Archive for the ‘Angry Robot Books’ Category

If you are a vegan, vegetarian, or any other veggie – an, you might not to read the next few sentences. This collection of short stories was like eating a thick, red, juicy steak. You just kept tearing into the perfectly seasoned, just-right grilled, hunk of meat. As each chunk rolled around in your mouth, the juices slowly dribbled out of your mouth, down your chin and dripped, dripped onto your white t-shirt. Delicious are the stories in The Book of Apex, Volume 4 of Apex Magazine, edited by Lynn M. Thomas.

The stories are mixed smoothly throughout the book; in some of the compilations I’ve read, there seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the order of the stories. Thomas has made it perfectly clear here, moving logically from demons to gods to supernatural phenomenon to witches and back again. It all makes sense and so, it was a joy to read. So let’s go to the stories themselves.

 

The Bread We Eat in Dreams by Catherynne M. Valente: I love Agnes G. She’s a little, keep-to-herself baker and gardener who happens to be a demon. Valente tells the story of Agnes G. through centuries until we come full circle to present. There is such a sweet, creepy, cranberry Hansel and Gretel feeling to this story.

 

The Leavings of the Wolf by Elizabeth Bear: Bear gives us a woman trying to overcome her failings and shattered dreams with the help of a god. She has created a real human with human frailties who discovers her inner strength.

 

The 24-Hour Brother by Christopher Barzak: What if. That’s what Barzak has asked in this story that follows Joe for 24 hours from birth to death. A fascinating look at a full life taking place in 24 hours and how it effects the whole family. It’s a bit of Benjamin Button in reverse.

 

Faithful City by Michael Pevzner: Pevzner creates a city so sinister, I’m still not sure whose side I’m on – the humans or the city. The city calls to the main character and he must answer the call. The question is – what will he find?

 

So Glad We Had This Time Together by Cat Rambo: Unreality TV! Ha, ha! I love it and I loved this story. This is what would happen if all supernatural beings took over Survivor. It reminded me of an episode of Charmed where the demons have their own TV show.

 

Sweetheart Showdown by Sarah Dalton: Ok, I’ve got to make another TV/movie comparison – this story is Hunger Games only it’s based on a beauty contest and the contestants battle to the death for the tiara. The beauties are vicious and delicious.

 

Bear in Contradicting Landscape by David J. Schwartz: Schwartz weaves a tail inside a tale here, literally. What our main character writes, comes to life, spooking his girlfriend and messing with his own sense of furry reality.

 

 

 My Body, Her Canvas by A.C. Wise: Is tattoo artist Sarah a sadistic torturer or a genius artist? Either way Wise’s main character is totally addicted to what she has to offer. The pain in this short is exquisite.

 

A Member of the Wedding of Heaven and Hell by Richard Bowes: Lions shall lie down with lambs in this story by Bowes. Could it happen? Can angels and demons coexist in a sort of détente wedding? Sometimes funny, sometimes thought provoking, find out the answer in this short story.

 

Copper, Iron, Blood and Love by Mari Ness: There was definite feel of the Native American tale to this one. Probably due to the crow who figures predominately in this fantasy story of love and sacrifice.

 

The Second Card of the Major Arcana   by Thoraiya Dyer: I could feel the hot sands in the desert as the creature searches ruthlessly for one who is wiser than she. All the fools have to do is answer the riddles correctly and they will live. Dyer has created a sinister sphinx here.

 

Love is a Parasite Meme by Lavie Tidhar: The lovers in this very short short are ghostly; they are the once vivid and sharp tintype that now has only shadows in the greys. Has love eaten away at these two, sapping their energies until they are nothing but smoke?

 

Decomposition by Rachel Swirsky: A lovingly gruesome tale of Vare’s revenge against his wealthy nemesis. Swirsky paints a dark tale of man’s depravity when searching for vengeance.

 

Tomorrow’s Dictator by Rahul Kanakia: Don’t drink the Koolaid! That really is the best advice if you want to maintain your freedom, your individuality, and your soul. Fresh, cool story.

 

Winter Scheming by Brit Mandelo: Mandelo has schemed up a fine, chilling tale in this short. We see through the eyes of an abuser, the predatory feelings, the rage, and then we feel the sweet, feathered revenge that the abuser receives.

