, growing old, the loss of innocence, heroism, etc.); recurring dreams about the virgin queen; and much more threaten to overwhelm the reader with too much information, a lot of which seems to have no connection with one another. Fortunately, there is a logic to Dexter Palmer’s madness, and it’s quite rewarding to see how everything fits together by the end of the novel, although I did feel there were parts that could have been edited out without any great loss. That said, “The Dream of Perpetual Motion” is definitely not for casual readers, and will be appreciated more by those who enjoy fiction of a more challenging, literary bent.

Personally, I tend to find these kinds of novels boring and long-winded, but in the case of “The Dream of Perpetual Motion”, I was kept enthralled by two main reasons. One was because of Dexter Palmer’s writing. Whether it’s the fleshed out, eccentric characters (Harold, Prospero, Miranda, Astrid, Allan Winslow, Caliban, Ophelia Flavin, Charmaine Saint Claire, the portraitmaker); wonderfully descriptive prose; thoughtful examinations on meaningful subjects such as love, change and growing old; quirky humor; the versatility to narrate in different voices and point-of-views (besides Harold, the master of the boiler room, the portraitmaker and the beast all have their own stories to tell); or the ability to skillfully orchestrate a convoluted narrative without losing control; Dexter Palmer’s writing is of a caliber that few writers ever achieve, let alone a debut novelist:

Every story needs a voice to tell it though, or it goes unheard. So I have to try. I still have enough faith left in language to believe that if I place enough words next to each other on the page, they will start to speak with sounds of their own.”

Storytelling—that’s not the future. The future, I’m afraid, is flashes and impulses. It’s made up of moments and fragments, and stories won’t survive.”

If you want Miranda for yourself. Shaking finger. Then you’ll—oh, wait, I’ve stuffed it up.” He pointed his finger in my face and started to shake it vigorously. “If you want Miranda for yourself then you’ll have to kill me first!” —Prospero reading from a set of index cards while being confronted by Harold

Secondly, “The Dream of Perpetual Motion” is incredibly imaginative. Shrinkcabs (taxi cabs driven by professionally licensed shrinks), Nickel Empire, a camera obscura, teaching machines, flying cars, mechanical men configured as angels and demons, Miranda’s playroom which can emulate any place in the world like a desert island, Picturetown whose inhabitants refuse to speak aloud “under all but the direst of cirumstances”, the Critic-O-Matic which grades papers without ‘subjective judgment’, a vitrioleur (a person trained in slinging acid), a Frankenstein-like creature that speaks through a typewriter plugged into its head—“The Dream of Perpetual Motion” is just full of crazy ideas and much of my enjoyment of the book stemmed from discovering what the author would come up with next.

Negatively, besides a narrative that can be difficult to follow and pacing that occasionally stalled due to tangential ramblings, I found it hard to really sympathize with any of the book’s characters despite their interesting personalities/traits, and I felt the novel was sometimes too ambitious for its own good. Also, on a personal note, I was disappointed by the use of steampunk in “The Dream of Perpetual Motion”. When I think of steampunk I think of action, adventure and excitement. I think of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Time Machine, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and Metropolis. I don’t think of a literary drama that takes place in a steampunk-influenced 20th century setting (the city Xeroville), which is how I would describe “The Dream of Perpetual Motion”. In other words, while there are hints of Jules Verne and Katsuhiro Otomo (Steamboy, Metropolis, Akira) to be found in Dexter Palmer’s debut, the novel is more like something cooked up by Michael Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Science of Sleep), Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) and Tim Burton (Big Fish, Edward Scissorhands), garnished with elements of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Frankenstein, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and fairy tales...

CONCLUSION: Despite issues I had with the narrative’s complexity and ambitiousness, characters I wasn’t able to connect with, and my disillusionment regarding the nature of the book, I came away vastly impressed with Dexter Palmer’sThe Dream of Perpetual Motion”, in particular the accomplished writing and the author’s wild and vivid imagination. And even though I believe the book’s success will be hindered by its inaccessibility and strangeness, “The Dream of Perpetual Motion” is a special novel that marks the debut of a talented new author with a very bright future...
Sunday, February 21, 2010

"The Amaranth Enchantment" by Julie Berry (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

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Author Information: Julie Berry received an M.F.A in writing for children and young adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is the proud mother of 4 boys. The Amaranth Enchantment is her debut novel.

Overview: Ever since Lucinda Chapdelaine's parents didn't return from a ball one evening. She has been left to be taken care of by her uncle and aunt. For years she has been forced to live a life that she is unaccustomed to, she must work in the jewelry shop of her aunt and uncle and live without all the frills of the life she used to have with her parents.

One day the jewelry shop plays host to two very unique visitors. One visitor is a Prince looking for a piece of jewelry for his betrothed, while the other shop customer brings in a piece of jewelry that is different from any other piece of jewelry in the shop. This piece of jewelry and will set into motion a string of events that change Lucinda's life.

Lucinda's aunt agrees to clean the piece of unique jewelry but after learning later on that this particular piece belongs to the dreaded Amaranth Witch. She changes her mind and sends Lucinda to return the charm to its owner. Lucinda decides to keep the jewelry and use it as a form of leverage or possibly sell it.

That evening a street thief, named Peter, enters Lucinda's room and steals the jewelry off of her.

Lucinda is set on a course to find the missing jewelry. Along with a bunch of twists and turns, Lucinda will learn about what caused her parents death, face the evil Amaranth Witch, and possibly fall in love. However events may stand in the way that cause Lucinda from having her happily ever after.

Format: The Amaranth Enchantment, a YA novel with a bit of romance, world traveling, and a bit of fantasy element. It is 288 pages, separated into 35 chapters. It is told in the first point of view of Lucinda. It was published March 3, 2009 by Bloomsbury.

Analysis: From reading the overview the first thought that might pop into people's mind is "this is certainly a retelling of Cinderella". While there are elements of the fairy tale Cinderella in this novel, Julie Berry definitely allows her own imagination to roam and branches off from this particular fairy tale.

When first encountering this novel, I thought I had the whole story line figured out. The first couple of pages were pretty run of the mill Cinderella story and I was worried that this novel would be predictable to a T. Julie Berry definitely changed my opinion of that and I was glued to this book.

Being a debut author, Julie Berry's writing is very elegant and flows nicely. Being that this novel is supposed to be viewed as a fairy tale, there isn't much depth to the world that Berry builds, or really too much thought put into the actions and what causes which. With that said, Berry has a lot of talent, and it's very clear within this story.

Readers looking for a very in depth story line probably won't be happy with this novel. Going into Amaranth Enchantment with the idea that this is a fairy tale and not everything is going to be fleshed out and explained will help the reader. For example, Lucinda seems to fall in love very easily. Looking at this critically, the thought that she instantly falls head over heels for this guy with just one look is a little impractical. However looking at it as a fairy tale and not giving too much thought to the hows and why, really helps the story move on and be able to appreciate this story.

One slight downfall of the story is that I really feel as if this book could have been a tiny bit longer. There was such a nice set up to the story and then it was wrapped up way to quickly. There aren't many books I wish could be a bit longer and this was definitely one of those.

In the end, I enjoyed this story. It was an engaging fairy tale read that was a nice change of pace from such intense fantasy out there.

For readers going into this book just looking to enjoy a nice story without nitpicking every little detail, will find a very lovely and entertaining story. For readers looking for answers to every question and looking to have everything explained might not have as enjoyable experience and will be left with lots of questions. Going into the novel knowing that everything won't be explained will help when approaching this story.

Whichever reader you are it's evident that Julie Berry has a lot of talent and I look forward to seeing her grow and develop her talent with future novels.

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