Tag: Book Review

Monsterful: Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths – Sundered Bond by Django Wexler

A couple of years ago, Wizards of the Coast made a gamble by bringing on popular fantasy authors like Brandon Sanderson, Kate Elliott, and Martha Wells to pen tie-in fiction for their mega-popular trading card game Magic: The Gathering. For years before that, Magic’s fiction was handled by in-house writers and the results were dubious at best. While there has been some disappointment among fans for the major novel releases from Gargoyles-creator Greg Weisman, by and large these efforts have produced some of the best tie-in fiction the franchise has ever seen.

Among those brought on board was Django Wexler, whose military fantasy series The Shadow Campaigns earned critical acclaim for its masterful battles, political intrigue, and its genre-defying prominence of nuanced and well-written women. The Shadow Campaigns is “a masterclass on how writing a sexist culture – and sexist men, even – doesn’t have to restrict the significance and range of your female characters,” said reviewer Foz Meadows. For all its faults and hiccups from a storytelling perspective, Magic has made a valiant effort to increase its number of female characters over the years, and in addition to bringing on women like Elliott, Wells, and Cassandra Khaw to handle the story, Wexler is another excellent fit to help Magic transition into a better and more inclusive storytelling style.

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00111010 00101001: Life in Code by Ellen Ullman

Before my wife gifted me a copy of her book Life in Code for Christmas, I’d never heard of Ellen Ullman despite her long, impressive career as a programmer, software engineer, and author. Turns out, I’ve been missing out on one our the sharpest and most insightful writers on tech, culture, and feminism. Ullman is witty and broadly experienced, and has a terrific voice that flits between amusing and professionally rich without batting an eye. I know who Ullman is now, and, boy am I sorry it took me so long to find her.

(And major thanks to my wife for putting in work and research to find an absolute GEM of a book.)

Life in Code is a collection of Ullman’s essays ranging from the late ’90s to days after the 2017 US presidential inauguration. Posited as an auto-biographical account of her experience as a woman in a male-dominated industry and culture, Life is Code is also a biography of technology and web culture over the past 20 years. It’s a detailed, real-time look at all the mistakes we’ve made as we’ve chased the ghost in the machine and the allure of fast, endless capital at the expense of privacy and social safety nets.

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Shine Bright: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

As 2019 tipped into 2020, readers started compiling their lists of the best books of the decade. I thought long and hard, but the only book I had any certainty about was the decade’s best: a debut novel from Erin Morgenstern called The Night Circus. With a tenacity matched by few other books, The Night Circus has not left me since I first read it years ago.

I had big words for The Night Circus when I reviewed it for A Dribble of Ink in 2012:

The Night Circus is a classic novel that will sit on the highest shelf of my bookshelf, right next to The Hobbit and The Shadow of the Wind. … There’s magic in this novel and it deserves to be read by anyone wanting to be reminded that there is more to life than meets the eye.

Usually when I liken a book to two all-time classic, the comparison begins to show its age as the days, weeks, and years pass?—but not so with The Night Circus. If anything, the comparison seems more fair to me now than it did then, especially after having read Morgenstern’s much awaited follow-up, The Starless Sea. Like Tolkien and Zafon’s novels, The Night Circus is a book for the ages.

The Starless Sea is better.

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Out & About: Ten Thousand Doors, Thirteen Books, and a Little Hatred

Photo by Pawe? Czerwi?ski on Unsplash

Though it’s been a while since I’ve done a round-up of my recent work, that’s not for lack of writing. I’ve got a couple of reviews, a retrospective of a video game I’ve been waiting to play for over 20 years, and a round up of books perfect for fans of Japanese RPGs.

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Necromantic: Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

It feels like hype for Tamsyn Muir’s debut novel about necromantic lesbians, bone citadels, rockin’ adventures, tantalizing mysteries, wicked sword fights, and many, many reanimated corpses has been building for YEARS. It was earlier this year, however, when it really started to catch my attention. Isabel Yap, who’s been championing the book since its earliest days, popped onto Twitter and blew my socks off by calling Gideon the Ninth “the closest thing to a JRPG in novel form.”

I was so enamoured by this description that I went out of my way to write an in-depth examination of how Golden Age of JRPGs (from Final Fantasy to Suikoden) influenced many of today’s best and brightest SF writers. And then I got my hands on Gideon the Ninth, and, despite mile high expectations, walked away knowing I’d read something special. Muir’s novel isn’t just the best debut of the year, it might be the year’s best novel. Period.

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Out & About: Generation JRPG

Over on Kotaku (!!!, what is my life?), I’ve got a longread the explores the connection between the new wave of SFF writers and the influence of Golden Age Japanese RPGs (from the 16- and 32-bit era, like Final Fantasy 7, Chrono Trigger, Suikoden 2, etc.) I’ve been working on it for a long, long time and I’m so proud it’s finally out there for everyone to read.

