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Middle Waters

John Clarke. Wet Street, $12.95 trade paper (374p) ISBN 978-0-9863749-1-3

This SF thriller starts out well and displays some nice touches of humor, but the resolution may disappoint genre readers. Clarke, a veteran Navy diving scientist, is especially effective in translating his expertise into fiction in the gripping opening chapter, as an unusual incident claims the lives of two divers off the coast of Alabama. Someone, or something, ripped the helmet off one of the men; the other died of the bends after he saw some “bizarre, bright orange geometric figures” who conveyed a cryptic apology. The mystery of the divers’ deaths, and a slew of other oddities—a patch of cold dark water that kills everything in its path, an extraterrestrial unidentified submerged object—engage scientist Jason Parker. He begins to experience some anomalies himself, including hearing voices advising him to stay alert. There are some light moments; Jason can’t believe that a colleague is “from another planet, especially not a planet of telepathic frogs.” But the suspense of the opening isn’t sustained, and the ending will divide readers along political lines. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Automation: The Circo Del Herrero Series, Book 1

G.B. Gabbler. SOB, $14.99 trade paper (376p) ISBN SBN 978-0-692-25971-9

Naggingly self-conscious but somehow charming, this urban fantasy revolves around a fast and furious updating of Greek myth. In the distant past, the god Vulcan created a handful of Automatons—metallic but malleable beings capable of soul-sharing with a human being—to serve as protectors of humanity. Now the Automatons are distributed among an eclectic and decidedly eccentric bunch known as the Masters, some of whom are actively plotting against the others. All this is explained later in the book, long after ignorant protagonist Odys Odelyn receives the gift of a sexy copper Automaton and becomes the focus of the other Masters’ suspicions and schemes. It’s obvious that many games are being played at different levels. Unfortunately, the writer is so determined to be clever that interjections and footnotes keep mercilessly pulling readers away from the action. Nevertheless, the complicated story is amusing, and interesting characters do peek out through gaps in the arch-supercilious writing. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Rage

Ken Shufeldt. Tor, $9.99 mass market (416p) ISBN 978-0-7653-7595-7

Shufeldt’s attempt at a tense near-future political thriller (with a drizzle of the paranormal) is instead a banal, shallow mess. When the newly elected president of the U.S. goes missing during a mission to negotiate peace between Israel and Palestine, his vice president, war hero Victor Garcia, has to assume control of the country. However, a deep-rooted international conspiracy has corrupted nearly every level of the government and is manipulating events in multiple countries to bring terror to the U.S. and the Middle East. Garcia has to guide the country through terrorist attacks and natural disasters, while narrowly dodging assassination attempts, even as he and the few people he can trust root out a nest of traitors and killers. Shufeldt (Rebellion) skimps on details and complexity, opting instead for a just-the-facts recitation that fails to convey the impact of the events as they unfold. Nuclear strikes and killer tsunamis are mundane; the death tolls and destruction are mere numbers. The characters primarily serve as mouthpieces for Shufeldt’s own political and social agendas: the solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, for example, involves both heavy-handed threats and massive arms deals. Between bland prose and an over-the-top story line, there’s very little to recommend. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Soul Mates

John R. Little. JournalStone (journalstone.com), $15.95 trade paper (228p) ISBN 978-1-942712-41-1

Prolific fantasy and horror author Little (DarkNet) revels in the dark recesses of the mind and the pull of the forbidden in this tangled novel. Savannah and Alannah are identical twins who move to Seattle to escape their parents’ tragic past. Alannah soon finds love with the magician Jeremiah, who has his own demons to wrestle with. Meanwhile, both sisters are plagued by the hauntings of an unknown boy. Little writes with vivacity and a sharp eye for detail, recalling Hitchcock in his use of twists and turns and the unexpected; his characters are layered and intriguing. The book has a decidedly nonlinear narrative, which heightens suspense, but some of the places where Little weaves the separate strands together feel rushed. Readers will find the sense of immediacy refreshing and enjoy the complex, horrific story. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Veil

Chloe Neill. NAL, $15 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-451-47334-9

The bestselling author of the popular Chicagoland Vampires series heads south for her new paranormal series. In an alternate version of the present day, the shattering of the magical Veil between our world and the world beyond released paranormal invaders. The subsequent magical war devastated the American South, leaving New Orleans in ruins. Seven years after the breach, the Veil has been patched, but military containment forces continue to hunt for banned magic, murderous wraiths, and human Sensitives created by magical seepage from the Veil. French Quarter shopkeeper Claire Connelly accidentally reveals her hidden telekinetic abilities while helping to fight off a wraith. Fortunately, sexy bounty hunter Liam Quinn agrees to keep her secret as long as she learns to control her ability. Before long, Claire is helping Liam investigate the increasing deadliness of wraith attacks, but complications ensue when they uncover a plot to reopen the Veil. The story moves fitfully at first, as Neill works to establish her setting and characters, but once the foundation is laid, the pace becomes brisk. Neill’s large cast of characters offers plenty of possibilities for future series intrigue and action. Agent: Lucienne Diver, Knight Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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His Father’s Eyes

