Categories
Review

“What Dreams Shadows Cast”, or, “the cave isn’t haunted, but it does hate you”

Barbara J. Webb
So, a year and a half ago, I read the first book in what I assume is an ongoing series. At the time, I was quite clear on the fact that I loved the setting of the book. If you want all the explanation, hit up that link; for now I’ll just say it’s a new take on post-apocalyptic, where the apocalypse was being abandoned by the gods who’d previously been quite happy to intervene on people’s behalf.
That gap between reading the first and the second wasn’t the greatest thing for my enjoyment of the second — I spent a bit too long trying to remember where we’d left off, and some of the references back to the first I gave up on trying to remember. Things are in a slightly better place than they were in the first, though in order to avoid spoilers I’m not going to explain how, but you still get the sense that the world is deeply broken. Which, true, it sorta is; they’d based their entire economy and governmental system around an external force, which one day decided to up and leave. Maybe not the best way to have done things.
Honestly, I’m a bit annoyed with the handling of business in Miroc, the city where the first book took place; in the aftermath of that one, it’s set up to begin recovering from the Abandonment. In this book, we’ve skipped forward six months, and aside from a couple references to tentative recovery, nothing much seems to have changed. Sure, it’s only six months, but it’s also a metropolis that just finished making itself entirely self-sufficient, there should be more happening.
Which is rather the crux of my opinion on the book: “there should be more happening.” There’s background details — mentions of an influx of immigrants, as well as an increase in emigration — that aren’t explored very well.1 Instead, there’s a digression, ignoring the leftover villains from the first book to go have an Indiana Jones adventure in the desert.
This book feels like it was supposed to be either the second of two books, or possibly the second of a trilogy, but halfway through someone decided they wanted it to be an ongoing series. And to match the expansion in scale, they tried to expand the setting — the already compelling villains from the first book are almost entirely ignored, despite having been clearly set up to be the main antagonist throughout the series, and what was set up as the background for the whole setting got awkwardly retconned.
It just didn’t work as well as the first book. Which is a shame, because that first one was amazing, and this, while still captivating, left me disappointed at the end. Nonetheless, here’s the link; that said, if you haven’t yet read the first one, go do that instead.


  1. That specific example is actually a huge plot thread that’s just… entirely dropped partway through. Everyone is all secretive about where they’re emigrating to, and then something new comes up and the characters decide to leave that Chekhov’s Gun just sitting on the table, ignored. 
Categories
Review

The Red Plague Affair

The last Saintcrow book I read I definitely enjoyed, and this one was no different. Definitely more frightening, though, because while the Iron Wyrm included some nice spooky stuff, there’s something about a pathogen that just scares the crap out of me. Probably the relative likelihoods of “death by giant dragon” and “death by disease.”
Anyhow, as with the previous book, the setting is still a gorgeous alternate-history Victorian London. There’s a bit more expansion on how some of the magical stuff works, and some delightfully irritating open-ended bits about some of the history of how these things were created.1
(To be honest, I’m keeping this review rather short because it’s the second book in the series – I linked to my review of the first one as a way to get you to go read that one and then read the first book before you’d read the second.)
There was rather more of a hat-tip to Sherlock Holmes than even in the first – Clare, our Sherlock figure, was given his own Moriarty in Dr. Vance. A seriously fun interaction.
And Bannon, our delightfully immoral sorceress, found herself even more embroiled in politics than before, creating some interesting situations. I’m looking forward to the next book in the series, though it’ll probably be a while before I get to it – my ‘to read’ list is still rather long.
That said, I quite enjoyed the book. If you haven’t read the first, go do that. Once you’ve read the first, read the second as well.


