Gail Carriger’s Soulless The Manga: Volume 1

Soulless, the first book in Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, turned four years old this week, so over on the Kirkus Reviews Blog, I thought I’d take a look at the Manga version of the book.

From the post:

Miss Alexia Tarabotti lives in Victorian England.  She enjoys high tea, reading books, the company of her very best friend, Ivy Hisselpenny, and the vampire, Lord Akeldama.  Alexia’s family sees her as a spinster, too old to marry, and a bit of an oddball for not caring one-whit about it.  She lives with her mother, step-father, and two step-sisters.  When a starving vampire attacks her at a social event, he is shocked to learn that Alexia is a preternatural, a ‘soulless’ being who has the power to render the supernatural mortal through touch.  She is forced to kill the vampire, which only complicates matters.  Lord Maccon, a werewolf, a member of the Bureau of Unnatural Registry, and the Earl of Woolsey, arrives to investigate.  He and Alexia spar verbally, but she is sent home.  The next day, she is invited to visit the Countess Nadasdy, Vampire Queen of the Westminster Hive…

Click on over to Kirkus Reviews Blog to read the rest of the review.

BOOK REVIEW: The Melancholy of Mechagirl by Catherynne M. Valente

REVIEW SUMMARY: Short fiction and poetry with a connection to Japan, including mythology interpretations, dystopian alternate history, the education and protection of artificial intelligences, and the development of the author herself.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Valente has recently garnered a lot of well-deserved attention for her young adult The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland series. Many of the pieces in The Melancholy of Mechagirl have an emotional and autobiographical flavor, and touch on more mature and layered themes, sex and love, failure, expectations vs. reality, and the lies we tell ourselves when hope is on the line.

MY REVIEW
PROS: Gorgeous prose and imagery; multi-layered and evocative stories that bend back onto themselves, pulling the reader in and offering a unique combination of mythology, intimacy, and science fictional ideas.
CONS: The poetry was mostly lost on me. It was pretty, but I didn’t know what any of it meant.
BOTTOM LINE: This is a must-have collection for both fans of Valente’s works, and readers who are new to her works and are looking for a good starting point.

Catherynne M. Valente spent only a few years in Japan as a young Navy wife, but those few years helped make her the writer she is today. She went for love, armed only with a few stories, and returned with memories of shrines and tsukumogami, patron spirits and folklore, and weaved it all together in a way only Valente’s poetic imagination can. One of her first published novels, In the Night Garden, was born in Japan, and her experiences there, both good and bad, helped shape her into one of our generation’s most imaginative and talented authors.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Eighth Court by Mike Shevdon

REVIEW SUMMARY: A suitable ending to a well-loved series about the secret deal between human and feyre and an average Joe who risks everything to save his home and loved ones.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Powerful feyre are upset about the conclusion of Strangeness and Charm: Courts of the Feyre #3, and seek to kill everyone involved in support of a court made up of human-feyre crossbreeds. If they succeed, Earth will become a land consumed by darkness and the monsters who wield the void for evil.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Fascinating magic; powerful and scheming villains; engaging and surprising mystery; epic conflict; dramatic and sympathetic conclusion to character arcs.
CONS: A little slow to build interest; the final battle is frightening and surprising, but not the best ending of the series.
BOTTOM LINE: The Eighth Court takes a little time to build speed, but once it does the thrill ride to the finish is the puzzle solving, magical war that fans of this London Fantasy have come to love. You will get off this memorable ride more endeared to the heroes than ever before, and sad to see them go.

(This review contains spoilers if you have not read the first three books. This series is highly recommended. Start with Book 1, Sixty-One Nails: Courts of the Feyre. It made me a fan of Urban Fantasy.)
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BOOK REVIEW: Extinction Point by Paul Antony Jones

REVIEW SUMMARY: A terrifying apocalypse for monster fans and survivalists that loses reader interest through plot holes and a weak main character.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Red Rain creates a post-apocalyptic world for a bike-riding journalist to explore alone.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Offers a fresh take on post-apocalyptic fiction; appeals to survivalist fans; scary; quick read.
CONS: The implausibility of scenario and heroine’s survival tactics; passive conflict resolution.
BOTTOM LINE: The story has promise, but the poor execution and attention to detail may kill the series for some readers.
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BOOK REVIEW: The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu

REVIEW SUMMARY: Wesley’s Chu’s debut novel is fast-paced, clever, and leaves you longing for the next installment.

