Space Gals and Furry Pals: A review of Library of the Sapphire Wind by Jane Lindskold

Our reviews section spilled over and we didn’t have enough space to review all of the books Baen sent us in the magazine, so we’re running a couple of them here! Be sure to pick up the Fall Issue out now in Softcover, Hardcover, and eBook! The issue currently out has J. Comer’s review of Pournelle’s Janissaries series.

     The late Ursula K. Le Guin authored A Wizard of Earthsea, The Left Hand of Darkness and more than sixty other books. While her SF and fantasy are her legacy, Le Guin also penned her share of nonfiction. In her essay “The Space Crone,”[1] she imagines an older woman (rather than the usual men and boys) as the ideal ambassador to other worlds, as she would know more of human existence. “Into the space ship, Granny,” she urged.

     Jane Lindskold took apart the ‘crazy cat lady’ stereotype in the Man-Kzin tale, “Two Kinds of Teeth,” and she takes Le Guin’s idea and flies with it in Library Of The Sapphire Wind. Three old ladies attending a book club find themselves drawn by magic into a world peopled by anthropomorphic animal-folk (“furries”) and sent on a quest for the eponymous library aboard a flying ship. This author is fond of animal characters, as evidenced by her Firekeeper Saga and its wolves, but her furries are remarkably tasteful. At the library, the old ladies and their furry pals explore the ruined setting, battle the local monsters, and begin to find both wisdom and atonement for the misdeeds of their parents. The humans must be concealed. At a desert necropolis, the story unfolds further. We learn of a missing child, and a long-broken artifact, and a deal. The adventuring party returns to the Library, fights a huge battle, and… The story ends. Huh?

     The story has some issues.  The dramatic tension of teleporting the three heroes into a world without prescription medication, special diets, or therapy is resolved too quickly.  Humans can breathe the air, eat the food, even smoke the ‘weeds’ of an alien planet? Really?  The old-lady heroes are promising but not well developed as characters. And the ending of the novel (which is part of the “Over Where” series) is much too abrupt. This book might appeal to readers of second-world fantasy with furries taking the place of elves and gnomes. I can imagine reading it to kids at bedtime or in classroom storytime, but it needs a stronger ending (perhaps the next book will address this).

     A Facebook meme that has been current across the last five years pays homage to the space crone. It goes, “I’d read the hell out of a series of [books about] a chosen eighty-five-year-old woman who goes on epic journeys throughout a dangerous and magical land, armed only with a cane and her stab-tastic knitting needles, accompanied by her six cats and a skittish-yet-devoted orderly who makes sure she takes her pills on time.”  When I opened Sapphire Wind, I was expecting this, more or less. If I didn’t get it, well, I still like Lindskold’s writing, furries and all. Hoping for more adventures in the “Over Where” from Lindskolsd.    


[1] In Dancing At The Edge Of The World (Grove Press, 1989)

The Little Corporal’s Legacy: A Review of A Call to Insurrection by David Weber, Timothy Zahn, and Thomas Pope

Our reviews section spilled over and we didn’t have enough space to review all of the books Baen sent us in the magazine, so we’re running a couple of them here! Be sure to pick up the Fall Issue out now in Softcover, Hardcover, and eBook! The issue currently out has J. Comer’s review of Pournelle’s Janissaries series.

     One hundred and eighty-six years after his death on St Helena, Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of the French, is still a household name. While the Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, Horatio Nelson remains a more distant romantic figure.[1]  It was a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars, Frederic Marryat, who pioneered the genre of nautical fiction.[2] In later years, meticulous research alternated with sheer melodrama in the works of numerous nautical writers.[3] One favorite is the “Horatio Hornblower” series by Cecil Smith (“C.S. Forester”), later made into movies and a TV series about the Nelson-like hero. Numerous SF authors have paid homage to Hornblower, including Leo Frankowski and David Feintuch, but perhaps the best-known of these Hornblower-in-space series is David Weber’s Honor Harrington. Honor, a gal from the kingdom of Manticore (space Britain), enlists in the Navy, has many adventures with her alien treecat, and ends up a stateswoman, admiral, and diplomat. Harrington proved so successful (fourteen novels and counting) that Weber expanded the series, including novels about Honor’s ancestor Stephanie Harrington and her colleagues. Call to Insurrection is in this latter series.[4]

