Monday, April 24, 2017

Urban Fantasy Review: Owl and the Electric Samurai by Kristi Charish

The third book in The Adventures of Owl is, in a word, the most significant entry in the series to date. So much of what's been hinted and teased comes to the forefront here with a story that offers up equal measures of character building, world building, and plot development. Kristi Charish has really upped the ante here, and it pays off.

The first thing you'll notice about Owl and the Electric Samurai is that it is neither as frantic nor as fun as its predecessors. This is a slower, more deliberate tale, and one that carries a heavy weight in terms of its stakes for all involved. For that reason, it's also neither as friendly nor as romantic. Sure, the usual cast of supporting characters is there, namely Rynn and Carpe, but there is an emotional distance between them all that is borne out of fear, paranoia, and desperation.

Not only does Owl have lingering tensions with Lady Siyu to deal with, but International Archaeology Association (IAA) is playing hardball, the elves have put her in an impossible position, and the cursed (possibly sentient) armor know as the Electric Samurai has placed its own claim on our heroine. Placed in an impossible situation, it seems as if any action she takes to deal with one issue only increases the pressure of the others.

In terms of world-building, Owl and the Electric Samurai has a lot to offer. We get insights into Rynn's past, as well as his history with the elves; we learn more about supernatural politics than you'd ever imagine possible; and we get some significant revelations about World Quest and its creators. Readers who have been waiting for answers will find many of them here but, of course, they will also find new - and often bigger - questions as a result. The real-life archaeological set-pieces are a bit simpler this time around, but they are balanced with the fantastical details of Shangri-La. Heavy the story may be, full of plots and threats around every corner, but Charish never loses her ability to astound.

The climax here is everything fans could hope for, but it comes at a steep price. There are hard choices and real threats in the final chapters, all leading up to a major development for one character, and an even bigger cliff-hanger. Owl and the Electric Samurai may promise a lot, juggling all its myriad conflicts, but it also delivers. This volume feels like a real game-changer, and I suspect the upcoming Owl and the Tiger Thieves will take things even further.

ebook, 416 pages
Expected publication: May 8th 2017 by Simon & Schuster

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

From the Shelf to the Page: This Week in the Ruins

Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.

My shelves runneth over this week, with a pair of digital additions from Rob Hayes & Terry West and a pair of physical titles from Titan Books.

Where Loyalties Lie by Rob J. Hayes
[May 26th 2017]
Where Loyalties Lie is the first book in the Best Laid Plans duology and is set in the same world as The Ties That Bind trilogy, continuing Captain Drake Morass' story where the trilogy left off.

Picaro by Terry M. West
[June 30th 2017 by PSE]
As two men travel the dusty road, their odyssey becomes a harrowing nightmare from which there is no escape. PICARO is a bloody road trip to Hell 

Off Rock by Kieran Shea
[April 18th 2017 by Titan Books]
A sardonic heist novel set in space, Off Rock is escapist adventure of the cruellest kind. Pass the popcorn.

The Dragon’s Legacy by Deborah A. Wolf
[April 4th 2017 by Titan Books]
A warrior would become Queen, a Queen would become a monster, and a young boy plays his bird-skull flute to keep the shadows of death at bay.


It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf.

Juggling another pair of e-book of reads this week, with The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase by Greg Cox & River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey, while I'm deep into my paperback of Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson.

What's topping your shelves this week?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

In Space No One Can See You Bleed . . . by C.T. Phipps (#scifi #guestpost)

In space no one can see you bleed...
By C.T. Phipps

One of the first reviews I ever got for my book, Lucifer's Star was one which confused me quite a bit. It said, "I absolutely love this book, great characters, great plot, and a great series of twists. However, it's way too dark so I'm going to give it two stars." I was like, "Hmm, you realize this was a dark science fiction novel, right? Then I realized, no, they probably didn't.

Later, I would continue this conversation with a friend who explained to me the problem wasn't I was writing a dark science fiction novel but I was writing a dark science fiction novel IN SPACE. "If you'd written it on Earth then you could have cyberpunk and everything is controlled by robots or it's a nuclear wasteland. In space, everyone expects things to have at least marginally gotten better. Space opera is meant to be happy don't you see?"

No I didn't.

