It seems that most of the better books I’ve read in the last few months have been fantasies. Stands A Shadow by Col Buchanan ($7.99) is the second Heart of the World novel, after Farlander ($7.99). What had started as an urban cult plotting to overthrow a ruling family has now become an evil religous empire trying to conquer the world. Lot of military action, various kinds of assassins, lots of interesting characters. It should appeal both to fans of Glen Cook’s Black Company series and fans of Brandon Sanderson. I enjoyed both books very much and look forward to the next.
Benedict Jacka has issued three books so far in the Alex Verus series, Fated ($7.99, #1), Cursed ($7.99, #2), and Taken ($7.99, #3), and all three received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly. Alex is sort of like a Harry Dresden of London. He is a diviner, one who can see multiple possible futures and figure out which set of actions will lead to the desired end (usually involving his own survival). He’s not a very powerful mage, and he’s caught between the Dark mages (utterly ruthless and obsessed with personal power) and the Light mages (many of whom are just as obsessed with personal power as the Dark mages, but sneakier in their approaches to gaining power). When he starts receiving offers he can’t refuse from both Dark and Light mages to join their plots, survival becomes challenging. The first book was good popcorn for a tired mind, but as the main character develops and his circle of (sometimes) trustworthy associates grow, the books get better. I thought the second book was very good popcorn, and the third book was well above the popcorn level. I went through all three novels in five days, and have been recommending them ever since.
Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence ($7.99) is the beginning of a very interesting fantasy trilogy. The first couple of chapters provide a light, breezy look at a batch of stone-cold killers in what seems to be a typical medieval-style fantasy setting. Then things start to get much stranger and much more interesting. As the background of the 13-year-old head thug is filled in, he becomes much more interesting and almost sympathetic. While there are certainly major magical elements, we learn that the book is taking place at least 1100 years in the future, and there are still weapons of mass destruction around, although nobody remembers how to use them. There are plenty of battles and scheming to keep the plot flowing quickly, but there are also scattered bit of finely polished writing between the battles. The second book of the trilogy, King of Thorns ($25.95), came out in August, and the final volume, Emperor of Thorns, is scheduled for next August.
Dodger by Terry Pratchett ($17.99) is a delightful stand-alone novel being marketed as a young adult novel. The main character, Dodger, is a 17-year-old street urchin who gleans a living from London’s sewers early in Queen Victoria’s reign. When he intervenes to rescue a girl trying to escape her abductors, he’s thrown into an international power struggle, during which he meet the mad barber Sweeney Todd, newspaperman Charles Dickens, and politician Benjamin Disraeli. The book is labeled as a fantasy, but the only fantasy element I noticed was rumors of a Roman goddess of the sewers, which Dodger never sees but many of the sewer gleaners believe in. This is a humorous historical (with the historical details re-arranged a bit to help the plot) action-adventure novel that should appeal to all Terry Pratchett fans, and many other readers as well.
About a year ago I recommended The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin ($7.99), the award-inning first novel of The Inheritance Trilogy. But I kept putting off reading the rest of the trilogy because the first novel was so good that I was afraid I’d be let down, as happens so often with the middle book of a trilogy. I finally got around to reading The Broken Kingdoms ($7.99, #2) andThe Kingdom of Gods ($7.99, #3), and they are also excellent, and I should have read them all together while the characters from the first novel were still fresh in my mind. The books are set far enough apart in time that only the gods and godlings are continuing characters from book to book. The second book features a blind woman who can only see when magic is present, so she moves to Shadow, beneath the World Tree, and supports herself as an artist. She becomes caught up in the search to discover who is murdering godlings. The third book features (among many other things) the godling of childhood being forced into adulthood.
Crown Thief by David Tallerman ($7.99) is the sequel to Giant Thief, and is a lot of fun, but should not be read without reading Giant Thief first. Unfortunately, we sold out of Giant Thief a few days after Crown Thief arrived, and have been trying ever since to get more copies. But the publisher and the wholesalers have been out of it for the last 6 weeks, with not indication or when or if the first volume will be reprinted.
Clean by Alex Hughes ($7.99) is the only sf novel I’ve completed in the last three month worth recommending. Set about 250 years in the future, a telepathic recovering drug addict is working with the police in the Atlanta area, mostly helping workaholic Detective Isabella Cherabino work on a serial killer case, but his telepathic abilities also come in real handy when questioning suspects in all kind of other crimes. In an investigative novel like this, it’s natural for the reader and the characters to find out many things at the same time, but there’s also a lot of background information that the main characters are basing their actions on which the reader isn’t aware of at first. If the author is too slow at filling in this background information, I get irritated. On the other hand, if the author is filling in the background information too fast, it slows down the action and make me feel as if I’m being lectured to. I felt that the background information was filled in too slowly in this novel, but once I had enough background to understand the motivations of the characters, I really began to enjoy the novel and I’m eagerly looking forward to the next in the series.