     And it’s hard to follow without having read the rest of the series (which this reviewer has not done). A nobleman’s family dies in a horrific drunken “accident,” and a character investigates. There is a succession crisis among space Germans (who speak twentieth-century German in the forty-first century[5]) and rebellion which threatens worlds. Someone is killing people in graphic detail aboard the space-German ship. There is a missing heir…or is there? The Germans fight a well-written space battle which was a real pleasure to read. They win, and the Emperor of the space-Germans gets married. It’s obvious that there will be a sequel…

     …and the reviewer scratches his head.  The writing is good, and the storylines are well-drawn, though they don’t really converge.  The characters are not striking, save for Chomps the detective, whom this reviewer liked.  The huge battle at the end is finely-drawn action, but… it’s a Napoleonic sea battle.  And there, the heir of Marryat took this reader out of the story. This was surprising, since the silly rollicking action of Grossman and Frankowski was simply fun.  The present reviewer could merely scratch his head and go huh?

     The reviewer really wanted to like this book, since Weber aided Alex Pournelle in finishing the Janissaries series after Jerry Pournelle’s death.  It’s not a bad novel, honestly, and its authors are professionals.  Its problem is that it’s not a good one.  It’s a shame that its action could not keep this reader’s attention.  The reviewer would be willing to read other work by these authors.    


[1] A readable introduction to this man and his most important battle is Nelson’s Trafalgar by Roy Adkins.

[2] The ur-tale is the Odyssey, of course, but Marryat’s Mr Midshipman Easy contains all the elements of modern nautical fiction: the young middie and his adventures in the Napoleonic era, his rise through the navy and through society’s ranks, a dark-eyed lass whom he woos and weds. Midshipman Easy, and the dark horse of the novel, Mesty the prince-turned-slave, continue to inspire writers even today. Easy rises through the ranks with the help of his pal, and ends up a landed gentleman; Marryat’s humor and wordplay make the novel a pleasant read despite stereotypes and dialect writing.  The curious can find this neglected work at https://gutenberg.org/files/21553/21553-h/21553-h.htm

[3] This reviewer considers the novels of Richard Russ (“Patrick O’Brian”) to be examples of how to write nautical fiction and the work of Dudley Pope to be examples of how not to do so.

[4] Yes, it’s a novel about a friend of the ancestor of the main character.

[5] I may simply be persnickety about this, but Weber has got to know that the Spanish of Borges was Silver Age Latin, two thousand years back.

Review: Ghosts on the Block Never Sleep, by Tia Ja’nae

It is very hard to put into words what a ride this book is. Wow. Adventure, crime, political thriller, to horror. Ghosts on the Block is the story of a young woman who has been working for a car parts fence who’s getting in over his head. One more job keeps turning into “Just One More JobTM” with the stakes escalating for the heroine along with the dangers and the challenges as her skills draws the attention of a corrupt city alderman who has her fingers in the pies all over Chicago.

The writing is tight and witty, keeping things moving at a break-neck pace but never sacrificing the character development. I’m always a little iffy on present-tense writing, but here it works. The action and the heists themselves were so much fun, I could’ve read a book of them three times longer and I don’t know that it would’ve worn out its welcome.

So that corrupt city alderman? Man… Frank Booth’s got nothing on Monica. Hoowee, that lady’s EVIL! I honestly cannot think of any villain in fiction that I would rather not be within 50 miles of. I really don’t want to spoil the last turns that this novel takes, but like I said: it goes from Adventure Crime Thriller to Political Thriller to Horror.

For various reason, this book is out of print and no longer available on Amazon despite having come out at just the end of last year. It is worth it to do whatever you can to track down a copy and read this. You will not regret it [unless you’re squeamish; this gets pretty ExtremeTM towards the end.]

Five Stars and probably one of the best books I’ve read this year.

Disclaimer: We have an offer out on an unrelated piece of short fiction by Tia Ja’nae.

Review: Arminius, Bane of Eagles by Adrian Cole

Bane of Eagles is an alternate history novelization of the life of Arminius, the Germanic tribal leader who rose through the Roman ranks, betrayed Rome, and massacred three legions in the Teutoburg forest.

