Thursday, July 31, 2008

Debatable Space-Philip Palmer

Debatable Space
Philip Palmer
Orbit, Sept 2008, $12.99, 396 pp.

Lena is traveling solo in deep space glad to get away from the perfection of thirty-first century Earth when the computer implanted in her brain informs her that a pirate ship is heading her way. The leader of the pirates Flanagan wins the battle and boards her ship telling her she is a hostage to be used in negotiations with Cheo the dictator of Earth. He knows of the special relationship that exists between the two of them and intends to exploit that.

Lena knows that when it looks hopeless, the Cheo will let her get killed. Flanagan has plans and one includes the liberation of his homeworld Cambria a slave colony ruled by Doppelganger Robots who are inhabited by the minds of the elite on Earth. He has a plan that would allow the crew to disconnect Cambrina from the universal web. From there he convinces the pirates from all over the galaxy to help him disconnect the beacons which would result in isolating Earth and freeing the empire. The only problem is the empire has warships in the millions and the pirates have ships in the six digit range.

Philip Palmer writes a terrific space opera and DEBATABLE SPACE would make a great marquee movie in the tradition of Star Wars. Alien races co-exist with humanity and the aliens are major characters so readers feel as if they actually exist. Readers ride an orbital roller coaster that takes us to various planets in the galaxy, making the audience realize how enslaved the human race is if they don't live on Earth.

Harriet Klausner

Untamed-P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast

P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast
St. Martin’s, Sep 2008, $8.95
ISBN: 0312379838

When the Goddess Nyx marked Zoey Redbird she was moved to the House of Night School where as a fledgling vampire she studied what would happen to her including the changes to her body. She understands that some fail to make it through the change; as evident by her best friend Stevie dying in her arms. However, Stevie did not remain dead as the High priestess Neferet, who turned on Nyx and took the dark path, changed him into an Undead. With Zoey’s help Stevie regained her humanity as did other fledglings.

With the death of two teachers, Neferat has declared war on the human race, but Zoey knows her for what she is and intends to stop her. She does not realize that Neferet has awakened an ancient evil; the fallen angel Kalona who will soon be freed once the ceremony is completed along with his children Ravenmockers. Zoey tries to prevent the ritual from succeeding knowing that if Kalona and his children walk the earth again, no one will survive who crosses the path they take even with the Gods on their side.

UNTAMED is the fourth House of Night urban fantasy (see CHOSEN) in which the forces of good an evil have come out into the open to battle for supremacy. Zoey is terrific as she prepares for war in which she feels inadequate but knows no other option except to fight as flight is impossible against this opponent. Zoey’s powers grow and her confidence with that. Fans of the series will particularly relish this entry as the fledgling is beginning to take wing and soar, but her flight to join the fight is lethally dangerous.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Ant King: And Other Stories-Benjamin Rosenbaum

The Ant King: And Other Stories
Benjamin Rosenbaum
Small Beer, Aug 2008, $16.00
ISBN: 1931520534

This is an interesting surrealistic speculative fiction anthology that readers who enjoy something different will appreciate. There are several excellent entries, which by contrast make the remaining good short stories seem lacking yet none are of poor quality Readers will relish finding the “The Book of Jashar” in which a new Old Testament tome has been discovered; also superb is "Start the Clock" as preadolescents are stuck forever as the heirs to the current generation; a sensitive retelling of Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” also is quite provoking. Perhaps the two strongest tales are “The Ant King” in which a giant roach abducted a woman (where is She-Hulk when you need her) and "A Siege of Cranes" starring a lone survivor of a village seeking vengeance on what destroyed his family and neighbors. This is an engaging collection that takes readers into a realm where anything especially the absurd rule.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Mystery of Hamlin Square-Chet Cunningham

The Mystery of Hamlin Square
Chet Cunningham
Five Star, Aug 2008, $25.95
ISBN: 1594146691

Cal Winters arrives in Hamlin Springs, Tennessee with no money. He obtains work at Hamlin’s General Store owned by ninety-three year old former U of T professor Madelyn Housefelter; she also provides him with a place to sleep. He hides from her and the other townsfolk his real reason for coming to this remote mountain village. His recently deceased grandma pleaded with him to learn what happened to his relatives who owned property here only to vanish without a trace in 1919.

Although the vanishing occurred eight decades, his name upsets several local people who know what happened back then and how they gained from it. Three men harass him and he is accused of setting two fires. However, he soon realizes one of the men giving him trouble is running a child porn operation. However Cal makes some progress on his quest, but will need cooperation from the leading families to solve what happened.

THE MYSTERY OF HAMLIN SQUARE is superb when the mystery focuses on Cal’s inquiries into what happened to his ancestors; when the plot tries to make Cal look guilty as an arsonist and his involvement in uncovering a child porn ring, it subtracts from the strong core tale of what occurred eighty years ago. Still this is an entertaining look at how the residents of a small town react to the stranger with the surname that haunts the founding families.

Harriet Klausner

Tarizon: The Liberator-William Manchee

Tarizon: The Liberator
William Manchee
Top, Jul 2008, $23.00
ISBN: 9781929976485

On the planet Tarizon, several volcanoes erupted simultaneously; placing the world in darkness and affecting the ability to survive and even grow crops. Everything is aimed at survival so the people of Tarizon make a deal with the authorities in the United States. The will give America tech in exchange for mating with humans and producing healthy offspring. When teenage earthling Peter Turner discovers there are aliens amongst us, they kidnap him and send him to Tarizon to silence him. Many believe he is the prophesized Liberator who will appear from outside during a super eclipse, which occurs as he arrives.

Peter learns his new home, still devastated by e nature, is on the brink of a civil war that neither side can truly win. The Chancellor is incapacitated and Videl of the Purist Party takes his place. He and his followers oppose the Supreme Mandate that grants freedom and equality to sentient non-humans including mutants, the rhutz, the Nanomites and the Seafolken. Peter sides with Vidal’s opponents the Loyalists who vow to uphold the Supreme Mandate to live free or die. Still he is caught in a civil war between the Purists and the Loyalists as there is no room for compromise only death.

TARIZON: THE LIBERATOR targets the young adult science fiction audience, but older readers will enjoy the action-packed exciting thriller with a deep message of at least tolerance for all while preferable consensus. The vivid descriptions of the planet will feel as if fans are there assisting the earthling as he struggles with doing what he believes is morally right and taking part in the action and battles. William Manchee has created a fascinating world in trouble that anchors this exhilarating powerful morality tale.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Underdead-Liz Jasper

Liz Jasper
Cerridwen Press, Dec 2007, $7.99
ISBN: 9781419956836

In Long Beach, California, Jo Gartner teaches geology to the hormonal crowd, eighth graders. She attends a boring Christmas party with her best friends, high school science teachers Becky and Carol when the spiked and dyed hair Korean-American Becky informs her a hot dude in black is eying her like the last piece of Carol’s chocolate cake. After dodging Roger, Jo says no way, but Becky persuades her to talk to the hunk worth dying for. Will insists Jo needed rescuing from ennui and besides he explains he loves Jane Austen.

They go outside to talk further, but instead of Pride and Prejudice, he bites her neck. Jo is clueless to what his nip means as Will is a vampire who has turned the science teacher into an underdead; an almost vampire, sort of like being almost pregnant, as she has all the issues like sunburn and no bread to cope with, but none of the benefits. Gavin the vampire hunter arrives to either kill or help her. Meanwhile Jo struggles with her blood attraction and loathing of Will; while his vampiress lover rejects the notion of sharing his neck. Soon afterward another teacher is killed with phony vampiric bites on the neck in Jo’s classroom. However, learning vampirism 101 and amateur sleuthing still seems relatively easy to Jo after teaching eighth graders and worrying how her mom will react.

