Review: Blood Song

Blood Song (Raven’s Shadow: Book 1) [Downpour | Audible]
By Anthony Ryan, Narrated by Steven Brand for Penguin Audio
Length: 23 hours, 8 minutes

In a time where people are chomping at the bit for George R.R. Martin’s next installment in A Song of Ice and Fire, there’s no shortage of epic fantasy novels to choose from. Anthony Ryan’s debut novel Blood Song has seemingly come out of nowhere, and it’s easy to see why so many of Martin’s readers are devouring it: Blood Song feels a lot like the continuing adventures of Jon Snow. An estranged father drops off his only son to be raised at a sacred order. We follow young Vaelin Al-Sorna through his training to become a brother of the sixth order as he survives desolate landscapes, discovers the secrets behind his father and mother’s romance (as well as his father’s infidelities), foils surprise attacks and assassinations, finds forbidden love, discovers dark prophecies and ancient evils, and becomes the warrior leader we all knew he’d end up becoming. There’s even a giant wolf or two.

For some, that’ll be enough. The same friend who finally talked me in to giving A Game of Thrones a chance five years ago hounded me to read Blood Song for about a month because (like the titular song for our young hero) he couldn’t get it out of his head. And I can see why – Ryan definitely knows how to tell a story. But it’s a story most of us have heard many times before.

For me, Blood Song is a perfectly adequate Epic Fantasy that made me realize how bored I am with Epic Fantasy in general. It has an Epic Fantasy Greatest Hits vibe going for that you’d expect to hear covered at your local karaoke tavern. And I get the comfort and enjoyment out of that – really, I do. Blood Song is not badly written (though I did feel the final chapter was a bit too much monologuing and revelations) and Steven Brand’s excellent narration made listening relatively enjoyable. But it’s like a Nickleback song – you’ve heard it before, and you’ve probably heard it done better. Maybe that’s part of the appeal – there aren’t any real surprises here. Our hero is always in danger, except you never actually believe he’s going to lose. The setting is typical European medieval. In the end, Blood Song is not a bad book, but it is predictable and safe. This stands in stark (heh) comparison to Martin – an author who may take a long time to get there, but one I feel like manages to surprise me by his choices.

I don’t doubt Anthony Ryan is a talented author, and Steven Brand is a very gifted narrator. But Blood Song made me realize I’ve been wandering the desert that’s become Epic Fantasy for way too long, and I’m craving something new at the next oasis.

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Release Week: The Queen of the Tearling, Alias Hook, California, A Plunder of Souls, Landline, To Kill a Mockingbird, Close Your Eyes Hold Hands, and How to Survive a Sharknado

JULY 2-8, 2014: Another fantastic week’s worth of audiobooks has come our way, from beloved Pulitzer-winning classics in audiobook (and ebook) for the first time to post-apocalyptic sf and epic fantasy, Peter Pan retold, historical fantasy, and time-travel romance. Also out this week: Terry Brooks returns to Shannara (read by Simon Vance), along with new audiobooks from Chris Bohjalian and Veronica Roth, and a standalone short audiobook from Neil Gaiman, his The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains which appeared in the fantastic Stories anthology in 2010. In terms of news this week, Mary Robinette Kowal announced the sale of three novels to Audible, and the World Fantasy Award nominees were announced as well, with all six novels available in audio. Also, there’s a bunch of newly added titles in the further-ahead listings, mostly pulled from The Millions preview of what’s yet to come this year. Enjoy! And if you’re new to audiobooks, among the many ways to get started are: you can try Audible with a free audiobook or get your first 3 months at Audible for $7.49/month; try a free 30-day trial at audiobook streaming service; or sign up for a $12.99 monthly membership at DRM-free


The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen Alias Hook by Lisa Jensen Continue reading

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Review: The Shining Girls

The Shining Girls
By Lauren Beukes, read by Khristine Hvam, Peter Ganim, Jay Snyder, Joshua Boone, Dani Cervone, and Jenna Hellmuth
Length 10 hours, 36 minutes

The Shining Girls is like the Magic Tree House from hell, where we trade a magical portal of benevolent discovery for the sinister house Harper Curtis discovers – house that feeds him with the names of victims he’s destined to brutally murder. A Prohibition-era drifter all too ready to except his fate, Harper skips  through 20th century Chicago, tearing through these Shining Girls like a horrific modern-day Jack the Ripper.

