City of Mirrors

I didn't quite know what to expect when I sat down to read Justin Cronin's City of Mirrors. This series has shown signs of brilliance in the past, yet it can also be terribly clichéd and generic. This was the final installment in the trilogy, and I was curious to see how the author would bring all the storylines together and tie up all the loose ends. Hopefully we would get the sort of grand finale that would blow our minds.

Unfortunately, it was not to be. Again, some portions of this third volume are awesome and page-turning. But the endgame and its aftermath are decidedly over the top and kind of a letdown.

Here's the blurb:

You followed The Passage. You faced The Twelve. Now enter The City of Mirrors for the final reckoning. As the bestselling epic races to its breathtaking finale, Justin Cronin’s band of hardened survivors await the second coming of unspeakable darkness.

The world we knew is gone. What world will rise in its place?

The Twelve have been destroyed and the terrifying hundred-year reign of darkness that descended upon the world has ended. The survivors are stepping outside their walls, determined to build society anew—and daring to dream of a hopeful future.

But far from them, in a dead metropolis, he waits: Zero. The First. Father of the Twelve. The anguish that shattered his human life haunts him, and the hatred spawned by his transformation burns bright. His fury will be quenched only when he destroys Amy—humanity’s only hope, the Girl from Nowhere who grew up to rise against him.

One last time light and dark will clash, and at last Amy and her friends will know their fate.

Structurally, this book is a mess. With two huge yarns to build on, one would have thought that Cronin would have no trouble streamlining the plot and lead readers toward the ending. And indeed, at the beginning of the novel, it appears that this would be the case. City of Mirrors opens up 8 months following the liberation of the Homeland at the end of The Twelve. This first part is meant to establish where the various protagonists are and what they are doing following the destruction of the Twelve. Problem is, the author then kills the momentum for the first time with the full recounting of Tim Fanning's life before and after he became known as Zero. This part consists of over a hundred pages and is totally unnecessary in the greater scheme of things. True, in order for this final installment to pack a more powerful punch, and for the end to make any sense, readers needed some background information on the man responsible for bringing mankind on the brink of extinction. And yet, though we needed his back story, we certainly didn't need the excrutiating minutiae of every single detail about his life. Starting with the third part, we fast-forward two decades, at a point in history where humanity's fate will be decided. For the next three hundred pages or so, City of Mirrors is impossible to put down. Thrilling and entertaining, it's a real page-turner. The endgame, though exciting, was way too over the top for me to enjoy. It felt as though I was in a Michael Bay movie, time and time again. And then, for some unfathomable reason, Cronin went for an epilogue set nearly a millennium into the future. And weighing in at more than 40 pages, that epilogue once again kills whatever momentum engendered by the rousing finale. All of which makes for a markedly uneven reading experience.

The characterization is definitely my favorite aspect of this book. It was nice to see these men and women shortly following the events that led to the liberation of the Homeland, and then discover how they had evolved over the course of the next two decades in a world now free of virals. It was interesting to see familiar faces such as Alicia, Amy, Peter, Sara, Hollis, Lucius, and Michael adapt to this new life devoid of the dangers they had faced on a daily basis growing up. And it was also nice to see Caleb as a grown man with a family of his own. Justin Cronin created an amazing cast of characters for this series, most of them three-dimensional men and women that are easy to root for. They're an endearing bunch, no question about it. Trouble is, as was the case with Robert Jordan, Cronin loves his protagonists a bit too much. And even if some of them actually die before the conclusion of this ambitious tale, the author's desire to see them all have an important to role to play in the final showdown was too overdone. The Michael-Bay-esque endgame felt a bit incongruous with what the previous novels had accustomed us to. As far as the epilogue is concerned, once again Cronin felt the need to introduce us to a new cast of totally unnecessary characters and minute details regarding the life of a scholar. The events described in the epilogue are important, that goes without saying. But that final scene, which caps off the entire trilogy, did not require Logan Miles' back story and love affair.

For the aforementioned reasons, the pace throughout City of Mirrors is quite crooked. It starts well, but then the rhythm is brought to a standstill in the portion elaborating on the life of Tim Fanning. Justin Cronin then puts it into gear and takes it up a few notches for the better part of the book. The pace reaches its peak for the final showdown, before dying once more in the epilogue. In the end, the weird structure selected by the author is detrimental to the overall reading experience. Moreover, it overshadows the qualities that make a sizeable chunk of City of Mirrors quite enjoyable.

All in all, City of Mirrors contained all the ingredients needed to come up with a memorable final chapter in Amy's tale. Sadly, structural problems and poor execution turned what could have been a great read into a so-so experience. Which is disappointing considering that the stage was set for something special. . .

The final verdict: 7/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

Gail Z. Martin contest winners!

These two winners will each receive a copy of Gail Z. Martin's The Shadowed Path, compliments of the folks at Solaris. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winners are:

- Ben R.J. Dictus, from Schoten, Belgium

- Janne Prusti, from Gothenburg, Sweden

Many thanks to all the participants!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on the digital edition of Sympathy for the Devil, an anthology edited by Tim Pratt, for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

The Devil is known by many names: Serpent, Tempter, Beast, Adversary, Wanderer, Dragon, Rebel. His traps and machinations are the stuff of legends. His faces are legion. No matter what face the devil wears, Sympathy for the Devil.

Cover art and blurb for Tad Williams' THE HEART OF WHAT WAS LOST

Daw Books have unveiled the cover art and the blurb for Tad Williams' upcoming The Heart of What Was Lost. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

New York Times-bestselling Tad Williams’ ground-breaking epic fantasy saga of Osten Ard begins an exciting new cycle! • Perfect beginning for new readers!

The perfect introduction to the epic fantasy world of Osten Ard, The Heart of What Was Lost is Tad Williams’ follow-up to his internationally bestselling landmark trilogy. Osten Ard inspired a generation of modern fantasy writers, including George R.R. Martin, Patrick Rothfuss, and Christopher Paolini, and defined Tad Williams as one of the most important fantasy writers of our time.