Using amusing hyperbole to stereotype the negative side of vampirism, this tongue in cheek (and teeth on neck) tale is an amusing fast-paced paranormal whodunit that the audience will enjoy because of the combination of suspense, romance and the supernatural. Jo is terrific as the focus of the storyline; she muses how she went from dateless to a triangle and one in the romance department while working on a mystery and surviving eighth grade. as Liz Jasper writes an entertaining lighthearted romp.

Harriet Klausner

Wanderlust-Ann Aguirre

Ann Aguirre
Ace, Sep 2008, $7.99
ISBN: 9780441016273

The Farwan Corporation “Corp” s is dead after the revelation that it deliberately destroyed the ship the Sargasso carrying hundreds of passengers. The Conglomerate rushes in to fill the power vacuum and be in charge of controlling tariffs and jump-traveling voyagers. Sirantha Jax, who played a role in revealing the Corp treachery, is made ambassador to the Ithiss-Tor world where she is to convince the inhabitants known as the “Bugs” to join the Conglomerate. If they fail to do so,, they will be subject to “jumping” bans and a stiff tariff.

Jax navigates through several conspiracies and jumps because she contains the J-gene. . She takes on two passengers one being pregnant and near giving birth, which she does in the spaceship. They travel to Emry Station to drop off the new family, but all are dead there; killed by Marguts. They escape the station only to land in the middle of a clan war on Lanchion. Jax and some of her crew escape again, but are kidnapped; her only hope for freedom lies with her and her crew’s ingenuity.

WANDERLUST is a great space opera starring a crew who looks human, talks human, behaves human; but Jax knows there is a breed on board ( a bio-experimental engineered intelligent being). The other non-human is a “Bug” who acts more human than humans do. The heroine remains brave though a little strapped for cash after losing her job by exposing the Corp’s atrocity (the fate of whistleblowers has not changed). Sci fi fans will enjoy her roller coaster thrill ride as the turns, twists, and upside down spins make for an exhilarating outer space voyage.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Dimension Next Door-Martin H. Greenberg & Kerrie Hughes

The Dimension Next Door
Martin H. Greenberg & Kerrie Hughes
Daw, Jul 2008, $7.99
ISBN: 9780756405090

Although readers would expect the thirteen contributions by a strong group of authors would be so similar the tales would trip over each other; as how many thin veils and portals can there be. Instead the writers provided numerous “gateways” with many interpretations to what is and how to enter THE DIMENSION NEXT DOOR. Donald J. Bingle uses the net; Lillian Stewart Carlisle’s protagonist travels into the past; Fiona Paton’s young hero serves two Queen Elizabeths; one in the sixteenth century and the other starting in 1953. Whether it is a different Ben Franklin (by Anton Stout) or just "Unreadable books by Steven Schend, the path next door varies. Thus this themed anthology turns into a fresh enjoyable collection as the authors escort readers through thirteen different doors; the right number of tales for a collection based on unexplained phenomena teasing and frightening our senses probably leaking from across the other side.

Harriet Klausner

Too Many Curses-A. Lee Martinez

Too Many Curses
A. Lee Martinez
Tor, Sep 2008, $14.95
ISBN 9780765318350

Margle the Horrendous is an arrogant evil wizard who relishes his collection. His castle is loaded with his defeated foes who he has transformed into all sorts of shapes. His housekeeper Nessy the kobold detests the clutter since she wipes the dust off of her master’s precious ensemble. She likes her job though some of the losers are pests, but would like a little adventure of her own.

However sometimes you get what you wish for; all hell breaks lose inside Margle’s castle when he dies from one of his incantations. Suddenly his entire collection is free, but they are made up of monsters with a grudge; only Nessy is around as a target for their frustrations although they admit she was kind to all of them. Nessy the pragmatic struggles with lifting curses when she has no magical skills but has some insubstantial cursed allies who in lucid moments try to help her. Adding to her inability to clean up the growing mess is Tiama the Scarred wizardess has come calling initially to make Margle her slave, but now to take over his life’s work.

This weird fantasy is reminiscent of Howl’s Moving Castle is a fun tale containing a wild bunch of support characters although too many so that few get explored beyond a brief description; even those who assist Nessy are never deeply described. The angst of consciously having a few body parts exist in a jar must be harrowing, but Lee Martinez never explores it. Still this is a fast-paced tale starring a likable competent housekeeper, Margle’s damned, and the despicable new wizard trashing the castle. Young readers will especially enjoy Nessy’s efforts to clean up her late employer’s latest mess.
Harriet Klausner

Stalking the Vampire-Mike Resnick

Stalking the Vampire
Mike Resnick
PYR, Aug 2008, $25.00
ISBN: 9781591026495

The Manhattan that private investigator John Justin Mallory lives in is quite different than the one he used to reside in; the one on our earth. Some of the differences are insignificant like Madison Round Garden, people visit the Museum of Unnatural History, and the American Civil Liberties Union is the American Civil Freedom Organization. However, other variances are yellow elephant taxies and humans mingling with such beings as vampires, goblins, and shapeshifters, on my; having the same rights as humans have.

Mallory is in his office when he realizes his partner Winifred Carruthers has punctures on her neck and her nephew Rupert says he thinks he was bitten by the vampire Aristotle Draconis. After Rupert dies, Mallory tracks down Draconis with the help of the cat-girl Felina, the dragon Scaly Jim Chandler who is a mystery writer and the timid vampire Bats McGuire. They learn that Draconis was trying to save Rupert from Vlad Drachma Vlad leads the troupe on a merry chase as they seek his coffin, but no one seems to know where it is yet their goal is to destroy a millennium old serial killing vampire.

This tale is a tongue in cheek dark humor novel that will have the audience believe Mike Resnick cast a spell to alter Manhattan where magic is a science and creatures from mythology use public transportation. Readers will enjoy this alternate reality urban fantasy that is elephantine different from Mr. Resnick’s novels as he satirizes the sub-genre. Full blooded (at least for now) Mallory is terrific as he adapts to a new world order while retaining his old world values like loyalty.

Harriet Klausner

The Scourge of God-S.M. Stirling

The Scourge of God
S.M. Stirling
Roc, Sep 2008, $25.95
ISBN: 0451462289

It has been twenty-three years since the Change when earth plunged into a pre-electric era. Mankind scrambled to survive as over ninety percent of the population died. Clan Mackenzie led by High Priestess Juniper and the Bearkillers thrived on the land while the dictator who wanted to rule perished (see THE SUNSET LAND). However a new danger has arisen; the prophet Sethaz and his flock slowly infiltrate the people surrounding Juniper and her people; he and his followers recruit or kill based on their cause being godly.

Meanwhile Juniper’s son Rudi and other friends and warriors from home journey east across what was once the proud United States of America towards Nantucket where he hopes to learn more about The Change. The Lady sent a messenger Ingolf from Nantucket to pick up The Sword and bring it home. The prophet knows of Rudi’s quest and sends his best assassins to prevent him from succeeding. At the same time the President of the United States of Boise, who got the job by committing patricide allies with the prophet because he wants to expand into Pendleton with Mackenzie’s Western Oregon after that but they go to war to stop him.