Lauren Beukes has a gift for prose. She makes the words and dialogue slash and sparkle like sharp, moonlit blades. And she builds solid, compelling characters in Kirby – the sole victim who survived Harper’s attacks – and Dan, a burned out newspaper reporter, and each of the Shining Girls. For better or for worse, the majority of our time is uncomfortably spent with Harper, and the women he slaughters. I often found myself wanting to get back to Kirby and Dan as they worked together, because they had such great rapport, and were easy to route for, despite their flaws. I’m not sure I’d call Harper compelling, exactly. He’s unflinchingly written as a monster, one who seems human enough on surface, but one who is all evil beneath. Credit where credit is due – Buekes thankfully never romanticizes him, or makes him anything shy of monstrous. But it always felt like a chore to come back to his bloody narrative.

As a result, I can’t say I loved this book. I knew it was going to be disturbing going into it, and it became pretty emotionally devastating to be introduced to each of the Shining Girls – Harper’s eventual victims – dripping with lavish period detail and characterization, only to have them horrifically killed off within the next twenty minutes. Maybe that’s the point – to give faces to the faceless victims of time, who were taken from us long before they should have been, to provide us with an unflinching portrait of these women. But all the gruesome violence against these characters worked against it in the long run. When another woman appears who is fated by Beukes and Harper to die a gristly death, it becomes difficult to become too invested in them, and instead, they become less than characters.

The narration assembled by Hachette is nothing short of impressive. Khristine Hvam nails Kirby’s obsessive, jaded, survivor. Jay Snyder plays reporter Latino reporter Dan, which is a bit of white-washed casting, but as long as Snyder isn’t speaking Spanish, he does a nice job, and he and Kirby are very easy to root for. As Harper Curtis, Ganim is completely unnerving. I’m pretty sure I flinched whenever a chapter started from his POV (and I mean this as a compliment). Harper’s Victims – the Shining Girls themselves – were expertly done by the rest of the supporting cast.

The Shining Girls isn’t the masterpiece I know Beuekes will one day give us, and it’s certainly not for the faint of heart. But it’s a solid horror novel that strives to be great.

Special thanks to Hachette Audio for providing me with a review copy of this audiobook.

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Release Week: How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky, The String Diaries, Kelly Link’s Magic for Beginners, Cat Rambo’s Eyes Like Sky and Coal and Moonlight, and Clive Barker’s Weaveworld read by Simon Vance

JUNE 25-JULY 1, 2014: A fantastic crop of audiobooks this week, with picks from “nerd fiction” to Mulholland-published speculative thrillers, collections, and Clive Barker’s 1987 novel Weaveworld. More great titles in the “also out this week” listings, including the latest in Charles Stross’ Laundry Files, Peter David’s vampiric retelling of Oliver Twist, and enough high-end epic fantasy to keep you busy for a hundred hours: Anthony Ryan’s Tower Lord, Django Wexler’s The Shadow Throne, Mark Smylie’s The Barrow, and Jeff Salyards’ Veil of the Deserters. It’s also a week to welcome Kickstarter-funded and Janis Ian-narrated Catherine M. Wilson’s The Warrior’s Path to more general availability. Unfortunately one of my most-anticipated titles this week shows up in the SEEN BUT NOT HEARD listings: Tobias S. Buckell’s Hurricane Fever. But in a week with the pleasant surprise (to me at least) of collections from Link and Rambo, I suppose some things have to be forgiven. In other book news this week, the Locus Award winners were announced, and for audiobook lovers there’s something pretty cool afoot for John Scalzi’s forthcoming Lock In. Not only will there be two complete audio editions under different narrators (Wil Wheaton and Amber Benson), if you pre-order one edition you’ll get the other edition for free. Pretty neat, eh?


