Posts Categorized: Review

The Shadow Throne by Django Wexler

Publisher: Roc - Pages: 624 - Buy: Book/eBook
Buy The Shadow Throne by Django Wexler: Book/eBook

The Shadow Throne is the second volume in Django Wexler’s ongoing Shadow Campaign series, picking up right where the events of The Thousand Names left off: with protagonists Winter Ihernglass and Marcus d’Ivoire returning home to Vordan from Khandar under the leadership of Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich, there to continue the latter’s secret campaign against the sinister Duke Orlanko. It’s a flintlock fantasy series, full of secret magic, roaring battles and deadly politics: excellently written, superbly paced and all-round good fun. The Thousand Names was so polished, I had trouble believing it was Wexler’s first novel, and The Shadow Throne only improves from there, the shift in setting from foreign desert to home city managed with aplomb. Wexler is a master at writing battles, tactics and political intrigue with just the right level of detail: everything feels believable and, even more impressively, cunning, and despite the change in location between the two books, the consistent characterisation and martial focus means it never feels like we’ve leapt genres. Read More »

Armada by Ernie Cline

Publisher: Crown - Pages: 368 - Buy: Book/eBook
Buy Armada by Ernie Cline: Book/eBook

Ernie Cline’s novel Armada dropped last week with an enormous publicity campaign that’s sure to get this book selling exceptionally well. Cline has been riding high on his debut novel, Ready Player One, an Easter-egg infused novel that hit the nerd sweet spot with a hefty dose of references and nostalgia. The problem with Armada is that it’s absolutely, fucking terrible.

The plot is basic. A spacecraft drops by the school of one high school gamer, Zack Lightman, and tells him what absolutely every gamer wants to hear: Aliens are about to attack Earth and a secret military organization has shepherded video games, movies, novels and television shows to help attune humanity into fighting back against the alien invaders. On top of all that, Lightman’s one of the top gamers in the world, and that because of his scores in Armada, he’s one of the last best hopes for humanity. He’s brought to a secret base on the Moon, where he meets his long-lost (and presumed dead) father, who’s helping to oversee the counter attack. Read More »

Updraft by Fran Wilde

Publisher: Tor Books - Pages: 368 - Buy: Book/eBook
Buy Updraft by Fran Wilde: Book/eBook

Fran Wilde’s Updraft is set in a world unlike any I’ve visited before. High above the clouds, a city of bone scrapes the heavens, growing ever higher in its race to escape the blood-stained land below. People fly on wings of leather and bone, trading commodities and news between tower-based communities separated by miles of bottomless sky. Threats abound — including a sky that will (literally) swallow you whole in its toothy maw — but nothing is more dangerous than the ambitions and hidden loyalties of the people you most trust.

Updraft is a novel about family and privilege, succeeding through an almost overwhelming sense of empathy and courage. The novel’s protagonist and narrator, Kirit Densira, is a plucky youngster who idolizes nobody more than her mother Ezarit, one of the bravest traders in the bone city. Like her mother, Kirit is a boundry pusher, a trait quickly landing her in trouble with the Singers — the magic-wielding, iron-fisted governing body who rule from the Spire, a monolithic tower at the centre of the city. Kirit’s unending drive to upset Singer traditions, and to spill their secrets, is the lynch pin for the novel’s frenetic, politically-charged plot. Read More »

Stories of the Raksura: Volume Two: The Dead City & The Dark Earth Below by Martha Wells

Publisher: Night Shade Books - Pages: 232 - Buy: Book/eBook

When the first book in Martha Wells’s Raksura series, The Cloud Roads, was released in 2011, I was wary of it despite the many positive reviews I saw from people I trusted. This wariness had nothing to do with disliking the premise, wherein a dragonesque shapeshifter, Moon, raised without any knowledge of his species in a world abounding with sentient peoples, suddenly discovers his heritage and must struggle to make a place for himself, but rather stemmed from the opposite concern. The Cloud Roads sounded like everything I’d ever wanted in a fantasy novel but had never seen done properly, and I was nervous about getting my hopes up.

To provide some personal context, I spent a not inconsiderable portion of my early internetting years on a still-extant SFF site called Elfwood, which serves as a repository for fantasy-themed artwork and stories, both original and fan-made. On this site, there were multiple stories by the same author about sentient dragons that focussed purely on the romance and politics of their lives, and at a point in time where dragons were basically my favourite thing in the world, they made an indelible impression. There were other stories I loved in a similar vein, often about girls who could shapeshift from human to dragon – I suspect, at the time, a lot of young writers were equally inspired by Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books – or sentient wolves, or other non-human creatures, and it says something about their collective impact that, almost twenty years later, I still think about them fondly. Read More »

The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

Publisher: Saga Press - Pages: 640 - Buy: Book/eBook
The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

[Editor’s Note: What follows is a critical essay in the traditional sense: an in-depth and spoiler-filled analysis of Ken Liu’s The Grace of Kings—focused particularly on the women in the novel. It’s thoughtful, beautiful, and important—but if you’re sensitive to spoilers, you might enjoy reading it more after you’ve completed Liu’s epic novel. If you’re looking for an (almost) spoiler-free review to help you determine whether to buy it, let me suggest Justin Landon’s review on]

Many months ago Joe Monti, editor of Saga Press, Simon & Schuster’s SFF imprint, sent me a copy out of the blue of Ken Liu’s The Grace of Kings for a possible quote. More precisely, and using the proper polite etiquette, he contacted my editor at Orbit who forwarded his email to me.

I knew Ken’s name, of course. He’s a multiple award winner (Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy) for his short fiction. He has also done an important service to the sff field by translating short fiction and novels from Chinese into English, works that readers in the English-speaking market would not otherwise be able to enjoy. The Grace of Kings is Liu’s debut novel. Read More »