Archive for January, 2012

Jim C. Hines’ Conclusion to the “Jig the Goblin” Series is Enjoyable, but Unfinished

It’s not every day that two novels comprising the latter 2/3 of a trilogy are written but don’t complete the story, but are still a great deal of fun to read.  Yet that’s exactly the case with Jim C. Hines’ GOBLIN HERO, the second book in the “Jig the Goblin” series, and GOBLIN WAR, the third and final book in the series.

GOBLIN HERO starts where GOBLIN QUEST left off; Jig’s heroism has been noticed, and he’s managed to keep himself alive due to three things: his fire spider, Smudge, who burns anyone who tries to kill Jig; his new spectacles, which allow him to see much better than before; and his god, Tymalous Shadowstar, one of the Forgotten Gods who, somehow, can make himself understood to goblins in general and Jig in particular.

But goblins are what they are: greedy, manipulative, short-sighted, and lacking in tactics.  Very few survive to old age because of all this, and there’s very little, if any, family feeling to be had, as goblins are either all one quarrelsome family, or they’re a bunch of much smaller families that all hate each other, take your pick.  (Tymalous Shadowstar wants that to come to an end, which is one reason why he’s so interested in Jig.)  While Jig is far more intelligent than most goblins, understands the value of friendship, and he believes deep in his heart that more is possible than simply surviving to eat your next meal (even if this isn’t a fully-formed concept due to how alien a thought that is for goblin society), he has a long way to go if he wants to reform goblin society into a more ethical model.

GOBLIN HERO introduces an additional new heroine in Veka — a short and admittedly fat goblin who wants to be a sorceress.  She sees Jig’s heroism and wants to emulate it; because she’s somehow come across a book called “The Path of the Hero (Wizard’s Edition),” she believes she knows how to duplicate Jig’s success.  And she’s frustrated because she believes Jig is deliberately withholding his secrets from her (Jig can heal due to being Tymalous Shadowstar’s high priest); no matter what Jig says, she just doesn’t believe that heroism is in doing whatever you can to survive from day-to-day.

But Veka’s disbelief is not Jig’s only problem.  You see, the head goblin, Kralk, doesn’t like Jig at all because Jig is considered a threat.  (That goblins overall don’t work together, and even in times of great stress will kill each other off instead of temporarily uniting to throw off a common enemy first, is something Hines points out over and over again.)  So Kralk comes up with a new quest for Jig to handle; a Troll needs help, and so Jig and two other companions — Braf, a very large, fit goblin who’s much duller than average, and Grell, one of the nursery workers and also one of the oldest goblins on record — go off to help the Troll.

Of course, Kralk really doesn’t care about the Troll at all; this quest is to get Jig, an acknowledged hero, out of the immediate vicinity.  Jig understands immediately what’s going on (such is the value of his intellect) and asks Grell and Braf what Kralk offered them if they made sure Jig didn’t survive the quest.  This was a nice touch; that Jig figured this out himself rather than consulting Tymalous Shadowstar fit well with Jig’s personality.  And Jig confronting the problem rather than ignoring it as goblins usually do also was a nice touch; it showed that Jig has evolved, as in the first book, Jig wouldn’t have even thought about talking to them — he’d just have fatalistically waited for the knife in his back as that’s what goblins always do.

So they’re off to try to figure out why the Trolls are upset; they find that there’s a new incursion of pixies to worry about, and that’s why the Trolls need help.  Pixies are tiny but can cause all sorts of problems, something Jig realized back in GOBLIN QUEST as one of the big, bad guys was a two-foot pixie with delusions of grandeur and a whole lot of noxious magic to back it up.

So, will Jig resolve this problem?  How does Veka fit in?  Will Grell and Braf help Jig, and if so, why?  And why does Tymalous Shadowstar care so much about the goblins?

All of these questions will be answered, but some of the answers just lead to more questions, which is why Hines wrote book three, GOBLIN WAR.  The book starts with Jig helping the new head of the goblins, Grell, by healing her as best he can (Jig was offered the position but declined it, preferring to be the goblin head’s top advisor instead as that’s less of a threat).  But there is a new problem; some humans have come to claim the mountain the goblins and many other magical species live in.  They want the mountain “cleansed” of these magical creatures (including kobolds, hobgoblins, ogres, and many others); Grell knows she can’t fight them, so she sends Jig to deal with them instead.

