Monday, November 19, 2007

Publishers Weekly genre review round-up
(November 19th issue)

Here ya go:
The Automatic Detective by A. Lee Martinez (Tor): * Starred Review * "Martinez (In the Company of Ogres) tickles the funny bone in this delightful, fast-paced mishmash of SF and hard-boiled detective story. Mack Megaton drives a cab in the mutant-infested “technotopia” of Empire City. It's a step down for a massive killing machine created for world domination, but kindhearted Megaton has bucked his programming, and when his secretive neighbors, the Bleakers, go missing, he begins a search. Young Holt Bleaker has something in his mutant blood that makes him valuable to aliens poised to invade Empire City, and only a giant robot—a robot like Mack Megaton—can break him out of the fortress where he's held prisoner. Soon plans go awry when sinister psychic Grey subverts Megaton's programming, but he finds an unlikely ally in Lucia Napier, an outrageously beautiful and talented media star and roboticist. Eccentric characters, all of whom are clever twists on stereotypes, populate a smart, rocket-fast read with a clever, twisty plot that comes to a satisfying conclusion." (Feb.)

Runemarks by Joanne Harris (Knopf for Young Readers): * Starred Review * "In Norse myth the whole world ended with Ragnarók, the last battle, at which the gods were defeated and after which eternal winter descended. In her highly successful first children’s novel, however, the author of the bestselling Chocolat tells readers what happened next. The supposed end of all things is now centuries past and the Middle World is ruled by the Order, a repressive theocracy reminiscent of the Magisterium in Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass. Maddy, born with a rune of power on her hand, is deeply unpopular in her backwoods village. Thorny and imaginative, she is believed to be a witch by the locals who would have cast her out long ago if she didn’t have a convenient talent for controlling the goblins that infest their cellars. Such creatures are thick in the village because of its proximity to Red Horse Hill, a place of ancient power. Then Maddy’s life is transformed when she meets first One-Eye, a mysterious traveler who agrees to train her in the ways of Faërie, and then Lucky, the trickster captain of the goblins under the hill. Throughout, Harris demonstrates a knack for moving seamlessly between the serious and the comic, and her lengthy book moves swiftly. Playing fast and loose with Norse mythology, she creates a glorious and complex world replete with rune-basedmagical spells, bickering gods, exciting adventures and difficult moral issues. Maddy’s destiny, readers realize, is to remake the world, but to succeed she must first remake herself into someone worthy of that fate." Ages 10-up. (Jan.)

Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson (Scholastic): * Starred Review * "In Sanderson’s (Elantris) children’s debut, an over-the-top fantasy/adventure, librarians are evil because they control all the information in Hushland (America). They distort some facts and fabricate the rest. Alcatraz, meanwhile, is the name of the protagonist, who has been raised in a series of foster homes. As the novel opens, on his 13th birthday, he is quickly initiated into the true nature of librarians by his heretofore unmet grandfather, Leavenworth Smedry. Before long, Sanderson brings on talking dinosaurs (it’s a librarian distortion that they’re extinct), a parallel world, visiting villains and more. The madcap plot can seem chaotic, with action pulling Alcatraz toward new characters at a breakneck speed, but Sanderson unexpectedly draws everything together in an extravagantly silly climax. Readers whose sense of humor runs toward the subversive will be instantly captivated: not only does the author poke fun at librarians, he lampoons books (including this one) in frequent passages directly addressed to readers: “You are saying to yourself, 'The story just lost me. It degenerated into pure silliness…. I’m going to go read a book about a boy whose dog gets killed by his mother. Twice.’” Like Lemony Snicket and superhero comics rolled into one (and then revved up on steroids), this nutty novel isn’t for everyone, but it’s also sure to win passionate fans." Ages 9-up. (Oct.)

The Bone Key by Sarah Monette (Prime): "Writing in the tradition of M.R. James and Algernon Blackwood, Monette reconstructs the traditional English ghost story—insinuated horror, no gratuitous sex or violence—with a decidedly modern-day approach in this laudable collection of 10 necromantic mystery stories featuring introverted museum archivist Kyle Murchison Booth. Noteworthy selections include “Elegy for a Demon Lover,” which chronicles Booth's entanglement with a seductive otherworldly entity who teaches him about “pleasure and pain and the shadowed places in-between.” In the brilliantly Lovecraftian “Bringing Helena Back,” Booth agrees to help an old college friend bring his wife back from the dead, with horrifying results. Booth also investigates the skeleton of a woman sealed within the basement walls of the museum where he works, a house haunted by the spirit of a young girl and the ghost of a murdered private school student. Cerebral, ethereal and stylishly understated, this entrancing collection will appeal to fans of literary horror, dark fantasy and supernatural mystery." (Jan.)

Dragon Mage by Andre Norton and Jean Rabe (Tor): "Based on a concept discussed between Norton and Rabe before Norton's death in 2005, this long-delayed sequel honors the classic elements of Norton's 1972 young adult fantasy Dragon Magic while taking on a decidedly modern air. Shilo's ordinary teenage life has been shaken up by her father's death. Now living with her grandparents in the backwoods of Wisconsin, Shilo rummages in the attic one night and finds a wooden picture puzzle with four dragons on the cover that belonged to her father. When she completes the puzzle, Shilo finds herself transported to ancient Babylon, where a dragon entreats her to help save its eggs and keep the earth from being overrun by demons. Rabe (The Finest Creation) has built on Norton's estimable groundwork to produce an action-packed, satisfying young adult story that will be very accessible to modern teens as well as now-grown fans of the original Magic books." (Jan.)