 

In the Dark  by Ian Nichols: It’s amazing what a pint will do for a man, especially Morgan who braves the dark, singing. Eerie folk-like tale.

 

The Silk Merchant by Ken Liu: Ah, greed! So many have fell to their doom, destroyed their families, and their world by succumbing to that deep, deep pit of shiny silk. Liu story is so human it hurts.

 

Ironheart by Alec Austin: Austin slaps us into a world that is a hell hole of endless battle and reanimated corpses. He has reimagined what family would be in that nightmare world.

 

 

Coyote Gets His Own Back by Sarah Monette: Luther is a mean son of a bitch and proves it when he kills the coyote. But the coyote will have the last word in this short, easy going tale by Monette.

 

Waiting for Beauty by Marie Brennan: This is so, so hauntingly sad, as the Beast agonizingly waits for Beauty. Beautifully written.

 

Murdered Sleep  by Kat Howard: Kora flits along into a masked ball full of horned and snaked dancers. Dreamy and sleepy, Howard’s tale is very interesting.

 

Armless Maidens of the American West  by Genevieve Valentine: Valentine’s short here reminds me of the tales of the murderer with a hook who escaped from the mental institute who jumps out to mutilate young teens making out in their cars. Is he real or just an urban myth? Or in this case an American West myth?

 

Sexigesimal   by Katherine E.K. Duckett: Ok, I had to look up the title to see if it was real thing and, of course, it is. I’m still a little confused about its relevance to this great story by Duckett, but it rolls nicely off the tongue. This short presents a unique idea of what the afterlife might be like – a system of memory trading.

 

During the Pause   by Adam-Troy Castro: A Twilight Zone story by Castro about aliens trying to warn a less intelligent race of impending doom. Unique viewpoint.

 

Weaving Dreams   by Mary Robinette Kowal: Really interesting blend of the modern researcher and the magical witch, and her intern.

 

Always the Same Till it is Not   by Cecil Castellucci: This is a great take on the zombie story, with a splash of love and reason. Loved the perspective.

 

Sprig   by Alex Bledsoe: Even by the end of this story of the fairy, Sprig, we are still left to wonder – is she real, or just a poser with wings and ear buds?

 

Splinter by Shira Lipkin: A group of friends goes on an odyssey and experiences, what, a rift in the world, a drug-induced other-worldliness? Only one will survive.

 

Erzulie Dantor   by Tim Susman: Sisters facing devastation after a hurricane. At a time when they should be counting on each other for love and support, envy, greed, and spite burn at the heart of one sister. Great story.

 

Labyrinth   by Mari Ness: There is a certain feel of feudal Japan to this story. The adherence to tradition and honor in the dance to the death, even if it means the death of a loved one.

 

 

Blood From Stone   by Alethea Kontis: Practicing dark magic requires sacrifice, more and more sacrifice. Until the blood runs free. The characters in this short are evil and Kontis gives them everything they deserve.

 

Trixie and the Pandas of Dread   by Eugie Foster: Pandas? Dread? Somehow they just don’t seem to mesh and Trixie, a modern, hip goddess agrees. So, what’s she gonna’ do about it? Love it!

 

The Performance Artist by Lettie Prell: This gripping short gets down to the gut of many of the stories in this book – what does it mean to be human? What is the essence of life and death? Can a robot be alive with the essence of the artist? Can a robot just be?

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Heartwood by Freya Robertson reminded me of a train. Not a smooth, lightening bullet, train, but a heavy duty, gnarly freight train. It started out slowly, chugging and plugging along, and then little by little it built up speed until it was barreling along, all power and there was no stopping it until it came to its final screeching halt. I didn’t want to put this book down once it got its speed up.

As the image on the cover suggests, Heartwood is all about noble knights on a quest. The knights set out to save their beloved Arbor, a tree that is the magical holy symbol of their religion and has kept the land of Anguis united for hundreds of years. The Arbor grows in Heartwood, a military base and religious enclave that has been erected surrounding the tree. After an attack on the tree by mysterious warriors, the Militis of Heartwood (holy knights raised to protect the tree) and other leaders must find ways to energize and heal the tree, and bring peace back to Anguis.

