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Tom Clancy Full Force and Effect (A Jack Ryan Novel)
Tom Clancy Full Force and Effect (A Jack Ryan Novel)
by Mark Greaney
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.60
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5.0 out of 5 stars Another Hit for Greaney, December 20, 2014
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I read COMMAND AUTHORITY and FULL FORCE AND EFFECT back to back and I loved both. FFAE is a thick doorstop of a book but I breezed right through it. Greaney's writing is a lot less technical than Clancy's. He doesn't give you the specs for all the awesome cutting edge technology and military hardware. I'm sure this will upset some but others will find FFAE far more accessible because of it. Despite this Greaney's writing comes across as well researched. A large portion of FFAE deals with the mining of rare earth minerals and I never once got the impression that Greaney didn't know what he was talking about. FFAE is a very character-driven book. Greaney dedicates a good amount of time explaining the antagonists' motivations. Instead of coming across as villainous caricatures the North Koreans read like real people. You don't necessarily want to root for the antagonists because they're up-to-no-good but it's not difficult to empathize with them. And then there's the Home Team Clancy readers know and love. I can't get enough of the exploits of the off-the-books intelligence agency known as The Campus. Ding Chavez is getting old and John Clark is getting really old but there's some new blood to be found in the form of Dom Caruso and Jack Ryan Jr. I still need to read Dom's first solo outing SUPPORT AND DEFEND but I look forward to doing so. As much as I enjoy the operators of The Campus it's President Jack Ryan Sr who continues to steal the show. One of the most thrilling moments of FFAE is an attack on the Presidential motorcade in Mexico City. It's a real standout scene. There's also another gripping scene that takes place on the New York subway that just begs to be put on the big screen. There's lots of suspenseful spy craft as readers of Clancy and Greaney both have come to expect. Mark Greaney continues to impress with FULL FORCE AND EFFECT. As of now he has been asked to write at least two more Clancy books but I sincerely hope he's writing about Jack Sr/Jr for years to come.

I'd was also pleased to see the return of CIA agent Adam Yao. He was one of my favorite parts of THREAT VECTOR so it was really cool to see him again. Maybe one day he'll earn a place on The Campus team...

Command Authority (A Jack Ryan Novel)
Command Authority (A Jack Ryan Novel)
by Tom Clancy
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $7.67
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5.0 out of 5 stars Another Smashing Hit, December 7, 2014
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Last year I picked up THREAT VECTOR on a whim. It was the first Clancy book I'd read in ages. It was also the first novel I'd read that was written by Mark Greaney. I absolutely loved it. After reading THREAT VECTOR I went and bought all of Greaney's solo Gray Man novels. I read the four Gray Man books over the course of a month. I decided to wait until COMMAND AUTHORITY came out in mass market paperback before reading it -- I have a nice hardback for the collection but I hate lugging around those thick hardcovers when I do most of my reading on the bus. I picked up another copy of COMMAND AUTHORITY when it was released in paperback and devoured it in a week. COMMAND AUTHORITY continues the standard of excellence I have come to expect of Greaney's writing. It comes across as a very timely read given the events in Ukraine over the past year. COMMAND AUTHORITY is fast paced and well plotted. I felt that the inclusion of the Jack Ryan Sr. murder investigation subplot 30 years in the past was a nice touch. The Russian invasion of Ukraine and everything leading up to it is thrilling. It took a hundred or so pages for me to really get into the book but once I was hooked it was impossible to put down.

I know there are a still a lot of people complaining about Greaney writing under the Clancy name now that Tom is dead but it is also apparent that there are a lot more people that support Greaney and will continue to do so. I believe that Greaney has done an honor to the Clancy franchise and I hope he keeps writing about Jack Ryan Sr/Jr for a long time to come.

Trial by Fire (Caine Riordan Book 2)
Trial by Fire (Caine Riordan Book 2)
Price: $8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Igniting the Fuse, December 7, 2014
Chuck Gannon's FIRE WITH FIRE was easily the best science fiction novel I read in 2013. The first book in the Tales of the Terran Republic series would be right at home on a shelf amongst the hallowed Golden Age classics. FIRE WITH FIRE is a cerebral thriller -- Caine makes his fair share of thrilling escapes -- but the real draw to the story is the depth and intellectual complexity that Gannon brings to a First Contact scenario. As a follow-up TRIAL BY FIRE is no disappointment.

This is a military science fiction novel that doesn't shy away from science. Science was never one of my strengths but Gannon is one of those people smart enough to break it down into digestible pieces for the less inclined. In this way he is able to please the hard science crowd without alienating the more casual reader.