Osten Ard is at a critical turning point once again. Ancient enemies, long silent, are preparing to reclaim lands that were once theirs…

Don’t miss the brand-new trilogy, The Last King of Osten Ard, beginning with The Witchwood Crown! And explore more of Osten Ard in Tad William’s landmark original trilogy—Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Lois McMaster Bujold's The Curse of Chalion for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

A man broken in body and spirit, Cazaril returns to the noble household he once served as page and is named secretary-tutor to the beautiful, strong-willed sister of the impetuous boy who is next in line to rule. It is an assignment Cazaril dreads, for it must ultimately lead him to the place he most fears: the royal court of Cardegoss, where the powerful enemies who once placed him in chains now occupy lofty positions.

But it is more than the traitorous intrigues of villains that threaten Cazaril and the Royesse Iselle here, for a sinister curse hangs like a sword over the entire blighted House of Chalion. And only by employing the darkest, most forbidden of magics can Cazaril hope to protect his royal charge -- an act that will mark him as a tool of the miraculous . . . and trap him in a lethal maze of demonic paradox.

Win an Advance Reading Copy of Bradley P. Beaulieu's OF SAND AND MALICE MADE

I received an extra galley of the book, so I'm giving away an Advance Reading Copy of Bradley P. Beaulieu's Of Sand and Malice Made to one lucky winner. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

Çeda, the heroine of the novel Twelve Kings in Sharakhai, is the youngest pit fighter in the history of the great desert city of Sharakhai. In this prequel, she has already made her name in the arena as the fearsome, undefeated White Wolf; none but her closest friends and allies know her true identity.

But this all changes when she crosses the path of Rümayesh, an ehrekh, a sadistic creature forged long ago by the god of chaos. The ehrekh are usually desert dwellers, but this one lurks in the dark corners of Sharakhai, toying with and preying on humans. As Rümayesh works to unmask the White Wolf and claim Çeda for her own, Çeda’s struggle becomes a battle for her very soul.

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam) with the header "MALICE." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.

Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.

Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.

Good luck to all the participants!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on the digital edition of Joe Abercrombie's Half a King for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

“I swore an oath to avenge the death of my father. I may be half a man, but I swore a whole oath.”

Prince Yarvi has vowed to regain a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains, and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea. And he must do it all with only one good hand.

The deceived will become the deceiver.

Born a weakling in the eyes of his father, Yarvi is alone in a world where a strong arm and a cold heart rule. He cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he must sharpen his mind to a deadly edge.

The betrayed will become the betrayer.

Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast and the lost, he finds they can do more to help him become the man he needs to be than any court of nobles could.

Will the usurped become the usurper?

But even with loyal friends at his side, Yarvi finds his path may end as it began—in twists, and traps, and tragedy.

Dead Until Dark

I've never watched the HBO series True Blood, yet I am aware of just how popular this book series by Charlaine Harris turned out to be. Every installment was a resident on the NYT bestseller list for months on end every time a new season was aired on TV. Given that a lot of critics opine that the Kitty Norville novels by Carrie Vaughn should appeal to fans of the Sookie Stackhouse sequence, I've always been curious about them and kept meaning to check them out as some point.

I found myself in a used bookstore last week for something else entirely and stumbled upon a copy. I was driving to the Charlevoix region for a week of vacation two days later, and Dead Until Dark seemed to be the sort of light read that was just what I needed for the trip. So I bought it and put it in my suitcase.

Here's the blurb:

Sookie Stackhouse is a small-time cocktail waitress in small-town Louisiana. She's quiet, keeps to herself, and doesn't get out much. Not because she's not pretty. She is. It's just that, well, Sookie has this sort of "disability." She can read minds. And that doesn't make her too dateable. And then along comes Bill. He's tall, dark, handsome--and Sookie can't hear a word he's thinking. He's exactly the type of guy she's been waiting for all her life...

But Bill has a disability of his own: He's a vampire with a bad reputation. He hangs with a seriously creepy crowd, all suspected of--big surprise--murder. And when one of Sookie's coworkers is killed, she fears she's next...

First of all, let me just say that with such a blurb, I would never have read this novel had I received it when it was first published. Indeed, everything hints at it being just another corny paranormal romance. And yes, Harris does lay the romantic aspect a bit too thick for my taste. However, what disappointed me the most was the decidedly evident lack of depth in this first installment. Granted, Jim Butcher's Storm Front and Carrie Vaughn's Kitty and the Midnight Hour didn't exactly resound with depth, either. I'm persuaded that subsequent volumes will flesh out the storylines and the characters. But with millions of copies sold, I guess I was expecting more from the opening chapter in the Sookie Stackhouse series.

The action takes place around Louisiana and I feel as though Harris captured the Southern vibe perfectly. Most urban fantasy novels I've read occur in big cities, so the small town environment was a welcome change in that regard. I have no idea if the sequels also use the Southern states as a backdrop, but here's to hoping that they do.

Dead Until Dark features the first-person narrative of Sookie Stackhouse. As always, a first-person POV can get tricky, as everything unfolds through the eyes of a single protagonist. Thankfully, Sookie is an easy character to root for. Her disability makes it easier to believe that she has very little experience when it comes to dating and explains how quickly she falls for Bill. She does cry way too much, though, which can get annoying at times. But for all of her shortcomings, following her misadventures was quite entertaining. Although we get no other perspective, I found the supporting cast to be interesting and endearing, and their presence adds layers to what is often a pretty linear plot.

Weighing in at only 292 pages, this book is quite short. Someone, somewhere, one day decided that urban fantasy novels needed to be slim, episodic, and fast-paced affairs. The rhythm is almost always brisk, but often to the detriment of the storytelling. Charlaine Harris introduces a number of protagonists and concepts, yet she keeps her cards very close to her chest and doesn't elaborate much on any of them. Though I'm sure we'll learn a lot more about vampires in general, as well as Bill and Eric's back stories, it would have been nice to discover a bit more about them in this first installment.

