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 8, 2014

Half-Off Ragnarok-Seanan McGuire

Filed under: Author: M,Fantasy,Title: H

Half-Off Ragnarok
Seanan McGuire
Daw, Mar 4 2014, $7.99
ISBN: 9780756408114

Cryptozoologist Alexander Price takes a research position at the Columbus Zoo where he studies non-urban cryptids and assists on the basilisk breeding program. His hidden reason for accepting the move is to help his family especially with what happened to Cousin Sarah and to grandpa. Visiting Australian Big Cat zoologist and Alex’s girlfriend Shelby Tanner also conducts research at the Columbus Zoo.

Something deadly and strange occurs at the zoo when corpses partially turned to stone begin to appear everywhere. To Alex’s trepidation these deaths most likely mean a serial killing gorgon and he knows of one very nearby though he refuses to accept this individual as the psychopath. At the same time, the Aeslin mice warn Alex that his cousin is losing control, which if true makes her extremely dangerous. As he investigates, Shelby wonders what is going on with her man and at the zoo.

The third InCryptid urban fantasy (see Discount Armageddon and Midnight Blue-Light Special) remains fresh as this entry relocates from Manhattan to Ohio and changes lead from Verity to her older brother; while keeping reader fascination into the Price family and the monsters they fight. Fast-paced with a strong support cast, Alex struggles between ending the terror of a stone cold serial killer, being there for his family and hiding secrets from the brilliant woman who rocks his world.

Harriet Klausner

February 18, 2014

Empress of the Sun-Ian McDonald

Empress of the Sun
Ian McDonald
Pyr, Feb 4 2014, $17.99
ISBN: 9781616148652

Everett Singh inadvertently takes the Everness on a Heisenberg Jump to an earth and solar system like none that he or his crew ever seen. This Alderson Disk consists of all the inner planets up to and including Jupiter tied together on a humongous flat surface that would take a civilization millions of years advanced beyond those on the Everness to have created Pratchett’s Diskworld. The crew meets these creators, the lethal Jiju dinosaurs who make the outsiders’ survival chances seems unlikely as the Everness needs rapid repair to jump out of this alternate before they become extinct.

On the readers’ Earth, Everett M battles the Nahn nanobot invaders while knowing he must avoid their touch or die as these bots suck up living essence. Finally Charlotte Villiers sets in motion her latest nefarious scheme to obtain the Infundibulum map of all universes.

The key to the third exciting Everness parallel universes saga (see Planesrunner and Be My Enemy) is the growing complexity; as Ian McDonald honors the intelligence of his teenage audience by not dumbing down scientific theory while also paying homage to Terry Pratchett. Though it remains difficult to keep track of who’s who amongst the multiples (Everett, Charlotte and others) without a scorecard, young adult readers will appreciate this thrilling entry.

Harriet Klausner

December 13, 2013

Lost Covenant-Ari Marmell

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

Lost Covenant
Ari Marmell
Pyr, Dec 3 2013, $17.99
ISBN: 9781616148119

Several months have passed since teenage orphan Widdershins and her god Olgun, of whom no one else reveres, fled Davillon. During their journey, the former relatively successful thief and failed ex tavern-keeper learns that the family of her deceased savior Alexandre Delacroix is in trouble from the machinations of a rival house.

Feeling she owes a debt from when she an urchin called Adrienne Sati before and during the time kind Alexandre removed her from the streets; Widdershins decides to protect the Delacroix house. Thus she and the tiny god inside her investigate the insidious plot. The late Alexandre’s family distrusts his adopted daughter, which makes her efforts more dangerous to her, Olgun and the Delacroix clan.

This Widdershins thriller (see Thief’s Covenant and False Covenant) is an entertaining investigative fantasy due to the schizophrenic-like antics of the protagonist. Though there remains plenty of magic, the fun is with Widdershins’ debates with her deity and her (and us) hearing people’s casual phoniness and transgressions. Fast-paced with humor from a persistent suitor and satirizing hypocrisy, readers will enjoy Widdershins to the rescue of those who scorn her.