  1. Apparently the levitating Collegia, home of the sorcerous school, was once the top of a mountain, but then someone decided “nah, we want this somewhere else” and just ripped the top off the mountain? so cool 
Categories
Review

The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble’s Braids

I don’t think this one falls under the purview of ‘dark fantasy,’ because it doesn’t end with “and then everything was awful forever, the end,” but it’s… close. Adjacent to that subgenre, I suppose.
Amra Thetys is a thief, and a pretty good one, at that – she lives in a variety of homes around the crime-ridden city of Lucernis, all of them paid for. Her friends, of course, are also thieves. So there’s nothing much out of the ordinary when one of them shows up at her door, asking her to help him hide something while he goes to sort out the payment for his services.
Unfortunately, he never comes back for it. Instead, he’s murdered pretty brutally, and Amra gets sucked up into the mess because whoever did it is after the strange golden statue she was given to hold on to. And, of course, several other people are also interested in it, because something worth killing for is something worth stealing.
Where it gets interesting, to me at least, is in the magic. Because as Amra goes on in her accidental quest to find out who killed her friend, she starts to get more and more involved in the weirdness going on – a monster with an overwhelming aura of hatred, a mage who’s far too good to be a thief but is nonetheless, a downtrodden inspector who turns out himself to be a mage.
Throw in some ancient gods, a hint of undead, a Protector-spirit that has to be locked in for fear of what it’ll do if it gets out, and a hell mouth, and you’ve got an interesting story to be told. The necromancy was a nice touch.
So, the story itself was really interesting – a sort of magical murder mystery, with an adventure mixed in by the way. No problems with that.
Where I get slightly iffy is the setting. I mentioned above that it seems a bit like a ‘dark fantasy’ kind of thing, and all of that is in the setting. The world was, insofar as I can tell from the various hints that were dropped, of the “formerly occupied by the gods” sort. There was a massive war of the gods, though, something like two thousand years ago, and it cracked open a continent or two, creating a sort of diaspora for the humans that occupied the world. And the various other races that got brief mention – there’s some kind of orc-thing wandering around that makes a hobby of murdering every human they come into contact with, I think? Not very charitable of them.1
That said, it wasn’t depressingly so – the end has some hints that, yes, the leftovers of that Age of the Gods or whatever are coming to an end, and the magic is going to go with them2 – but while it hints at that ending, it points towards the Age of Man. There’s some early precursors of the industrial era showing up – arquebusses being the main one, although the invention of mass transportation is another – so I think it’s more saying “the age of myth and legend is ending, it’s time for the age of man.”
Which is cool, I suppose. I liked it, I’ll keep an eye out for the hinted-at sequels, I suppose. Go have a read.3


  1. This footnote doesn’t have anything to do with anything, it’s just that I realized I’d gone this entire review without using one and that’s not like me. 
  2. Which I am quite sad about, to be fair, magic is a lot of fun. 
  3. And read through the little post-script bit that’s an in-character explanation of the world, because it’s hilarious
Categories
Review

City of Burning Shadows

Okay, this book was gorgeous. Like, seriously, one of my favorite settings for a fantasy/science-fiction book I’ve read.
The basic gist of it is that this is a world where the gods are real and happily intervened in the world – the best example I can think of is that the whole thing takes place in a mega-city in the middle of an uninhabitable desert, made possible by the occasional rainstorm that just appeared over the city in response to prayers from the priests of the air goddess. And it was a pretty good world, where their Favored Children, something like high priests and priestesses of each of the god’s religions, were celebrities. Right up until, with no warning, the gods vanished. Without them, the world began to fall apart. One of the most immediate problems was that, in response to the fall of the world’s capitol city,1 the various megacities severed ties with one another. And not in the political sense – they destroyed the mass-transit ‘tubes’ that linked them for freight and personnel traffic, and with the tubes went the communications lines. They cut themselves off from each other.
That was years ago, now. The main character, Ash, was once a priest of the Zeus of the world, a trickster spirit who apparently ushered humanity along their evolutionary path out of something like boredom. The other species of the world were created, to varying degrees, in the image of humanity, though each with the unique flavor of their own parent-god. So there’s the shapeshifters, children of the shapeless god of magic, and then there’s the vaguely-elvin Jansynians, the corporate powerhouses of the world. Following the Abandonment,2 priests became rather unpopular, and the majority of his friends were killed. Ash himself was hospitalized for six months, and woke up in the drought-stricken, cut-off city.
He landed on his feet, though, becoming a glorified filling clerk for a private investigator’s firm. It’s there that the plot picks us up – an old friend, one he’d thought dead, came to ask for help.
Of course, it’s never something simple, and suddenly he’s embroiled in all sorts of fun politics. Turns out that someone wasn’t going to take the Abandonment lying down, and had put together plans for a satellite that could do the sort of thing only the gods had done before – it could make it rain in the middle of the desert. It could save the city. They’d handed off the designs to the Jansynians, hoping their resources3 could push the project through before the already-strained water reserves could be depleted. And then, for no apparent reason, progress halted on what should’ve been a simple “launch and press activate” type of process.
Then the assassins came for the inventor, and her sister stepped in to protect her, sending for the slightly-more-than-investigative PI firm.
That’s about enough of the plot, I think – it gets really interesting, there’s a couple of fun twists4 that I’m going to tell you absolutely nothing about.
But I will touch on something else – the setting is, like I said, a gorgeous world. Aside from the magic, it’s also science fiction – the Jansynians, taking advantage of their global business acumen, have built themselves the Crescent, a massive enclave from which all of their companies operate. They’re the ones everyone is jealous of, in the increasingly-parched desert – the Crescent, built 100 stories above the ground, is domed-in and has its own facilities to provide power, water, and food to the inhabitants. Basically, in their gleaming dome above the rest of the populace, they can ride out the apocalypse in comfort. When they deign to visit the city below, they do it in hovercars that they don’t even bother to lock, because nobody is stupid enough to steal from them.
Basically, it’s a delightful blend of fantasy and science fiction, and I loved reading it. Go get it.5