There are quite a few main characters that battle in this exciting romp, and it’s refreshing that there’s a nice balance of tough, seasoned females, rather than a preponderance of hardened male lead characters. Chonrad, the Lord of Barle, represents the calm, fair-minded aristocracy. A widowed father, Chonrad struggles with his deeply buried bitterness over not having been chosen to serve as a Militis as a child. Procella is a high ranking Militis knight, fanatically loyal to her religion and her duty to serve. Beata is a young dean of Heartwood, brilliant fighter who finds love and her ability to lead as she participates in the quest. Then there are the knight twins, Gavius and Gravis. Identical in appearance, they emerge as light and dark, confidence and uncertainty, gaiety and gravity. (Were the names chosen to represent these attributes?) Dolosus was chosen late in life to serve with the Militis and has lost an arm due to a wild, negligent streak. Can he triumph even with being disadvantaged in battle? All the characters must face a challenge, overcome it, and then rejoin the fight to repair the Arbor.

The main foes in Heartwood are water warriors. These guys are pretty sweet. Watery, green glowing eyes, they emerge from the water to attack the Arbor and ruthlessly slaughter those in Heartwood. Their armor, city are cool and Robertson has come up with some inventive baddies here; they are quite a bit more interesting than the good guys. Which leads to a bit of the problem with Robertson’s female lead characters, they all cave in to their emotions. Oh, they put up a bit a struggle with their feelings, but all of them eventually succumb to a male character’s advances. It was somewhat of a letdown each time when you were so hoping for a much stronger character to emerge. Robertson relied quite a bit on the romance novel formula for these characters.

Also, although the story was exciting, leading to the major climax at the end, the many intervals switching back and forth from character to character were so similar to each other that it became somewhat predictable rather quickly. Character travels a short distance. Some supernatural or psychic occurrence shakes him or her up, causing them to question their integrity. Then each character had to overcome their lack of confidence or faults. What I enjoyed and was surprising were the number of characters Robertson surprisingly kills off. She certainly kept us off guard in that respect.

Despite these couple of disappointing glitches in Heartwood, I really liked the book as a whole. The characters were enjoyable, the world felt rich and its history well built, and the ending was really full and satisfying. It’s so rare lately when a book gets wrapped up and doesn’t leave you hanging for the sequel.

As a book reviewer I’m able to get my hands on more upcoming books than most sane people should be able to. However…. there are always those few precious shiny arcs that allude my grasp. Here is my list of current Books Worth Dying For:

A Different Kingdom by Paul Kearney (Solaris Books)

Michael Fay is a normal boy, living with his grandparents on their family farm in rural Ireland. In the woods—once thought safe and well-explored—there are wolves; and other, stranger things. He keeps them from his family, even his Aunt Rose, his closest friend, until the day he finds himself in the Other Place. There are wild people, and terrible monsters, and a girl called Cat.
When the wolves follow him from the Other Place to his family’s doorstep, Michael must choose between locking the doors and looking away—or following Cat on an adventure that may take an entire lifetime in the Other Place. He will become a man, and a warrior, and confront the Devil himself: the terrible Dark Horseman..

I’ve read a little of Kearney’s previous work and the man is ridiculously talented. I’ve been drooling over this one.

Traitor’s Blade by Sebastien de Castell (Jo Fletcher Books)

Falcio is the first Cantor of the Greatcoats. Trained in the fighting arts and the laws of Tristia, the Greatcoats are traveling Magisters upholding King’s Law. They are heroes. Or at least they were, until they stood aside while the Dukes took the kingdom, and impaled their King’s head on a spike.

Now Tristia is on the verge of collapse and the barbarians are sniffing at the borders. The Dukes bring chaos to the land, while the Greatcoats are scattered far and wide, reviled as traitors, their legendary coats in tatters.

All they have left are the promises they made to King Paelis, to carry out one final mission. But if they have any hope of fulfilling the King’s dream, the divided Greatcoats must reunite, or they will also have to stand aside as they watch their world burn…

I don’t need to say much except.. I Want. I Want. I Want.

The Three By Sarah Lotz (Hodderscape)
They’re here … The boy. The boy watch the boy watch the dead people oh Lordy there’s so many … They’re coming for me now. We’re all going soon. All of us. Pastor Len warn them that the boy he’s not to??–

The last words of Pamela May Donald (1961 – 2012)

Black Thursday. The day that will never be forgotten. The day that four passenger planes crash, at almost exactly the same moment, at four different points around the globe.