Science isn't the only draw of this thoughtful thriller. Much as human/exosapient diplomacy was irresistible hook at the finale of FIRE WITH FIRE, diplomacy and realpolitik makes for some of the most exciting scenes of TRIAL BY FIRE. Gannon has created a variety of exosapient life that is alien, not just in appearance, but in psychology as well. Too often in science fiction you encounter aliens that act like simply reskinned humans. That is not the case with the Arat Kur, Hkh'Rkh, Dornani, Ktor, or Slaasriithi. Where a lesser author might consider writing one truly unique alien race a challenge Gannon tackles five simultaneously. And then one most consider the multifaceted ways in which such races would communicate and interact with each's a daunting prospect, but I haven't had this much fun reading about alien diplomacy since THE COURSE OF EMPIRE by Eric Flint and K.D. Wentworth.

All this talk of science and diplomacy and a reader might suspect this book to be devoid of action and conflict. Boy would they be wrong. FIRE WITH FIRE set up a combustible scenario and with TRIAL BY FIRE Gannon doesn't dally long before igniting the fuse to a potentially galaxy spanning conflagration. Whereas the first book dealt with First Contact, this novel revolves around First Conflict. Diplomacy fails and Earth is faced with a fight for its very sovereignty against a coalition of exosapient forces with unknown motive.

Earth is technically "conquered" in short order but the insurgency that awaits the alien invaders is fiercer than they could have ever imagined. It's gripping material, reading about the struggle for Earth. There are numerous layers to the fight. Earth has had some time to prepare and so it isn't caught totally off guard but the aliens enjoy total air superiority. Factor in environmental factors, an insidious native population, alien forces restricted by their Rules of Engagement, and countless other factors and you have a truly complex war.

Readers get a glimpse of the war on the large scale and on a personal level. The final battle lasts several hundred pages and is sure to leave readers breathless. It's hard to continue with the responsibilities of everyday life when your book is embroiled in a massive futuristic D-Day but you'll have to find a way to preserve because it's unlikely you'll be able to finish it in one sitting.

I love TRIAL BY FIRE but I'm not without criticism. The first hundred or so pages is a struggle at times. Caine and Trevor spend a considerable amount of time in an escape capsule with their thinking caps on, trying to solve multiple problems, and while I do appreciate this I can't help but feel as though it's a little drawn out. It took longer to get through this section than it did the meat of the book, solely because of the pacing.

My other issue with TRIAL BY FIRE is that the stakes didn't always feel as high as they should have. The Earth is "conquered" early on but we learn this through discussion after the fact. Plenty of people die in the fight against the Arat Kur and the Hkh'Rkh but I never got the impression that humanity was going lose the fight. The humans trigger traps and ambushes on the alien forces who are continuously hampered by ROE and after a while it does feel a little one-sided. That's not to say that it is one-sided. The aliens have some serious hardware at their disposal (including awesome spider mechs) and the humans are left using a lot of outdated equipment. It is truly asymmetric warfare. Still, I feel that a few more losses on the side of humanity would have raised the stakes.

Despite these complaints TRIAL BY FIRE is still likely to be my favorite science fiction novel of 2014. If Clancy had written science fiction it might be a little something like this (I can't help but draw comparisons between Jack Ryan and Caine Riordan). The best part is that I have no idea what direction the next book of the Tales of the Terran Republic will go. There are a couple real surprising twists at the end of TRIAL BY FIRE and I'm excited to see where Gannon decides to take the story from here.

Recommended Age: 16+
Language: Some, not too heavy.
Violence: A few hundred pages of pitched combat, but not too gory.
Sex: None.

Nick Sharps
Elitist Book Reviews

Offered by HarperCollins Publishers
Price: $0.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hard Hitting Military Horror, December 1, 2014
This review is from: Demon (Kindle Edition)
REVIEW SUMMARY: Hard hitting military horror.

MY RATING: 4.5 stars

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: When the fallen angel Semyaza is released from an ancient prison into the modern world it is up to CIA assassin Mike Caldwell to bring an end to the chaos that follows in his wake.


PROS: Great antagonist, good supporting characters, authentic yet accessible writing, real horror, thoughtful ending.

CONS: Main character needs more depth, cliched use of dreams.

BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended for fans of Maberry’s Joe Ledger series, military fiction aficionados, and readers of horror.

I took a chance on Harper Voyager Impulse with Henry V. O’Neil’s military science fiction survival novel Glory Main. I was so impressed with the quality and originality of O’Neil’s writing that I decided to keep an eye on the publisher’s future releases. Reading the military supernatural horror story Demon by Erik Williams has only served to further cement my first impression — Harper Voyager Impulse is an exciting new publisher to follow.

The first thing that struck me about Demon was that Williams’s writing comes across like that of a less technical Tom Clancy…had Clancy developed an interest in the supernatural later in life. Perhaps it’s better to compare Erik Williams to Jonathan Maberry with the added benefit of military service. The martial aspects of Demon feel authentic without being overladen in jargon — it’s a comfortable middle ground for those of us who enjoy military fiction but haven’t served. The writing is crisp, clear, and professional. Williams is able to convincingly straddle the line between the real and the otherworldly.