Even if this one turned out to be a murder mystery with some hot vampire sex thrown in for good measure, Charlaine Harris' writing style nevertheless makes it an easy and a fun novel to read. If someone were to summarize the plot for me, I'd say it feels like utter crap. And yet, the characterization and the dialogue make it work somehow. Needless to say, Dead Until Dark would have benefited from more depth. But if you are looking for a light and engaging read featuring a colorful cast of characters, this one will surely scratch that itch.

And though this first Sookie Stackhouse volume didn't exactly impress me, it intrigued me enough to want to see what happens next. Let us hope that, as was the case with both Butcher and Vaughn, the subsequent books will raise the bar higher and push the envelope further.

The final verdict: 7.25/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

Patrick Hemstreet contest winner!

This lucky bastard will receive a copy of Patrick Hemstreet's The God Wave! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winner is:

- Andrew Berger, from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

Many thanks to all the participants!

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (July 18th)

In hardcover:

Stephen King’s End of Watch is down one position, ending the week at number 5.

Ben H. Winters’ Underground Airlines debuts at number 20.

In paperback:

George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones returns at number 11.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on the digital edition of Sylvain Neuvel's Sleeping Giants for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

A page-turning debut in the tradition of Michael Crichton, World War Z, and The Martian, Sleeping Giants is a thriller fueled by an earthshaking mystery—and a fight to control a gargantuan power.

A girl named Rose is riding her new bike near her home in Deadwood, South Dakota, when she falls through the earth. She wakes up at the bottom of a square hole, its walls glowing with intricate carvings. But the firemen who come to save her peer down upon something even stranger: a little girl in the palm of a giant metal hand.

Seventeen years later, the mystery of the bizarre artifact remains unsolved—its origins, architects, and purpose unknown. Its carbon dating defies belief; military reports are redacted; theories are floated, then rejected.

But some can never stop searching for answers.

Rose Franklin is now a highly trained physicist leading a top secret team to crack the hand’s code. And along with her colleagues, she is being interviewed by a nameless interrogator whose power and purview are as enigmatic as the provenance of the relic. What’s clear is that Rose and her compatriots are on the edge of unraveling history’s most perplexing discovery—and figuring out what it portends for humanity. But once the pieces of the puzzle are in place, will the result prove to be an instrument of lasting peace or a weapon of mass destruction?

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Jeff Somers' We Are Not Good People for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Learn the Words. Get the blood. Rule the world. The Ustari Cycle starts here.

From the "exhilarating, powerful, and entertaining" (Guardian) storyteller of the Avery Cates series comes a gritty supernatural thriller featuring a pair of unlikely heroes caught up in the underground world of blood magic. Magicians: they are not good people.

The ethics in a world of blood are gray—and an underground strata of blood magicians has been engineering disasters for centuries in order to acquire enough fuel for their spells. Although in the modern world these mages stay in the shadows, their exploits have become no less bloody.

Still, some practitioners use the Words and a swipe of the blade to cast simpler spells, such as Charms and Cantrips to gas up $1 bills so they appear to be $20s. Lem Vonnegan and his sidekick Mags fall into this level of mage, hustlers and con men all. Lem tries to be ethical by using only his own blood, by not using Bleeders or "volunteers." But it makes life hard. Soon they might have to get honest work.

When the pair encounter a girl who's been kidnapped and marked up with magic runes for a ritual spell, it's clear they're in over their heads. Turning to Lem's estranged Master for help, they are told that not only is the girl's life all but forfeit, but that the world's preeminent mage, Mika Renar, has earth-shattering plans for her—and Lem just got in the way. With the fate of the world on the line, and Lem both spooked and intrigued by the mysterious girl, the other nominate him to become the huckleberry who'll take down Renar. But even if he, Mags, and the simpletons who follow him prevail, they're dealing with the kind of power that doesn't understand defeat, or mercy.

(The first portion of We Are Not Good People was originally published in an altered form as Trickster by Pocket Books).

Michael J. Sullivan contest winner!

This lucky winner will get his hands on a copy of Michael J. Sullivan's Age of Myth! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winner is:

- Andy Harris, from Portland, Maine, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (July 11th)

In hardcover:

Stephen King’s End of Watch is down one position, ending the week at number 4.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Wesley Chu's Time Salvager for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Time Salvager: a fast-paced time travel adventure from Wesley Chu, the award-winning author of The Lives of Tao.

Convicted criminal James Griffin-Mars is no one's hero. In his time, Earth is a toxic, abandoned world and humans have fled into the outer solar system to survive, eking out a fragile, doomed existence among the other planets and their moons. Those responsible for delaying humanity's demise believe time travel holds the key, and they have identified James, troubled though he is, as one of a select and expendable few ideally suited for the most dangerous job in history.

James is a chronman, undertaking missions into Earth's past to recover resources and treasure without altering the timeline. The laws governing use of time travel are absolute; break any one of them and, one way or another, your life is over. Most chronmen never reach old age; the stress of each jump through time, compounded by the risk to themselves and to the future, means that many chronmen rapidly reach their breaking point, and James Griffin-Mars is nearing his.

On a final mission that is to secure his retirement, James meets Elise Kim, an intriguing scientist from a previous century, who is fated to die during the destruction of an oceanic rig. Against his training and his common sense, and in violation of the chronmen's highest law, James brings Elise back to the future with him, saving her life, but turning them both into fugitives. Remaining free means losing themselves in the wild and poisonous wastes of Earth, somehow finding allies, and perhaps discovering what hope may yet remain for humanity's home world.

Provisional Speculative Fiction Top 5 of 2016

Time flies and we're already past the halfway point of the year! Here are the top 5 speculative fiction novels published in 2016 I've read so far! =) Click on each title to read my review. . .

1- Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay (Canada, USA, Europe)

Here's the blurb:

The bestselling author of the groundbreaking novels Under Heaven and River of Stars, Guy Gavriel Kay is back with a new novel, Children of Earth and Sky, set in a world inspired by the conflicts and dramas of Renaissance Europe. Against this tumultuous backdrop the lives of men and women unfold on the borderlands—where empires and faiths collide.

From the small coastal town of Senjan, notorious for its pirates, a young woman sets out to find vengeance for her lost family. That same spring, from the wealthy city-state of Seressa, famous for its canals and lagoon, come two very different people: a young artist traveling to the dangerous east to paint the grand khalif at his request—and possibly to do more—and a fiercely intelligent, angry woman, posing as a doctor’s wife, but sent by Seressa as a spy.

The trading ship that carries them is commanded by the accomplished younger son of a merchant family, ambivalent about the life he’s been born to live. And farther east a boy trains to become a soldier in the elite infantry of the khalif—to win glory in the war everyone knows is coming.

As these lives entwine, their fates—and those of many others—will hang in the balance, when the khalif sends out his massive army to take the great fortress that is the gateway to the western world…

2- The Wolf in the Attic by Paul Kearney (Canada, USA, Europe)

Here's the blurb:

1920s Oxford: home to C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien... and Anna Francis, a young Greek refugee looking to escape the grim reality of her new life. The night they cross paths, none suspect the fantastic world at work around them.

Anna Francis lives in a tall old house with her father and her doll Penelope. She is a refugee, a piece of flotsam washed up in England by the tides of the Great War and the chaos that trailed in its wake. Once upon a time, she had a mother and a brother, and they all lived together in the most beautiful city in the world, by the shores of Homer's wine-dark sea.

But that is all gone now, and only to her doll does she ever speak of it, because her father cannot bear to hear. She sits in the shadows of the tall house and watches the rain on the windows, creating worlds for herself to fill out the loneliness. The house becomes her own little kingdom, an island full of dreams and half-forgotten memories. And then one winter day, she finds an interloper in the topmost, dustiest attic of the house. A boy named Luca with yellow eyes, who is as alone in the world as she is.

That day, she’ll lose everything in her life, and find the only real friend she may ever know.

3- The Great Ordeal by R. Scott Bakker (Canada, USA, Europe)

Here's the blurb:

The much-anticipated third installment of R. Scott Bakker’s acclaimed series, The Aspect-Emperor.

Praised by fans and critics worldwide, R. Scott Bakker has become one of the most celebrated voices in fantasy literature. With The Great Ordeal, Bakker presents the long-anticipated third volume of The Aspect-Emperor, a series that stands with the finest in the genre for its grandiose scope, rich detail, and thrilling story.

As Fanim war-drums beat just outside the city, the Empress Anasurimbor Esmenet searches frantically throughout the palace for her missing son Kelmomas. Meanwhile and many miles away, Esmenet’s husband’s Great Ordeal continues its epic march further north. But in light of dwindling supplies, the Aspect-Emperor’s decision to allow his men to consume the flesh of fallen Sranc could have consequences even He couldn’t have foreseen. And, deep in Ishuäl, the wizard Achamian grapples with his fear that his unspeakably long journey might be ending in emptiness, no closer to the truth than when he set out.

The Aspect-Emperor series follows Bakker’s Prince of Nothing saga, returning to the same world twenty years later. The Great Ordeal follows The Judging Eye and The White-Luck Warrior, and delivers the first half of the conclusion to this epic story. Returning to Bakker’s richly imagined universe of myth, violence, and sorcery, The Aspect-Emperor continues to set the bar for the fantasy genre, reaching new heights of intricacy and meaning.

4- Javelin Rain by Myke Cole (Canada, USA, Europe)

Here's the blurb:

Javelin: A code denoting the loss of a national security asset with strategic impact.

Rain: A code indicating a crisis of existential proportions.

Javelin Rain incidents must be resolved immediately, by any and all means necessary, no matter what the cost…

Being a US Navy SEAL was Jim Schweitzer’s life right up until the day he was killed. Now, his escape from the government who raised him from the dead has been coded “Javelin Rain.” Schweitzer and his family are on the run from his former unit, the Gemini Cell, and while he may be immortal, his wife and son are not. Jim must use all of his strength to keep his family safe, while convincing his wife he’s still the same man she once loved. Only what his former allies have planned to bring him down could mean disaster not only for Jim and his family, but for the entire nation…

5- The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence (Canada, USA, Europe)

Here's the blurb:

All the horrors of Hell stand between Snorri Ver Snagason and the rescue of his family, if indeed the dead can be rescued. For Jalan Kendeth, getting back out alive and with Loki’s key is all that matters. Loki’s creation can open any lock, any door, and it may also be the key to Jalan’s fortune back in the living world.

Jalan plans to return to the three w’s that have been the core of his idle and debauched life: wine, women, and wagering. Fate however has other plans, larger plans. The Wheel of Osheim is turning ever faster, and it will crack the world unless it’s stopped. When the end of all things looms, and there’s nowhere to run, even the worst coward must find new answers. Jalan and Snorri face many dangers, from the corpse hordes of the Dead King to the many mirrors of the Lady Blue, but in the end, fast or slow, the Wheel of Osheim always pulls you back. In the end it’s win or die.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on the digital edition of Octavia E. Butler's Lilith's Brood for only 3.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Three novels in one volume: the acclaimed science fiction trilogy about an alien species that could save humanity after nuclear apocalypse—or destroy it.

The newest stage in human evolution begins in outer space. Survivors of a cataclysmic nuclear war awake to find themselves being studied by the Oankali, tentacle-covered galactic travelers whose benevolent appearance hides their surprising plan for the future of mankind. The Oankali arrive not just to save humanity, but to bond with it—crossbreeding to form a hybrid species that can survive in the place of its human forebears, who were so intent on self-destruction. Some people resist, forming pocket communities of purebred rebellion, but many realize they have no choice. The human species inevitably expands into something stranger, stronger, and undeniably alien.

