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

April 10, 2014

Operation Shield-Joel Shepherd

Operation Shield
Joel Shepherd
Pyr, Apr 8 2014, $16.95
ISBN 9781616148966

On Droze, Cassandra Kresnov retired from the Federation’s military to work as a field operative for the Federation Security Agency. Sandy’s mission is to free android super-soldiers like she once was who were illegally created and are lethally misused by corporations as expendable pawns.

However, a clever adversary leads a vicious campaign naming her as a vile enemy of the GIs she tries to rescue. Complicating matters, the League takes away from her the three orphans she considers adopting. When a battle between the Fleet and the League occurs leaving many casualties especially among the GIs seeking asylum, the Federation Grand Council demands full retreat as they want to avoid at all costs another war.

The latest Cassandra Kresnov military science fiction (see 23 Years on Fire, Crossover and Killswitch) is a complex timely thriller with many more subplots than briefly described above; Joel Shepherd cleverly interweaves real issues into this action-packed storyline. Besides the dandy Sandy prime plot, especially fascinating are the effort by some politicians to change the Constitution in order to restrict the rights of others and the related hit on a lawyer working to expand the constitutional rights to the GIs. Add in the fascinating arrival of a non-soldier GI along with Sandy’s contemplating retiring into motherhood leading to a strong entry with plenty to follow.

Harriet Klausner

March 8, 2014

Hope Rearmed-David Drake and S.M. Stirling

Hope Rearmed
David Drake and S.M. Stirling
Baen, Mar 4 2014, $14.00
ISBN: 9781476736303

“The Anvil.” Civil Government Governor Barholm Clerett fears popular General Raj “Savior of the State” Whitehall will overthrow him in a coup. At a council meeting to discuss invading the Brigade lost territories, Chancellor Robert Tsetzas wants to delay military action due to costs accrued by the previous action. Thus when Raj asks for forty thousand troops, he receives eighteen thousand. Accompanied by his wife Suzette who runs the civilian side of the invasion, Raj leads his troops to Stern Isle where he expects little resistance until the assault on Wager Bay, a powerful impenetrable fort.

“The Steel.” Whitehall’s troops take back Crown Peninsula and Lion City, but he knows they face overwhelming odds as the Brigade army outnumbers his forces by 5 to 1. Still they march forward destroying Brigade defenses and freeing towns on the road to Old Residence. The Brigade forces led by Ingreid Manfrond, with Howyrd Carstens providing the brains behind the counter operation, also head towards Old Residence. As the battle begins, a betrayal leaves Whitehall and his army in peril.

Hope Rearmed is an exciting reprinting of books 3 and 4 in the thrilling General science fiction saga (see Hope Reborn for the opening tales The Forge and The Hammer). The terrific blending of nineteenth and twentieth century technology within a feral Holy Roman Empire feudal society on a divided world makes for a strong background. However, it is the grim dark realism of war (in spite of comic book heroics by Raj) and the worship of the silent Computer who abandoned the people but left behind the bible (manuals) that make for a fabulous read.

Harriet Klausner

The Barrow-Mark Smylie

Filed under: Author: S,Title: B

The Barrow
Mark Smylie
Pyr, Mar 4 2014, $18.00
ISBN 9781616148911

In Manon Mole in the Middle Kingdoms, cartographer Stjepan Black-Heart finds the map into the lethal Barrow of Azharad the ancient wizard that leads to Gladringer the legendary sword. Though several of his companions die on this venture, the map-maker puts together a new team consisting of brothel owner Gilgwyr, insane mage Leigh, survivor of the Manon Mole escapade Erim the female in male grab, mercenary Godewyn Red-Hand, noble Arduin and his sister scandalous Annwyn.

Each of the adventurers understands the danger of this quest, but all insist on risking their lives for diverse seemingly insane reasons. However, none of these scoundrels anticipated what happened when they tried to use the magical map for the first time only to find it cursed resulting in one dead and this guide apparently destroyed. From that devastating start, the escapades turn worse.

The Barrow is a fabulous fantasy made fresh by a magnificent team of seemingly amoral adventurers who over the course of their trek prove to possess a different code of ethics with varying personalities shaped by their respective social class, ethnicity, religion or gender. In spite of a short engaging opening saga in which Stjepan finds the mythical map, the entertaining bloody dark storyline starts leisurely as readers meet the players. Once the treasure seekers are established, the quest plot accelerates into nearly impossible to put down hyperspeed.

Harriet Klausner

November 12, 2013

Spheres of Influence-Ryk E. Spoor

Spheres of Influence
Ryk E. Spoor
Baen, Nov 5 2013, $15.00
ISBN 9781451639377

The Arena names Holy Grail starship pilot Ariane Austin as the Leader of the Faction of Humanity while she and the crew struggle to adhere to the rigid rules of the Arena as they compete with less scrupulous races also trying to gain higher social hierarchal status. Hyperion Super Marc DuQuesne introduces Ariane to other experiment survivors before visiting and asking Hyperion Sun Wu Kung the Monkey God of a virtual world to return to the real realm as they need his expertise.