This second tale in the second saga switches from the post apocalyptic thriller to a “Greek” Tragedy as the Gods manipulate and guide their followers and sinners. Readers observe dark demonic possessions and frightening futuristic visions while scrying and other magic takes the saga in a new direction. Fans will remain enthralled once the shock lets up as the tale is filled with action, strong characters in conflict, vivid descriptions of a battered dying land trying to come back to life two plus decades since the Change, and a great cliffhanging climax.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, July 25, 2008

Enchantment Place-Denise Little (editor)

Enchantment Place
Denise Little (editor)
Daw, Aug 2008, $7.99
ISBN: 9780756405106

The in spot for shopping in Chicago is ENCHANTMENT PLACE, a mall opened 24 hours 364 days a year. This is the place where the vampires, shapeshifters, and other paranormal go shopping. The only day the mall closes is for that most sacred of holidays, Halloween. With that Introduction and whimsical kudos to her sister who’s let them have a mall comment which led to this anthology, Denise Little brings out the ship 'til you drop supernatural crowd.

In spite of the cutesy gimmick, the authors are a who’s who of fantasy to include Sarah Hoyt, Deb Stover, Esther Friesner, Laura Resnick and Diane Duane; etc. Special acclaim goes to Peter Norwood who aptly titled his well written entry “And into the Fire” as he is the sole male contributor; Ms. Little must have settled on author realism even with an enchanted mall as finding men to admit they chose the mall over football would be too surrealistic. Surprisingly none of the tales are weak as each contains a bit of whimsy as if the writers truly enjoyed doing these tales. Where else could one shop for a familiar, watch the IRS audit a Wiccan supply store owner, observe I’m a unicorn watcher (apologies to the O'Kaysons), and of course trolls arguing over taxes. Readers will be enchanted from start of finish when Carman the untalented offspring of two mages deals with the enchanting “Poop Thief”; that sums up a lighthearted fun collection.

Harriet Klausner

The Gone-Away World-Nick Harkaway

The Gone-Away World
Nick Harkaway
Knopf, Sep 2008, $24.95
ISBN: 9780307268860

For a rare time the government’s claims re the Go Away Bomb is not obfuscated with the usual disinformation and misinformation. The assertion that the weapon was not of mass destruction just capable of erasing nasty reality elements made people euphoric with the no damage to property concept. However, the reality modification proved in reality a bit more convoluted as Einstein was right about relativity. Soon after the release of the Go Away Bomb, people’s nightmarish thoughts started to turn into real monsters of the under the bed variety.

The Jorgamund Pipe is built like a belt around the world that releases FOX, an elixir to counteract the Go Away Bomb effect at least for the few kilometers nearby. When a fire threatens the pipe and consequently the shrunk world, Gonzo Lubitsch, his best friend, and their HazMat emergency team go to put out the blaze and repair the damage. They know they enter a world of horrific chaos, but as Gonzo’s pragmatic best friend says that is the norm for his pal going back to childhood under the tutelage of a Kung Fu guru, his military time building a bomb of not mass destruction and seeing its collateral damage shrinking the globe to a small Livable Zone.

With nods to Vonnegut and Pratchett, THE GONE AWAY WORLD is an engaging satirical science fiction cautionary tale that takes a strong anti-war stand based on the justifications proving reality is relative. Those who believe will insure the facts fit their thesis; those who do not likewise (Cheney and Anti Cheney Effects). The story line is non linear as the unnamed best friend narrates by providing readers with Gonzo’s biography. This is for the most part entertaining and relevant even with a final monster twist but also at times at least to the reality envisioned by this reviewer feels as if a sidebar hijacked the plot temporarily. Still cerebral sci fi fans with plenty of time will want to read Nick Harkaway’s thrilling thriller.

Harriet Klausner

An Evil Guest-Gene Wolfe

An Evil Guest
Gene Wolfe
Tor, Sep 2008, $25.95
ISBN: 9780765321336

A century from now, the President of the United States makes a fervent request of academia private detective wizard Gideon Chase, known for solving problems no one else can. He wants the wizard to figure out how Bill Reis gets past sensitive secure gates. Reis was the ambassador to the alien planet Woldercan, where he learned how to perform things that appear to defy the laws of physics. He can convert base metals into gold and can turn invisible.

Chase starts off by searching for Reis asking actress Cassie Casey to help him. He offers her money and fame as he sees a natural talented beauty inside her that should entice Reis. Chase takes Cassie to a magic mountain where he performs a makeover enchantment that brings her beauty and talent to the surface. Cassie begins her performing to lure to bring Reis out of hiding. He becomes her angel backing a play, “Dating the Volcano God”, that she is in and begins to fall in love with her. Cassie feels pulled in opposite directions by Chase and Bill. As people around her get killed, survivors starts looking at her relationship with Chase who now works for Bill. Chase takes her to a South Pacific island group where Reis is king and leaves her so she can learn whether she has a future with the monarch. Cassie learns many lessons on the island while waiting for Chase to return.

Gene Wolf has written an interesting but weird fantasy that should be read in one sitting to fully understand what is going as so much happens in non linear ways to the heroine with two strange men of magic in her life. Cassis is a terrific protagonist who somehow holds the plot together although the audience will not realize that until the end. She deals with the two wizards and a host of supernatural beings with aplomb and charm. The publisher says “AN EVIL GUEST is a novel in which Lovecraft writes Blade Runner” inside the Twilight Zone which is as good a description as any.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Vampire Tapestry-Suzy McKee Charnas

The Vampire Tapestry
Suzy McKee Charnas
Tor Orb, Aug 2008, $14.95
ISBN: 0765320827

Anthropology Professor Dr. Edward Weyland is a vampire who is considered by his peers as a genius on dream therapy. He conducts experiments testing whether dream therapy can help people with their psychological issues. So well-liked is he with the students, there is a popular T-shirt “SLEEP WITH WEYLAND, HE IS A DREAM”. However, Weyland’s brilliance is not with human psyche, but using his scientific tests as a cover that enables him to hide his biological evolutionary condition from the cattle he teaches while also satiating his need for human blood.

However, early stroller Katje witnesses the star professor sucking blood from a student just outside the Cayslin Center for the Study of Man. Not long afterward she shoots Edward, which leaves the wounded professor at the unkind mercy of an abusive avaricious Satanist Reese and his followers. Human teenager Mark risks his life to save the professor who struggles with the lad’s kindness. As difficult to deal with if not more so is psychiatrist Floria’s misplaced love for him and the friendship of disturbed Professor Irv, as Weyland finds human passion is part of his soul even if he feels he is Homo Superior.

Though more five interrelated vignettes focused on a relatively short time span of one person rather than a novel, this reprint of the classic 1980s vampire tale remains a strong character driven tale with limited action. The cast is solid as the five prime people (and a few others) in Weyland’s life force the overall unlikable with his air of superiority lead protagonist by their negative or positive relationships to reconsider how complex humans are and how he treats them. The action is limited as this is more a character study of how the next evolutionary line interacts with the current (sort of the first Cro Magnan amongst the Neanderthals). Readers will enjoy Suzy McKee Charnas’ interesting scientific vampiric mythos (no supernatural).

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Gypsy Morph-Terry Brooks

The Gypsy Morph
Terry Brooks
Del Rey, Aug 26 2008, $27.00
ISBN: 9780345484147

The world as we know it is long gone. The pendulum for evil has sung forward and demons have come into the open preying on humans. Those people who allied with the demons have become not-men; more predatory beast than human. The bombs fell and plagues followed. Finally the demons destroyed the compounds where mankind tried to survive. The toxic atmosphere led to mutations turning people into monsters. However in this dark dismal planet called earth there remains a small feeble light of survivors of the Word trying to keep humanity from extinction.

