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Review: Towers Fall by Karina Sumner-Smith


Towers Fall
Author:  Karina Sumner-Smith
Series:  Towers Trilogy 3
Publisher:  Talos, November 17, 2015
Format:  Trade Paperback and eBook, 396 pages
List Price:  $15.99 (print and eBook)
ISBN:  9781940456416 (print); 9781940456447 (eBook)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Publisher

Review:  Towers Fall by Karina Sumner-Smith
War. Fire. Destruction. Xhea believed that the Lower City had weathered the worst of its troubles—that their only remaining fight would be the struggle to rebuild before winter. She was wrong.

Now her home is under attack from an unexpected source. The Central Spire, the City’s greatest power, is intent on destroying the heart of the magical entity that resides beneath the Lower City’s streets. The people on the ground have three days to evacuate—or else.

With nowhere to go and time running out, Xhea and the Radiant ghost Shai attempt to rally a defense. Yet with the Spire’s wrath upon them, nothing—not their combined magic, nor their unexpected allies—may be strong enough to protect them from the power of the City.

From Nebula Award–nominated author Karina Sumner-Smith, Towers Fall is a fantastic climax to this amazing and thought-provoking trilogy. 



Brandon's Review

The conclusion to any good trilogy is tough. It is tough for the reader and the author both for different reasons. Karina Sumner-Smith’s concluding book, Towers Fall, brought out the best of the series and left you wanting more from her in future books.

Sumner-Smith manages to continually surprise by pulling out a card you wondered about, but had been too distracted to follow up on. In the third book in the series we follow Xhea and Shia as they struggle separately and together to gather enough support and survivors to help the Lower City weather the announcement of imminent destruction from the Central Spire, the lynchpin to the power and society above. Will the growing sentience of the Lower City evolve quickly enough to protect its citizens against the threat?

Hampered by a binding spell and questioning the reason and purpose of their relationship the ongoing struggles interpersonally and emotionally continue to play out it a sophisticated way. Nothing in this book is as simple as it first appears and the author manages to avoid the easy options for where their relationship might go and where the story ultimately ends. We see the return of many of the same characters, but a depth of character is set down as we explore the childhood relationships of Xhea and Shai as they reach out to allies for help in keeping the Spire from killing the Lower City’s new intelligence and its citizens. Before they can make much progress the upper city’s towers begin to cannibalize the remaining towers below before they are destroyed.

We learn more about how the Spire controls those with dark talents to control the society at large and keep the bright towers in debt to them. The Spire is more than just a central point of control, it is also a conduit for the power of the city in trying to destroy the Lower City, but Xhea and Shai are willing to expend their lives in saving each other and the cities they both love.

I admire an author who can make you glad they didn’t take the shiny happy ending, but also didn’t leave a dystopian book on an overwhelming depressing note. I think the author is adept at using interpersonal and story arcs to question the internal development of the characters and remind me of my own childhood and question the relationships I held dear and how those have shaped the person I’ve become. It also reminded me that as a young person I went through a lot of very tough decisions and feelings that I felt like I didn’t have someone I felt connected to in order to share them with. Ultimately, this sense of connection and the value of friendship drive the world we live in – or at least – this is one of the themes I felt jumped out at me, but read it for yourself and see. I look forward to what the author has in store for us next.





Previously

Radiant
Towers Trilogy 1
Talos, September 30, 2014
Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages

Review:  Towers Fall by Karina Sumner-Smith
Xhea has no magic. Born without the power that everyone else takes for granted, Xhea is an outcast—no way to earn a living, buy food, or change the life that fate has dealt her. Yet she has a unique talent: the ability to see ghosts and the tethers that bind them to the living world, which she uses to scratch out a bare existence in the ruins beneath the City’s floating Towers.

When a rich City man comes to her with a young woman’s ghost tethered to his chest, Xhea has no idea that this ghost will change everything. The ghost, Shai, is a Radiant, a rare person who generates so much power that the Towers use it to fuel their magic, heedless of the pain such use causes. Shai’s home Tower is desperate to get the ghost back and force her into a body—any body—so that it can regain its position, while the Tower’s rivals seek the ghost to use her magic for their own ends. Caught between a multitude of enemies and desperate to save Shai, Xhea thinks herself powerless—until a strange magic wakes within her. Magic dark and slow, like rising smoke, like seeping oil. A magic whose very touch brings death.