Ariane learns that Oscar Naraj has become the Space Security Council chief with his loyal supporter Michelle Ni Deng assisting him. They are coming to the Grand Central Arena on the FTL ship Duta, which means physicist ship designer Dr. Marilyn Shoshana, who DuQuesne insists is a psychopathic murdering Hyperion Super, betrayed them. The Holy Grail returns to the Arena just before the arrival of the Duta. Ariane informs an angry Naraj that the Arena named her as the Leader of the Humanity Faction and that the only mission remains for their species to prove its worthiness is to join this association or face extinction.

Once again paying homage to E. E. “Doc” Smith, the sequel to Grand Central Arena is an exciting science fiction. The Holy Grail crew led by awesome Ariane must deal with competing species, learning Arena rules of order, partner with wary Super Hyperions, and prevent another human faction nuking their chances. Although the storyline does not move forward much, readers of the previous Arena thriller will enjoy this solid outer space first contact saga.

Harriet Klausner

October 27, 2013

Black and Blue-Gena Showalter

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

Black and Blue
Gena Showalter
Pocket, Oct 22 2013, $7.99
ISBN: 9781451671605

Michael Black insured the three Otherworlders he found as abandoned babies were raised comfortably in caring homes while he trained them. Owing all to Michael as he gave them sustenance and a reason to live, Solomon “Solo” Judah (see Last Kiss Goodnight), John No Last Name and Corbin Blue became his elite black operatives.

While discussing Operation Dumpster Dive to take down Gregory Star, a bombing at their chief’s house separates an injured Blue from his cronies Solo, John and their leader Michael. He was left with perilous third degree burns. Being an Arcadian may save his life but only if he can find shelter to heal. Instead of his naïve fiancé Pagan Cary, Blue turns to Michael’s estranged adopted daughter Evangeline a doctor and rare Rakan as the only person he trusts with his life; though he previously insisted he’d “rather be slit open from naval to nose” than have anything to do with her; being a former operative she carries a knife. As he recovers, they must drop the animosity and team up in search of her father and the other two members of the Dynamic Trio. At the same time each remains in denial re how they really feel by hiding behind a façade of acerbity.

The second exciting Otherworld Assassin romantic urban fantasy is a fun tale that focuses more on the war of the words than the search and rescue. Readers will enjoy the Beloved Enemies storyline as Black and Blue blend together into the color of love.

Harriet Klausner

October 6, 2013

Through The Zombie Glass-Gena Showalter

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

Through The Zombie Glass
Gena Showalter
Harlequin Teen, Sep 24 2013, $18.99
ISBN: 9780373210770

On Alice Bell’s sweet sixteenth birthday, Zombies killed her family and destroyed her innocence. Filled with remorse, grief and revenge, Alice found allies and a boyfriend when bad boy Cole Holland and his friends rescue her (see Alice In Zombieland).

Recently Cole has become distant from her and his friends; and refuses to explain why. Worried about her beloved, Alice has new concerns following the latest Zombie assault as she feels different inside. Voices insider her head scream at her to do horrific things and she fears her brain may have gone over the edge as objects come alive. Concluding she must eradicate the zombies and learn what is going on with Cole before she can figure out her tsuris, Alice with Kat having her back begins her quest.

The second White Rabbit Chronicles is an exciting teen urban fantasy starring a terrific protagonist whose entire life keeps changing in nanoseconds. The support cast is fully developed and their discussions witty while the Zombie threat palatable. Although the overdone dysfunctional relationship between Alice and Cole decelerates the thrilling plot and his behavior radically different than in the first tale (even accounting for PTSD), readers will enjoy Alice’s latest adventures as seen Through The Zombie Glass.

Harriet Klausner

September 20, 2013

23 Years on Fire-Joel Shepherd

23 Years on Fire
Joel Shepherd
Pyr, Sep 10 2013, $16.95
ISBN 9781616148096

Though accepted by most Federation citizens on Calley, former League cyborg Commander Cassandra Kresnov still has lingering doubts that she possesses the full range of human emotions especially when religious fanatics remind her that she and her kind are abominations. Sandy leads an assault on the Federation planet Pyeongwha where Neural Cluster Tech experiments to eliminate disease have turned into a social harmonious disastrous caste system proving dangerous for those civilians without NCT left in the ooze under the food chain.

After successfully completing the mission on Pyeongwha, Sandy leads her veteran unit to New Torah where corporations still thrive. On Pantala, newly created advanced soldiers threaten the peace. However not only facing more advanced technological militia machines, betrayal leaves Sandy in danger while street children she encounters places her mission in further jeopardy.

