Thursday, 29 May 2014

Review: The Fredric Brown Megapack: 33 Classic Science Fiction Stories

The Fredric Brown Megapack: 33 Classic Science Fiction Stories
The Fredric Brown Megapack: 33 Classic Science Fiction Stories by Fredric Brown

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Brown is known as a classic writer of humourous SFF, and these stories provide a cross-section of his work. They range from flash fiction (the equivalent of a single-panel gag cartoon) up to a novella. Not all are funny, but all of them are clever.

Perhaps inevitably, they can be a bit trope-heavy. There are several time travel stories, several alien invasion stories, several interstellar war stories. These were familiar story ideas at the time (as they still are today, among the less imaginative), and Brown puts his own twist on them.

The Megapack edition suffers from less-than-thorough proofreading of the scanned versions, but I'll be sending them my notes, and hopefully they'll fix the next version up. In a couple of stories, Brown "transcribes" English spoken with a heavy German accent, at annoying length in the case of "Star Mouse," and the optical character recognition hasn't dealt well with it, often reading "vell" ("well") as "veil".

There are some beautiful moments (I could have done with more of them). 'The sign on the highway says, “Cherrybell, Pop. 42,” but the sign exaggerates; Pop died last year—Pop Anders, who ran the now-deserted hamburger stand—and the correct figure is 41.' Or this: 'Morning came. It came right after midnight, and it stayed, and it was still there at seven forty-five.'

Overall, an enjoyable collection, and I may eventually pick up the second volume.

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Monday, 26 May 2014

Review: The Robert Sheckley Megapack: 15 Classic Science Fiction Stories

The Robert Sheckley Megapack: 15 Classic Science Fiction Stories
The Robert Sheckley Megapack: 15 Classic Science Fiction Stories by Robert Sheckley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked this up because I had heard that Sheckley was a master of humourous science fiction, and also of the short story form. The stories in this volume are more satirical than comedic, but they're very well written.

All of them come from the 1950s (one was published in 1960), and over and over again they skewer the conformity, consumerism and techno-optimism of that decade. Unlike in most SF of the time, if a wonderful gadget turns up in the Sheckley story it is much more likely to be the source of the problem than it is to be the solution, though there are one or two "clever solution" stories. I generally dislike technopessimism as a philosophy, but in the 1950s it was countercultural, so I give it a pass.

In "Watchbird," devices invented to prevent murder generalise their definition a bit too widely. The big fault of this story is in the common American assumption that the USA is the whole world, but it doesn't have many other faults.

"The Status Civilization" parodies conformism and statism, and the role of elites, in a prison planet for criminals and dissidents: "Without the law, there could be no privileges for those who made the law; therefore the law was absolutely necessary".

"Ask a Foolish Question" points up the limitations of our understanding of the universe, another counter to scientific optimism and hubris.

"Cost of Living" parodies consumerism and consumer debt, and the role of big corporations in government (one corporate representative speaks of "the laws we helped formulate and pass," something that actually happens in the present-day USA).

"Bad Medicine" parodies psychology in the story of a homicidal man who gets a therapy machine programmed for Martians by mistake.

"Diplomatic Immunity" is a "clever-engineer" story in a more conventional mould, though it is certainly very clever.

"Warrior Race" confronts two Earthmen with an alien race who guilt them into giving up by committing suicide at them.

"The Hour of Battle" shows the problems of confronting an alien race who are telepathic, while giving a presumably accurate picture of what it's like for men stuck together in a small space and waiting for a battle to start. (Sheckley served in the army in Korea.)

"Keep Your Shape" is told from the viewpoint of alien invaders struggling to invade Earth because of the conflict between their nature and their culture, and the opportunities that Earth offers them.

"Warm" is an odd psychological, in fact psychedelic, story about perception and alienation.

"Death Wish" is again about men stuck together in close quarters, and how they get on each other's nerves. It reads like a parody of the many "clever-engineer" stories of the time.

"Beside Still Waters" is a robot story with an odd twist ending, of a kind that Asimov probably wouldn't have attempted for ideological reasons.

"Forever" has an odd, deprotagonising ending, but gets in its dig against elitism first.

"The Leech" is a clever-engineer story gone wrong, and gone wrong because of military idiocy.

"One Man's Poison" is a problem-solving story based around the idea that alien minds are, in fact, alien.

