Quick Review: DOWNFALL OF THE GODS by K.J. Parker (Subterranean Press)

ParkerKJ-DownfallOfTheGodsAn entertaining tale of gods behaving badly

If you visit the Temple and ask nicely for forgiveness, you might get it — assuming you aren’t Lord Archias and you haven’t killed the Goddess’s favorite musician, Lysippus. But even goddesses are expected to follow certain rules, and as much as she wants to punish Lord Archias it seems her troublesome, all-powerful father forbids it. So the Goddess will just have to get around that by forgiving Lord Archias if he can manage some simple — or, rather, seemingly impossible — tasks. A Goddess has to do what a goddess has to do.

And in World Fantasy Award winner K.J. Parker’s sharply inventive new novella Downfall of the Gods that means everything from soothing supernatural egos to accompanying the argumentative Lord Archias on an epic quest to save his soul… and get her own way. As the Goddess and her mortal charge make their way across the world to the Land of the Dead, a host of divine surprises await them. Could what they find at the end be the downfall of the gods themselves? Only time will tell.

“The generally accepted form of communication in my family is melodrama,” says the divine narrator of Downfall of the Gods. Fans of Greek and Roman mythology will certainly be familiar with this notion. In this novella, K.J. Parker turns his playful pen to dissecting humanity’s relationship with its gods, and how pernicious and frustrating the gods can be. A quickly-paced, well-written and amusing novella. I really enjoyed this. Continue reading

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Review: THE KILLING KIND by Chris Holm (Mulholland)

holmc-h1-killingkindukpbAn entertaining thriller introduces us to an interesting new anti-hero

Michael Hendricks kills people for money. That aside, he’s not so bad a guy.

Once a covert operative for a false-flag unit of the US military, Hendricks was presumed dead after a mission in Afghanistan went sideways. He left behind his old life — and beloved fiancée — and set out on a path of redemption…or perhaps one of willful self-destruction.

Now Hendricks makes his living as a hitman entrepreneur of sorts: he only hits other hitmen. For ten times the price on your head, he’ll make sure whoever’s coming to kill you winds up in the ground instead. Not a bad way for a guy with his skill-set to make a living — but a great way to make himself a target.

It took me altogether too long to get around tor reading this series. I thought it sounded great when it was first announced; and, now that I’ve read it, I’m glad to report that it didn’t disappoint. This is an interesting, fast-paced first instalment of a cool new series. Continue reading

Quick Review: THE KILLING SEASON and THE SAMARITAN by Mason Cross (Orion/Pegasus)

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A must-read new thriller series

The first thing you should know about me is that my name is not Carter Blake. That name no more belongs to me than the hotel room I was occupying when the call came in.

When Caleb Wardell, the infamous ‘Chicago Sniper’, escapes from death row two weeks before his execution, the FBI calls on the services of Carter Blake, a man with certain specialised talents whose skills lie in finding those who don’t want to be found. A man to whom Wardell is no stranger.

Along with Elaine Banner, an ambitious special agent juggling life as a single mother with her increasingly high-flying career, Blake must track Wardell down as he cuts a swathe across America, apparently killing at random.

But Blake and Banner soon find themselves sidelined from the case. And as they try desperately to second guess a man who kills purely for the thrill of it, they uncover a hornets’ nest of lies and corruption. Now Blake must break the rules and go head to head with the FBI if he is to stop Wardell and expose a deadly conspiracy that will rock the country.

I read both of these novels back-to-back, and loved them both. The first two in a new series by British author Mason Cross, they are a wonderful blend of classic loner-hero thrillers and some fresh ideas. They’re difficult to review without spoiling, as is often the case with thrillers, but in a nutshell: Briskly paced, realistic, and gripping — what more could you ask for from a thriller? Continue reading

Guest Review: THE THREE BODY PROBLEM by Cixin Liu (Tor Books)

Liu-ThreeBodyProblemA satisfying start to a Hugo Award-winning Sci-Fi trilogy

With the scope of Dune and the commercial action of Independence Day, Three-Body Problem is the first chance for English-speaking readers to experience this multiple-award-winning phenomenon from China’s most beloved science fiction author, Liu Cixin.

Set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.

Reviewed by Ryan Frye

It is hard to believe that The Three-Body Problem won the 2015 Hugo award for best novel. Not because it isn’t deserving of the accolade — it is — but because, when I read it, I felt like I was reading a classic work of Science Fiction. The Three-Body Problem tackles the classic genre idea of whether or not there is other intelligent life in the universe. While the book is rooted in a question that could be traced back to the earliest beginnings of the genre, this book takes a markedly different and unique approach from the very first page. Continue reading

Quick Review: FIFTEEN DOGS by André Alexis (Coach House)

A marvellous, thought-provoking, and moving novel

— I wonder, said Hermes, what it would be like if animals had human intelligence.

