Mar 25
2014

Kirkus reviews Kowal’s new Glamourist History fantasy

Valour and Vanity by Mary Robinette Kowal

Renowned glamourists Lord and Lady Vincent become the victims of an elaborate scam that leaves them in dire straits until they conceive of a daring strategy to strike back.

After an extended voyage with her family, Jane and Vincent are anxious to find some time to themselves, traveling to Murano. They have a letter of introduction from the prince regent and hope to work with an artisan to experiment on infusing glamour­magical illusions of sight, sound and light­into glass. On the way, they’re waylaid by pirates, then rescued by a fellow passenger who takes them under his wing in the city. Without papers or money and with Vincent suffering a concussion from the attack, they’re grateful for the gentleman’s help. Once they make progress on their revolutionary glamour process, however, they’re detained by the local police and accused of fraud. Realizing their “friend” is a con man who has disappeared with all their notes and finished work, Jane and Vincent are left broke, in debt and under suspicion: “They had no funds and no friends at all. The only resources they had were the clothes upon their backs, and even those they owed money for.” Unable to find employment, Vincent becomes dispirited, especially when he must depend on the meager salary Jane manages to secure from a nearby convent. Things look up when a chance sighting of one of the crooks enables Vincent and Jane to turn the tables on them: “[S]he could see his mind working and putting together pieces of a plan, as surely as if he was plotting a glamural.” Kowal continues her creative Regency-set Glamourist Histories series with a clever, captivating plot that culminates in a magical heist storyline. Before we get there, though, we are treated to a touching examination of a loving marriage under duress and the connections and collaborations these extraordinary partners must create and reaffirm with each other and those around them in order to thrive.

Combining history, magic and adventure, the book balances emotional depth with buoyant storytelling. — Kirkus Reviews

Feb 25
2014

Library Journal Review for new Anne Bishop fantasy

Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop

Living among the shifters, vampires, and earth elementals known as the Others is a dangerous proposition for humans, but Meg Corbyn is no ordinary mortal. As a cassandra sangue Meg can see the future when her skin is cut. In 2013′s Written in Red, Meg had just escaped from the compound where young women with her abilities are held captive and cut for the benefit of rich and powerful men. In this sequel, Meg has earned her place in the Others’ Courtyard but still struggles with the urge to cut herself. Everything points to a violent confrontation between the Others, who control most of the world, and the smaller human population, who must never forget that they will always be prey to the powerful natives. VERDICT: Bishop excels at creating irresistible dark worlds, but this series avoids some of the baroque excesses of her popular “Black Jewels” universe while still having that startling otherness and a touch of sensuality. Her alternate America in which the natural world belongs to the Others and humans are interlopers is fascinating. –Library Journal

Feb 20
2014

Starred Kirkus review for conclusion of Elizabeth Bear trilogy

Steles of the Sky by Elizabeth Bear

Wrapping up Bear’s complex and beautifully rendered historical-fantasy trilogy (Shattered Pillars, 2013, etc.). Necromancer and blood-sorcerer al-Sepehr, head of the Nameless assassin cult, arranged to have his daughter Saadet impregnated by Qori Buqa, Khagan of the nomad horse-warrior Empire, whom he then murdered. Re Temur, Qori Buqa’s nephew and the true heir to the Khaganate, decides to raise his banner at Dragon Lake, site of the Khagan’s vast abandoned palace­but how to reach it? Perhaps his companions, the wizard Samarkar, Hrahima, a huge human-tiger Cho-tse warrior, and the silent monk, Brother Hsiung, can find a way through the magic doorways created by the extinct Erem Empire. But Erem magic is deadly poisonous­Brother Hsiung is already half-blind from attempting to study it. Edene, Temur’s woman, escaped from al-Sepehr by stealing a green Erem ring, which gave her command of the ghuls, a slave race created by Erem, and control of the toxic Erem magic and all poisonous creatures, but an evil presence within it whispers to her­and she’s carrying Temur’s child. She must also deal with a djinn who, appearing sporadically and unpredictably, sometimes offers help while admitting he’s bound, against his will, to al-Sepehr. Various other groups­wizards, warriors, empresses, survivors of the civilizations broken by al-Sepehr’s treachery­converge on Dragon Lake. These and other narrative strands progress and interact through fully realized characters whose personalities and motivations arise from the dazzlingly detailed cultures and landscapes from which they derive. If there’s a disappointment, it’s the bipedal tiger Hrahima, a vigorous presence whose background and motivations remain largely unexplored. Notably, apart from the hero and his antagonist, all the leading characters are women. It all adds up to an eminently satisfying conclusion. Considering the trilogy as a whole, the overused term masterpiece justifiably applies. — Kirkus, Starred Review

Feb 1
2014

Booklist review for new Anne Bishop fantasy

Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop

The second book in the Others series continues to tell of the struggles of humans and the “terra indigene,” commonly referred to as Others. Building on the story told in the initial book, Written in Red (2013), Meg Corbyn is finding that life as a blood prophet, away from the man who had owned her, is anything but simple. In this fascinating tale, the Others, including vampires and shape-shifters, are the dominant species of the continent, and humans are the interlopers, barely tolerated. Meg does her best to keep the peace, but when she starts having more and more violent prophecies involving the deaths of Others, she struggles to get the dreams interpreted. It becomes clearer over time that what she sees is a foretelling of war between the Others and humans. Questions of who is instigating the growing clashes and why they are doing it linger throughout the book. The world is described in fluid detail, set in an alternate reality of Earth, with characters that are complex and intriguing. A fantastic sequel to the first book in the series. –Booklist

Nov 19
2013

Library Journal Starred Review for new Clockwork Century novel

Fiddlehead by Cherie Priest

The end of the world as we know it makes for an exciting wrap-up to Priest’s epic alternate steampunk series, which began with Boneshaker. The U.S. Civil War has continued for 20 years because an inventor knocked out Seattle with his Boneshaker engine and stirred up a poisonous gas that is still creating zombies. In Washington, DC, Gideon Bardsley’s new Fiddlehead computational engine has just predicted that the zombies will eventually destroy the human race if the North and South don’t make peace and immediately eradicate the threat. But evil profiteers want to continue the war by spreading the zombie plague and forcing Europe to enter the conflict on the side of the otherwise battle-weakened Confederate States of America. It’s a diabolical plan that just might work.

VERDICT This is a compelling finale to a fantastic series. The good guys are complex and sympathetic; the villains are suitably clever and malign. The action rattles along at breakneck speed, and the reader can’t resist coming along for the wild ride, which includes a climactic battle featuring a wheelchair-bound Abe Lincoln and a temporarily sober Ulysses S. Grant. Highly recommended for all readers of fantasy and steampunk. –Library Journal, Starred Review

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