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Book Review: Brother’s Ruin by Emma Newman

30 Mar

 

In an alternate 1850s era, the British Empire is flourishing as vitally as it did in our timeline, but from different base causes. Instead of the power of the Industrial Revolution providing the motive power for Monarch and country, the Royal Society of Esoteric Arts provides the competitive advantage for Great Britain to stand astride the world. But this society of magicians is a merciless one, taking every person with magical talent, whether they like it or not. Charlotte Gunn seeks to aid her family from financial disaster that her father is in by making sure that her brother’s talents are seen and compensated for. Oh, and in so doing, hiding her own deep, dark secret from the Royal Society: Charlotte, you see, is a mage too.

Charlotte, and her world, come to life in the Tor.com novella Brother’s Ruin by Emma Newman. Continue reading

Book Review: The Mountain of Kept Memory by Rachel Neumeier

23 Mar

A Princess seeking to escape the circumscribed nature of her life and the path set out for her. A Prince who strives to protect his land against an invasion and threat his small country has no capacity to stop. A tyrannical King whose plots and plans overwhelm them all. And a mysterious mountain of knowledge and power that is the key to all of them. It sounds on the face to be a standard fantasy setup with characters out of stock central fantasy casting that could be listed in Diana Wynne Jones’ THE TOUGH GUIDE TO FANTASYLAND.

You can probably even predict how this sort of set up will go, on the old straight track. Prince saves the day, Princess is plucky, Father dies heroically and repents and recants on his deathbed, paving way for Prince to be the better successor. Simple and straightforward character beats and maybe if one is lucky, some character growth for Prince and Princess too. However, The Mountain of Kept Memory by Rachel Neumeier avoids those well trod paths that might go with that sort of fantasy setup, and has a focus, tone and through line that is rather different and rather special. Continue reading

Retro Childhood Review: Firebrat

22 Mar

“It will only be for a month, Molly.”

“Why me?” she wailed, forgetting her vow of silence. “Why not Betty? She’s older.”

“Because I think you’ll do a better job than Betty. You’re the reader in this family. The storyteller… Your grandma’s getting awfully forgetful, Molly. Ever since Grandpa died, she’s been living in the past — she tells the same stories over and over. She needs someone who’ll talk to her and help her organize the shop. You know — keep her in touch with the present.”

Silence.

“Molly, you’re the one who doesn’t mind a little mess.” He waved his hand at her room. “You’re the lover of mysteries.”

“What’s the big mystery about taking care of Grandma?”

“Making people well is always a mystery,” said her father sadly.

I will forever be indebted to a family that both placed an importance on reading and not only understood how much I loved science fiction and fantasy, but encouraged it with gifts. For my eleventh birthday, my aunt and uncle sent me Firebrat, by Nancy Willard, with illustrations by David Wiesner. I don’t know how they decided on this particular book, but the whimsical cover of fish flying through a forest, showing a young girl and a young boy, with the girl in the lead probably had something to do with it. And where I have read and discarded a hundred other fantastical children’s books, Firebrat has kept its place firmly ensconced on every bookshelf that I have ever owned. Continue reading

Book Review: Hunger Makes the Wolf by Alex Wells

16 Mar

 

Disclosure: Alex Wells is a pseudonym of Alex Acks, co-host here at Skiffy and Fanty. I consider them a friend.

Hob Ravani is a member of a biker outfit on Tanegawa’s World. Tanegawa’s World is a hardscrabble place, a dry and desolate world that wouldn’t draw any interest, even from the Transrift corporation, save for its considerable mineral resources. Those resources, and those resources alone, make the desert planet valuable. It’s not Arrakis, but Tanegawa’s World is still a prize to the only corporation with the capacity to travel to the stars. Not even the Federal Union that ostensibly is the government of humanity and all of its worlds has the secret to their Rift drive.

And then there is the fact that some people who live on Tanegawa’s World are affected by the strange contaminants on the planet. It IS an alien world, after all, and humans and their works and creations are intruders upon it. Humans who live away from the filtered, protected city of Newcastle are exposed to the world. They can develop unusual, exotic powers, powers that are feared by the corporation, and everyone else on the planet for that matter.  People with this contamination gone feral, called witchiness by the locals, are a breed apart. People like Hob.

Hunger Makes the Wolf, the debut novel from Alex Wells, tells Hob’s story. Continue reading

Book Review: The Waking Fire by Anthony Ryan

9 Mar

 

The Ironship Syndicate has a problem. This Trading Company turned governmental body has lands and operations to run, and the basis of its profitability and its strength is the blood of drakes, or dragons. Certain people can ingest elixirs made from their blood to gain temporary magical abilities. This magical science of plasmology allows for amazing temporary feats by the Blood-blessed. The sale and internal use of these elixirs, more than guns, more than steel, is what makes the power of the Ironship Syndicate possible. And the drakes are being hunted to extinction, and the captive drakes are not breeding.  Without drakes, there will be no blood. With no blood, there will be no elixirs. And without elixirs, the power of the Trading Company will be under threat. The neighboring, pugnacious Corvantine Empire might take advantage, to the ruin of the Syndicate and its holdings.

And so a cunning plan has been hatched at the highest levels of the Syndicate. Long there have been rumors of a color of Dragon beyond the usual Red, Blue, Black and Green. A White dragon, located in the wilderness, whose blood might … well, what the power of the blood of a white could do isn’t quite known, but it could be the one thing to change the fortunes of the Syndicate, and perhaps the world as well. And even as the Syndicate brings together agents and talented amateurs and more to make an expedition into Terra Incognita in search of the White Drake, others have their own agendas and plans in these turbulent times. Continue reading

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