Of course, Jig immediately gets captured and has to figure out what he’s going to do next.  He can’t bargain with them, because these humans are related to the two brothers he killed in GOBLIN QUEST and they’re out for blood.  So instead, he escapes and tries to figure out what to do next.

We also find out why Tymalous Shadowstar has taken an interest in the goblins, why no one else outside of the goblins seems to remember him overmuch (save the dwarf, Darnak, who told Jig about him in the first place), and that there’s a big war going on in Heaven (or wherever it is that the Gods reside) and Tymalous was initially on the losing end.  This is all relevant information because it shows that Tymalous, too, knows the value of hiding, running, and behaving in a manner others might call “cowardice” but goblins — and most readers, no doubt — would call good common sense.

So, will Jig win this war?  If so, how is he going to do it?  How does his God, Tymalous Shadowstar, fit in, and what will happen to Him?  And what will happen to Jig’s friends, including Braf, Grell, and his newest friend (and potential love interest), Relka?  (And why, oh why, was Veka missing from this adventure as her perspective would’ve helped a great deal?)

All of these questions, too, are answered in the course of the manuscript, yet there are so many dangling ends to the story that it’s obvious more books can be written.  That’s why I say this series is enjoyable, but it’s unfinished; because of the latter, it’s not as satisfying to read as it could’ve been.

That said, the satire is spot-on.  Jig is a winning, funny character that most readers will be glad to cheer for, so despite the lack of a definite conclusion, these books are well worth reading.


GOBLIN HERO — B.  Solid, funny, and enjoyable, but not as good as GOBLIN QUEST.  I really liked Veka and her belief in how heroes should be made, and her puzzlement that Jig ever became a hero as he didn’t “do it the right way” — the way Hines skewers this odd belief is well worth your time.

GOBLIN WAR — B-.  Again, it’s solid, funny, and enjoyable, but the lack of a definite conclusion hurts this book and this series.  The absence of Veka did not help, either.

Grade for series —  Solid B.  Hines writes well and his worldview is snarkily believable.

My recommendation is to buy these books in paperback; you’ll be glad you did.

— reviewed by Barb

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Jim C. Hines’ “Goblin Quest:” Fine Satirical Send-up of Epic Fantasy Genre

Jim C. Hines‘ first novel in the “Jig the Goblin” series is the fine and funny GOBLIN QUEST.  Jig is a goblin who’s scrawnier and smaller than most other goblins; the only reason he’s survived to adulthood is that he’s considerably smarter than most other goblins.  But because he’s so very small, he’s been bullied his entire life and has often been stuck with the most menial chores; this has caused him to have what might be termed an “attitude problem” with regards to other goblins, though Jig himself feels he must take this attitude or he won’t survive long enough to continue his complaints.  His only friend is his fire-spider, Smudge.

Anyway, Jig’s quickly caught up into a quest adventure with four companions: the royal brothers Barius Wendelson, a fighter, and Ryslind, a wizard (both human); their tutor, Darnak (a dwarf); and a young Elven thief, Riana.  They’re looking for the Rod of Creation, a weapon that could save or damn the world; the reason they’ve come to the caverns where the goblins and their slightly bigger and dumber cousins, the hobgoblins, live, is because legend says it’s been hidden there.

Because this is a quest story, what we really have is a hero’s journey of sorts.  Yet Jig doesn’t really get the approbation of others, as he would in a traditional hero’s journey; instead, he’s mostly ignored. (This is by design, as this is a satirical send-up of the genre.)  But being ignored gives Jig the opportunity for several choice words about the problems with wizards (they overextend themselves frequently when they aren’t just going plumb-crazy), the problems with fighters (they’re dumb as a box of rocks), and how even smart men, like Darnak, will try to convince themselves that subservience to royalty (as Barius and Ryslind are the seventh and eighth sons of their respective royal house) is worth their time when they have to know in their heart that it isn’t.  All of this is played for laughs, or at minimum, irony, and is a decidedly different take on the entire “quest story” genre.

As the journey progresses, Jig’s helpful comments are mostly not appreciated, except by Riana (the least-powerful member of the group) and, to a certain extent, Darnak.  Even Jig’s best actions, which shows that there’s a brain hidden behind his weedy blue body, don’t really penetrate the minds of the dim-bulb Barius or the power-mad Ryslind.  Because of this, there is a distinct lack of fellow-feeling amidst the party; Jig and Riana both know they’re there on sufferance and that they could be killed or otherwise dispensed with whenever they lose their usefulness, which is why they end up becoming friends — a sort of “Odd Couple” of the fantasy world, as it were.