The Lady tasks Knight of the Word Logan Tom (not the great volleyball player) to protect the Gypsy Moth, a being born of wild magic. Hawk’s magic is going to lead the rest of humanity and the elves to a land where everyone can live in harmony. Elf Kirisin Belloruus is entrusted with the Elfstone to lead and protect his people from the demon horde and their monstrous allies. Hawk agrees to lead the caravan, which picks up travelers on the road as all seek a haven.

The last book in the Genesis of Shannara saga is as magical and enchanting as the entire Brooks mythos is with recurring characters and new protagonists banding together in a last ditch effort to save humanity. All the major questions from the previous fantasy tomes (see THE ELVES OF CINTRA and ARMAGEDDON’S CHILDREN) are answered with no loose ends that matter and an incredible climatic revelation. Though not a stand alone, Terry brooks delivers an outstanding finish with action, intrigue, battles, species that seem real in a time when mankind’s time is ticking away.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Seducing Mr. Darcy-Gwyn Cready

Seducing Mr. Darcy
Gwyn Cready
Pocket, Aug 2008, $6.99
ISBN: 1416541160

Although she loves the romantic novels by Jane Austen, ornithologist Phillippa “Flip” Allison believes true love is only found in fairy tales or novels and not for someone pragmatic like her. Her recent divorce affirms her belief. Besides who wants such a prim and proper male like Mr. Darcy even if he reads like quite a man.

At a masseuse, Flip fantasizes that she and Darcy had a fling prior to his meeting Elizabeth. Thinking it was just a nice dream; Flip is stunned when she realizes somehow her fantasy trip to Regency England resulted in her changing Pride and Prejudice. Knowing she must fix what she wrought, she turns to Austen scholar Magnus and several of the author’s finest characters.

Mindful of Jasper Fforde’s zany Thursday Next tales, SEDUCING MR. DARCY is a fun satirizing of the zillion Jane Austen novels and movies of the last decade. The story line is fresh with irreverent chick lit modifications to the classic Pride and Prejudice. Although at times the irony ironically turns inane, fans who enjoy lampooning the modern romance novels love affair with dissecting Jane Austen will enjoy Gwyn Cready’s flippant SEDUCING MR. DARCY, literally that.

Harriet Klausner

Riders of the Storm-Julie E. Czerneda

Riders of the Storm
Julie E. Czerneda
Daw, Sep 2008, $24.95
ISBN: 9780756405182

On the planet Cersi lives three very distinct sentient species. The Oud reside under the earth tunneling to where they want to go and have the ability to restore clan lands; the impoverish Om’ray can pass as human and have psi power so that all in a clan are interconnected; finally the Tikitik are by far the most feral. All three species adhere to the Agreement, which demands they keep their society stagnant and stay inside their assigned areas except during the Passage if they are to have peace. Aryl the Om’ray is a person with tremendous power, but was exiled by her Yena clan for developing a new talent that upset the delicate balance and broke the Agreement and almost the clan.

Her followers left with her hoping she would start a new clan. They travel to the mountains and settle in the place where the ruins of the village of Sona are. Aryl’s people want to settle here and begin a new clan with her as their leader. While people are forced to come to Sona by the Oud leaders, Enris Mendolar of Tuana clan learns of a new clan in the wilds of the mountains. However when he finds them he learns they discourage visitors and he barely escapes with his life. He is the man Aryl wants, but first she must set guidelines for her new clan so that everyone is treated better and know how to live free of the rule makers.

Julie E. Czerneda is a first class world builder as she creates the earlier years on Cersi with characters from three differing species and diverse cultures living in peaceful coexistence when the Trade Pact humans arrive. RIDERS OF THE STORM is filled with plenty of action and deep characterizations so that the audience will feel the author is a tour guide showing off a real world with genuine races and cultures. However, the bottom line in the Stratification “pre” saga remains Aryl who was coming of age in REAP THE WILD WIND when she shook the foundation of the Agreement, but now is coming of power as she tries to do the right thing for her people.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, July 21, 2008

The House of Stag-Kage Baker

The House of Stag
Kage Baker
Tor, Sep 2008, $24.95
ISBN: 9780765317452

The Yendri are a gentle innocent people living in contentment in their valley protected from outsiders by mountains until the Riders showed up. They viciously enslave the tranquil Yendri, working them in the fields until they die. Their spiritual guide promises them their freedom from bondage to a new land led by the Promised Child. Meanwhile Gard, a half demon foundling who was banished from the tribe for his violence, keeps attacking the invaders. A baby is found and brought to the Yendri to raise; they assume she is the Promised Child.

Gard gets frozen while trying to climb the mountain and believes he is going to die. Instead he is found and made into a slave by the mages who are bound by magic to live in the mountain.. The mages are evil and decadent and love seeing slaves kill each other in the arena. Gard quickly learns how to maneuver his hosts so they will trust him while he plots his escape. He and the Promised Child known as the Saint are fated to meet and their relationship will change both their worlds.

Kage Baker, author of the Company series, returns to her, THE ANVIL OF THE WORLD realm with a dark fantasist parable. THE HOUSE OF STAG is character driven with the spiritual guide and the Promised Child having differing parallels to the Bible. There is plenty of action, the usual trademark wry but desert dry humor, and tons of intrigue. Gard is the prime star as the half demon shows with his risk taking actions he has a heart of goodness in spite of his nasty reputation. The Saint incongruously has the goodness PR spin, but ironically fans will observe some noted discrepancies in her lifestyle. Biblical references aside, readers will enjoy this magnificent tale.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Stalking the Unicorn-Mike Resnick

Stalking the Unicorn
Mike Resnick
PYR, Aug 2008, $15.00
ISBN: 9781591026488

It is New Year’s Eve in present day Manhattan and private detective John Justin Mallory is having a drink at his office when he sees the elf Murgensturrm; the sleuth assumes he is hallucinating. The elf convinces the shamus he is real and needs his help. On Murgensturn’s Manhattan in a parallel universe he was given an assignment by his guild and he blew it. If he does not find the unicorn Larkspur by the next morning he will die. Leprechaun Flyer Gillespie stole the unicorn on behalf of the demon Grundy.

Gillespie double crosses Grundy so Mallory on this alternate earth searches for the impish leprechaun. He gets helps from Felina the cat-girl, who adores him and is at his side as he makes his inquiries. A small talking horse informs Mallory that Larkspur is special because on her forehead is a magical ruby that is the gateway between earths. Something happens and his quest becomes personal. Mallory must find the ruby or become trapped on this alternate Manhattan that is weirder than his birth side as elves, goblins, dwarves and other make up part of the populace. Worse some want the outsider dead.

Mike Resnick shows why he is a first class storyteller who switches from his more serious works to a lighthearted whimsical urban fantasy filled with interesting characters from various mythological species and of course a somewhat stunned human sleuth. The tale located in Manhattan is fascinating as there is no telling what might crawl out of the subway (sounds actually like the NYC I grew up in). The hero is a Phillip Marlowe type placed in a strange yet similar environs and his investigation is very entertaining as he follows clues that seem slightly off kilter in his mind.

Harriet Klausner

Angelslayer: The Winnowing War-K. Michael Wright

Angelslayer: The Winnowing War
K. Michael Wright
Medallion, Sep 2008, $25.95
ISBN: 9781933836539

Although it was forbidden; when the angels looked upon the humans with curiosity and lust, they mated with them. This damned those who did the forbidden by the Creator Elyon; he made their progeny giants (Nephilim) did. Desperate for forgiveness, they send Enoch to plead with the Creator for a second chance; he returns to tell them their children will be cursed with a thirst for human blood and flesh and that this generation of Nephilim will be the last one. The Nephilim generate over the generations, but the goodness is the part that vanishes. Now they only survive by eating purebred humans’ flesh and blood.

