Tag: SF/F

Review – Lost in the Moment and Found

Posted March 18, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 1 Comment

Review – Lost in the Moment and Found

Lost in the Moment and Found

by Seanan McGuire

Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 208
Series: Wayward Children #8
Rating: four-stars
Synopsis:

Welcome to the Shop Where the Lost Things Go.

If you ever lost a sock, you’ll find it here.

If you ever wondered about favorite toy from childhood... it’s probably sitting on a shelf in the back.

And the headphones that you swore that this time you’d keep safe? You guessed it….

Antoinette has lost her father. Metaphorically. He’s not in the shop, and she’ll never see him again. But when Antsy finds herself lost (literally, this time), she finds that however many doors open for her, leaving the Shop for good might not be as simple as it sounds.

And stepping through those doors exacts a price.

I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Picking up Seanan McGuire’s Lost in the Moment and Found, I wasn’t sure whether I’d love it. On paper, this series has so much that I love, but it goes some dark places at times, and the warning about the situation that Antsy ends up in made me wonder if this was going to be another one which cut too close to home.

For me, it wasn’t, but it’s worth knowing that Antsy ends up in a difficult situation where her step-father convinces her that her mother won’t believe her if she says anything against him, while making her feel deeply uncomfortable (and also involving an obvious threat of child sexual abuse). In addition, Antsy loses her father very young. So it’s important to know that going in, for some people; as McGuire’s initial note says, Antsy runs before the bad things really start happening, though.

There is a fair bit about that and the build-up to why Antsy runs away, and as such I suppose I’d be happy if the book spent a bit more time in the shop. It sounds like a fascinating world and I wanted Antsy to explore it a little more, and to explore some of the other worlds with her. Instead we turn to the price she’s paying for the joy — and as ever, it’s a harsh one.

Obviously, the end of the book tells us where the main plot thread that runs through the odd-numbered novellas is going next, or at least, that Antsy’s going to have something to do with it. Given that she brings a bit of fresh blood into the questing group, that could be interesting!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Stone Star: In the Spotlight

Posted March 17, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Stone Star: In the Spotlight

Stone Star: In the Spotlight

by Jim Zub, Max Dunbar, Espen Grundetjern, Marshall Dillon

Genres: Fantasy, Graphic Novels
Pages: 123
Series: Stone Star #2
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

The nomadic space station called Stone Star brings gladiatorial entertainment to ports across the galaxy. Inside this gargantuan vessel of tournaments and temptations, foragers and fighters struggle to survive. A young warrior named Dail has been drawn into the ring and is trying to prove himself in the Grand Arena, but there are forces on the station determined to see him destroyed as revenge for his father's fighting legacy. Stone Star is a prison and a palace. It's a strange and dangerous home to orphans, criminals, and stowaways all trying to survive, fighting for a bit of fame and fortune before their time runs out.

Stone Star is an action-adventure spectacle bursting with colorful characters and pulse-pounding action! Grab your weapons, gritters, and join the fray!

The second volume of Jim Zub et al’s Stone Star went in a direction that was a bit surprising to me, and that actually piqued my interest a bit more — the plotline was fairly typical up to that point, and then it took what could’ve obviously been a plot device to drive characters apart and ruin everything and… okay, it still caused problems, but not in the most typical way. It gives us a bit more of a glimpse at the character of Volness and what he’s done, which is pretty cool.

Otherwise, the characters etc all continue to be exactly what you’d expect from this kind of story, the story beats are all pretty typical, etc. The art’s okay, and some of the character designs are pretty neat. I’m not totally in love, but I have to give it props for focusing on communication to build trust. Too often lack of communication (“if I tell him, it’ll only ruin things”) is a heavy-handed way to drive conflict in the story.

Plus, there are some interesting hints as to what Dail’s powers might mean. I’d read another volume if it came my way.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Magic Stars

Posted March 14, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Magic Stars

Magic Stars

by Ilona Andrews

Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 80
Series: Kate Daniels
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

Scarred, solitary Derek Gaunt has separated from his Pack, and is truly a lone wolf. With no family he answers to no one; but is fiercely loyal to a chosen few. So, when several of those close to him are murdered, he’ll stop at nothing to hunt their killer through the magic-drenched streets of Atlanta.

Never one to be left on the sidelines, equally determined—some might say stubborn—Julie Lennart-Olsen soon joins in his pursuit; and what began as revenge turns into a race to save the city. Their search pits them against powers they never imagined and magic so old, it predates history. It may cost Derek his life, but there are things for which even he would risk everything.

