Short Story Review: “Windseekers” by Nnedi Okorafor

2 of 5 stars.

This airy tale fails to solidify its plot. A woman with the extraordinary ability to fly travels the world eventually finding the mythic land of Ginen which reminds her of her native West Africa. She also finds her equal, her potential soul mate.

But they are also alike in not wanting to be paired off, so she kills him before he will kill her. This is not a spoiler, it’s practically the opening line–She didn’t want to kill him the second time.

A potentially rich mythic tapestry remains unexplored and unrevealed here giving the reader nothing to hold on to, and nobody to relate.

This tale appears in Okorafor’s anthology, Kabu Kabu by Prime Books. It was previously a Writer’s of the Future finalist.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: The Black Hole by Michael Robertson

The Black Hole (The Shadow Order #1)The Black Hole by Michael Robertson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Filtered through the lens of a selfish, short sighted man-child, the world-building for this series fails to engage. This, despite the great world-building provided by a precursor short story to this world called “The Arena” which accomplished much and to great effect.

Seb Zobo is a self-absorbed fighter by nature with the remarkable–if not superhero–ability to slo-mo his perception of time and to spot the ultimate weaknesses in any challenger’s body. It doesn’t matter if he’s never met a species of alien before, he can discern the one spot that will bring them down with a single punch. Conveniently, every species of alien has that one spot. Nearly every species is also taller than humans, smells of feces and has bad breath.

The redundancy of every encounter is taxing. And the plot, while driven, doesn’t satisfy or grow the hero to a likable level.

The strength of “The Arena” is utterly missing here. All other series by this author are recommended over this galactic tale. I’ve previously reviewed this author’s:
The Alpha Plague–5 stars
The Alpha Plague 2–4 stars
The Alpha Plague 3–5 stars
The Alpha Plague 4–4 stars
“The Arena”–5 stars
Crash (Crash, #1)–4 stars
New Reality: Truth (New Reality, #1)–3 stars
New Reality 2: Justice (New Reality, #2)–4 stars
New Reality 3: Fear (New Reality, #3)–3 stars
 
 
 
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Anthology Review: The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Novellas: 2016 edited by Paula Guran

The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy NovellasThe Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Novellas by Paula Guran
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a high caliber annual anthology without a weak story in the bunch. The diversity of the stories ranging from sci-fi to urban fantasy to fantasy is matched by the narrative depth achieved within the novella form. As promised, these are the best of the best.

My favorite, meriting 5 stars, was Usman T. Malik’s novella, The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn, which blends urban fantasy with a supernatural folktale to explore the generational effects of immigration as a Pakistani-American goes in search of the Old World family history that’s eluded him.

I’ve reviewed and rated all of the included stories:
Cooney, C. S. E.–The Bone Swans of Amandale–3 stars
de Bodard, Aliette–The Citadel of Weeping Pearls–4 stars
Okorafor, Nnedi–Binti [Binti, #1]–4 stars
Parker, K. J.–The Last Witness–4 stars
Pollack, Rachel–Johnny Rev–4 stars
Rusch, Kristine Kathryn–Inhuman Garbage [Retrieval Artist universe]–3 stars
Scholz, Carter–Gypsy–4 stars
Shu, Bao [w/ Ken Liu, trans.]–What Has Passed Shall in Kinder Light Appear–3 stars

This anthology is highly recommended.

[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novella Review: The Bone Swans of Amandale by C. S. E. Cooney

The Bone Swans of AmandaleThe Bone Swans of Amandale by C.S.E. Cooney
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The original Grim’s fairy tales, unlike their Americanized, Disney-ified versions, are dark and morbid tales. This novella taps right into that bizarre, macabre canon, even borrowing the known Pied Piper, to tell this tale of murdered and mutilated children, a power hungry ogress and magical races on the brink of extinction by genocide.

