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

February 18, 2014

Dreamwalker-C.S. Friedman

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

Dreamwalker
C.S. Friedman
DAW, Feb 4 2014, $19.95
ISBN 9780756408886

Jessica Drake’s weird dreams of alien worlds have haunted her as far back as she remembers. Uncomfortable, the sixteen year old Jesse shares her haunting dreams with no one except her gamer addicted younger brother Tommy. He, in turn, uses her vivid descriptions in his games.

DNA testing stuns the teen who assumed her parents birthed her; as the data prove they are not her natural family. Even more shocking the results insist she probably is not Homo Sapien. Jesse soon meets other “changelings” with her genetic coding also orphaned on earth while some of these others die in suspicious accidents. When strangers destroy her home and abduct Tommy, Jesse and two changeling comrades follow to a different Earth where the science is magic and the economics is multidimensional colonial mercantilism controlled by a powerful plutocracy. To return to their earth, Jesse and her friends risk their lives by daring to challenge the portal-controlling Guilds.

Dreamwalker is an enjoyable young adult opening act that establishes a parallel earth in a fantasy setting manipulated by the universal 1%. The storyline provides readers with a deep look at this other realm through the escapades of the three changelings. Although the heroine’s companions are underdeveloped sidekicks and a romance feels included as a subgenre requirement, readers will enjoy traveling to C.S. Friedman’s other earth and look forward to more dimensional adventures starring Jesse and her buddies.

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

October 31, 2013

Dead Set-Richard Kadrey

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

Dead Set
Richard Kadrey
Harper Voyager, Oct 29 2013, $22.99
ISBN 9780062283016

After the unexpected death of her father, grieving sixteen years old Zoe and her mother who has no time to mourn their loss move into a run-down apartment in San Francisco. They are broke and cannot afford for Zoe to regularly check her email. Zoe does not hate this apartment, but feels miserable there and at her new school while her dreams frighten her except for mysterious Valentine who she does not know always being there.

The enthusiasm Zoe’s late father had for punk bands is her fondest memory of him. When Zoe meets music store owner Ammut, she feels a connection her dad. Ammut tells her he can arrange for her to meet her father’s spirit. Excited Zoe ends up in Iphigene; where trapped souls like that of her father linger for eternity. Zoe’s deceased brother she never knew existed welcomes her and guides her as she tries to help her dead family members move on from an evil despot and ultimately for her to return to her mom.

This is a fabulous young adult allegory that looks deep into grief as everyone mourns a loss differently. Although the storyline contains no twists, readers will feel the depth of despair Zoe carries in her heart and the burden of the Dead Set denizen stuck in Iphigene in this profound fable.

Harriet Klausner

September 25, 2013

Tropic of Darkness-Tony Richards

Filed under: Author: R,Horror,Title: D

Tropic of Darkness
Tony Richards
Pocket, Sep 17 2013, $1.99
ISBN: 9781476727097

In 1958, a disgusted and disappointed Meyer Lansky flies from Vegas to Havana. Two big goons meet him at the airport to tell him that Mario Mantegna is acting strange by insisting she is “under my skin” and he needs her back. Meyer confronts Mario though a closed hotel suite door; instead of responding Mario kills himself.

In 1995, Frank returns from a business trip to his home in Toronto. His wife Ellen notices him acting strange as he sings in his sleep about a girl “under my skin”. She can’t wake him up so calls Dr. Hague; Frank kills himself with a knife.

A few days after Frank’s suicide, Jack Gilliard arrives in Havana. This is his latest stop while on his decade-long musical tour of the world with his cornet since he left his unhappy home in America when he was a teenager; his only other possession he prizes is a knife. Jack hopes to play some gigs in Cuba, but instead has haunting dreams of the Mafia ruling the island in the 1950s and Castro’s revolution. Disoriented Jack soon learns of an ancient curse involving a girl “under my skin” that once inside his head leads to suicide; to escape he must leave the island before he becomes the latest person singing I’ve Got You Under My Skin” as his funeral hymn.

Putting aside the late great Cole Porter’s reaction, Tropic of Darkness is an exciting horror thriller as the past haunts the present. Flashbacks add depth to understanding the curse and the related betrayal with Jack, due to his past, as the latest target of the darkness.

Harriet Klausner

September 18, 2013

The Demon’s Wife-Rick Hautala

Filed under: Author: H,Horror,Title: D

The Demon’s Wife
Rick Hautala
JournalStone, Sep 13 2013, $18.95
www.journalstone.com
ISBN: 9781936564958

In Portland, Maine, lonely and bored Claire McMullen works as a purchasing agent for Montressor; her time spent inside her broom closet-sized office is listening to a Philadelphia radio station streaming over the internet and checking out social media sites. She shares an apartment with Sally Lewis, who persuades Claire to stop at the Margarita Grille before they see The Economy perform.

At the Grille, Sally flirts with Samael, but he focuses on Claire. When someone assaults her just outside, Samael rescues Claire. She goes to the hospital, but once released Samael takes her home. When they finally make love, Claire is stunned by his lack of the usual male tools and by how sensational his tail proves to be. However, Claire fears he wants her soul for some nefarious purpose besides love’s redemption. As Samael makes his case that they belong together, raging demons believe this coupling is a sinful transgression of the natural order and must end with the human banished for eternity.