The Nephilim fleet ventures forth From Etlantis, the city created by the Son of the Morning to take control of what is left of a devastated world; depleted over the centuries by their evil. However the pirate chief Darke and his men make it their mission to raid the invading fleet, but now they are visiting Satariel, the Fallen angel, who offers an exchange of prisoners. The angel will free the pirate’s son, long thought dead, in trade for a Datahoon Loch, who like all his people, is the descendant of Uriel the archangel. Darke completes his part of the mission, but not before Lach plants his seed in Adrea. Their child will be humanity’s last hope after Darke delivers Loch to the angel.

This wondrous fantasy is based on two biblical verses in which the Fallen Angels and their offspring walk the earth, but with the spin that they no longer accept living in harmony with humans as the first generation of Nephilim did. The only reason mankind lives is because they are a food supply, which makes for an intriguing look at the “origin” of the vampire mythos. The protagonists work hard to stay alive and free in a world in which the Creator seems to have deserted all his children, but has given them a distant light of hope. L. Michael Wright has the right stuff as he provides a mesmerizing thriller.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, July 19, 2008

City of Time-Eoin McNamee

City of Time
Eoin McNamee
Wendy Lamb (Random House), Jun 2008, $16.99
ISBN: 9780375839122

A year has past since Owen and the Resisters won the battle against the Harsh Ice beings who wanted to destroy the world by destroying time. Now the Resisters are sleeping until they are called again when the world is in peril by Cati the Watcher. Owen has the Puissance, a weapon that can destroy time, locked inside his trunk; the lock is the magical Mortmain, which looks like a tarnished brass lock, but is much more.

Owen knows trouble is coming when he speaks to a young woman when he suddenly looks at the face of an old woman. Cati sees geese age crumbing into dust in an instant. Cati notices the atmosphere in the work house is stale as time is leaking out of the world. Owen gets a note from the famous Navigator telling him he must obtain a tempod,, an object that holds time, and bring it back from Hadina, the CITY OF TIME. Cati and a Resister, who Owen awakened, accompany him, but Hadina is full of danger with part of it seeming like it is dead. To survive and save time, Owen must begin to act as the Navigator.

CITY OF TIME is an apocalyptic thriller aimed at young adults; yet this entertaining action-packed science fiction thriller will remind grateful older fans of the works of Robert Heinlein. Owen is a brave hero; a person afraid but performs his mission to save the world anyway. With a great climax, this middle book can stand alone though it remains consistent to its predecessor THE NAVIGATOR. It is also worth reading as a great tale and to better understand Owen and company.

Harriet Klausner

Impossible-Nancy Werlin

Nancy Werlin
Dial (Penguin), Sep 2008, $17.99
ISBN: 9780803730021

Lucy Scarborough feels very lucky to have wonderful foster parents Soledad and Leo Markowitz, who took her in when her mother Miranda, only eighteen when her child was born, went insane and left. Lucy sees her sometimes as a bag lady with a shopping cart. Right now Lucy looks forward to going to the Junior Prom with Gray Spencer, who she likes. The date turns miserable because he rapes her, but she does not believe her predator was Gray as his eyes changed and he spoke in another language; he also called her Fennala.

Her caring parents and her childhood friend Zach get her through the next four months. Zack finds her biological mother’s diaries in which he reads that the Scarborough family line including Lucy has been cursed; to lift the elven curse, each female must accomplish three impossible tasks or go mad. None including her mom has succeeded at even one task. However, Lucy has something unique to aid her on her quest that her ancestry never had; she has three people who love her very much, who willingly risk their lives to help her. Three people she loves back as a daughter who cherishes her parents and as a girlfriend to Zach; so she prefers to keep them safe and go it alone but they won’t let her.

This is an outstanding young adult fantasy thriller based on the Scarborough Fair ballad with a Brothers Grimm Grim like spin that older readers will appreciate due to an excellent tense story line and strong characterizations. Zach and Lucy are determined obstinate individuals who in his case is willing to die for his beloved and in her case she is not willing to accept his help as she wants him to live (proving Mickey & Sylvia right that “Love is Strange”). The antagonist demonic elf is evil punishing generations of women due to the first sin of an ancestor rejecting him; affirming that adage that Hell has no fury like an elf scorned.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Legacy-Jeanne C. Stein

Jeanne C. Stein
Ace, Sep 2008, $7.99
ISBN: 9780441016266

Bounty hunter Anna Strong has been a vampire for six months since she was attacked and changed against her will by the evil vampire Avery, who obsessed over her. She killed him and struggles to adapt to being a creature of the night in a human world especially since she refuses to kill for her sustenance.

As a bounty hunter her partner is the mortal David, who remains blissfully ignorant of her supernatural world. Anna finds herself willing to help his girlfriend Gloria beat a murder rap in exchange for her keeping away from David. With the help of Gloria’s stepson who hates his stepmother, he allows Anna access to his home where she finds evidence to give to the police so they can capture the real killer.

Anna meets and is attracted to werewolf Sandra, who asserts she is Avery’s widow. She is contesting Anna’s claim to his estate. Anna is uninterested in a Avery’s estate but Sandra warns Anna that the holdings belongs to her and her pack. Anna realizes those she cares about like David could be in danger from an apparent scorned female demanding her blood as much as the estate.

Readers will enjoy the latest Anna Strong urban fantasy in which the paranormal world and its species seem natural especially living alongside humans. Anna is a ferociously independent individual used to fighting her own battles even when she was a mortal and with her vampiric skills more so. Even she knows life as she knew it is dramatically changing and her loved ones are in danger from whom and what she is. Fans of Kelly Armstrong and Kim Harrison will appreciate Anna’s dispute with a female werewolf as alpha as she is.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Wild Road-Marjorie Liu

The Wild Road
Marjorie Liu
Leisure, Aug 2008, $7.99
ISBN: 9780843959390

The hotel is on fire when she awakens. She is horrified more than scared when she sees three corpses near her and blood all over her. There is also a one word message: "Run." She quickly realizes she has no idea how she got there, who the dead are, who wrote her the warning note and even who she is.

Heeding the note, she goes to steal a car to start her run to she is not sure where. Gargoyle Lannes Hannelore sees the woman splattered with blood stealing his vehicle. He comes over to stop her, but though he must stay in the shadows and avoid involvement in her mess, he offers his help. Desperate she accepts even as he wonders if the set up was to use this woman in peril to lure him into activity by something not human.

The latest Dirk and Steele paranormal romantic suspense thriller grips the audience with its eerie opening sequence as readers, Jane Doe and the gargoyle wonder what is going on. Set aside time as you are hooked into a fast-paced one sitting tale. Although it helps a bit to have read the previous entries in the saga as there are previous happenings retold with more insight, THE WILD ROAD is a fabulous story starring two fascinating protagonists that can stand alone.
Harriet Klausner

The Devil You Know-Jenna Black

The Devil You Know
Jenna Black
Dell, Aug 2008, $6.99
ISBN: 9780553590456

Exorcist Morgan Kingsley and Demon King Lugh have reached an agreement on sharing her brain space. Neither is quite happy with the arrangement, but both see the compromise as the only way they can co-exist.

Meanwhile Morgan still has family issues although she feels y good that her now demon free brother Andy is retuning to normal even though she and her parents remain alienated. Further disturbing her is a shocker about her origin and a part of her memory buried since a childhood trauma is beginning to frighteningly surface. The more she learns what was locked behind the closed door, the more Morgan wonders who she really is. Before she can come to grips on her issues, a pretender to the demon throne sends a psychopathic hunter to stalk and kill his Highness and his host.