With two extremely strong female protagonists, Radiant is a story of fighting for what you believe in and finding strength that you never thought you had.


See Brandon's review here.




Defiant
Towers Trilogy 2
Talos Press, May 12, 2015
Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages

Review:  Towers Fall by Karina Sumner-Smith
Once, Xhea’s wants were simple: enough to eat, safety in the underground, and the hit of bright payment to transform her gray-cast world into color. But in the aftermath of her rescue of the Radiant ghost Shai, she realizes the life she had known is gone forever.

In the two months since her fall from the City, Xhea has hidden in skyscraper Edren, sheltered and attempting to heal. But soon even she must face the troubling truth that she might never walk again. Shai, ever faithful, has stayed by her side?but the ghost’s very presence has sent untold fortunes into Edren’s coffers and dangerously unbalanced the Lower City’s political balance.

War is brewing. Beyond Edren’s walls, the other skyscrapers have heard tell of the Radiant ghost and the power she holds; rumors, too, speak of the girl who sees ghosts who might be the key to controlling that power. Soon, assassins stalk the skyscrapers’ darkened corridors while armies gather in the streets. But Shai’s magic is not the only prize?nor the only power that could change everything. At last, Xhea begins to learn of her strange dark magic, and why even whispers of its presence are enough to make the Lower City elite tremble in fear.

Together, Xhea and Shai may have the power to stop a war?or become a weapon great enough to bring the City to its knees. That is, if the magic doesn't destroy them first.


See Brandon's review here.

Review: The Witches of Echo Park by Amber Benson


The Witches of Echo Park
AuthorAmber Benson
Series:  Witches of Echo Park 1
Publisher:  Ace, January 6, 2014
Format:  Trade Paperback and eBook, 304 pages
List Price:  $15.99 (print)
ISBN:  9780425268674 (print)
Review Copy:  Reviewer's Own

Review: The Witches of Echo Park by Amber Benson
From beloved author, director, and actress, Amber Benson...

Unbeknownst to most of humankind, a powerful network of witches thrives within the shadows of society, using their magic to keep the world in balance. But they are being eliminated—and we will all pay if their power falls…

When Elyse MacAllister’s great-aunt Eleanora, the woman who raised her, becomes deathly ill, Lyse puts her comfortable life in Georgia on hold to rush back to Los Angeles. And once she returns to Echo Park, Lyse discovers her great-aunt has been keeping secrets—extraordinary secrets—from her.

Not only is Lyse heir to Eleanora’s Victorian estate; she is also expected to take her great-aunt’s place in the Echo Park coven of witches. But to accept her destiny means to place herself in deadly peril—for the world of magic is under siege, and the battle the witches now fight may be their last…


Amber and Qwill's talk about The Witches of Echo Park and more in this video interview.



Brandon's Review

Elyse MacAllister is a woman with a green thumb struggling to keep her small business afloat when she receives a call about her ailing great aunt, who raised her. She rushes off in a fugue to answer the call of family in need. But thrust into this turmoil she is asked to accept the existence of witches and the need for witches to help keep the world balanced amidst a rise in dark forces and a sudden drought of Dreamers. Dreamers are the backbone of witch culture and have true dreams of the future and hope for the future lies in the Echo Park coven.

If you’ve read any of Amber Benson’s other series you’ll notice a similarity in flavors and subject matters. There are a host of strong female characters to choose from in terms of having someone to identify with, but different here is the almost exclusive focus on women and both how women relate to each other as friends, lovers, and family and how that influences the world around them.
I think the character that caught and kept me reading was Hessika. A gruff seeming witch who was the coven’s last Dreamer. She continues to reach out into the future as a ghost to help keep the coven safe and on the path to preserving the world at large. There is something about the smoking and gruff Hessika that appeals to me.

The plot for the series, as explored through this novel, is nothing new to the genre. Witches must unite to battle rising darkness with inheritance and loss a driving force for some of the changes. If you enjoy lighter reads that don’t rely on flowcharts for character histories and family genealogies I think you’ll like this.

Something to really cherish about The Witches of Echo Park is the exploration of the way many different friends and personalities can co-exist to make their world better.  Benson is a solid author and I look forward to seeing what the series holds in store for the Witches of Echo Park.




