Recently arrived review copies

Six of them! I think this is the second picture of the the Bardugo book.

Courtesy of Gollancz: Bradley Beaulieu’s TWELVE KINGS and ALiette de Bodard’s HOUSE OF SHATTERED WINGS. Courtesy of Angry Robot Books, Ishbelle Bee’s THE SINGULAR AND EXTRAORDINARY TALE OF MIRROR AND GOLIATH. Courtesy of DAW Books, Seanan McGuire’s A RED-ROSE CHAIN. Courtesy of Henry Holt, Leigh Bardugo’s SIX OF CROWS. Courtesy of Tor Books, Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear’s AN APPRENTICE TO ELVES.

E.C. Blake, MASKS (DAW Books, 2013)

E.C. Blake, Masks. DAW, 2013. Review copy courtesy of DAW Books.

Masks is the first novel in a series. In the Autarchy of Aygrima, everyone wears a mask. The mask’s magic tells the Watchers if a person has broken a law, or if they are disloyal to the Autarch. Not wearing a mask is punishable by death.

Mara is the daughter of the master mask-maker. But at her coming-of-age at fifteen, at her masking ceremony, her mask rejects her. Sentenced to labour in the Autarch’s mines, she’s rescued by a small band of rebels – before falling into the hands of the Autarch’s enforcers once more. She discovers that the magic she has is powerful enough to kill, and one way or another, people want to make her into their tool.

The tone and style of this book seem to aim it at the Young Adult audience, but it doesn’t turn up the emotional pitch the way most good YA does. This may, in part, be due to how much time Mara spends following other people’s leads. At no point does she ever choose a direction that someone else hasn’t pointed her in: she never tries to escape anywhere on her own, nor is she intelligent about using the leverage she does have. This makes for an unevenly paced and somewhat disappointing novel. On the other hand, things blow up, it’s easy to read, and sufficiently entertaining to finish: perhaps the forthcoming sequel will have more of Mara doing things, rather than being done unto.

Warning for offscreen sexual violence, not done to our protagonists, but not treated with any particular depth.

Books in brief: Weekes, McGuire, Garcia, Gladstone

Patrick Weekes, Dragon Age: The Masked Empire. Tor, 2014. ARC from

Read for review at

Seanan McGuire, Sparrow Hill Road. DAW, 2014. ARC from

Read for review at

R.S.A. Garcia, Lex Talionis. Dragonwell Publishing, 2014. ARC via a friend who is a friend of the author.

This is an interesting debut effort that shows promise. The prose is good, and the characterisation is well-done. However, structurally the execution lacks coherence and the novel as a whole suffers from a case of and also the kitchen sink in terms of what kind of story it is trying to be. Some aspects of the formatting (whole sections are written in italics) make it harder to read than I would’ve preferred, which may have some impact on my opinion. In many respects setting itself up as the first novel in a series: it’s not satisfactorily complete in itself, in my view.

Warning: novel contains gang-rape. It is treated with a reasonable amount of sensitivity, but if that sort of thing puts you off your reading experience, be prepared to encounter it here.

On the other hand, Garcia shows promise, and this is an enjoyable novel if you can live with its structural problems. Thematically it is having an interesting argument about power and responsibility and politics, even if the structural issues mean this is not brought fully and coherently into view. Recommended, albeit with significant hand-wiggling and many caveats.

Max Gladstone, Two Serpents Rise. Tor, 2013.

Gladstone’s second novel is one that I found difficult to get into at first. In fact, it wasn’t until I read his third novel – and discovered that yes, he did certainly know what he was doing – that I went back and tried again. Oce past the hump (past page fifty or so) it turns into something tense and great: not quite as good by my lights as Three Parts Dead or Full Fathom Five, but still an excellent entry by a writer who’s shaping up to be one of the field’s best new voices.

Max Gladstone, Full Fathom Five. Tor, 2014. ARC from

Read for review at A novel I really enjoyed.

Books for review arrived since last we spoke of such things…

I arrived back at my regular address to find that in my absence some review copies had piled up inside my front door:

Review copies!

Review copies!

I’m no kind of professional photographer, that’s for sure.