Harriet Klausner

November 17, 2013

The Severed Tower-J. Barton Mitchell

The Severed Tower
J. Barton Mitchell
St. Martin’s Dunne, Nov 19 2013, $18.99
ISBN: 9781250009470

A decade ago the Assembly arrived and abducted almost every American adult. Since the ethnic cleaning, these aliens have controlled most of the country while human teen outlaw bands continue to prey on the struggling survivors, mostly young children. Bounty hunter Holt Hawkins, his partner Max the dog and fugitive Mira Toombs teamed up to rescue Zoey, who the Assembly coveted for her magical skills. The unlikely quartet headed to Midnight City; seeking to find out who Zoey is and why the Assembly wanted her, but none of them anticipated Zoey’s power until she defeated an Assembly army (see Midnight City).

Seeking The Severed Tower for further information on the prophecies and hopefully Zoey’s destiny that they found out about in Midnight City, the foursome enter the Strange Lands. There they quickly learn none of their experiences and knowledge applies; as the known laws of physics no longer work here. The Assembly and human enemies led by Ravan the pirate pursue them because Zoey is a valuable commodity and they owe her companions while the target increasingly becomes enervated each step closer to their destination.

The second Conquered Earth science fiction is an enjoyable young adult post-apocalyptic thriller starring likable protagonists and vile antagonists in a weird wonderland. Though it behooves newbies to read Midnight City first to understand how the beleaguered heroes became a team with bulls-eyes on their chest, fans will enjoy this taut tale.

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 6, 2013

Not A Drop To Drink-Mindy McGinnis

Not A Drop To Drink
Mindy McGinnis
Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins, Sep 24 2013, $13.49
ISBN: 9780062198501

Lynn made her first kill protecting the pond when she was nine. A year later, cholera left many nearby dead as “water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink” (Coleridge) safely. However, Mother built a National Geographic simplified water purification system to keep the pond clean. Now sixteen, Lynn and her Mother expect the people by the stream to attack once summer dries up their water supply.

When coyotes kill Mother, the now fearful lonely teen finds herself on her own; as Mother was Lynn’s only companion besides animals and dead trespassers. Surprising herself Lynn and her reclusive neighbor Stebbs become friends. Soon a family with a pregnant mother joins them as Lynn adopts the little girl Lucy as her younger sister and is attracted to Eli, a boy her age. Meanwhile raiders who kill and rape without any moral compunctions have arrived planning to take whatever they want from Lynn and her loved ones.

Not A Drop To Drink is a powerful cautionary dystopian teen thriller that uses the scarcity of clean water as its underlying premise for the collapse of civilization. The background is harsh yet purposely underdeveloped so that the audience fills in the blanks of a grim realm; in which kill or be killed is the only Commandment. Additionally an emotionally coming of age tale, the storyline is at its exciting best when the action is fierce but slows down when the plot turns to passive discourse. Still fans will enjoy the arid McGinnis world as the author makes a case that water is the next major resource war.

Harriet Klausner

September 5, 2013

Chimes at Midnight-Seanan McGuire

Filed under: Author: M,Fantasy,Title: C

Chimes at Midnight
Seanan McGuire
DAW, Sep 1 2013, $7.99
ISBN 9780756408145

In San Francisco, the relationship between half-Fae private detective October “Toby” Daye and King of the Cats Tybalt is as strong as it ever has been. Toby becomes concerned when changeling corpses die from goblin fruit overdose. Investigating the drug-related deaths leads Toby to her adversary the Queen of the Mists.

The untouchable royal orders Toby to leave the Bay area or face retaliation much worse than banishment. A shimmer of hope to remain in San Francisco surfaces when clues claim the monarch may be a pretender sitting on the throne. However with time against her, Toby and her friends search for the true ruler.

The latest Toby Daye urban fantasy (see Ashes of Honor) is a taut thriller with a fabulous midcourse twist from an illegal drug problem to a political ruler legitimacy issue causing tremors throughout the magical McGuire milieu. Terrific Toby is at her best as she knows she and her friends are in trouble if she fails to produce the real monarch with time on the side of her diabolically brilliant opponent.

Harriet Klausner

July 15, 2013

Anomaly-Krista McGee

Krista McGee
Thomas Nelson, Jul 9 2013, $9.99
ISBN: 9781401688721

The nuclear war ended life on the surface; forcing survivors underground. Though rumors of a Designer as the ultimate power, Ten Scientists saved those who survived but to prevent conflict they genetically removed emotion from their subjects.