It's interesting to see a writer who goes counter to the genre trend of the time, and whose storytelling ability allows him to get away with it. Overall, a good collection.

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Review: Sidekick

Sidekick by Auralee Wallace

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The author's bio at the front says that she writes "women's fiction". I'm not sure what the difference is between that and "chick lit" (presumably it's a class thing), but what it appears to be, from the perspective of someone who isn't a woman, is lighthearted fiction with the comedic snark dialed up, and a female first-person protagonist.

Also dialed up - way up - is the protagonist's ditz factor. I'm generally not in favour of plots that rely strongly on the characters being idiots, and this plot definitely does (not just the protagonist, either; her Clark Kent-like love interest and the whole of law enforcement in their city seem similarly afflicted). It's funny enough that I forgive that, and also the mediocre editing.

"All right" is still two words, according to all the style guides, "prophesy" is a verb, not a noun, and a comma always goes before any term of address (and doesn't go in a number of other places that this author thinks it should go). There are some misplaced apostrophes, some missing quotation marks, some small words like "to" occasionally omitted, "marque" as a mistake for "marquee" and "closest" for "closet", and a couple of question marks on the ends of sentences that aren't questions. Media vans, by the way, have satellite dishes, not satellites, on their roofs. This level of errors, about in the high 30s, is fairly average these days.

Making up for it are a few wonderful phrases and an overall fun tone. When she first meets her reporter love interest, we get this description: "He looked a little like the end result of a heated night of plastic passion between action figures." A retail worker is beautifully described as "Jabba the Clerk". And this: "Wasn't gumption worth more than anything else? Why would reality TV lie?"

Those are just a few of the snarky or comic moments scattered throughout. I'm not sure of the exact definition of a "screwball comedy," but I think this may well be one.

It's also a decent superhero novel. Because it's a superhero novel, the complete incompetence of the police, who are unable to catch, or even come close to catching, the very flashy and obvious villains, is possibly excusable as a trope, though it's a poor one in my view. The parallels between the reporter boyfriend and Clark Kent are amusing, though, and even if I was never particularly worried for the protagonist despite her theoretically desperate situation - it clearly wasn't the kind of book where she was actually going to be beaten up by her Russian mobster landlord - there's a creditable attempt at tension and escalation of circumstances.

Despite being published by Harlequin, the book doesn't focus on the romance, which is very much a subplot.

The ending, while wrapping up this book, leaves plenty of plates in the air, and if I happen to see the sequel I'll probably read it when I feel like a bit of light amusement.

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Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Review: Magic City: Recent Spells

Magic City: Recent Spells
Magic City: Recent Spells by Paula Guran

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Things you should know:

1. I received a copy from the publisher via NetGalley for purposes of review.
2. This is a reprint anthology. If you read a lot of anthologies in the field, you will probably have read some of these before. I had read three, though two of them were among the best ones, and I enjoyed reading them again.
3. It still has some worthwhile stuff in it, especially if you're a fan of the big names in urban fantasy (Jim Butcher, Carrie Vaughn, Patricia Briggs) and haven't read these stories before.
4. It isn't just "urban fantasy" by the usual definition (our contemporary world plus the supernatural). There's a sword-and-sorcery story from Scott Lynch, and a story set in ancient Babylon. Mostly, though, it's what is usually meant by urban fantasy.
5. The best stories are not at the beginning. In fact, in my opinion, the worst stories are at the beginning. Push through; from "Seeing Eye" onwards, it starts getting much better (though there are one or two stories earlier than that that are worth reading, and one or two after that that I didn't care for much). I would advise skipping -30-, which I despised.
6. Your taste may well differ from mine.
7. A lot of the characters in these stories - at least 9, by my count - are LGBTQ, so if you're bothered by that (I'm not), this may not be the book for you.

Here's a rundown story by story.

Street Wizard: not so much a story as a slice of life. It's hard to make a civil servant, even a heroic one, interesting, and I should know. Well done for what it is. Soft ending.

Paranormal Romance: again, not much of an ending. LGBTQ character count: 4. Loser main character doesn't really protagonise, makes some progress towards happiness, perhaps, but doesn't really change.

Grand Central Park: finally, a protagonist (a smart one, too) and a story with an arc and an ending. Knowing a bit of fairy lore will help you appreciate it.