Upcoming

The Last Dream Keeper
Witches of Echo Park 2
Ace, January 5, 2016
Trade Paperback and eBook

Review: The Witches of Echo Park by Amber Benson
In the second Witches of Echo Park novel, one coven must keep the world in balance and stand against a rising darkness.

Lyse MacAllister did not step into an easy role when she took over as master of the Echo Park coven of witches after her great-aunt Eleanora’s death. As she begins to forge the bonds that will help her lead her sisters, she struggles to come to terms with her growing powers. And she soon faces a deadly new threat. A group of fanatics intent on bringing about the end of times has invaded the witches Council—but the Council is turning a blind eye to the danger growing in its midst.

Only one witch is prophesied to be able to stop the encroaching darkness. And if Lyse and her blood sisters are to have any chance at protecting all we know from being lost forever, they must keep her safe—no matter what the cost…

Review: Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear


Karen Memory
Author:  Elizabeth Bear
Publisher: Tor Books, February 3, 2015
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 352 pages
List Price:  $25.99 (print)
ISBN:  9780765375247 (print)
Review Copy: Provided by the Publisher

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

Set in the late 19th century—when the city we now call Seattle Underground was the whole town (and still on the surface), when airships plied the trade routes, would-be gold miners were heading to the gold fields of Alaska, and steam-powered mechanicals stalked the waterfront, Karen is a young woman on her own, is making the best of her orphaned state by working in Madame Damnable’s high-quality bordello. Through Karen’s eyes we get to know the other girls in the house—a resourceful group—and the poor and the powerful of the town. Trouble erupts one night when a badly injured girl arrives at their door, beggin sanctuary, followed by the man who holds her indenture, and who has a machine that can take over anyone’s mind and control their actions.  And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the next night brings a body dumped in their rubbish heap—a streetwalker who has been brutally murdered.

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


Brandon's Thoughts

Did you know that estimates of black cowboys in the frontier period range from 5,000 to 9,000? At the high estimate this would be 1 in 4. I am glad to see an author who mixes such fantastical elements as fighting juggernaut sewing machines, mad scientist taxes, and mind control machines with very real issues of the roles of women, blacks, and immigrant populations in a period of history that is often glorified and whitewashed.

Karen Memery (aka Memory) is a farm bred girl who has her heart set on owning a horse ranch - a dream that was cut short with the death of her father. Now she continues to dream while she socks away some money from ‘stargazing’. As a soiled dove, i.e., sex worker, for Madame Damnable Sewing Circle, Karen joins a cast of irascible characters in the pursuit of justice for friends and to catch a killer before he murders again.

There are a lot of things to love about this story. I loved some of the quirks that you don’t usually see in other steampunk westerns: the mad scientist tax and the suggestion that science is far progressed with radium watches already evident in the late 1800’s. I love that we see a black U.S. Marshall and his Comanche posseman, but I also like that Bear takes time to explore the underlying racisms in a very subtle way by introducing historical facts into the narrative and by questioning assumptions by all the characters about each other’s capabilities. Bear's also added in some interesting notes about sanitation and medicine of the day. I love that Miss Francina is a strong sensible trans representation that fit in well with some of the other steadier and more mature ‘seamstresses’ in Madame Damnable’s sewing house.

Were all the multi-cultural elements perfect? When are they ever? I don’t claim to be an expert in anything other than myself. For me, there were some moments that toed the line, but never crossed over. I’m willing to bow to those more experienced and knowledgeable in these realms than I. There were a host of cursory or more developed themes that nodded at the overlapping historical issues and popular characters including the serial killer patterned after Jack the Ripper. For me, the Jack the Ripper character was tied so intrinsically from the start with the feud with Peter Bantle that it didn’t lend the horror and terror that it inspired in Whitechapel in 1888. That isn’t to say it was distracting from the story, but a subplot like that could easily have been its own book.

While the attempt to write in period can be jarring at times, the problem I usually run into with it is inconsistency in treatment throughout the book, but Bear does a great job of keeping the writing and pacing consistent.

