Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Eye on New Releases for August 18

"In the late twentieth century, the streets of Paris are lined with haunted ruins, the aftermath of a Great War between arcane powers. The Grand Magasins have been reduced to piles of debris, Notre-Dame is a burnt-out shell, and the Seine has turned black with ashes and rubble and the remnants of the spells that tore the city apart. But those that survived still retain their irrepressible appetite for novelty and distraction, and The Great Houses still vie for dominion over France’s once grand capital.
Once the most powerful and formidable, House Silverspires now lies in disarray. Its magic is ailing; its founder, Morningstar, has been missing for decades; and now something from the shadows stalks its people inside their very own walls.

Within the House, three very different people must come together: a naive but powerful Fallen angel; an alchemist with a self-destructive addiction; and a resentful young man wielding spells of unknown origin. They may be Silverspires’ salvation—or the architects of its last, irreversible fall. And if Silverspires falls, so may the city itself."

Monday, August 17, 2015

Review: Sorcerer to the Crown

Sorcerer to the Crown
by Zen Cho

Format: Hardcover, 384 pages
Publisher: Ace
Cover Art: TK
Release Date: September 1, 2015
ISBN-13: 978-0425283370

(I received an Advanced Reader Copy in a Goodreads giveaway.)

"The Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, one of the most respected organizations throughout all of England, has long been tasked with maintaining magic within His Majesty’s lands. But lately, the once proper institute has fallen into disgrace, naming an altogether unsuitable gentleman—a freed slave who doesn’t even have a familiar—as their Sorcerer Royal, and allowing England’s once profuse stores of magic to slowly bleed dry. At least they haven’t stooped so low as to allow women to practice what is obviously a man’s profession…

At his wit’s end, Zacharias Wythe, Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers and eminently proficient magician, ventures to the border of Fairyland to discover why England’s magical stocks are drying up. But when his adventure brings him in contact with a most unusual comrade, a woman with immense power and an unfathomable gift, he sets on a path which will alter the nature of sorcery in all of Britain—and the world at large…"

Sorcerer to the Crown is the debut novel of Zen Cho.  She's published some short fiction, and I've been hearing some good things about her so I decided to give this book a try after winning an ARC in the Goodreads giveaway contest.  It also has an eye-catching cover.

There's a lot to like about this book.  Both the magic and world-building, with their ties with the world and court of the fae, are very intriguing.  This is essentially Victorian-era Britain with magic.  It features a bit of diversity with both main characters being people of color who struggle to overcome the prejudices against them. 

Unfortunately, the novel didn't work for me.  There some small issues with pacing and plotting, but the big one for me was that this book is not only set in Victorian Britain, but it's also written in imitation of the Victorian Regency style.  So it's Victorian magic with manners.  This is hardly the first book with this style that I've read before, but this time I was really not in the mood for it.  I wish there had been more evidence for this in the blurb. 

So while the writing style didn't work for me, I gave it a decent rating because I know it should appeal to some readers. I probably won't rule out reading more by this author, perhaps some of her short stories.  It's also obvious this is the first book in a series so I may give the next book a try too.

Rating: 7/10.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Eye on New Releases for August 11, 2015

 (B&N, Amazon)

"In Dark Forest, Earth is reeling from the revelation of a coming alien invasion-in just four centuries' time. The aliens' human collaborators may have been defeated, but the presence of the sophons, the subatomic particles that allow Trisolaris instant access to all human information, means that Earth's defense plans are totally exposed to the enemy. Only the human mind remains a secret. This is the motivation for the Wallfacer Project, a daring plan that grants four men enormous resources to design secret strategies, hidden through deceit and misdirection from Earth and Trisolaris alike. Three of the Wallfacers are influential statesmen and scientists, but the fourth is a total unknown. Luo Ji, an unambitious Chinese astronomer and sociologist, is baffled by his new status. All he knows is that he's the one Wallfacer that Trisolaris wants dead."

