This is the time of year when we take a look back at what we read, retracing our steps and revisiting some of the books we most enjoyed in our reading journeys. Thanks to the summary offered by GoodReads I can explore the past twelve months and amuse myself with some statistics.

Here is the visual overview of the books I read and reviewed in 2017:


65 titles sounds like an incredible amount, even taking into account that some of them are novellas, so they are shorter than an average book. Still, the overall page count gave me pause: 21.859 – I certainly spent a good amount of time with my nose in a book, and considering that most of my reading happens during the hour-long commute to and from work, I am deeply grateful to all those authors and their stories that distracted me from the daily drudgery of my subway travels.

As far as genres are concerned, they are more or less equally divided:

FANTASY                   26
HORROR                    6

Once I tended to read more SF than other genres, but I have to admit that in recent years Fantasy and its close relative Urban Fantasy take up a much larger space on my virtual shelves, thanks to the discovery of authors whose books I buy sight unseen, knowing I will enjoy their stories no matter what they feature. Still, I hope to read more SF in the near future, if nothing else because I want to find a better balance in my reading choices.

On the subject of ratings, I have been fortunate enough, in 2017, to encounter very few books I did not enjoy, so that only 3 of them did get a rating that was less that 3 stars over 5 (not unlike last year): my average rating comes up to a little over 4, which means that I loved what I read. Speaking of which, I feel the need to stress how 2017 was an amazing year for debut novels and that it’s only proper to list them again here (in the order I read them):

KINGS OF THE WYLD by Nicholas Eames
SOUL OF THE WORLD by David Mealing
FIRST WATCH by Dale Lucas
THE TETHERED MAGE by Melissa Caruso (forthcoming review)

If this has indeed been a great reading year, it’s also because of these wonderful stories and their creators, and I hope of seeing more of them soon.

A  Happy 2018  to all of you, and may it be filled with great stories!


Novella Review: OF THINGS UNKNOWN, by Seanan McGuire

At the back of The Brightest Fell, the eleventh volume in Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series, I found a welcome surprise, a novella set in the same world and tied to the events of the second book, A Local Habitation.  Even though the finer details of that story had become slightly fuzzy with the passage of time, I found myself remembering it all thanks to the author’s dropped hints that brought it all back in no time at all.

The protagonist here is April O’Leary, a very unusual kind of fae: she used to be a Dryad, a tree-dweller, and she had come to be adopted by January O’Leary, the Countess of Tamed Lightning, an equally unusual knowe for fae standards, one where magic and computer technology could exist side by side, enhancing each other in new and peculiar ways.  At the end of A Local Habitation, the death of January had left April as the heir to Tamed Lightning, and as caretaker for the people whose mental/spiritual/whatever energy had been drained from their bodies and electronically stored into a server.

Now, a few years after the facts, a way has been found to restore those people’s vitality to their bodies, through a ritual that, not uncommonly for Tamed Lightning, is part computer programming and part magic, and will require October Daye’s contribution to work.  The only victim not to be restored will be January, April’s adoptive mother, because her body was damaged beyond repair, and both April and January’s widow Li Quin struggle to come to terms with this, while rejoicing for the possibility of bringing back their long-lost friends.

While April and Li Quin battle with their still-fresh grief and the uncertainties about the future, April makes a mind-boggling discovery…

I enjoyed this story quite a bit, both because it represented a sort of… soft exit from October Daye’s world after the end of The Brightest Fell, one of the most intense novels of the series, and also because it explored April’s character with some added depth: she is quite fascinating, because she is not exactly alive, being a virtual creature who exists in the data streams of Tamed Lightning’s computer banks.  It was the only way for her to survive, after the death of her tree, and this kind of existence has changed April’s outlook in a dramatic way: she thinks like a software, she looks at the world and at people as if they were programs, or strings of code, and this colors both her thought processes and the way she understand people – or tries to.

There is a delightfully fascinating consideration about Toby that showcases April’s way of looking at things and people:

Sir October Daye is a knight errant of the realm. She is an irregular command in the code, a roving antivirus entering compromised systems and repairing what she can before moving on to the next crisis.

