This is a blog with spoiler free reviews. Most will be Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror, but there will be some books in other genres, including the occasional Non-Fiction review. There is an ongoing series of Cover Reveal Round-Ups, and sometimes I'll write an article on something that interests me.

20 November, 2013


Cover by Kay Sales


ISBN: 978-0-9571883-6-5
Pages: 71
Publisher: Whippleshield Books
Published: 30 November 2013

On the cover:

 It is April 1962. The Korean War has escalated and the US is struggling to keep the Russians and Chinese north of the 38th parallel. All the men are away fighting, but that doesn’t mean the Space Race is lost. NASA decides to look elsewhere for its astronauts: the thirteen women pilots who passed the same tests as the original male candidates. These are the Mercury 13: Jerrie Cobb, Janey Hart, Myrtle Cagle, Jerri Sloan, Jan Dietrich, Marion Dietrich, Bernice Steadman, Wally Funk, Sarah Gorelick, Gene Nora Stumbough, Jean Hixson, Rhea Hurrle and Irene Leverton. One of these women will be the first American in space. Another will be the first American to spacewalk. Perhaps one will even be the first human being to walk on the Moon.

Beneath the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, deep in the Puerto Rico Trench north of San Juan, lies a film bucket from a KH-4 Corona spy satellite. It should have been caught in mid-air by a C-130 from the 6549th Test Group. That didn’t happen. So the US Navy bathyscaphe Trieste II must descend twenty thousand feet to retrieve the bucket, down where light has never reached and the pressure is four tons per square inch. But there is more in the depths than anyone had expected, much more.

This is not our world. But it very nearly was.

    Having previously enjoyed the first two Apollo Quartet books (reviews here and here), I was really looking forward to see what Sales would do this time. That's one of the strengths of the Apollo Quartet; the books are themed around the US space program that led to the Moon landing, but Sales does something different with it each time. This time we get pure Alternate History, the timeline doesn't even reach 1970. But Sales sticks to the science so judiciously that this in many ways reads like Hard SF, or more precisely like Hard SF of the 1950s could have been.

   There's two very distinct story threads this time around. The main one concerns female astronauts. And before I even go into this book, I have to commend Sales for digging up some history on this part of the story. Some of that is shown in a short section at the end of the book, but it really is something I want to look into further.
   The story of the female astronauts is also a very gripping one. There's a lot of tension in some of the things that are going on. This is solid storytelling, and it will come out favourably compared to any Science Fiction concerned with human near-Earth space travel. It may feel a bit old-fashioned because of the time it is set in, but that doesn't detract from it as a very compelling story in my opinion.
   With the solid factual base behind it, and Sales' excellent extrapolations from it, this reads very much like a history of human space exploration. Sales also gives us a plausible explanation for why events have turned the way they have in this timeline, and you can see how easily this could have been our world.

   In the other story Sales goes off at the deep end, literally. We're taken on a very deep sea dive outside of Puerto Rico. There's the same kind of tense excitement here as in the other story thread, we are after all in another environment that is hostile to human life.
   We get a slightly different type of story here though, this has a bit more of the Spy Thriller in it, and there's even an element here that comes straight from the fringes of UFOlogy. That is not to say that this lacks in realism in any way. In fact there's not really anything that says this isn't what really happened. At least until the very end.

   Both of the stories are more introspective than action oriented. We follow the inner thoughts of the two protagonists and these are important to the novella. I never missed any action, or more outright Science Fiction elements though.They are simply not needed here, and would just get in the way of what Sales wants to tell us.

   The characters become important in stories such as these, and how you feel about them can be integral to your enjoyment of what you are reading. The two we meet here are nice to get acquainted with. Although this is a novella we do get fairly close to them, and can see what makes them tick in the situations we see them. That the level of characterisation is so good makes this feel like it spans over a much greater number of pages. Sales manages to convey a lot in the few pages he has allowed himself.

   All in all this is a very good novella. The story is compelling in itself but the history behind it, that is given an alternate twist, gives it more depth and punch. This is a story that has importance outside of genre, and deserves to be read widely far outside the confines of SFF.
   This is absolutely brilliant Alternate History, it covers angles that is (as far as I know) ignored within that genre, and stands as a great testament to how serious and close to reality you can get within this genre.
   Sales is again showing that he can write very engaging fiction about space exploration while sticking to the rules of Hard SF. This is fascinating and engaging storytelling with enough depth to satisfy the most discerning reader.

