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Jennifer's Blog

I am a writer of science fiction and fantasy and also an avid reader of (mostly) the same. Expect to see reviews from me of speculative fiction books from well known and less well known authors. (Many of my reviews WILL be cross posted from Goodreads).

The Finisher

The Finisher - David Baldacci Yet another YA dystopia. Sorry to Baldacci, but can we have some more positive YA?

On the other hand, he gets points for not including a pointless love triangle. If you liked The Hunger Games you'll like this...it even has an arena of sorts. Good worldbuilding, an interesting heroine.

However, dear Baldacci, please think your constructed language through better. Male-handled is not a word.


Hounded - Kevin Hearne A fun read. Well researched, an interesting (if sometimes insufferable) protagonist.

I didn't find it quite as witty as some, though, and the French poodle gag got very old by the last page.

But still, if you like American Gods style contemporary fantasy, this is a pretty good read. (It's about the same level of irreverent, too).

Prince of Fools

Prince of Fools  - Mark  Lawrence This is a purely subjective low rating - the book is well written, and will no doubt appeal to quite a few people who aren't me.

Unfortunately, I found the world building confusing (are we in the middle ages or after the apocalypse), the main character whiny and annoying, the magic system poorly fleshed out...I simply didn't like it.

Once Upon a Time: New Fairy Tales

Once Upon a Time: New Fairy Tales - Paula Guran, Theodora Goss, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Tanith Lee, Genevieve Valentine, Jane Yolen Prime Books does it again with a neat anthology of fairy tale retellings. My favorite is Theodora Goss' Blanchefleur.

The Warded Man

The Warded Man - Peter V. Brett Every bit as excellent as rumors would have it - I wish I'd read it sooner and will be having to track down the sequels when I'm caught up on my reading.


Steelheart - Brandon Sanderson Brandon Sanderson has missed his vocation writing all of that epic fantasy.

Steelheart is YA supers.

Without the heroes part. An event causes people to manifest superpowers. But they're all evil. Every last one of them. One of them killed David's father and transformed Chicago into Newcago, his personal fiefdom. David's out for revenge - and hooks up with an underground organization, the Reckoners, to achieve it.

Absolutely brilliant. If you like supers, it's brilliant. If you liked DIvergent, this is better.

Three Parts Dead

Three Parts Dead - Max Gladstone Nice combination of legal thriller and non-contemporary urban fantasy (It's almost, but not quite steampunkesque). What if gods were real - and signed contracts with their worshippers?

And what happens when a god dies? Cool MC, fun world, and definitely one for the law geeks.

Without Bloodshed

Without Bloodshed - Matthew Graybosch Pretty good read - it oscillates between cyberpunk and fantasy. It has cat people - but they aren't quite the overdone trope.

Also, a decent romantic subplot and plenty of sword fights.

There's also some libertarian propaganda in there - it's clear the author likes the idea of a world without governments, or at least a world where people only sign up for government if they want to. It's also clear he knows corruption might get in the way of that dream.

A decently fun read. Good characters and I have a weakness for genre-bending and cyberpunk.

The Winter Boy

The Winter Boy - Sally Wiener Grotta I have to start with a content warning.

The Winter Boy contains a lot of sex.

Fairly explicit sex.

Between a woman in her early forties and a young man who's age isn't specified, but who can't be more than 18-19.

If that squicks you, then...well...you won't want to touch this.

If not?

I couldn't put it down.

I literally could not put it down. I haven't been this drawn into a book in a while, and it's not because of the sex.

Grotta builds a world that may or may not be our world (It's definitely post-apocalyptic). Peace is preserved by the Allemen, specially trained men who act as diplomats, mediators, judges and, when all else fells, warriors. The regime is trying to spread further, out into the world. Unfortunately, they're facing an implacable enemy named the Mwertik Zalog - who seem bent on destroying them and their way of life for no reason.

Then she introduces herself to Rishana, an Allesha - one of the "Every Woman" figures who trains the Allemen. With sex. I know I keep harping on the sex, but this book falls within a broad definition of erotica. Apparently, in this world, teaching a man to be really good in bed helps him learn to be sensitive, diplomatic and aware in other situations. (There might be some truth in it). And now she's training her first Alleman - a difficult boy. And one with secrets that might hold the key to defeating the Mwertik Zalog.

Highly recommended.


Conjured - Sarah Beth Durst This is an absolutely fantastic book, one I found it very hard to put down. The book is written from the point of view of shattered, broken Eve - she has amnesia, she's wearing a face not her own, she has disturbing yet beautiful flashbacks...which her "protectors" need to help them catch a serial killer - and it's written in such a gorgeous and immersive style that it shows the reader what it's like to be Eve.

I highly recommend this book to all lovers of contemporary fantasy (which it mostly is, but it does digress into other worlds towards the end).

Caveat: This book deals with themes of child abuse, albeit in a somewhat indirect and twisted way. This may make some readers uncomfortable.

Light in the Gloaming (Book One)

Light in the Gloaming (Book One) - J.B. Simmons This is a really well written book with good characters and great pacing. It's short for a fantasy novel, but don't let that put you off.

One thing I would warn - this book is a Christian allegory, but it's not indicated in any way on the cover, in the blurb or anyone else. It's a self-published book (with which I have no problems), but I think the author should make a slightly more explicit indication - the cover reveals that it's a fantasy and on looking at it closely, I realize the building in the background is meant to be a cathedral. This is honestly why I'm not giving this five stars. I can't be sure the author didn't do this on purpose to try and "trick" non-Christians into reading it. (I'm not saying he did, but it can easily come over that way).

