Alternative Worlds: Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Reviews

03rd April 2015

Fantasy and sci-fi book reviews

Alternative Worlds is a science fiction and fantasy book review site, written and published by accomplished reviewer Harriet Klausner. For more information, please check the About page.

Please feel free to use the links below to navigate to book reviews alphabetically, either by Author Name, or Book Title, or else use the main left-hand links to main genres, or most recent reviews.

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Latest Reviews

March 12, 2014

Immortal Muse-Stephen Leigh

Filed under: Author: L,Fantasy,Title: I

Immortal Muse
Stephen Leigh
DAW, Mar 4 2014, $24.95
ISBN 9780756409562

In 1352 Paris, Perenelle expected a happy life when she married alchemist Nicolas Flamel after her first husband Marlon died from the 1349 pestilence. However, her life remained dissatisfying especially since he rejected her help at the apothecary though as the daughter of an alchemist she knew her chemicals. Worse to Perenelle was his temper that targeted their little girl Verdette for most of his wrath over Perenelle’s objections. In 1370 Verdette escapes her uncaring father via marriage. Over the next two decades Verdette begged her beloved mom to leave the odious ignoramus, but she did not as she loved working in her lab. In 1398 Verdette died, but a few years later a still grieving Perenelle develops an immortality elixir that to her chagrin Nicolas takes too.

Over the centuries in Paris, Rome, London and elsewhere, Perenelle the muse encourages artists while Nicolas brings pain and death to anyone in his path. Every time he finds her, she vanishes and reinvents herself until now she lives as Camille Kenny in twenty-first century New York while knowing he will come.

Immortal Muse is a fabulous fantasy that rotates between modern day NYC and various changing centuries; with each stop and the people readers (and the Immortal Muse) encounter coming across as genuine. Readers will appreciate Stephen Leigh’s fascinating good and evil war while wondering who the author’s creative muse is.

Harriet Klausner

January 16, 2014

A Liaden Universe: Constellation Vol 2-Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

A Liaden Universe: Constellation Vol 2
Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
Baen, Jan 7 2014, $16.00
ISBN: 9781451639445

The second Liaden Universe: Constellation compilation contains sixteen strong previously published short stories including twelve self-published by the authors. The anthology provides depth to various worlds in the trade routes, but the collection also takes a no frills approach with no introductions except for a brief Foreword that focuses on the publishing market. On Skardu in “Veil of the Dancer” Inas craves being a chip off the old paternal block as she wants to become a scholar. Kore sends a letter to Midj asking the pilot to come to Shaltren in “Quiet Knives”. Daav and Clarence meet on Liad in “The Beggar King”. “Prodigal Son” Val Con returns on a mission to Vandar. The entries are quite good with series fans appreciating them especially if you can place where these tales fit in terms of time in the wider universe of novels, novellas and the other shorts (see A Liaden Universe: Constellation Vol 1). Newcomers will enjoy the stories as exciting singles but not as an introduction to the wonderful vast Lee-Miller galaxy.

Harriet Klausner

Revolution-Mercedes Lackey, Veronica Giguere, Martin Cody and Dennis Lee

Mercedes Lackey, Veronica Giguere, Martin Cody and Dennis Lee
Baen, Jan 7 2014, $25.00
ISBN 9781451639322

The meta-humans of Echo and CCCP managed to halt the blitzkrieg Invasion by the Nazis in spite of the seemingly superior ultra-powerful weaponry of the invaders. However, inside of Echo a revolt has broken out over the merit of romance writer and techno-mage Victoria Victrix Nagy’s Overwatch recording of events while one of Bulwark’s Misfits Harmony leaves her mentor in a comatose state (see World Divided). Two other Misfits Bruno and Scope hunt Harmony who has turned into a Blacksnake assassin.

As Nagy improves her Overwatch program while stealthy testing it on CCCP, EMT Bella Dawn Parker AKA Belladonna Blue the healer tries to save Bulwark’s life; as Seraphym enters his dreams to lay out his possible futures to him. At the same time General Shen Xue lives inside the body that once belonged to CCCP operative Fel Li who’s trapped inside the Jade Emperor’s sword Whisper possessed by Xue. The General accosts Echo owner Dominic Verdigris III while his bodyguard Khanjar tries to intervene but fails. However Xue and Verd reach an accord.

As with the second entry (see World Divided), action in the third Secret World Chronicle is a bit muted compared with the opening Invasion as the hostility remains from within and with Echo’s adversarial rival Blacksnake rather than the Nazi/Thule threat. The key to this enjoyable fantasy remains with the superhuman filled with flaws that reduce their super qualities to mere human. The engaging storyline emphasizes the shaky political bedfellows who make for Revolution at a time when unity is critical.

