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September 19, 2020

Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Calculating Stars begins as a disaster story and ends as a space race. Both tales are compelling in their own right, but I’m not sure they fit together as cleanly as they could have.
 

The book opens in 1952 with a meteor strike that obliterates much of the United States’ east coast. Elma York, the protagonist and a former member of WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots, an organization of female aviators who crewed mostly non-combat missions during World War II...

August 11, 2020

Zeyn Joukhadar’s The Map of Salt and Stars sucked me in with a fascinating structure: parallel stories, both anchored in Syria, one set in modern times and the other in medieval. Unfortunately, this dynamic never quite lived up to its potential.
 

The present-day portion is narrated by Nour, the youngest daughter of a family who moves back to Syria as civil war is breaking out in 2011. The conflict quickly renders them homeless and forces them to shift from country to country in search...

June 20, 2020

She did it. Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Fate might have started slowly—as did the prior books in her Fitz and the Fool trilogy—but the middle was worth the wait. And the ending was sublime.
 

The beginning drags for a few reasons: Fitz doesn’t know his daughter Bee is alive, but we do, a dynamic that saps tension. (In this trilogy, Hobb frequently withholds knowledge from her characters but not the reader. One or two instances is fine, but it started to feel like a crutch to me.) The lore a...

May 17, 2020

Normally, I like every entry in a series to stand on its own. Not entirely—it’s (obviously!) fun to have a larger narrative that runs through each book, grows and complicates along the way, and doesn’t fully resolve until the finale. But I generally find it more satisfying if the novels are independent enough to conclude with an ending that wraps up a smaller storyline.
 

Robin Hobb’s FitzChivalry Farseer trilogies don’t really work that way.
 

The first trilogy comes closest. Books 1 an...

April 20, 2020

I think part of why I enjoyed Ken Liu’s The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories so much is that his collection of science fiction and fantasy short stories isn’t just about technological and magical wizardry (although there’s plenty of both). The true through-lines are the related themes of identity and memory.
 

Liu alludes to this in the preface by suggesting that “We spend our entire lives trying to tell stories about ourselves—they’re the essence of memory. It is how we make living in...

March 14, 2020

The first two trilogies in Robin Hobb’s FitzChivalry Farseer series contain some of my favorite fantasy books. Fitz is a compelling protagonist, the supporting characters are often just as fascinating, and the worldbuilding is top-notch. Sadly, Fool’s Assassin, the first book in the third trilogy, didn’t quite measure up for me.
 

The story begins about a decade after the events of the previous book. Fitz is well into his forties now and living a quiet life at Withywoods, the estate his...

February 11, 2020

Marlon James’s Black Leopard, Red Wolf is one of the most challenging books I’ve read in a long time. It’s also one of the most fascinating.
 

Let’s start with the structure. The story is mostly told in first-person by Tracker, a bounty hunter who has “a nose” (the ability to track by scent), “an eye” (a wolf eye in place of one of his human eyes), and “a mouth” (a habit of saying caustic things). But Tracker isn’t relating his tales directly to the reader. He’s being interrogated by an...

February 6, 2020

I'm thrilled to announce that my historical-fantasy novella "Magic in the Mud Show" (set in the Barnum & Bailey Circus of 1892) is in the Winter 2020 issue of The Colored Lens. The story will eventually serve as a prequel for my forthcoming novel Magic in the White City. But for now, "Magic in the Mud Show" stands alone. You can pick it up (along with some other great stories) on Amazon.
 

December 13, 2019

World Without End is a worthy follow-up to Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett’s epic tale of medieval cathedral building.
 

World Without End isn’t strictly a sequel, though; the novel still takes place in Kingsbridge, a fictional English city, but the story begins in 1327, 150 years after Pillars of the Earth leaves off. The main characters from the first book—particularly Jack Jackson, Lady Aliena, and Prior Philip—are remembered, and a few of the new characters are even descended from...

November 11, 2019

Nicholas Eames’ Kings of the Wyld is essentially a Blues Brothers version of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). It’s pretty awesome.
 

The story is set in a fantasy world teeming with a monster manual’s worth of beasties. Mercenary adventurers chase glory by hunting these creatures, and the most-famous group of exterminators was Saga—“was” being the operative word. Two decades after going their separates ways, the groups’ members are old, fat, drunk, married, etc. But when the former leader’s...

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I write mostly speculative fiction. Usually fantasy, with historical elements mixed in. Sometimes there's a bit of mystery too, or (shhh!) even a little romance.

 

But it's weird—it's always weird. Consider yourself warned.

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