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Envy of Angels

Matt Wallace. Tor.com, $12.99 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-0-7653-8528-4

Culinary hijinks are taken to the extreme in this entertaining novella by Wallace (the Slingers Saga). Lena and Darren are chefs who have been blackballed in the high-end restaurant community, so when they get a call from Byron Luck, the executive chef of catering company Sin du Jour, requesting their services, they jump at the chance. They soon find out, however, that Sin du Jour is no ordinary catering company, and their clients are downright devilish. They’ve been hired to help cater an event for some very dangerous entities, and the main course is fittingly over-the-top. Quite a bit is packed into this short read, including warring demon clans, angels, zombie clowns, and even some sneaky commentary on consumer culture, topped with a healthy helping of satire. The fast pace and quirky characters make for a zippy read, and there’s a clever twist at the end that will leave readers grinning and hoping for more stories featuring the Sin du Jour gang. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Gideon Smith and the Mask of the Ripper

David Barnett. Tor, $15.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-7653-3426-8

The third installment of Barnett’s lively Victorian pulp/steampunk adventure series (after Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon) finds “Hero of the Empire” Gideon Smith and friends chasing a murderer in gaslit London, where Jack the Ripper is “slicing off the tops of whores’ heads as though he’s looking for something.” Spymaster Walsingham and intrepid reporter Aloysius Bent suspect the Ripper might be seeking a mysterious artifact used by the missing professor Hermann Einstein to bring Maria, a clockwork woman, to life. Capture the Ripper, Walsingham thinks, and they will find Einstein. But of course it’s not that simple. Barnett cheerfully borrows from classic authors and a little actual history to weave his tangled plot, full of mistaken identity, hypnotism, romantic complications, a mysterious man in black, and a runaway dinosaur. While the plot drags in spots, Barnett creates some provocative and genuinely dark moments, and an intriguing cliffhanger sets up his next book. Fans of pulp adventure and steampunk settings will enjoy this strong series. Agent: John Jarrold, John Jarrold Literary Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Champion of the Scarlet Wolf, Book 2

Ginn Hale. Blind Eye (blindeyebooks.com), $18.95 trade paper (578p) ISBN 978-1-935560-34-0

In this lengthy second half of the Champion of the Scarlet Wolf duology, Hale pits her heroes and lovers against almost insurmountable odds in a fantasy world torn apart by war. The street witch Skellan, revealed to be a member of the nobility, has reluctantly taken up his proper role as Count Hilthorn Radulf and assumed control of the beleaguered city of Milmuraille. He has also claimed Cadeleonian nobleman Elezar as his champion and companion, much to the long-closeted Elezar’s surprise. Before they can claim a happy ending, they must deal with city politics and assassination attempts, as well as the greater threat: with the city’s magical wards destroyed, the ancient witch-queens called grimma and their enthralled armies of beasts and magical creatures march forth, destroying everything in their path. To defeat unkillable forces of nature, Skellan and Elezar risk everything. Hale continues to satisfy with capable worldbuilding and a strong emotional narrative that fuels the core romance between the leads, gradually raising the stakes and the tension before resolving it all in an epic and entertaining magical confrontation. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Chaos Unleashed

Drew Karpyshyn. Del Rey, $16 trade paper (416p) ISBN 978-0-345-54937-2

The torpid final volume of the Chaos Born trilogy (after The Scorched Earth) reintroduces its array of archetypal characters and multiple narrative threads for new readers, but as a consequence, the plot moves glacially slowly for those not already invested. Reader involvement is hampered by bland, obvious dialogue. Mage Keegan, warrior Scythe, and visionary Jerrod try to overcome exhaustion and depression while deciphering the best way to use magical talismans to oppose their foe, the demigod Daemron. Their wounded compatriot Cassandra guards the talisman crown, accepting aid from sensible healer Methodis, Chaos mage Rexol, and brutish pirate Bo-Shing. Meanwhile, warrior nomad Shalana and exiled Danaan prince Vaaler meander across the fantasy landscape, semi-accidentally building an army as they seek to aid Keegan and face down generic zealot Yasmin. The welcome reunion of Keegan and Scythe with Cassandra is marred by a brief, tension-free final showdown that does little to salvage a lackluster narrative. Agent: Ginger Clark, Curtis Brown Literary Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Rising Tide

Rajan Khanna. Pyr, $17 trade paper (268p) ISBN 978-1-63388-100-6

This exciting sequel to 2014’s Falling Sky picks up where the earlier postapocalyptic steampunk tale left off, with airship captain Ben Gold having sacrificed his beloved ship, Cherub, to protect the hidden city of Tamoanchan from attack by ruthless raiders. Unfortunately, he’s saved by an old ally turned bitter enemy and has to trade his services for survival, leading to a perilous journey across the wasteland and through the skies of a future Earth inhabited by the feral and the dying. Ben will do whatever it takes to save himself and his newfound love, Miranda, a scientist dedicated to curing the plague that has nearly wiped out humankind. But despite his best intentions, Ben finds it hard to overcome his old nature and reputation as someone who cuts and runs when things get bad. Khanna crafts a terrifyingly dismal picture of the future, raising the stakes by gradually stripping Ben of friends and support while throwing him into increasingly dire situations. His worldbuilding remains solid and unsettling, and he never loses sight of the human element. The cliffhanger ending is sure to leave readers on the edges of their seats, panting for resolution. Agent: Barry Goldblatt, Barry Goldblatt Literary Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Dark Screams, Vol. 5