"It’s a fable-like story of a house in the small German town of Weissenfels—a house that was the home of 19th-century German Romantic poet Novalis. Solidly built on a pleasant street, by the mid-19th century it is a boarding house run by the efficient Madame Helena. Gorodischer inhabits the minds of various residents—the general refighting past wars, the tea salon manager dreaming of travel, a retired opera singer and her sullen daughter, a man obsessed with miniature figures, and the cook and maids—around the time a Japanese pearl seller moves in. Although short, the book reads slowly: long, complicated sentences unfurl, mixing prosaic detail about meals (heavy and delicious sounding) with dreams and dread. Despite the house’s many comforts, hauntings penetrate its quotidian world—not witches or ghosts, exactly, but the past, the imagined future, and a kind of unease that stems from being alive, fearful, guilty, human."

 (B&N, Amazon)

"Humans expanded into space...only to find a universe populated with multiple alien species bent on their destruction. Thus was the Colonial Union formed, to help protect us from a hostile universe. The Colonial Union used the Earth and its excess population for colonists and soldiers. It was a good arrangement...for the Colonial Union. Then the Earth said: no more.

Now the Colonial Union is living on borrowed time-a couple of decades at most, before the ranks of the Colonial Defense Forces are depleted and the struggling human colonies are vulnerable to the alien species who have been waiting for the first sign of weakness, to drive humanity to ruin. And there's another problem: A group, lurking in the darkness of space, playing human and alien against each other-and against their own kind -for their own unknown reasons.

In this collapsing universe, CDF Lieutenant Harry Wilson and the Colonial Union diplomats he works with race against the clock to discover who is behind attacks on the Union and on alien races, to seek peace with a suspicious, angry Earth, and keep humanity's union intact...or else risk oblivion, and extinction-and the end of all things."

"In the distant future, Surplus arrives in China dressed as a Mongolian shaman, leading a yak which carries the corpse of his friend, Darger. The old high-tech world has long since collapsed, and the artificial intelligences that ran it are outlawed and destroyed. Or so it seems.

Darger and Surplus, a human and a genetically engineered dog with human intelligence who walks upright, are a pair of con men and the heroes of a series of prior Swanwick stories. They travel to what was once China and invent a scam to become rich and powerful. Pretending to have limited super-powers, they aid an ambitious local warlord who dreams of conquest and once again reuniting China under one ruler. And, against all odds, it begins to work, but it seems as if there are other forces at work behind the scenes"

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Review: The Just City and The Philosopher Kings

The Just City
by Jo Walton

Format: Hardcover, 368 pages
Publisher: Tor
Cover Art: The School of Athens (detail) by Raphael
Release Date: January 13, 2015
ISBN-13: 978-0765332660

"Created as an experiment by the time-traveling goddess Pallas Athene, the Just City is a planned community, populated by over ten thousand children and a few hundred adult teachers from all eras of history, along with some handy robots from the far human future--all set down together on a Mediterranean island in the distant past.

There are three points of view in the novel.  The student Simmea, born an Egyptian farmer's daughter sometime between 500 and 1000 A.D, is a brilliant child, eager for knowledge, ready to strive to be her best self. The teacher Maia was once Ethel, a young Victorian lady of much learning and few prospects.  And finally, the god Apollo comes to the city as one of the children in order to live a full mortal life and learn more about what it means to be human.

Then, a few years in, Sokrates arrives to ask all the troublesome questions you would expect."


Like Plato's original work, this novel is a bit of a thought experiment.  It attempts to see just how the Just City might actually work.  It succeeds and fails in many different ways, which is to be expected whenever ideals mix with human nature.  Some adjustments have to be made even to get it to work in the first place.  This book is chock-full of philosophy as the characters have tons of debates and moral arguments, and it was fascinating reading it.  I really liked all the ideas and was never bored with it all.

Because of the novel's content, there is understandably little in the way of plot making this a character-based story with the City itself practically a character as well.  There is a "climax", which is, quite appropriately, a debate: one between Athena and Socrates.