Steampunk inspired stories for me are like Lovecraftian horror is for other people. I feel like there is a lot of it out there and, for me, not much of it is very creative or enjoyable. A lot of times even when I enjoy something done in steampunk it isn’t enough with all the other options out there to keep me coming back, but I’d read another dozen books set in Bear’s alternate Rapid City.

Review: Defiant by Karina Sumner-Smith


Defiant
Author:  Karina Sumner-Smith
Series:  Towers Trilogy 2
Publisher:  Talos Press, May 12, 2015
Format:  Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages
List Price:  $15.99 (print)
ISBN:  9781940456263 (print)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Publisher

Review: Defiant by Karina Sumner-Smith
Once, Xhea’s wants were simple: enough to eat, safety in the underground, and the hit of bright payment to transform her gray-cast world into color. But in the aftermath of her rescue of the Radiant ghost Shai, she realizes the life she had known is gone forever.

In the two months since her fall from the City, Xhea has hidden in skyscraper Edren, sheltered and attempting to heal. But soon even she must face the troubling truth that she might never walk again. Shai, ever faithful, has stayed by her side?but the ghost’s very presence has sent untold fortunes into Edren’s coffers and dangerously unbalanced the Lower City’s political balance.

War is brewing. Beyond Edren’s walls, the other skyscrapers have heard tell of the Radiant ghost and the power she holds; rumors, too, speak of the girl who sees ghosts who might be the key to controlling that power. Soon, assassins stalk the skyscrapers’ darkened corridors while armies gather in the streets. But Shai’s magic is not the only prize?nor the only power that could change everything. At last, Xhea begins to learn of her strange dark magic, and why even whispers of its presence are enough to make the Lower City elite tremble in fear.

Together, Xhea and Shai may have the power to stop a war?or become a weapon great enough to bring the City to its knees. That is, if the magic doesn't destroy them first.



Brandon's Review

All the reasons I loved the first book in the Towers Trilogy still held true for Defiant, Karina Sumner-Smith’s follow up to Radiant.

We pick up shortly after we left off in Radiant following Xhea and Shai’s recent daring escape from the City above. The story maintains a fast pace as we follow their struggle to survive separately and together in a system and society that is designed to enslave them for the ‘greater good’. While Xhea and Shai may be out of the hands and off the immediate radar of the Towers above, the city below has uses for a ghost that produces more magic than most of the people of the lower city combined and a girl who can sneak about below the ground where other magic users fear to tread.

Many series expose the entire plot early on and you struggle to get peaks at the overarching plot moving forward, but I think Sumner-Smith does a brilliant job of feeding small bits of information about the larger story arcs and concerns into the storyline of each individual book. It reminded me of waiting for a certain dark purple tulip to bloom in my garden, each time I remember it I go to check and in the process I find a host of other flowers that take my attention. I don’t find I am disappointed that this flower hasn’t bloomed just yet, it just gives me something to look forward to tomorrow.

Sumner-Smith takes the opportunity to follow the characters separately and develop Shai’s character more than in the first installment, which I heartily applaud as I felt this was one of the areas that could use some development. Along those lines we definitely see a lot of development from Xhea - from a character unconcerned with the consequences of her choices to one who begins to come to terms with her ability to impact the world around her.

One of the lingering questions for me is about power. I hope the author continues to explore and question the experience and power dynamics of society, as so many great authors of speculative fiction tend to do.

In a story that has a lot of the usual dystopian subplots about questioning the role of government and existing social norms I find I am not quite convinced the Towers Trilogy so far does more than give this a passing nod. While Xhea is a character without the traditional and magical forms of power and prestige in this world and Shai is her polar opposite I think this dialogue is buried in the adventure. I felt in the first book Xhea’s struggle to find a way to survive in the system and her struggles as a disadvantaged person came through clearly. In Defiant Xhea is too easily distracted by the scars a lifetime of struggling leaves even after you gain access to some form of power. I would also argue that Shai hasn’t really had to struggle to come to terms with her privilege. Her development of a noblesse oblige in this novel is a little too cotton candy for me. It leaves me feeling like I need something more. Maybe I am asking for too much, but I think given the level of skill the author has presented so far I don’t think it is outside the realm of the possible.

Again, I really enjoyed Defiant. The world building and pacing so far are superb.