MY RATING

When out-of-shape IT technician Roen Tan woke up and started hearing voices in his head, he naturally assumed he was losing it.

He wasn’t.

Wesley Chu’s debut novel follows tubby everyman Roen Tan on his quest to become something more than a single, overweight, low-level code monkey. What’s special about this story is that Tan’s evolution isn’t voluntary. He may end up saving the world, but he’ll have to be dragged into it. You see, there are these aliens, and they’re using our bodies as vessels to carry them around while they engage in a civil war…
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BOOK REVIEW: Shift Omnibus by Hugh Howey

REVIEW SUMMARY: The sequel trilogy to the best seller, Wool Omnibus, which takes a leap back in time to show how the chaos started.

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A silo architect finds out too late what he’s been building, loses track of his wife and memories, and must uncover the secret behind the silo in order to make everything right.

MY RATING:

MY REVIEW
PROS: Strong beginning; empathy for major characters; challenging philosophical themes about war and sacrifice to survive as a human race.
CONS: Third Shift (Book Three) slowed the story way down with minor revelations and sparse action.
BOTTOM LINE: While the first half gave hope that this sequel could surpass Wool Omnibus, the story went downhill from there. Shift is still recommended for Wool fans, and it will not kill interest in reading the concluding volume although but it did not meet expectations.

(Spoiler Warning: This review will have spoilers for people who have not read Wool, and only general spoilers for those who have yet to read Shift. Reviews for First Shift: Legacy and Second Shift: Order can be seen at the reviewer’s home page.)
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BOOK REVIEW: Liar’s Blade by Tim Pratt

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A rogue-ish hero and his intelligent sword hire onto a quest. Their employers are looking for a lost relic, and our pair are looking for gold any way they can find it.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: A charming and convincing partnership based on mutual respect and a healthy dose of witty banter.
CONS: Nothing earth-shattering or overly ambitious here.
BOTTOM LINE: This is the sort of Fafhrd-and-Grey-Mouser-style sword and sorcery adventure that I love and would like to see more of in RPG novels.

The Pathfinder line of RPG novels is doing a lot of things right. They’ve been publishing intelligent adventure novels that showcase their gaming system and their campaign setting in lush detail. They’ve hired a variety of solid, professional authors, and they’ve spread their tales among a wide variety of heroes instead of following one party for multiple books. The one thing that they had been missing–until now–was the particular brand of charming that I have recently come to love in Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and Grey Mouser series. Tim Pratt has done an excellent job of capturing that spirit in this Pathfinder outing.

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BOOK REVIEW: Between Two Thorns by Emma Newman

REVIEW SUMMARY: An enchanting novel from Emma Newman, an urban fantasy that has no sign of tattooed women in leather pants.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A headstrong scion and an investigator discover dark doings in the outwardly genteel world of Bath’s secret mirror city.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: A wide variety of interesting characters; intersecting stories: the wonderful feel of a larger world only partially glimpsed.
CONS: The ending of the book leaves perhaps too many dangling threads; ecology of the Split Worlds has some problems.
BOTTOM LINE: Accept the invitation to attend the season in Aquae Sulis.

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BOOK REVIEW: No Return by Zachary Jernigan

REVIEW SUMMARY: Vivid, varied, and violent. At once beautiful and terrible to behold.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS:  On the planet of Jeroun god exists, and he is far from benevolent. Adrash looks down upon the world, prepared to unleash final annihilation. Men in suits of black and white do battle in his name, some wish to submit to him and others wish to defy him. Vedas, a Blacksuit of the Thirteenth Order embarks on a journey to a great fighting tournament that may well decide the fate of Jeroun.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Stunning imagery, absorbing setting, diverse cultures, intriguing characters, cool ideas.
CONS: Not enough exploration of some of the settings and ideas. Climax was a little weak.
BOTTOM LINE: Ambitious, impressive, and bold. This is not your run of the mill fantasy.