But even this rather handy friendship has its limits, as when Jig tries to explain what the goblins live on (other goblins, if need be; other races, if available).  And Riana often gets disgusted with Jig’s matter-of-fact attitude with regards to pain and travail; she knows, even if he doesn’t, that she deserves better than this.  And this helps permeate Jig’s overall lack of self-worth, which starts Jig’s real hero’s journey of self-examination and consciousness raising.  Jig even decides to worship a God — a forgotten one, Tymalous Shadowstar, whom Jig hopes will not mind a goblin follower — which is a significant, though odd, step toward Jig becoming his own man (er, goblin).

So there are fights, as you might expect.  And there are victories, as you also might expect.  But there’s a lot of snark here, too, which is greatly welcome; the asides about other, traditional quest stories (a quasi LORD OF THE RINGS epic, possibly an analogue to Terry Brooks’ THE SWORD OF SHANNARA, and even a sideways wink at epics like Terry Goodkind’s WIZARD’S FIRST RULE), just add to the fun because it’s obvious that Hines knows his quest stories down cold.

So what happens, exactly, to Barius, Ryslind, and their tutor, Darnak?  And will Riana and Jig be able to make successful lives for themselves?  While I refuse to spoil this, I will say that if you enjoy satire with a sharp edge, you will appreciate what happens to them all.

This is a very good debut novel with a whole lot to recommend it; it’s funny, it’s fast-paced, it promotes the value of real friendships, and it even has an ending that most readers will cheer.  I appreciated Hines’ take on quest stories, and I believe if you give GOBLIN QUEST a chance, you will, too.

Grade: A.

— reviewed by Barb

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Rebecca Rupp’s “How Carrots Won the Trojan War” is One Great Read

Rebecca Rupp’s HOW CARROTS WON THE TROJAN WAR: Curious (but True) Stories of Common Vegetables is a fun, fast read that brings up many interesting anecdotes about vegetables.  From asparagus being thought of in medieval and Renaissance times as “sex food” to the title anecdote about the Greek warriors who, historically speaking, were said to have consumed many carrots beforehand in order to not have to eliminate while being stuck in the Trojan Horse for hours or days before they were turned loose, there are many intriguing facts here to pique your interest.

My favorite chapter was the twentieth chapter, which is about turnips and rutabagas.  Rupp points out on p. 349 that the turnip has fallen on hard times, as it

 . . . comes in dead last on the National Gardening Association’s list of most popular American garden vegetables, and a lot of seed catalogs leap insouciantly from tomatoes to watermelons without a turnipward glance.

Yet in the sixteenth century, turnips were often carved into fantastic shapes, suitable for the finest dinner parties.  And the Romans ate them, though mostly the peasants did as turnips, then and now, have mostly been seen as a form of cheap, palatable food that would help fill you up without making you go broke in the process.

And turnips have been a staple of literary tales since the fourteenth century; as Rupp says on p. 345:

The Grimm Brothers’ tale “The Turnip,” for example, hearkens back to a trio of medieval Latin poems, the gist of which is deserved comeuppance.  A poor but honest farmer brings an enormous turnip as a gift to the king, and receives a purse of gold as a reward.  The farmer’s wealthy neighbor (or, occasionally, half-brother) then decides to give the king a horse, hoping for an even bigger and better reward.  Instead, he gets the turnip.

Who can resist such anecdotes about the humble turnip?  (Surely not me.)

Other interesting facts brought up by HOW CARROTS WON THE TROJAN WAR include:

  • Most Romans ate beans, and had all sorts of interesting recipes for them.
  • While beets aren’t very popular in contemporary US of A, they’ve been grown as a source of sugar since 1801 (with the first place known to have grown them for this purpose being Kunern, Silesia, within the Kingdom of Prussia).
  • The ancient Greeks ate melons.
  • Winston Churchill once said that “All the essentials of life” boil down to four: hot baths, cold champagne, old brandy, and new peas.
  • Henry Ford was obsessed with carrots and once dined on a twelve-course all-carrot meal.