How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky | [Lydia Netzer] String Diaries, Stephen Lloyd Jones Continue reading

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Review: Rags and Bones

Rags & Bones
Edited by Melissa Marr and Tim Pratt, Read by Mark Cabus, Bernard Setaro Clark, and Reay Kaplan
Length: 10 hours, 58 minutes

Reboots and remakes get a bad rap. I know – that’s a controversial stance to take. For instance, let’s look at Star Wars, which has Death Star levels of angst aimed at it as if it were Alderaan, because Disney and Lucasfilm are wiping out the expanded universe. But here’s the thing – those beloved stories don’t cease to exist. A lot of those old stories and characters are imprinted on fans – not to mention wookiepdia. What does happen, is that the old stories won’t necessarily line up perfectly side by side to form a cohesive piece of a puzzle. Instead, there will be more than one puzzle now, and it’ll be difficult to say which storyline is actually cannon. Sometimes the pieces will be interchangeable. You want to know which one is cannon? Here’s the cool thing: whatever you want it to be.

Enter Rags and Bones: a collection of new stories by some of genre fiction’s biggest authors riffing off of old stories they fell in love with and either retelling them, or reinterpreting them. Continue reading

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Release Week: The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, Thorn Jack, and The Silkworm

JUNE 18-24, 2014: A fairytale recast as imaginative — but not overtly speculative — fiction by the always fantastic Genevieve Valentine, a contemporary fantasy retelling of the Scottish folk tale of Tam Lin by debut novelist Katherine Harbour, and J.K. Rownling writing as Robert Galbraith headline the last full release week in June, which also includes epic fantasy from L.E. Modesitt, sf from Mike Shepherd and Vaughn Heppner, a collection from Nancy Fulda, and several books from Ira Levin’s backlist including This Perfect Day and Son of Rosemary. Unfortunately it’s a pretty good crop of “seen but not heard” books this week as well, including Octavia Butler’s Unexpected Stories, A.M. Dellamonica’s Child of a Hidden Sea, and Gail Z. Martin’s Deadly Curiosities. Some audiobook casting news to pass along this week, from Blackstone Audio: “We’re excited to announce that Carolyn McCormick, Bronson Pinchot, and Xe Sands will be narrating Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer, the final book in the Southern Reach Trilogy, due 9/2!” Meanwhile there has already been a trio of fantastic mid-week releases, including Mark Smylie’s The Barrow read by Michael Page, Clive Barker’s Weaveworld read by Simon Vance, and an Audible release for Catherine M. Wilson’s The Warrior’s Path: When Women Were Warriors read by Janis Ian, previously available only to Kickstarter supporters and directly through Dog Ear Audio. Look for more on those audiobooks next week!



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Release Week: Bears Discover Fire, The Quick, Rogues, The Fever, high-end sf sequels, and Luke Daniels, Luke Daniels, Luke Daniels

JUNE 11-17, 2014: There is an absolute avalanche of outstanding audio this week, comprised mostly of audiobooks we’ve been anticipating for a good while now, but led by a breathtaking surprise: Terry Bisson’s 1993 collection Bears Discover Fire and Other Stories. There’s high-end sf (Cibola Burn, The Long Mars, On the Steel Breeze), there’s historically-set fantasy (The Quick), there’s comedic fantasy (Spell or High Water) and urban fantasy (Shattered, Half-Off Ragnarok) and an sf/thriller hyrbid (A Better World) and the latest GRRM/Dozois original anthology (Rogues), new fiction from Dave Eggers, Janie Chang’s Three Souls, the conclusion to Leigh Bardugo’s Greisha trilogy, and! still more this week as well, a week where it was too hard to not just go with this full double handful of picks, and even then having to really squint to make the final cuts. (And I didn’t even yet get to mention fantasy author Zachary Jernigan’s turn as narrator on Tim Marquitz’s Armageddon Bound or Daniel Jose Older reading his own collection Salsa Nocturna.) Happy listening!


