The Winds of Khalakovo, the first installment in Bradley P. Beaulieu’s Lay of Anuskaya series, was raved about on this blog in 2011. I acquired the follow-up, The Straits of Galahesh, several months before it was released in 2012. Unfortunately, the first fifty pages felt impenetrable even after reading them a dozen different times. When Beaulieu announced the upcoming release of the final volume, The Flames of Shadam Khoreh, I committed myself to finishing the second novel in order to read the conclusion. Despite a long, arduous struggle through Straits of Galahesh that never really abated, I’m so pleased to call Flames of Shadam Khoreh a rousing success that exceeds all of the expectations placed on it by Beaulieu’s exceptional debut.
Beaulieu’s third book begins nearly two years after the events of Straits of Galahesh. War has moved from the islands to the mainland, and the Grand Duchy knows its time may be limited.… Read the rest
Since the moment I finished Wesley Chu’s debut novel, The Lives of Tao, I called reading it ‘the most fun I’ve had this year.’ I wouldn’t call it the best novel, and maybe not even the best debut, but it’s one of those reads that puts a smile on my face that won’t go away. In reading Mur Lafferty’s ‘debut’ (I put that in quotes since it’s only a debut in that it’s her first novel published by a SFWA approved house) A Shambling Guide to New York City, I found myself less joyful despite nearly identical character arcs and plot structures. My responses to myself ranged from ‘well everyone’s mileage varies’ to ‘oh my God these two books are incredibly similar why do I love one and not the other?’ Considering that question is what this review is about.
Lives of Tao tells the story of out-of-shape IT technician Roen who hears a voice in his head that turns out to be an ancient alien life-form named Tao who’s hitching a ride.… Read the rest
Shattered Pillars by Elizabeth Bear
Remember when I made a bit of a stink that Range of Ghosts wasn’t nominated for a Hugo? I am even more vindicated by the exceptional quality of the sequel, Shattered Pillars. The new novel picks up right where Range of Ghosts left off with a disgraced horse lord and his wizard lover fighting against a fundamental religious megalomaniac.
There are times when Bear is a little unclear with her intent, or the inherent fuzziness of the magic raises an eyebrow, but couched in Bear’s gorgeous prose and confident voice everything comes off pitch perfect. I really can’t emphasize the point enough. Even when Shattered Pillars stumbles a bit with its pace or flow, there’s nothing that can derail my enjoyment because it’s just so well written. I’m a huge fan of Elizabeth Bear’s, and I’ll be reading the next book in the series the second I get it.… Read the rest
Sharing an editor at Orbit Books, Brian McClellan got a nice boost when bestselling author Brent Weeks called Promise of Blood, “a hugely promising debut. . .[and] the finest flintlock fantasy I’ve read. . .” For the first part, I really couldn’t agree more. McClellan’s debut novel reads much like something I’ve come to expect from Weeks or Brandon Sanderson, lacking perhaps only the confidence that comes with seeing your name in the New York Times. To the second, well, I’ll find it difficult to oust Bradley P. Beaulieu’s The Winds of Khalakovo from that perch, but I won’t object to having Promise of Blood in the conversation.
McClellan opens in the aftermath of a military coup, told from the perspective of Adamat, a private investigator and struggling small businessman. Ordered by the coup-master himself, Field Marshall Tamas, Adamat must discover why with their dying breath the Royal Cabal whispered: “You can’t break Kresimir’s Promise.” Throughout Promise of Blood the phrase becomes something of a “Who is John Galt?”, urging the narrative forward with a need to know the answers.… Read the rest
With Andre Norton’s aged novel Star Guard, Tom Holt’s new novel Doughnut, and Howard Andrew Jones’ Pathfinder tie-in novel Plague of Shadows, I’ve found three authors and books to review that have almost nothing in common. We all have our crosses to bear, do we not?