Rating: 8/10.

The Philosopher Kings
by Jo Walton

Format: Hardcover, 348 pages
Publisher: Tor
Cover Art: The School of Athens (detail) by Raphael
Release Date: June 30, 2015
ISBN-13: 978-0765332677

The sequel to The Just City picks up almost twenty years after The Just City, where the City has split into five and conflict is not unheard of.  After a tragic loss, Apollo in his mortal form, swears revenge and sets out with several of his children to seek justice. 

The sequel to The Just City does not have many of the debates and moral arguments of the first book.  Rather it is a more straightforward exploration and revenge plot about how Apollo deals with his grief and his children learn about their godly heritage.  There is still some philosophy, mainly as the crew from the City explore and encounter the other cities.  Each of the other cities have different setups so we see how some of the different philosophies are working on a larger scale.  But that also means I didn't enjoy this book quite as much.  The climax of this one is a little out of left field and ties things off too neatly, but ultimately it's satisfactorily. 

For anyone who is even remotely interested in the philosophical and ethical ideas present I would heartily recommend these two books.

Rating: 7.5/10.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Eye on New Releases for August 4, 2015

 (B&N, Amazon)

"Thirty thousand years ago, ice was storming the planet. Among the species forced out of the trees and onto the steppes by the advancing cold was modern man, who was both predator and prey.

No stranger to the experiences that make us human-a mother's love and a father's betrayal, tribal war and increasing famine, political intrigue and forbidden love, joy and hope and devastating loss-our ancestors competed for scant resources in a brutal landscape.

Mankind stood on the cold brink of extinction...but they had a unique advantage over other species, a new technology-domesticated wolves.

Only a set of extraordinary circumstances could have transformed one of these fierce creatures into a hunting companion, a bodyguard, a soldier, and a friend."

 (B&N, Amazon)

"A season of endings has begun.  It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world's sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun.  It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter.  It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.  This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy."

 (B&N, Amazon)

"London awakes one morning to find itself besieged by a sky full of floating icebergs. Destroyed oil rigs, mysteriously reborn, clamber from the sea and onto the land, driven by an obscure but violent purpose. An anatomy student cuts open a cadaver to discover impossibly intricate designs carved into a corpse’s bones—designs clearly present from birth, bearing mute testimony to . . . what?

Of such concepts and unforgettable images are made the twenty-eight stories in this collection—many published here for the first time. By turns speculative, satirical, and heart-wrenching, fresh in form and language, and featuring a cast of damaged yet hopeful seekers who come face-to-face with the deep weirdness of the world—and at times the deeper weirdness of themselves—Three Moments of an Explosion is a fitting showcase for one of literature’s most original voices."

"A grief-struck man finds the truth he needs in a Wild Blue Yonder purchased from a back alley grief counselor. A Kentucky veteran freshly home from Iraq juggles a trailer-park Thanksgiving and zombie apocalypse. A disillusioned pastor and a disgraced security officer in the not-so-distant future face down a domestic terror cell bent on bringing about Armageddon. These are just a few of the stops in Ken Scholes’s latest pass through his Imagination Forest. 

Blue Yonders, Grateful Pies and Other Fanciful Feasts is a potluck of words gathered together just in time to celebrate 15 years logging stories for fun and profit. So grab your plate and fork, find yourself a place at the table, and get ready to dig in!"

"It's all come down to this, following the discoveries made by Cormac in Low Midnight, Kitty and her allies are ready to strike. But, when their assassination attempt on the evil vampire Dux Bellorum fails, Kitty finds herself running out of time. The elusive vampire lord has begun his apocalyptic end game, and Kitty still doesn't know where he will strike.
Meanwhile, pressure mounts in Denver as Kitty and her pack begin to experience the true reach of Dux Bellorum's cult. Outnumbered and outgunned at every turn, the stakes have never been higher for Kitty. She will have to call on allies both old and new in order to save not just her family and friends, but the rest of the world as well."