Ilona Andrews’ Magic Stars is a fun short story from Derek’s point of view, featuring Derek and Julie. They fight crime! Well. They avenge supernatural murders, track down a couple of mysteries, and get themselves into big trouble — just as Kate and Curran would want. Wait a sec, no…

It’s a fun little taster of how Julie’s going to handle life, and also a glimpse at what she’s intending, where she sees herself in the world. She’s in touch with Roland, she knows about the caveats and side effects of what Kate did to save her, and she’s ready to grow up and be a bit of a wrecking ball herself, Kate-style.

There’s not a lot here to dig one’s teeth into, but it’s a different look at the familiar characters, and adds a little bit more colour to their world.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The October Faction, vol 2

Posted March 11, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – The October Faction, vol 2

The October Faction

by Steve Niles, Damien Worm

Genres: Fantasy, Graphic Novels
Pages: 140
Series: The October Faction #2
Rating: two-stars
Synopsis:

The Allan family has inducted Dante, a.k.a. Robot Face, into the fold and Geoff and Vivian have begun their training in the family business; monster hunting. All looks well for the Allans, but Sheriff Chambers is slowly catching on to their occult activities. Collects issues #7-12.

I’m kinda hanging in there with The October Faction by Steve Niles et al. This second volume didn’t really assuage my fears about how rushed the first volume felt, or add a lot to the character development, so in a way it’s not really what I’m looking for.

That said, now that I’m used to the artwork it does seem to fit with the story so well it feels wrong to complain. Though sometimes it is so dark and stylised that it’s not 100% clear what’s happening, in places.

All the same, clearly something’s got me curious enough to keep going with reading these. There’s something just compelling enough about the art and the characters, and wondering what bananas thing is going to happen next.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries

Posted March 7, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 4 Comments

Review – Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries

Emily Wilde's Encyclopaedia of Faeries

by Heather Fawcett

Genres: Fantasy, Mystery, Romance
Pages: 315
Series: Emily Wilde #1
Rating: four-stars
Synopsis:

Cambridge professor Emily Wilde is good at many things: She is the foremost expert on the study of faeries. She is a genius scholar and a meticulous researcher who is writing the world's first encyclopaedia of faerie lore. But Emily Wilde is not good at people. She could never make small talk at a party—or even get invited to one. And she prefers the company of her books, her dog, Shadow, and the Fair Folk to other people.

So when she arrives in the hardscrabble village of Hrafnsvik, Emily has no intention of befriending the gruff townsfolk. Nor does she care to spend time with another new arrival: her dashing and insufferably handsome academic rival Wendell Bambleby, who manages to charm the townsfolk, get in the middle of Emily's research, and utterly confound and frustrate her.

But as Emily gets closer and closer to uncovering the secrets of the Hidden Ones — the most elusive of all faeries — lurking in the shadowy forest outside the town, she also finds herself on the trail of another mystery: Who is Wendell Bambleby, and what does he really want? To find the answer, she'll have to unlock the greatest mystery of all — her own heart.

In getting me to give Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries (Heather Fawcett) a shot, the key was the comparison to Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons. And it’s true: Emily Wilde definitely has a kinship with Isabella Trent, and I think they’d respect each other, and there is a similar sort of shape to the stories in some ways.

I was also promised something “whimsical” and “cosy” by the cover copy, and I have to say that I really wouldn’t call it those things. It takes faeries seriously, and that means taking seriously the cruelty of the Fae in many, many stories. It means missing children, sacrifice, compulsion, and blood. Emily’s research gets her swept up in a bigger story, and her main tool is her encyclopaedic knowledge of fairytales, her ability to know how the narratives work, and what to expect.

There is also a romance element, and that one is playful and full of banter. I didn’t really enjoy that aspect at first, wondering how it’d work out, but by the end I’d bought into it, because it doesn’t require Emily to be anything but herself — that is, prickly and awkward, and never quite sure how to handle other people.

Emily herself is a fun character. Though I said she’s like Marie Brennan’s Isabella (and certainly you could talk about the “deranged practicality” of both of them), and I can see both of them falling into exactly the same traps, she’s not a carbon copy, nor as reckless, and her relationship with Bambleby is quite different to Isabella’s relationships with those around her. There’s also less emphasis on geopolitical circumstances — they’re both scholars, but they don’t move through the world in quite the same way. At least not so far!