— I’ll wager a year’s servitude, answered Apollo, that animals – any animal you like – would be even more unhappy than humans are, if they were given human intelligence.

And so it begins: a bet between the gods Hermes and Apollo leads them to grant human consciousness and language to a group of dogs overnighting at a Toronto vet­erinary clinic. Suddenly capable of more complex thought, the pack is torn between those who resist the new ways of thinking, preferring the old ‘dog’ ways, and those who embrace the change. The gods watch from above as the dogs venture into their newly unfamiliar world, as they become divided among themselves, as each struggles with new thoughts and feelings. Wily Benjy moves from home to home, Prince becomes a poet, and Majnoun forges a relationship with a kind couple that stops even the Fates in their tracks.

When I first started reading Fifteen Dogs, I was worried I wasn’t going to like it. It took me longer than it should have to realize what Alexis was doing — namely, the fact that the canines in the title, while gifted with human intelligence, were not also gifted with human knowledge. It may seem like a common sense thing, but it’s not something I’ve seen in other novels in which animals are or become anthropomorphized. As a result, the first fifty pages or so were pretty blunt, and the writing didn’t exhibit the lyricism or depth that I’d been led to expect. But after that point… it really started to shine. Continue reading

Review: THE MAGICIAN’S LAND by Lev Grossman (Penguin/Arrow)

GrossmanL-M3-MagiciansLandUSA most satisfying conclusion to The Magicians trilogy

Quentin Coldwater has been cast out of Fillory, the secret magical land of his childhood dreams. With nothing left to lose he returns to where his story began, the Brakebills Preparatory College of Magic. But he can’t hide from his past, and it’s not long before it comes looking for him.

Along with Plum, a brilliant young undergraduate with a dark secret of her own, Quentin sets out on a crooked path through a magical demimonde of gray magic and desperate characters. But all roads lead back to Fillory, and his new life takes him to old haunts, like Antarctica, and to buried secrets and old friends he thought were lost forever. He uncovers the key to a sorcery masterwork, a spell that could create magical utopia, a new Fillory — but casting it will set in motion a chain of events that will bring Earth and Fillory crashing together. To save them he will have to risk sacrificing everything.

The Magician’s Land is an intricate thriller, a fantastical epic, and an epic of love and redemption that brings the Magicians trilogy to a magnificent conclusion, confirming it as one of the great achievements in modern fantasy. It’s the story of a boy becoming a man, an apprentice becoming a master, and a broken land finally becoming whole.

I left this for far longer than I intended: I thoroughly enjoyed both of the previous books in the series, The Magicians and The Magician KingThe Magician’s Land is a great, gripping conclusion, and exceeded my high expectations. This is a must-read trilogy for all fans of fantasy. Continue reading

Cover: WOLF MOON by Ian McDonald (Tor)

McDonald-Luna2-WolfMoonUS

Spotted this on Edelweiss, and thought I’d share it here. Wolf Moon is the second novel in Ian McDonald‘s Luna series, and sequel to New Moon. I still haven’t had a chance to read the first novel, yet (I do have it), but it is very high on my priority list. Here’s the synopsis for Wolf Moon, which is due to be published in the US by Tor Books in September 2016:

A Dragon is dead.

Corta Helio, one of the five family corporations that rule the Moon, has fallen. Its riches are divided up among its many enemies, its survivors scattered. Eighteen months have passed.

The remaining Helio children, Lucasinho and Luna, are under the protection of the powerful Asamoahs, while Robson, still reeling from witnessing his parent’s violent deaths, is now a ward — virtually a hostage — of Mackenzie Metals. And the last appointed heir, Lucas, has vanished of the surface of the moon.

Only Lady Sun, dowager of Taiyang, suspects that Lucas Corta is not dead, and more to the point — that he is still a major player in the game. After all, Lucas always was the Schemer, and even in death, he would go to any lengths to take back everything and build a new Corta Helio, more powerful than before. But Corta Helio needs allies, and to find them, the fleeing son undertakes an audacious, impossible journey — to Earth.

In an unstable lunar environment, the shifting loyalties and political machinations of each family reach the zenith of their most fertile plots as outright war erupts.

New Moon is also published by Tor Books in North America, and is published in the UK by Gollancz — who will also be publishing Wolf Moon, although I’m not sure when.

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