Thursday, November 1, 2007

Publishers Weekly genre review round-up
(October 29th issue)

Okay, I suppose I've taken enough time off. Still have an insanely busy few days ahead, but I guess I have time for some quick updates. As usual, if you'd like to read all the fiction reviews, click here.

Where to begin? A lot of starred reviews this time around, both in YA and adult genre. I've also included the new "web exclusive reviews" - meaning reviews that aren't in the print edition of PW. Seems odd to bother reviewing a title two months after it has already appeared on bookstore shelves, but - hey! It ain't my magazine. Onward!
Half the Blood of Brooklyn by Charlie Huston (Ballantine): * Starred Review * "Huston’s third Joe Pitt vampire novel (after Already Dead and No Dominion) takes his Manhattan-based hard-boiled hero on a dangerous trip into the undead communities across the bridge in Brooklyn. The various vampire clans in New York are on the brink of conflict. Leadership has fallen apart, and to make things worse, a “Van Helsing” is running amok and has recently murdered a longtime supplier of contraband blood. Worst of all, Pitt’s AIDS-stricken girlfriend, Evie, is in the hospital failing fast. Once again, he’s faced with an almost classical dilemma: infecting her with the vampire virus will destroy the illness that’s killing her, but she’ll be a vampire. Sent to Brooklyn to meet with a rogue clan of carnival freak vampires, Pitt ends up battling a group of radical Jewish bloodsuckers called the lost tribe of Gibeah. As always, Huston’s formidable writing chops are on full display: his action scenes are unparalleled in crime fiction and his dialogue is so hip and dead-on that Elmore Leonard should be getting nervous." (Dec.)

The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz (Bantam): * Starred Review * "Set mostly in Southern California, this topnotch thriller from bestseller Koontz (The Good Guy) depicts with unabashed emotion and wit the magical powers of golden retrievers—in particular, a female named Nickie, who will stop at nothing to save innocent children and protect their guardians. Amy Redwing, the survivor of a horrifying marriage, establishes Golden Heart to rescue golden retrievers, rehabilitate the abused ones and find “forever homes.” A supernatural chain of events ensues after Amy and her architect boyfriend, Brian McCarthy, rescue Nickie during a violent intervention in a family dispute. Soon the pair are on a mission that leads to a transformative confrontation with a number of ugly characters—Gunther Schloss, a frustrated aspiring novelist turned killer-for-hire; Moonglow, a psychobitch in the Mommie Dearest league; and Moonglow’s lover, Harrow, a self-obsessed sicko. This is the perfect book for thriller addicts who know the darkest hour is just before dawn and for canine lovers who remember 'dog' spelled backwards is 'god.' " (Nov. 27)

Grimpow: The Invisible Road by Rafael Ábalos, translated by Noël Baca Castex (Delacorte): * Starred Review * "Spanish novelist Ábalos’s first book for young readers—a medieval fantasy that is equal parts historical fiction and metaphysical quest—takes place in 14th-century Europe, a setting marked by political and religious turbulence. After declaring the last of the Knights Templar heretics, Pope Clement V, King Philip IV of France and their inquisitor henchmen have succeeded in hunting down most of the knights, burning them at the stake and seizing their mysterious treasures. But when a boy named Grimpow finds a dead nobleman clutching a strange amulet near his home in a remote region of France, he unknowingly becomes the focal point of a centuries-old mission to spread the light of wisdom and enlighten humanity so that the “obscurity of superstition and ignorance will not prevail.” Ábalos blends the grand-scale storytelling prowess and epic quest element of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings with the cryptographic intrigue of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, and he proves himself adept at moving the multiple story lines of the labyrinthine plot at a fast pace. His elaborate novel should win over not only teenage fantasy fans but adults as well, particularly those who enjoy adventures with more cerebral, spiritual themes." Ages 12-up. (Oct.)