The Demon’s Wife is an engaging romantic urban fantasy starring two fascinating characters falling into a taboo love that shakes the eternal cold war order of Heaven and Hell. Fast-paced with plenty of action and strange bedfellows; the demons mount a campaign to end this immoral horror and the angels reluctantly protect the partnering. Samael’s reformation never feels right as he recognizes his nasty history though love enables him to say Honest to God. Still fans will appreciate the late Rick Hautala’s wicked relationship drama; summed up by Milton in Paradise Lost: “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”

Harriet Klausner

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 26, 2013

The Dark Man-Stephen King

Filed under: Author: K,Horror,Title: D

The Dark Man
Stephen King
Cemetery Dance, Jul 30 2013, $25.00
ISBN: 9781587674211

He is the ultimate dangerous wanderer because as the outsider with no attachments, he loathes those with friends and families. In his denims, fuming with rage 24/7 he nightmarishly rides the rails frightening the hobos who recognize what he is and what he is not; or hitches at night with those moronically picking him up learning too late why he is The Dark Man.

A forerunner of Randall Flagg, Stephen King wrote this aptly titled short poem while in college. Artist Glenn Chadbourne provides his interpretation through approximately seventy intriguing illustrations to the 200 or so dark words. Fans of Mr. King will enjoy this entry though the picture to word ratio at times fragments the structure of the dark ode.

Harriet Klausner

May 16, 2013

Dark Star Dawning-Elyse Hendricks

Dark Star Dawning
Elyse Hendricks
ImaJinn, Apr 30 2013, $14.99
ISBN: 9781610261272

Victoria Hart grew up a wanderer as her mother could not stay in any one place for very long. When Tori managed to stay in a residence for more than a cup of milk, she was with a foster family. She relishes settling at one address in Hope, Ohio where she runs an antique shop.

Widower Captain Reese Taren arrives in Hope seeking the Heart of Destiny, an artifact he does not believe exists but his Emperor sent him to find it to save what is left of his world from alien invaders. He kidnaps Tori who Reese thinks is the key to destroying the feral enemy he loathes for killing his wife, child and others. However, he never expected her to be his Heart of Destiny, but knows what must happen to his beloved to save a world and perhaps a universe.

Dark Star Dawning is an entertaining science fiction romance starring a heroic male and a bewildered female feeling out of her element within a worlds collide setting. Fast-paced, readers will enjoy the dilemma the lead couple confronts as the risk for Tori is almost certain death, but doing nothing means billions die. Although the plot contains several inconsistencies, Elyse Hendricks provides an engaging sci fi love story.

Harriet Klausner

May 13, 2013

Deep Space-Ian Douglas

Deep Space
Ian Douglas
Harper Voyager, Apr 30 2013, $7.99
ISBN: 9780062183804

Two decades have passed since the truce agreement with the Sh’daar ended hostilities and led to a cold war rivalry. The earth hero of that war (see Singularity), then Admiral Alexander Koenig is now president; so remains diligently alert for further combat especially in disputed areas as the enemy is known for its bellicose attitude towards other races.

Lately Sh’daar attacks on the Earth Confederation outposts and vessels have begun. Neither President Koenig or other leaders know why the hostilities have started again though most expected it to occur at some time; nor who the alien ally of their feral foe is as the Sh’daar, who trusts no other species, has deployed advanced weaponry they did not previously possess. Trevor Grey commands the Koenig’s old ship the CVS America as he heads into what appears to be the second war zone with neither side cognizant of the Black Rosette.

The fourth exciting Star Carrier science fiction saga (see Center Of Gravity) is an engaging Deep Space thriller as 2424 comes alive in Ian Douglas’ entertaining series of two species at each other’s throat. The storyline focuses on outer space race relationships and what has happened to key participants in the last war. Although there is too much repetitiveness of events especially slowing down the early storyline, fans will enjoy the heating up of the cold war conflict.

Harriet Klausner

May 9, 2013

Defender of the Flame-Sylvia Engdahl

Defender of the Flame
Sylvia Engdahl
Ad Stellae Books, Apr 20 2013
www.adstellaebooks.com
ISBN: 9780615804347

Starship pilot Lieutenant Terry Radnor is irate and desolate when Fleet headquarters abruptly without explanation reassign him from his assignment at Centuri Ops Center where he was due to command on his next explorer mission to the desolate training base on Titan. He assumes the brass wants him to instruct future pilots to explore space. Drew Larrson welcomes Terry, but warns him he will go stir crazy like all of the other pilot exiles.

After seeing psychiatrist Dr. Aldren, Admiral Derham asks Terry if he would volunteer to be part of a top secret project involving a new type of psychological and physical training. He signs the life-binding Extraordinary Secrets Acknowledgment agreement, but is quickly transferred to the Shepard. As a contented Terry finds his life-calling and Allison, he suddenly loses everything except his need to regain what he once had in order to protect Ciencia.

The third Flame futuristic science fiction (see Stewards of the Flame and Promise of the Flame) is a fabulous twisting outer space thriller that will keep readers wondering what next will happen to the protagonist. Character driven by Terry, readers will enjoy his exploits and also appreciate his ethics as he learns inconvenient truths that tear his core values asunder.

Harriet Klausner

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