Even though the plot of Demon involves a fallen angel, an ancient organization meant to guard the angel’s prison, and sort-of-but-not-really zombies it’s easy to suspend disbelief. The characters all managed to make rational decisions, when not otherwise motivated by intense fear. The progression of the protagonists’ understanding of the threat posed by the fallen angel is neither too easily reached nor too drawn out. Usually with these sort of things it feels like the protagonists magically reach conclusions with limited effort or take forever to do so with the answer bludgeoning them over the head. Fortunately CIA assassin Mike Caldwell spends an adequate amount of time for arriving at such a fantastical realization.

Mike makes for a decent protagonist though he might be the one weak link in an otherwise solid novel. Apart from the fallen angel Semyaza, Mike has his own personal demons to beat into submission. As a government sanctioned assassin Mike has terminated a great many targets in service to his country. Killing is his specialty but his conscience is beginning to buckle under the burden of so much death. Mike self medicates with alcohol but there is always another call from Langley, designating the next hit. Apart from Mike’s crisis of conscience, drinking problem, and death dealing abilities there isn’t much to the character. Readers are told that Mike’s a good guy despite all the killing by dead comrades in his “dreams” and Mike’s actions at the end of Demon go a long way to confirm this, but I’d still appreciate a little more personality. He works well enough as an action hero but I’d like to believe that there’s more to Mike Caldwell and I hope Williams dedicates more time to his development in the upcoming sequel Guardian.

Surprisingly it is the antagonist Semyaza that proves to be a much more interesting character. Semyaza is a fallen angel, a rebel against God that has been imprisoned for his crimes. He hates mankind for being made in God’s image and elevated above the angels and he’s doomed to imprisonment until he asks forgiveness…or until some contractors accidentally drop a sewer pipe on his tomb and release him into the unexpecting world. Semyaza might be free from the confines of his tomb but in a bitter twist of fate he must rely on humans as vessels to “survive” and he is bound by a curse that spreads chaos in his wake. Semyaza is the antagonist but it would be hard to classify him as a true villain — his motivations are understandable, even sympathetic.

Even the supporting characters are well imagined. Demon might not feature a full cast of multi-dimensional characters but characters like Major Greengrass, Yusuf, and Captain Temms allow for an extra degree of emotional investment. I felt a particular attachment to Yusuf and feared for his safety for much of the novel.

And I had every reason to fear. I don’t read much horror, or at least I wouldn’t classify much of what I read as horrifying, but Demon fits the genre. I was worried from reading the book description that there would be zombies. I’m bored by most zombies, though some authors have been able to impress me with zombies — authors like Jonathan Maberry, John Hornor Jacobs, and David Wong. I would add Williams to that list, though I’m still reticent to use the “z” word in association with Demon.

When Semyaza enters a new human host he must defeat the human’s spirit before he can take up occupancy. This battle for control of the vessel afflicts all of those nearby with murderous rage. Every time Semyaza jumps into a new body the people around him become mindless killers and start attacking each other until there’s one survivor. The survivor’s prize? Suicide. Demon is brutal and gruesome. Very, very gruesome — not at all for the squeamish. There is a high body count. Williams applies structure to this curse and sticks to it, grounding the fantastical in the believable.

The ending is one of the most unexpectedly satisfying parts of Demon. The majority of military thrillers I’ve read reserve a big, dramatic battle for the finale but Williams takes a different route that is just as fulfilling. It’s a Thinking Man’s ending rather than an Adrenaline Junkie’s. Do not fear — there’s a fair amount of action, but Demon also offers a bit more.

Demon is another big win for Harper Voyager Impulse. Readers are going to want to keep an eye on both the author and the publisher as I suspect there are plenty more great things to come from both. Guardian, the sequel to Demon, releases in January and judging by the synopsis it’s going to be killer.

Nick Sharps
SF Signal

Moon Knight Volume 1: From the Dead
Moon Knight Volume 1: From the Dead
by Ellis. Warren
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.95
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Cool, November 6, 2014
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This was my first exposure to Moon Knight. My buddy has been trying to get me to check out the series for a while but I never saw the appeal until I saw some art for this volume and learned about the dual detective/hero nature of Moon Knight. I'd say that Moon Knight Vol. 1: From the Dead is probably as good a place as any for someone to start. Each issue is episodic content, giving a good cross section of what Moon Knight is all about. My buddy has described him as the Marvel answer to Batman and I agree with the comparison. The art is good and the coloring is solid. I'll definitely be following up with this series.

Tainted Blood: A Generation V Novel
Tainted Blood: A Generation V Novel
by M.L. Brennan
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $7.99
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5.0 out of 5 stars It Keeps Getting Better and Better, November 4, 2014
REVIEW SUMMARY: Another great entry in the American Vampire series.

MY RATING: 4.5 stars

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Fortitude Scott must investigate the death of a werebear while the supernatural community prepares for a change in leadership.