No Return is an excellent start to the new reading year. This is the sort of novel that stands in the shadow of two super genres, for it is neither science fiction nor fantasy. It is instead a beautiful twining of both. It is epic in the in the more traditional sense of the word, though not a narrative poem. No Return features heroic deeds, strange cultures, dark violence, and consequences. It has the trappings on a new age legend, set on an extraordinary world.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: 8 standout stories + 24 good stories – 3 stories mediocre or worse = a collection on par with previous editions.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Editor Gardner Dozois’ picks for the thirty-five best stories of 2011.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: 30 stories worth reading, 7 of which were outstanding. Being exposed to new writers and a rapid-fire stream of ideas as compared with novel-length stories.
CONS: 3 stories didn’t strike me as qualifying for “best”.
BOTTOM LINE: A valuable anthology providing a snapshot of the year 2011 in sf.

Why, yes, I am way behind in my short fiction reading, thank you!

The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Ninth Annual Collection is the 2012 edition showcasing editor Gardner Dozois’ picks for the thirty-five best sf stories of 2011. The newest edition (See also my reviews of previous editions: #19, #20, #21, #22, #23, #24, #25, #26, #27 and #28) is about on par with previous editions, which is to say that some stories are more enjoyable than others. But the benefit of short fiction goes deeper than overall quality; it is the exposure to new ideas, new writers, and new writing styles coming at the reader faster than happens at novel length that is the true power of short fiction. But some stories have to stand out for any reader. For me they were:
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BOOK REVIEW: Nexus by Ramez Naam

REVIEW SUMMARY: Ramez Naam presents an interesting world and characters 30 years hence strongly grounded in the real life research and speculation he was hitherto best known for.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In the mid 21st century, a powerful combination of nanotech, software and drugs threatens to catapult its creator into forbidden realms of transhumanism.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Interesting premise and extrapolation of technology and social developments of same.
CONS: Some of the thriller elements feel a bit over-the-top. Some first novel clunkiness in narrative.
BOTTOM LINE: An interesting and intriguing fiction debut from a non fiction pioneer in bio-technological issues.
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BOOK REVIEW: Son of Destruction by Kit Reed

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Dan Carteret is determined to solve the mystery of his father’s identity. But he discovers a lot more than that when his pursuit takes him to his mother’s secret-riddled hometown.

MY RATING:

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Makes the familiar strange and the strange inseparable from the familiar; weaves multiple perspectives and narratives together powerfully with wonderful variations of texture and access to characters; full of insights great and small about the human condition.
CONS: Slow start; occasional fumbles in the narrative.
BOTTOM LINE: Pushes genre AND literary conventions aside and digs deeply into the wonderful and petty compulsions and practices that make us human.

“The Fort Jude way is a little miracle of denial.”

I am a great admirer of Kit Reed’s short fiction, and I was eager to dig into her latest novel Son of Destruction. As I began to read, however, I became a little discouraged; the opening was slower and less pointed than I had come to expect from her, and its framing of what was to come felt a little banal. What I realized as I got deeper into the novel was that this was a subtler start than I usually find in her short fiction because it sets the reader up for the textual jabs and haymakers that would soon rain down, sometimes unpredictably, on the imagination. If that seems an odd characterization, it is because Son of Destruction is more complicated, knowing, and sometimes weird because of that mixture. What Reed produces is in the novel is simultaneously a tangle of human lives and a desperate orchestration of those lives as individuals struggle with loneliness, disappointment, and the ongoing costs of keeping secrets both terrible and trivial to maintain a veneer of neighborliness and belonging.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: Space Opera for fans of Kevin J. Anderson and Brian Herbert’s Dune prequels, introducing a new universe with creatively inventive worlds, aliens, intergalactic travel, and an epic war to come.

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A failed revolution against the tyrannical Constellation government places exiled leader, General Adolphus on a planet at the outer reaches of a new frontier, where geological instability has earned it the name, Hellhole.  General Adolphus proves more resilient than the Constellation’s Diadem presupposed, and with the help of a new alien species, prepares to free the galaxy from its tyrannical government.