I loved it, because it was not only a way to understand what makes April tick, but it also felt so very fitting for October and the way she is. And now the wait for our favorite changeling’s next adventures goes on…


My Rating: 


Review: INTO THE DROWNING DEEP (Rolling in the Deep #1), by Mira Grant

I received this novel from Orbit Books through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review: my thanks to both of them for this opportunity.

Readers of this blog know by now that I’m a great fan of author Seanan McGuire/Mira Grant, so it would come as no surprise that I was eager to see what she would do with this new facet of her vast repertoire of creatures that goes from fae and changelings to zombies and onwards to various other fascinating and/or scary beings.  If curiosity was my prime motivator, I was on the other hand slightly worried that this novel might retrace the steps of its prequel novella Rolling in the Deep, and therefore offer little in the way of story or characterization: this being Mira Grant, however, I should not have been concerned, because she not only expanded on the core concept of that first foray into mermaid territory, but she also gave us a gripping, breath-stopping story that kept me on edge until the very end.

Several years before the start of Into the Drowning Deep, the entertainment network Imagine had financed an expedition to the Mariana Trench in search of mermaids, following once more the sensationalist path of Imagine’s usual programming. A small group of scientists and entertainment people had embarked on the Atargatis with the goal of proving the existence of these mythical creatures, and in the end they did find what they were looking for: reality, however turned out to be much worse than any fancy concept, and the ship was later recovered, adrift and empty, save for a few snippets of footage that showed something terrible and incredible – so incredible that it was labelled as a hoax.

As the story starts, Imagine decides to mount a second, more well-equipped expedition, with the goal of proving the truth of that much-reviled footage and to recover the network’s credibility. For a number of the new expedition’s members, however, the voyage will be a way of putting to rest the ghosts of friends or loved ones lost with the Atargatis, or to find revenge for their untimely death.  This is the case for scientist Victoria “Tory” Stewart, whose sister Anne was the media face of that fateful voyage, while Doctor Jillian Toth – who choose at the last moment not to join the previous expedition – wants to find definitive proof of the mermaids’ existence and somehow assuage her guilt over the tragedy that befell the unlucky ship.  Aboard the Melusine, a state of the art sailing vessel equipped with the latest in scientific research and protection against eventual attacks, Imagine has collected various teams of scientist, a group of security guards for their safety, and a husband-and-wife team of professional hunters, creating a quite volatile mix of personalities that promises from the start to make this venture into the deep ocean a difficult one, even without the dangers posed by the creatures in the found footage.

Thanks to my knowledge of what happened aboard the Atargatis, my sense of impending doom started immediately and was not improved by some of the details offered now and then in an almost off-hand manner, like the information about the shielding plates installed to protect Melusine’s passengers from external attacks, shields that fail the test runs effected by the crew.  Being aware of what was coming made the constant bickering between the scientists – competing with each other for visibility and fame – and the difficult relations between them and the hunters, look even more petty and superficial: in this respect Mira Grant gives us a wide range of personalities from both sides of the spectrum, their interactions contributing to the growing feel of disaster on the make that is the backbone of this novel.  And so we get Olivia, the new poster-girl for Imagine, who presents an airy, happy-go-lucky face to the world while hiding both profound insecurities and some unexpected depths of courage that will surface in the direst moments; or Luis, Tory’s friend and science partner, whose support and friendship toward Victoria are indeed a bright light in the overall darkness of the story; or again the abrasive manners of Dr. Toth, who uses her scientific detachment and practical approach as a cover for what looks like a sort of death wish.

The book offers an interesting commentary on humanity as well, on our approach to the strange and uncanny: once the clips from the Atargatis’ tragedy are released, the public at large refuses to believe such evidence, calling it a hoax and blaming the entertainment network for the death of passengers and crew. What does this say about modern audiences, used to special effects and world-wide media coverage? Probably that we have become accustomed to it all and have somehow lost our sense of wonder – and Grant seems to warn us that turning a deaf ear on legends might in the end be our downfall, because nature still has many ways in which to surprise us. Or worse.