Andre Norton, a great forerunner (get it? Because she wrote Forerunner.) of science fiction, and considered by many to be the Grande Dame of SF, wrote a novel in 1953 titled Star Guard. It was actually the second novel in a world later dubbed Central Control, in which Terrans, considered to be the ideal mercenaries of the galaxy, are forced to pay for access to the stars with blood. Of course, the two novels in the ‘series’ have almost nothing to do with one another, making the ending of Star Guard unduly incomplete.
Told from the perspective of Kana Karr, a newly enlisted Swordsman sent to an un-extraordinary planet to quell a common rebellion, Norton spins a story that reminds me of legendary marches across hostile territory from the ancient world.… Read the rest
It wasn’t that Nola’s vision had changed: it was that her vision had changed without her even knowing it. There were all kinds of things happening around her that she’d never known about, that she was blind to. Though her experience of the world had seemed whole and certain to her, in truth it had been marred, filled with blind spots, and she’d had no idea.
I rarely begin my reviews with quotes, but this one, pulled from a relatively early section of Robert Jackson Bennett’s American Elsewhere, so perfectly represents the author’s style. His work captures the shadowed substance that always lurks in the corner of our eye, that we feel over our shoulder, and makes our skin crawl without cause. He did it in the novel I called the best of 2012 — The Troupe — and he’s done it again with American Elsewhere.
Mona Bright is just short of middle aged, a former cop without a lot going for her.… Read the rest
In an effort to “catch up”, I’ve compressed several books into a single post. I hope this will be the last of my omnibus reviewing.
The Kassa Gambit by M.C. Planck – Held back by an ending that doesn’t quite capitalize on the exceptional beginnings, Kassa Gambit remains a very entertaining debut effort. It works best as a narrative of distrust between the two central characters, dealing with one another disingenuously and often convincing themselves of their own paranoia. When the story moves beyond that interplay the plot doesn’t hold up that well, but it’s really not any less fun for it.
Nexus by Ramaz Naam – It’s pretty clear that Naam is attempting to blow his readers’ minds with his idea for nano-virus telepathy. I won’t argue, it is a pretty cool idea, but beyond first blush when it gets into the actual telling of a story, Nexus ends up reading an awful lot like a half dozen other Angry Robot science fiction books I’ve read over the last couple years.… Read the rest
I write this post with trepidation It’s a gross departure from what Staffer’s Book Review has been about since day one. Nevertheless, the new job, the death of my father-in-law, Christmas, an increasingly needy three year old, and my general slacking of my duties as a blogger, has found me desperately far behind in my reviewing. In an effort to catch up, and get back on top of my pile, I present my “as-yet-unreviewed-reading-log-from-late-November-to-February”, or at least half of it:
Rapture by Kameron Hurley — Of all the books on this list, Rapture is the one I’m most comfortable reviewing in a few sentences. That’s mostly because I’ve done nothing but sing Kameron Hurley’s praises with the previous two volumes God’s War and Infidel. Rapture continues the pattern and provides a tremendous ending to the series. I can’t help mentioning that there are moments in all of Hurley’s books that will scour your soul with moments of utter bleakness.… Read the rest
The Ramal Extraction by Steve Perry
In the 24th Century, the Galactic Union’s Army is stretched thin and mercenary units fill in the gaps. Headed up by retired Colonel R.A. Cutter, the Cutter Force Initiative is a multi-species contractor for training, protection, extraction, or assassination. If the price is right, and it won’t run them afoul of the real Army, they’re game. This time around it’s a kidnapping. Rags’ and his crew are called in to find and rescue the daughter of the New Mumbai rajah. Rest assured, things are a little more complicated, both militarily and politically, than a simple rescue operation.
Unfortunately, Ramal Extraction is about as entertaining as a tooth extraction. That isn’t to say there isn’t a lot of action, or things going on, it’s all just very conventional–a small squad military thriller that just happens to be set in science fictional milieu. There’s the expected banter between different members of the squad, some secrets about its leader, and a green recruit or two to contrast how hardened the veterans truly are.… Read the rest