MY RATING:

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Symbiotic nature of alien life creates interesting relationship with humans; sympathetic characters invest readers in epic war to come.
CONS: Telegraphed plot lacks surprises needed to exhilarate reader, including cliffhanger ending.
BOTTOM LINE: Nostalgic readers of Dune prequels will enjoy similar story telling style in Hellhole, but will be disappointed by a cliffhanger ending predicted hundreds of pages before.

Hellhole begins with an emotional conclusion to the revolution against the tyrannical Constellation government, which serves to create strong empathy for the main character, General Adolphus, and a starting point for the moral dilemma of sacrificing innocents as a means to an end.  What follows sets General Adolphus up as a leader on an outcast planet, Hellhole, and his discovery of ways to free a cast of sympathetic characters from various forms of oppression. The chaotic environment on Hellhole entertains while developing characters like his love interest, her daughter, and a heroic love interest for her.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Red Knight by Miles Cameron

REVIEW SUMMARY: A new tale of knights and daring deeds worthy of a place amongst some of our most cherished chivalric legends.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The Red Knight and his merry band of mercenaries take a commission to rid an Abbey of a monster problem. It turns out that the monster problem is more complex than any could have imagined and the whole kingdom of Alba is in danger of being overrun.

MY REVIEW
PROS: Highly descriptive, furious combat, huge array of colorful characters, intricate plotting, great pacing, pervading sense of chivalry.
CONS: Minor clarity issues with the magic system, so many characters that some of them are left underdeveloped, over-extended falling action.
BOTTOM LINE: I feel greatly honored to have read an ARC of The Red Knight. This is more than a genre novel, it’s a contemporary myth. I can’t wait for the next entry in The Traitor Son Cycle.

When I returned to reading fantasy after years of focusing on science fiction, there was an emphasis on dark and gritty that I found immediately appealing.  There was one thing I found lacking, and I didn’t even realize it until recently; a sense of chivalry. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read about great heroes in the past few years, but they rarely display the knightliness (for lack of a better word), of stories from my childhood. Of course I didn’t even notice this deficiency until I read Miles Cameron’s The Red Knight.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: Andromeda’s Fall is an exciting place for readers to experience the bestselling military science fiction of author William C. Dietz.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: When a hostile takeover of Earth’s rulership results in the wholesale killing of her family, Lady Catherine Carletto goes into hiding in the one place sure to teach her how to exact revenge: the Legion.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Balanced portrayal of the “strong female” character type; intense battle scenes; clever examination of the benefits of and fears surrounding artificial intelligence; great jumping on point for readers who haven’t read the Legion of the Damned series.
CONS: Feels rushed until protagonist exits basic training; protagonist benefits from convenient circumstances.
BOTTOM LINE: Military SF accessible to those not familiar with the subgenre featuring a likeable protagonist, a ruthless villain, and enough surprises and pounding action to propel the reader forward.

Here the question arises; whether it is better to be loved than feared or feared than loved.  The answer is that it would be desirable to be both but, since that is difficult, it is much better to be feared…

~Niccolo Machiavelli (The Prince)

Author William C. Dietz takes readers back to the early days of his bestselling Legion of the Damned series to present one woman’s great fall and the hero’s journey she embarks upon to rise again and exact her revenge. When Princess Ophelia Ordanus decides to murder her brother, Earth’s ruling Emperor, her plans include the elimination of all of the Emperor’s close allies. This includes the Carletto family whose company has been instrumental in the field of cybernetics. Catherine “Cat” Carletto is a smart, beautiful young woman with her own education in the family business who has chosen a more vapid existence as a party-going socialite. Her life of privileged disaffection comes crashing down around her as she is informed of her parents’ demise and her own very imminent death. When synthetic assassins arrive at the site of the latest upper crust gathering, she realizes she must use her wits and do the unexpected in order to stay alive. It just so happens the Legion recruiting office is open and with no where else to turn, Cat Carletto dies and Legionnaire Andromeda McKee is born.

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BOOK REVIEW: Fortress Frontier by Myke Cole

REVIEW SUMMARY: A great follow up to Control Point.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Following the events of Control Point, Col. Alan Bookbinder finds himself reassigned to FOB Frontier after finding that he’s a Latent. Once there, the base comes under attack, and he must lead the entire base to safety, aided by the man who put the base in danger in the first place.

