The Northern Star: The End
This is the closing book in The Northern Star, Michael Gullickson’s masterful trilogy of dystopian cyberpunk war books. Michael’s books join the select group of sci-fi writers who make war both futuristic and human. In the first two books we meet John Raimey a soldier who is turned into a cross between a tank and a soldier. His original design is too expensive and too much overkill, so even years later, he is the most powerful Tank Major around. The Northern Star is activated at the end of the second book and one man, Evan Lindo, takes over the world. Most people never notice. This book begins twenty-five years after that take over. Events set off a final conspiracy of both friends and enemies to take Lindo down and restore freedom to the world.
Aside from the Tank Majors, there are Tank Minor who have been so changed they are no longer human, old friends and enemies and wonderfully written battle scenes that never let us forget that the warriors on both sides are people.
In this final book Michael adds a philosophical depth to the narrative that doesn’t intrude into the story, but gives it an extra richness.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who like war book, sci-fi, or cyber-punk, or just a really good story. If you haven’t read the first two, read them first. If you only buy one independent trilogy this year, make it this one. You won’t be disappointed.
Raylee is bored. She’s stuck in her home town flipping burgers for her aunt Kim. We hear a fair bit about her boredom before her parents are killed in a car crash and she add grief stricken to bored. Lucky Billy Thurstan, her crush from high school is back in town with a bit part in a movie. He sweeps her off her feet, but Raylee can’t decide whether she can trust him or not.
Intent is intended to be a Christian thriller. All the elements are there; the doubting protagonist, the faithful friend, the looming evil, but the book never gels. Part of the problem is the protagonist. Her biggest issue before her parents die is boredom. She is twenty-two and is disappointed that she hasn’t made it yet. This angst carries through the rest of the book. God isn’t a being that challenges and shakes up life, who is present in the midst of evil. More like God is a talisman to be reached out to solve problems.
If the characters had been more engaging, the rest of the story would work, but I never like Raylee enough to root for her. The other characters aren’t much stronger, so a story that should be told in bold colours struggles with pastels. Add some really unlikely scenarios ( a pastor of a small church leaving a mortgage free house and three hundred thousand in the bank, a car dealer deciding to retire and dump the dealership on his twenty something son, miraculously bad, then miraculously quick police work) and the story doesn’t grip.
Walk in the Flesh
This is one of the creepiest books I’ve read in a long time. Neil is a psychopathic soldier who ends up with the choice of dying or becoming a computer program with a chance of gaining revenge on the people who blew up London with an atomic bomb and killed his wife. The book has two levels. The first is Neil’s work as he is implanted in bodies, then sent to kill the close friends of the people who used to live in those bodies. The concept of an eternal warrior who keeps waking up only to be sent out to kill again is depressing enough, but Peter Bailey takes it a step further with the gradual collapse of Neil’s humanity and sense of self through the book.
I’ve been know to complain that sci-fi war books don’t feel that sci-fi, and this one doesn’t either. The mechanism of Neil’s eternal life is routine and the subject of office politics. The world he lives in is only an atomic blast or two away from ours. It is that very closeness to our present reality that makes the book work as well as it does.
If you like war book, psychological books, or near future sci-fi, then this book is for you.
At The Sharp Edge of Lightning
This novel is the start of an ambitious project that spans three worlds that exist in separate dimension. In two of the worlds sprites rules, sylvan sprites in Forestlight and sea sprites in Oceanlight. The Daiman rule in the third dimension. The daiman world is leaking into the others causing ecological disasters. A sylvan sprite is sent on a quest to close the thin spaces between the worlds and stop the problem.
What she is given to close the thin spaces doesn’t work and the human from the mythical fourth world is pulled into the quest though he knows nothing of the sprite’s existence or need.
The book is slow to start and the jumps between worlds don’t always come when expected, but it draws the reader in with vivid description of the different worlds and cultures. The book is the first of a series so much of it is set up of characters and worldbuilidng. I will be interested to see where the next book takes us.
Pulse, by Robert Cook pits Cooch, an Arab-American, and the rest of his team against the nation, or at least the leaders, of Iran in a scenario in which Iran has a nuclear warhead, but primed mostly as a EMP weapon to be used against Israel.
If you are willing to put up with the long setup, the war scenes at the end are well written and feel like a realistic playout of the forces involved. It was especially interesting to see weapons talked about recently in Scientific American appearing on the scene in the book.
Aside from that I struggled with the characterization. Everybody Cooch assembled was the best at whatever they did. Not one person in his circle was anything less than exceptional. Unfortunately it also made them unbelievable. They could set up the overthrow of a sovereign nation without breaking a sweat. Strengths are okay in their place, but it is weaknesses that make a character (or group of characters) interesting.
Alongside of that issue, the dialogue was unremittingly dense and intelligent, but it also said only what was on the surface. There weren’t any murky bits to create misunderstanding. Everyone (even the liberal types) said just what they thought, then just accepted the other person’s view and left it at that. It is the subtexts and murky sections that make dialogue evocative.