by Elizabeth LaVelle
The Peter Grant series by Ben Aaronovitch is a great combination of urban fantasy and police procedural, set in modern-day London with lots of action, a decidedly British sense of humor, and a refreshingly diverse cast of character. Police constable Peter Grant hails from the Peckwater housing estate; his mum is from Sierra Leone, and works as a cleaning lady; his dad comes from a long line of cockney geezers, and used to be a notable jazz trumpeter. In Midnight Riot ($7.99), Peter has just completed his two-year probationary period, and appears to be destined, much to his dismay, for the unit that takes care of all the paperwork. All that changes one freezing night when he interviews a murder witness who turns out to be a ghost. He finds himself assigned to DCI Nightingale, the last remaining member of a Met division that doesn't officially exist: a magic practitioner who is called in on all the 'special' cases. Peter becomes his apprentice, and with some help from Peter's classmate, PC Leslie May, they set out to stop a revenant spirit from London folklore who's jumping from host to host, leaving a trail of corpses and mayhem in his wake. And they also have to sort out a territorial dispute between Mother Thames, who started life as a Nigerian immigrant, and has controlled the tidal part of the river since the 1960s, and Father Thames, who dates back to Roman times and controls the freshwater part of the river. Moon over Soho ($7.99) begins with the sudden death of a jazz musician. Peter hears an old jazz standard coming from the corpse, a sure sign that magic was involved, and the dead man's brain shows familiar damage: someone or something used the man's brain as a power source for their magic. The investigation turns up other recent deaths in the jazz community, same damage. Jazz vampires, anyone? We get to see more of Peter's mum and dad as Peter works the jazz end of the case. And a second string of unusual crimes leads to what Peter refers to as the Strip Club of Doctor Moreau, and puts Peter and Nightingale on the trail of an ethically challenged magic practitioner (Peter naturally objects to Nightingale calling the evildoer a 'black magician') - or possibly a group of them. In Whispers Under Ground ($7.99), a young man is found dead in the Baker Street Underground Station shortly before Christmas, stabbed with what turns out to be a piece of pottery with 'special' qualities. There's no record of the young man on any of the CCTV footage, so how did he get there? And the victim was the son of a US Senator, which brings a very inquisitive FBI agent to London to observe the investigation. Peter and Leslie (now apprenticed to Nightingale, although officially still on medical leave) work with DCI Seawoll's murder team on the case, even as they and Nightingale continue the search for the rogue magician who almost killed Peter in book 2. This book was the most fun yet; in addition to Peter's humorous observations about British architecture, clueless drivers, and life in the Metropolitan police, it's full of pop culture references to delight the geek soul, from Tolkien to Blackadder to Pratchett to Call of Cthulhu. I'm really looking forward to reading more of these (the author has contracts through book 6 so far).
The picture books in Daniel Kirk's Library Mouse series are full of the love of reading and libraries. In Library Mouse ($15.95) we meet Sam, a mouse who lives at the library and comes out at night to read the books. He loves to read everything. Before long, he begins writing little books and shelving them around the library. His books are a big hit with the library's human patrons, which makes Sam happy, but now everyone wants to meet the mysterious author. Sam's not so sure about that. But he comes up with a brilliant solution. When people come to the library's "Meet the Author" event, they find a sign on the table inviting them to look into a box. Inside the box is a mirror: the author you meet is you! And next to the box, paper and pens. Before long, the library patrons are making their own little books to tell the stories they have to tell. In the second book, A Friend's Tale ($15.95), Tom doesn't have a partner for his Writers and Illustrators club project - until he discovers Sam's hole at the library. Book three, A World to Explore ($16.95), introduces Sam to Sarah, a very active and adventurous mouse who loves to explore the library and climb way up on the shelves - where Sam is afraid to go. He introduces her to the wonders of reading, and in return, she decides to help Sam learn to be a bit more adventurous. In the fourth book, A Museum Adventure ($16.95), Sam and Sarah head to the museum next door. They love looking at everything at the museum, especially after they discover the Special Galleries - paintings done by the museum's resident Artist, a cat who loves to do paintings of mice. The author does a great job showing how Sam and Sarah learn to bridge the gap between their very different ways of doing things to become friends.
Christine and Christopher Russell's Warrior Sheep books (ages 9 and up, $6.99 each) are perfect for fans of Wallace & Gromit and Shaun the Sheep, with the same sense of humor and wacky but consistent internal logic. The five rare breed sheep live on a farm in England, with Ida White and her great-grandson Tod. The Quest of the Warrior Sheep begins when an object falls mysteriously from the sky, bonking Sal on the head. The sheep are convinced this is a sign; an ancient ovine prophecy is being fulfilled, and they must go North (to Scotland, perhaps?) on a mission to aid Lord Aries, Sheep of all Sheepdom, in his battle against Lambad the Bad. In fact, the mysterious object is a cell phone dropped by a couple of bank robbers who will do anything to get it back, so you know the woolly warriors are going to face some trouble along the way. As it turns out, the robbers are going to face even more. The Warrior Sheep Go West after another strange occurrence convinces them they must once again act to save all Sheepdom from a deadly threat foretold in the Songs of the Fleece. The prophecy specifies a land of hot sun and scorching winds, so not Wales then, but the American West. How are they going to get there? Fortuitously, some villainous humans have just arrived at the farm. They have a plan to take the sheep to the U.S. for their own nefarious purposes - and they're going to be amazed at how quickly their plan falls apart. In The Warrior Sheep Down Under, a surfing, bungee-jumping, white-water-rafting Antipodean adventure awaits the five heroic sheep. With only a very crooked fairy godmother to guide them, they set out to rescue Tuftella, the fairest ewe maiden of them all, who is locked away in a tall tower surrounded by a moat full of monsters.