PROS: Great characters; believable and compelling relationships; original vampire mythos; sets up for one hell of a sequel.
CONS: Murder mystery could use more immediacy; lack of werebear mythos.
BOTTOM LINE: Another solid American Vampire novel that builds on its predecessors and sets up a big change in the series.

I did not expect to receive an ARC of M.L. Brennan’s third Fortitude Scott book so soon. I reviewed Generation V and Iron Night (American Vampire Books 1 and 2) and absolutely adored them, so it was a pleasant surprise when I opened my mailbox to find Tainted Blood. Brennan’s American Vampire series is a bit of an anomaly, I must admit. In recent years I’ve become far more accepting of the urban fantasy genre but I’m still not keen on the usual suspects: vampires, werewolves, and the like. Yet Brennan has me waving the Team Fortitude flag.

It all amounts to her approach. Detective stories are a mainstay of urban fantasy but Brennan averts the gritty hardboiled feel embraced by other authors of the genre and pursues a lighter approach. Sure, there’s murder and violence and all sorts of dark goodness to savor, but it is punctuated by relentless humor. Tainted Blood is a book that takes itself seriously but never too seriously. In past reviews I’ve mentioned wanting to see the series adapted for television and I believe the tone to be similar to that of USA Network’s Psych.

Throughout the series the humor frequently manifests in the relationship between our protagonist, Fortitude, and his sidekick, Suzume. Tainted Blood is no different. Trickster Suzume has some new pranks up her sleeves and while I won’t ruin them for you I will say that this book convinced me to hit the craft store and invest in a bag of plastic googly eyes. Fort and Suze’s relationship is one of the most real and endearing fictional relationships I’ve ever had the pleasure to read about. Both characters exhibit agency but the spirit of each really shines through when they’re together. In this book Brennan continues to develop what has been teased at in the previous two books, though in what direction I won’t say.

If Fort’s relationship with Suze provides the levity it’s his interactions with his own family that bring the real drama. Fort’s mother and siblings are a constant source of conflict in his life. The matriarch, Madeline Scott, rules the oldest supernatural empire in the Americas but her reign is nearing its end. Much of Tainted Blood revolves around the transition of power that will take place after Madeline leaves the throne. Fort’s sister Prudence, the oldest of Madeline’s children, is the most obvious choice to fill the power vacuum. The supernatural community is bracing for such a change-up. Prudence is a cold, calculating creature, though Tainted Blood does show readers another side to the character that I never expected to exist. Should Prudence take control of the territory it would likely mean oppression but there is one hope — Fortitude Scott. In his adventures thus far Fort has proven himself to be a far more compassionate breed of vampire, one willing to work with the other monsters rather than beat them into submission. There is, of course, another contender for the throne in Chivalry, Fort’s older brother. Chivalry has been a favorite of mine throughout the series and though he has a much smaller role in this book he too gets some unexpected character development.

It’s a fine line that Brennan treads with the Scott family. Too vicious and her vampires are unsympathetic, too sympathetic and they’re weenies like the Cullen’s. Fortunately for readers Brennan hits the sweet spot. Brennan likes to challenge how you feel about these characters. For every humanizing moment there’s a darker one around the corner. This is what makes the American Vampire books chilling and heartwarming in equal measure. After all, villains have families too…

There are two areas that Tainted Blood felt a little weaker than previous installments, these being the werebear mythos and the murder mystery. With Generation V Brennan introduced a fresh vampire mythos that made the monsters creepy and plausible. With Iron Night Brennan gave us a vision of elves that could give you nightmares just looking at a package of Keebler cookies. Unfortunately the werebear mythos gets little attention in Tainted Blood and this segues into my problem with the murder mystery as well. There’s a lot going on in Tainted Blood between Fort and Suze’s budding relationship, Fort’s ghoulish new roommate and his new side job walking dogs, the death of Chivalry’s previous wife and the humorously morbid search for a replacement, Fort’s continued transition into a full-fledged vampire, the Scott family dynasty, and more. The investigation into the assassination of a werebear clan leader sort of gets lost in the noise until halfway through. It’s hard to fault Brennan for this given the amount of other stuff done right in the book, but the murder investigation lacks a sense of urgency that is present in Generation V and Iron Night.

I will say that when Fort and Suze get around to business and crack the case open it’s pretty satisfying. Feints and red-herrings kept me guessing who was responsible for the murder until the very end — and that’s with only three likely suspects! I wish that I learned more about the werebears over the course of the book (bears are my favorite animals by the way) but perhaps Brennan is just setting us up for the next book. After all, the elves were introduced in Generation V but didn’t get the limelight until Iron Night.

Complaints aside, Tainted Blood was well worth the read and M.L. Brennan’s American Vampire series continues to thrill and delight. Brennan writes urban fantasy in a way I wish more authors were willing to try. Between refreshing mythos, genuine relationships and believable romance, a less-than-hardboiled hero, good-natured fun, and the whole family dynamic this is not a typical urban fantasy series and I eagerly anticipate the next entry.