From Hugo and Nebula award–winning author Octavia Butler, Lilith’s Brood is both a thrilling, epic adventure of man’s struggle to survive after Earth’s destruction, and a provocative meditation on what it means to be human.

This ebook features an illustrated biography of Octavia E. Butler including rare images from the author’s estate.

You can also download N. K. Jemisin's The Fifth Season for only 4.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

The start of a new fantasy trilogy by Hugo, Nebula & World Fantasy Award nominated author N.K. Jemisin.


A season of endings has begun.

It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world's sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun.

It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter.

It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.

This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.

League of Dragons

League of Dragons, final installment in Naomi Novik's bestselling Temeraire series, came out over a month ago and no one is talking about it. Given the somewhat poor quality of the last few volumes, this is not necessarily surprising. Still, given the great buzz that surrounded the release of His Majesty's Dragon/Temeraire just a few years back, one would have thought that the conclusion would have created more of a stir within fantasy circles.

Like many people, I used to be a big fan of Naomi Novik and her signature Temeraire saga, and that from before the time the first volume was even published. Unfortunately, the proliferation of sequels whose pertinence seemed questionable sort of killed it for me. There were so many existing storylines to build on to bring back what made the novels so entertaining in the first place, but it was not to be. It is now quite evident that the decision to split this series into nine volumes when there was material for maybe five novels has hurt the overall quality of the books. Which is really too bad, for the Temeraire series used to be a winner.

Over the course of the last four installments, Novik seemed to have grown extremely complacent. It felt as though she was happy to offer simple, lackluster, often formulaic, and episodic works in style and tone that did very little to further the overall plot. Too often, these books felt like interludes while everything else in the greater scheme of things took place "off stage." To all ends and purposes, it appeared that Novik was milking this story all it was worth. Which explains why she could never recapture the magic that made the first four volumes such memorable reads.

So why continue reading this series? Considering that it has been losing steam with every new release, God knows that I've been quite reticent to give each new Temeraire book a shot. It is with no great enthusiasm that I sat down to read League of Dragons, true. But a part of me wanted to know how it would end, and there was always the chance that Novik would return to form and close the show in spectacular fashion. After a slow and rather boring start, Blood of Tyrants picked up speed in the second portion of the novel and continued to move the overall story arc forward with each new chapter. Finally (but was it too late to save the series?), we saw various storylines coming together, revelations were made, and with winter settling over Russia readers knew that the endgame had come. For the first time in a number of years, I was actually intrigued and looking forward to discover just how Naomi Novik would bring this series to a close.

Alas, although it is better than many of its predecessor, League of Dragons failed to recapture the magic that made the first couple of Temeraire installments such unforgettable reads and turned out to be more or less bland and unispired. Definitely "meh" as far as I'm concerned. Sadly, it's the sort of finale that will leave many a reader indifferent. As a matter of course, it's not like we didn't see it coming. But it is a major disappointment to see a series that was brimming with so much potential end in such an uninvolving manner.

Here's the blurb:

The final adventure in the New York Times bestselling Temeraire series that started with the beloved His Majesty’s Dragon which has won fans of Napoleonic-era military history, Anne McCaffrey’s Pern novels, and Patrick O’Brian’s seafaring adventures.

The deadly campaign in Russia has cost both Napoleon and those allied against him. Napoleon has been denied his victory…but at a terrible price. Lawrence and the dragon Temeraire pursue the fleeing French army back west, but are demoralized when Napoleon makes it back to Paris unscathed. Worse, they soon learn that the French have stolen Termeraire and Iskierka’s egg. Now, it is do or die, as our heroes not only need to save Temeraire’s offspring but also to stop Napoleon for good!

The good thing about League of Dragons being the final installment in the series was that it couldn't possibly turn into yet another uninspired travelogue chronicling Laurence and Temeraire's journeys around the world. Indeed, all the disparate threads introduced in every book come together at last, setting the stage for the final showdown against Napoléon.

Japan notwithstanding, I've always loved the author's depiction of the various locales the characters visited. With an historian's eye for details, Novik's depiction of China, Australia, the Inca Empire, Brazil, etc, made for an evocative narrative. She has always excelled at that, and this book is no different. Although worldbuilding plays a very minor role in this one, Novik's prose continues to give life to an arresting imagery.

The characterization, which was decidedly subpar in the last two volumes and left a lot to be desired, is much better this time around. For the most part, the problem stemmed from the fact that the supporting cast brought little to nothing to the tale. But with the endgame in sight, so many familiar faces make appearances and plotlines are resolved that this was my favorite aspect of the novel. A new dragon is also part of the story, one that creates a number of complication for Temeraire, Laurence, and their allies.

Problem is, for those readers who, like me, have stuck with this series for a decade, chances are you'll be disappointed, and even feel a little cheated. It's been a very long journey and we have been waiting for a long time to witness the culmination of a panoply of plotlines. And even though League of Dragons does offer closure in various forms for many of those storylines, others are inexplicably ignored or glossed over. Chief among them the long-awaited showdown between Lien and Temeraire, which is not part of the narrative. Given that fans have been waiting for this moment since the second volume, I truly felt cheated that Novik simply elected to skip to the aftermath and rob readers of the grand battle they have been eagerly expecting for years.

I'm pleased to report that the pace is rarely an issue in this one. While the last five books were plagued by filler material that often slowed the rhythm and bogged down the narrative, League of Dragons is more fluid in that regard. Mind you, there is some filler between the covers, but nothing that really hurts the reading experience.