Spellcaster 2.0: nasty main character, not a protagonist, railroaded into an obvious decision and seems to escape the consequences of his earlier mistakes unscathed (though, at least, not unchanged). Preachy. LGBT character count: 1. Has two errors of fact that I spotted: there are no Nobel Prizes for social sciences, and 200GB of text documents is a ridiculously large number (about two Project Gutenbergs, if my quick online research is accurate). Uses "council" where it should be "counsel", and "close-minded" instead of "closed-minded".

Wallamelon: interesting window into the lives of poor urban black families. Maybe could have been shorter. Has a protagonist and an ending.

-30-: all sorts of problems with this one. Poorly copy edited (even down to "it's" for "its", not just once, but three times), about a writer with writer's block (worst story idea ever), told in second person for no good reason, main character is hopeless and alienated. A street changes its name from Benevolent Street to Benefit Street and back. A woman is described as blue, then referred to as "the green woman", then she's back to blue again. "Bogarts" for "boggarts". So dark and depressing, and so negative about the life of a writer, that when I read it after a good day's writing which I'd enjoyed I found myself questioning downheartedly whether I'd wasted my time.

It's about an author who does deals with the Fae to get an ending for her story, but by the time the ending of this story came round I didn't care, plus it really just stopped rather than ending. When I read it I thought, "I'm surprised this sold once, let alone twice," but in fact the first publication was in the author's own zine, so it only sold once. I'm still surprised. LGBT character count: 1.

Seeing Eye: I always enjoy Patricia Briggs, and this is no exception. Has a protagonist and an ending. A few copy editing issues, though: Glenda the good witch (it's Glinda), "moral principals", "peaked" for "peeked", a few missing minor words like "a" and "is".

Stone Man: reads more like a first chapter than a self-contained short story. More exposition than a story as such, but a bit of protagonism. I'd read it before.

In the Stacks: I'd read this before too, but enjoyed it enough that I read it again. It stands up to a re-read: both humourous tale and action-packed sword-and-sorcery story at once, well-written, with a bit of moral depth to it. In other words, it's a Scott Lynch story.

A Voice Like a Hole: I think I read this in the Bordertown anthology it originally appeared in. I'm not fond of the Bordertown shared world; too dark and self-consciously anarcho-punk for me, and this is an example of that, albeit not the worst example in that collection. Soft ending. LGBTQ character count: probably at least one.

The Arcane Art of Misdirection: I'm a big Carrie Vaughn fan, and I liked this one, though the (mundane) viewpoint character's protagonism suffers a bit from being partnered with a (magical) established, if minor, character from her Kitty Norville series.

The Thief of Precious Things: I didn't expect to enjoy this, based on the premise and what I know of the author, but it surprised me in a positive way. It's technopessimist, which I don't personally like, but it worked as a story, making a point about how connecting with other people can change you.

The Land of Heart's Desire: I'd already forgotten what this story was about when I came to review it, and had to remind myself from another review. I think that's all I need to say about it. LGBTQ character count: 2 (though the second is only really there to be the first's partner).

Snake Charmer: I'd forgotten this one, too. It's pretty much standard urban fantasy on the dark and gritty streets, so not my favourite thing.

The Slaughtered Lamb: I liked this a lot, and would read a novel or series in the world (which it feels like there might be). It was exciting, while keeping a strong focus on character issues. LGBTQ character count: 1, a sassy drag-queen werewolf, really strong.

The Woman who Walked with Dogs: plenty of tension in this one, and a strong ending. Protagonist possibly lesbian or asexual, or maybe just too young to be interested in boys yet, but it's not clear enough to count.

Words: a more fanciful, fairy-tale-style story, a kind of parable (or wish-fulfilment fantasy?) about the power of words and the people who (unsuccessfully) fight that power.

Dog Boys: potentially a bit problematic, as the white male protagonist not only saves the Native American damsel in distress but is adopted into her tribe in a ceremony which seems to have come straight out of Tom Sawyer, so that he can save the day. Typos: "star" for "scar", "heat" for "feet" (apparently), and "girl's team" for "girls' team".

Alchemy: it was difficult to decide who was the protagonist, the spirit being or the woman he attempts to influence. Given that he fails, maybe it was her. Set in Ancient Babylon, which is different. "Two millennium" for "two millennia".

Curses: I am a truly enormous Jim Butcher fan (I was reading him before it was cool), and this story, while reasonably self-contained, has a lot of callouts to his series which anyone who has only read this story will miss. Not least is the fact that he's being polite, which is very different from his usual snark. I've read it before, of course (twice, in his single-author collection), but enjoyed it again.