Previously

Radiant
Towers Trilogy 1
Talos, September 30, 2014
Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages

Review: Defiant by Karina Sumner-Smith
Xhea has no magic. Born without the power that everyone else takes for granted, Xhea is an outcast—no way to earn a living, buy food, or change the life that fate has dealt her. Yet she has a unique talent: the ability to see ghosts and the tethers that bind them to the living world, which she uses to scratch out a bare existence in the ruins beneath the City’s floating Towers.

When a rich City man comes to her with a young woman’s ghost tethered to his chest, Xhea has no idea that this ghost will change everything. The ghost, Shai, is a Radiant, a rare person who generates so much power that the Towers use it to fuel their magic, heedless of the pain such use causes. Shai’s home Tower is desperate to get the ghost back and force her into a body—any body—so that it can regain its position, while the Tower’s rivals seek the ghost to use her magic for their own ends. Caught between a multitude of enemies and desperate to save Shai, Xhea thinks herself powerless—until a strange magic wakes within her. Magic dark and slow, like rising smoke, like seeping oil. A magic whose very touch brings death.

With two extremely strong female protagonists, Radiant is a story of fighting for what you believe in and finding strength that you never thought you had.


See Brandon's review here.

Review: Fish Tails by Sheri S. Tepper


Fish Tails
Author:  Sheri S. Tepper
Publisher:  Harper Voyager, October 21, 2014
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 720 pages
List Price:  $32.00 (print)
ISBN:  9780062304582 (print)
Review Copy:  Reviewer's Own
Upcoming:  Trade Paperback, July 28, 2015

Review: Fish Tails by Sheri S. Tepper
In her 35th novel, science fiction master Sheri S. Tepper boldly weaves together the storylines of eleven of her previous works—from King’s Blood Four (1983) to The Waters Rising (2010).

In Fish Tails, two of Sheri S. Tepper’s beloved characters—Abasio and Xulai (A Plague of Angels and The Waters Rising)—and their children travel from village to village scattered across the sparsely populated land of Tingawa. They are searching for others who might be interested in adopting their sea-dwelling lifestyle.

Along their journey they encounter strange visitors from the far-off world of Lom, characters from Tepper’s nine-book True Game series of novels—Mavin Manyshaped, Jinian Star-eye, and Silkhands the Healer—all of whom have been gathered up by an interfering, time-traveling, rule-breaking do-gooder to do one last good deed on earth before its metamorphosis is complete. For the waters are rising and will soon engulf the entire planet, transforming it utterly and irrevocably.



Brandon's Review

I think the first introduction to Tepper’s work for me was Beauty or the omnibus of The True Game. There are things that you can rely on to be present in almost all of her writing: strong female characters, eco-friendly messages, and deep seated worry for the future. Something else I find is that as dark or hopeless as some populations of humanity can be, she agrees and paints their future in bleak terms. Without fail though she also tells the story of how humanity can save itself.

Fish Tails draws on several of her previous works. Included at the end of the book was a synopsis of the stories and books involved in this story and while reading the other items first isn’t required reading this can help make sense of some of the plot points and characters. I am not really clear on why this wasn’t a preface or something more clearly offered to readers before leaping head first into a deep pool of work.

The primary mover in this book was the need to convince people of the coming of a flooded earth where normal people would not be able to survive and the only way to preserve humanity was with a genetic change allowing people to live in the water. The princess and former pauper who lead the cast on a trek to proselytize the populace struggle with the uneducated and bigoted in their path to changing the course of human existence. With a touch of Canterbury Tales meets the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Tepper draws together talking animals, griffins, aliens, monsters (human and non), and struggles with the best way to deal with a drowning planet and those who refuse to acknowledge the danger.

I am and will always be a huge fan of all of Sheri Tepper’s work because I think she isn’t wrong when it comes to the need for a more eco-feminist approach to saving ourselves from…well ourselves, but this book was not as subtle or enthralling as some of her other works and the inclusion of seemingly unrelated stories feels more like fan fiction of her own earlier works. For fans I think this is a solid book in her catalog, but for the uninitiated I would recommend starting with some of the precursor books both for the world building and to get a sense of the messages that are a little lighter than in this polemic against climate change deniers.