The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray (Delacorte): * Starred Review * "The concluding volume in the trilogy begun in A Great and Terrible Beauty is a huge work of massive ambition, an undertaking that involves the plaiting and tying off a dozen plot threads—impending war in the realms and heroine Gemma Doyle’s control of its magic being the central thread but, perhaps, not the most interesting. In chronicling Gemma’s first year at Spence Academy, Bray has, over three books, widened her canvas from finishing school to fin-de-siècle London, weaving in the defining movements of the era—labor strikes over factory conditions, suffrage, the “radical” Impressionists just across the Channel, even fashion trends like bloomers for women daring enough to ride bicycles. Gemma is both buffeted and bolstered by her exposure to these developments, and readers experience how they shape her burgeoning understanding of who she is and who she may become. Some of Gemma’s struggle is about power. As exalted as she is within the realms for her role as High Priestess of the secret society, her “otherness” marks her as unsuitable for proper Victorian circles. Gemma chafes not only at the physical constraints of a corset but at the myriad restrictions placed on women. Her quest is to break free, but at what cost? Bray poses these vital questions without sacrificing the gothic undertones of the previous volumes—the body count is high, and the deaths, gruesome. That creepiness is balanced by the fully realized company of players, including the insufferable headmistress, Mrs. Nightwing, the acid-tongued Felicity Worthington, hunky heartthrob Kartik and, of course, Gemma herself, a heroine readily embraced." Ages 14-up. (Dec.)

Angel Isle by Peter Dickinson (Random House/Wendy Lamb): * Starred Review * "For the right reader—one who is able and willing to fall in with its stately pace—this novel marks a welcome return to the lavishly imagined lands Dickinson first mapped in The Ropemaker. Twenty generations have passed and once again the Valley and, as it turns out, most of the surrounding Empire are in dire need; only a quest undertaken by a woman of the Urlasdaughter family with an Ortahlson man can produce a magician able to help. This time around, the predestined pair is Saranja, who grew up determined to flee her family’s heritage, and easy-going Ribek, who would just as soon stay at home and work his mill. Accompanying them, and providing the point of view from which most of the tale is told, is Saranja’s orphaned cousin Maja, whose extreme sensitivity to the presence of magic gives this story an inward, contemplative focus that mostly compels but occasionally veers into self-indulgence. With its imaginative shape-shifting, worlds within worlds and stories within stories, this tale seems to tap into a body of lore that has always existed. High adventure calls: Dickinson treats readers to visions of flying horses, fearsome demons and the twin Ice-dragons who preserve the balance of the planet. A luxuriant exploration of the nature of magic, storytelling and love." Ages 14-up. (Oct.)

The Best of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant (Del Rey): * web exclusive review * "Genre-blurring stories, poems and articles by a few major authors and a host of relative unknowns appear in this oddly compelling excursion into the realm of the surreal and interstitial. The standouts are a diverse lot: Nalo Hopkinson’s exquisitely visceral folkloric allegory “Tan-Tan and Dry Bone,” Sarah Monette’s darkly romantic “Three Letters from the Queen of Elfland,” the hilarious illustrations of Sara Rojo and narration of Lawrence Schimel in “The Well-Dressed Wolf,” Richard Butner’s appropriately dry “How to Make a Martini.” Link and Grant also unabashedly include surprisingly sub-par examples of their own work. With a major SF imprint publishing this hefty anthology, LCRW’s times as a low-profile fringe zine may be at an end, though it remains to be seen whether mainstream readers will be convinced to swell the ranks of its relatively few but utterly devoted subscribers." (Sept.)

Storm Dragon: Draconic Prophecies, Book 1 by James Wyatt (Wizards of the Coast): * web exclusive review * "An ancient prophecy that could remake the political and magical landscape of the Five Nations provides the foundation for Wyatt’s Dungeon and Dragons–based fantasy adventure set in the Eberron game world. The half-elf seer Gaven, whose dire and cryptic predictions earned him a cell in the dwarven prison Dreadhold, suddenly finds himself freed by a man he doesn’t trust. Haldren ir’Brassek, formerly a nobleman, was imprisoned himself in Dreadhold for war crimes committed during his own search for power. Now Haldren needs Gaven’s knowledge of the prophecy about the mighty Storm Dragon in order to help the dragon Vaskar gain power. Gaven, who bears the Mark of Storm, signifying great magical talent, does his best to foil Haldren, first by lying and then by escaping to seek his own answers to the prophecy he can’t seem to escape. The key to everything seems to be the Eye of Siberys, a magical artifact Haldren and Vaskar will do anything to possess. While the setting may be rather confusing for readers unfamiliar with the Eberron milieu, Wyatt (In the Claws of the Tiger) effectively mixes political intrigue with action. This high-stakes adventure, full of violence, magic and suspense, should entertain gamers and epic fantasy fans." (Sept.)