De la Tierra: Emma Bull is wonderful, and I really wish she'd written more books like War for the Oaks and Territory. This story of an assassin who discovers his bosses have been lying to him implies a deep, broad world, and I'd read more stories in it. It's dark and violent, but with a purpose and a point, not just as set-dressing.

Stray Magic: I'm a sucker for a cute animal, and I loved this story about a wizard's familiar who turns up lost at an animal shelter. The city plays very little role in this story, so it's only tenuously connected to the theme of the anthology. Typo: "hoses" for "noses".

Kabu Kabu: also a bit of a thin connection to the theme, apart from starting out in Chicago, but I liked it. A crazy ride in a magical cab gives occasion for a daughter of Nigerian immigrants to reflect on issues of identity and culture as she tries to get to her sister's wedding in Nigeria. "Heavy-based" for "heavy-bassed".

Pearlywhite: another one I didn't expect to enjoy, because I don't usually like horror, but I liked it. Plenty of protagonism. There's a bit of telling (about the kids being secretive about their spirit guardians' "homebases") that's later contradicted in showing, but otherwise a good story.

Overall, with some exceptions, particularly towards the start, I enjoyed this collection. There are enough good stories in it that it's worth picking up for urban fantasy fans.

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Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Review: Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden's Syndrome

Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden's Syndrome
Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden's Syndrome by John Scalzi

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is only the second piece of fiction by Scalzi that I've read - the first being his, in my view, undeservingly Hugo-winning novel Redshirts. (I thought Saladin Ahmed's Throne of the Crescent Moon was by far the better novel. It had a strong plot, excellent characters and fine writing that didn't become self-indulgent, whereas Redshirts was literally a joke, and not, to me, a funny joke, and when you took away the joke there wasn't much left. My review of Redshirts is here:

I don't know that I'll be reading any more Scalzi fiction, because both pieces that I've read underline to me how average he is as a writer.

This novella is a documentary-style backstory to an upcoming novel. Inevitably, it has a lot of "tell" and not much "show". It has its moments of emotional strength, definitely. It has moments of good storytelling. It has quite a bit of smart worldbuilding, even if it's, inevitably, very infodumpy.

But everyone sounds like Scalzi. I read his blog fairly often, and I know his voice. It's this voice. Every single character (and there are many) sounds exactly the same, from the scientists to the journalists to the prisoner in the penitentiary. There's minimal description, which is another Scalzi trait; more excusable in this format than in Redshirts, but it still leaves me not knowing what anyone or anything looks like apart from the robots (and even then, all we get is "like C-3PO").

That may well be intentional, a way of making every character into Everyperson, and there are ways in which that could be a strength, but for me it's also a weakness.

Scalzi is a competent writer. He can convey an idea, a scene, even an emotion or a relationship. But I look for a lot more than that in my favourite writers, and I'm not finding it here.

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Review: Ghost Hold

Ghost Hold
Ghost Hold by Ripley Patton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I greatly enjoyed the first book in this series (which you need to read first; there's not much recap or explanation of the situation, even to the point of not defining key terms like "PSS" or "CAMFers"). I enjoyed this one somewhat less, for a couple of reasons which may turn out to be at least partly moot when the third book comes out.

Firstly, there's a massive coincidence. The author even hangs a lampshade on it and has her first-person main character remark on how much of a coincidence it is. The group go to a city in another state, and not only does it happen to be the city where her best friend's brother attends college, but they happen to meet him completely at random. I'm not sure if it makes it better or worse that the meeting doesn't really do anything except add more angst to an already angsty situation.

(Oh, while I think of it, this girl who's never dated and considers herself unattractive is pursued by three different boys simultaneously. Fortunately, this is her main claim to Mary Sueness.)

The other thing that reduced my enjoyment (and this partly is a personal preference) is that the tragedy dial suddenly gets turned up extra-high near the end. I probably could have dealt with it better if it had been more gradual. As it was, things were going along, not really well, but no worse than in the first book, and then as if in a rush became significantly worse in all possible ways - and that's where we leave our heroine.

As I say, I expect at least some of the tragedy to get reversed and resolved in the course of the third book (or else I'll be very vexed indeed), and there may even be some explanation for the coincidence, though I'm not holding my breath for that one.

Apart from those issues, I did enjoy this. Olivia's snark is in full flight, with observations like "the one thing Samantha was insecure about was her security," which I thought was clever. Her reactions to the situations she finds herself in are convincingly teenage without being pathetic; she's tough, but she's far from heartless. Things matter to her, and she's driven by them into bad situations, which is a great way to create a story.

I'm definitely looking forward to the third book, and some answers.

I obtained a copy of this book via Netgalley for purposes of review.

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Monday, 12 May 2014

Review: Derelict

Derelict by L.J. Cohen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My first encounters with science fiction as a pre-teen were the classic space operas of Andre Norton, including the Solar Queen books, about a young man's adventures on an interstellar trader. In my teenage years, I enjoyed Harry Harrison and Robert Heinlein's space operas, and I still love a good space opera - I'm a huge Vorkosigan fan.

This is a good space opera. It has the classic elements: resourceful young people facing danger that might be beyond their resourcefulness, a technological emergency, pulling together to solve the problem, a contained environment. It has more than that, though. Each of the characters is beautifully set up with a set of excellent reasons to be angry and distrustful and to want to escape. And then they're thrust into a situation where they need to calm down, team up and work on getting back home.

All five of the young characters get to be viewpoint characters, so we get to see inside their heads and understand why they act the way they do. Nobody acts out of character, and the ways in which they change are organic and believable. The plot fits together like a watch, with no excess parts, and the challenges they face include realistic injuries. The end, while giving a sense of hopefulness, isn't all neatly tied up in a bow for all the characters, which I liked.

I have a special fondness for Derelict, because it was seeing Chris Howard's amazing cover for it that led me to ask him to do my book covers (one of my better decisions). I was also a beta reader on a much rougher earlier version. This version has been tightened up a lot, the more obviously-cribbed-from-Star-Trek elements rewritten and some (though not all) of the more obvious technobabble problems and science problems fixed. In the version I just read, there are a number of missed copy edits and a few points at which it's not immediately clear who's speaking, but I've sent the author some notes and hopefully she will fix those before publication. I know her on Google+, if that's not already obvious; we've beta-read for each other, and I received a copy from her at no charge for purposes of review.

I give four stars to any book I enjoy that isn't also a triumph of beautiful writing and/or a profound reflection on the human condition. While Derelict doesn't, by that definition, reach the five-star level (nor is it aiming to), on my subscale within four stars, where 0 is "just above mediocre" and 9 is "just below amazing", I'd have to put it at least at a 7, knocking confidently on the door of 8.

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Thursday, 8 May 2014

Review: The Wood Beyond the World

The Wood Beyond the World
The Wood Beyond the World by William Morris

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I read this largely because I enjoyed the author's Well at the World's End so much, and, if I'm honest, because I wanted something short to read to catch up a bit on my 2014 review challenge. I was disappointed in it, though. It doesn't have the depth of the slightly later book (they were published two years apart), and the story itself is not as satisfying, nor is the main character as strong.

Golden Walter, the MC here, is what I call a spoiled protagonist. He ends up with benefits that he doesn't earn. In fact, he's not particularly admirable, despite the author's constant Mary Suing of him.

When the book opens, he's having marital problems: his wife is unfaithful (totally not his fault, the author assures us). Instead of confronting this in any way at all, he tells his wealthy merchant father, "I'm off to sea on one of your ships, Dad. Deal with the unfaithful wife thing, would you?" (Except in a long-winded pseudo-archaic style which, while very competently done, does get a bit tedious.)

He sails off, and eventually gets word that his father has been killed in a confrontation with his in-laws over the way he dealt with Walter's wife. Starts sailing back, not very keen to deal with the situation (still), and is actually quite glad when the ship is blown off course.

In a strange country (where everyone speaks his language; this happens throughout the book), meets an old hermit type who gives him some information, and walks off, abandoning his responsibilities to his crew and his family and everyone else, because (on no grounds whatsoever) he thinks he might find three people who he's several times had visions of: an ugly, misshapen dwarf, a beautiful maid, and a drop-dead gorgeous lady.

He does, in fact, find them. The maid is a thrall to the lady, and the maid and Walter fall instantly in love. They don't exchange names, though, and he doesn't mention that he's still technically married (I'm not sure that this ever comes up between them at any point). She's just "the Maid" throughout the book. In other words, she's not so much a character as an archetype.