Bears Discover Fire, and Other Stories | [Terry Bisson] The Quick: A Novel | [Lauren Owen]

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Release Week: The Goblin Emperor, The Girl with All the Gifts, Koko Takes a Holiday, and Pills and Starships

JUNE 3-10, 2014: Another fantastic release week this week, from fantasy to sf to all kinds of stuff in between, both in the picks of the week and beyond, though some of my most-anticipated books of the month end up in the “seen but not heard” list as well. Meanwhile, there’s a second Recorded Books Humble Audiobook Bundle ongoing through June 24/25, offering a chance to “pay what you want” for a set of audiobooks including Pierce Brown’s Red Rising, Cory Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, and Michael J. Sullivan’s Hollow World. And there’s a lot of award news to pass along this week: Strange Bodies by Marcel Theroux (Faber & Faber/Farrar, Straus, and Giroux) won this year’s John W. Campbell Memorial Award; the British Fantasy Award nominees have been announced including (among others) Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Sofia Samatar’s A Stranger in Olondria, Lauren Beukes’ The Shining Girls, and Nathan Ballingrud’s North American Lake Monsters; the Mythopoeic Award finalists have also been announced, also including Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane along with Max Gladstone’s Three Parts Dead, Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Jinni, Yangsze Choo’s The Ghost Bride, and Mark H. Williams’ Sleepless Knights; and the David Gemmell Award winners have been presented: Brian McClellan won the Morningstar Award for best debut novel for Promise of Blood, and Mark Lawrence won the Legend Award for best fantasy novel for Emperor of Thorns. There’s plenty more coming this month – in fact already out as this roundup is fully a week late in coming – so get listening!


The Goblin Emperor The Girl with All the Gifts | [M. R. Carey]

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Release Week: Six-Gun Snow White, The River of Souls, The Dark Between the Stars, Prince of Fools, The Science of Discworld, and Mr. Mercedes

MAY 28-JUNE 3, 2014: June got off to a big start, with star-spanning sf (Kevin J. Anderson’s The Dark Between the Stars), epic fantasy (Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Fools), historical almost-supernatural thriller (Robert McCammon’s The River of Souls), a fairytale recast in the Wild West (Catherynne M. Valente’s Six-Gun Snow White), and yes, horror from Stephen King (Mr. Mercedes). In the ALSO OUT listings there’s an Expanse novella from James S.A. Corey along with Chandler Klang Smith’s 2013 debut Goldenland Past Dark and Marc Levy’s new sf thriller Replay, fiction (Lily King’s Euphoria read by Xe Sands, Emma Straub’s The Vacationers), and plenty more. Some highly-anticipated books in the SEEN BUT NOT HEARD roundup as well, including S.T. Joshi’s Searchers After Horror, Ytasha Womack’s Rayla 2212, Genevieve Valentine’s The Girls of the Kingfisher Club, and Alastair Reynolds’ On the Steel Breeze — but thankfully nearly all of these are set for audio release later this month. Among another big crop of newly ADDED listings: Susan Klaus’ Flight of the Golden Harpy later this month, Josh Weil’s The Great Glass Sea in July, Mike Allen’s collection Unseaming in October, and George R.R. Martin’s latest Wild Cards book, Lowball, in November. Enjoy!


 The River of Souls: Matthew Corbett, Book 5 | [Robert McCammon]

Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente, read by Julia Whelan is out from Dreamscape Media this week as Valente’s Nebula-and-Hugo-nominated January 2013 novella from Subterranean Press gets an audio edition: “A plain-spoken, appealing narrator relates the history of her parents – a Nevada silver baron who forced the Crow people to give up one of their most beautiful daughters, Gun That Sings, in marriage to him. With her mother’s death in childbirth, so begins a heroine’s tale equal parts heartbreak and strength.” Buy: [Downpour]

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Top 25 most-anticipated books of June 2014

Everyone has their own lists, but here’s ours: what we’re most looking forward to this month, in chronological order of release, with audiobook information if we know about it. (I tried holding the list to 10 as I managed for last month’s preview, but after a second pass cutting as much as I was close to happy with, I was still in the 30s. Trimming further to 25 was hard enough!)



Searchers After Horror edited by S.T. Joshi (Fedogan and Bremer, June 1) — The first of two anthologies on my list this month includes 21 “New Tales of the Weird and Fantastic” around the theme “the Weird place” and all but one are original to this anthology. Authors include (among others) Melanie Tem, John Shirley, Ramsey Campbell, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Steve Rasnic Tem, and Nick Mamatas (“Exit Through the Gift Shop”), all in a high-end hardcover edition which, granted, has been spotted in the wild a bit ahead of this publication date. Audio: No audiobook news. Buy: [Amazon] Continue reading

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