My first space opera story was Dune, where the lesson wasn't, "Paul Atreides defeats the evil Harkonnens and builds a utopian space empire" but "Paul recruits a bunch of future Taliban who massacre billions in his name, he becomes suicidal, and his son becomes a giant worm." It's just Frank Herbert's editor wisely removed Children of Dune from the back of Dune since it wasn't the ending people were looking forward to.

I wasn't helped in this obvious misconception by also enjoying the universe of Warhammer 40K which was based on the fact the genocidal theocratic space fascists were the setting's Good GuysTM not because the authors agreed with their politics (being a bunch of 70s-80s British anarchist youth like the kind who gave us virtually every author I like in comics) but because the universe was that awful.

When creating Lucifer's Star, I made it as a deconstruction of something I loved. Which was the sanitized and heroic view of war in Star Wars. Having watched The Force Awakens, I was left with the uncomfortable feeling of, "You know, I would have done that differently." Less so than after the Prequels where all I would have kept was Qui Gon Jinn and Mace Windu but close. I wanted a universe where war was hell, the enemy really was as human as you, and space swords would draw blood.

Now, my final book wasn't anything close to Star Wars as it drew as much from Alien, Blade RunnerDune, and (if I'm being honest) Halo when it was still good. I wanted to tell a fundamentally different kind of space story than the kind I'd read. The idea of a universe where technology has grown exponentially but where human nature hasn't changed in the slightest or, if anything, has gotten worse because we've developed ever more efficient ways of killing one another.

This isn't a new idea as my references in the above paragraph show. I'm not the first person to come up with the idea of SpacePunk (to take advantage of the recent trend of applying "punk" to everything which annoys purists on the internet). Hell, it's not even new in Star Wars as Matthew Stover's Shatterpoint and Traitor novels prove. Some of my favorite authors have made a living transplanting the struggles of the past and present to the future. My favorite part of the Expanse series isn't the demonic alien fungus that threatens existence but the conflicts between Belters, Martians, and Earthlings over resources.

For me, I ended up writing a story that was based on my own experiences watching people deal with the consequences of returning home from war, the arbitrary labels we put on people, and the idea of generational conflicts. In my universe, the "Evil Empire" gets smashed to pieces by the "Good Guy" galactic power only to result in this causing people to lionize the destroyed Evil Empire as standing up to the imperialists. Veterans of the war who lost everything then recruit the next generation and fill their heads with nonsense nostalgia before sending them out to fight the next round.

I've read a lot of military science fiction over the years and while it tends to be harder than space opera, there's often a sense of 'rah, rah, rah' which accompanies the conflicts fought. Victory is usually complete in these stories with humanity's brave defenders crushing the aliens by virtue of our awesome and courage. The idea of never surrender and never give up is ingrained in the story. But, for me, I can't help but think, "What if giving up is the right decision and continued conflict is just more meat for the grinder over petty feuds?"

Food for thought.

The big thing I wanted to achieve with Lucifer's Star was to create a novel of deep contrasts. A world where mile long spaceships pound away at each other but each blast ends up causing people to be incinerated or suffocate in vacuum. A novel where a handsome prince type leads thousands into battle, only to deal with the consequences of the fact they were all killed thanks to his speeches. A place where we finally perfect androids and replicants ("bioroids") who can't rebel and then use them to fulfill every dark urge. You know, the fun sort of future we all imagined we'd experience.

Why do it in space? I dunno, I think there's just something to be said about human nature that points made about it are just more grandiose in the far future. I think we're eventually going to leave this planet but we're going to take everything with us.
Good and bad.


About the Author

C.T Phipps is a lifelong student of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. An avid tabletop gamer, he discovered this passion led him to write and turned him into a lifelong geek. He is a regular blogger on "The United Federation of Charles" (

He's the author of The Supervillainy Saga, Cthulhu Armageddon, Straight Outta Fangton, and Esoterrorism.


About the Book

Lucifer's Star 
by C. T. Phipps & Michael Suttkus

From the bestselling author of The Rules of Supervillainy:

Cassius Mass was the greatest star pilot of the Crius Archduchy. He fought fiercely for his cause, only to watch his nation fall to the Interstellar Commonwealth. It was only after that he realized the side he'd been fighting for was the wrong one. Now a semi-functional navigator on an interstellar freight hauler, he tries to hide who he was and escape his past. Unfortunately, some things refuse to stay buried and he ends up conscripted by the very people who destroyed his homeland.