The direct follow-up to the superb DEVIL INSIDE is an excellent urban fantasy in which once again the Black universe with its demons, possessions, laws, and special prisons seem genuine and make for an invigorating thriller. Morgan remains a top gun albeit comic book heroine who is at her best dealing with the humiliation of an exorcist being possessed by a demon although she and her royal inside have worked out an arrangement to peacefully co-exist for now. Soon they will need to increase their cooperation to fight a nasty adversary targeting both for death. Fans of this devilish saga will appreciate Morgan whose motto is to kill first and ask questions afterward so she goes after the Hunter.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, July 14, 2008

Break of Dawn-Chris Marie Green

Break of Dawn
Chris Marie Green
Ace, Sep 2008, $14.00
ISBN: 9780441016297

Deep below the paved streets of Los Angeles lies the lair of master vampire Beneditke. There they wait living the life of luxury while biding time before coming above ground as performers as they were in a previous life thanks to plastic surgery helping them modify their appearances. Eva, once the Master’s favorite, kidnapped her husband Frank and turned him into a vampire while their daughter Dawn Madison has become Beneditke’s new obsession.

Jonah’s mission is to destroy the Undergrounds and their Masters, but Dawn has misgivings whether she can trust him any longer. Unknowingly she is already attached to the Master who is wearing a human guise. A betrayal forces Dawnawn out of her refuge at Jonah’s hiding place while her mom and another vampire trick her into going to the Underground. Circumstances put Eva Dawn in a tenuous spot regarding Dawn, but she eventually helps her daughter escape. Dawn returns to Jonah, who has located the underground and intends to kill all its monstrous occupants. Dawn feels pulled in two directions, but must choose which side she is on.

This ends the Vampire Babylon trilogy (see MIDNIGHT REIGN and NIGH RISING), but though complete also sets the stage for a second set of novels in the urban fantasy saga. Chris Marie Green has written a powerful character driven thriller that keeps the audience riveted from start to finish with a need to know what happens next as there is always a shocker every few chapters. The reason this tale and its predecessors are so good are the belief that vampires live in and under Los Angeles and in this case the Underground seems like a real place based on a different perspective of the vampiric mythos. However, from the first page of the first novel to the climax of BREAK OF DAWN, the heroine with her trials and tribulations makes this trilogy well worth reading.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Book of Names-D. Barkley Briggs

The Book of Names
D. Barkley Briggs
Navpress, Jul 2008, $12.99
ISBN: 9781600062278

In Independence, Missouri, grieving the loss of their mom, Haydn and Ewan struggle to move on past her death. Ewan dreams of an arch, which seems to be calling for him to come. When he finds the arch, he walks through it and realizes he came through a portal to his dream realm of Karac Tor. More philosophically pensive about their “Velveeta Cheese” lifestyle having already ended, Haydn worries about Ewan, so he follows him through the arch.

As they explore this strange realm with no Nyquil, soccer or Kansas City nearby, they begin to meet locals such as Flogg the gnome, Sorge the warrior monk, and Asandra the Mirling. The siblings also learn that Karac Tor is under siege from the malevolent Sorceress Nemesia. The brothers know now why Ewan dreamed of the arch; they are the desperate last hope of the forces of good to defeat the evil one and her treacherous minion.

THE BOOK OF NAMES is a terrific first book coming of age fantasy starring two likeable young men having no time for grief as they are thrust into a situation and a world totally unprepared Hayden realizes he is just a sophomore not a superhero. The story line is fast-paced from the moment the two quite different in outlook siblings cross through to Karac Tor and never slows down although the ending is overwhelmed with too many unresolved threads (setting up future books apparently). Still save the world teenage fantasy fans will appreciate the brothers Barlowe no longer traveling on I-70.
Harriet Klausner

The Phoenix Endangered-Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory

The Phoenix Endangered
Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory
Tor, Sep 2008, $27.95
ISBN: 9780765315946

No one in the Nine Cities for almost one millennium cast a High Magick spell until Tiercel Rolfort did it in the Moonturn of Flowering (see THE PHOENIX UNCHAINED). Stunned by his undesired by him accomplishment, the apparent Knight-Mage has begun “seeing” a beautiful frightening Fire Woman emerging from a fiery lake. The vision scares him so he seeks help from a mage, but none have been seen in civilization since the end of the Endarkened; he goes into the wilderness to find a Wild Mage.

However, the two teens and their non-human companions learn of the Wild Mage Bisochim Bluerobe, who they would like to discuss Tiercel’s situation with. However, the Wild Mage is the out of control general of an army of deadly desert warriors destroying anyone in their path. Nomad leader Shaiara leads her people on a risky venture to find the mythical oasis Abadshar, where legend states alien technology exists that will battle the darkness led by Bisochim.

Though very similar in its coming of age tone as the first Enduring Flame tale, young adult readers will enjoy the action-packed THE PHOENIX ENDANGERED. The exploits of the teen heroes (including youthful Shaiara) and their camaraderie especially the bantering and teasing are fun to follow. Additionally, the two male buddies learn the destructive nature of unchecked or balanced power abused by witnessing the collateral damage of war and the impact of explicit and even implied bigotry. Not quite as refreshing as THE PHOENIX UNCHAINED, the second tale remains a save the people of the Light enchanting quest fantasy.

Harriet Klausner

Odd Girl Out-Timothy Zahn

Odd Girl Out
Timothy Zahn
Tor, Sep 2008, $24.95
ISBN: 9780765317339
Two hundred years into the future, following his harrowing but successful mission on the interstellar quadrail (see THE THIRD LYNX), gun for hire of the mysterious Spiders and their ever more enigmatic masters the Chahwyn; Frank Compton goes home to rest. However, upon entering his New York apartment, the former whistle blowing government agent turned mercenary is greeted by a woman with a gun who demands he work for her. Lorelei Beach explains her preadolescent sister Rebekah was kidnapped on New Tigris by the same Modhri agents he just defeated. He takes her gun and tells the gaunt woman to take a hike to the cops. He is on R&R and some kid is not one of his money making missions.

Four hours of sleep following the departure of a distraught Lorelei, NYPD Officer Bagler arrives at Frank’s apartment to escort him downtown as a handgun registered to him was involved in the murder of Lorelei; he is the prime suspect for obvious reasons. Frank feels some guilt and needs to clear his name as whoever framed him painted a masterpiece. He and retired Marine and former bounty hunter Bruce McMicking ride the Quadrail to rescue Rebekah and uncover who is the mastermind behind the murder of his “client”.

Compton’s latest futuristic science fiction hard boiled mystery (see NIGHT TRAIN TO RIGEL) is more personal than his previous efforts as he feels obligated to rescue the sister, but also does it as the first step to find proof that he did not kill Lorelei. When the story line focuses on Frank’s present fiasco, the action is fast-paced and never slows down as he and Bruce leave a trail of mayhem and death on the rails. However, when the plot uses the current mission to provide the back story, the tale turns sluggish and confusing especially to newcomers. Still a solid twenty third century Noir, fans will appreciate riding the Quadrail alongside Frank and Bruce.

Harriet Klausner

Orcs-Stan Nicholls

Stan Nicholls
Orbit, Sep 2008, $14.99
ISBN: 9780316033701

“Bodyguard of Lighting”. Half-nyadd Queen Jennesta (her other side is irrelevant and weak) sends her mostly Orc unit the Wolverines to retrieve a cylinder from the humans in Homefield. She warns her commander Captain Stryke not to come home alive without the package; collateral damage is desired. The troops succeed, but celebrate their victory by using illegal drugs they stole from the humans. Kobolds attack the unit and steal the cylinder. Not back on time, Jennesta assumes she was betrayed and so declares the Wolverines as outlaws.