I’m keen to pick up the next book and see where it goes. I wonder if there’ll be any recurring characters? It would seem unlikely for most of them to turn up anywhere but their own home, but Emily certainly got swept up in a big story, and you never know what those will do.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Stone Star: Fight or Flight

Posted March 3, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Stone Star: Fight or Flight

Stone Star: Fight or Flight

by Jim Zub, Max Dunbar, Marshall Dillon, Espen Grundetjern

Genres: Fantasy, Graphic Novels
Pages: 128
Series: Stone Star #1
Rating: two-stars
Synopsis:

A young thief named Dail discovers a dark secret in the depths of Stone Star and has to decide where his destiny lies--staying hidden in the shadows or standing tall in the searing spotlight of the arena. Either way, his life, and the cosmos itself, will never be the same! The nomadic space station called Stone Star brings gladiatorial entertainment to ports across the galaxy. Inside this gargantuan vessel of tournaments and temptations, foragers and fighters struggle to survive.

Stone Star: Fight or Flight is the first volume of a series, which I’d say has quite a “young adult” feel to it (despite the violence etc, there’s not a lot of gore, and the protagonists are young, there’s a mentor figure, etc, etc). The story’s not too surprising: a young scavenger has a surprising power, and ends up using it in an effort to protect a friend who gets dragged into the gladiatorial arena.

The art’s quite clear and easy to follow, unlike some of the other comics I’ve read lately — it’s all pretty straight-forward. I did find that the narrative bubbles felt… unnecessary. Like it was spoonfeeding information that you could also just get from the context.

I’ll probably read volume two because I have access to it and I’m mildly curious about Dail’s powers and why the other gladiators call Volness a traitor, but I wouldn’t be sad about not continuing, either. That said, I think I’m far from being the target audience!

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Even Though I Knew The End

Posted March 1, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Even Though I Knew The End

Even Though I Knew The End

by C.L. Polk

Genres: Fantasy, Mystery
Pages: 136
Rating: four-stars
Synopsis:

A magical detective dives into the affairs of Chicago's divine monsters to secure a future with the love of her life. This sapphic period piece will dazzle anyone looking for mystery, intrigue, romance, magic, or all of the above.

An exiled augur who sold her soul to save her brother's life is offered one last job before serving an eternity in hell. When she turns it down, her client sweetens the pot by offering up the one payment she can't resist—the chance to have a future where she grows old with the woman she loves.

To succeed, she is given three days to track down the White City Vampire, Chicago's most notorious serial killer. If she fails, only hell and heartbreak await.

I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

This is a rather late review of a book I adored, because it seems I never ported over the review!

I pick up Tor.com’s novellas pretty much automatically these days, because 9.9 times out of 10, I’m in for a good (or at least an interesting) time. Even Though I Knew The End is no exception, featuring a sapphic love story, demons, deals at the crossroads, and a little detective fiction. I say a little, because although the character is a detective, that’s mostly just the framework that the rest hangs on. We don’t see a lot of serious detecting.

For those who loved Supernatural when it was on air (with all its flaws), and resonated with the sacrifices Dean made for Sam, this one’s definitely up your street. Our protagonist sold her soul for her brother’s life long ago, and her time’s almost up. In her last days, she investigates a bloody killing, tracking down the people who were possessed in order to do the murder, and discovering some secrets about her own partner into the bargain.

Because it’s a novella, everything has to get sketched in quickly, from the worldbuilding to the characters’ backstories to the love between Helen and Edith, and it works really well. I can be picky about how well novellas handle their scope, but Polk gets it right here.

My only problem is that the ending definitely left me sad. I’d been thinking at first that I might get a copy for my sister, but I try my best not to give her any tragic lesbians — the world has done enough of that already. So do be aware that this ends with a certain degree of queer tragedy; I won’t say more than that, for spoilers’ sake.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Scum Villain’s Self-Saving System, vol 4

Posted February 26, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – The Scum Villain’s Self-Saving System, vol 4

The Scum Villain's Self-Saving System, vol 4

by Mò Xiāng Tóng Xiù

Genres: Fantasy, Romance
Pages: 436
Series: The Scum Villain's Self-Saving System #4
Rating: four-stars
Synopsis:

What happens after an epic tale ends?