The latest Cassandra Kresnov military science fiction (see Crossover and Killswitch) is an exhilarating action-packed thriller. The protagonist is terrific as she works two military missions that as an emotional byproduct make her feel more human than she has ever felt before though I would have preferred more insight into the social caste experiment on Pyeongwha even with the Patala escapade being super. 23 Years On Fire is a strong entry as Sandy seems more human than many purebreds as she learns once again how inhuman humans can be to others while she also feels a strong need to protect those most vulnerable.

Harriet Klausner

September 18, 2013

Dead of Night-Charlaine Harris and Amanda Stevens

Dead of Night
Charlaine Harris and Amanda Stevens
Mira, Sep 24 2013, $11.95
ISBN: 9780778314769

“Dancers In The Dark.” Dancer Rue May answers an ad for job dancing with vampires at Blue Moon Entertainment and Black Moon Productions. Rue gets the job. Vampire Sean O’Rourke finds he is attracted to the mortal, but believes she is hiding something. As he tries to learn the truth about Rue, they fall in love, but her actions leave her in danger from an unknown person who is part of the troupe.

“The Devil’s Footprints.” The cloven footprints first appeared in Adamanet, Alabama in 1922 during a freak snowstorm; nothing further was found. Seven decades later, the battered mutilated corpse of seventeen year old Rachel DeLaune is found in the same area with those same devil’s footprints nearby. Her younger sister Sarah thinks Ashe Cain killed her sibling, but no one else believes he exists. Fourteen years later in New Orleans, Sarah remains disturbed by her sister’s death. Two mutilated corpses are found near her home with those same telltale cloven footprints. Her ex-lover, New Orleans Detective Sean Kelton leads the homicide investigation; he asks Sarah to interpret strange etchings on the bodies. She immediately thinks of Ashe and wonders if he is coming for her.

These reprints of two taut thrillers grip the reader throughout though Dancers In The Dark is a romantic paranormal and The Devil’s Footprints keeps readers guessing whether it is horror or psychological suspense.

Harriet Klausner

July 19, 2013

The Necromancer’s Seduction-Mimi Sebastian

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

The Necromancer’s Seduction
Mimi Sebastian
ImaJinn, Jul 15 2013, $14.00
ISBN: 9781610261326

In San Francisco Professor Ruby Montagne hates lecturing the Introductory Anthology class because most if not all of the students take it for the credits. Being a necromancer, another vocation Ruby loathes unlike her late grandma or her mom who relish the role, she notices the strange movement in her class. When everyone leaves, the Fae asks Ruby for help. She refuses unless he is a student in her class as she knows bringing back the dead bites one butt and besides she has her tenure presentation to prepare.

Kara the witch asks her friend Ruby to help her look for expelled coven member Adam’s spell book in his apartment. Instead they find his murdered body. The supernatural council wants the untrained reluctant necromancer to bring him back as a Revenant zombie so they can end a serial killer’s rampage as Adam is the third victim that includes her grandma Cora. When Ruby is attacked, Ewan the demon warrior with assistance saves her. Ruby knows her options are death as Revenants and other paranormal loathe necromancers or joining the hunters.

The supernatural on the streets of San Francisco makes for a fabulous locale in the Sebastian realm as readers will believe in several paranormal species. The coming of age storyline is at its best when Ruby and her romantic and not romantic team investigate the homicides that have them soon fearing a viable major threat to the moral and paranormal planes (to be resolved). Whereas the romance between Ruby and Ewan is too typical of the subgenre (perhaps apple pie would have been fresher), but fans will enjoy Ruby’s seduction by the demonic hunk and by her power.

Harriet Klausner

June 15, 2013

Shadow People-James Swain

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

Shadow People
James Swain
Tor, Jun 11 2013, $25.99
ISBN: 9780765329950

New York City-based Peter Warlock the renowned stage magician is also a real warlock who conceals his psychic skills from the public. He uses his abilities to see into the future in attempts to prevent horrific crimes from occurring.

During a séance he hosts, Shadow People abduct Peter in order for him to deal with Dr. Death, who kills Good Samaritan females. He arrives in the future just as Dr. Death is about to murder his next victim. Returning to the present but shook up by his encounter, Peter concludes that the Shadow People and the serial killer are connected and that the murderer belongs to the Order of Astrum evil psychics who made Peter an orphan years ago when they butchered his parents. With help from his assistant Liza and FBI Agent Garrison, Peter must find the killer before he murders again but is distracted by Rachel the mage.

The second Peter Warlock Manhattan urban fantasy (see Dark Magic) is an engaging paranormal thriller starring an intriguing hero who is not an angel; yet bordering on PTSD, he diligently seeks the serial killer before good people die. The villains are two dimensional or evanescent as they feel underdeveloped, but readers still will enjoy Warlock’s Manhattan (and Pelham) magical mystery tour.

Harriet Klausner

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