This is a lively, fun book that discusses the nutritional value of our favorite veggies along with common ways they’ve been prepared, historically, along with the ways we eat them today.   Along the way, Rupp also discusses the various types of veggies and how they propagate, whether any of the historical versions of melons and cucumbers and tomatoes, etc., are still alive today in the wild, and dispenses for once and for all the whole “is the tomato a fruit, or a vegetable?”  (Biologically, the tomato is a fruit.  But we use it like a vegetable and it’s often been taxed as a vegetable.  Which is why Rupp included it in this book.)

So if you want a great read that’ll educate you on the one hand while making you laugh on the other (as some of the anecdotes Rupp includes are quite amusing), you should immediately grab HOW CARROTS WON THE TROJAN WAR as it’s easily the best book, bar none, I’ve ever read about vegetables.

So what are you waiting for?  Go read this book today!

Grade: A-plus.

— reviewed by Barb

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The Rift Walker — Explosive Sequel

Part steam punk novel, part vampire novel, The Rift Walker: Book Two of the Vampire Empire is another rousing success for the book’s two authors.

(Read the review for The Greyfriar: Book One of the Vampire Empire)

The story starts off with Princess Adele set to marry the American, Senator Clark, as she chooses duty to country over the love in her heart. However, she detests the man… which she does not hide very well to just about everyone (including her husband-to-be). Nonetheless, she is off to marry the arrogant man.

Meanwhile, the Greyfriar (also known as the vampire, Prince Gareth) gets wind that there is to be an assassination attempt on his beloved during her wedding. He hastens to Alexandria to stop the attack and rescue Princess Adele at any cost. At the wedding, Adele says her vows (but doesn’t sign the marriage contract yet) when Gareth, in his Greyfriar costume, suddenly bursts into the ceremony and whisks Adele away, very much to the chagrin of her spurned fiancee, Clark. Together again, the duo flees to the south, where nobody would think to look for them.

The pacing of the book slows down in the middle as Adele and the Greyfriar are struggling to remain hidden from her father’s men and the men of Senator Clark. More focus here is put in their evolving relationship, and the typical talk of how Gareth, who is weakened by sunlight and heat (which is why the British Empire relocated to Alexandria in the first place), is going to live with Adele in the future.

The story is good but I found it a bit slower than the original. The action sequences are better in this novel, though, as the Greyfriar and Adele are coerced into fighting for a king in an allied nation against a particularly nasty nest of vampires who reside high in the African mountains. The pacing of the action scenes are vivid, messy and intense — precisely what an action sequence needs to be.

Overall, this book is a solid follow-up effort to a resounding success, which is hard to do. Very rarely is the sequel better than the original, but this one comes close to matching its predecessor. The writing was tight and the characters were driven, something I was particularly enthused about. These were not two-dimensional cardboard cutouts, but real, confused, thrilling individuals who react to their environment and situations. It’s amazing that their behavior is consistent and yet unpredictable at the same time, which shows the skill of both the writers.

Once again the cover is amazing. Though they always say to “never judge a book by its cover”, The Rift Walker can be eye-catching when placed on the bookshelf.

This book, and its predecessor, is a definite must-buy. Buy it for your friends or yourself. No one will be disappointed with it.

Reviewed by Jason


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Blackdog — An Epic Fantasy Oops

K. V. Johansen’s epic fantasy novel, Blackdog, promised an epic story, masterfully woven plots and adventure throughout the 500+ page book.

Sadly, it failed to live up to expectations.

The novel begins with the goddess Attalissa, in her recently reincarnated human form (a young child), about the partake in a ceremony when the citadel built in her honor (and where she lives) is attacked. Her protector, a legendary creature called the Blackdog, urges her to leave with him after he scents the familiar stench of a magician. Attalissa reluctantly flees with the Blackdog, who is severely wounded in their escape and he shifts to his full-dog form — which is an excellent premise but the author doesn’t show or even tell you when the change really occurs — to protect the young goddess. He drags them into town where, with his dying breath, passes on the spirit of the Blackdog to a young trader who is fleeing the town’s destruction.

The man is nearly driven mad as he flees with Attalissa into the desert, leaving the water (Attalissa’s source of power) behind. The young trader, Holla-Sayan, struggles to adapt his new inner beast with his old job as a trader and merchant. However, the tension ratchets up as he flees with his caravan and the young goddess further and further away from the site of the citadel’s massacre. The beginning is filled with promise, a beautiful picture and the setting for one hell of a story.

…three hundred pages of nothing later…

I love a good story, but the author beat me over the head (repeatedly) with her world building and settings. She would build up an action sequence, get you nice and primed for something that belongs in a Mack Bolan novel, then promptly glosses over the actual action and suddenly the picturesque mountains were there once more. Beautiful mountains, people talking and… nothing.