The mermaids are indeed the central focus here, not simply a bloody incident, since the author has created for them a whole background that’s in equal parts fascinating and terrifying: where they looked like mindless predators in Rolling in the Deep, here they are shown as part of a complex society, one shaped by the environment in which they live and by the constant hunger that drives their actions. In popular lore mermaids have always been pictured as half fish, half alluring woman, their perceived beauty and lovely songs able to draw unwary sailors to a watery grave; here they appear as nightmarish monsters whose true appearance has been glossed over by a myth that painted them as seductive, conveniently forgetting the “surprisingly sensual mouth brimming with needled teeth”, or the fact that their tantalizing song was nothing else but a very evolved form of mimicry, used to lure the unsuspecting prey.  That was to me the most horrifying side of these creatures, not the fact that they can successfully assault a modern ship and kill its occupants with surprising ease, nor the fact that they feed on humans just as they feed on fish, but that they can imitate a person’s voice, or any noise, with uncanny accuracy, knowing it will bait the trap they are so efficient in laying.

Worse still, the nightmare does not seem to end here, because Into the Rolling Deep leaves a great deal of hanging threads and an open door for a sequel: there is a revelation toward the end that there might be something ever more terrifying lying in wait in the depths of the ocean, something barely perceived but still mind-shattering enough to prompt a character into an almost Lovecraftian exclamation: “The light, the light, oh God the light!”.  Whatever that might be, I look forward to discovering it with the next book(s) in the series, while I will try to remember the warning Mira Grant issues at the end of her Acknowledgements section:

“Watch out for the water. You never know what might be down there”.

I guess I will take my next vacation on very dry land…


My Rating: 


Novella Review: ACADIE, by Dave Hutchinson

Dave Hutchinson is more widely known for his dystopian Fractured Europe series, whose first book I tried some time ago but did not finish: it was a good, interesting concept, that much I could see, but there was an underlying feeling of… sadness, for want of a better word, that ultimately drove me away from that story. My curiosity remains, however, and I don’t rule out the possibility of returning to the series at another time and maybe with a different frame of mind.

Meanwhile, I wanted to try something different from this author so that when I saw this novella mentioned I knew the different premise and genre might be what I needed, so I took the plunge: Acadie is a short but intriguing story that piqued my interest from page one to the – quite unexpected – end.  The central character is Duke (or rather John Wayne Faraday, the nickname being one of the many tongue-in-cheek jokes scattered throughout the narrative), formerly a lawyer with the Bureau of Colonization that he left after a callous incident he publicly denounced.  Adrift and without a job, Duke is contacted by an agent of the Colony, a remote conglomeration of artificial habitats created by Isobel Potter, a genetic scientist who fled Earth when her extreme experiments on human genome made her an outlaw.  After 500 years away from the mother planet and the Bureau, Potter and her acolytes have created a society where extreme modifications are the norm and freedom of choice is the law: Duke has been elected President for the simple reason that he doesn’t want the job, and that’s where the real story starts, as a probe from Earth manages to slip through the Colony’s defense systems and threatens to expose the location of Potter and her people.

The overall tone of the story is light and humorous, mostly because of the apparent happy-go-lucky attitude of the Colony’s dwellers toward anything organized or even faintly smelling of imposed order: the rebels have created a society where the highly intelligent inhabitants can be anything they like, either in career choice or appearance – Duke’s meeting with a group of Tolkien enthusiasts modified to look like Hobbits, Elves and so on is indeed a case in point.   Something changes, however, once the probe from Earth is discovered, not least because it was able to slip through the sophisticated net of countermeasures that were put in place: for this reason Duke is tasked with organizing the massive endeavor of picking up stakes and moving the Colony somewhere else, since their perfect hiding place has certainly been discovered.

Here is where a huge shift occurs: as the rest of the Colony moves away toward greener pastures, Duke and his team remain behind to insure no one will be aware of their whereabouts, and that’s when direct contact with the Earth probe’s AI changes everything, in a very unexpected, very dramatic way, taking away from the readers every single certainty they had gathered until that point.  It’s been a long while since I was so stunned by a story and by the way the narrative managed to lull me into a false sense of security, only to open its trap under my feet at the very last moment.

Well done indeed…


My Rating: 


Review: THE CRIMSON CAMPAIGN (Powder Mage #2), by Brian McClellan

Where Book 1 of the Powder Mage trilogy piqued my interest for its novel take on a fantasy setting, Book 2 literally swept me away transforming me from interested spectator to invested fan of this amazing story that certainly has many surprises still in store for me.