Review: Radiant by Karina Sumner-Smith


Radiant
AuthorKarina Sumner-Smith
Series:  Towers Trilogy 1
Publisher:  Talos, September 30, 2014
Format:  Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages
List Price:  $15.99 (print)
ISBN:  9781940456102 (print)
Review Copy:  Reviewer's Own

Review: Radiant by Karina Sumner-Smith
Xhea has no magic. Born without the power that everyone else takes for granted, Xhea is an outcast—no way to earn a living, buy food, or change the life that fate has dealt her. Yet she has a unique talent: the ability to see ghosts and the tethers that bind them to the living world, which she uses to scratch out a bare existence in the ruins beneath the City’s floating Towers.

When a rich City man comes to her with a young woman’s ghost tethered to his chest, Xhea has no idea that this ghost will change everything. The ghost, Shai, is a Radiant, a rare person who generates so much power that the Towers use it to fuel their magic, heedless of the pain such use causes. Shai’s home Tower is desperate to get the ghost back and force her into a body—any body—so that it can regain its position, while the Tower’s rivals seek the ghost to use her magic for their own ends. Caught between a multitude of enemies and desperate to save Shai, Xhea thinks herself powerless—until a strange magic wakes within her. Magic dark and slow, like rising smoke, like seeping oil. A magic whose very touch brings death.

With two extremely strong female protagonists, Radiant is a story of fighting for what you believe in and finding strength that you never thought you had.


Brandon's Review

Radiant: Towers Trilogy Book One, a debut novel by Karina Sumner-Smith, lives up to its name. When I reached the last page of the story I kept trying to turn the page as if that would make it lead directly into the next book in the trilogy that hasn’t been released yet. Sadly, this didn’t work.

Radiant is a story that explores class differences and issues of privilege as Xhea struggles to survive in the ruins of an unnamed future metropolis. A City floats above the ruins powered by the magic generated by its citizens. Those born without the magical clout to rise above are left to scrabble for the leavings of the past in collapsed buildings as they avoid walkers at night. Xhea is born without the simplest magic, which she has turned into a career as someone who can explore ruins beneath the surface of the earth that pains regular magic users too much to contemplate. She has another unique attribute in that she can see ghosts. One of her clients would like a break from the ghost that is trailing him and we meet Shai, a powerful ghost, who befriends Xhea and together they must decide whether their own survival is more important than that of the City above them.

This is a story that I had no trouble getting deep into and feeling as if the terror, hunger, and pride were struggles I was feeling. Having grown up in a family that faced its share of financial troubles and facing long periods of physical harassment for being different I could identify with Xhea’s need to be the independent loner who hungers deeply for some kind of connection to normalcy. Great pacing in this novel makes it an easy read with enough difference in voice and subject matter to differentiate it from other dystopian future novels out there. I do hope the author spends a little more time developing the issues of privilege that are endemic to this struggle and Shai’s perspective on the trials the two are facing together in the next book.





Look for Brandon's review of Defiant (Towers Trilogy 2) on May 6th.

Defiant
Towers Trilogy 2
Talos, May 12, 2015
Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages

Review: Radiant by Karina Sumner-Smith
Once, Xhea’s wants were simple: enough to eat, safety in the underground, and the hit of bright payment to transform her gray-cast world into color. But in the aftermath of her rescue of the Radiant ghost Shai, she realizes the life she had known is gone forever.

In the two months since her fall from the City, Xhea has hidden in skyscraper Edren, sheltered and attempting to heal. But soon even she must face the troubling truth that she might never walk again. Shai, ever faithful, has stayed by her side?but the ghost’s very presence has sent untold fortunes into Edren’s coffers and dangerously unbalanced the Lower City’s political balance.

War is brewing. Beyond Edren’s walls, the other skyscrapers have heard tell of the Radiant ghost and the power she holds; rumors, too, speak of the girl who sees ghosts who might be the key to controlling that power. Soon, assassins stalk the skyscrapers’ darkened corridors while armies gather in the streets. But Shai’s magic is not the only prize?nor the only power that could change everything. At last, Xhea begins to learn of her strange dark magic, and why even whispers of its presence are enough to make the Lower City elite tremble in fear.

Together, Xhea and Shai may have the power to stop a war?or become a weapon great enough to bring the City to its knees. That is, if the magic doesn't destroy them first.

