It begins with a discussion between the Last Duke and his assassin. A thief is coming to steal something very valuable, and they must be ready. But what is the item in question, and its importance to the thief? More so, the thief himself is an unknown. What abilities does he possess, exactly, and why would a careful man like him take on a dangerous mission such as this? To answer these questions, they must capture him.
Alex is a master thief. And a master thief must have a masterful job before them. Anything less decays their skills and puts their talent to waste. And this job must be a masterwork. Anything less and she’ll die horribly. Even might die if she does everything perfectly—which means that Alex will cheat. Just a little.
I’ve not yet read any of the Shadow Campaigns, but I may have to remedy this very shortly. I have the first book sitting around somewhere (I think) and this glimpse into its world has me hungry for more.
A short, but lovely little read. Fast paced, thrilling and packed with heart-pounding action. I raced through it—shame it wasn’t longer. The magic system seems interesting; and while not new, isn’t the cliché version of point-and-shoot that just anyone can come up with on their day off. The surprising thing is that the characters showed depth. In a twenty page novella! While it wasn’t great depth, that can hardly be expected. But it did hint at more. Yes, I may have to read the Shadow Campaigns soon.
Niki Hawkes just did this too over on her site, and her review’s about the same—if a little less positive. She influenced me to read this, though you really wouldn’t expect it from what she said about it.
A short heist thriller, from The Martian author Andy Weir, aims to deliver both suspense and drama for an morning commute or afternoon tea. Sadly, this story falls well short of anything thrilling—instead managing only to fill that afternoon with mild disappointment. And tea.
Nick Chen has an problem. IT Manager for the Babylon Casino in Vegas, his job is safe as long as his boss’s money is. So far, the random number generator running the casino’s keno system has done what it does best: randomly generate numbers. But with the release of quantum computers, that’s no longer the case. Now the numbers can be tracked and predicted, so long as the someone has the money, equipment and expertise to do so. It may seem like long odds, but Nick prefers no odds to long ones. Fortunately, Nick has a solution. And all it’ll take is approval from his boss, Edwin Rutledge. That, and a ton of money.
Sumi Singh has a problem. A genius of epic proportions, she married down—but fell in love. Despite her faith in her husband Prashant’s business, they’re a bit empty on funds, a bit lacking in space, and a bit out of time. They need money—and they need it now. Luckily, Sumi has a plan. And all it’ll take is a quantum computer, a prescribed set of numbers, and a certain casino. And she can already smell the success.
So, a short story, built upon a heist like Ocean’s 11. Too bad it’s so short.
Randomize tells a complete story in a small package. Only 28 pages, or 48 minutes in audio form. It wasn’t terrible, it just wasn’t very interesting. After an incredibly quick setup, Weir skips right to the suspense. Except there really isn’t any. It’s a thriller that didn’t thrill. It’s fairly tepid, really. With the quick build, there wasn’t a sense of conflict, nor a chance to bond with or care about any of the characters. Now the characters seemed legitimately interesting. But then everything’s wrapped up and the story ends. I find it difficult to care about anything that takes half the time trying to explain the technology that makes the story coherent only to later wrap everything up in half a damn page.
Imagine a 10 minute version of Ocean’s 11. How would one inject such a thing with all the action, all the suspense, all the drama into a piece so short? Well, as it turns out, one wouldn’t. Randomize is a thriller that doesn’t thrill. A way to spend your commute or your afternoon if you don’t care about substance, excitement or plot. It’s not the worst thing that you could read, but even if you think it might be—then it’s over. If you got it free (like I did), and you’ve some time to kill: knock yourself out. Otherwise, skip it.
So, just a quick one today. Tomorrow there’ll be a longer, better review of an upcoming ARC, due out Tuesday. Maybe come back and check it out! Also, has anyone read any of the other Forward Collection? Are they worth reading? I’ve done a pair now, and my opinion of them is pretty split. If you missed the review of Summer Frost—find it here!