The Crimson Campaign opens just a short while after the events of Promise of Blood, and mostly follows the path of the same three main characters, Field Marshal Tamas, his son Taniel, and Inspector Adamat, but with enormously raised stakes and no time to enjoy the brief respite in the war with Kez brought on by Taniel’s apparent killing of the summoned god Kremisir.

Undaunted by their first defeat, the Kez are mounting a new assault on Adro’s borders and the staggering numbers amassing at the foot of the Adran stronghold at Budwiel convince Tamas that he needs to stage a surprise attack at the enemy’s rear guard. To that end, he moves into their territory, through an underground passage, with two of his best divisions, only to discover himself stranded on hostile ground with no supply train and with the Kez army hot on his heels.

Taniel and his companion Ka-poel, the savage girl gifted with extraordinary magical abilities, lie in a coma after playing their vital part in the vanquishing of Kresimir, and when they finally come out of it, Taniel is much the worse for wear, suffering from the equivalent of PTSD and trying to drown the recurring memories of the encounter with Kresimir through the smoking of mala, this world’s opium-like substance.  Only the news of his father’s failed stratagem and the possibility of his death – a notion that many seem to take for certain – manage to snap him out of drug addiction and despondency,  and bring him to the front line where he will find himself fighting not only the Kez, but the blind hostility of his superiors and the possibility of a traitor in their midst.

Inspector Adamat, for his part, is desperately trying to free his family, that was taken hostage by the craftily cruel Lord Vetas, and he spares himself no danger or injury to reach that goal, gathering some surprising allies along the way and showing us more of Adran society and the way it works as he desperately seeks to break Vetas’ web of evil, whose ramifications seem to go wider and deeper than the mere search for personal power.   This time around I managed to connect better with Adamat’s character, who I previously found interesting but for some reason not very likable: his focus on the frantic search for his loved ones finally shows the man under the policeman’s coat, so to speak, and the lengths he’s ready to go to save them help bring him into sharper focus.   This is a man who gave himself fully to his work, and only through grief and loss has discovered what really matters in life, and that he’s ready to pay any price to keep it – even coming to terms with his until-now unbreakable integrity.

As fascinating as Adamat’s journey is, still the narrative threads concerning Tamas and Taniel remained the most appealing ones for me, although I must acknowledge that this time around I found pacing and plot more evenly balanced and felt no hurry to read through a less-engaging POV to reach the ones I cared most about, since the flow of the story was such that I did not want to rush over anything for fear of missing some important clue.  In this respect, and not this alone, The Crimson Campaign shows a definite improvement over its predecessor and a qualitative boost in all its elements.

In the first installment of this trilogy, Field Marshal Tamas quickly became my favorite character: at times harsh and abrasive, his real nature came into focus through the deep respect and admiration of his subordinates and troops. I could see that he was a man of deep passions that were fiercely curbed by the needs of his position, and what I further learned about him, from the short prequel stories I managed to read, just reinforced my liking of this character. In this second book, however, we see a somewhat different Tamas: he’s still a capable and daring leader, and there is no doubt that the dangerous march through enemy territory would have seen far higher losses without his keen strategic sense, but here we see him besieged by doubts, and by the awareness of impending old age that is not just impairing his physical strength but might also be dulling his ability to react.  If outwardly he’s still the same hard and uncompromising soldier, the one whose name is enough to strike fear in his enemies, Tamas cannot avoid second-guessing himself and wondering if he’s reached the end of his road, and instead of diminishing him, these doubts make him more human and approachable, and in the end an even more enjoyable character.

Taniel is however the one exhibiting the most remarkable changes: in Promise of Blood, where he came across as something of a whiner afflicted by too many daddy issues, I did not like him very much even though I understood where his problems came from.  Having someone like Field Marshal Tamas for a father meant that young Taniel had a difficult model to follow and one whose approval he constantly sought without really getting what he wanted, so the relationship between father and son was often strained and resulted in Taniel developing a strong streak of mulish stubbornness. Here Taniel starts on that same note – worse, he chooses to wallow in a sea of self-pity and despondency that even Ka-poel seems unable to drag him out of, and it takes the news of Tamas’ failed plan and probable death to clear the fog he’s drowning into.  Faced with the unexplainable behavior of the army’s leaders, who keep retreating before the Kez onslaught at the cost of uncountable lives, he tries almost single-handedly to bolster the troops’ courage and his example seems to be working – that is, until he’s arrested and tried for insubordination.   This was one of the most interesting and at the same time frustrating narrative threads of this book, and it helped me to finally look beyond Taniel’s willfulness and to see his determination and capacity for self-sacrifice, something that was previously obscured by other less savory aspects of his character. I also loved how he kept the faith about Tamas’ survival chances, refusing to believe that someone as larger than life as his father could be killed, the prospect of Tamas’ demise having apparently removed any self-imposed deception on Taniel’s feelings, allowing him to acknowledge love and admiration for his father.