And then, you reach the end. And it's okay. Not good. Not bad. Just the end. Truth be told, I was expecting much more of a pay-off. Granted, it is exactly the kind of ending that makes sense and can be woven to fit into true history. And yet, I was expecting something more. Something that would pack a punch. Something that would elevate the Temeraire series to another level. After all, the first four books revitalized the genre. Sadly, in the end, Naomi Novik wasn't able to write a grand finale that lived up to the expectations generated by the earlier volumes. The magic is long gone, lost along the way as unnecessary sequels featuring filler instead of killer material kept being published. Very few fantasy series showed this much potential early on. Hence, it is regrettable to see this one end in such an unremarkable fashion.

The final verdict: 7.25/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Ann Leckie's Ancillary Mercy for only 4.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

The stunning conclusion to the New York Times bestselling trilogy that began with Ancillary Justice, the only novel to win the Hugo, Nebula, and Arthur C. Clarke Awards.

For a moment, things seemed to be under control for Breq, the soldier who used to be a warship. Then a search of Athoek Station's slums turns up someone who shouldn't exist, and a messenger from the mysterious Presger empire arrives, as does Breq's enemy, the divided and quite possibly insane Anaander Mianaai - ruler of an empire at war with itself.

Breq refuses to flee with her ship and crew, because that would leave the people of Athoek in terrible danger. The odds aren't good, but that's never stopped her before.

You can also download the classic Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Adapted for a magnificent George Roy Hill film three years later (perhaps the only film adaptation of a masterpiece which exceeds its source), Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) is the now famous parable of Billy Pilgrim, a World War II veteran and POW, who has in the later stage of his life become ""unstuck in time"" and who experiences at will (or unwillingly) all known events of his chronology out of order and sometimes simultaneously.

Traumatized by the bombing of Dresden at the time he had been imprisoned, Pilgrim drifts through all events and history, sometimes deeply implicated, sometimes a witness. He is surrounded by Vonnegut's usual large cast of continuing characters (notably here the hack science fiction writer Kilgore Trout and the alien Tralmafadorians who oversee his life and remind him constantly that there is no causation, no order, no motive to existence).

The ""unstuck"" nature of Pilgrim's experience may constitute an early novelistic use of what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; then again, Pilgrim's aliens may be as ""real"" as Dresden is real to him. Struggling to find some purpose, order or meaning to his existence and humanity's, Pilgrim meets the beauteous and mysterious Montana Wildhack (certainly the author's best character name), has a child with her and drifts on some supernal plane, finally, in which Kilgore Trout, the Tralmafadorians, Montana Wildhack and the ruins of Dresden do not merge but rather disperse through all planes of existence.

Slaughterhouse-Five was hugely successful, brought Vonnegut an enormous audience, was a finalist for the National Book Award and a bestseller and remains four decades later as timeless and shattering a war fiction as Catch-22, with which it stands as the two signal novels of their riotous and furious decade.

Anthony Ryan contest winner!

This lucky winner will receive my Advance Reading Copy of Anthony Ryan's The Waking Fire! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winner is:

- William Kent, from London, England

Many thanks to all the participants!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download China Miéville's Perdido Street Station for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

BONUS: This edition contains an excerpt from China Mieville’s Embassytown.

Beneath the towering bleached ribs of a dead, ancient beast lies New Crobuzon, a squalid city where humans, Re-mades, and arcane races live in perpetual fear of Parliament and its brutal militia. The air and rivers are thick with factory pollutants and the strange effluents of alchemy, and the ghettos contain a vast mix of workers, artists, spies, junkies, and whores. In New Crobuzon, the unsavory deal is stranger to none—not even to Isaac, a brilliant scientist with a penchant for Crisis Theory.

Isaac has spent a lifetime quietly carrying out his unique research. But when a half-bird, half-human creature known as the Garuda comes to him from afar, Isaac is faced with challenges he has never before fathomed. Though the Garuda's request is scientifically daunting, Isaac is sparked by his own curiosity and an uncanny reverence for this curious stranger.

While Isaac's experiments for the Garuda turn into an obsession, one of his lab specimens demands attention: a brilliantly colored caterpillar that feeds on nothing but a hallucinatory drug and grows larger—and more consuming—by the day. What finally emerges from the silken cocoon will permeate every fiber of New Crobuzon—and not even the Ambassador of Hell will challenge the malignant terror it invokes . . .

A magnificent fantasy rife with scientific splendor, magical intrigue, and wonderfully realized characters, told in a storytelling style in which Charles Dickens meets Neal Stephenson, Perdido Street Station offers an eerie, voluptuously crafted world that will plumb the depths of every reader's imagination.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on the digital edition of Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Scion for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Imriel de la Courcel's birth parents are history's most reviled traitors, but his adoptive parents, the Comtesse Phedre and the warrior-priest Joscelin, are Terre d'Ange's greatest champions.

Stolen, tortured and enslaved as a young boy, Imriel is now a Prince of the Blood; third in line for the throne in a land that revels in art, beauty and desire. It is a court steeped in deeply laid conspiracies---and there are many who would see the young prince dead. Some despise him out of hatred for his mother, Melisande, who nearly destroyed the entire realm in her quest for power. Others because they fear he has inherited his mother's irresistible allure---and her dangerous gifts.

As he comes of age, plagued by unwanted desires, Imriel shares their fears. When a simple act of friendship traps Imriel in a besieged city where the infamous Melisande is worshiped as a goddess and where a dead man leads an army, the Prince must face his greatest test: to find his true self.

Get in Trouble

I've heard Kelly Link's name mentioned countless times over the years. Considering all the rave reviews, it appeared that this woman was a brilliant writer whose imagination knew no bounds. More than a little intrigued, I had been meaning to try something from this author for quite some time. So when a review copy of Get in Trouble showed up in my mailbox, this one immediately ended up on my pile of books to read! And when it was announced that it was a 2016 Pulitzer Prize Nominee for Fiction, I moved it up ahead in the rotation and brought it with me on my hiking trip in the Canadian Rockies.

