Annalee Newitz – Autonomous

Earth, 2144. Jack is an anti-patent scientist turned drug pirate, fabricating cheap medicines for those who can’t otherwise afford them. But her latest drug hack has left a trail of lethal overdoses.

Hot on her trail is an unlikely pair: Eliasz, a deadly military agent, and his indentured robotic partner, Paladin. As they race to stop Jack, they begin to form an uncommonly close bond that neither of them fully understands.

And underlying it all is one fundamental question: is freedom possible in a culture where everything, even people, can be owned?

Annalee Newitz’s Autonomous was a challenging read. Not because it was a slog to get through, or because I couldn’t connect to the characters, but because it posed so many questions to chew on. There are political and environmental quandaries, there was commentary on academic practices and the way research is commercialised. But perhaps more importantly to me, it made me consider my thoughts on gender identity and on power differentials in (sexual) relationships. Read More …

Tyler Whitesides – The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn

Another review by Wiebe, who nicked my review copy for this title the moment it came in. The review is short and sweet, but he had his reasons for that.

Ardor Benn is no ordinary thief. Rakish, ambitious, and master of wildly complex heists, he styles himself a Ruse Artist Extraordinaire.

When a priest hires him for the most daring ruse yet, Ardor knows he’ll need more than quick wit and sleight of hand. Assembling a dream team of forgers, disguisers, schemers, and thieves, he sets out to steal from the most powerful king the realm has ever known.

But it soon becomes clear there’s more at stake than fame and glory – Ard and his team might just be the last hope for human civilization.

The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn is good fantasy that differs from the norm, as it is all about the con, or ruse in this case. Tyler Whitesides story reminded me most of the British TV series Hustle or The Lies of Locke Lamorra by Scott Lynch, without being derivative. All three feature a cast of gifted individuals who are so good at what they do, that they can pick and choose whom to con. That leads them to take from the wealthy and criminals, making them way more likeable than if they were fleecing old grannies. The Robin-Hood like approach to the characters makes it easier to like them. And boy, are the characters well written. With a good dose of gallows humour, and a fast pace I was thoroughly entertained.  Read More …

Helen Grant – Ghost

Langlands House is haunted, but not by the ghost you think … 

Augusta McAndrew lives on a remote Scottish estate with her grandmother, Rose. For her own safety, she hides from outsiders, as she has done her entire life. Visitors are few and far between — everyone knows that Langlands House is haunted. 

One day Rose goes out and never returns, leaving Augusta utterly alone. 

Then Tom McAllister arrives — good-looking and fascinating, but dangerous. What he has to tell her could tear her whole world apart. 

As Tom and Augusta become ever closer, they must face the question: is love enough to overcome the ghosts of the past? 

I’m a huge Helen Grant fan. I love her work and her heroines are always amazing. As she always incorporates where she lives in her work, previously Germany and Belgium, I was really looking forward to seeing how her moving to Scotland would inspire her work. Especially as I’ve seen moody and slightly eerie photos of overgrown castles and graveyards pop up on her social media feeds a lot. Thus, when Ghost was announced and I was offered a review copy, I was super excited to say yes. And oh boy, did Helen deliver on the expectations set by those pictures I’d been seeing. Because Ghost? It is all about the Gothic.  Read More …

Sam J. Miller – Blackfish City

After the climate wars, a floating city was constructed in the Arctic Circle. Once a remarkable feat of mechanical and social engineering, it has started to crumble under the weight of its own decay — crime and corruption have set in, a terrible new disease is coursing untreated through the population, and the contradictions of incredible wealth alongside deepest poverty are spawning unrest.

Into this turmoil comes a strange new visitor — a woman accompanied by an orca and a chained polar bear. She disappears into the crowds looking for someone she lost thirty years ago, followed by the whispers of a vanished people who could bond with animals. Her arrival draws together four people and sparks a chain of events that will lead to unprecedented acts of resistance.

Sam J. Miller wasn’t an unknown name to me when Blackfish City arrived on my doorstep. I’d heard some of his short stories on the Clarkesworld podcast (read by the inimitable Kate Baker) and they were great, so I was excited to read a novel from his hand. And that excitement turned out to be completely justified. Because spoiler alert: I LOVED IT. Blackfish City may be my favourite read of the year thus far. I will try to not gush and fangirl too much, but that might prove hard with this one.  Read More …

Joshua Winning – Vicious Rumer

Rumer Cross is cursed. Scraping by working for a dingy London detective agency, she lives in the shadow of her mother, a violent criminal dubbed the ‘Witch Assassin’ whose bloodthirsty rampage terrorised London for over a decade.

Raised by foster families who never understood her and terrified she could one day turn into her mother, Rumer has become detached and self-reliant. But when she’s targeted by a vicious mobster who believes she’s hiding an occult relic, she’s drawn into the very world she’s been fighting to avoid.

Hunted by assassins and haunted by her mother’s dark legacy, Rumer must also confront a terrible truth: that she’s cursed, because no matter what she does, everybody she’s ever grown close to has died screaming.

I read an early copy of Vicious Rumer when Josh was starting up his Unbound campaign for the book. I was familiar with Josh’s other work, mainly the first two books in his YA series The Sentinel Trilogy. I really liked those, so I was excited to read his latest. And while I wasn’t disappointed, I do have to say that I was surprised, because Vicious Rumer is oh so very different from Sentinel and Ruins. It’s far darker and more violent and while its protagonist is still in her teens it is a far more mature book in its concepts.  Read More …

Kate Elliott – The Spiritwalker Trilogy

Wiebe returns with a short review of the entire Spiritwalker trilogy, which if I had to summarise it is basically: “Mieneke, why haven’t you read this already?”