That’s Will Elliott’s THE PILGRIMS (Tor US, first published by JFB in the UK); Karl Schroeder’s LOCKSTEP (Tor); Katherine Addison’s THE GOBLIN EMPEROR (Tor); Ramona Wheeler’s THREE PRINCES (Tor), of which I already have a copy that I haven’t had a chance to read yet; Glen Cook’s WORKING GOD’S MISCHIEF (Tor), the fourth book in a series which no doubt I’d be more interested in reading if I’d read, or even had, the first three; Deborah J. Ross’s THE HEIR OF KHORED (DAW); Jane Lindskold’s ARTEMIS AWAKENING (Tor), and Tor’s publicity department must really want me to read this one, since this is the second copy I’ve received; Paul Park’s ALL THOSE VANISHED ENGINES (Tor); E.C. Ambrose’s ELISHA MAGUS (DAW); Joshua Palmatier’s SHATTERING THE LEY (DAW); and Ben Hatke’s ZITA THE SPACEGIRL, LEGENDS OF ZITA THE SPACEGIRL, and THE RETURN OF ZITA THE SPACEGIRL (First Second Books).

I’m open to bids and recommendations (from this and from the previous review copy posts) on what I should read in the interstices of my already-contracted reading and reviewing.

Michelle Sagara’s TOUCH

Reviewed over at

It can be difficult to review quiet books. Books where the emphasis is on the interpersonal moments, where all the freight falls in the relationships between characters, in subtle cues and moments. Books where the tension is mostly between people of good will and the exigencies of circumstance. Touch isn’t a flashy book. You only realise how well it’s succeeded as a novel when you pause to reflect on how much it’s made you care, and in what ways.

I forgot to link to it when it first went live. It seems are putting up the reviews I’ve sent to ’em quite rapidly.

Katharine Kerr, License to Ensorcell

There’s something ineluctably old-fashioned about Katharine Kerr’s License to Ensorcell, as though this urban fantasy – ostensibly set in contemporary San Francisco – aside from the existence of mobile phones, could belong to a world two decades and more in the past. The main character, Nola O’Grady, is a psychic agent for a secret government agency dedicated to maintaining the balance between the (reified) forces of Chaos and Order.

The novel’s old-fashioned sensibility becomes apparent early on, when it is revealed that Nola’s cover identity in San Francisco is as secretary to the non-existent boss of a fake marketing and market research firm. Leading to two issues: a) if the boss doesn’t exist, why shouldn’t Nola be her own boss? and b) market research is Big Business, and that business seems to be dominated by giants, their subsidiary offices, and a whole lot of people working freelance – a two-person office, unless it’s particularly specialised, seems a touch out of place. How Nola thinks about herself, her world, and her oddly-talented family, too, doesn’t seem quite right for a person from about my generation, American or otherwise. To take an example: she thinks of her body and her figure in terms of staying fashionable – be a mate and let me know if anyone under forty still thinks in those terms?

There are other markers of an old-fashioned sensibility. Most of them rather problematic.

Her Agency – which the text regards without even the hint of the possibility of cynicism over the American government having oversight of an agency filled with people who can mess with other people’s minds – sends her an Israeli Interpol agent, one Ari Nathan, on the trail of a murderer, with orders to assist him. The string of murders turns out to have included Nola’s deceased brother Patrick, a very religious werewolf – and then things get complicated when her youngest brother disappears.

Nathan is clearly intended to be the novel’s love interest. The text regards this as perfectly natural. But his relationship with Nola is littered with ignored boundaries: he bullies her about her eating habits, insists on staying in her apartment in order to “protect” her – and takes her keys while she sleeps, locks her in, and gets his own copies cut, but that’s just fine because he’s pretty and he has good intentions. (He also assumes she’s going to move to Tel Aviv and live with him, once they’ve slept together once.) It’s basically the Asshole Werewolf Boyfriend dynamic, except that Nola doesn’t seem to see much wrong with it, and Ari Nathan is a normal human man, so it’s your bog-standard Controlling Asshole Potential Abuser flashing-light signs. (Run away! Run away!)

The rest of the book might be mildly interesting, but I can’t get past that. I really, really can’t.