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

Sea of Shadows-Kelley Armstrong

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

Sea of Shadows
Kelley Armstrong
HarperCollins, Apr 8 2014, $17.99
ISBN: 9780062071248

From their birth, twins Moria and Ashyn were respectively anointed as the Keeper and Seeker of Edgewood; considered the most dangerous spot in the Empire as spirits roam nearby due to proximity to the Forest of the Dead where the barrier between dead and living lacks depth. This is also a place where the guards dump undesirables to die. One other Keeper-Seeker pair works at the court; while two other couplings roam the empire.

Accompanied by her Hound of the Immortals Tova, Ashyn the Seeker enters the Forest of the Dead to collect corpses and send their spirits on; while Moria and her wildcat Daigo protect her sister and the villagers. However, instead of just dead bodies, Ashyn finds living people and hellish monsters. As the feral beasts overwhelm Edgewood in a bloody slaughter, the twins and their bonded animals flee to warn the emperor. Joining them on their dangerous trek are Ronan the con artist and Gavril Kitsune the disgraced warrior.

The first Age of Legends young adult quest fantasy is an exciting tale as the two sisters have been trained to do their jobs; but not mentored in relationships besides with each other, their family and their familiars or adapting to radical change making mission accomplishment impossible. Their difficult adjustment while traversing a vividly lethal landscape turns Sea of Shadows into a strong opening act.

Harriet Klausner

April 8, 2014

Sea of Shadows-Kelley Armstrong

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

Sea of Shadows
Kelley Armstrong
HarperCollins, Apr 8 2014, $17.99
ISBN: 9780062071248

From their birth, twins Moria and Ashyn were respectively anointed as the Keeper and Seeker of Edgewood; considered the most dangerous spot in the Empire as spirits roam nearby due to proximity to the Forest of the Dead where the barrier between dead and living lacks depth. This is also a place where the guards dump undesirables to die. One other Keeper-Seeker pair works at the court; while two other couplings roam the empire.

Accompanied by her Hound of the Immortals Tova, Ashyn the Seeker enters the Forest of the Dead to collect corpses and send their spirits on; while Moria and her wildcat Daigo protect her sister and the villagers. However, instead of just dead bodies, Ashyn finds living people and hellish monsters. As the feral beasts overwhelm Edgewood in a bloody slaughter, the twins and their bonded animals flee to warn the emperor. Joining them on their dangerous trek are Ronan the con artist and Gavril Kitsune the disgraced warrior.

The first Age of Legends young adult quest fantasy is an exciting tale as the two sisters have been trained to do their jobs; but not mentored in relationships besides with each other, their family and their familiars or adapting to radical change making mission accomplishment impossible. Their difficult adjustment while traversing a vividly lethal landscape turns Sea of Shadows into a strong opening act.

Harriet Klausner

March 13, 2014

Shadowmaster-Susan Krinard

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

Shadowmaster
Susan Krinard
Harlequin Nocturne, Mar 4 2014, $5.75
ISBN: 9780373885916

In the San Francisco enclave, Aegis Director of Operations Chen assigns half-dhampir agent Phoenix Stryker to uncover the identity of Draken and prevent this killer from assassinating a senator. Chen chose Stryker for this dangerous mission because she believes this lethal Opiri assassin is most likely heterosexual and thus unable to resist the call of dhampir blood.

Getting inside his camp, Stryker meets Draken, but instead of being a deadly monster as her superior described, she finds a caring person who wants to end the ugly exiling of criminals to Erebus where they are used for sustenance or slaves by the Opiri. He also has a personal agenda to avenge the destruction of his loved ones. However, Draken revises his goals to include keeping the newcomer he cherishes safe.

The latest Nightsiders romantic fantasy (see Nightmaster and Daysider) is an action-packed thriller that nicely blends desire with peril. Though the overarching drums of war fails to move forward much, readers will relish this taut twisting storyline as the lead couple has some complex decisions to make in which each choice seems overwhelmingly lethal to them.