There are only four survivors. Three are children, who emerge from the wreckage seemingly unhurt. But they are not unchanged. And the fourth is Pamela May Donald, who lives just long enough to record a voice message on her phone. A message that will change the world.

This one snuck up on me, sounds brilliant though.

 

Stolen Songbird by Danielle L. Jensen (Strange Chemistry)
For five centuries, a witch’s curse has bound the trolls to their city beneath the ruins of Forsaken Mountain. Time enough for their dark and nefarious magic to fade from human memory and into myth. But a prophesy has been spoken of a union with the power to set the trolls free, and when Cécile de Troyes is kidnapped and taken beneath the mountain, she learns there is far more to the myth of the trolls than she could have imagined.

Cécile has only one thing on her mind after she is brought to Trollus: escape. Only the trolls are clever, fast, and inhumanly strong. She will have to bide her time, wait for the perfect opportunity.

But something unexpected happens while she’s waiting – she begins to fall for the enigmatic troll prince to whom she has been bonded and married. She begins to make friends. And she begins to see that she may be the only hope for the half-bloods – part troll, part human creatures who are slaves to the full-blooded trolls. There is a rebellion brewing. And her prince, Tristan, the future king, is its secret leader.

As Cécile becomes involved in the intricate political games of Trollus, she becomes more than a farmer’s daughter. She becomes a princess, the hope of a people, and a witch with magic powerful enough to change Trollus forever.

Certain YA books are either huge hits or misses for me. Stolen Songbird sounds like it might be something truly special.

Morningside Fall by Jay Posey (Angry Robot Books)
The lone gunman Three is gone, and Wren is the new governor of the devastated settlement of Morningside, but there is turmoil in the city. When his life is put in danger, Wren is forced to flee Morningside until he and his retinue can determine who can be trusted.

They arrive at the border outpost, Ninestory, only to find it has been infested with Weir in greater numbers than anyone has ever seen. These lost, dangerous creatures are harbouring a terrible secret – one that will have consequences not just for Wren and his comrades, but for the future of what remains of the world.

Three by Jay Posey was fantastic, Morningside Fall, might just be better.

 

 

 

The Shadow Master by Craig Cormick (Angry Robot Books)
In a land riven with plague, in the infamous Walled City, two families vie for control – the Medicis with their genius inventor Leonardo; the Lorraines with Galileo, the most brilliant alchemist of his generation.

And when two star-crossed lovers, one from either house, threaten the status quo, a third, shadowy power – one that forever seems a step ahead of all of the familial warring – plots and schemes, and bides its time, ready for the moment to attack…

Another Angry Robot Book common man… Sorry, but AR doesn’t disappoint often, this one oozes excellence.

 

 

 

 

 

Yarrick: Imperial Creed by David Annandale (Black Library)
Yarrick: the very name carries the weight of legend, of great deeds and of wars won for the Imperium.
But Sebastian Yarrick, who fought on Armageddon, who Space Marine Chapter Masters show their fealty to on bended knee, was not always Lord Commissar. He was once just a man, a newly minted officer from the ranks of the schola progenium.

His first mission under the tutelage of Lord Commissar Rasp was on Mistral. Here, an uprising of barons had upset the delicate balance of power. But, as Yarrick was soon forced to learn, Mistral and Imperial politics are often murky, the truth seldom clear cut. As war engulfs the world, a plot unravels that pits old friends against one another and fashions unusual alliances. Chaos cults, the fanatical Adepta Sororitas and clandestine inquisitors all stand between Yarrick and his mission. Here is where the legend began. In this crucible was Lord Commissar Sebastian Yarrick forged in blood.

More Yarrick. Imperial Guard. David Annandale. Count me in.

Have a recent book that you think is Worth Dying For? Let me know!

Impending doom. Certain war after a devastating catastrophe. The rights of passage of a young man into adulthood. All these and more are left up for grabs at the end of Seven Forges by James A. Moore. The end of this book was a freight train rocketing full speed, straight towards a ruined bridge. You hung on for dear life and as the last paragraph ended you were still hanging on, white knuckled.