Nick Sharps
SF Signal

The Free
The Free
by Brian Ruckley
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.50
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Clever, October 29, 2014
This review is from: The Free (Paperback)
REVIEW SUMMARY: Stock characters but great action and even greater magic.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: With war drawing to a close Yulan and his mercenary company accept one final commission -- to hunt down an old foe and bring him to justice before he can kill more innocents.


PROS: Intriguing setup and setting, better than usual revenge motivation, husband/wife dynamic, dynamic action, memorable scenes, stunning magic, Permanences!

CONS: Stock characters.

BOTTOM LINE: Brian Ruckley crafts a fun and satisfying revenge story.

It seems my choice in video games has influenced my reading habits of late. Playing Bungie's Destiny reignited my desire for military science fiction and so I read Henry V. Neil's Glory Main and was not disappointed. Last week I started playing Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor and just had to get my hands on some quality fantasy. Fortunately Brian Ruckley's The Free showed up around this time. This being the first time I've read Ruckley's work, a nice thick standalone seemed a good place to start. I love the current state of the fantasy genre but there are so many different series that a standalone story has a special sort of appeal to it...or at least it did until I finished The Free and immediately wished I could read more about the world Ruckley has created.

The book opens by introducing us to a conflict that is nearing its end. The King has been toppled and all that is left for the victors to do is divide up the spoils of war. Well that's not all that is left to do. One final member of the Hommetic bloodline remains alive and is fleeing for the neighboring Empire of Orphans. There's no telling if the Empire is sanctuary or damnation for Callotec, the dead King's cousin, but his continued existence threatens everything the Council has bled to achieve. This is where the titular Free come into play. Yulan is captain of the last great mercenary company and has a vendetta to settle with Callotec reaching all the way back to his first days as leader of the Free. The Free takes on one final mission to track down Callotec and bring him back, dead or alive.

Ruckley does a superb job hitting the right notes from the very start. Fantasy novels often feature kingdoms on the brink of war or in the midst of war but rarely ever have I read about a kingdom nearing the end of a war. It's an interesting premise and lends itself well to the sword and sorcery nature of the story. The Free is a personal affair. Yulan has compelling reasons for seeking revenge against Callotec that go beyond the typical "murdered spouse/family" motivations. There is a dark stain on the Free's honor and Yulan seeks to see it expunged. The rest of the Free is motivated by loyalty alone, save for the few who were present during the company's darkest hour.

Included in this quest for redemption is Drann, a spearman of the Council's levy turned contract holder. Drann is a young farmer and a late addition to the war. He provides the naive and innocent foil to the battle hardened Yulan and his mercenaries. Drann is the reader's window into the Free as well as the sentimental heart of the novel. He is easily the most relatable of the characters featured in The Free. Yulan is a strong stoic leader, a clever tactician and expert swordsman. The mercenaries themselves are a little light on the characterization. There are glimpses of humanity behind the archetypes presented but it's unlikely that readers will grow deep attachments. The villains adhere to this same principle -- they aren't exactly nuanced. There are two characters that did grab my attention -- a husband and wife, both sorcerers. The relationship between the two drives a few of the best scenes in The Free, it's an angle I've not seen often explored in fantasy or genre fiction in general and would love to see examined at greater length.

Like all of the best revenge stories the real draw to The Free is the action. Brian Buckley's action writing straddles the line between heroic fantasy and sword & sorcery. Combat is bleak and violent, with the brutal realities of war intruding with every sword swing. As the buffer between the reader and the mercenaries, Drann's naivety and inexperience grounds the legend of the Free in the reality of the world they inhabit. The Free pits Yulan and his relatively small band of merry murderers against a few hundred armed men. The odds might seem dire but the playing field is more even than you might suspect. Yulan commands several powerful sorcerers (called Clevers) and even has access to a Permanence -- but more on Permanences in a moment.

The magic of The Free is easily its most memorable aspects. Though Ruckley never goes into intricate detail about the magic system he is not afraid to show off its effects and for that I am grateful. I appreciate logical and interesting magic systems as much as the next fantasy reader but sometimes you just want magic to be...mysterious and miraculous. The best scene in The Free involves a Clever and a tree -- I won't say any more than that for fear of ruining the moment. And then there's the Permanences! A Permanence is a spell gone wrong, a destructive force of nature and chaos. There are a number of these Permanences throughout the world. They bear ominous names like the Clamour and the Bereaved. Those with (nominal) control over a Permanence are nigh untouchable. They are a rare and dangerous prize -- Mutually Assured Destruction for a fantastical age. I understand that The Free is a standalone but I would love to read more stories set in this world and largely because of Clevers and Permanences.