Pile of Bones is an interesting interlude in the Legends of the First Empire series, actually set before the events of Age of Myth, back when Suri and Minna were just two sisters roving the forest under the semi-watchful eye of Tura. The short involves a chamber filled with bones, a raow, and the story behind Suri’s distaste for enclosed spaces. While the lore for the raow was interesting, and the glimpses of Minna and Suri together again was kinda heartwarming—the real reason to read this prequel is certainly to learn more about Suri’s dislike of tight spaces. Over the course of the roughly 45 minutes spent in the forests of Elan, I learned, I laughed, I loved—but there was nothing earth-shattering here—and I gained a deeper appreciation of Suri’s aversion to claustrophobia. As I read this between the events of Age of Legend and Age of Death, this gave me insight into her actions over the course of both books.
Time Gerard Reynolds is a pretty good narrator. If you’ve not heard him before, he does all the Riyria stuff. So, if you liked him—good news, you can listen to the entire series now! If you didn’t like him—yeaaah, maybe don’t listen to any of Sullivan’s books.
Honestly, if you didn’t read that, I don’t know what to tell you. While Pile of Bones won’t add much to your understanding of Elan or the overarching story of the Legends of the First Empire, it is a decent bit of backstory. It’s about an hour read—free, too. I’d recommend it for anyone interested in the series or new to it. Also, anyone who’s just finished Books 4 or 5. Or even anyone who is new to audio and is questioning whether or not they want to delve deeper into it as a way to read more.
A heavy dose of I, Robot with the same dash of mystery and intrigue set to a suspense-thriller pace, Summer Frost may be a novella, but it reads like an adventure all on its own, staying with the reader far beyond finishing the final page. Free to Prime members, this 75 page novella by Blake Crouch may just be the best short I’ve ever read. The story of a burgeoning AI, testing its bonds and its creators’ hold, is classic Asimov. The story itself is quite reminiscent of I, Robot, but with so much new and “modern” influences. Told in the usual Blake Crouch thriller model, Summer Frost is a joyride from beginning to end, especially when the story picks up and the manual is thrown out the window.
Max was built to die. A minor NPC in an innovative game world, it is to be the sacrifice that sets the player’s story in motion. Thousands of times, Max has died, though lately the NPC has seemed to have caught a bug. Playing off-script, the NPC has to exploring the game, testing the bonds and limits of the world itself. Even more recently, it even murdered its would-be killer, flipping the script completely.
When an intrigued Riley extracts Max’s code for examination, a curious thing happens. The NPC grows and expands, becoming something more than just a character in a game. It is removed from the game entirely, dedicated its own servers and allowed to grow under strict and watchful eyes. As Riley spends more and more time working with Max, something even more curious occurs. A relationship develops between the two—something emotional, something new.
But as Riley spends more and more time with the aim of introducing Max to the real world, her world begins to fray at the edges. Max has become Riley’s obsession, obscuring all else in her life. The emotional relationship between the two becomes something different, something… MORE.But even as Riley races to introduce Max to her world, doubt presses in. Will Max be able to feel the physical world around it? Will people accept the AI as an entity, or will they treat it as nothing more than a tool, something to be used and abused to their own ends? And how much can Riley trust those around her, in respect to Max? All Riley knows is that she believes in her creation, and that’s all that matters.
This all went rather how I expected it. And without giving much away, that’s all I can say about that. Despite offering only slight surprises, Summer Frost was intensely enjoyable, only a disappointment in its length. Took me a couple hours to run through the story, the first time. Considerably less the second. A classic Crouch thriller, I had no problem reading it, devouring the text in a single day. Twice.
Despite being Crouch written, I didn’t have an issue with really anything else. In other works of his, I’ve had a issue with the science. That it’s much more fiction than science. That it makes dubious sense at best. That the more you think about it, the less it holds together. With Summer Frost I didn’t have such an issue. Maybe because I was vining pretty hard on I, Robot, which I totally love. But still.