NOTE: I got an e-ARC of this from the author.

REVIEWS: Adrift on the Sea of Rains  The Eye with Which the Universe Beholds Itself

LINKS: Ian Sales  Whippleshield Books

13 November, 2013


   Coming from Solaris 29 April 2014. This is a Steampunk novel set in the Far East. I actually feel that information is a bit redundant, the cover has already said that. I must say I find this dragon very intriguing, I really want to know what it is doing, and why. I also think it is a very cool piece of art in itself.

   You may have caught the news that Raymond E. Feist is working on a new series. This is the (US/Canada) Harper Voyager cover for the first book in that series, coming out 6 May 2014.'s a sword in a field. I'm perfectly okay with that, but there's really not much to go on here. Either you like this sort of cover image or you don't.

   I've previously showed the cover for the first novel in this new Shannara series here. This second novel will be out from Del Rey 19 August 2014. This is a trilogy of standalones. I really like the cover this time too. It fits very well with the last one, creating a great series feel.

   The second book in this tie-in trilogy is coming from St. Martins Press 4 March 2014. I think this cover is very good. In my opinion it captures the feel of the TV series even better than the previous one. (That I said was book number three. As far as I can see now, it's the first one.)

   From Orbit comes this book, with a 27 May 2014 release date. From what I can see this is a whole new series. I like the cover a lot. It may have the usual hooded figure, but it does something new with it. And it looks -for want of a better word- inviting.

  Harper (US) paperback cover, release date 22 April 2014. Book five in the Watch series. This has already been out in hardcover, but I wanted to show it anyway. This is a series that was huge some years ago, when the movie came, and then it sort of petered out. I don't think I've heard about it since book three was lined up for a release in English. Not really sure what happened with it. The cover is no more than okay and doesn't do much for me. But it's really different from the movie I saw, so I put it up here as curiosa. Did anyone who reads this read the books? If so, please give me a heads-up about them in the comments.

      From PYR, 8 July 2014 this is the fifth Burton & Swinburne novel. I almost posted the cover for the fourth novel, until I checked the release date and found out it was already out. This is done in the same style, and I really like this one too. I haven't ready any of these books, but the covers make me want to pick them up.

  Out from Tor (US) 20 May 2014. This is the seventeenth book in the Saga of Recluse. I think there was four or five books the first time I became aware of the series. It's one of those that I've never gotten started on. Although the few people I know who have read it talk highly of it. I am actually a fan of this style of covers for Epic Fantasy books. I think this is a really good cover just for that reason. And it is of course also a really good illustration.

   Also from Tor (US), this is the follow up to The Quantum Thief and The Fractal Prince, and is out 6 May 2014. I think it's a really good cover. But I have to say the background figures reminds me of the (PlayStation) Final Fantasy games. Considering the amount of hours I have spent playing those games, that is pretty high praise.

  Out 13 May from PYR. I started with a dragon, so I thought I'd end with one. This is a more Western type dragon, and in some ways this is a pretty traditional cover. Not that it matters. It's a great image in my opinion, and I'll most likely hunt down a copy of this so I can have it in my shelves.

   If you've read any of my previous cover reveal round-up posts you may have noticed something different this time. There's no credits for artists here. That's because I have taken all these covers from different publishers' catalogs online, and that information wasn't available. I'd love to add that though, so if you are the artist or work for the publisher of these books, I'd appreciate it if you could tell me what credits I can add in the comments or by sending me an e-mail to the address in the top right hand corner. Facebook and Twitter is also fine. I want to give credit to those who have made these covers.

11 November, 2013


Cover art by Daniele Serra


ISBN: 978-1-909-34821-9
Pages: 137
Publisher: Fox Spirit
Published: 3 July 2013

On the cover:
Weird Science, Stepford Wives, that episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer… Genre fiction abounds with tales of men creating (or attempting to create) the perfect woman.

Now it’s the woman’s turn.

But being female, she’s flexible. She doesn’t just want to create the perfect man. She wants the perfect companion, be it man, beast or washing machine.

   First I'll give a (very) brief spoiler free review of each individual story, and then I'll sum up my feelings on the whole anthology below that.