The Free is a fun fantasy novel -- sharp, fast, and satisfying. Ruckley straddles the line between heroic and sword & sorcery fantasy, presenting a magic fueled revenge tale that is well worth reading. I look forward to checking out more of Brian Ruckley's work.

Nick Sharps
SF Signal

Glory Main: The Sim War: Book One
Glory Main: The Sim War: Book One
by Vincent H. O'Neil
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $5.99
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Behold the Glory!, October 10, 2014
REVIEW SUMMARY: A strong military science fiction debut.

MY RATING: 3.5 stars

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Lieutenant Jander Mortas and three other shuttle crash survivors seek escape from a harsh alien planet that may be even more dangerous than they first assume.


PROS: Satisfying character arc, interesting and original aliens, gripping fight for survival, lots of potential for future entries in series, killer ending.

CONS: The story would benefit from stronger characterization.

BOTTOM LINE: Henry V. O'Neil's Glory Main is an unexpected, yet satisfying, military sf novel.

Though the majority of my reading these days consists of fantasy and urban fantasy titles, military science fiction will always be my favorite sub-genre of fiction. It's been a while since I read any military science fiction but I've been playing a good amount of the video game Destiny lately and it rekindled my interest in good ol' fashion space war. Fortunately I stumbled upon Henry V. O'Neil's novel Glory Main: The Sim War Book One, one of the winners of the Harper Voyage digital submission contest. If Glory Main is to serve as any indication, Harper Voyager Impulse is publishing some quality novels and well worth keeping an eye on.

We are locked in a decades old conflict with the Sims, an alien race that closely resembles humanity in almost every way. The battle for habitable planets rages across the stars, consuming countless lives. In the midst of this intergalactic battlefield Lieutenant Jander Mortas is stranded on a seemingly lifeless planet en route to his first field posting. Along with a psychoanalyst, a pacifist, and a scout-slave Jander's training is put to the ultimate test in a life and death struggle to escape the planet. As it turns out the planet may not be as lifeless as first assumed and soon the four crash survivors face a threat far greater than the hostile environment.

Glory Main isn't a typical military science fiction novel, it defied a lot of my expectations. Most of the mil sf I've read features futuristic vehicles, gear, and weapons. It's become one of the aspects I most anticipate about reading these kinds of stories. I'm endlessly fascinated with predictions of how warfare might be waged decades and centuries from now. In Glory Main our protagonists are stripped of all this from the very start -- Lieutenant Jander Mortas and crew have nothing but their wits and the clothes on their backs. Henry V. O'Neil snatches away the safety blanket provided by dropships and power armor and laser rifles and this serves to heighten the stakes. It is later discovered that the planet is already inhabited by the Sims and for a brief while our protagonists link up with a ragtag human assault element but for the majority of the novel Jander, Cranther, Trent and Gorman are alone and mostly unarmed. I found that the soft opening of Glory Main and the landscape of the alien planet really emphasizes this sense of isolation.

The thirst, the hunger, the weary hopelessness of the situation is a constant throughout the story. Each of the four characters has a particular skill set that is utilized over the course of the novel. The main character is Lieutenant Jander Mortas, a young man seeking adventure and glory. Glory Main sees his transformation from officer fresh out of candidate school to seasoned veteran. He starts off naive and eager to prove himself, yet easily likable, and learns the hard lessons of leadership and survival. The most obviously useful soldier in his crew is Corporal Cranther, a Spartacan scout that is accustomed to operating behind enemy lines with little to no support network. In relating past experiences on the battlefield Cranther serves to smash Jander's preconceived notions of war against the Sims. The two other characters, a pacifist chartist and a psychoanalyst, also play important roles in the story, though would have been improved with additional characterization. Glory Main is a novel of personal survival at impossible odds rather than a star-spanning campaign and so an added degree of connection between Jander and the people he finds himself stranded with would have made a big difference.

One of the most interesting aspects of Glory Main is the enigma of the Sims. They look human but they can't eat the food that we eat or speak in a way that we've been able to translate in forty years of fighting. They are relatively low tech and have a tendency for reverse engineering human technology or just stealing it outright. What they lack in sophistication they more than make up for with numbers and tenacity. There are a lot of mysteries surrounding the Sims and a lot of possibilities for O'Neil to explore in future entries to the series.

Glory Main is not an average military science fiction novel. The characters spend more time fighting starvation and thirst than aliens but that is not to say that this novel lacks action. On the contrary, the book is filled with tension and excitement. If the first third of the novel seems a little slow I ask that readers stick with it because the middle and final acts are intense. Glory Main is not the book I expected to read when I first picked it up and I'm quite pleased it turned out to be something else entirely. Jander's character arc is well executed and the twist at the end of the novel delivers a gut punch. Glory Main is a satisfying story of survival against all odds and I look forward to whatever The Sim War Book Two has to offer.