PROS: A solid improvement from Control Point, with a fantastic set of new characters.
CONS: Pacing.

Myke Cole’s debut novel was a fun story, a blend of magic in the real world, and the military’s response to a justifiably complicated problem. Where Control Point took on the coming of age / learning to control one’s powers style of story (See Harry Potter, The Magicians, Name of the Wind, Circle of Magic, etc), the second novel in the Shadow Ops series takes on the Quest story that’s so popular in fantasy, and completely succeeds. Fortress Frontier is a second novel, and shows that Cole hasn’t experienced a sophomore slump.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: Two fine short Fantastic Victoriana stories from Daniel Abraham.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Balfour and Meriwether, special agents to the British crown, deal with extraordinary and fantastical threats to their monarch, and the world.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Light, fun atmosphere, breezy dialogue, clever action and appealing protagonists in a fine Secret Fantastic Victorian Era.
CONS: The stories are a bit short, and feel a bit constrained in word length.
BOTTOM LINE: Two fun stories that show yet another side to one of Genre’s best and facile writers today.

Balfour and Meriwether in Two Adventures, published by a new digital publisher called SnackReads, collects two Victoriana stories by Daniel Abraham, one of the most facile and flexible writers today.  The title characters are agents for the British Crown in the late 19th century. The two stories deliberately obscure in time, and are told from the perspective of Mr. Meriwether looking back on the adventure from a journal written after the first world war. The stories have a fantastic Victorian feel, but with the twist of it being a secret history. Ordinary people have no idea the extraordinary threats and dangers Belfour and Meriwether face.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: An excellent edition to The Hollows urban fantasy series, and Rachel Morgan is as tough and driven as ever! Will certainly provide big rewards for series fans.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A Perfect Blood, the 10th book in the Rachel Morgan urban fantasy series, joins Rachel as she follows the trail of an evil, insidious group bent on using her blood for their nefarious means, while navigating the ins and outs of her new identity as a demon.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: The magic world of The Hollows is fully realized and intricate, and as always, Kim Harrison’s characterizations are rich and engaging.
CONS: There were a few instances where the prose meanders and you might find yourself wanting to get back to the action.
BOTTOM LINE: A Perfect Blood delivers top notch urban fantasy with plenty of action and intrigue, and characters that you’d want to be friends with yourself! Although it isn’t recommended new readers begin the series here, Harrison manages to wrap up the main story line without leaving you wanting, and her writing is in top form.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: An appealing, character-driven adventure in a future history that is both fun and inventive.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS:  Nineteen year-old Ellie Quin spends her days planting tubweeds on an oxygen farm anxious for the day that she can escape rural life and move to the domed city of New Haven.  The normal longings of an adolescent girl prove to be anything but normal in this gene-enhanced future.  The day arrives and Ellie puts her plans into motion, unaware that she and her small agricultural planet are on a collision course with forces that could unravel the entire course of humanity, with Ellie being the key to their undoing.

MY REVIEW
PROS: Engaging protagonist; imaginative world-building; strong pacing with a steadily building tension.
CONS: It is not a self-contained story; ends abruptly to continue in second volume.
BOTTOM LINE: The Legend of Ellie Quin delivers a sense-of-wonder exploration of the future reminiscent of Heinlein’s juvenile novels coupled with the accessibility of contemporary storytelling techniques.  It reveals an imaginative future in which humanity thrives in a sprawling universe seen through the eyes of a down-to-earth, likeable character.

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BOOK REVIEW: Caliban’s War by James S.A. Corey

SYNOPSIS: War threatens the solar system as forces react and move in a world rocked by the events detailed in Leviathan Wakes.

MY RATING:

MY REVIEW
PROS: strong classic Space Opera; excellent set pieces; intriguing new characters.
CONS: The characterization beats of longstanding characters continues; they are eclipsed by the new characters.
VERDICT: Another solidly entertaining space opera from the team of Abraham and Franck.

Caliban’s War takes off some months after the events of Leviathan Wakes, and ups the ante. In the wake of the heroic (and drastic) actions taken to avert a total catastrophe for humans, the powers in the Solar System have not been idle. In point of fact, metaphors about fighting in a burning house might be extremely appropriate.

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