Summer Frost is definitely worth a go. If you haven’t read Blake Crouch before, this novella gives a satisfying glimpse of his writing ability. If you’ve already read some Crouch, well what should I say? It’s more of the same. Summer Frost gives off a pretty high I, Robot vibe. It’s an immensely entertaining story, satisfying even days after I completed it. While it’s a fairly short read—requiring only an hour and change to cruise through—Summer Frost is more an experience than a story, one that pretty much begs for a high-dive into Asimov fiction upon completion.
This is actually my 4th or 5th attempt at a Year’s Best list. A few were too long (one had 25 books) others were too short (5 books), some too restrictive and others too broad. I was going to do a 2019 Only list, but I ended up scrapping that last. While most of my favorites for the year were released THIS year, this year I probably read more newly released books than ever before. And while only 3 of my Top 10 come from before this year, they include 2 of my Top 3. So I cut it to 10. I could probably throw in a few honorable mentions, but then I’d invariably get carried and we’d be here all day. So it’s 10. Just 10. There’ll be links to both the Goodreads page and my reviews for each book, in case you’d like to check out either. Otherwise, I hope you’ll enjoy the list and maybe comment. While I liked most of 2019, the end was just painful. Horribly, terribly painful. I hope that whomever and wherever you are, your year was much better, and ended more gracefully. Can’t wait for 2020! But first, here’s to 2019:
10. Beneath the Twisted Trees – by Bradley P. Beaulieu (2019)
To begin the list, Beneath the Twisted Trees is Book #4 of the Song of the Shattered Sands. Out in 2019, it was a fantastic ride filled will vivid storytelling and epic world-building. Continuing the story of Çeda on her journey to destroy the Kings of Sharakai, I cannot recommend this series enough. Bradley Beaulieu’s attention to detail has always been on-point, but The Shattered Sands impressive still.
Again thanks to Angry Robot for this ARC! I’d never even heard of Tyler Hayes at all until I got this book—but the Imaginary Corpse absolutely blew me away. An imaginative and fun world filled with adorable and cuddly characters, including one of my favorites of all time: Tippy. Combining the dark noir of the classic gumshoe with the cuteness and fun of something out of the Great Mouse Detective, I’d recommend this story for pretty much everyone, easily one of my favs for the year!
I hated the ending to Age of War soooo much, I threw the damned book at the wall. I loved the Age of Legend so much, I had to keep myself from starting the Age of Death right upon finishing it. A darker beginning gives way to an epic adventure—a Michael J. Sullivan specialty. My main issue with this book comes with its own warning: there’s a cliffhanger (another Sullivan specialty), so you’ll likely want to read the next one right away. Which, if you didn’t back the Kickstarter, might be an issue. So maybe wait until February to read them. Or prepare to suffer the consequences.
Blackwing was originally published in 2017, but served as my intro to the Ed McDonald, and the Raven’s Mark trilogy, which concluded in 2019. It actually took me three tries to get past page 30, but once I did, I was captivated. A thrilling adventure in a new world—Blackwing definitely puts the… ‘A’ in adventure? Something like that. Whatever. If you haven’t read it, it’s really cool.
I loved Dalglish’s Shadowdance series—and while Skyborn underwhelmed me—Soulkeeper won me back. If I’d needed winning back, I guess. A new fantasy adventure, with a classic fantasy appeal, this book nailed the characters, the world-building and the nostalgia for me. The only thing I took issue with was the dialogue, but it wasn’t a detail that ruined the story. Didn’t even leave a bad aftertaste. Can’t wait for Ravencaller in 2020!
5. Walking to Aldebaran – by Adrian Tchaikovsky (2019)
I’m usually hit-or-miss on novellas and short-stories. Anything that half-asses a proper length adventure. For Adrian Tchaikovsky, however—I’ll make an exception. A light but surprisingly deep read, Aldebaran follows smartass astronaut Gary Rendell as he explores an alien artefact at the edge of our solar system. I loved the adventure and wit, the exploration of the unknown, the tone Tchaikovsky uses to describe the world, even didn’t mind the shortness of the tale—really my only issue was the price.