Nick Sharps
SF Signal

Dead Things
Dead Things
by Stephen Blackmoore
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $6.96
43 used & new from $2.27

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Can I Give it 7 Stars? Please?, August 23, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
A few pages into Stephen Blackmoore's DEAD THINGS I realized I would want to start reading the sequel immediately after finishing so I took a risk and ordered BROKEN SOULS. Having finished DEAD THINGS I now recognize this was a wise decision. Yay me! Based off the cover alone my eyes would have likely skipped past this novel on a store shelf -- there's nothing wrong with it but there are a hundred trillion other urban fantasy novels with Christian McGrath covers and who has the time to sift through them all? Alas, DEAD THINGS comes with a recommendation by M.L. Brennan, whose American Vampire series turns me into a squealing fangirl. I enjoy Brennan's work because she diverges from the typical hard-boiled style urban fantasy. I enjoyed Blackmoore's novel because he embraces it with aplomb.

DEAD THINGS is a real bastard of a novel. It's edgy, it's gritty, it's bloody. It's a story about a necromancer that doesn't shy away from the black part of black magic. It's a suitably grim detective story with lots of color (mostly shades of grey) and a hell of a kick. Blackmoore succeeds in blending urban fantasy and noir in a way that many authors try and few accomplish. I've finally got the novel I originally expected of Richard Kadrey's SANDMAN SLIM, with a badass anti-hero who has seen a lot and done a whole lot worse.

Eric Carter is a necromancer. To say he's damaged goods would be an understatement. In a world where those with magical aptitude are notoriously narcissistic, Eric takes the cake. He's an angry young man with a whole lot of power and life he can't stop running away from -- even if that means associating primarily with the dead. In other words he's the perfect noir protagonist: cynical, fatalistic, and morally ambiguous. He comes with a nasty bag of tricks and he's not afraid to use it. I suspect Eric Carter would get far in an urban fantasy cage match.

Hard-boiled though he may be, Eric is also vulnerable. He left L.A. to protect those he cares about from harm. Only problem is they don't see it that way -- Eric abandoned them. But Eric isn't back in L.A. to make good with those he's wronged, he has returned to investigate the brutal murder of his sister and avenge her death. When I say brutal murder I mean absolutely freaking brutal. The investigation takes him all over the seedy underbelly of the city searching for answers to questions he's afraid to even ask. Eric even takes a journey to Mictlan, the underworld of Aztec mythology, a version of hell that's especially fitting for Los Angeles.

Along the way Eric encounters old friends and enemies. He receives the help of his old friend Alex and his ex-girlfriend Vivian. Once a petty con, Alex is now a respectable business owner who has personally seen to Eric's responsibilities in his absence. Vivian, a magician whose talents lie in healing the living, is now a doctor. Then of course there's the crime boss that scared Eric away in the first place, and he's curious to see why Eric made a return. Eric also comes into contact with the patron saint of violent death, Santa Muerte, and if ever there was a deity you wanted to avoid the attention of it's Santa Muerte. Eric takes a beating along the way, both physical and emotional but he can give as good as he gets.

Blackmoore thrusts readers into a world of violence and necromancy and it's awesome! The magic system of DEAD THINGS is especially well executed. Magic is dangerous and has a cost. Different locations have different magical flavors -- L.A. has a distinct taste. Eric can talk to the dead but that doesn't necessarily mean that the dead have much worth saying. There are limits to what can and cannot be done but Blackmoore never trots out a rule book and bludgeons readers with the mechanics of it all and yet it all has a logical application. Eric has a trick with a Sharpie marker and an adhesive name tag that I found especially useful.

DEAD THINGS is a devilishly good read. Blackmoore's tight, clipped prose and dark wit bring Eric Carter to life and his portrayal of L.A. is morbidly enchanting. This is urban fantasy noir at its best. I am so glad I ordered BROKEN SOULS in advance because once I finish typing up this review I'm picking up where DEAD THINGS left off.

Recommended Age: 16+
Language: Oh yeah, there's some profanity.
Violence: It's a pretty violent and gruesome read.
Sex: It's referenced though nothing explicit.

Buy DEAD THINGS and go ahead and order BROKEN SOULS while you're at it so you don't have to wait. No need to thank me, it's my job.

Nick Sharps
Elitist Book reviews
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 29, 2014 7:23 PM PDT

Half a King (Shattered Sea)
Half a King (Shattered Sea)
by Joe Abercrombie
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.45
81 used & new from $11.40