Harriet Klausner

March 11, 2014

Shadow of Freedom-David Weber

Shadow of Freedom
David Weber
Baen, Mar 4 2014, $15.00
ISBN: 9781476736280

In the Talbott Quadrant, Star Empire of Manticore Tenth Fleet Commander Michelle Henke leads her naval forces to an astounding victory over the invincible Solarian League armada. Word of the stunning outcome spreads rapidly in this sector and causally lifts rebel morale with new hopes of obtaining freedom from the tyrannical Solarian League.

The Mobius Liberation Front asks for help from Henke as they rebel against vicious President Lombroso. Although she sympathizes with their cause to liberate the Mobius System from a lethal despicable tyrant, Henke still remains locked in a deadly war with the Solarian League; at a time when the enemy deploys thousands of its most powerful naval dreadnoughts. More confusing to the Commander is the message includes timing of the revolt was coordinated with Manticore. Henke nor her staff ever heard of MLF before this contact. They conclude the slimy Mesan Alignment brilliantly arranged to make Manticore look weak and unwilling to stand up to its vaunted values of freedom for all when Lombroso annihilates his opposition. Dividing their forces leaves them vulnerable to almost certain overwhelming defeat and she lacks authorization though Henke ignores the latter as she makes her decision.

This is an exciting sidebar military science fiction as much of the action occurs before the events of A Rising Thunder while paralleling the major actions of Mission of Honor; although from a fresh perspective (Henke and the Tenth rather than Honor and the Eighth) in a different sector. Filled with political venom and plenty of military encounters, fans who are okay that the overarching theme remains stagnant and that Honor is MIA, will enjoy Henke’s escapades.

Harriet Klausner

January 10, 2014

1636: Sea Of Fortune-Iver Cooper

1636: Sea Of Fortune
Iver Cooper
Baen, Jan 7 2014, $15.00
ISBN 9781451639391

“Stretching Out.” In Belem do Para, Brazil, Henrique Pereira da Costa and his servant and best friend Maurico enter the Amazon Valley seeking rubber trees. They show drawings to the native Indians, who fail to comprehend what the outsiders want until Maurico makes a clay model that lead them being escorted to rubber trees. Henrique and Maurico send sap to Portugal for testing. When they come home, Henrique finds a cracked vase with the silver candelabra secretly inside gone. He knows the inquisitors will destroy him as a Jew and take everything he owns including Maurico. Dutchwoman Maria Vorst illustrates plants and animals in Grantville, but craves working in South America. She persuades Dutch sea captain David Pieterszoon de Vries to take her on his colonization voyage to Suriname as his science officer.

“Rising Sun.” For several years Portuguese priests converted Japanese to Christianity until the religion was banned from the locals though secret ceremonies still occur. Shogun Iemitsu Tokagawa and his senior councilor Sakai Tadakatsu struggle with their Christian subjects when they learn about the soon to come rebellion. Many Christians are executed while others sent to New Nippon in the Northern New World under the control of Grand Governor Date Masamune.

Both segues expand the Ring of Fire universe into new or previously limited geography and culture. “Stretching Out” includes seven excellent entries mostly in South America and the Caribbean built on real events but with a nice Grantville twist. “Rising Sun” contains five terrific tales in Japan and the American-Canadian West Coast also built on real events enhanced by historical speculation but with a nice Grantville twist.

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 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

November 6, 2013

Star Corpsman: Abyss Deep-Ian Douglas

Star Corpsman: Abyss Deep
Ian Douglas
Harper Voyager, Oct 29 2013, $7.99
ISBN: 9780061894770

Navy Hospital Corpsman Elliot “Doc” Carlyle understands firsthand the “hurry up and wait” credo of the military as he boringly sits inside a Katy orbital transport with 41 marines of Bravo Company. Their mission is to end a hostage situation on earth orbiting mining asteroid Atun 3840’s Capricorn Zeta before the neo-Ludds crash the rock into the planet. The platoon and Doc deploy their search and seize operation. Doc saves the life of injured Corporal Morrisey and a hurt M’nangat while his comrades in arms prevent the terrorist plot. However, as Doc does a DNA sweep, a newsie catches him in action, which violates security protocol during a combat mission.