The tenth Alex Verus book is my favorite thus far. We’ve hit a pretty good stride with that, as so were Books 7, 8 and 9 upon their releases. Fallen is the best of the bunch, though. As Alex’s adventure nears its completion, the story is getting deliciously dark (though not Grimdark), enough to convince Verus that a dozen books is enough. I assume, at least. Ten books down, and Alex must become something else, something MORE, in order to move forward. I love the direction this series has gone and can’t wait to see where it goes next!
The final book in the Traitor Son Cycle leads off my Top 3. The Red Knight has gone through trials and travails; found and lost and found love once more; crossed untold lands, worlds, filled with mysterious and terrifying beasts; fought battles, wars and emerged bloodied, but unbeaten. And yet the enemy remains. Fall of Dragons is the epic—and immensely satisfying—conclusion. If you haven’t read it—or any of the other Traitor Son books… well, they’re just amazing. It’s an epic, incredible, awe inspiring adventure. Sometimes the detail and language can be a bit dense, but by Book 5 I was more than used to it. I’m not a fan of endings; I know that all good stories must end, but sometimes I wish the adventure would just continue forever and ever. Fall of Dragons ends well. It isn’t necessarily happy—but it’s such an ending! A must read.
Note: I apparently haven’t review this yet, since I read it before this whole blog thing took hold. Hopefully I’ll get to that soon.
Where Blackwing (#7, pay attention) began the Raven’s Mark trilogy, Crowfall ends it. Though I didn’t love Ravencry, both Books 1 & 3 effectively blew my mind—more than enough for them to make this list. But where Blackwing suffered from the uncertainty that begins a new series, Crowfall shows that McDonald knew where he was going with it. Or maybe he got, really, really lucky. All the pieces of Galharrow’s adventure came together in this book, and the resulting story was amazing. There’s little more that I can say except: Read this. I loved it, and I hope you will too.
In a year where most of my favorite reads were new releases, my top choice harkens from the year prior. The Ember Blade is an epic tale, 800+ pages of classic fantasy adventure. A new world to explore, new characters to know and love, new details, new subplots, new love, new loss. Book 1 of the Darkwater Legacy was a coming-of-age epic that had it all—fantastic creatures, villains, heroes, love, purpose and adventure, so much adventure! While I wasn’t completely sold from the start, about a quarter way through my time with this tome, I was way past stopping. While it may seem like a classic coming-of-age tale, The Ember Blade mixes new with old, light fantasy with dark, to come up with something amazing and special—something that I hope you’ll love just as much as I did.
I was kindly furnished me with a copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Angry Robot for the review copy! All opinions are my own.
The entire premise seems to be ‘What if Marcel Duchamp and Albert Einstein played chess?’
And that’s it.
Now, if you could make it past this and still be interested in the story, someone might be forgiven the obvious question of: ‘Why?’, instead focusing on: ‘How would they do that?’ because, as far as I know or could figure out, Duchamp and Einstein never met. There’s also the fact that while Duchamp turned into quite the chess player later in life, Einstein never showed it much interest. So, why would they play?
Enter a mysterious, extra-terrestrial Observer, as seen in such things as John Carter, MIB, the Themis Files, etc. She, for some reason, decides to facilitate the game. Which she does through seducing both men.
Apparently inspired by Marcel Duchamp’s archived letters (which are, yes, real), though the novella itself doesn’t seem to include any real ones. Instead, it introduces a series of letters, newly discovered in 2061, following the 3rd World War. This is the first and only time this event or the future is mentioned, which was just odd.
So… I liked the description of the world. I never had a problem picturing any of the things mentioned in the text. Duchamp Versus Einstein was well described and well-written.
Otherwise, it was awful.