4.0 out of 5 stars Abercrombie Goes YA, July 16, 2014
HALF A KING by Joe Abercrombie is one of the most hyped novels of the year. Check out some of the author blurbs and you'll see what I mean. Patrick Rothfuss, Rick Riordan, Robin Hobb, and Brent Weeks are among the fantasy heavyweights heaping praise on the novel. When Abercrombie first announced HALF A KING I was anxious. He's my second favorite author and my very reason for returning to the fantasy genre, but I couldn't see how well his brutal wit and grim perspective would translate to a YA novel. You'll no doubt notice that this review has been filed under "Books We Love," but it didn't start out that way. HALF A KING is the story of Yarvi, the younger son of the king of Gettland. With only one good hand Yarvi has chosen to embrace the path of a minister rather than that of a warrior. The murder of his father (the king) and brother (the natural heir) sees Yarvi ascend to the throne. He is looked upon with contempt by his people for a perceived weakness, but he takes an oath to avenge his family regardless. Betrayed in his quest for vengeance Yarvi must use the greatest and only asset at his disposal (his mind) in order to defeat his enemies and reclaim what is rightfully his. Because I read this on my Amazon Kindle I was able to track my progress through the novel in percentages. It was also in percentages that I noticed HALF A KING gradually improve. I will openly admit that I was underwhelmed by the first 20-25% of the novel. Yarvi had all the makings of a true Abercrombie hero. He was unconventional and bore a physical handicap and he had suffered as a result. Still, Yarvi had a vanilla flavor that matched the rest of the beginning of the book. The setting of HALF A KING, the Shattered Sea, is has the trappings of a "Viking saga" (as author Myke Cole points out in his blurb) but there's little to differentiate this world from any other generic Norse-inspired fiction, save for the religion. The beginning fifth of the novel is too YA for my liking, it's like HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON without dragons. It doesn't read like Abercrombie. It reminded me why I was reading books like THE BLADE ITSELF when other kids my age were still carrying around the latest Charlie Bone book. And yet... "What can you think about a cause," muttered Jaud, "when all the decent folk stand on the other side?" And yet it gets better. I continued reading because Abercrombie has never failed me before. The further I got into the novel the easier it became to forgive the bland opening. With each new conflict Yarvi encounters he became more and more compelling. It got to the point where I started thinking of him as Yarvi Sevenfingers or The Bloody-Seven (no small compliment given I consider Logen of The First Law Trilogy my all time favorite character). In Yarvi exists the literary-DNA of Abercrombie's former protagonists, and still he manages to stand on his own merits. He may not be a great warrior but he is a formidable thinker and the lessons he learnt from his mother (the queen and treasurer) and the king's minister (his mentor) frequently pop up over the course of the novel. Yarvi matures over the course of HALF A KING, growing from naive boy to wise man in a short amount of time. It is an extremely satisfying character arc, one of Abercrombie's best. "What is the world coming to when an honest man cannot burn corpses with suspicion?" asked Nothing. The other characters come to distinguish themselves as Abercrombie characters as well, especially Sumael, Shadikshirram, and the man they call Nothing. Sumael channels two of Abercrombie's extremely strong female characters, Ferro (The First Law Trilogy) and Shy South (RED COUNTRY). Shadikshirram brought to mind the fan favorite mercenary captain Nicomo Cosca (BEST SERVED COLD). And then Nothing...well I won't ruin that for anyone. Yarvi forms strong bonds throughout the book, assembling quite a band of misfits on his quest. The cast is colorful and tinged with the sadness that permeates Abercrombie's work and makes for such believable characters. The plot is largely reactive throughout the novel but once the final third kicks HALF A KING is impossible to put down. Updating my companions as I read the novel I went from "not impressed" to "getting interested" to "not bad" to "hooked" and finally "bravo!" There are a series of twists and betrayals -- the first is predictable but the rest will shock you. The violence so common in Abercrombie novels is toned down. Combat takes a backseat to cunning and negotiation, though it is by no means absent. As always the case when he writes fighting, the edges are sharp and there are no winners...only survivors. Losses present new opportunities and victories are generally Pyrrhic. There are consequences for each and every action and it is this that Abercrombie expresses so well above all other genre writers. Even his YA novel has elements of Greek tragedy and moral ambiguity, understated though they may be in the midst of his other work. This and humor. The wit on display is as dark and sharp as ever, and this is what finally won my affection. Starting out I was not a fan of HALF A KING. I saw my worst fears for the book realized but I stuck with it and my patience paid off. I wish that the book had been written twice the length as some scenes seem to end abruptly and I would have appreciated more world building. But HALF A KING isn't a novel about setting so much as it is about character, and character is something it has an abundance of. It is also perhaps the most film-friendly Abercrombie book to date. Given the current popularity of movie adaptations of YA books I can see this one getting the big screen treatment (and what a breath of fresh air that would be in the midst of all these yawn-inducing dystopias). I would hesitate to call HALF A KING a masterpiece (and it's still not my favorite Abercrombie novel) but I love it anyway. It starts out like a typical YA novel but transforms into something much greater. I can see this being a gateway drug for new readers. And who knows, HALF A KING is but the first in a trilogy and the end of the novel sees some interesting developments on the horizon. Recommended Age: 14+ Language: Nothing worse than you get on prime time television. Violence: The level of detail in the violence is on par with THE HUNGER GAMES though there is considerably less of it and the consequences are far greater. Sex: There's some hand holding, that's about it. - See more at:

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