Monday, December 17, 2007

Publishers Weekly genre review round-up
(December 17th issue)

New Elizabeth Moon! Squeeeee! Ahem. Did I say that out loud?
Tangled Webs: A Black Jewels Novel by Anne Bishop (Roc): * Starred Review * "In Bishop’s bewitching latest Black Jewels adventure (after 2005’s Dreams Made Flesh), a tour of an old house becomes a hellish matter of life and death. Lady Surreal SaDiablo receives an invitation to preview the “silly, spooky” house that Queen Jaenelle Angelline has created to parody myths about the magically gifted Bloods, and she persuades her friend and fellow magic user Warlord Prince Rainier to join her. The only snag is that Jaenelle didn’t send the invitation. Crazed, jealous novelist Jarvis Jenkell has discovered his Blood heritage and developed his own haunted house with the goal of trapping other Bloods and using their travails to inspire his fiction. As Surreal, Rainer and several local children struggle to escape Jenkell’s deadly snare, Jaenelle’s husband, Daemon Sadi, and Sadi’s half-brother, Lucivar, must call upon all their Craft skills to free the trapped. With feverish pacing and terrifying twists, Bishop’s surefire spell craft will leave readers’ hearts pounding." (Mar.)

In the Courts of the Crimson Kings by S.M. Stirling (Tor): "Stirling’s charming second pastiche of 1930s planetary romances (after 2006’s The Sky People) moves from Venus to Mars, where different Terran factions vie to pick up the pieces of the Tollamune emperor’s shattered realm. Archeologist Jeremy Wainman, sent by the U.S. Aerospace Force to explore the lost city of Rema-Dza, promptly falls in love with Martian mercenary Teyud za-Zhalt; no surprise that she turns out to be heir to the long-vanished Crimson Dynasty, or that they rush off to thwart an attempt to usurp the Ruby Throne. Soon they find themselves fighting a pack of feral airship engines and questing after the invisible crown of the first emperor. Stirling successfully creates a truly alien environment (“Rugs crawled to envelop the feet”), and his flair for the dramatic and obvious affection for the Mars of Burroughs, Brackett and Bradbury almost make up for his inclusion of pirates with eye patches, heavily armored guards riding “fat-tired, self-propelled unicycles” and other moments of near-parody." (Mar.)

Waking Brigid by Francis Clark (Tor): "An intriguing premise—a group of magicians working secretly within the Catholic Church to combat evil occult forces—gets tepid treatment in Clark’s sluggish dark fantasy debut. In 1874, a blueblood’s spectacularly gruesome death shocks Savannah, Ga. The local clergy soon recognize it as the handiwork of Satanists who have for the past century been ritually sacrificing women around the town to the demon Belial. The stage is set for a showdown between the demon worshippers and a clandestine order of priests and nuns who still respect the beliefs of their pagan forebears and strive to suppress eruptions of ancient evil into the world. While Clark focuses on the experiences of Brigid Rourke, a nun initiated into the magic circle, the book is dominated by the backstories of the clergy and talky discussions of comparative magic that grow increasingly repetitive. In the end, the Satanist cult and its champion demon are too easily vanquished for this tale to thrill with any sense of supernatural horror." (Feb.)

Victory Conditions by Elizabeth Moon (Del Rey): "Rip-roaring action and intriguing science and tactics distinguish Nebula-winner Moon’s fifth and final Vatta’s War installment. Now combat-blooded and well on her way to the admiralty, young Kylara Vatta commands 40 far-future spacecraft against ferocious Gammis Turek, a criminal mastermind who has threatened Ky’s home world of Slotter Key, her relatives and the far-flung Vatta economic empire. Ky has the rank she always hoped she’d achieve and now must accept the fearful responsibilities it entails. Weighed down by thoughts of the deaths she has caused—both friend and foe—and the need to protect the people in her command, Ky finds herself making some dangerous decisions. She’s surrounded by a convincing supporting cast, from feisty fruitcake-baking Aunt Grace, who runs Slotter Key’s defenses, to dashing Rafe Dunbarger, acting CEO of InterStellar Communications, who has lost his heart to Ky despite his best efforts at stoicism. This epic volume is a fine and fitting conclusion to Moon’s grand space opera tour de force." (Feb.)

Got to Kill Them All by Dennis Etchison (Cemetery Dance): "This bare-bones collection of 18 reprints, spanning 40 years of World Fantasy Award–winner Etchison’s career, delves deep into personal terrors. Starting off with “Sitting in the Corner, Whimpering Quietly,” a stark account of an unpleasant encounter in a Laundromat, Etchison uses quick strokes of prose, at times overly sparse, to paint eerie scenes of sharp violence and deep unease. There are moments when a controlled burst of staccato sentences serves the story perfectly, as in “The Walking Man,” where desultory bar chitchat takes an abrupt turn for the macabre. Etchison writes a loudmouthed salesman in “The Pitch” as easily as a lost little girl in “Call Home,” though at times his desire to focus only on the moment can loosen his grasp on the individual settings he wants to create. The title story caps off the collection with a brutally exquisite showing of what Etchison does best: creating a tone and wielding it like an edged weapon." (Feb.)

House Infernal by Edward Lee (Cemetery Dance): * Web Exclusive Review * "Lee’s vividly imagined third Infernal dark fantasy, like its predecessors City Infernal and Infernal Angel, should please those who like their horror to push the bounds of good taste. Divinity student Venetia Barlow has taken work at St. John’s Prior House in New Hampshire while contemplating her future as a nun when she begins receiving psychic communications from someone warning of grave danger to her soul. They prove to be the frantic pleas of Thomas Alexander, a disgraced Catholic priest trapped in Hell, who knows that the house where Venetia works is a front for Satanists, and that she’s destined to become the next blood sacrifice in a scheme being engineered by Pope Boniface VII, one of Satan’s chief lieutenants. Venetia’s frightening ordeal includes provocative discussion of theology, church history and occult lore, but Lee devotes his greatest powers of invention to scenes set in Hell, where towns made of rot, oversexed succubi and gory episodes of creative dismemberment are de rigeur. This novel is definitely not for the squeamish." (Jan.)

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