Review: Half-Resurrection Blues by Daniel José Older


Half-Resurrection Blues
AuthorDaniel José Older
Series:  Bone Street Rumba 1
Publisher:  Roc, January 6, 2015
Format:  Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 336 pages
List Price:  $7.99 (print)
ISBN:   9780425275986 (print)
Review Copy:  Reviewer's Own

Review: Half-Resurrection Blues by Daniel José Older
FIRST IN A BRAND NEW URBAN FANTASY SERIES

“Because I’m an inbetweener—and the only one anyone knows of at that—the dead turn to me when something is askew between them and the living. Usually, it’s something mundane like a suicide gone wrong or someone revived that shouldn’ta been.”

Carlos Delacruz is one of the New York Council of the Dead’s most unusual agents—an inbetweener, partially resurrected from a death he barely recalls suffering, after a life that’s missing from his memory. He thinks he is one of a kind—until he encounters other entities walking the fine line between life and death.

One inbetweener is a sorcerer. He’s summoned a horde of implike ngks capable of eliminating spirits, and they’re spreading through the city like a plague. They’ve already taken out some of NYCOD’s finest, leaving Carlos desperate to stop their master before he opens up the entrada to the Underworld—which would destroy the balance between the living and the dead.

But in uncovering this man’s identity, Carlos confronts the truth of his own life—and death.…



Brandon's Review

From the first page of Half-Resurrection Blues I was a little in love with the dapper gentleman of color, Carlos Delacruz. Neither entirely dead nor completely alive he acts as an enforcer for the council that governs the behavior of the dead in New York City. We follow Carlos on his various cases as he attempts to thwart a plot directed at merging the world of the dead and the living. As the title suggests, Carlos is also lonely and searching for something to make sense of his own inbetweener status and merge those separate identities within him. Carlos makes and loses friends along the way as he chases the mystery of his own not quite dead status and is drawn to the enigma that is Sasha.

Based in a community of color with a gay santero, the cast is certainly diverse and treated respectfully by the author on all counts. This is very much a character driven story with rich and sensual characters and a prose that may read as florid for some, but is rich and enticing to me. The conclusion of the story only left me wanting more from all the characters. I do hope in the future Older plans on giving more light to Kia, the teenage bodega manager.

All the praise I have seen for this newer author is certainly well-deserved. The city and life are noir and gritty without trying too hard. The characters have depth and individual struggles that a broad swath of people can identify with. My only concern is that in places the overarching plot to keep the world of the dead and the living separate was a weak foil for Carlos’ own internal struggles. For all the build up around the dangers of this feared event and dangerous villain and demonic minions the end result was a little anti-climactic. Again, in the balance, this was a beautiful book and very well written. More than worth it and I hope to see many more books by this author over the years ahead.

Review: The City Stained Red by Sam Sykes


The City Stained Red
Author: Sam Sykes
Series:  Bring Down Heaven 1
Publisher:  Orbit, January 27, 2015
Format:  Trade Paperback and eBook, 640 pages
List Price:  $16.00 (print)
ISBN:  9780316374873 (print)
Review Copy: Reviewer's Own

Review: The City Stained Red by Sam Sykes
STEP UP TO THE GATES

After years in the wilds, Lenk and his companions have come to the city that serves as the world's beating heart.

The great charnel house where men die surer than any wilderness.
They've come to claim payment for creatures slain, blood spilled at the behest of a powerful holy man.

And Lenk has come to lay down his sword for good.
But this is no place to escape demons.



Brandon's Review

For those of you old enough or deep enough in the nerd culture to remember the old Dungeons & Dragons cartoon The City Stained Red was for me was like eating a delicious brownie while having flashbacks to this show. You join the typical cast of adventurers including the beleaguered swordsman leader, thief, priestess, wizard, dragonman, and schict (elf type). The divergence from what you expect starts when the band is set on retiring from the business of adventuring in the city of Cier’Djaal. As usual, or so you are led to believe, for this intrepid group, things do not go quite as planned. Stepping into a city on the brink of all-out war just looking for their last payout they are pushed from one emergency to another.