Moore does a fantastic job of building worlds and characters in Seven Forges as we hop on board the train that is about to meet its doom. Merros Dulver, leader of a team of explorers and mercenaries hired to map out the mysterious lands known as the Seven Forges, is likeable and honorable. An ex-soldier now looking for the highest bounties, Merros is respected by his comrades and his new allies alike. Along the way his team discovers the Sa’ba Taalor a warrior race who has been isolated from the rest of civilization. Merros befriends Drask Silverhand, a representative of the Sa’ba Taalor. Drask is a satisfying brutish character with a silver, mechanical hand that has been magically attached in place of his original hand. Merros and Drask lead their respective groups back to Merros’ home land to meet the emperor. Throughout the book, we are always on the fence whether the Sa’ba Taalor is really an ally or are they a new menace to the empire.

Desh Krohan is a sorcerer, advisor to the emperor. He is delightful as a mysterious Merlin-like character as he manipulates, aids, and abets the major players in this story. Even at the end of the story, we’re never quite sure if his intentions are good or evil, self-serving or selfless – what exactly is his agenda? Another major player, our young man on his way to manhood, is Andover Lashk. Also another likeable character, Andover is the underdog young adult beset by horrendous obstacles that he must overcome on his search to find and prove himself.

There are a lot of slamming fighting scenes about conquering frightening monsters and soldier warfare. The Sa’ba Taalor’s entire culture is based on weaponry and battle. Very Spartan.

Moore spends a good deal of time on a somewhat trivial challenge scenario between Drask and a young royal of the empire. The plot seems to bog down during this section and a lot of pages are devoted to this part of the book but eventually Moore pulls the train out of the minor bog and back on track.

Also, Moore provides several cases of foreshadowing that are a bit weak at times and a bit obvious. One major foreshadow, however, drops a hint we look for but even when it slaps us in the face, we’re not ready. That ending just provides sharp twists and turns that will leave you a bit breathless and salivating for the next book. There is a next book coming, right?

I would say that the title of this one gives it away – The Deaths of Tao – that there was going to be a sad ending. Okay, maybe a somewhat sad ending tinged with a mite of hopefulness, but sad nonetheless.

Wesley Chu’s sequel to The Lives of Tao will keep you on the edge as lead character Roen Tan, whose body and mind are inhabited by alien Tao, fights to save humanity from another group of evil aliens. Centuries old, Tao has imparted all the wisdom of his years on Roen. He explains how his alien race of Quasings from Quasar crashed landed on Earth and shaped historical events the planet, molding and manipulating earth creatures, including humans to their own ultimate goal of being able to return to their home world. In Deaths, the evil Genjix Quasings have begun sacrificing humans & Quasing alike in their attempts to facilitate successful procreation of their species and create a Quasar-like atmosphere in which they can survive long periods of time. The Prophus battle the Genjix for supremacy but they respect humanity and see humans as more than mere vessels, hosts, or tools.

In this sequel, Roen has abandoned his wife Jill (also inhabited by a Quasing) and their son Cameron. Roen has sequestered himself at the suggestion of his Quasing Tao while he investigates Genjix’s operations. Roen faces soul-searching anguish in his conflicting desires to be with and protect his family and his main mission of saving humanity.

Throughout the book, Chu gives us high energy battle and fight scenes. His first hand experiences as a “Kung-Fu master” and stuntman shine though with the realism Chu injects into each fight.

Although somewhat expected, as I said at the beginning, we knew someone wasn’t going to make it out alive of this sequel. With that said, I still enjoyed the ending. Toward the middle of the book, the pace bogged down somewhat as Roen’s team jumped from place to place on their missions. However the fight scenes and political intrigue provided by Roen’s wife Jill helped to break up the slower pace, keeping it interesting.

I highly recommend both books as well thought-out alien science fiction. I would imagine we haven’t seen the last of Tao. Or have we?

If you like tidy endings and nice crisp packages tied up perfectly with curly ribbon then Death’s Disciples by J. Robert King is not the book for you. Just when I thought I had a handle on which direction King was going to take us, he surprised me again and again.

