Novel Review: Jen Air: The Little Queen by John Coutelier

Jen Air: The Little QueenJen Air: The Little Queen by J. Coutelier
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This urban fantasy [with an emphasis on the supernatural fantastic] stands alone though it’s one of a series. Also, the title is a misnomer. Jen Air is but one half of a young adult, gal-pal duo. She gets less face time than her partner Kaya Cade, though she’s better developed. Kaya Cade, like most of the characters in the book, feels like a caricature. And despite the punctuation of the title, the little queen is a different character all together.

Kaya and Jen have a narratively muddled history of friendship and later non-friendship toward each other. But supernatural circumstances perhaps best described as killer faeries draw the two together. Jen brings the techie brains and Kaya brings spunk and little else as they try to unravel a scientifically dastardly plot involving lab-grown fae.

The best backstory is given to Jen Air, but not the narrative space to lean into that strength. Perhaps through the series, Jen’s own mysterious past gets explored. The best scenes are given to Kaya right at the beginning of Chapter 1, the opening lines of which should have opened the book to start it out on the right tone:

Kaya Cade didn’t believe in fate or destiny or in any form of confectionary with messages printed on, and yet some things she knew were just inevitable. It was just down to who she was, who her parents were, her environment–some combination of all those things meant she really had no choice in the decisions she made and so there was nothing anyone could have done to prevent her punching that smug idiot in the face and ending up in the back of a police car. Her only regret about it was that she couldn’t afford a lawyer.

Unfortunately, not 1 but 2 prologues are offered before this catchy hook. Neither prologue earns its keep. Aside from some questionable editorial choices to the plotting and dialogue, my copy carried a fair number of malaprops, missing words, and homophonic substitutions which ultimately distract from the fantasy.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Dirae” by Peter S. Beagle

DiraeDirae by Peter S. Beagle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The myth of The Furies [“Dirae” in Greek] gets revamped for the modern era in this short story where folklore meets urban fantasy for a new type of urban legend. The Furies of myth were the vengeful spirits of wronged women. They could drive offending men to death or madness.

In this tale the narrator is the newly formed Fury who slowly builds into a recognizable consciousness as she finds her form and pieces together accumulations of experience and memory. Her role as a defender/protector that doesn’t seem quite biological, though trending that way, is also reminiscent of golems of Jewish folklore.

She doesn’t feel conflicted about her justice against those that would harm children and women. But she does long to understand her own origin and purpose. Some local police that catch repeated sight of her at crime scenes would like to know the same thing, albeit for different reasons.

This tale appears in the anthology, Superheroes edited by Rich Horton. I’d previously read this author’s “Salt Wine”.
 
 
 
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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: Morning Star by Pierce Brown

Morning Star (Red Rising, #3)Morning Star by Pierce Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel completes the The Red Rising Trilogy in a worthy and satisfying way. The expansive world-building of the second installment pays off as Darrow and company try to realize his martyred wife’s dream of a caste-less solar system.

The entire series is highly recommended.

The first in the series, Red Rising, was easily one of the best debut novels of 2014. It took tones of dystopian, young adult series like The Hunger Games and elevated the dialogue on social justice, honesty and loyalty. The second and best in the series, Golden Son, abandoned all comparisons as the world-building went into overdrive, sculpting the framework for the grand conflict of liberating the enslaved masses throughout the solar system. The plot veered toward Space Military without losing its heart. If anything, the human element matured to a nuanced field of grays.

A year has elapsed between the second and final installments. Darrow is a broken shadow of his former self having endured nothing but torture and seclusion since he’s last been seen. His allies need to be rebuilt and re-earned. And, he needs to rebuild himself physically, emotionally, mentally, and strategically. Much has transpired in his absence vaulting him to mythic status which even he cannot live up to. The expectations are mountainous, and hope dwindles . . .

While coasting on the great work of the second installment, pleasingly this novel doesn’t embrace a fairy tale ending. Unless one means the original Grimm’s tales which were dark messy things embedded with lessons for the ages.

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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.

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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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Short Story Review: “The Lost Children” by Alison McBain

3 of 5 stars.

Many traditional characters from mythos and folklore, such as The Wicked Witch of the West and Maleficent, have received revisionist treatment turning their untold tale into a humanized one. Here, the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur gets a fresh telling with an altered situation.

King Minos refuses to sacrifice his favorite bull to Poseidon. His wife loves the bull even more and births twin minotaurs after “loving” the bull. The king is, as expected, angry, embarrassed, ashamed. When the female and male twins hit their teens, the king seals them in a labyrinth and forces his wife to feed them lest they starve.

Years later, the oracle sends Athenians to the Minotaurs to sacrifice a boy and girl in order to stave off a plague. Little does everyone know that the minotaurs are rather non-violent. But since the children do not emerge from the labyrinth, everyone is satisfied.

Except the plague rages. And another couple kids are sent in. Then a third set. By the time of the third pair of “sacrifices”, the queen has been stricken with plague so Theseus enters the labyrinth . . .

This tale appears in Abbreviated Epics, a Third Flatiron Anthology, edited by Juliana Rew.
 
 
 
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