Sykes has a Whedonesque dialogue for his characters that manages to stay fresh and distinct and handles the hand-off from one character to the next in a seamless way. The plotting and pace of the story manages to balance character development with action. I am not used to feeling so strongly about the fate of characters in a series before even finishing the first book, but I found myself needing to finish the book the day I started it and left me feeling a little worn out for all the ups and downs. At the end I had to ask myself how I felt about the roller-coaster. I do feel that it was well-developed and intentional and while this makes me want to trip the author should I see him walking down the street* I also have to give him credit for having done this so successfully for a genre and cast that often do little more than battle the monster of the week.

Now that I’ve gushed like a little fan boy over this book, I’ll admit that no book is without room for improvement. While Sykes manages to humanize the cast of characters and provide them an identifiable depth he does tread a little heavy on some writing tendencies early in the book to let you know we are in a medieval equivalent culture. These were, in my opinion, very forgivable and I am on board for the next in the series.


*No authors have been or will be harmed in the making of this review.

Review: The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley


The Mirror Empire
Author:  Kameron Hurley
Series:   Worldbreaker Saga 1
Publisher:  Angry Robot Books, August 26, 2014 (US/Canada print/digital)
     September 4, 2014 (UK print):
Format: Trade Paperback and eBook, 544 pages
List Price: $14.99 (print)
ISBN: 9780857665560 (print)
Review Copy: Reviewer’s Own

Review: The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley
From the award-winning author of God’s War comes a stunning new series…
 
On the eve of a recurring catastrophic event known to extinguish nations and reshape continents, a troubled orphan evades death and slavery to uncover her own bloody past… while a world goes to war with itself.

In the frozen kingdom of Saiduan, invaders from another realm are decimating whole cities, leaving behind nothing but ash and ruin. As the dark star of the cataclysm rises, an illegitimate ruler is tasked with holding together a country fractured by civil war, a precocious young fighter is asked to betray his family and a half-Dhai general must choose between the eradication of her father’s people or loyalty to her alien Empress.

Through tense alliances and devastating betrayal, the Dhai and their allies attempt to hold against a seemingly unstoppable force as enemy nations prepare for a coming together of worlds as old as the universe itself.

In the end, one world will rise – and many will perish.

File Under: Fantasy


Brandon's Review

The Mirror Empire is the first novel in the Wordlbreaker Saga by Kameron Hurley. What happens in a society shaped by the powers granted by the moons in the sky when a moon not seen for 2,000 years begins to wax again in the sky? The story follows a young girl as she searches for a role to fill and her missing mother as well as the Kai of the Dhai people who have been oppressed for generations as they try to cope with the sudden upheavals. Through political intrigue, assassination, and shifting alliances the story tackles a number of dark human struggles through the play of aliens and foreign cultural narratives.

I was first introduced to Hurley’s work through her Bel Dame Apocrypha trilogy. I have been hooked on her writing since. My partner argues against the rise of the grimdark fantasy as something that is overblown and often needlessly depressing, but I think it is writers like Hurley who remind me why I enjoy it.

In The Mirror Empire, Hurley continues to impress with her world building and ability to create social and magical systems that are reminiscent of other works in the genre, but still uniquely her own. This work is definitely more epic in scope at 544 pages than the physically lighter Bel Dame Apocrypha series. The extra space is welcome to be able to explore the growth of several characters and the slow reveal of the scope of the story, but as with many epics that means the story often wanders and the tight story structure I am used to from this author was not as present here.

My real struggle, and I am a huge epic fantasy nut, is in keeping track of which character I am following at any given time and how their storyline fits into the big picture. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone by giving away too much on the front end. Suffice to say it was not an insurmountable barrier and perhaps if I read at a more human pace I wouldn’t have gotten confused.

If you’re interested in reading about female centered cultures with gender fluid characters and polyandry galore then I think you’re in for quite a ride with the Worldbreaker Saga. Look for The Empire Ascendant: Worldbreaker Saga 2 in October 2015.




Please take a moment to welcome our newest Reviewer, Brandon! You can read all about him on the About Us page.

Review:  Towers Fall by Karina Sumner-SmithReview: The Witches of Echo Park by Amber BensonReview: Karen Memory by Elizabeth BearReview: Defiant by Karina Sumner-SmithReview: Fish Tails by Sheri S. TepperReview: Radiant by Karina Sumner-SmithReview: Half-Resurrection Blues by Daniel José OlderReview: The City Stained Red by Sam SykesReview: The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

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