Thalli, the Musician of Pod C, concealed for spent years her outlawed abnormality while doing her job by playing instruments to stimulate the labor of her mates. When she was nine running laps with her Pod mates, Thalli was shocked when Asta the historian stopped and began oozing from her nose until the Monitors removed her as a Code 4 never to return. Thalli concludes Asta broke one of the most important rules of never be different while she hides her innate curiosity. Three years later Berk the Scientist departed with a gala celebrating his becoming a leader. A few years later, because of Bach, Thalli’s anomaly surfaces so she is removed and slated for Annihilation. With minutes counting down until she dies, Berk persuades his peers to keep Thalli alive to study her anomaly.

Anomaly is an exciting thought-provoking young adult dystopian thriller that has the teen audience pondering faith in a Designer when faced with an execution countdown due to displaying feelings. The McGee world feels like Alice fell into the realm of Huxley’s Big Brother yet at the same time the milieu feels underdeveloped. Still fans will enjoy the “Curiouser and curiouser” Musician’s adventures as she learns to keep the faith with someone mighty watching out for her.

Harriet Klausner

July 3, 2013

The Arrivals-Melissa Marr

Filed under: Author: M,Fantasy,Title: A

The Arrivals
Melissa Marr
Morrow, Jul 2 2013, $24.99
ISBN 9780061826962

Based on information from Governor Soanes, the Arrivals (Edgar, Francis, Mary and siblings Kitty and Jack, and others) go to a peace negotiation with the brethren. Instead the brethren attack using guns and magic killing Mary. While her allies kill the rest, using a spell and a knife, Kitty slays the demon monk though she takes a bullet and burns from his blood. They hope Mary wakes in six days; while in Covenant former ally and her ex-lover Daniel tells Kitty that her enemy avaricious Ajani wants her on his team of cutthroats who always come back from temporary death unlike her band who might not return.

Last night in DC Chloe Mattison saw her fiancé having sex with her boss in her place. She left and had her first drink in five years. Now she awakens in the Wasteland’s Gallows Desert as the newest Arrival. The siblings take her back to camp as she mumbles hallucinations. Jack and Edgar chat that they came from different eras and locales after committing murders on earth, but Chloe seems the latest date yet. Being the oldest Arrivals, Jack and Kitty know the Wasteland is changing as Chloe fails to fit the “rules”.

The Arrivals is an exciting fantasy as the indigent population and the Arrivals (and readers) wonder why the newcomers come to this beastly hell. The cold (and at times hot) war between the heroic cutthroats and Ajani’s thug army is entertaining, but never enables the realm to come into focus outside the desert band. Still readers will enjoy visiting the Wasteland while wanting more tales located there; preferably a series of interrelated short stories starring different characters who would provide depth to this strange hellish realm.

Harriet Klausner

June 7, 2013

A Captain and a Corset-Mary Wine

Filed under: Author: M,Fantasy,Title: C

A Captain and a Corset
Mary Wine
Sourcebooks, Jun 4 2013, $6.99
ISBN: 9781402264832

In 1843 London, Sophia Stevenson knows she will never go back to her rigid frivolous Victorian life before the Root Ball changed her. Now inside the Illuminist’s Solitary Chamber she is the rarest of the rare a Navigator in training to guide ships.

Her instructor Captain Bion Donkova is stern and demanding, which angers and frustrates Sophia who struggles to adjust to her new lifestyle though she respects the Illuminist’s goal to make the world a better place for all. He thinks she is too frivolous and troublesome as she does not appreciate what she possesses. However, each conceals their attraction from one another. One of the unfriendly groups abducts Sophia in order to use her abilities to further their agenda to grab power. Wishing his beloved student was more biddable and adhered to the rules, a worried Bion pursues the kidnappers to rescue the woman he loves.

The second Illuminist steampunk romantic thriller (see A Lady Can Never Be Too Curious) is a fast-paced action-packed tale that never slows down from the moment Sophia is snatched. The villains are top of the line and in many ways steal the show (along with the wonderful Wine world) from the protagonists. Although the romance feels rushed, fans will enjoy the thrilling A Captain and A Corset.

Harriet Klausner

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