“Legion of Thunder”. Queen Jennesta sends Orc Commander Delorran to kill the Wolverines and bring back her cylinder. The evil sorceress warns her minion not to fail on either of their tasks; if they do she will dine on their life forces. Soon afterward Stryke learns his and his men (and one female) are named outlaws; if they go home her Highness will serve them as her main meal regardless of bringing the cylinder to her. He knows Jennesta waits for no living thing. So he changes the mission to recapturing the cylinder to learn what it contains and go from there.

“Warriors of The Tempest”. Stryke and his warriors struggle to collect the now known five-artifacts and learn how to use them to save the world from the shocking axis of evil. The three deadly sorceress sisters seem to have forged a pact that will lead to pandemic horror if true; as paradoxical as it seems each is the most malevolent powerful being on the planet.

This omnibus edition of Stan Nicholls’ thought provoking Orcs trilogy uses the perspective of the so called “bad guys” to tell the quest fantasy. Their ruminations on the vicious vile violence they obeyed before switching to stay alive make for a fine fascinating saga. However, Tolkien purists will object to the change from wicked Wolverines to courageous champions trying to save the world from the tempest triad. Fans will enjoy this fine threesome as the “Stryker” force makes a strong case against ethnic profiling.

Harriet Klausner

The Bell at Sealey Head-Patricia A. McKillip

The Bell at Sealey Head
Patricia A. McKillip
Ace, Sep 2008, $23.95
ISBN: 9780441016303

The small fishing village of Sealey Head is not quite the quiet quaint place that visitors believe they see. Everyday at the last moment of sunset, a bell rings out but no one knows its origin or who is ringing the bell. Lady Eglantyne inhabits the grandest home Aislinn House in the village; she knows her days are ending soon and there is nothing the healer or herbalist can do that can prevent her demise.

The herbalist’s daughter’s maid Emma knows there is another Aislinn House within the one in the mortal realm; that resides in a realm filled with knights and rituals performed everyday. Emma has seen glimpses of this medieval world when she opens a door to find the Princess Yarbo inside the room; yet her highness cannot cross into the mortal realm.

Scholar Ridley Dole comes to the village fascinated with Aislinn House as he believes the place is under a spell where the inhabitants are regimented like puppets whose strings are being pulled. Ridley’s ancestor Nemos Moore used magic to link the Aislinn Houses; he hopes to undo his work to save the people, but is unsure how and remains ignorant to a malevolent person hiding in plain sight who will kill him to insure the status quo remains.

Patricia A. McKillip is a brilliant fantasist who makes her two Aislinn Houses and their connection seem real. There are many interesting characters, not all human for instance the titled Bell, in this ensemble tale. Readers will ponder the source of the bell and what it means to both sides of the portal especially if it fails to ring. Somewhat a high fantasy with a minor romantic subplot, THE BELL AT SEALEY HEAD is a fabulous thriller that grips the audience from the first time the bell peals as fans will wonder “For Whom the Bell Tolls” if the ringing stops.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Riven Kingdom-Karen Miller

The Riven Kingdom
Karen Miller
Orbit, Sep 2008, $7.99
ISBN: 9780316008365

In the walled island Kingdom of Ethrea, Rhian stays with her father the King as he is dying. She sadly muses she will be an orphan soon since her mom Queen Ilda died ten years ago. Rhian detests the unfairness of succession as her two brothers are dead two months and she is the next in line to the throne; however Ethrea has never had a female ruler. Even near dead with his belief he failed the kingdom when he left no heir, the monarch frets that he never found a husband for his daughter.

Sadly Rhian knows she is the best person for the job of ruling the kingdom, but knows the religious leader Marlen will tell the ruling council who she will marry; some loser he controls to the ruin of the kingdom. That is if he even lets her outlive her father. No one seems to accept she is capable not even her dying dad. Rhian concludes she must flee to find allies to take back her country. Toymaker Dexterity Jones pushed by the shade of his late spouse Hettie offers to help the besieged princess. They obtain assistance from Zandakar, the son of the insane Empress of Mijak; he helps them so that they might one day abet him to end his mother’s slaughter of millions.

The second Godspeaker tale (see EMPRESS) is an entertaining epic fantasy thriller whose strong cast keeps this fine entry from being just another middle book (though it has many of the set up trappings). Rhian cannot understand why gender not skill or even bloodlines is the prime requisite to be the next ruler; Dex has talked to his wife since she died years ago, but now she is talking to him; finally Zandakar realizes he must depose his mom who is much stronger than him. Although it is a necessity to read EMPRESS first to avoid getting lost in the plot, readers will appreciate THE RIVEN KINGDOM as civil war and much worse have arrived on the island

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Inferior-Peadar O Guilin

The Inferior
Peadar O Guilin
David Fickling (Ranom House), Jun 2008, $16.99
ISBN: 9780385751452

Survival of the fittest is understood by Stopmouth and his tribe; either kill or be someone else’s meal; although his people expect him to be fodder because his stupidity makes them believe Stopmouth is inferior to them. Expediting his demise is his brother who betrays Stopmouth.

In this dangerous environs of the law of eat or be eaten, Indrani falls from the sky landing in the midst of Stopmouth’s tribe. They debate what to do with the intruder as some want to trade her to those who relish fresh human meat. Stopmouth is attracted to her and wants to keep the beautiful intelligent woman who fell from the glowing Roof as his even though that violates the one commandment of eat or be eaten. Meanwhile she hides from her protector the truth of what she knows about the origins of her benefactor and his tribe and their prime reason for existence.

Avoiding a spoiler makes the review difficult to write as the key to the story line and the relationship between the lead pair is the knowledge that Indrani possesses although that takes quite a while before the obviously not so stupid Stopmouth figures it out. The action is fast-paced but not enough of it especially for the intended young teen audience as much of the plot is used to describe in too much detail the surface world. Still this homage to Tarzan in the Twilight Zone will engage the reader who will be appalled to learn the truth behind the connection between the Roof top intellects and the INFERIOR surface dwellers.

Harriet Klausner

The Lost Art-Simon Morden

The Lost Art
Simon Morden
David Fickling (Random House), Jun 2008, $16.99
ISBN: 9780385751483

A thousand years have passed since the great war destroyed civilization and radically changed the environment with massive climate alterations. The age of the machine users is gone replaced by a Church enforced Dark Age in which pre-industrial pockets have formed. Science is forbidden and technology taboo in the Turn post machine world.

Something attacks the remote Siberian Saint Samuil of Arkady monastery that contains in its scriptorium books written by the Users; every resident except Va the monk dies in the assault; the reference tomes are stolen. Va vows to retrieve the books before they are misused. Princess Eleyna also saw the carnage and joins Va, whom she loves, on his quest.

Two groups of earth descendents who colonized another planet differ on how to help the beleaguered orb. One wants to bring back science and technology way beyond even that of the Users. The other wants to leave earth alone. Benzamir Mahmood comes to earth, to insure there is no interference from his tribe. He meets Va and Eleyna, and realizes the urgency of possessing the books before they are employed with catastrophic results like probably destroying the world.

Although the target audience is young teens, adults will appreciate this bleak post apocalyptic science fiction thriller. The three lead protagonists and several key secondary characters agree on the outcome objective, but radically differ on the means to achieve the end state they desire. That concept is the prime underlying theme to this strong quest thriller as each individual (and readers) asks themselves whether any method is acceptable to accomplish the mission. Although the ending seems wrong for what happened prior; as if talented Simon Morden suddenly had to dumb down an intelligent well written story line to fit his prime readers, highs school students and older fans will enjoy the journey.