Apart from these central figures, others had the chance to grow and gain in depth and detail in The Crimson Campaign, particularly Ka-poel and, in a smaller measure, Vlora.  The former manages to shine despite her inability to speak – or maybe because of it, since she seems to command the reader’s attention every time she’s mentioned – and her strength and determination, tempered by a subtle veneer of humor that the author was able to convey quite clearly, make her stand out despite the relatively small narrative space she enjoys.  Vlora, on the other hand, still moves on the sidelines, and I acknowledge that my desire to see more or her comes from my enjoyment of her role in Sins of Empire, so I can bide my time and wait for better opportunities to get to know her.  And last but not least, I need to mention Olem, Tamas’ bodyguard (another character I greatly appreciated in Sins of Empire and who moves his first steps in this trilogy): I love his laid-back attitude and the kind of relationship he established with Tamas – respectful but not awed, and at times bordering on the kind of insolence that Tamas publicly scoffs at but seems to secretly appreciate.

Do I have any complaints about this book?  Yes, that like its predecessor it ended with several narrative threads still hanging and waiting for their resolution in the third and final book of the series – but it’s a relatively small complaint, because I can move to The Autumn Republic as soon as I want, and learn all that I need to know. Having come late to this series does indeed have its advantages…


My Rating: 


Short Story Review: THE MARTIAN OBELISK, by Linda Nagata



While I enjoy reading post-apocalyptic scenarios, I’m not very sanguine about stories describing a slow descent toward the end of the world as we know it, even though, perversely enough, the quiet despair of a foreseeable end touches me far more deeply than any account of massive upheavals and their aftermath. So I was not certain I would appreciate this story about a dying Earth, but my curiosity to try the writing of Linda Nagata, an author I’ve often seen mentioned with great appreciation, won over any misgivings I might have had.  I’m very happy about my perseverance now, because The Martian Obelisk is a wonderful story.



(click on the link to read the story online)


Earth is slowly dying, not with a bang but with a whimper, as the saying goes: a long history of planetary neglect caused a series of natural disasters that changed for the worse the face of the planet, and naturally evolving diseases (together with a few lab-grown ones) decimated the population.  Wars and terroristic attacks did the rest, killing humanity’s drive to move forward even before actually snuffing out life itself.

We are a brilliant species […] Courageous, creative, generous – as individuals. In larger numbers we fail every time.

In this dismal scenario the main character, Susannah Li-Langford, once a renowned architect, has been busy for close to two decades with a project to build an obelisk on the surface of Mars: after a few tragically unsuccessful colonization attempts, all that remains on Mars are automated construction machines, and with the financing of wealthy Nathaniel Sanchez Susannah is creating, by remote, a white-tiled spire on the red planet, a memento of the human race that will endure even once all life on Earth will have ceased to exist, or to leave a mark.  But one day the remotely-operating machines warn her that there is something unusual happening…

As I said, I’m glad I read this story, about which I will not say anything further to let you enjoy it as it deserves: despite the bleakness there is a glimmer of hope in the end, and it’s worth enduring the sadness that comes before, because we might be doomed to failure, as Susannah muses, but the last word has not been written yet.


My Rating: 


Review: MOON CALLED (Mercy Thompson #1), by Patricia Briggs

After encountering several favorable mentions about this Urban Fantasy series, I finally decided to see for myself what it was like, though not without a small measure of… trepidation, for want of a better word: my favorite series in this genre is Seanan McGuire’s October Daye, and that’s what sets the standards for me – a main character who’s strong but not superhuman, whose flaws don’t include reckless stupidity, and a story that gains new facets from book to book. Just to name the most important ones…

Well, Mercy Thompson promises to move along these lines, and even if this first volume was not a game changing experience, it piqued my interest enough that I’m willing to follow the protagonist’s journey: with a good number of books to look forward to, there is certainly room for all the improvements I can wish for.