Harriet Klausner

December 2, 2013

Dragon’s Teeth-Mercedes Lackey

Filed under: Author: L,Fantasy,Title: D

Dragon’s Teeth
Mercedes Lackey
Baen, Dec 3 2013, $15.00
ISBN 9781451639438

This enjoyable collection showcases Mercedes Lackey short story skills as most of the compilation is entertaining especially the author’s various fantasy series. Part I contains reprints of previously published anthologies (“Fiddler Fair” and “Werehunter”). Part II provides five new Secret World Chronicles.

“Fiddler Fair” (1998). The twelve fantasy entries remain enjoyable with the best adding depth to Lackey’s worlds such as the Free Bard title tale and the Spellsingers stories (“Balance” and “Dragon’s Teeth”) focusing on the changing relationship between Martis and her new bodyguard Lyran. The rest of the fiction are fun entries such as the Sooner who explains “Aliens Ate My Pickup”; the alternate history of what happened to Lawrence of Arabia in “Jihad”; and the healer who sees Cerridwen’s Cauldron while the nun looking at the same object proclaims the Holy Grail. The inclusion of the essay “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” seems out of place as the misleading opening act.

“Werehunter” (1999). The highlights are those taking place in one of the series. The two Diana Tregarde investigations (“Satanic, Versus” and “Nightside”) are superb while the Mem’sab Harton’s “Grey” and “Grey’s Ghost” come across as exciting Tregarde-light. The four “SKitty” entries (“SKitty”, “A Tail of Two SKitties, SCat” and “A Better Mousetrap”) focus on the Brightwing agreement with the Lacu’un. There is also one intriguing Valdemar entry (“Stolen Silver”) in which we learn how Alberich became the Heralds’ Collegium’s weaponsmaster. The rest are engaging but feel more like filler.

Secret World Chronicles. These well-written five tales include WW II prequels (“Valse Triste”, “White Bird” and “Sgian Dubh”) and two others occurring just after the first novel coauthored respectively with Dennis Lee and Cody Martin.

Harriet Klausner

November 10, 2013

Contagion-Tim Lebbon

Tim Lebbon
Pyr, Nov 5 2013, $17.99
ISBN: 9781616148218

Several years have passed since the 2017 Doomsday terrorist attack left London an isolated Toxic City (see London Eye) surrounded by Chopper troops assigned to use deadly force to keep survivors inside and other people outside. The rest of Britain and the world believe no one lives within this wasteland, but those who do are considered expendable experimental guinea pigs.

Apparently due to the healing touch of enigmatic Nomad, some of those “trapped” inside the dead city like Jack and Lucy-Anne are developing odd powers (see Reaper’s Legacy). Jack learns that in seventeen hours the final solution will occur when the Choppers detonate a nuclear bomb to eradicate London and bury their test specimens. With the assistance of Lucy-Anne and Nomad, Jack must warn Londoners, but even with the doomsday clock counting down, he knows he first must commit patricide by confronting his father the Reaper.

The third taut Toxic City post-apocalyptic thriller will remind readers of the TV show 24 as each chapter contains one hour closer to the nuking of London. With a stunning climax, fast-paced and filled with action except when wallowing Jack (in those non-heroic introspective moments) too frequently feels remorse for killing those who want to kill him. Still series fans will enjoy climatic Contagion.

Harriet Klausner

The God Tattoo: Untold Tales from the Twilight Reign-Tom Lloyd

Filed under: Author: L,Fantasy,Title: G

The God Tattoo: Untold Tales from the Twilight Reign
Tom Lloyd
Pyr, Nov 5 2013, $18.00
ISBN 9781616148591

This superb eleven story collection enhances the macro view of the Twilight Reign fantasy saga with a darker micro level return to the Land. In the opening act, “A Beast in Velvet” brutally hunts the residents of Narkang with a calling card of battered corpses and enigmatic runes. Daken the mercenary believes mages are natural born sociopaths while the indifference of the Gods makes both groups untrustworthy with their hidden agendas in the title story. Now retired, “The Marshal’s Reflection” of a time just before the war came to Narkang remains vivid. Marshal Calath learns a life lesson that good intentions do not necessarily mean good outcomes in “A Man from Thistledell”. All the entries are excellent leading to Twilight Reign fans relishing this strong anthology and newbies showing their appreciation by reading the novels.

Harriet Klausner

November 7, 2013

Trade Secret-Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

Trade Secret
Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
Baen, Nov 5 2013, $25.00
ISBN 9781451639292

On Verstal, junior galactic trader Jethri ven’Deelin the human works deals with Liaden traders. When he completes these transactions, retired trader tel’Linden shows him items for sale to include outlawed Old Tech and other merchandise. After haggling, they agree on a price.

Jethri returns to the Clan Ixin Tradeship Elthoria to continue his training on Terran and Liaden contract law and customs; especially intriguing to the trader is the Terran birthright principle and the Liaden concept of Balance. Liaden Clan Ixin Master Trader Norn ven’Deelin consults with the Elthoria’s weapons master Pen Rel about her adopted son Jethri’s abilities. Shortly afterward Liaden Scout ter’Astin arranges to meet them at Boltston; where he and Jethri as Second Board leave together on his ship.