  1. Named something imaginative like “City of the Gods” 
  2. Which, I’ve gotta say, is probably the best-case scenario for naming something like the events this world had to go through. 
  3. And talent for management, something the inventor wanted nothing to do with. 
  4. And a couple of heartbreaking ones, because why wouldn’t there be? 
  5. And in looking up the link to put here I’ve found out there’s a sequel which I now desperately want to read. 
Categories
Review

Calamity

I may or may not have stayed up a bit late so I could finish this book in one day. It’s the wrap-up to a series I’ve really enjoyed, and it was a good wrap-up, at that.
So, the Reckoners series is set in a world that has superhumans – they call them Epics. There’s a subgroup of those, High Epics, who’re the real superpowers – some people have, like, “can speak any made-up language” as their superpower. High Epics have things like “can turn anything he touches to steel, can fly, and is borderline immortal.”1
Of course, this is a world where the phrase “power corrupts” is just about a law of physics. The more of their power an Epic uses, the more they lose touch with humanity, becoming arrogant and cruel. There are no superheroes here – it’s just a new age of feudalism, where the lords are not just politically but physically orders of magnitude more powerful than the normal people.
It’s the sort of setting that I wish I could’ve thought of – it captures my interest in a way that very few other books (or media in general) can.2 I love this idea of superpowered beings having their weaknesses drive them to evil, and of the regular people trying to fight back against it. I dunno, I’ve just got weird interests.
Like I said, I really enjoy these books – I’ve got all of them.
Now, in this one, things aren’t going so well for the Reckoners – in the first one, they managed to take down Steelheart, the despotic ruler of Newcago. In the second, they went to Babilar3 to fight the ruler of that down. In the process, they lost their leader – a High Epic himself, he’d managed to stay on the side of the angels by not using his powers. Regalia, the ruler of Babilar, forced his hand, though, and in using his powers to save the city he rather doomed himself.
In the third book, the Reckoners are up against their former leader – with all his knowledge of them and their tactics, and a suite of powers that makes him one of the most powerful High Epics out there.
Oh, and that’s without mentioning that David, the protagonist, has his sights set on killing Calamity, the Epic in low Earth orbit that burns like a misplaced star and is the source of the powers and evil that shattered the world.
No pressure.

That’s about all I’m going to say for now – I enjoy the series a lot, and I think everyone should read it. If you haven’t read any of them, obviously start with the first. If you’ve read the others, I’d say go pick up the third now.4


  1. Technically speaking, I think the actual distinction of ‘High Epic’ means ‘borderline immortal’ for whatever reason – super-fast healing, indestructibility, able to dodge any attack, whatever. 
  2. The only other contenders I can think of are Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the DC Animated Universes, and Scott Meyer’s Magic 2.0 series. 
  3. The sunken remains of what used to be New York City – an Epic held up the towers with magical trees, basically, and it turned into one of the best places on the planet to live, actually. 
  4. And this is where I have to quietly admit that I just bought this book the day that I read through it – I know, I know, I’m supposed to not be buying more books while I work through the ones I’ve got, but I just got my payout from the Apple antitrust case and how was I supposed to resist, I got a Kindle gift card? C’mon. 
Categories
Review