Given the amount of people raving about Link and the Pulitzer Prize nomination, understandably my expectations were through the roof. But could this collection of short stories live up to such lofty expectations? My main concern was that Link's works have enjoyed incredible critical success (critics, it seems, simply adore her). And yet, when I asked around, very few people I know had ever given her books a shot. Not surprisingly, of course, given that novel-length works are way more popular among speculative fiction readers than short fiction collections or anthologies. But I'm always a bit wary of things that strike a chord with critics, yet remain pretty much ignored by the genre's readership.

With Get in Trouble, Kelly Link quickly set my mind at ease. Indeed, she is a gifted author who writes smart, haunting, entertaining, and imaginative stories. I went through this collection in just a few sittings, which shows how good and enjoyable my reading experience turned out to be. Problem is, this feeling was ephemeral in nature. What I mean is that, no matter how much I enjoyed this book when I was reading it, two weeks later when the time came to write this review I could remember none of them other than "The Summer People." Surely if this was such brilliant and compulsively readable material, these stories would remain with you long after you've reached the end of the book, right? Hence my disappointment that these stories, though inspired and intelligent, should in the end be so forgettable. And my wondering how this one could have garnered a Pulitzer Prize nomination.

Here's the blurb:

She has been hailed by Michael Chabon as “the most darkly playful voice in American fiction” and by Neil Gaiman as “a national treasure.” Now Kelly Link’s eagerly awaited new collection--her first for adult readers in a decade--proves indelibly that this bewitchingly original writer is among the finest we have.

Link has won an ardent following for her ability to take readers deep into an unforgettable, brilliantly constructed fictional universe with each new story. In “The Summer People,” a young girl in rural North Carolina serves as uneasy caretaker to the mysterious, never-quite-glimpsed visitors who inhabit the cottage behind her house. In “I Can See Right Through You,” a middle-aged movie star makes a disturbing trip to the Florida swamp where his former on- and off-screen love interest is shooting a ghost-hunting reality show. In “The New Boyfriend,” a suburban slumber party takes an unusual turn, and a teenage friendship is tested, when the spoiled birthday girl opens her big present: a life-size animated doll.

Hurricanes, astronauts, evil twins, bootleggers, Ouija boards, iguanas, The Wizard of Oz, superheroes, the Pyramids...These are just some of the talismans of an imagination as capacious and as full of wonder as that of any writer today. But as fantastical as these stories can be, they are always grounded in sly humor and an innate generosity of feeling for the frailty--and the hidden strengths--of human beings. In Get in Trouble, this one-of-a-kind talent expands the boundaries of what short fiction can do.

"The Summer People" is the perfect introduction for those who have never read anything by Kelly Link. It eases the reader into this strange and evocative universe and features two teenage girls and a summer house with unusual residents. This one contains classical elements from popular fairytales and the ambiguous ending sets the tone for the sort of finales one can expect throughout the book.

"I Can See Right Through You" is probably one of the weirdest stories in this collection. A complex relationship between two celebrities taking place in a nudist colony, this one was interesting but oh-so strange.

The very essence of the notion of identity is explored in "Secret Identity." It features a teenage girl who lied about her identity and who travels to NYC to meet a much older man for the first time. The hotel where they're supposed to meet is hosting two conventions, one for dentists and another one for superheroes. This one moves rather slowly and can be boring at times, yet I feel that Link perfectly captured the essence of what it means to be a confused adolescent girl.

"Valley of the Girls" is another decidedly strange tale of celebrities and it also explores the notion of identity. It was the weakest of the lot and doesn't really fit with the rest of the short stories. "Origin Story" is another tale of superheroes, which makes me wonder if it occurs in the same universe as "Secret Identity." It is essentially a conversation between Bunnatine and her friend Biscuit, shooting the breeze about both mundane and supernatural things. Revelations throughout the story show that there is more to these two than meets the eye, but this remains one of the weakest pieces found in Get in Trouble.

"The New Boyfriend" is an eerie tale featuring a number of teenage girls. One of them, who already owns two of the popular realistic robot boyfriends (vampire and werewolf), receives a new one for her birthday. This one is the most difficult to find model, Ghost. Immy, one of her friends, is filled with jealousy and wants a fake boyfriend of her own. But her attempt to subvert the ghost model and make him her boyfriend will have unexpected repercussions.

The very best piece of this collection is "Two Houses." A ghost story featuring a group of astronauts, it is absolutely brilliant. Odd that I could forget about it in a few short weeks. . .

"Light" closes the show and takes place in a futuristic state of Florida where a panoply of pocket universes can be explored and whose contents now bleed into our own universe. It features a lonely woman who has to deal with her gay twin and whose world is turned upside down. This one is otherworldly but can be quite random at times, as if the author didn't really know where she was going and made everything up as she went along.

In the end, although these stories don't stay with you afterwards, there is no denying that Get in Trouble is nevertheless a compelling and engaging read. Weird and surreal and eccentric, to be sure, but simultaneously hauntingly familiar for the most part. Some stories are also suprisingly touching and this collection is definitely worth a read. Especially if, like me, you have never read anything by Kelly Link.

The final verdict: 7.5/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Mark Z. Danielewski The Familiar: One Rainy Day in May for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

From the author of the international best seller House of Leaves and National Book Award–nominated Only Revolutions comes a monumental new novel as dazzling as it is riveting. The Familiar (Volume 1) ranges from Mexico to Southeast Asia, from Venice, Italy, to Venice, California, with nine lives hanging in the balance, each called upon to make a terrifying choice. They include a therapist-in-training grappling with daughters as demanding as her patients; an ambitious East L.A. gang member contracted for violence; two scientists in Marfa, Texas, on the run from an organization powerful beyond imagining; plus a recovering addict in Singapore summoned at midnight by a desperate billionaire; and a programmer near Silicon Beach whose game engine might unleash consequences far exceeding the entertainment he intends. At the very heart, though, is a twelve-year-old girl named Xanther who one rainy day in May sets out with her father to get a dog, only to end up trying to save a creature as fragile as it is dangerous . . . which will change not only her life and the lives of those she has yet to encounter, but this world, too—or at least the world we think we know and the future we take for granted.