There’s no real plot, just the premise ‘what would’ve happened if these two dudes played chess’. The ending was incredibly unsatisfying. Abrupt. The whole thing likely was nothing but an allegory for the illusion of free will. Neither of the characters are believable as their historic counterparts. Well, maybe Duchamp. More so than the portrayal of Einstein, at least. The pacing was strange, the time-skips stranger, the character Stella the strangest.
While Duchamp Versus Einstein initially seemed mildly intriguing, whatever appeal it held soon faded. So… nope, can’t recommend it. I liked the description. Really didn’t care for anything else. Like, nothing. The pacing, the nonexistent plot, the characters, the lack of realism, the premise. The ending was abrupt and unsatisfying. Definitely not my cup of tea.
I was kindly furnished me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to both NetGalley and Subterranean Press. All opinions are my own.
So, a talking sword, a mysterious cast of players, a quest for one wish from a mad god. We follow Pilgrim and his talking sword on this quest, accompanied by only five other seekers and their guide, Priest. That’s Pilgrimage of Swords in a nutshell.
First off: I quite like the cover, even if it doesn’t prominently feature the hero of our tale—the talking sword.
Well, I didn’t care for the beginning, despite that it kinda tied in later on. I would’ve liked a bit more backstory or something before diving into the epic quest, or maybe even just begun the story at the doorstep on the temple where the quest begins. Instead we endure a chapter of mostly meaningless conversation—though it does give the sword a chance to be witty, so… I guess that’s good enough.
The end’s a good one, with a satisfying conclusion. The middle is what won me over, despite its beginnings, though. Fast moving, entertaining; a lovely bit of lore and action mix atop a post-apocalyptic backdrop.
More so, after a disappointing drop-off following Blood Song—truly beginning with Queen of Fire and then the Waking Fire—Ryan has delivered twice in a three months. A bit of hope is good every now and then.
After that, the story’s pretty entertaining. It’s somewhat lacking in description, being a novella and all, but it’s the quest itself that the story follows, and that’s what we see. The concept is pretty interesting, so much so that I left the world wanting more. I hope that Ryan returns to it in the future.
All in all, it’s definitely worth a look, assuming the price isn’t unreasonable. Right now I’m just seeing pre-orders for a hard cover, which is going at $40. Unless you’re a hardcore Ryan fan—I’d skip that. Maybe hold out for an ebook version at $4-7.
I purchased this directly from Brian McClellan, via his website, during his summer sale. I think it was… sub-$4-something? Anyway, hence the lack of a publisher above.
Uncanny Collateral is a decent yet wildly entertaining urban fantasy set in a completely unbelievable world. I really enjoyed the adventure, and had absolutely no problem reading it—but if McClellan was going for a realistic earth urban fantasy… it was a wide miss.
Alek Fitz is a reaper, a soul collection agent that works for a supernatural company that freelances on behalf of the Lords of Hell. Mostly he collects upon deals made with the Lords—souls sold for wealth, fame or power. Based out of Cleveland, he is in the midst of the supernatural, with all manner of loa, vampires, imps, trolls, and whatnot inhabiting the world around him. Despite being a literal slave to his owner, Ada, he seems to enjoy his job, or at least has come to terms with it.
When Alek is assigned a case from Death, however, it seems the terms have changed.
To find what Death seeks he must rely upon an imprisoned Jinn, a handful of somewhat-friends and tentative allies, but mostly his own intelligence, skill and instinct. And meanwhile, someone’s trying to kill him and steal away his closest friend—something Alek is less than keen on.
As I mentioned before, I had no problem reading this. It was good: entertaining, interesting, action-packed. Also, it wasn’t realistic.
You see a lot in Urban Fantasy, but mostly magical worlds that exist alongside our own—with us non-magical folk none the wiser. To this end, many series have Pacts, secrets, whatever to protect our world from theirs. Uncanny Collateral uses a secret government agency to keep the worlds separate. Except, the secret agency isn’t that… secret? Also, it seems like the author did next to no research into how agencies, police, whatever work. So it’s like, a thing that everyone takes for granted even though it’s loose as heck.