A Soul for Trouble

This book just didn’t quite know what genre it wanted to be. It was almost a romance novel, but the fantasy setting and storyline was a bit too well-developed for that. But it’s also not quite a fantasy novel, because there was a good bit more romance than you get from that. But hey, pushing the boundaries of genres is what makes things fun, so I’m not really complaining.1
So, down to the normal business of my book reviews: trying to explain the plot without actually spoiling anything important. The titular character, Trouble (her real name is Arden, but as literally everyone in the book will tell you, ‘Trouble’ is more accurate) is a Main Character. Not precisely the term she’d use for herself, but she’s a blonde-haired blue-eyed orphan girl living in a town of brown-haired brown-eyed Generic Background Characters. Then a crazy old guy shows up, followed by a Tall Dark and Handsome stranger. With a pet wolf. Trouble establishes herself as a Strong Independent Woman as well as a Nice Person, and gives the crazy old dude some food, since he’s just stumbled into the inn where she works and all. Part of a brief conversation later, he’s killed, and his dying breath is the titular Soul.
At which point I’ll turn down my sarcasm a bit, because it actually got interesting after that. The Soul isn’t the old guy’s soul – it’s the incorporeal Loku, a character best described as “I’m aware that Loki is in the public domain, but Disney owns Marvel now so I don’t want to risk a lawsuit.”2 He’s the local god of chaos, and about a “we refer to them as the Ancients” ago, he tried to end the world. The mages of the neighboring country3 worked with the rest of the gods to stop that, with the end result that Loku’s body was destroyed and his soul became an immortal people-possessing… green cloud? Dev, the Tall Dark and Handsome guy – actually an elf, we find out – from earlier was supposed to be protecting Crazy Old Guy, and is the capital-P Protector. Or is it Guardian? Whichever.
Of course, all this explaining doesn’t happen for a while – what actually happens after Old Guy gets a cursed dagger to the back is a rather cinematic fight scene – Trouble collapses, Dev grabs her, and then suddenly there’s zombies everywhere. At which point Dev, being entirely reasonable, burns the building down4 and runs the hell away. Because, y’know, fighting a necromancer is hard enough when you’re not carrying a collapsed pretty girl.
From there, it’s a fun little romp across this fantasy kingdom, spending more time on the character relationships than it does on the fighting. Which was kinda cool, actually – like I said, blending genres can be a good thing. I mean, yes, the amount of unresolved sexual tension in the book is ridiculous, and there’s a few scenes where I was like “either write the sex scene you clearly want to write or gracefully allude to it having already happened, this is getting ridiculous.” But language-wise there’s nothing that would shock, like, the average high-schooler.5
So yeah, pretty good book! As of my writing this, I think it’s free on Amazon, so go for it.


  1. Well, I’m complaining a little bit, but if I ever stop complaining you can reasonably assume that I’ve died. 
  2. Hey, I said I’d turn the sarcasm down a bit, not that I’d turn it off. 
  3. The one that isn’t stupid and weird about magic. 
  4. Technically, I think the wolf did it – he’s a Fire Wolf, with the ability to… burst into flames. And the super-imaginative name of “Cinder.” Dev, you are a 300-year-old elfin mage-knight. How are you still so unimaginative. 
  5. Don’t show any of it to a middle-schooler, though, if only because the sound of their scandalized giggling will make you want to punch something. 
Categories
Review