   A tale of travelling to find a perfect partner. This is a neat little story that has a great high-concept idea backing it up. I really liked this little exploration of it. So much so that I would very much welcome Weimer exploring it in much longer form.


   The combination of funerals and surprise meetings are not unusual in fiction, but Stuart puts a very nice spin on it here. This is an excellent tale that gives us a glimpse into a much bigger story. Stuart certainly shows that he's someone to look out for with this tale.


   What begins with a child's point of view, and seems at first rather mundane, turns into a different type of story in the end. Both fun and a bit sad, and definitely something that makes you thoughtful. Terminiello has written a sweet little tale with quite a bit of depth to it. I like the feeling of being made to reflect while being entertained, and this delivers very well on that.


   A tale that is long enough to take us on quite a surprising journey. I really liked this from the start. It has a great atmosphere to it and enough twists to keep you firmly invested in the story. It's a nice mix of Thriller and Science Fiction. Paget is clearly an author I need to read more of.


   This story is about invention, and more importantly, the inventor. Reid's story starts out as straight forward Steampunk, and it continues in that genre until the end. But there's more important things told here than just that connected to the setting. It does get a bit heavy handed in what it says, but that works very well here. Reid is clearly someone to look for in the future.


   This starts out looking like something completely different from what it turns out to be. This is very well written and has a nice rhythm to it. There's some very important points being made here. Your mileage may vary on whether it is too direct or not. Personally, I liked it a lot.


   Closer to what most people think of when you say Science Fiction than any other story in this anthology. This is about Artificial Intelligence and friendship. It took me a few pages to get into this story, solely because its style is so different from the other entries, but once I did I was stuck in. This is a powerful story. It packs a real punch and gets you thinking. Excellent work by Hines.


   A story of love lost, and a new beginning. Powerful. That's the first word that springs to mind when describing Warom's excellent story. This is a very emotional tale. It grabs you very early on and doesn't let go until long after you have read the last sentence. It's hard for me to come up with the words to describe how good I think this is. I can only urge you to read it for yourself.


   Longing for companionship can be made much harder with an interfering mother at your back. This feels like it's really lighthearted compared to the other stories in this anthology. But while it is fun, it is more than just a surface story. McLeod writes about something I think everyone who who has turned thirty can relate to, or at least empathise with, and she does it very well. I found it a really fun read, and like it a lot.


   Here we have a story of a noble who finds some mechanical artifacts enchanting, and their maker even more so. It takes a while to see where this is going, and it wasn't a big surprise. But that doesn't really matter, you will be happy to come along for the journey. This is well written and it tells a fascinating story. A very good ending to the anthology.


   When I've read anthologies in the past it's usually been some sort of "Best of" or "Mammoth book of", or at least something that has some of the really big names of SFF attached to it. And there has always been at least one dud, stories that for some reason or other I didn't take to, that I could very well do without. 
   This anthology has none of those two things. (Well, the names are arguable. You'll probably recognise some of them.) There wasn't a single story here that I felt wasn't for me, or that I felt was below par. The quality of the storytelling is very high here, above what can be expected from any anthology. It really is consistently very good throughout. Every author in here has delivered something that they can be proud of, and something which I have really enjoyed.
   The only story I feel like singling out from the pack (or should that be skulk?) is Ren Warom's. Even in this field of very good stories her offering stands out. It's slightly above the others in the impact it has, and it is clear that Warom is a very accomplished writer.

   The theme for this anthology is given in the cover copy above. It isn't followed so strictly that it limits the stories we get. Most of them are Science Fiction in some form, but this is a really diverse offering. Even when what the stories tells us is very similar they do it in completely different ways. In fact this is the most diverse themed anthology I have ever read.
   With such a diversity there really is something for everyone here. It doesn't matter if you think Science Fiction isn't your thing, it's used more as means than an end here. This is simply great storytelling regardless of what genre you define it as being.

   Simpson has certainly done an excellent job of putting this together. Despite consisting of ten different stories in different settings, by ten different authors,  this book flows very well as a whole. As an anthology this really is one of the greats, and it is one of my absolute top reads this year.
   I can do nothing else to end this review than urge you to get a hold of this book. Especially for SFF fans this is an absolute must, and its SFF roots shouldn't stop you from grabbing it if you enjoy short stories. This is an anthology that should be read by everyone who enjoys a good story.