My wife, the lovely Fantastical Librarian, recommended this series to me after I read The Potion Diaries and a discussion of alternative history and romance in fantasy. Based on that discussion, she posited that The Spiritwalker Trilogy by one of her favourite authors, Kate Elliot, would be right up my alley. The titles of the trilogy are Cold Magic, Cold Fire, and Cold Steel. Picking up these three chihuahua killers of the shelf, I was wondering what in the heck would you need three trade paperbacks and more than 2000 pages for, to write some romance?  Read More …

Josiah Bancroft – Senlin Ascends

Mild-mannered headmaster Thomas Senlin prefers his adventures to be safely contained within the pages of a book. So when he loses his new bride shortly after embarking on the honeymoon of their dreams, he is ill-prepared for the trouble that follows.

To find her, Senlin must enter the Tower of Babel — a world of geniuses and tyrants, of menace and wonder, of unusual animals and mysterious machines. He must endure betrayal, assassination attempts and the long guns of a flying fortress. And if he hopes to ever see his wife again, he will have to do more than just survive — this quiet man of letters must become a man of action.

I went on somewhat of a journey with Josiah Bancroft’s Senlin Ascends. When I first read the description on the back of the book, my immediate reaction was: “Oh, I hope this isn’t another case of a fridged partner.” Because ugh — but it sounded really cool, so I decided to give it a try anyway. And while Marya disappears, which is Senlin’s motivation to progress up the Tower, she is no damsel, from the glimpses we have of her, has agency of her own and hopefully become an active character in her own right in future books. And in the end, I’m glad I took that chance, because I had a great time with it.  Read More …

Amy Alward – The Potion Diaries

Wiebe is back with another review.

When the princess of Nova accidentally poisons herself with a love potion meant for her crush, she falls crown-over-heels in love with her own reflection. Oops. A nationwide hunt is called to find the cure, with competitors traveling the world for the rarest ingredients, deep in magical forests and frozen tundras, facing death at every turn.

Enter Samantha Kemi – an ordinary girl with an extraordinary talent. Sam’s family were once the most respected alchemists in the kingdom, but they have fallen on hard times, and winning the hunt would save their reputation. But can Sam really compete with the dazzling powers of the ZoroAster megapharma company? And just how close is she willing to get to Zain Aster, her dashing enemy, in the meantime.

Just to add to the pressure, this quest is all over social media. And the world news.

No big deal then.

Reading the text on the back cover of The Potion Diaries, Amy Alward sets herself a lot of goals in this book. A quest, a love story, a family mystery and social media, set in a yet to be explained fantasy world. All that in a fast paced YA-ish novel of 350 pages. Looking back on the novel, I think it was a bit too much. I could shoot holes in the plot, say why I find the world is not fleshed out enough and much more. It is in my opinion a gross underestimation of the readers’ age makes that it makes you think you can get away with that. But it is YA, so long as it invokes stormy emotions and makes me feel 16 again, I will go along with it.  Read More …

Snorri Kristjansson – Kin

Everyone loves a family reunion.

He can deny it all he likes, but everyone knows Viking warlord Unnthor Reginsson brought home a great chest of gold when he retired from the longboats and settled down with Hildigunnur in a remote valley. Now, in the summer of 970, adopted daughter Helga is awaiting the arrival of her unknown siblings: dark, dangerous Karl, lithe, clever Jorunn, gentle Aslak, henpecked by his shrewish wife, and the giant Bjorn, made bitter by Volund, his idiot son.

And they’re coming with darkness in their hearts.

The siblings gather, bad blood simmers and old feuds resurface as Unnthor’s heirs make their moves on the old man’s treasure – until one morning Helga is awakened by screams. Blood has been shed: kin has been slain.

No one confesses, but all the clues point to one person – who cannot possibly be the murderer, at least in Helga’s eyes. But if she’s going to save the innocent from the axe and prevent more bloodshed, she’s got to solve the mystery – fast . . .

Lies. Manipulation. Murder. There’s nothing quite like family . . .

Kin is the latest book by the wonderful Snorri Kristjansson. I adored his first two novels, Swords of Good Men and Blood Will Follow. So much so, that I haven’t finished the first series yet, since I don’t want to say goodbye to Ulfar and Audun, the protagonists of the Valhalla trilogy. I really do love Snorri and his writing though, so when Kin arrived I squealed. Because Viking crime? I became the embodiment of this gif:

Read More …

Nancy K. Wallace – Before Winter

As rumors of Devin’s death at his own bodyguard’s hands reach the capital, the Chancellor is detained on fabricated charges of treason, which may cost him his life. In the provinces, there are signs of people fighting to reclaim their history – but the forces against them are powerful: eradicating the Chronicles, and spreading darkness and death. 

Accompanied by a wolf pack and a retinue of their closest allies, Gaspard and Chastel must cross the mountains in a desperate attempt to save the Chancellor before winter makes their passage impossible. But the closer they journey towards Coreé, the clearer it becomes that there are those who don’t intend for them to arrive at all. 

Nancy K. Wallace’s The Wolves of Llisé series has gained a resonance with current affairs that Wallace perhaps hadn’t expected at the time when she started the story. Its central themes — showing that information is power, (mis)information is a tool, and truth is malleable — are eerily relevant today. Wallace also shows that there is a subversive power to storytelling, one we should cherish and not fear to wield. With Before Winter Wallace brings this trilogy (the previous books were Among Wolves and Grim Tidings) to a close and she does so with panache.  Read More …