David B. Coe. Baen, $25 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4767-8062-7

Justis Fearsson, a PI who loses control of his magic abilities during the full moon, must ally with both criminals and the law to prevent a greater evil from rising to power in the enjoyable second Case Files of Justis Fearsson novel (after Spell Blind), best described as homestyle urban fantasy with extra pulp. Fans of hard-boiled crime will quickly recognize Coe’s thematic echoes here: Justis is a former cop who evades the law when he’s framed for murder and makes morally questionable decisions because there is no other choice. The underlying mystery is provided by a clever magical system that slowly kills the caster, powerful mages sworn not to interfere, and a blend of the supernatural with ordinary police affairs. A strong sense of the present-day Arizona setting, including prominent Latino characters, grounds the reader. Coe mixes spells and Sherlocking with snappy dialogue, tight pacing, and characters who catch and keep the reader’s interest. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Last Exodus: The Earthborn Trilogy, Book 1

Paul Tassi. Skyhorse/Talos, $15.99 ISBN 978-1-940456-37-9

The destruction of Earth is a mere sideshow in this well-grounded, grim tale of first contact. The alien Xalan have ravaged the planet for its water, leaving it nearly uninhabitable. Survivors Lucas and Asha ally with Alpha, a stranded Xalan scientist, to escape doomed Earth in an improvised spacecraft. Alpha, who’s accused of betraying the Xalan, attempts to unite his passengers with the Xalan’s enemies, the surprisingly human-like Soran, but a genetically modified Xalan supersoldier, Omicron, is hot on their trail and takes a personal interest in Alpha’s capture. Debut novelist Tassi gifts his characters with solid motivations and understandable responses to the postapocalyptic setting that invoke a measure of the reader’s sympathy for cannibal chieftains and alien nemeses alike. Some of the themes are well-worn, but Tassi fills in the gaps between action sequences with paeans to reassuring virtues such as hope and trust. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Sheynan Trilogy

Dylan Birtolo. Apocalypse Ink (apocalypse-ink.com), $9.99 e-book (612p) ISBN 978-1-940444-10-9

Seattle computer programmer Darien Yost unexpectedly gains shape-shifting abilities in this imaginative but disappointing urban fantasy trilogy. In “The Shadow Chaser,” Darien learns that he is a Sheynan, a being who can shift into any animal. This powerful ability soon has both the sinister Shadows and the Arm of Gaia fighting to exploit him for their own ends. In “The Bringer of War,” Darien flees to Texas with his girlfriend, Susan, and Richard, a former Marine. They encounter Bridget, another Sheynan suffering from a shape-shifter disease, who convinces Darien to help her steal ritual books that can cure her. In “The Torn Soul,” Darien and Susan return to Washington state, where a shady government agency promises Darien a lucrative job if he will consent to be examined. Along the way, Darien enters the dream world, where he recruits helpers. The reader, like Darien, never knows whom to trust. Intricate battle scenes involving shape-shifting wolves, bears, hawks, and pythons propel the action. Unfortunately, the trilogy conspicuously lacks any rules or explanation for the shape-shifting, the prose frequently stumbles, and several intriguing plot threads are left to dangle. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Last Song Before Night

Ilana C. Myer. Tor, $26.99 (400p) ISBN 978-0-7653-7830-9

In the complicated epic fantasy world of Myer’s debut novel, only men can become poets, play harps, set their work to music, and become magical Seers. Traumatized young heroine Lin is tormented by her sadistic brother and miserable that she cannot openly follow her musical vocation. After being surreptitiously trained in music and magic by the great poet-Seer Valanir Ocune, Lin escapes her brother and embarks on a dangerous journey to find a portal to the Otherworld and secure the true Silver Branch that empowers poets—an act of treason against the evil court poet, Nickon Gerrard, the power behind the throne. Lin endures increasingly horrific trials and humiliations, several of which emphasize the oppression of women; in Myer’s narrative, men must accept the necessity of self-sacrifice before their redemption can be achieved. Despite jarring modern dialogue and some foggy lapses in character development, Lin’s quest moves steadily to an effective though expected conclusion, leaving room for adventures to come. Agent: John Silbersack, Trident Media Group. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Man Who Spoke Snakish

Andrus Kivirähk, trans. from the Estonian by Christopher Moseley. Grove Atlantic/Black Cat, $16 trade paper (448p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2412-8

Leemet is a child of the forest who communicates with animals in the ancient language of Snakish and dreams of seeing the godlike Frog of the North. The pull of village life is irresistible to many of the forest people, and Leemet and his family are among the few who remain in the forest. His loneliness is somewhat assuaged by his friendship with the adder Ints. At its best, this peculiar coming-of-age story explores interesting themes of religion and lost culture. However, readers unused to wandering aimlessly in the thickets of allegory and folklore may also balk at the frequent scatological references and portrayals of frisky bears that stalk young women in the hopes of mating with them. This lengthy, patience-trying work was a runaway hit in its native Estonia, making one wonder just how much was lost in translation. Agent: Frédéric Martin, Éditions Le Tripode (France). (Nov.)

Reviewed on 07/03/2015 | Details & Permalink

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