It’s like I was reading a fantasy version of Sense and Sensibility — you know, those famous novels where 19th century British people sat around, drank tea and talked? Written by somebody my English professors swore was a brilliant author? Was lauded for its excellence, and yet every single average person not an English major who tried to read it instantly fell asleep?

I really wanted to like this book, because (outside of breaking two of my three Fantasy writing rules) it was everything I wanted. There were gods walking the lands, there were interesting characters running about, decent plot hooks and a compelling villain. But… nothing happens.



I could see what the author was trying to do in this book and, quite frankly, could have pulled it off with some judicious edits (primarily, about 1/3 of the book). The characterization (when I knew who we were reading about) was fairly decent, and the story line (which I loved) could have worked better had there been less chatting and scene painting and more “Getting this show on the road”. I understand that it’s hard to cram 15+ years into a 500 page book, but there could have been more scenes with the young goddess finding her powers and less tea (metaphorically, of course).

This novel misses despite the beautiful tapestry it paints. I’d say “borrow” it, to be generous, but this was a novel I had no problems putting down when anything else (Netflix, video games, my cat) came over to distract me. And while I am easily distracted at times, if a book is good nothing in this world can pull me from it. Sadly, Blackdog didn’t hold my attention.

Reviewed by Jason

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Joan Slonczewski’s “The Highest Frontier:” Great Science, Iffy Characterization

Joan Slonczewski’s latest science fiction novel is THE HIGHEST FRONTIER, which is a near-future novel based mostly on a space habitat located above the Earth called Frontera.  The Earth, especially North America, has largely been ruined by climate change, which is why most of the best scientists, artists, and even athletes have removed to various space habitats.  Frontera is just one of a number of space habitats; it’s home to an excellent college, to one of the world’s best slanball teams (slanball reminds me a great deal of Quidditch, except without magic and by using gravitational fields instead), to a number of farmers, and to some mind-blowing science, particularly of the physical and biological variety.

You see, the near future is a very strange place.  People get to and from the various space habitats by going up strands of anthrax — harnessing a dangerous biological weapon this way is a nice touch — while taxes now get “played” at casinos, and there’s an upper limit as to how much you’re allowed to lose.  Biological science has taken a gigantic leap forward, partly due to an “alien invader” called ultraphyte, a type of creature that seems infinitely adaptable and is usually deadly to human beings in any form.

The heroine of our tale is Jennifer “Jenny” Ramos Kennedy — yes, of that Kennedy family, though she tends to think more of the Ramos side of the family as they’ve been the more recent occupants of the White House — a multifaceted young woman with unusual skills.  Jenny is a trained first-responder — meaning she has advanced first aid skills, which are aided by advanced technology — and as ultraphyte has been called, more or less, one of the top “enemies of the state,” she’s used to decisively dealing with ultraphyte in a way that leaves behind as little as possible (as the wily little devils can seemingly reconstitute themselves out of the thin air, though in actuality they need salt and a lot of it in order to reproduce and thrive).  And because Jenny’s recently lost her twin brother, Jordi, due to misadventure, she’s hurting, alone, scared, and sad in short order — yet she’s bound and determined to improve her life by going off-world to Frontera, which shows an unusually steely set of nerves.

At Frontera University, Jenny studies under biologist and Nobel Prize winner Sharon Abaynesh; this is much more important to the plot than it seems at first, as Abaynesh is one of the few people who seem to realize that the ultraphyte are more than invaders — they are sentient, sapient beings who may well not be as opposed to humans as they seem.

Along the way, Jenny has her first romance; she plays a lot of slanball; she gets frustrated because she “only” gets an A (grade inflation has taken place, and now she expects an A-triple-plus on everything or she figures she’s falling short); she works on her public speaking skills, as she knows she’s deficient in that area and as the scion of a political family, that just won’t do.  And she interacts with just about anyone who’s anyone on Frontera, partly because of her high social standing, but mostly because it’s integral to the plot that she do so.

Look.  This is a book that’s really high on ideas.  The way the Internet is newly-conceived as “ToyNet” is a brilliant touch.  The space habitat (“spacehab” in Slonczewski’s parlance) is well-conceived, and seems like something that would actually work.  The way real food is prized and coveted — and is a rare treat — makes sense due to its scarcity in a world that’s now low on natural resources.  And the overall, overarching plot makes sense, which I was glad to see.