Worldbinder by David Farland (Tor): * web exclusive review * "Two worlds collide in the sixth installment of Farland’s Runelords epic (after 2006’s Sons of the Oak). When the Seal of Creation was broken, the original, peaceful home of humanity shattered into thousands of flawed worlds, of which Earth is one. Seeking to mend the Seal of Inferno, which was damaged by the evil Queen of the Loci after her escape from the netherworld, flameweaver Fallion Orden instead reunites Earth with another world, causing strange meldings of bodies and landscapes. As inhabitants of both worlds struggle to comprehend the changes to themselves and their surroundings, various evildoers take advantage of the chaos, and Fallion and his companions must do what most heroes do: save the world and stay alive. Farland excels in dreamlike imagery that describes much but explains little, and the wildly complicated plot and lack of backstory may frustrate new readers." (Sept.)

There’s No Place Like Here by Cecelia Ahern (Hyperion): "Ahern tells the fantastical story of Sandy Shortt, a smalltown Irish girl who, at 10 years old, becomes obsessed with finding lost things after a neighborhood girl disappears. Sandy’s parents fret for years about her fixation, eventually finding her help in the form of hunky high school psychologist Gregory Burton. He’s not much older than Sandy, and soon enough they’re both smitten, though neither moves to pursue a romantic relationship until later, after Sandy graduates and moves to Dublin, where she tracks missing persons for a living. Gregory follows and they start and stall through an awkward courtship that’s cut short when Sandy, while on a jog, gets lost and winds up in a strange parallel universe, home to the people and things that have gone missing from the regular world. What happens to Sandy there, and to those she left behind, will determine not only her future but Gregory’s as well. Ahern jumps around in time and space, which adds as much confusion as suspense, but the underlying message about cherishing what you have comes through loudly by the end. That a film adaptation of Ahern’s P.S., I Love You is scheduled for release in late December can’t hurt sales potential." (Jan.)

The Vacant Throne by Joshua Palmatier (DAW): "The solid third Throne of Amenkor novel (after 2006’s The Cracked Throne) delivers plenty of action and intrigue. Varis, the ruling Mistress of Amenkor, struggles to rebuild Amenkor’s defenses and economy after a devastating attack by the seafaring Chorl. Varis was only able to save Amenkor by destroying the Skewed Throne, Amenkor’s ancient seat of protective power, and now must rely on her own inner resources. Meanwhile, her mentor, Erick, tortured by the Chorl, lies near death. The arrival of a ship from the southern port city of Venitte brings the hope of alliance, especially if Varis can locate the Stone Throne, built to protect Venitte, but mysteriously lost centuries earlier. The hope that a lord in Venitte may be able to heal Erick pushes Varis to travel there, even as Chorl forces are on the move at sea and on land. Palmatier’s intriguing characters and complex setting continue to entertain in this deservedly successful fantasy series." (Jan.)

Thunderer by Felix Gilman (Bantam Spectra): "Scattershot plotting and puzzling theology notwithstanding, there’s much to like in Gilman’s first novel, fantasy set in the ever-shifting city of Ararat. Once a gifted composer in the distant city of Gad, Arjun has come to Ararat seeking the intangible Voice. Instead, he finds a city filled with other gods, streets that resist being mapped and citizens touched in varying ways by the passing of the mysterious Bird. Gilman’s literary antecedents are intriguingly diverse. Ararat itself fuses elements of Renaissance Venice and Victor Hugo’s Paris. Arjun’s search leads at times into gaslight-era SF à la Jules Verne, at others into distinctly Poe-like horror, while a secondary plot transforms street youth Jack into a hybrid of Peter Pan and Dickens’s Artful Dodger. Impressively, the whole remains essentially coherent, though just how and why Ararat’s gods behave as they do is unclear, and parts of the convoluted climax rely too heavily on underexplained aspects of the city’s nature. Nonetheless, strongly conveyed atmosphere and intriguing characters make this a distinctive debut." (Dec.)