The second Liaden Universe coming of age prequel is a fascinating outer space thriller that enables reader to better understand Liaden clan and Terran social orders through the eyes of a neophyte in training. Although the well-written insightful storyline feels somewhat like a middle tale with most threads left dangling, the cast is fully developed especially Jethri and those in direct contact with him. Saga fans will enjoy this entry, but should read Balance of Trade first to know how Jethri got to where he is.

Harriet Klausner

October 31, 2013

The Influence-Bentley Little

Filed under: Author: L,Horror,Title: I

The Influence
Bentley Little
Cemetery Dance, Oct 29 2013, $25.00
ISBN: 9781587674198

Engineer Ross Lowery lost his position at Air Research during the Great Recession and has not found work since. He always sent money to his family when they needed it even when he didn’t have much. However, now that he needs assistance, all (including his siblings) except his cousin Lita ignore him. Though not wealthy, Lita and her husband Dave invite Ross to stay with them in remote Magdalena, Arizona for a few months while he applies for jobs over the Net.

At the town’s New Year’s Eve bash, everyone shoots into sky at midnight; only something falls to the ground. Soon afterward the townsfolk begin to face changes in their fortunes. A rancher’s cattle die with eerie creatures leaving the corpses before vanishing and Lita’s eggs hatch lizards and spiders; Ross receives job offers and falls in love, and a beautician wins the mega lottery. When children vanish, realizing something is not right in Magdalena ever since the creature fell from the sky and altered 180 degrees the fortunes and misfortunes of everyone, Ross believes he and others must rescue the young and prevent whatever is occurring from spreading.

The Influence is a strong horror thriller in which darkness threatens life as the townsfolk knew it. The reactions by the affluent suddenly hammered by bad luck and the threat of poverty, and the impoverished suddenly charmed with a run of good fortune make for a super storyline. With deep underlying social messages from scriptures: “But by the grace of God I am what I am …” and “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (karma aside). Bentley Little provides a taut thought-provoking tale.

Harriet Klausner

October 6, 2013

Witchstruck-Victoria Lamb

Filed under: Author: L,Fantasy,Title: W

Victoria Lamb
Harlequin Teen, Sep 24 2013, $9.99
ISBN: 9780373210978

Her beloved Aunt Jane mentored her niece Meg Lytton on witchcraft and concealing the practice from those who would burn these so-called devil worshipers at the stakes. By 1554 Meg resides in captivity at Woodstock Castle with Princess Elizabeth. The royal supports Meg’s Magick skills, but both know they must hide what she can do from agents of Elizabeth’s half-sister the Queen.

When Spanish Father Alejandro De Castillo arrives at Woodstock, Meg finds herself attracted to the priest though betrothed to Witchfinder Marcus Dent. She wants to confess her abilities to Father Alejandro, but she also fears doing so after years of warnings. Meanwhile the efforts of Meg and Elizabeth to avoid the lethal trap of being named unholy magick supporter ends when the practitioner’s family demands she support their efforts to dispose of Queen Mary.

The opening Tudor Witch saga is a fantastic teen historical fantasy due to a powerful atmosphere in which those named as witches either burn or drown; if you float you’re a witch while if you drown you’re not. The relationship between the young practitioner and the priest enhances the dark storyline as he risks his life and soul to keep her safe. In some ways a coming of age tale, readers will appreciate this dark sixteenth century drama.

Harriet Klausner

June 15, 2013

Steadfast-Mercedes Lackey

Filed under: Author: L,Fantasy,Title: S

Mercedes Lackey
Daw, Jun 4 2013, $25.95
ISBN: 9780756408015

After the deaths of her parents, grieving Katie the acrobat felt paralyzed. Andy Ball, the Ball Circus owner where the Langford trio worked, told her to marry a strong man. So Katie married the strongman Dick. However, over the next few months he abused his wife, who asked Andy for help. He advised her to give her mate better sex. Katie fled and fortunately was taken in by the small family Traveler troupe as she expected Dick will pursue her in a rage.

Currently Katie is the performing assistant to top level illusionist Lionel Hawkins. She realizes her boss is not just a stage illusionist though he conceals his real magic of an Elemental Magician who deploys Air Elementals. Likewise Lionel and his associate Jack the doorman conclude she is unaware that she is a Fire Magician even as Dick is coming to collect his wife.

The latest Elemental Masters alternative Edwardian romantic fantasy is an entertaining adult fairy tale though the Elementals act out of character (rarely chatting). The villain is not one of the stronger (pun intended) malevolent ones, but fans will root for the heroine to find her groove and no longer Running Scared confront her brute of a husband.

Harriet Klausner

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