Mercedes “Mercy” Thompson is a car mechanic and a very independent woman, but she’s also something else: a shapeshifter who can take the form of a coyote.  In Patricia Briggs’ version of the world, supernatural creatures have always existed side by side with baseline humans and only in recent times some of them have come out of hiding, albeit with mixed results: once the dust settled, and the wonder wore off, humans resorted to their usual way of dealing with the diverse – they gave free rein to fear, ignorance and bigotry.


It was all right for a fae to be an entertainer or a tourist attraction, but […] no one wanted a fae for a teacher, a mechanic, or a neighbor.


Those unfortunate enough to have come out in the open had to make themselves scarce, or go live in reservations – out of sight, out of mind. Business as usual on planet Earth…

Among those who did not expose themselves, besides the highest fae, are werewolves and shapeshifters like Mercy, although she’s a pretty rare specimen. Raised by an adoptive family of werewolves, Mercy knows a great deal about their social structures and behavioral patterns, so that she’s in the best position to offer aid to young Mac, a newly-minted teenage werewolf still dealing with his change and with other more pressing problems.

Asking her neighbor Adam, the Alpha wolf of the local pack, to help Mac, brings about a series of events that will put Mercy’s policy of “live and let live” to a serious test: an attack on Adam’s compound and the kidnapping of his teenage daughter Jesse will draw Mercy into a complex situation that will force her to re-evaluate her position and to face some unresolved issues from her past, while she tries to uncover what looks like a dangerous conspiracy.

The world-building in Moon Called is a fascinating one: the nature and pack mentality of the werewolves are explored at length as various characters come into play, and it all flows quite naturally alongside the story without interference from lengthy info-dumps or any slowing of the pace.   These creatures are not the mindless beasts we might have expected because they don’t lose control at each full moon (or at least they don’t once they have grown comfortable into their own… well, skin) but rather draw strength from it – in both human and wolf shape – and always fight to keep a balance between the two sides of their nature.  That fight has given birth to a set of rules that are ruthlessly implemented, because control has become the key to the survival of the species and to insure that their existence remains a secret.

This strict adherence to the rules has unfortunately fostered something of a backward mentality in the werewolves, the kind of mindset that can still be observed in some strata of the human population – through Mercy, the author does enjoy poking some fun at it, even though the smile is somewhat bitter:


Women’s liberation hadn’t made much headway in the world of werewolves. A mated female took her pack position from her mate, but unmated females were always lower than males …


A lone wolf is a male who either declines to join a pack or cannot find a pack who will take him in. The females, I might add, are not allowed that option.


In this world, Mercy is something of a free agent: not only because of her nature, but mostly because she values her independence, the need to make her own choices. I often wondered if early exposure to the life of a werewolf pack was responsible for this, since she refuses to be cast into any mold, to follow a set of rules that is not her own.  This attitude also colors her sentimental life, which I found quite refreshing: the presence of two attractive, powerful males who are interested in her does not lead – at least in this first novel – to any romantic triangle, and Mercy’s response to the two men’s possessive overtures, no matter how restrained they are, is to re-affirm her self-reliance and self-determination.  My hope is that, should a romantic thread develop in the future, this mindset will remain unchanged.

In short, I did enjoy Moon Called quite a bit: it was a quick, fun read and it managed to engage me even though I realize it was only laying the foundations for a more complex story, one that I expect will expand on the many seeds planted here, from the higher fae (or Gray Lords) urging the lesser ones to come clean while they stayed safely in hiding, to the vampires and their shady goals to werewolves’ politics and power plays.

There are really few criticisms I feel like expressing, namely the overly complex motivations at the roots of the mystery to be solved, which required some lengthy exposition I found slightly tiresome, and the cover art, that in my opinion did not catch at all Mercy’s character, her essence or the nature of the story itself – a look at the covers for the following novels shows that this is a recurring theme, one that seems to draw the attention away from the inner strengths of the character and instead focus it on the… outward ones.

I realize that it’s a matter of market dynamics, but still I can’t avoid thinking that it’s something of a misdirection, and that though it’s not an end-of-the-world issue, it should be addressed now and then.   Ok, getting off the soapbox now…  🙂

My Rating: