House of Assassins by Larry Correia ($25.00, due early February) is the middle book of the trilogy which began with Son of the Black Sword. Larry will be signing at Uncle Hugo’s on Monday, February 4, 5-6 pm (assuming a blizzard doesn’t keep his plane from landing). Son of the Black Sword won the Dragon Award for best fantasy of 2015. On a world with a very strict caste system for the humans, there has been a war going on for centuries between the humans (who control the land) and the demons (who control the oceans). The only way the humans have survived is with magical weapons, and the number of magical weapons keep dropping. After it’s previous owner died, an ancient magical sword picks young Ashok to bear it (after first killing or maiming a number of other people who tried to claim it). After years of training, Ashok became a Protector, part of an elite military order of roving law enforcers. Ashok became legendary not only for defeating incursions of demons, but also for his extremely black and white attitude toward law enforcement. Near the end of the first book, Ashok gets caught in the middle of political maneuverings of rival political factions.
The second book follows the stories of all the major characters from the first book, and Ashok slowly comes to realize that he has been played by evil factions and begins to have a more flexible attitude towards certain things, in between lots of action and adventures. House of Assassins is very good, but please read the first book before reading the second.
The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons ($24.99, due early February) is the first of a major epic fantasy series of five books. The advance reading copy compared it to Brandon Sanderson and Patrick Rothfuss, and it really is that good. All five books are finished and will be issued 9 months apart. No more waiting for years for the next book to be written and published.
Kihrin grew up in the poor part of the capital of the empire with the man he thought of as his father, a blind musician. But he became a talented thief due to the tutoring of the woman who was like a substitute mother to him. When he was kidnapped by a cruel man from a major house, who falsely claimed him as his son and heir, Kihrin started to realize that there are many who want to use him because of an ancient prophecy, and not all of them are human. Demons, gods, witches, wizards, a very possessive dragon, and various human and non-human factions all want to use him.
The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner ($27.00) was selected by Publishers Weekly as one of the best books of 2018, and I also enjoyed it, though not as much as Publishers Weekly apparently did.
The book is a fantasy that makes use of Eastern European folk tales. In a remote village in the deep forests near the border of Moldova and Ukraine, a family has been guarding secrets. The father is able to transform into a bear, and the mother is able to transform into a swan. The story is told alternately by the two daughters, Liba and Laya. Liba, the older daughter, tells her part of the story in prose, and Laya tells her part in verse. As they approach adulthood, Liba is about to gain the power to transform into a bear, and Laya is getting close to being able to transform into a swan. When a troupe of mysterious men come to the village, Laya falls under their magical influence, as the men try to start a pogrom that could kill a large potion of the village, including Liba and Laya’s family.
Brian McClellan is known for his wonderful Powder Mage fantasy series, but with War Cry ($11.99) he gives us a novella (89 pages) about a new fantasy world. A war has dragged on for years between the two sides, both of which use aircraft and magic to fight the war. Teado is a shape-shifting military asset, and the war has been going on since before he was born, with each side claiming the war will be over soon. Teado’s platoon has been stationed on the high plains for years, never with enough supplies, with aging, faulty equipment, and their numbers dwindling. I’ll admit that the writing is very good, but I would have prefered a novel instead of a little sliver of the world.
An Argumentation of Historians by Jodi Taylor ($12.99) is the ninth novel in the Chronicles of St. Mary’s time travel series (and there is also a short story collection). I enjoyed it, just as I’ve enjoyed all the rest of the series, but it felt like the author is starting to run dry of new ideas and new jokes. I’ll still pick up the next in the series, but not quite as eagerly as I picked up the earlier books.
Marked by Benedict Jacka ($7.99) is the ninth novel in the Mage Alex Verus series, set in modern London. Alex is still stuck in the middle of the conflict between the Light mages and the Dark mages. The Light mages had added Dark mage Morden to the Council, hoping to find a peaceful resolution, and Alex was forced to be Morden’s assistant. Then Morden double-crossed the Council and was thrown into prison until they get around to trying and executing him. But until then, Alex takes over Morden’s seat on the council, but isn’t trusted by anybody.
Project Elfhome by Wen Spencer ($7.99) is a collection of short stories that take place in the Elfhome universe before, during, and between the four novels in the series. The stories are fun, and reminded me of how much I enjoyed the series, and how much I wish the next novel would come out. I think that if somebody read the short stories without having read the novels, they would miss a lot of the humor.
Caine’s Mutiny by Charles E. Gannon ($7.99) is the fourth in the military sf series that began with Fire With Fire ($7.99) and continued with Trial by Fire ($7.99) and Raising Caine ($7.99). The novel assumes you have already read the earlier books, provides lots (over 1000 pages) of fast-paced action, and ends with a cliff-hanger. Caine Riordan and his human crew are being helped by an alien race that he thinks he can trust. Humans are raiding on the alien planet Turkh’Saar, which is not supposed to have any humans, and this could unite other alien races into a renewed war again the humans. Another race has been gathering human soldiers for centuries from several time-periods on Earth, kept them frozen until they would be useful, and then thawed them and placed them on Turkh’Saar to create problems for the current human situation. Caine wants to rescue the humans and remove all evidence that they had ever been on the planet, but alien forces want to prevent that. Many battles ensue, both on the planet and in space. When Caine succeeds against almost impossible odds, his human superiors are not pleased.
A few issues back, I recommended The Wrong Stars by Tim Pratt ($8.99) as very good space opera. The sequel, The Dreaming Stars ($8.99), takes the same spaceship crew on a new adventure to another star system, where they encounter another deadly alien menace (a nanotech swarm that has been eating human ships and is threatening to eat a human colony planet). Very good, but when can I get the next installment?
I’ve previously recommended the first three books from K. B. Wagers, Behind the Throne ($14.99), After the Crown ($15.99), and Beyond the Empire ($15.99). Princess Hailimi Bristol was the middle daughter of the ruling family of the Indranan Empire, a small Hindu matriarchy consisting of forty five planets spread over twenty eight star systems, about 1000 years after the diaspora from Earth. When her father was assassinated, she headed out to the stars to try to track down his killer. She failed at that, but found that she liked the freedom of the galaxy a lot more that being a part of the court at home. She became one of the top gunrunners of the galaxy, until she was dragged back home to court because more of her family have been murdered. She doesn’t want to be back at court, and most of the court doesn’t want her back, but it takes her gunrunner attitudes and contacts to save the family empire. There Before the Chaos ($15.99) is the first of the next trilogy. Hail and the rest of the crew have saved the empire and want to start making repairs. But against her will, she becomes involved in a religious war between two alien civilizations that threatens to make the human race collateral damage. Lots of fast action and political intrigue, just as in the first trilogy.
The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie ($13.99, due the end of February) is her first fantasy novel. The world once was full of gods, and most of the gods got their power from the worship of their followers. But sometimes gods got power from consuming other gods. And when a god finds that another god tried to consume him but failed, it can lead to bad feelings.
I had a problem with the way the story was told. There is an “I” character who tells much of the story as “you did this”, “you asked that”, etc. I quickly figured out that the “I” character was a god and the “you” character was a human that the god was trying to communicate with. Sometimes the “I” character tells the story from his own point of view. The mixing of the “I” point of view and the “you” point of view seemed awkward to me. I did enjoy the novel in spite of this.