Oct 202017
 

Cover of The Stone in The Skull by Elizabeth Bear.B&N SFF Blog: From its opening pages, Elizabeth Bear’s The Stone in the Skull wears its virtues on its sleeve, introducing us to two characters, Dead Man and the Gage, who are immediately enigmatic, yet also compelling and achingly human (doubly impressive for the Gage, a towering automaton powered by a human soul).

And this is where the book truly excels, beyond the magic-laced action scenes and top-tier worldbuilding­in the way Bear loads layered relationships between a whole host of characters into a relatively slim page count.

With every new story, Bear leaves her mark on the world. There is a weight to her worldbuilding, to the subtlety of her characterizations. Hers is a mark that identifies the boundlessness of epic fantasy, of worlds created by a singular mind, but shared and enjoyed by many.

The Stone in the Skull begins a fantastic new saga, reminding us that Elizabeth Bear is truly one of the premier fantasists of her generation. If you’ve yet to discover her work, there’s no better time.

Oct 182017
 
Cover of Creatures of Will and Temper by Molly Tanzer.RT Reviews: Tanzer crafts a dark, heady tale of sensuality and the supernatural, full of deceptively complex characters and plenty of dangerous surprises. Tanzer deserves credit for creating a complex and insightful relationship between her two sisters, and providing them such a gripping adventure in which to grow.
Oct 162017
 

Cover of The Stone in The Skull by Elizabeth Bear.Locus: Full disclaimer: I haven’t read Elizabeth Bear’s first trilogy set in the Eternal Sky world (Range of Ghosts, etc.) but am also not sure it matters. While I’m sure a reading of The Stone in the Skull would be enhanced by knowing about this world before dropping into it, that knowledge is not required to enjoy the visit there. And it is enjoyable.

The story opens with the Gage, a brass automaton, and the Dead Man, a drifter, of sorts, trudging over ice-choked mountains to deliver a message to a queen in the damp land of Sarathai-tia. Mrithuri, said queen, is undertaking a public ritual involving lotus flowers – and the results of said ritual indicate that changes are about to come. Thus, the plot is launched.

What works so well in just about every Bear book are her characters, which always feel finely drawn and solidly connected to the story they are in. The plot hews closely to the whole band-of-rogues-assemble-to-fight-stronger-band-of-foes, but this is a feature rather than a bug. Bear noodles around that trope like a jazz master and takes the story to some interesting places where she can examine privilege, toxic pasts, and gender identities – with, of course, magic and mayhem and mud. Lots and lots of mud.

It’s hard to talk about the first book in a trilogy, if only because it isn’t intended to feel like it comes to a complete closure. This book ends by setting the next part of the story up well and making this reader wish she had the next book within arm’s reach so that she can find out what happens next.

Oct 122017
 
Cover of The Sisters of the Crescent Empress by Leena Likitalo.Publishers Weekly: In Likitalo’s lovely sequel to The Five Daughters of the Moon, based on the last days of the Romanovs, the lyrical prose takes full advantage of the richness of Russian mythology and perfectly captures the enduring chill that surrounds the girls.
Oct 112017
 

Cover of The Stone in The Skull by Elizabeth Bear.RT Reviews: Bear skillfully weaves a brand-new saga into the landscape of her famed worlds from previous novels, hinting at the histories but not relying on them. The new stories and characters are fresh and captivating, from the young monarch with the creepiest drug addiction, to the elderly poet-warrior with the subversive skillset. There is little to critique here, though the romances can seem extraneous and unnecessary. The near-apocalyptic cliffhanger leaves the reader anxious for more. A definite must-read, and one to highlight in anticipation for the sequel.

The Gage and the Dead Man carry a message of great importance­ if only they can make it through the Steles of the Sky without being halted by weather, ice wyrms, or war. The recipient of their message, the Rajni of the Lotus Kingdom, has received foreboding auguries from every corner of her domain, and new threats seem to approach every day. Can they come together and decipher the message before the auguries come to pass?

Oct 102017
 

Cover of The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza by Shaun David Hutchinson.Booklist: Elena was the product of a virgin birth, but it wasn’t a miracle; just garden variety, statistically improbable, yet no less possible, parthenogenesis. What is a miracle, however, is her ability to heal people…

Hutchinson always keeps the story firmly grounded in Elena’s relationships and, more importantly, her believable growth, particularly when it comes to her own faults. Surreal, brainy, and totally captivating.

Oct 062017
 

Cover of The Stone in The Skull by Elizabeth Bear.Library Journal: Bear’s outstanding worldbuilding includes an India-inspired land, where the night sky is lit by a wash of stars brighter by far than the dark sun that rises each day. The diverse cast includes plenty of strong women, and the Dead Man and Gage are a team readers will want to follow for many more adventures.

VERDICT: “The Eternal Sky” trilogy (Range of Ghosts; Shattered Pillars; Steles of the Sky) is one of the great fantasy epics of the last decade, and Bear triumphantly returns to that setting, albeit a small corner that she has not previously explored.

Oct 032017
 

Cover of Anne Perry's A Christmas Return.Publishers Weekly: Exceptional . . . Perry unobtrusively incorporates insights about the true meaning of the season into the engrossing plot.

Sep 012017
 

Cover of The Stone in The Skull by Elizabeth Bear.Publishers Weekly: With a glorious and dramatic story, Bear begins a stunning new series set in the same world as her Eternal Sky trilogy. South of towering mountains lie the Lotus Kingdoms, an analog of our own Indian subcontinent. The Dead Man, once guard to a caliph who’s now dead himself, and the Gage, a hulking brass automaton, protect a caravan that travels over the mountain passes and down into the Lotus Kingdoms during monsoon season. The pair bear a message from the Eyeless One, a powerful wizard, to Mrithuri, ruling rajni of Sarathai-tia, who seeks a way to put off her powerful male cousins and secure her country. Both Mrithuri and her cousin, Sayeh Rajni of Ansh-Sahal, receive dark omens of further threats to their rule.

With sumptuous prose, Bear details the opulence of royal courts, a sodden journey, and intricate rituals. Colors, textures, and aromas enrich her descriptions of lands that stand on the brink of war. Bear’s worldbuilding stretches from the Cauled Sun in the heavens to the vast ecosystem of Mother River Sarathai, and her characters nod to fantasy archetypes while remaining individual.

Aug 232017
 

Locus Magazine: Susan R. Matthews’ Blood Enemies is the long-awaited conclusion to her Under Jurisdiction series.

Matthews remains fundamentally interested in the problem of atrocity: the nature of bad bargains and complicity; the cost of self-knowledge and the price of atonement. She remains, too, interested in exploring the nature of honour and loyalty, of right action and indeed of love in situations where people are pulled in multiple different directions.

Matthews’ characters have always been the biggest draw of her books for me. I find Andrej Kosciusko perhaps a little more compelling than any torturer really ought to be, and the other characters that populate this series are equally interesting. Matthews’ language is well chosen, and Blood Enemies rattles along towards its conclusion with admirable tension despite its scattered threads. It’s really gratifying to finally see how it all turns out.