But there was something about this book for all its brilliance that bothered me, and that’s the fact that our heroine, Jenny, just wasn’t strong enough to hang the plot around.  While I liked her and often empathized with her, I kept thinking that the only reason Jenny was the main character here was because Slonczewski wanted to write a young adult novel, thus Jenny had to be the main character.  And that’s just not good enough.

I’ve read Slonczewski’s other novels, including the John W. Campbell award-winning A DOOR INTO OCEAN, which is outstanding and a must-read.  She is a scientist by training and temperament, which is why the science of the space habitat is first-rate and why the overall near future world is worked out to the Nth degree, even to the point of Cuban-inflected Spanish loan words due perhaps to the fact that both Puerto Rico and Cuba are now part of the United States of America.

But when you have a main character who, while likable, just can’t hold my interest, that’s not acceptable for a writer of Slonczewski’s caliber.  And that’s why, despite the fact that the world-building and overall scientific background of THE HIGHEST FRONTIER are uniformly excellent, I feel this novel fell a bit short of the mark.


World-building:  A-plus.

Scientific knowledge (AKA, “Is this world plausible?”):  A-plus.

Characterization:  C-minus.

Overall grade:  A very generous B.

My advice is to wait for this one to come out in paperback, or possibly get it from your local library; while the ideas here are outstanding, the characterization isn’t.   And that’s a shame.

— reviewed by Barb

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The Doctor and the Kid

The Doctor and the Kid by Mike Resnick

The Doctor and the Kid is the sequel to The Buntline Special (reviewed here).

The Doctor and the Kid opens with Doc Holliday in Leadville, Colorado, preparing to be admitted to a sanatorium for his consumption.  Of course, Doc isn’t quite ready to give up the ghost just yet, and still gambles like a fiend, all while drinking like a fish.  This comes back to haunt him when he loses spectacularly at cards, losing all his savings, including the money for the sanatorium.  Big Nose Kate, still at war—er, in a relationship with Doc, is less than thrilled by the mess, and refuses to give him a helping hand.

So what’s a doctor-gambler-shootist to do?  Why, find the biggest bounty that exists and take it!  Wyatt Earp reluctantly tells Doc about the largest bounty available, ten thousand dollars for one Billy the Kid.  That’s more than enough to make sure Doc can live as comfortably as one can with advanced tuberculosis.  Wyatt warns Doc that the Kid is very skilled, much younger, and much healthier.  Doc’s bullheadedness comes to the fore, and the two have a rather potent disagreement about going on the hunt together, leaving Doc on his own.

Of course there’s a catch to the bounty.  Geronimo, through one of his shape-shifting warriors, informs Doc Holliday that Billy the Kid is protected by Hook Nose.  Between the two medicine men, they have been powerful enough to stop the United States from advancing across the Mississippi.  He makes an offer: in exchange for destroying a magically protected building (it withstood cannon bombardment without as much as a dent!) atop sacred burial ground, he will break Hook Nose’s protection over the Kid.

With so much magic at work, the only people who can help are Ned Buntline and Thomas Alva Edison, whose mission is to find a way to counter the medicine man’s magic and allow the United States to fulfill its Manifest Destiny.  Between the three of them, surely anything is possible.


Mike Resnick doesn’t disappoint in the second book in the Weird West series.  The story builds fast, and is constantly entertaining, with dialogue that is read-out-loud funny.  The characters are varied and rich, human, rather than cardboard cutouts of historical figures.  The West itself is Weird, of course, but not jarringly so, with advancements taking hold slowly.  It’s extremely believable, which contributes to the fun.  There’s several surprises in store, ones that even Doc Holliday didn’t see coming.

The Doctor and the Kid is a fun, enjoyable read.  I utterly enjoyed this book, and can’t wait to sink my teeth into the third one that’s hopefully coming soon.

Reviewed by Samantha

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The Tudors — Brought To Life Wonderfully

Smart and sexy, in depth and detailed; those are just a few words I would use to describe G. J. Meyer’s The Tudors, the complete story of England’s most notorious dynasty.

I started off thinking I knew quite a bit about the infamous Tudors — most specifically, Henry VIII. Imagine my surprise upon discovering this wonderful book about the entire Tudor dynasty, starting with Henry Tudor, a quiet and studious man whose claim upon the throne of England was about as weak as any. Nonetheless, after a quick battle with Richard III, king of England, Henry VII suddenly found himself king of a small but growing nation.

Meyer’s portrayal of the Tudors is not flattering; indeed, most of the Tudor dynasty’s triumphs the author portrays throughout the book are vastly overshadowed by the amount of atrocities and dark deeds that led to those triumphs. The majority of the book revolves around the life and times of the most notorious of England’s many kings: Henry VIII. Unfair or not, this polarizing figure of English history, through barbaric acts and a somewhat innocent idealism, ensured that the dynasty of his father would live on throughout history.

However, Henry VIII is only part of the story, a part of the grand tapestry that Meyer weaves easily in a narrative voice that keeps the reader interested and involved. The historical notes are spot-on, and Meyer’s admits when a few suppositions are just that, a drastic change of pace from some historians who assert that their guesses are genuinely accurate and not just that.

This book actually inspired me to go out and pick up another book, one about Edward VI, the ill-fated reformer son of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, Henry’s third wife. I was fascinated by Meyer’s painting of Edward, though, including the delicate dance that his two older sister must do around him, specifically Mary, Henry’s daughter with Catherine of Aragon, a devout Catholic who is at opposite ends of her Reformist younger sibling. Because the Reformation, originally derided by Henry VIII but later it’s unofficial champion with his fourth marriage, to Anne of Cleaves, a member of the powerful Reformer clans of Europe.

Of course, it’s Henry and history, so you know it didn’t take long for that to end…

I loved this book and the history it brought back to life. The Tudor dynasty will forever remain one of the most enigmatic  families of all time, and the author does a fantastic job of bringing them back to life. A definite must-have book for the history buff in us all.

–Reviewed by Jason


“Planesrunner” by Ian McDonald — Smart, Fast and Fun

The elegant solution to some problems is to cut to the source. Everett Singh, hero of Ian McDonald’s thrilling Planesrunner (Pyr), does just that in this science fiction/steam punk filled adventure.

Singh is a brilliant young teen who is the eldest child of a scientist who is on the verge of something spectacular. However, before Everett can figure it out himself, his father is kidnapped – and Everett’s world is turned upside down.

He goes to the police but they don’t believe him. When he shows them video proof, something strange happens. The police alter his video and tries to say his father was not kidnapped, but simply ran off somewhere. Everett, wisely, had email him a copy of the altered video and replays it later, confirming his suspicions: the police are lying.

That night, Everett receives a very strange app on his iPad with a note attached. It is for him, from his dad, sent before his kidnapping. Everett cracks the code and quickly realizes that there is something much deeper, much more powerful going on that his dad was involved with, and he begins to think it may have something to do with alternate realities.

Everett convinces the mysterious government agency running the exploration of his dad’s theories into letting him come in to give them the app his dad had sent him. Instead of giving them the app, though, Everett leaps through the gate and ends up in a steam punk style London, where oil does not exist.

This story was a lot of fun to read, with Everet”s single-minded determination to rescue his father at all cost coming across as a very strong father-son connection — something a lot of YA books seem to lack. He’s a very realistic teen, with the thought process of an advanced mind which still lacks some maturity. Basically, he is a well-portrayed teenager.

McDonald does a lot of research into the steam aspects of the novel, but it does not take away anything from the overall novel. Everett’s quest to rescue his father is first and foremost, despite the other dangerous adventures which occur to Everett in the alternate London.

The author has a great story hear, and with no conclusive ending, the sequel should be just as fun. A great story for all.

-Reviewed by Jason

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Lee and Miller Deliver Another Winner with GHOST SHIP

The writing team of Sharon Lee and Steve Miller have delivered another winner with their latest Liaden Universe (TM) novel, GHOST SHIP.  This novel is a direct sequel to FLEDGLING and SALTATION (previously reviewed here at SBR) as it continues the story of pilot Theo Waitley, who is half-Liaden through her father, the man she knows as scholar of cultural genetics Jen Sar Kiladi.  But Theo’s father’s real identity is Da’av yos’Phelium, the former Delm of Korval; Da’av is also a Captain of the Liaden Scouts, which help to explore the galaxy and enjoy cultures of all sorts, including Terran, Liaden, and even Yxtrang (the last being a hereditary soldier caste).

But this is also a sequel to the “mainline” Liaden Universe novel sequence that ended with I DARE, which means Theo’s story isn’t all that’s going on here.  This may confuse you if you haven’t read all the other Liaden Universe novels, but if you bear with it you should enjoy reading about Theo’s half-brother, Val Con yos’Phelium, Delm Korval, and Val Con’s wife and Delmae (co-Delm) Miri Robertson Tiazan, Surebleak Head Boss Pat Rin yos’Phelium (also called Jonni Conrad), and many others.

But for now, we’ll stick with Theo’s story, since it’s the easiest to explain.

At the end of SALTATION, Theo was in big trouble.  Her love interest, Scout Pilot Win Ton yo’Vala, was gravely ill and only meeting up with a strange ship that’s taken an interest in both Theo and Win Ton has any hope of aiding her.  Yet this ship, the Bechimo, is skittish; this is for good reason, as Bechimo is both sentient and sapient.  The Liadens, as a whole, mostly don’t know what to do with the very few AIs who’ve obtained Bechimo’s status, though luckily for Bechimo, Clan Korval is among the few major Liaden Clans which approves of such as they have one working for them, Jeeves, a “security logic” that’s actually the remains of a major defense computer complex.  And, of course, Theo is aligned with Clan Korval, though she’s not exactly a member as of yet, because of her father and half-brother; this helps Bechimo not be blown to bits (murdered, as it were) out of hand by the Liaden Scouts.

As Bechimo is Win Ton’s only hope, no matter how nervous Theo is over Bechimo’s sentience, she does her best to become accustomed to Bechimo, and of course the ship also does his best (as Bechimo views his essence as male) to accommodate to her, because Theo is the Bechimo’s presumptive new captain and is the senior pilot available.

Of course, with Win Ton gravely ill, Theo needs another pilot to help her, and manages to acquire one in retired Juntavus Boss (and pilot) Clarence O’Berin.  Clarence was stationed on Liad, and knows Theo’s father very well in Da’av’s primary identity (meaning Clarence and Da’av used to do a great deal of business together, as both were allied most of the time as to what the best interests of Liaden commerce were and should continue to be).  The Juntavus have a bad reputation as some of them are thieves and murderers; however, they are quasi-legitimate, and Clarence himself is definitely a good guy who’s trying to go completely legit.

Along the way, we find out that Theo is still very bad with people (something I noted before; this is her one, major flaw and makes her much easier to understand despite her prodigious abilities in piloting, mathematics, self-defense, and more).  But that, alone, would not make a book no matter how interesting a character I find her to be, so it’s good that Lee and Miller wisely show Theo having various adventures, including some for the Uncle (whom I mentioned quite often in the preceding review for THE CRYSTAL VARIATION omnibus; yes, it is indeed the same, exact Uncle, as apparently he uses a cloning apparatus quite regularly), they show her grappling to explain what’s happened to “Jen Sar Kiladi” to her mother, Kamele, and certainly, Theo’s trials and tribulations with Bechimo are more than worth the price of admission.

However, the book fails, ever so slightly, to flesh out the ending; while I’m more than willing to wait to find out what comes next for Theo, Da’av, Win Ton, Clarence, and Bechimo, I should’ve had a better idea of why Val Con left Surebleak (the new center of operations for Clan Korval) than GHOST SHIP gave me; that this information is available elsewhere in the Liaden Universe as a novella doesn’t quite cut it even though, by happenstance, I have read the novella in question.  There just isn’t enough there for readers who aren’t as up on their Liaden Universe exploits as I am to figure out what’s going on, I fear, and that’s a shame.

But this is, at most, a minor quibble, because otherwise, GHOST SHIP is a worthy addition to the overall Liaden Universe and capably continues Theo’s journey for good measure.

It does, however, require that I split the grades, something I’ve not done previously with regards to Lee and Miller’s novels here at SBR.  I rate GHOST SHIP as an A-minus for newer readers, but a solid A for long-time readers.  (Either way you slice it, I want a sequel to GHOST SHIP ASAP, so I can get my next Liaden Universe “fix.”)

— reviewed by Barb


Note:  For long-time readers of the Liaden Universe saga, you’ll get a chance to see most, if not all, of the regular characters from previous books in addition to the ones I’ve mentioned.  I, particularly, appreciated seeing Anthora and Ren Zel, two of my favorite characters from Plan B and I Dare, along with Pat Rin’s lifemate, Juntavus Sector Judge Natesa the Assassin (real name: Inas Bhar).  This adds a great deal of zest to an already richly flavorful soup, and is most welcome.