That said, the book itself isn't so preachy as to annoy this particular non-Christian, and can easily be read as a fun fantasy adventure.

And I give the author a ton of points for the political system he uses in his world. Most fantasy writers get caught up on the one true king thing, and you seldom see a fantasy nation that is not a hereditary monarchy (The Shire is an obvious exception, as is Fintha in Dead of Paksenarrion) - Simmons instead steals his political system almost whole cloth from the Holy Roman Empire, which is an interesting idea that he explores in a surprising amount of depth for such a short book.

Recommended, with the caveat I mentioned.

The Free

The Free - Brian Ruckley Not bad at all. I prefer, on the whole, Elizabeth Moon's tales of life in a mercenary company - the Free come over as more like an adventuring party.

This is a dark epic fantasy, more Game of Thrones than Tolkein, and Ruckey pulls no punches on the violence and gore. His magic system is intriguing - and comes with a very heavy price. Magic is based not off the elements but off the seasons. One of the interesting things about the world is that it appears to be atheist - no gods of any kind are mentioned and the world is woven out of basic stuff connected to magic - an unusual approach (And I'm not sure a realistic one - if there were no gods, people would just invent them).

Still, it was a fun read, if you happen to like the darker kind of epic fantasy.

Lupus Rex

Lupus Rex - John Carter Cash I'm pretty picky about talking animal stories - I tend to compare them all to Watership Down.

This one is pretty fun. It's the true test of a good kids' book that adults can read it without being too annoyed, and this one passes. It does fall short of Watership Down in that the animals don't quite come over as animals rather than odd-shaped people, but Cash makes a good solid effort. The book is well written and keeps its messages subtle and held within the story.

I approve.

Valley of the Raven

Valley of the Raven - Ken Ramirez Marked as Young Adult Historical Fantasy. It's closer to middle grade than young adult and is set in the present day - so not sure exactly what the publisher was thinking there.

This is a well written adventure story reminiscent of Swallows And Amazons. Unfortunately, it's marred by the author's apparently uncontrollable need to constantly stop the story and preach to his audience on the twin themes of "There Are Good And Bad People Of All Colors!!!!!!" and "Protect The Environment!!!!!" The book uses the trope of "kids are smart, adults are stupid" - and over-uses it. Yes, kids like that, but this book takes it a little bit too far into the realm of super-competent children and particularly dumb adults.

The "Good And Bad People Of All Colors" theme leads the author into what I suspect is an unintentional appearance of the White Savior trope. Oh, and watch for the ridiculous DEM towards the end.

Ramirez writes well, he really does. But he needs to learn that even young people don't enjoy being preached at in every chapter. The blurb on the back says he "subtly shares life lessons about responsibility" - but there's absolutely nothing subtle about it.

It's a shame. If he'd toned it down, this would be a really good book that I'd recommend to younger teenagers and their parents. As it is, I don't feel I can, because I am pretty sure a 13 year old would be just as annoyed by the preachiness as me. I know I would have at that age.

(Received copy free at World Fantasy Con)
Sorry, Mr. Ramirez. I can't recommend this one.

Blood's Pride

Blood's Pride - Evie Manieri A solid read, but did not stay with me after I finished it - good for voracious readers of epic fantasy, but does not cross the line into an excellent book.

The Norlander fantasy race is interesting (somewhere between vampires and drow) and the world is well conceived, but some of the characters seem superfluous and it is never quite explained how a Norlander and Shadari can have a child when they can't touch each other (Characters even call it impossible, but it's never explained).

(Received copy free at World Fantasy Con).

The Dark Defiles

The Dark Defiles - Richard K. Morgan If you like George R.R. Martin, you're clearly Morgan's target audience here. (Note that I'm covering the entire trilogy here, rather than writing separate reviews).

Land Fit For Heroes has the same moral ambiguity and even more grit.

It also has a high level of genre ambiguity. Although it's marketed as high fantasy and definitely wears a high fantasy outfit, the underpinnings of the world seem entirely too science fictional. I was even left wondering if the world was actually a simulation and the "gods" the users.

Now, I happen to like genre ambiguity, but to some people it might read as if Morgan tried desperately to write high fantasy because it's hot and kept drifting back to his cyberpunk roots.

Despite that, the worldbuilding is excellent. The standard tropes of fantasy are nicely subverted (not that I don't sometimes enjoy a D&D type book, but that isn't what this one is). This is definitely a dark story. There are no good guys and no heroes - which is probably why the series itself is titled as it is. I would definitely recommend this book to fans of both grimdark fantasy and truly bizarre science fiction. The trilogy can easily be read as either. (Are those demons or AIs? Are they both?)

One caveat: This book is definitely suited to a mature audience - there's some fairly detailed m/m sex in it, some somewhat less detailed f/f, and a lot of talk about sex. And a lot of bad language. And a certain slur aimed at gay people is used a lot. Morgan uses the words his characters would use with no regard for how offensive they might be. Many people will be fine with that, but if you find either form of the f word on every other page uncomfortable, or if you're triggered by some pretty extreme homophobia (usually aimed at the very, very gay MC)...then you might want to stay away. This one pulls no punches.