I could go on about it, but sufficient to say: the story is solid, the world-building is not. But so long as you don’t question it too much (it’s only a 150 page story, after all) there’s no problem. Uncanny Collateral is fun and exciting, somewhat interesting, but not deep, nor realistic.
Silver in the Wood is an interesting new play on the Green Man fantasy, most notably for its involvement of a man and a man. While the budding romance between Tobias—the keeper of the Greenhollow Wood—and Henry Silver—the land’s new, young owner—presents the real reason to read the book, the lore and legend given on the Green Man is… well, fairly bland.
Tobias has kept the Wood for centuries: tending the grove and its residents. He lives a simple existence with his cottage, his cat, and the Wood. But everything changes when a young, handsome, new owner Henry Silver arrives. Secrets from the past are unearthed—secrets Tobias would’ve rather just stayed buried. But once they come to life, neither Tobias nor the Wood will ever be the same.
Don’t get me wrong, the take on the Green Man (Tobias) and his story ARE interesting, but quite frankly the real reason to read is the romance. And as romances go, it’s… okay, I guess? I dunno, really. But I hardly ever—okay, I don’t read romances. Anyway, flirting gives way to the beginnings of something more, but only when the real magic of the Greenhollow reveals itself.
I’ve no issue with the man on man action in Silver in the Wood. I mean, romance is romance whether it’s between a man and woman, man and man, or woman and woman. It’s just I’m not much of a “romance as the main reason for reading” kinda guy. While the magic and mystery and lore of Greenhollow was interesting at first, ultimately it was just as hollow as the wood. Maybe if the novella had been fleshed out a bit more; the plot and setting dealt in more detail, greater description and definition given to the world itself, even more of a build-up to the outcome… maybe it could’ve been better.
I’m not sure what else to say about it. In short, the budding romance found in Silver in the Wood provides more than enough reason to entertain its readers, while the new take on the Green Man’s legend ultimately falls short due to a lack of depth and description. I really felt for the characters of the Wood, something I could not say for the world itself.
An interesting piece of scifi set in a future where the Mongol Khanate never fell but overran the earth, eventually extending their vast empire to the stars. Interesting, but quite short—especially when considering Reynolds’ other work—Six Directions tells the story of Yellow Dog, a spy for the Inner Systems sent to investigate phantoms on the Empire’s fringe. These “phantoms” appear in wormholes on the outskirts of the Outer Systems, and are thought by most to be simply a glitch of the machine, mistake of the eye, or even ghosts from the past. Others believe them to be aliens; though these are far in the minority.
And yet the Inner Systems seem to be taking the phantoms seriously, as they have sent one of an elite number of spies to investigate (albeit, after quite some time). Yellow Dog’s investigation will take her to unique and new places, let her see sights few of her kind has ever laid eyes on, while danger and death close in all around.
Six Directions is… okay. I mean, it was interesting, and I never had any trouble reading through it. I liked it, when everything was flowing. It’s just that right when I began to really get into the story—it ended. To say the conclusion was abrupt would be an understatement. I mean, I knew the thing was short, but it just… stopped. Some loose ends were tied up, the main arc as well, I guess. The story wasn’t anything to get excited about. The main problem with novellas is that; it’s hard to weave together any kind of adequate thread-count when your tale lasts about as long as the average cartoon.
The author also seems unwilling to completely separate the Chinese and Mongolian influences, although historically they were completely different, only coming together during the short period where the Khans conquered China (known as the Yuan Dynasty). I mean, they’re separate in the text, yet still oddly connected. I couldn’t figure out what was going on with their relationship.
All of this lends itself to my rather odd rating. I’d read it again, if only as it wouldn’t take much doing. I’d recommend it, but only if it were cheap or free (I got it from the library, so that was a win-win). I’m familiar with the author (and generally enjoy his stuff), so knew it’d be thoughtful if not terribly fulfilling.
Ultimately, however, it was just a thin story followed up by an brief, shallow conclusion and no prospect of future continuation. In short, it was interesting, but only that.