(With full-color illustrations throughout.)

Like the print edition, this eBook contains a complex image-based layout. It is most readable on e-reading devices with larger screen sizes.

C. A. Higgins contest winner!

Thanks to the generosity of the folks at Del Rey, to help promote the release of Supernova (Canada, USA, Europe), sequel of C.A. Higgins' Lightless, this lucky winner will receive a set of both novels!

The winner is:

- Paul Weymouth, from Selbyville, Delaware, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (July 4th)

In hardcover:

Stephen King’s End of Watch maintains its position at number 1.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on the digital edition of Carrie Vaughn's Kitty and the Midnight Hour, the first volume in one of my favorite urban fantasy series, for only 1.99$ here. Don't let the cover mislead you. This is good stuff!

Here's the blurb:

Kitty Norville is a midnight-shift DJ for a Denver radio station and a werewolf in the closet. Her new late-night advice show for the supernaturally disadvantaged is a raging success, but it's Kitty who can use some help. With one sexy werewolf-hunter and a few homicidal undead on her tail, Kitty may have bitten off more than she can chew?

You can now download Naomi Novik's highly entertaining His Majesty's Dragon for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Aerial combat brings a thrilling new dimension to the Napoleonic Wars as valiant warriors rise to Britain’s defense by taking to the skies . . . not aboard aircraft but atop the mighty backs of fighting dragons.

When HMS Reliant captures a French frigate and seizes its precious cargo, an unhatched dragon egg, fate sweeps Capt. Will Laurence from his seafaring life into an uncertain future–and an unexpected kinship with a most extraordinary creature. Thrust into the rarified world of the Aerial Corps as master of the dragon Temeraire, he will face a crash course in the daring tactics of airborne battle. For as France’s own dragon-borne forces rally to breach British soil in Bonaparte’s boldest gambit, Laurence and Temeraire must soar into their own baptism of fire.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on the digital edition of Ken Liu's The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

A publishing event: Bestselling author Ken Liu selects his award-winning science fiction and fantasy tales for a groundbreaking collection—including a brand-new piece exclusive to this volume.

With his debut novel, The Grace of Kings, taking the literary world by storm, Ken Liu now shares his finest short fiction in The Paper Menagerie. This mesmerizing collection features all of Ken’s award-winning and award-finalist stories, including: “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” (Finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, and Theodore Sturgeon Awards), “Mono No Aware” (Hugo Award winner), “The Waves” (Nebula Award finalist), “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species” (Nebula and Sturgeon award finalists), “All the Flavors” (Nebula award finalist), “The Litigation Master and the Monkey King” (Nebula Award finalist), and the most awarded story in the genre’s history, “The Paper Menagerie” (The only story to win the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards).

A must-have for every science fiction and fantasy fan, this beautiful book is an anthology to savor.

And speaking of Kat Howard, you can now download Roses and Rot for only 1.99 here.

Here's the blurb:

Imogen and her sister Marin escape their cruel mother to attend a prestigious artists’ retreat, but soon learn that living in a fairy tale requires sacrifices, whether it be art or love in this haunting debut novel from “a remarkable young writer” (Neil Gaiman).

What would you sacrifice for everything you ever dreamed of?

Imogen has grown up reading fairy tales about mothers who die and make way for cruel stepmothers. As a child, she used to lie in bed wishing that her life would become one of these tragic fairy tales because she couldn’t imagine how a stepmother could be worse than her mother now. As adults, Imogen and her sister Marin are accepted to an elite post-grad arts program—Imogen as a writer and Marin as a dancer. Soon enough, though, they realize that there’s more to the school than meets the eye. Imogen might be living in the fairy tale she’s dreamed about as a child, but it’s one that will pit her against Marin if she decides to escape her past to find her heart’s desire.

Kat Howard contest winner!

This lucky gal will get her hands on a copy of Kat Howard's Roses and Rot, compliments of the folks at Saga Press. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winner is:

- Rebekah Kati, from Cary, North Carolina, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

Win a set of Joshua Palmatier's SHATTERING THE LEY and THREADING THE NEEDLE

To help promote the release of Joshua Palmatier's Threading the Needle (Canada, USA), I have a copy for you to win, along with a copy of the first volume, Shattering of the Ley, compliments of the folks at Daw Books.

Here's the blurb:

The Nexus—the hub created by the Prime Wielders to harness the magical power of the ley lines for the city of Erenthrall, the Baronial Plains, and the world beyond—has Shattered, the resultant pulse cascading through the system and leaving Erenthrall decimated, partially encased in a massive distortion.

  The world has fared no better: auroral storms plague the land, transforming people into creatures beyond nightmare; silver-white lights hover over all of the major cities, the harbinger of distortions that could quicken at any moment; and quakes brought on by the unstable ley network threaten to tear the earth apart. The survivors of this apocalypse have banded together in desperate groups, both in the remains of Erenthall and in small enclaves beyond the city, scrounging for food and resources in an ever more dangerous world.

  Having survived the initial Shattering, Wielder Kara Tremain and ex-Dog Allan Garrett have led their small group of refugees to the Hollow, a safe haven in the hills on the edge of the plains. But the ley system is not healing itself. Their only option is to repair the distortion that engulfs Erenthrall and to fix the damaged ley lines themselves. To do that, they’ll have to enter a city controlled by vicious bands of humans and non-humans alike, intent on keeping what little they’ve managed to scavenge together.

  But as soon as they enter the streets of Erenthrall, they find themselves caught up in the maelstrom of violence, deception, and betrayal that the city has descended into—including the emergence of a mysterious and powerful cult calling themselves the White Cloaks, whose leader is known as Father…

He is the same man who once led the terrorist group called the Kormanley and brought about the Shattering that destroyed the world!

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam) with the header "NEEDLE." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.

Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.

Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.

Good luck to all the participants!