Instead of a court martial, General Craig exiles Doc on a mission to the harsh watery planet GJ 1214 I better known as Abyssworld in which the oceans are boiling or frozen. On the Haldane vessel he, other Corpsman and a marine scout-recon element will investigate why the planet’s research facility abruptly went silent. Upon reaching their destination, an alien combat vessel floats above the planet while below the glacier awaits something even more feral than the combative orbiting enemy.

Star Corpsman Book Two (see Bloodstar) is an exhilarating military science fiction tale that feels genuine due to the extrapolation of modern day technology into the future; the medical data that Doc uses is relatively easy to follow and enhances the sense of being on the combat and first contact missions in outer space. Doc is a terrific lead character who holds the storyline in place while in and out of trouble with his by the SOPs superior officers back in headquarters. Action-packed throughout, Ian Douglas provides another entertaining thriller.

Harriet Klausner

Siren’s Secret-Debbie Herbert

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

Siren’s Secret
Debbie Herbert
Harlequin Nocturne, Nov 5 2013, $5.75
ISBN: 9780373885825

Because of her hybrid human-mer DNA, with the exceptions of her cousins (Jet and Lily who adore her), her purebred sea-living compatriots treat Shelley Connor with disdainful superiority. A physical therapist, she enjoys late nocturnal swims. While on a midnight swim, Shelley sees someone disposing of a corpse several miles at sea; the killer sees her and knifes her before she escapes.

Shelly fears the culprit will come after her, but conceals part of the truth from Sheriff Tillman Angier, who recently returned to the Bayou to help his widow mom care for his autistic brother. Attracted to Tillman, Shelley instead turns to Jet and Lily as to what to do. Jet says kill the predator and poetical justice dump his body in the ocean while Lily and Shelley insist they plant evidence so that Tillman can arrest the psychopath. However Tillman knows Shelley hides something from him and the three cousins are suspects due to their tampering; while the murderer plays chess with the half-mermaid and her two relatives.

Rotating first person accounts between Shelly, Tillman and Melkie the killer, Siren’s Secret is an engaging romantic police procedural urban fantasy. The lead couple and her cousins are three-dimensional flaws and all; on the other hand Melkie is one dimensional and the Mer race underdeveloped. Still readers will relish this taut thriller as the Three Musketeers battle a stalking maniac at the same time the sheriff and the mixed race siren fall in love.

Harriet Klausner

October 18, 2013

1636: The Devil’s Opera-Eric Flint and David Carrico

1636: The Devil’s Opera
Eric Flint and David Carrico
Baen, Oct 1 2013, $25.00
ISBN: 9781451639285

King of Sweden, Emperor of the United States of Europe and the Union of Kalmar leader Gustavus Adolphus Vasa II recuperates from war wounds and is unable to perform his leadership duties. Swedish Chancellor Oxenstierna grabs the chief positions; superseding the claims of Gustavus’ heir Princess Kristina. To solidify his power, Oxenstierna opens a court in Berlin.

USE President Ed Piazza and Vice President Rebecca Abraband are concerned with Oxenstierna’s power grab especially his presence in Berlin. They ask arts guru Mary Simpson for help to get Oxenstierna out of Berlin by tricking him into believing Magdeburg is the heart of USE power. Mary obtains help from several people like Marla Linder the musician to bring a major art festival to Magdeburg. After finding a floater, Simon Bayer rescues Hans Metzgerinin from an assault; the latter introduces him to his sister Ursula as the Magdeburg Police investigate the death of the drowning victim. However, Marla’s contribution to the festival, a King Arthur opera, sparks a patriotic reaction that upsets Oxenstierna.

The latest Ring of Fire alternate history entry (see 1636: The Kremlin Games) is an engaging for the most part low key tale that focuses on political intrigue during a leadership battle to fill a void at the top. The use of music to obtain support for an outcome (such as George M. Cohan’s “Over There” and “The Ballad of the Green Berets” by Robin Moore and Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler) is cleverly handled. Fans of the series will enjoy the chess game over who leads the USE while the Emperor remains severely injured.

Harriet Klausner

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