She's in need of rescue from the lady, though in the end he doesn't rescue her. The lady has magical powers; the maid does also, though not so strongly. There's some complication about a king's son who is the lady's current lover, but they're tiring of each other, and the maid, knowing her mistress, forgives Walter in advance for letting himself be seduced by her (since not only is she very attractive, but she's also very powerful, and saying no to her isn't really an option). Walter rescues the lady from a lion, but it turns out to be an illusion. He doesn't rescue the maid from the king's son, who wants to sleep with her, though to be fair the maid says she'll handle it herself (and does).

The maid tricks the lady into killing the king's son, thinking she's killing Walter, and then the lady, acting very much out of character, kills herself, all while Walter is elsewhere - so neither of them have to kill the lady, which would be both difficult and kind of not the right thing for heroic characters to do, even though she's evil in some never-really-defined way.

The maid goes and joins Walter outside, and they flee. He kills the dwarf (about the only unambiguously protagonistic thing he does in the whole book).

They can't have sex yet, because the maid's magic will go when she loses her virginity. It's maid's magic. So they travel through the country of some relatively noble savages (who are dark-skinned, but only by suntanning, not like those nasty blackamoors, says the narrator), and the maid fools them into thinking that she's their goddess in order to get them through.

They enter a civilised country, and it turns out completely by chance that the king has just died without an heir, and in those circumstances they have a custom of meeting travelers from the mountains on this road and making them king, randomly. They have to deserve it, but the bar appears to be fairly low, and Walter, more by good luck than good management, does the right thing and ends up as king without having to earn it. He declares that the maid is his queen (they don't appear to go through anything so formal as a marriage ceremony, and since that would be bigamy for him that's probably just as well), and they live happily ever after.

As a pseudo-medieval story, complete with old-fashioned vocabulary, prejudice against Muslims and Africans, pious Christian words that never translate into anything that might affect behaviour, heroes who randomly succeed just because they're heroes, and women who are either whores, maids or witches if they're not good wives and mothers, it is, I suppose, faithful to the source material. That doesn't make it a good story today, and I suspect it didn't in 1894, when it was published.

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Monday, 5 May 2014

Review: Crooks and Straights

Crooks and Straights
Crooks and Straights by Masha du Toit

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Now, this is something out of the ordinary: A contemporary YA fantasy set in South Africa. For a non-South African, that means that cultural distance is built right in, to a greater degree than in most fantasies set in other worlds. That's a feature, not a fault. It adds interest, though I was glad that my Kindle dictionary has a good vocabulary of South African words. I could mostly tell from context what a word meant in general - this is a food, that's a term of address - but to get the full significance I had to check the dictionary.

The book itself has potential. It's free from plot holes, stupid tropes and characters acting like idiots in order to advance a predetermined sequence of events, which is itself refreshing. The world, which is not our world exactly (magical beings and magic use are common and almost everyday), is well imagined and well conveyed. The characters are varied and diverse, and I had no trouble keeping them straight in my head.

I did feel, though, that there were either too many characters and plot threads, or the book was too short, because a number of the characters and plot threads didn't end up being that important to the main thrust of the story. I realise they may be getting set up for future books, since this appears to be the start of a series, but especially in the first half of the book I felt that the plot lacked direction and a sense of urgency. A lot of things happen, a lot of characters say and do things, but the time devoted to them doesn't always seem proportionate to their ultimate importance in the primary plot, and that primary plot doesn't really get going in earnest until about halfway through.

I'd also like to feel a little more of the struggle that the main character goes through. As the book goes on, issues, threats and losses pile up, but I didn't get as full a sense of their weight as I thought they deserved. At one point the main character has to give up a long-held dream in order to protect another family member. I needed to see more of both the struggle and loss of giving up that dream and the love that led to doing so. Like the author, I come from a British Commonwealth country where emotion is not always shown, and I've had the same criticism of my writing, so I understand where it's coming from, but it's an aspect that I think has room for improvement.

The writing style is generally competent, though I did find a few issues, mostly typos and a bad habit of putting an excess comma before the main verb. It's better than many native English speakers write, and I think the author has English as a second language.

On my sub-scale within the four-star space, from 0 (just above mediocre) to 9 (just below amazing), I give this book a 4. It could easily be a 6 or 7 if there was more clarity in the main character's stakes and emotional reactions, starting earlier in the book. It's a well-imagined setting, the characters are interesting and the writing capable.

I know the author on Google+, and she provided me with a copy for review.

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