LUCIFER'S STAR is the first novel of the Lucifer's Star series, a dark science fiction space opera set in a world of aliens, war, politics, and slavery.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday - The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Stephenson & Galland

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, originally hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland
Expected publication: June 13th 2017 by William Morrow

From bestselling author Neal Stephenson and critically acclaimed historical and contemporary commercial novelist Nicole Galland comes a captivating and complex near-future thriller combining history, science, magic, mystery, intrigue, and adventure that questions the very foundations of the modern world.

When Melisande Stokes, an expert in linguistics and languages, accidently meets military intelligence operator Tristan Lyons in a hallway at Harvard University, it is the beginning of a chain of events that will alter their lives and human history itself. The young man from a shadowy government entity approaches Mel, a low-level faculty member, with an incredible offer. The only condition: she must sign a nondisclosure agreement in return for the rather large sum of money.

Tristan needs Mel to translate some very old documents, which, if authentic, are earth-shattering. They prove that magic actually existed and was practiced for centuries. But the arrival of the scientific revolution and the Age of Enlightenment weakened its power and endangered its practitioners. Magic stopped working altogether in 1851, at the time of the Great Exhibition at London’s Crystal Palace—the world’s fair celebrating the rise of industrial technology and commerce. Something about the modern world "jams" the "frequencies" used by magic, and it’s up to Tristan to find out why.

And so the Department of Diachronic Operations—D.O.D.O. —gets cracking on its real mission: to develop a device that can bring magic back, and send Diachronic Operatives back in time to keep it alive . . . and meddle with a little history at the same time. But while Tristan and his expanding operation master the science and build the technology, they overlook the mercurial—and treacherous—nature of the human heart.

Written with the genius, complexity, and innovation that characterize all of Neal Stephenson’s work and steeped with the down-to-earth warmth and humor of Nicole Galland’s storytelling style, this exciting and vividly realized work of science fiction will make you believe in the impossible, and take you to places—and times—beyond imagining.

While there's no doubt that Stephenson is an amazing author, I also find him to be a challenging one. As fascinating as his books are, I have a hard time calling them enjoyable. For that reason, I am really curious to see what the addition of a co-author will do to make his prose a bit more accessible.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

#Fantasy Review: City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett

While I liked a lot about City of Miracles, I'm disappointed to say I didn't necessarily like the third book of The Divine Cities. It's imaginative and well-written, and bears all the hallmarks of Robert Jackson Bennett's other novels, but the more contemporary and civilized the series gets, the less compelling I find it.

Despite the magic, the swords, and the gods, this instalment is less epic fantasy and more action thriller. It's set in a city so advanced, it's almost recognizable as a contemporary second-world location, complete with highrise hotels. The technologies are far more advanced than in the first two books, right down to the public transit system that serves as a key set-piece for the action.

The other challenge for me here is that Sigrud is a bit cold/thin to be a lead protagonist. He made for a great silent sidekick in the first book, but he doesn't have the personality to drive a story on his own. That said, he fits the action hero mold very well, and would make for a far better cinematic protagonist, but here I found myself having a hard time really getting invested in his plight.

City of Miracles isn't a bad book, not by any means, it just wasn't the book I wanted following the five-star read that was City of Blades.

Kindle Edition, 464 pages
Expected publication: May 2nd 2017 by Broadway Books

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

From the Shelf to the Page: This Week in the Ruins

Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.

I fell off the wagon hard these last two weeks, and my poor bookshelves are suffering for it. This week brings a long-awaited sequel that I *finally* got approved for, an awesome horror story, and a little "stabbing with space swords."

The Legion of Flame by Anthony Ryan
[June 27th 2017 by Ace]
Empires clash and a fell power stakes its claim in the second in a new series from the New York Times bestselling author of the Raven's Shadow Trilogy.

Just Add Water by Hunter Shea
[June 13th 2017 by Lyrical Underground]
Once the screaming starts, David and Patrick realize that their childhood pets really did come to life. With a vengeance. They’re enormous . . . and have a ravenous hunger for human flesh . . ..

Lucifer’s Star by C.T. Phipps
[October 13th 2016 by Crossroad Press]
The first novel of "A Space Saga", which is a dark science fiction space opera novel set in a world of aliens, war, politics, and slavery.


It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf.

Juggling another pair of e-book of reads this week, with The Fathom Flies Again by James Walley (a long overdue read) and Owl and the Electric Samurai by Kristi Charish (releasing May 8th), while I've dug my paperback of Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson out of the stacks for a read.

What's topping your shelves this week?