Edited by Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar. Random/Hydra, $2.99 e-book (160p) ISBN 978-0-8041-7665-1

Freeman and Chizmar’s fifth horror anthology runs the gamut from throwback horror to lyrical and heartbreaking tales, with a few duds. The crown jewel is Kealan Patrick Burke’s luminous “The Land of Sunshine,” about a husband guilty of infidelity who gives the ultimate gift to win his wife’s forgiveness. Another standout is Mick Garris’s gonzo “Everything You’ve Always Wanted,” a gory, darkly funny tale about a has-been movie director who meets the woman of his dreams at a horror convention, with disastrous results. Less successful are J. Kenner’s New Orleans ghost story, “The One and Only,” in which a man’s broken heart leads him into darkness; Del James’s “Mechanical Gratitude,” about a classic Camaro and the man who loves the vehicle to death; and “The Playhouse” by Bentley Little, about a woman who enters a child’s playhouse, finding it preferable to the real world and her cold husband. Loosely tied together with themes of broken hearts and wayward love, this collection will satisfy most horror fans. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Minotaur

J.A. Rock. Riptide (riptidepublishing.com), $17.99 trade paper (275p) ISBN 978-1-62649-313-1

Rock (The Grand Ballast) skillfully blends romantic adventure into a darkly gorgeous and psychologically rich retelling of Greek myth with queer women at its center. The ambiguous hero is brooding teen Thera Ballard, who has a tentative alliance with her fellow outcast girls of Rock Point Girls’ Home. Her deep fascination with the terrible half-woman, half-bull Minotaur (who often appears in her dreams) leads her to escape to the labyrinth at the edge of town. She voluntarily enters the maze in search of beauty and insight about the villain who “showed the hero who she might become.” The first part of the book is a down-to-earth story about coming of age in an institution with mean girls, dangerous secrets, and the stirrings of young love. Thera’s human perspective keeps the reader connected with the intense magical strangeness of the labyrinth and its inhabitants and phantoms, as well as with Thera’s emotional journey, as the text takes on the surrealism of a fairy tale. Rock changes the myth just enough to find a new message that feels like it was there all along. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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A Call to Arms

David Weber, Timothy Zahn, and Thomas Pope. Baen, $26 (384p) ISBN 978-1-4767-8085-6

A plot to overthrow Manticore’s government brings brilliant but insufferable Lt. Travis Long and his former shipmates together against a common foe in the second book of the Manticore Ascendant series (after A Call to Duty), set in the early years of Weber’s Honor Harrington space opera universe. The plotting is as solid as ever, with smaller scenes building to an explosive, action-packed crescendo, and the authors strike a nice balance between technical details of space flight and the human cost of war. They successfully build up Manticore’s importance in galactic space and its internal struggle to achieve its position. Disappointingly, however, there’s not a lot of thematic separation from the first book: scenes of jockeying for power in Parliament, a hidden foe, and Travis thinking outside the box to defeat evil may give fans of the series a bad sense of déjà vu. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Departure

A.G. Riddle. Harper Voyager, $21.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-06-243166-0

Mysterious plane crashes in deserted countrysides are likely to bring up memories of a certain TV show, but this light revision of a self-published bestseller dwells more on the decisions people have to make in stressful and unexplained circumstances. Unhappy venture capitalist Nick Stone and conflicted writer Harper Lane are on the doomed flight, and they have surprising responses to finding that the crash has deposited them in 2147 England, which has been shaped by their decisions in their native time of the 21st century. The crash itself turns out to be no accident but an attempt to redeem previous mistakes that come close to dooming humanity. Riddle (the Origin Mystery trilogy) makes an effort to keep the focus on how his characters react to each other (including to their future selves) rather than to the technological marvels that reshaped their world. But the scale of those marvels—thousand-foot dams across Gibraltar, orbital habitats, immortality, Stonehenge under glass—is what will draw the reader’s attention most strongly, particularly when the character interaction falls into well-worn paths. Agent: Danny Baror, Scovil Galen Ghosh Literary Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Perchance to Dream

Charles Beaumont. Penguin Classics, $16 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-14-310765-1

The legacy of prolific author Beaumont (1929–1967) might be better preserved with a less exhaustive collection. The repeated use of unlikable protagonists getting their comeuppance as a core story concept, and the preponderance of nagging, unpleasant women, bury much of the better, more thoughtful work in the collection. The most interesting and touching stories include “The Magic Man,” in which a traveling magician who makes his living selling patent medicine survives on the adoration and love of his audience, and “In His Image,” a story about what a man will do for love when he comes to understand his own true nature. Readers are advised to flip past “The Jungle,” which uncomfortably exoticizes tribal Africans and punishes an unpleasant protagonist by killing his wife, and “Father, Dear Father,” the concluding joke of which has not aged well. Better curation would have saved readers the trouble of skipping around to find the gems. Agent: Susan Ramer, Don Congdon Associates. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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