The hero of the tale is a morphing were-rat who’s in love with a were-swan, despite the cold, entitled royalty of the were-swans. The ogress-mayor of a nearby human village is using a legion of twenty children to hunt the were-swans and then the magic of a murdered child-turned-juniper tree to transforms the bones of the murdered swans into self-playing musical instruments.

And somehow, this convoluted premise works.

The hero-rat, his beloved swan who’s now the last of her people, a few mutilated kids that refused to play their role in the ogress’ machinations, and the rat’s friend The Pied Piper, scheme together to end the ritual of the ogress and to save the last swan.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Science Fiction Novellas: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, which I received directly from Prime Books. I previously read this author’s brilliantly intricate novella The Two Paupers and the short story “Witch, Beast, Saint: An Erotic Fairy Tale”.
 
 
 
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Graphic Novel Review: Rat Queens, Volume 1: “Sass and Sorcery” by Kurtis J. Wiebe

Rat Queens, Vol. 1: Sass & SorceryRat Queens, Vol. 1: Sass & Sorcery by Kurtis J. Wiebe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Girl-Power, high fantasy comes to vivid realization under Roc Upchurch’s fun, compelling art in Wiebe’s graphic series Rat Queens. The Queens are an irreverent band of mercenaries dealing in death, mayhem and hedonism. With a bounty on their heads.

Betty, the shroom-popping drunken smidgeon [think: hobbit], is busy chasing women when not thieving and skulking. Dee, the atheist healer human, is the daughter of squid-worshiping zealots. Violet, the hipster battle-dwarf, seeks her own destiny despite her male twin’s best efforts. And, finally, Hannah, is the goth-elf mage with the heart of an S&M madame.

Money, vengeance and pleasure guide their lives in what proves to be a romp of a series.

Recommended.

 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novel Review: Half a War by Joe Abercrombie

Half a War (Shattered Sea, #3)Half a War by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the worthy conclusion to the Shattered Seas trilogy. While not rising to the level of the second in the series, this installment is very good nevertheless. The trend continues of new protagonists steering the plot, while the series’ previous protagonists take strong secondary positions.

War has spread across the land as the High King and his vast armies look to overtake the loosely allied and normally mutually hostile nations of Gettland, Vansterland, and Throvenland. Whereas, the previous protagonists all arose from the capital of Gettland, the book follows Skara the princess of Throvenland as she finds her life and country upended. The competing and chafing goals for each nation threaten to break the alliance at every turn. Princess Skara’s initial introduction parallels that of Prince Yarvi in the first book. But it’s soon made clear that Skara accepts the duty of the crown and the pressures of diplomacy while Yarvi took his cunning in a self-serving, scheming direction.

The primary theme to the book explores what makes for a good warrior and a good war. What makes hostility justifiable.

The secondary theme to the book explores duty and love. Skara struggles to find the balance between what she wants and romantically and the expectations of her role. Meanwhile, young Koll and Rin have become romantically involved with each other since their introduction in the second book. However, as Yarvi’s apprentice for the Ministry, Koll is expected to give up notions of marriage and romance. In both cases, no room for compromise is left open.

I’ve previously read and reviewed:
     Half a King (Shattered Sea, #1)–4 stars
     Half the World (Shattered Sea, #2)–5 stars
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Original Poetry: The Soapbox

The clusters silenced and turned
toward the makeshift podium
as the youthful male in layered
white robes coughed dryly.

“It has been decreed that we,
as individuals, have the liberty
to choose to be any type of pickle
that we wish, dill or sweet.”

After a brief moment of contemplative
silence, a favored audible
reaction spread in waves pulling
bystanders into its depths.

The old, heavy woman parted
a temporary path to the platform,
then proceeded to nudge the site’s
predecessor from the creaking, old boards.

She scanned the crowd with her non-twitching
eye. “Do you not realize that if
we were truly free, we would have
the opportunity to stay a cucumber?”
 
 
 
 
 
[Check out other original poems here.]