An excerpt from “How Japanese RPGs Inspired A New Generation Of Fantasy Authors”:

When I think back to my childhood and teenage years, when my literary tastes were being forged in the crucible of youthful emotion and impressionism, particular scenes come to life: Sam carrying Frodo up Mt. Doom. The Reaper chasing Wil Ohmsford through the Westland. Marle hugging Crono on top of Death Peak.

Most fantasy readers won’t need a reminder of what books the first two scenes come from (Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien and The Elfstones of Shannara by Terry Brooks), and most Kotaku readers won’t miss the reference to the classic Japanese role-playing game Chrono Trigger. And for some, all three of those works are of equal importance. Today’s fantasy novelists are just as likely to have been inspired by JRPGs as they are J.R.R. Tolkien. For some authors, Celes’ performance at the Opera House is just as much of a storytelling touchstone as young Simon fleeing Pryrates beneath the Hayholt.

It was an absolute pleasure to chat with various SFF writers about the topic. When I first started conceptualizing the piece, I had this vision of me showing up on Twitter like a naked dude at a graduation—everyone staring at me funny because I was the only one writer inspired by Golden Age JRPGs. Based by the overwhelmingly positive response on Twitter, this is obviously not the case.

I had to cut A TON of content from the interviews and first draft, so check back soon for a post featuring some of my favourite out takes that didn’t make it into the final article.

Read “How Japanese RPGs Inspired A New Generation Of Fantasy Authors” on Kotaku.

While we’re at it, I also have reviews of Terry Brooks’ The Stiehl Assassin and This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone over on the Barnes and Noble SF&F blog.

Out & About: An Empire Long Ago

Photo by planetMitch aunger on Unsplash

I’ve got reviews piling up these days, and, can just point out how blessed we are to be living in such a rich, wonderful time for SFF literature? Some seriously good books coming out these days, and my most recent reviews cover two of the best fantasy novels of the year: Empire of Grass by Tad Williams and A Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay.

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Mean Mages: Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

One of the benefits of being a part of the vast SFF community is making great friends. One of the benefits of those great friends is the opportunity to read their books early. I consider myself fortunate to count Sarah Gailey among those friends. They’re smart, funny, dynamic, and have a range to their writing that few other authors can match. I had an opportunity to read their first novel a couple of years ago, back when it had a different title, and it’s not an exaggeration to say I’ve been on the edge of my seat WAITING until it was released ever since then so I could scream at everybody I know to read it. It’s out now, called Magic for Liars, I’ve read the final version, and, y’all, it’s GOOD.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I felt my previous involvement with the novel meant it would be in poor taste for me to review it for a professional venue—but, here on my blog, I can say whatever I want. So:

GO READ MAGIC FOR LIARS.)

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Out & About: Lights and Nights

Photo by Clyde He on Unsplash

Recently, I had the chance to read two very different but equally kick ass science fiction novels by two brilliant women. Funny enough, they’re also both published by Saga Press, a relatively new imprint that has been producing some of the genre’s best novels over the past few years. So, cheers to Joe Monti and Navah Wolfe at Saga for their vision and taste.

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Out & About: Dragon Princes, Midnight Cities, Poets, and DemonWars

I’ve been busy! Between the Barnes & Noble SFF Blog and Tor.com, I’ve got a handful of reviews, a retrospective, and a roundup of books for fans of my favourite new show, The Dragon Prince.

First up is 10 Books to Satisfy Fans of Netflix’s The Dragon Prince on the Barnes & Noble SFF Blog. The Dragon Prince is my favourite TV show since Avatar: The Last Airbender—so, to celebrate the release of its second season, I’ve gathered 10 books that are sure to satisfy fans while they wait for the show’s (still unannounced…) third season.

An excerpt from my round up:

The Books of Earthsea, by Ursula K. Le Guin
Le Guin’s dragons, which Hugo-nominated author and B&N SFF Blog favorite Max Gladstone once described as “the gold standard,” are next to none. They are complex, beautiful, powerful, and melancholy, and they serve many purposes throughout Le Guin’s work, far beyond the standard “gold-hoarding monster” trope. More recently, legendary artist Charles Vess described how it took him years to get Le Guin’s dragons just right. There’s a deeply rooted sense of wisdom in all of Le Guin’s books, but it is perhaps through her dragons that this element of her writing is best embodied. Le Guin redefined what a dragon could be, and we’re still experiencing the rippling effect of her influence over the genre in series like Robin Hobb’s The Realm of the Elderlings or Naomi Novik’s Temeraire.

Read 10 Books to Satisfy Fans of Netflix’s The Dragon Prince

(If you’re unfamiliar with The Dragon Princeboy, are you in for a treat.)

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