Susan Gardner is the sole survivor of a terrorist attack on a flight she had taken. Now struck with amnesia and being pursued by both the terrorists, the FBI, Homeland Security and the paparazzi, Susan must discover who she is and what role, if any she played in the terrifying event. To further complicate matters, Susan can hear the voices of each and every dead passenger on the pivotal flight. Susan’s ally for much of the book, her protector, Sergeant Steve Krupinski, barrels along in Bruce-Willis-Die-Hard fashion – smashing things, smashing people, hotwiring vehicles, all in an effort to effort to protect our heroine.  The terrorist group, Death’s Disciples, is vicious and mysterious, albeit quite vague and amorphous for much of the book. As the plot thickens and boils near the end, all is made disturbingly clear.

I enjoyed all the characters in King’s book, particularly Susan who breaks down any pre-conceived stereotypes you may form towards the beginning of the book. I would have liked to have had a little more in-depth background about a few of the more minor characters, just because I liked them. For example the Goth girl-terrorist-wannabee, Calliope Dirge; just her name alone merits more details.

King begins in first person and occasionally slides back into first person as he presents us with Susan’s varied points of views. I’m not real sure how effective this was; I enjoyed it at first, but then quickly became a little annoyed with this flipping back and forth as it seemed to break up the continuity and the rhythm of the story. But not a big thing.

Much of the story takes place in Chicago or its environs. Knowing this city well, and having travelled both its pristine shores and its seamy, grimy bowels, it was easy to imagine the chase scenes, the congestion, the crowded, milling conditions. King did well setting the background.

Exciting from page one until the last page, Death’s Disciples will take you on a run-away subway train ride from start to finish. Climb on in and hold on tight!

 

I stepped into Three by Jay Posey, already being fully “Wowed” by the breathtaking cover and post-apocalyptic jazz that seems to electrify my “MUST READ NOW” electrodes. I set the bar extremely high for the novel and the initial vibe I felt was a Book of Eli-ish read. It is now, suffice it to say, that Three shattered all my expectations. I’ve been recommending it as one of my top reads so far in 2013, and now I can’t wait for a sequel to be preciously placed in my trembling hands.

Three centers around, well, Three: a bounty hunter of remarkable ability, whose prowess as a fighter and survivalist, rivals that of the hidden layers of back story that shroud the man himself. Three quickly comes into contact with our other two main characters; six-year-old Wren, a child who sees into the world and has the talent to tap into things that shouldn’t be possible and his drug/stem enhanced mother, Cass. I envision the pair as a wary tiger and her cub, constantly being cornered and harried as they trek past the point of exhaustion for survival. If ever a more apt analogy to use in describing the relationship between this pair comes about, please feel free to inform me. Why Three decides to latch onto this duo and risk his life for them, is the sole question that nags at me. If I remember right it was something Three mentioned, that he instinctively knew what was going to happen.

It wasn’t until forming the outline on this review, that I realized how much Jay Posey’s background in the Gaming Industry played an effect on the setup of the novel. The initial cinematic scene of the stronghold being overrun by Weir, introduction of the main character dragging his bounty through town, walk through queuing in desperate Wren and Cass on the brink, leveling between protecting the mother and son along with survival tactics, more killer combat by Three and further character expansion, a bit more leveling and side exploration of the world along with a tiny info drop on the secrecy of Three’s past, and the final epic conclusion between Three, Wren, Cass, and their hunters. Step by agonizing step the characters are ground through a gauntlet of grunge settings and near-death experiences, with a glimmer of hope resting on a city that seems like a dream so far out of reach it can’t possibly exist.

In my interview with Jay Posey, he mentioned that Three is an extremely character driven book and I couldn’t agree more. The texture and narrative quality of even the minor individuals is impeccable. This book makes my hands itch when I think what a stellar video game this would make; I see Diablo and Final Fantasy game play and storyline comparisons written all over this. Better yet, what an epic movie Three would make, if I could watch it on the big screen. I want Karl Urban to play Three and Kate Beckinsale as Cass; still on the fence as to who would play Wren. The mixture of young boy trying to act tough would have to be near spot on acting or it might appear forced. Posey does an incredible job of making the actions and behavior of this kid entirely too realistic. If you haven’t thought about purchasing Three by Jay Posey yet, you better think again. Top marks for Three all around.

Thanks as always to the wonderful folks over at Angry Robot for all the arcs provided for review.