The Vampire of Northanger

I almost didn’t wind up reviewing this one. Which, as per my weird set of rules about writing reviews, is a way of saying I almost didn’t wind up finishing this book.
I’d actually started writing a sort of review in my head, because Bryce Anderson is an author that I quite like – he wrote The Improbable Rise of Singularity Girl, a book which I loved, and we’re actually mutual followers on Twitter. So, at about 10% of the way through the book,1 when I was almost to the point of giving up on it, I was quite sad. “I wanted to like this book,” the post explaining my failure to read it would’ve begun.2 At that point, I had nothing really wrong with the book – it just wasn’t the sort of thing I enjoy reading. I was kept there by two things, foremost of which was the introduction to the book. Again, normally I don’t read introductions, but as I started to skim past it a few things caught my eye, and I read a random paragraph of the introduction, realized it wasn’t the sort of introduction I’m normally wary of, and went back to read the whole thing. It’s a hilarious piece of work: the ‘description of the writer’ bit makes mention of the fact that the introduction was written by someone who is paid “a handsome living” by the endowment of a chair at school that no longer exists. “As a public service, he can often be found on the current grounds of the former school, laying traps for feral students and attempting to educate whomever is ensnared. He assures us the process is entirely humane.”
The second thing keeping me there was, again, loyalty to a writer who I know to have proved themselves admirably in the past.

Fortunately for me, I didn’t have to write that “I have failed at reading this book” post, because the book picked up quite well from there – it was a bit of a long, slow start, but then, I enjoy everything Diana Wynne Jones has written, and her books have a plot diagram that looks like a wide sawtooth: a long, slow build to a beautiful crescendo, which takes place ten pages from the end of a 400-page book.
The Vampire of Northanger had a rather similar structure, I could say, and did the same sort of thing once past that initial 10% “I can barely go on” mark: I found myself unable to put down this book which I’d been barely able to hold up before. The exact turning point, I can demark quite easily: the introduction of Emily. He’s a lovely character, a dog made into a bit of an incompetent hellhound, and it was at this point that I realized the book wasn’t going to be just a Jane Austen novel with the backdrop slightly changed.3
And from there, the book was off. I’ve a phrase stuck in my head, which was planted there when a friend asked what I was reading, then set upon looking for reviews: “a delightful, violent romp through supernatural England.” That’s pretty accurate, if I do say so myself, and I wish I’d thought of it first, but alas.
(Here, I’ll point out how visibly my writing style has been impacted by spending so much time reading a book in the more Victorian style; the voice in my head is speaking with a rather snooty Oxford accent at the moment, and I can hear it sniff with disdain every time I try to use a modern colloquialism. Hopefully this fades soon.)

So, my final opinion on the book: a slow start, which I’ll ask the reader to power through, after which you discover a lovely adventure novel, with a good bit of mockery coming from the narrator, mostly directed at the kind-to-the-point-of-naïve4 protagonist. The other characters are delightful, once they get into the stride of the story, and perhaps my favorite bit of the whole thing was in the very end of the book when the protagonist finally figured out the blindingly obvious secret and basically sat down and said “well, I’m dumb.”
Seriously, it was quite a good book. Go have a read.


  1. Thank you Kindle, for telling me precisely how much of a book I’ve read 
  2. Like I said, normally I don’t acknowledge books that failed to hold my interest long enough for me to read them, but I felt I at least owed that much to Mr. Anderson. 
  3. To my readers who enjoy the writings of Jane Austen: I don’t mean to insult her, I’ve just come to terms with the fact that the style of her writings are not the sort of thing I enjoy. There are, I’m sure, a good amount of people who would love to read “a Jane Austen novel with the backdrop slightly changed.” This is not quite the book for you. 
  4. Yes, I’m aware that ‘naive’ and ‘naïve’ are just alternate spellings for the same word: nonetheless, I think the second looks better, and I just enjoy having excuses to type an umlaut, okay
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Review

Lightspeed Magazine, Issue 57

Not exactly a book, but still part of my read-everything-on-my-Kindle project. For this one, I’ll only be talking about the various works of fiction that were published in the magazine – I wouldn’t even know how to go about reviewing the bits of nonfiction, interviews and whatnot, that’re included in the magazine.
Since it’s a series of short stories, I’ll break it up into pieces.

And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead

All sorts of bad language included in this one, but a rather enjoyable read. Reminded me of Neuromancer with the cyberpunk aspect of the whole thing, as well as the overall sense of grittiness.

Buffalo

This one didn’t strike me as science fiction. At all. With H.G. Wells present in it, I was hoping for something along the lines of Warehouse 13.1 What I got was something that felt like it should’ve been part of the nonfiction section, filed under ‘depressing.’

Red Planet

Pretty good, and reminded me of the WWW trilogy by Robert J. Sawyer, though from the other side – the WWW books are pervaded by a sense of wonder at what’s possible, and a distinctive dint of the ‘blind people are broken’ ideology that pervades society on some level or another, whereas “Red Planet” focused on the benefits of being blind and why someone might choose to stay that way. Interesting.