Firstborn: A Time Odyssey: 3 by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter (Del Rey): "Though supposedly the last volume of Clarke and Baxter’s Time Odyssey series (after 2005’s Sunstorm), this intriguing and frustrating installment of the high-octane space opera ends with an astounding cliffhanger just as humans have begun to confront the ancient and super-powerful Firstborn, who attack any species that might become a rival. Having barely survived a Firstborn-created solar flare, Earth now must cope with a meteor bomb approaching from deep space. Tensions rise between secretive, paranoid forces on Earth and equally suspicious groups among the Spacers, whose identification with humanity’s home is waning. Meanwhile, in a pocket universe created by the Firstborn for some inscrutable purpose, slices from different Terran eons nervously adjust to each other. The narrative leaps about too much to develop characters, but Clarke has never been as interested in individuals as in humanity’s ability to accept change as a species. It’s too early to tell whether that theme will be enough to carry the story to a coherent conclusion." (Dec.)

The Voyage of the Proteus: An Eyewitness Account of the End of the World by Thomas M. Disch (Subterranean): "This offbeat and somewhat self-indulgent novella from Disch (The Businessman) seeks to draw some parallels between the current Bush administration and the ancient Greeks (Agamemnon “was the George Bush of 1100 B.C.”), but his political message is lost in a muddled plot. A fictional version of the author travels back in time to the post–Trojan War era and becomes a passenger on the boat Proteus. While cruising the Mediterranean, “Tom” encounters Cassandra, Homer and Socrates and solves a riddle familiar to anyone who knows the Oedipus story. Tom holds forth to Cassandra on the technological marvels of modern life and the crassness of commercialism, but the resulting satire is mild at best." (Dec.)

Omens by Richard Gavin (Mythos): "Introducing this collection of macabre fiction, Gavin (Charnel Wine) writes of his fascination with nightmares that make us feel as though “we are being dreamed.” The dozen stories he has gathered effectively convey that feeling through their disorienting shifts of perspective, outré imagery and twisted internal logic. “In the Shadow of the Nodding God” tells of a working-class drudge who’s horrified to discover that the imaginary world he creates with collages has begun erupting into his everyday reality. “The Pale Lover” describes an esoteric bookstore whose pornographic wares hold the secret of a seductive succubus. “The Bellman’s Way” unfolds as a traditional tale of supernatural menace in which a family newly moved to a rural neighborhood discovers the terrible price of refusing tribute to one of its bogies. Gavin writes in an old-fashioned style that suits the gothic horrors he conjures. Readers of antiquarian ghost tales and classic horror fiction will find this book a fine extension of those traditions." (Dec.)

Elijah: The Nightwalkers, Book 3 by Jacquelyn Frank (Zebra): "Setting aside the centuries of warfare between them, the Demons (paranormal but neither Biblical nor evil) and Lycanthropes are working together to defeat the Necromancers, who threaten both their races. When Demon warrior captain Elijah is nearly killed in an ambush, he is rescued and restored by none other than Siena, the Lycanthrope queen. Before long they discover a powerful attraction, but Siena fears that giving in to love will mean relinquishing her power. After the heavy world-building in Frank’s last two Nightwalker books (Jacob and Gideon), newcomers may struggle to keep straight the various paranormals and their powers; they’ll be more comfortable in the romance department, which proves steamy in the extreme, occasionally bordering on deep purple. Both leads are strong, and Frank grants her hero a refreshing measure of insight into the relationship. What works even better is the camaraderie that develops between the Nightwalker “tribes,” as Frank plunges deeper into her dark world." (Dec.)

Beastly by Alex Flinn (HarperTeen): "Flinn (Diva) delivers a lighthearted and contemporary twist on Beauty and the Beast, and while there is nothing shocking nor any striking departure from the original, her retelling is eminently satisfying. Kyle Kingsbury is a gorgeous high school freshman, spoiled rotten by his famous anchorman father, a man who’d rather dole out cash than affection. Kyle attends the exclusive Tuttle School in New York City and torments those poor unfortunates who lack his looks and wealth. When he humiliates a girl at school, she transforms him into a horrific-looking creature. Kyle’s only hope for breaking the spell lies in finding true love—as he reports online in meetings of the Unexpected Changes chat group (other members include Froggie and the mermaid Silent Maid). Flinn follows the fairy tale’s original plot points closely, but falters in her depiction of the story’s bad guys, over-the-top caricatures that simply ring false in her up-to-date setting. Kyle’s father, for example, spends literally three minutes with him each day, the time it takes him to heat his dinner in the microwave. Even so, the happily-ever-after ending is rewarding, if not surprising." Ages 14-up. (Oct.)

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