The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma ($7.99) is primarily set in and around London shortly after H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine was released, and everybody is interested in the possibility of time travel, including con men. Scattered among the intricately interconnected sub-plots are some time travel stories that are cons and some that are not cons, and part of the pleasure is trying to figure out which ones are cons and how they are pulled off. Eventually, H. G. Wells becomes one of the major characters of the novel. As interesting as the plot is, what I really enjoyed was the writing style. A sequel, Map of the Sky, is coming in September and involves The War of the Worlds. I’m really looking forward to it.
The Iron Wyrm Affair by Lilith Saintcrow ($13.99) is the first of a new series of steampunk novels. Think of the old TV series The Avengers, with John Steed and Emma Peel dealing with various strange threats to Great Britain; now convert both the male and the female agents to magic users, move the story to the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign, add in a third agent who is rather like Sherlock Holmes without a Watson, and make the threats to the Empire magical, and you’ll have a good idea of the concept. It’s enormous fun.
I had been hearing a lot of good comments about First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones ($7.99), including comparisons to Janet Evanovich, so I decided to give it a try. Charley Davidson is a wise-cracking part-time PI and full-time grim reaper. Since she was born, she has been able to see dead people, and her primary job is to urge them to move on, to “go into the light.” But sometimes the dead people are hanging around because of unfinished business–such as people who were murdered and want the killers dealt with, and they expect Charley to help deal with the unfinished business before they will move on. Since she was 5 years old, Charley has been passing along information from dead people to the police, first her father before he retired and now to her uncle. The fast-paced funny story had a lot more hot paranormal romance than I was looking for, but I still enjoyed it enough to pick up the second in the series, Second Grave on the Left ($7.99). The second book is also fast-paced and funny, and the hot paranormal romance is toned down a fair amount. Third Grave Dead Ahead is currently available as a $14.99 trade paperback and will be out as a $7.99 mass market paperback in November. Fourth Grave Beneath My Feet will be out in hardcover at $24.99 in November.
I picked up Giant Thief by David Tallerman ($7.99) under the impression that it was a fantasy about a giant who is a thief, but I was wrong. Easie Damasco has been a rogue, con man, and thief most of his life. When he is drafted to be cannon fodder in the army of an invading warlord, it doesn’t take him long to steal some stuff and make a run for it. Among the things he steals is one of the warlord’s giants. The warlord is determined to catch Easie and get back his treasure and his giant. Although the novel comes to a satisfactory conclusion, it’s obviously the first of a series, and the next volume, Crown Thief ($7.99) is expected early October.
About a decade ago I read and enjoyed very much Juliet E. McKenna’s Tales of Eirnarinn fantasy series (The Thief’s Gamble ($7.99), The Swordsman’s Oath ($7.99), The Gambler’s Fortune ($8.99), The Warrior’s Bond ($7.99), and The Assassin’s Edge ($7.99)), but I hadn’t tried anything else by her until I recently picked up Dangerous Waters ($7.99). It seems that McKenna has been writing other series set in the same world as her original series. The series that begins with Dangerous Waters primarily deals with the country of Caladhria, which has been troubled by pirates from the islands of the Aldabreshin Archipelago. They try to get a mage to help them fight the pirates, but the Archmage has decreed that no mage can get involved with warfare, so only a crooked mage will help them. When that doesn’t work out so well, one of the Caladhrians tries to get help from a mage from far away who has no interest in what the Archmage has decreed, that doesn’t work even more seriously. I enjoyed Dangerous Waters so much that I immediately picked up the sequel, Darkening Skies ($8.99). Since the third volume, Defiant Peaks, won’t be out until December, I next turned to her early series, Irons in the Fire ($8.99), Blood in the Water ($7.99), and Banners in the Wind ($7.99), which are set slightly earlier than Dangerous Waters in the nearby country of Lescari. Lescari has been ruled for the last 20 generations by 6 dukes, all of whom tax their people heavily to support mercenary armies, with which they have wars with each other in hopes of becoming High King. If any of them could ever become High King, maybe things would settle down, but each duke has 5 other dukes scheming against him. Some Lescari exiles decide that it is time to overthrow all 6 dukes, and this series tells of the plotting, execution, and aftermath of this revolution.
I recommend that you start with the original series (if you haven’t already), then move on the Lescari series, and then move on to Dangerous Waters. By the time you get done with all of that, you won’t have quite so long to wait for the final book of the latest series.
(McKenna wrote a 4 book series about the Aldabreshin Archipelago that came after the Tales of Eirnarinn series and before the Lescari series. The U.S. publisher only published the first 2 books in the series, Southern Fire and Northern Storm. Both were already out of print before I was able to get British import copies of Western Shore (#3, $12.95) and Eastern Tide (#4, $12.95). Very irritating! Fortunately, each series can be enjoyed independently.)
Up Against It ($7.99) by M. J. Locke is space opera in the asteroid belt. Phocaea is an independent asteroid colony of about 200,000 people. After an “accident” dumps megatons of water and methane out the air lock, resource manager Jane Navio realizes that the only source of more ice and methane that can reach them in time is controlled by the Martian crime syndicate. She finds that the “accident” was also set up by the syndicate, and it’s all part of a plan to force Phocaea to become a client-state of the syndicate. She’s seen what happened when another asteroid colony was taken over by the syndicate, and she’s determined to do whatever it takes to save Phocaea. Toss in some nanotech, a transhumanist cult, a rogue AI, and a batch of thrill-seeking college-age kids willing to take any kind of risk to save their colony, and things get pretty interesting pretty fast. I’m skeptical about some of the science (for example, why build a spinning city inside a hollowed out non-spinning asteroid when it would make more sense to spin the entire asteroid–the airlock arrangement would be so much easier), but I still enjoyed the adventure.
by Elizabeth LaVelle
Precinct 13 ($15.00) by Twin Cities author Tate Hallaway (aka Lyda Morehouse) is a lot of fun; part fantasy, part police procedural, with some forensics thrown in, including an experiment that the squints at the Jeffersonian would be proud of. Growing up in Chicago, Alex always saw things no one else believed in - and was systematically convinced by her stepmother that mental illness was involved. After relocating to Pierre, South Dakota, she's is thrilled to be elected coroner for Hughes County. The pay is great, and how much work could it be? Then her first autopsy ends with the corpse walking off, the police chief refers her to Precinct 13, and suddenly she has colleagues - some human, some not - who specialize in paranormal crimes. Not only do they believe her story about the body, they're certain Alex has magical abilities. Alex helps them hunt for the reanimated body, which belongs to a necromancer who was up to no good, while she tries to figure out how her magic works. The dead now speak to Alex, but usually don't have anything useful to say (especially the cattle). And exactly how does her curse power work? I really enjoyed the humor, and the matter-of-fact midwestern characters.