Veil of Ignorance

Confusing and a bit hard to follow, but that was done on purpose. Definitely an interesting read, and done in something that reminded me of a space opera way, where the actual sci-fi aspects of things are glossed over entirely, accepted as normal.

Cerile and the Journeyer2

A sad little story, but an enjoyable one. Not a whole lot to say about it.

Things You Can Buy for a Penny

This one was interesting to read just because of the way that it was built in layers – pieces of story hiding behind one another. I quite enjoyed the overall aesthetic of it, a sort of folk tale with a light brush of horror, and definitely that genie-you-got-what-you-wished-for plot twist to each of the little pieces.

In the House of Aryaman, a Lonely Signal Burns

This was the novella included in the magazine, and I loved it. Futuristic murder-mystery aside, the setting for the whole story was a truly wonderful bit of speculative fiction. They took the current global warming crisis and ran with it, expanding biotechnology and the ever-spreading Internet of Things while highlighting the growing cost of traveling long distance and the energy scarcity that we’re creating for ourselves.
For being such a short story, there was certainly a lot of material in this one.
My final opinion is “this novella made the entire magazine worth the purchase.” If there had been nothing else of value in there,3 In the House of Aryaman would’ve made it entirely worth it.


  1. I wasn’t hoping for anything as awesome as Helena Wells, of course, but she’s rather hard to beat. 
  2. If you’re following along in the magazine, you’ll have noticed that I just skipped a couple things. You’d be right – I don’t write reviews of things I don’t finish reading, and I wasn’t able to make it through those two bits of fantasy. 
  3. And this was not the case, several of them were worthwhile reads, as I’ve mentioned above. 
Categories
Review

War of the Fae, Book 1: The Changelings

I think this one was a ‘free on Amazon’ book that I picked up, and let me tell you, as a marketing effort, that worked. The book ends on a one-sentence plot-twist that acts as an incredibly effective cliffhanger, so props to the author for that.
As to the content, it’s a general fit in the young-adult-fantasy-adventure genre: kid runs away from home (though, admittedly, the reasoning for that is more ‘young adult’ than ‘young adult,’ a slight change that helped to hold my interest), gets involved in a weird situation, finds out magic is real, yadda yadda saves the day. There’s a bit of a ‘hunger games’ vibe to the weird situation, and the ‘magic’ bits are more hinted-at than outright-confirmed for a while.1
The book gets bonus points for a female protagonist, and since I’m now staring at the end-of-book about the author page and just now finding out that the author is a female2 it makes sense how well she was able to portray the female mind. As a dude, I am eternally doomed to be unable to understand the inner workings of the other gender, and I’ve come to terms with that.
On the other hand, it gets docked a few points for two issues: first, the occasional Mary Sue moments with the protagonist – there are three main male supporting characters, and between the three of them at least two are very clearly in love with her.3 More points were docked for the fact that the closest the book has to LGBTQ representation is comparing the motions of a vampire, actively killing someone, to “a gay teacher [the protagonist] had in tenth grade.” Look, I get that every Disney villain ever has been a hodgepodge of stereotypically-gay traits,4 but I’m still going to be disappointed when anyone else gives in to the trope.
Other than that, the only issue I had was a single recurring spelling error,5 and overall I enjoyed the book. It’s easily worth what I paid for it, and the fact that that was ‘nothing’ is how I’m going to justify buying the next book in the series.


  1. Although, being a total mythology-and-legends nerd I picked up on it earlier than the average reader could really be expected to. I have a mental filter for these sorts of things, so it doesn’t interfere with my enjoyment of a book too much. 
  2. I think the ‘read every book on my Kindle’ thing I’m doing is going by author-alphabetical order, but I’m not actually looking at the names, so… 
  3. I’m not docking many points for that, though, because she’s the only girl in the group for most of the story, and I have a low opinion of the average man. 
  4. Hades, anyone? 
  5. ‘Break’: to separate. ‘Brake’: to stop. I don’t think the word ‘break’ is used anywhere in the book, but ‘brake’ shows up multiple times, and it’s spelled wrong each time. C’mon.