Not that Pulse is a bad book. If you like modern warfare books you will enjoy this one completely.
The Magic Leg
Toni has his crippled leg bitten off by a mysterious creature and it is replaced by a wonderful magic leg. We next meet Toni on a floating steamship with his sister Ren, known as the Sound Wrath, (his nickname is Magic Leg) and they are creating a reputation for themselves to go along with their nicknames. Toni is searching for a witch named Weaver to get answers about his leg.
This is a great setup. I like the leg, the steamship, the somewhat piratical vibe we get from Toni and his sister. I really wanted to like this book.
Unfortunately the execution of the story lets it down. The dialogue markings are non standard, an em-dash instead of quotation marks. I could have forgiven that if the dialogue hadn’t been stilted. We jump from plot to exposition to dialogue without any sense of flow. This is a book that I really wish had a good editor or critique group to go through it and do the work to make it into the story it deserves to be.
There is a good story in there, but it needs a lot of polishing to make it shine. I regret to say that as it stands I can’t recommend it. I wish I could.
Limerents in the Bog
Allen Lee Tayler
Garden Gnome Publications
Limerents in the Bog is a very strange book that starts in the bog enters a bit of extended weirdness then… well I won’t say in case you decide to read the book for yourself.
Lohir is a limerent, which as far as I can tell is an excuse to use the word ‘rubber flesh’ a lot. He is a timid sort who is disgruntled that the woman he lusted after up and left him with no explanation. In the midst of Lohir’s moping a clown lures him out of his father’s bog into the forest where he meets tiger vines, talking bushes and Vestigial Virgins.
As you may know if you follow this blog, I enjoy a dash of weirdness in my reading, but Limerents is weird without going anywhere. It is short, only sixty-one pages, but I arrived at the end thinking “I did all this work for this?”
The problem is that Lohir doesn’t make any decisions. He leaves the bog and things happen to him. Weird things, but he takes no control, just follows the clown. I’m afraid I can’t recommend this book for anyone.
Sara Kelly goes out with her friends to dance in the woods under the moonlight. What she thinks is an innocent outing turns dark and disturbing as Hecate, the devil’s daughter entraps two of her friends and almost captures Sara. Sara’s father is a strong member of the local church who wouldn’t hold with her dancing, but Sara’s world starts coming down around her ears as the witches come after her for vengeance for what happened in Salem before Sara was born.
This book is a combination of thriller, mystery and horror as Sara tries to understand why her family is the target of the witch who names herself Hecate, and why the witch hunters, Bishop and Priest are protecting her. The story starts nineteen years after the Salem witch trials. Aaron Galvin has built his story around what might have happened there and what might have happened next.
The characters and period are well drawn with the tension kept bow string tight for much of the book. Horror fans and historical fiction buffs will both enjoy the book.
By the book here.
Along Came a Wolf: The Yellow Hoods
Tee is an adventurous girl who we first meet barrelling down a hill on a sail cart with no brakes. She and her friends Elly and Richy wear yellow hoods while they run through the forest around their home. They encounter Andre leLoup and are caught up as leLoup tries to extort a steam engine from Tee’s inventor grandfather Nikolas. They use their wits, luck and some extraordinary inventions as they struggle to keep Nikolas free.
The Yellow Hoods describes itself as emergent steampunk. This is because as of this first book, there are no steam engines yet. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other marvellous things to hold the reader’s attention through the story.
Adam Dreece has crafted a witty and engaging story. His child heroes act like children not miniature adults, but that doesn’t stop the action from being real. This is what you might get if Arthur Ransome wrote steampunk. Along Came a Wolf is one of those gems that I dream of as the review requests come in. It is lean, original and hard to put down. It is also one of the best books I’ve read this year, and if you follow my blog, you’ll know I read a lot of books.
I highly recommend the book for adventure lovers young and old. You don’t need to know anything about steampunk to enjoy the book.
Buy the book here.
Watcher’s Keep: The Triadine Saga
Peter and Alex are twins whose idyllic existence is interrupted by the arrival of the King’s spy. Know nothing about why they are being chased or who they really are, the twins run into the woods to escape a brutal enemy. The aren’t sure of anything other than they are going to try to find the elves the church told them don’t exist. They get separate in the woods by bandits and their real adventures begin. Alex learns more about her family and legacy while Peter is conscripted into the army of the very King who wants him dead.
Watcher’s Keep is the first book in a series and as such spends most of its time establishing the wide range of characters needed to carry the epic story forward. We meet wizards, dwarves and elves and more within its pages along with unexpected allies and and hidden enemies. There is, of course, a prophecy, but mercifully is it so confused that it could mean anything leaving the characters and the plot to make their own way.
If there is any weakness past the wholly unneeded prologue, it is the tendency to over explain things that could be trusted to the reader to understand. As this habit lessens through the book, I expect it will continue to disappear in the subsequent volumes.
I found the story to be an enjoyable and original read with sufficient plot and twists even in the first volume to keep the story moving. I recommend the book to lovers of epic fantasy. This will be a series worth watching for.
Buy the book here.