Harriet Klausner

Seaborn-Chris Howard

Chris Howard
Juno, Aug 2008, $7.99
ISBN: 9780809572816

Not just born of the sea, Kassandra comes from Seaborn royalty as her grandfather rules the species. However, in spite of her regal sea blood, Kassandra has spent much of her living amidst the surfacer (land people) for she is unique as the powerful wreathbearer who possesses the spirits of her ancestors guiding her to free the Seaborn from her sadistic dictatorial grandfather whose weapon of choice to hold onto the throne is mass murder.

Four centuries of incarceration by the Seaborn has devastated the mental state of the previously unbalanced evil sorcerer Aleximor. He has finally escaped and taken control of the body of California surfer college student Corina Lairsey with plans to raise a new deadly force to destroy the surfacers and the seaborn. Kassandra with her family at her side must prevent Aleximor from succeeding, but Corina may be collateral damage; while also at the same time open up a second front war: a coup d’etat to liberate her people.

This is an exciting extremely graphic fantasy, which needs a warning label not to eat while reading SEABORN; Chris Howard is explicit with vivid violent descriptions to torture and mutilation. The story line is entertaining but driven by the heroine who ahs known since birth she has a quest to bear and now has no time left to learn her skills since her mission has turned out to be on two front. Readers who appreciate the realism brought to an epic “military” fantasy by broken bodies, blood and gore will want to read SEABORN, a well written opening saga.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Countdown-Michelle Maddox

Michelle Maddox
Dorchester Shomi, Aug 2008, $6.99
ISBN: 9780505527554

The Great Plague destroyed over forty percent of the human population. Besides the death toll, the consequential economic disaster wiped out more people as poverty became the norm. Finally, the pandemic changed life in other ways as some individuals born after the global calamity contained psi skills. Those who tested with strong levels were quickly taken from the dying planet to Offworld where they learned to use their gifts.

Kira Jordan was born after the plague with strong psi ability; she was transferred to Offworld and taught to use her skills. Kira can read people’s thoughts and see their souls if she touches them while flexing her mind. Seven years ago, someone murdered the then teen’s entire family; so when she awakens handcuffed in the dark she panics as she fears the darkness. Also locked up in the room is Rogan Ellis, who calmly explains they have been abducted to participate in The Countdown, a game of survival established to entertain wealthy subscribers who enjoy watching others die. If the pair separate by ninety feet, implants in their brains will explode. There are six levels of teaming or dying; Kira knows by flexing that her partner is a convicted serial killer who spent time in jail for crimes he did not commit, but he hides something from her that makes the already wary psychic distrust him.

This is an exciting science fiction thriller with obvious connections to the Richard Bachman novel and Arnold Schwarzenegger film The Running Man in terms of the decadent affluent spectators cheering for death in a deadly game show. Michelle Maddox refreshes the concept through her key cast members as they are radically different from those in the movie. Kira is a terrific lead character whose thoughts especially fears enable the reader to understand her distrust of her game partner; whereas Rogan pretends to trust, but readers know better. Fans will wonder whether the team of Kira and Rogan will make it through the six levels and then what awaits them for we too do not trust the game master either.

Harriet Klausner

The Servants-Michael Marshall Smith

The Servants
Michael Marshall Smith
Eos, Sep 2008, $14.95
ISBN: 9780061494161

Eleven year old Mark hates moving from London to Brighton with his ailing mother and new stepfather David. Mark blames David for the fact that his divorced parents will never reconcile and his biological dad will probably never come to take him to the Chinese restaurant like they used when they came to Brighton as a family visiting the resort. He also loathes Brighton where unlike London, which stretches on forever; he can see where this new city ends at the shore. Lonely, Mark’s only companion is a skateboard, but he makes no friends as the older kids ridicule his efforts on their ramps.

The elderly woman who lives in the apartment below that of Mark’s shows the lad the once occupied servants' quarters. Fascinated by what he has seen, Mark sneaks in by himself to explore further. However, Mark is stunned when he begins to see the servants working and becomes frightened as he knows there are no servants living or working in the house. Mark realizes he is seeing their ghosts. He begins to connect the increasing chaos below to his mom’s illness; now if he can find a way to help these ghosts with their issues, he might save his mom who seems to be slowly fading away.

Although there is a paranormal Twilight Zone feel to the story line, Mark as an angry, despondent preadolescent who does not understand what happened in the last year to his perfect life makes the tale. He comes across as an authentic troubled youth even when he enters the eerie surreal realm of THE SERVANTS, which in turn Mark brings with him a sense of “reality” to these ghosts going about their jobs as if time stood still waiting for his presence. The secondary characters including his stepfather, his mom, his memory of his father, the elderly neighbor and the apparitions enhance a strong haunted house thriller; reader will wonder if the lonely depressed child went over the edge in his search for normalcy as he remembers it.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Darker Mask-Gary Phillips and Christopher Chambers (editors

The Darker Mask
Gary Phillips and Christopher Chambers (editors)
Tor, Aug 2008, $25.95
ISBN: 0765318504

This eighteen tale collection focuses on both the superpowers and personal issues confronting superheroes in their everyday lives. The tales are well written and fun to read as family troubles, economic woes, and ethics become front and center as the mask to hide one’s secret identity so one can have a life is treated much darker than most comic books do. Especially strong are L.A. Banks’ “Dream Knights” that brings a different reality to Manhattan; "Switchback," by Ann Nocenti starring teenager Mimi learning to restrain her mental powers that she desperately wants to use to manipulate her dysfunctional family members to behave like the Nelsons; Walter Mosley’s “The Picket” who takes his alterego name from his mom. Perhaps the most insightful is “Vino, Veritas” by Peter Spiegelman in which superheroes face the truth of their decision processes and the outcome. With drawings enhancing the angst of the superheroes (one look at Gar Anthony Haywood’s “Heatseeker” explains why a picture is worth a thousand words as no one will want to mess with that man), this is a strong anthology with no clinkers as all the contributors provide interesting darker looks at those behind the masks struggles with questions of ethics.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Divine Talisman-Eldon Thompson

The Divine Talisman
Eldon Thompson
Eos, Sep 2008,
ISBN: 9780060741549

On the island continent of Pentania, to save his people, former mushroom farmer, King Torin of Alson, the bearer of the legendary Crimson Sword, sacrificed himself. However his death bought time for his people to unite the country against the horde of the evil Illysp, but the capital is divided into warring factions grasping for power; civil war is imminent at a time when the Illysp send their even more malevolent once dead Illychar to destroy and recruit all in their path. Adding to the certainty of defeat, death, and reincarnation as a mindless evil Illychar, is the only symbol of hope, the Crimson Sword which is lost.

No one is aware that Itz lar Thrakkon "the Boundless One" Illychar has possessed Torin’s body; obtaining his memories. The final hope resides with the half-breed daughter of the last Vandari elf; this half-elven Annleia must defeat Thrakkon and beg the all knowledgeable Dragon God Ravar to reveal how to vanquish the Illysp if there is a way; three impossible tasks.

The final tale in The Legend of Asahiel saga (see THE CRIMSON SWORD and THE OBSIDIAN KEY) is an exhilarating good vs. evil fantasy with a marvelous twist, the fate of Torin that provides freshness to the typical quest saga that is much of the makeup of this thriller. The story line is fast-paced as Annleia becomes the last resort hero with no chance of success at achieving any of her BHAGs let alone all three. Fans of the series will appreciate this fine entry but new readers would be better suited to read the previous books, especially THE OBSIDIAN KEY, to better understand how things got so desperate on Pentania.

Harriet Klausner