Bond of Fire: A Novel of Texas Vampires by Diane Whiteside (Berkley Sensation): "This audacious second installment of the Texas Vampire series (after Bond of Blood) blends European and American history and contemporary paranormal romance into a shockingly heady brew. Beautiful widow Hélène d'Agelet fell hard for Jean-Marie St. Just, George Washington's former spymaster turned compañero—enslaved by blood—to the sister of powerful vampiro mayor Don Rodrigo Perez. The Napoleonic wars disrupted their affair, and after an explosive espionage incident involving Hélène's sister, double agent Celeste de Sainte-Pazanne, Hélène and Jean-Marie believed each other dead for centuries. Celeste's lover, Raoul, killed her parents, so Hélène killed Raoul. Now the sisters, both of whom have become vampiras, are hunting each other down, bent on revenge. Filling the story with explosions and blood and the prose with enough French, Spanish and purely invented terms to require a glossary, Whiteside merrily rampages through history and vampire lore, building an impressively sturdy and compelling narrative from the wreckage." (Jan.)

Inside Straight, edited by George R.R. Martin (Tor): "The newest Wild Cards mosaic novel marks a new beginning for the long-running saga. Veteran contributors such as Melinda M. Snodgrass and John Jos. Miller and newcomers like Carrie Vaughn and S.L. Farrell create a new generation of fantastical characters, including Jonathan Hive, who can transform himself into a swarm of wasps, and the six-armed, tattooed giant Drummer Boy. Twenty-eight superhuman “aces” are cast in a new reality show called American Hero. As the contestants compete in staged challenges and systematically get voted off amid Hollywood-fueled melodrama, horrific events in the Middle East bring to light the glaring unreality of reality television. When the show reaches its climactic final episode, some of the contestants decide to forsake the trappings of fame and fortune and become real-life heroes. The first volume of a projected trilogy, this fast-paced and sardonic story will appeal to comic book aficionados and heroic fantasy fans alike." (Jan.)

99 Coffins: A Historical Vampire Tale by David Wellington (Three Rivers): "Vampires and mortals fight a modern battle of Gettysburg in vampire hunter Laura Caxton's gore-soaked second outing (after 2007's 13 Bullets). When a college archeological dig uncovers a cache of Civil War–era coffins, each containing a corpse minus heart, grizzled detective Jameson Arkeley recognizes these remains as evidence of a forgotten Union vampire corps and immediately summons Caxton. Before the two can unravel the historical mystery, someone reanimates one of the vampires, setting the stage for the full vampire army to rise and resume its unfulfilled mission. Wellington keeps the pace brisk, alternating action-packed chapters set in the present with chapters cast credibly in the form of extracts from period journals, letters and dispatches that gradually reveal the origin and intent of the vampire regiment and its enigmatic leader, Alva Griest. The taut narrative never slackens, providing thrilling entertainment for readers who like their horror raw and bloody." (Jan.)

Weird Tales: The Twenty-First Century, Volume One, edited by Stephen H. Segal and Sean Wallace (Prime): "Given the middling quality of these 12 stories in this reprint anthology, it would be optimistic to suggest that the next Edgar Allan Poe will emerge from Wildside Press's revival and recent redesign of Weird Tales, whose original goal was finding Poe's successor. The volume as a whole is entertaining but unremarkable, lacking both clunkers and triumphs. The best of the lot is Paul E. Martens's hilarious “What Happened When Tammy Brookmeyer Sold Her House” (to a bear), which may strike some as a humorous take on T.E.D. Klein's “Petey.” Carrie Vaughn also manages a few new wrinkles on an old theme in “For Fear of Dragons.” Too many of the rest, like Bob Bodey's “Body Parts,” are cliché-laden splatterfests. If this is the cream of the crop, Weird Tales may need more than a makeover to reach new readers and keep current ones happy." (Jan.)

Wizard's Daughter by Catherine Coulter (Jove): "Coulter's latest in the historical Sherbrooke series (following Lyon's Gate) stars Rosalind de la Fontaine, a beautiful young woman with an ethereal voice who has no memory of her name, her family or her heritage since being saved and adopted by Ryder Sherbrooke as a girl. Nicholas Vail, the new earl of Mountjoy, returns to England and recognizes her as the girl he has seen in his dreams since childhood chanting, “I am your debt.” The two are soon inseparable, and their relationship reaches an altogether new level when they inexplicably discover an old book written in code, with tales of a magical place filled with dragons, wizards and abundant evil: the book urges them toward the realization of Nicholas's “debt” and the interpretation of a haunting song that Rosalind sings spontaneously. Coulter leaves some important questions unanswered, and her emphasis on the supernatural results in a faltering romance, but the suspense and the spirited mystery will keep readers glued." (Jan.)

The Declaration by Gemma Malley (Bloomsbury): "Set in the year 2140 in England, this chilling dystopian tale explores issues of overpopulation, global warming and the ethics of immortality. A drug called Longevity has made life without death a reality for the masses—but driven humanity to the brink of a Malthusian catastrophe. Orwellian-like Authorities have all but outlawed procreation in an effort to stabilize the population. Those born illegally are inevitably captured, sent to processing facilities and taught to be Valuable Assets to society, i.e., slaves to the immortals. Surplus Anna has spent most of her 14 years inside Grange Hall, where she has learned to hate not only herself but also the parents who selfishly broke the Declaration in giving life to her. But the arrival of a rebellious Surplus named Peter, who has lived on the Outside, brings Anna disturbing revelations about the world and her particular place in it. In her first YA book, Malley (British author Gemma Townley writing under a pseudonym) successfully imparts a strong message about the need for continual change (“Nature is not about preserving old things, but about creating new ones. New life. New ideas”). Although the backstory and world-building elements seem slightly underdeveloped, readers with a taste for speculative fiction will enjoy this relevant read." Ages 10-up. (Nov.)

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