This collection of eleven short stories picks up days after Scum Villain’s finale and follows the cast’s relationships and adventures through their pasts and futures. The first trial? A glimpse into another world, where Luo Binghe was never saved by his beloved teacher — unless he can claim this world’s Shen Qingqiu for himself. Other tales recount the riotous history of Shang Qinghua and Mobei-Jun, the bittersweet romance of Luo Binghe’s parents, and the untold tragedy of the original scum villain himself.

The fourth volume of The Scum Villain’s Self-Saving System is actually a collection of extras and shorts, some of which are focused on Luo Binghe and Shen Qingqiu, and some of which don’t even mention them — expanding instead on Shang Qinghua, Mobei-jun, Shen Jiu, etc.

Some of the stories were more of interest to me than others (Shen Jiu is pretty unredeemable to me, sorry, and I don’t quite get the appeal of Mobei-jun and his relationship with Shang Qinghua), but it was interesting to get a better look at the world and particularly at Binghe’s experiences during the five years that Shen Qingqiu appeared to be dead.

It’s lovely as well to see in some of these stories a sense of ease growing between Binghe and Shen Qingqiu. At times, Shen Qingqiu is still a little too caught up in his own internalised homophobia, but we see him begin to forget where he came from and live fully alongside Binghe, and accept their relationship.

It’s funny sometimes to look at the relationship between the two of them, though. Just reading the words on the page, Shen Qingqiu spends a lot of time protesting — but it seems pretty clear that it’s a case of the maiden protesting too much, putting everything together. Still, I’d have loved another snippet a bit later on, showing him being a bit more comfortable still with the physical side of his relationship with Binghe. And for the love of god, someone give the two of them some sex ed, geez.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The October Faction, vol 1

Posted February 25, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 4 Comments

Review – The October Faction, vol 1

The October Faction

by Steve Niles, Damien Worm

Genres: Fantasy, Graphic Novels
Pages: 152
Series: The October Faction #1
Rating: two-stars
Synopsis:

The October Faction details the adventures of retired monster-hunter Frederick Allan and his family... which include a thrill-killer, a witch, and a warlock. Because sometimes crazy is the glue that binds a family together.

Volume 1 of Steve Niles’ The October Faction was a bit of a mixed bag for me. I wasn’t a huge fan of the art style, though it felt like it was all going for a very Addams family aesthetic and was very successful at that. The setup is fairly straightfoward: ghosts and monsters exist, the main guy used to hunt them, now he’s tried to settle down… but his family want to hunt, and monsters are still interested in them.

There was enough here to keep my interest, and I’ll probably read the next volume, but at the same time… I wasn’t entirely impressed either? It felt very introductory, so maybe reading more will help with that — though there was one development at the end that felt naively and over-swiftly done, so my interest also somewhat depends on whether that gets handled in an interesting way, or whether it’s just to be taken at face-value.

So all in all… it was enough to make me a little curious, but I’m not sold on it yet, I guess?

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Permafrost

Posted February 23, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Permafrost

Permafrost

by Alastair Reynolds

Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 182
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

Fix the past. Save the present. Stop the future.

2080: at a remote site on the edge of the Arctic Circle, a group of scientists, engineers and physicians gather to gamble humanity’s future on one last-ditch experiment. Their goal: to make a tiny alteration to the past, averting a global catastrophe while at the same time leaving recorded history intact. To make the experiment work, they just need one last recruit: an ageing schoolteacher whose late mother was the foremost expert on the mathematics of paradox.

2028: a young woman goes into surgery for routine brain surgery. In the days following her operation, she begins to hear another voice in her head... an unwanted presence which seems to have a will, and a purpose, all of its own – one that will disrupt her life entirely. The only choice left to her is a simple one.

Does she resist... or become a collaborator?

Alastair Reynolds’ Permafrost took a while to get going for me: the structure does make sense, in retrospect, but at the same time it felt like quite the barrier to understanding what exactly was happening. A conventional start would’ve been less memorable, of course, but this one definitely doesn’t hold your hand.

That’s pretty much a theme with this one: there’s a complicated plot which involves time travel of a kind, and that can make it difficult to follow. There were one or two points where I was thinking… you’re a time traveller, you know about paradoxes, why are you doing this? Also another where I wondered, hang on, isn’t everything going to be undone in just a moment by you telling him to — ?

I’m not 100% certain, still, whether that actually all made sense to me in the end. It felt like it did, but looking back at it I want to pick gaps into it (as often happens with anything time travel related). It’s an entertaining idea, all the same, a striking hard SF novella, and I enjoyed it while I was reading it.

Rating: 3/5

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