NOTE: An e-ARC of this was given to me by the publisher.

07 November, 2013


Cover by Larry Rostant


ISBN: 978-0-85766-281-1
Publisher: Angry Robot Books
Published: 29 October 2013

On the cover:
(From the publisher's website)

Elizabethan spy Mal Catlyn has everything he ever wanted – his twin brother Sandy restored to health, his family estate reclaimed and a son to inherit it – but his work is far from over. The renegade skraylings, the guisers, are still plotting – their leader, Jathekkil, has reincarnated as the young Prince Henry Tudor. But while he is still young, Mal has a slim chance of eliminating his enemies whilst they are at their weakest.

With Sandy’s help, Mal learns to harness his own magic in the fight against the guisers, but it may be too late to save England. Schemes set in motion decades ago are at last coming to fruition, and the barrier between the dreamlands and the waking world is wearing thin…

   This is the last book in a trilogy, so it's not really an ideal starting point. If you are completely new to the Night's Masque books, I suggest you start with The Alchemist of Souls (review).

   After going abroad in the previous volume, we are back in familiar territory this time; London at the time of Will Shakespeare. A minor supporting character here, but a name that may be familiar to some readers. The Bard isn't the only historical person to make an appearance, there's also some other names that will be familiar to those who have picked up a history book.
   As before the historical backdrop is a major strength of Lyle's. This is in my opinion foremost Alternate History of the kind that can be easily mistaken for Historical Fiction. (If you have a friend who likes Historical Fiction who you want to try SFF, I suggest getting them started on the Night's Masque books.) Those who have read this blog before will know that I like history, and that for me a solid historical background is a great plus for me in a novel.
   Lyle is almost a little to good at it. There were times I wanted to look up some of the character's true history, only for my brain to catch a moment later that they are products of Lyle's imagination. If you find Tudor courtly intrigue an interesting basis for fiction, you'll get plenty of that here. Just not from our historical timeline.

   There's action and suspense in this story pretty much from the beginning. Apart from a very well handled few chapters that gets us up to date there's not any passages in this novel that lack anything happening. The pacing is reminiscent of an Action Thriller, and that works very well. Well, unless you really should be going to sleep. I got so carried away by this story that I had to finish the book, it was past 5 am when I finally lay down to sleep. But let's face it, that is a huge compliment to Lyle's storytelling ability. This is a book it's really hard to put down.

  I mentioned courtly intrigue before, and parts of this story takes place in the middle of the royal court of England. Maliverny Catlyn has certainly circled such places before, but this time he's taken much closer to the centre, and that adds a lot to the stakes this time around. Not that what has happened in the two previous volumes has seemed inconsequential, but now we get to really see what the prize in the game that is being played is all about.
   Lyle does keep the tension high throughout this novel. Once the reader knows who the players really are, it also becomes clear that the outcome is in doubt. That feeling does not let up. It isn't until the final few pages that you get a resolution...of sorts. And that's the only thing I can really say didn't sit perfectly with me in this novel. I am still ambivalent about the ending. It is by no means bad, and it brings the story of this trilogy to a satisfying end. But there's a hint of more here, and I know Lyle is working on something else for now. So I can't really decide if it's teasing  to hint at more, or keeping our hopes -as readers- up that we will be able to return at some point to this excellent world. (I wouldn't mind a short story now and then.)

   Before I finish off this review I need to mention the characters, they are an excellent troupe. Mal is of course great as usual, and Lyle manages to give him even more depth than previously. Coby again gets to shine, and show off that she can handle herself in any situation that is thrown at her. 
   There's other characters in here too, and they by no means become cardboard cutouts. The whole cast here not only supports the story, they have an integral part in it. Even the aforementioned Bard is more than a throwaway reference, he has an actual function in the story.

   As the third book in a trilogy goes, this is an excellent one. I mentioned the only point I had problems with above, but that is really a non-issue. Whether you like Alternate History, Historical Fantasy, or Historical Fiction there is plenty to like here.
   Lyle has given me a great three volume journey through an excellent world that is just slightly skewed from the one we live in. I can state without a doubt that the ~1,500 pages of reading have been very much worth it, and I will not hesitate to encourage others to start on it.

NOTE: I got an e-ARC of this novel from the publisher/NetGalley.