There are some light touches of fantastical elements, and there are of course colorful embellishments, both romantic and savage, in the telling of the story. The major “alternate” in this alternate history is that a vast conspiracy with which the druids are involved were responsible for assassinating Claudius as a youth; Germanicus is not poisoned and ends up becoming Tiberius’ successor—he is determined to avenge the losses from Augustus’ day and hound Arminius to the ends of the earth in a book that’s part sword & sandal adventure and part political thriller.

This is a bloody and brutal read, not for the faint of heart—while written largely from the pagan Germanics’ perspective, there are not “good guys,” though there are plenty of bad guys. In many ways, Arminius is a monster, though he’s a human and almost sympathetic monster. Rome itself is shown no better, in some cases worse. I’m sure that both Roman trad bros and Germanic trad bros would find stuff to be mad about, but with no dog in the Pagan vs. Pagan fight, I’m content to be entertained and watch them duke it out, cut each other’s heads off and sacrifice each other to their heathen gods.

It’s an incredibly exciting and fast paced telling with a lot to love, especially if you’re a history buff. It’s obvious that Cole has put a tremendous amount of research into this book. Worth checking out if you’re a fan of historical fiction, alternate history, and sword & sorcery.

Arminius: Bane of Eagles is out now from DMR Books.

Five Stars easy.

Disclaimer: Dave Ritzlin sent us an ARC for review and Adrian Cole is a regular contributor to Cirsova Magazine. His latest New Dream Lords story will be appearing in 2023.

Review: Rags and Muffin by D.G.D. Davidson

While I’m not especially overdue on book reviews [except for a couple I’ve been sent that I just don’t know that I’ll ever get to; sorry], I think that I’ve managed to get to a spot where I can knock three out at once this week, starting with Rags and Muffin.

I picked this up last winter around the same time as They’ll Get You and read it right afterwards, but I’m just now getting a chance to sit down and write about it. This one was a bit of a surprise, I’ll admit. All I knew going in was crime-fighting catgirl with an Asian dragon dog. I didn’t know what to expect, really. Certainly not an incredibly rich fantasy setting heavily inspired by Indian mythology.

I used to be something of a Hindu Mythology wonk in my younger years, so this was a pleasant surprise. Davidson incorporates the cultural textures without overly romanticizing them, showing both the beautiful aspects which Lord Curzon fell in love with as well as the ugly and downright evil.

Rags & Muffin takes place in a fantastical pseudo-India that’s under the control of a steampunk/magitek pseudo Romano-British empire. Humans live and work alongside furry cat-people; while they are able to interbreed, the resulting hybrids invariably die before adulthood but are revered as living gods because of the psychic experience they’re able to grant worshippers. Same psychic experience can also be harvested from a gland at the base of the brain, so they can fetch good money on the black market.

The main character is one such hybrid who has devoted her life to save her fellow hybrids from being trafficked. There’s a lot of waif-fu, though the prana-based martial arts is able to somewhat justify how Rags and her friends, the Ragtag Army, are able to hold their own against powerful crime lords and human traffickers.

There’s a lot of excellent worldbuilding in Rags & Muffin, but as a book, it’s a little all over the place in setting things up. A number of seemingly unrelated events, as well as side excursions of the main characters, tie in to the world and add a backdrop to the story but go nowhere on their own in this volume. While this volume’s main story is a simple and straightforward rescue mission that, against all odds and many complications, the main characters manage to pull off, so much of this book is devoted to setting up the puzzles and mystery boxes that I find myself feeling that I can’t judge it until I’ve read the [as yet unpublished] sequels to see if any of these threads will pay off.

If the subsequent volumes are able to stick the landing and answer the questions that this first book poses about the characters, the world they live in, and the nature of their city and the strange hybrid goddess girls, then this will be an excellent first entry. If we don’t get a sequel, or the sequels don’t provide satisfactory answers on the questions about the characters, who and what they are and what choices they’ll ultimately make, then Rags & Muffin will have been a pretty fun and entertaining, though a little long and in some spots meandering, ride that could’ve stood to have been tightened up a bit.

On its own strengths and weaknesses, it’s a solid three stars. If a sequel is able to make good on the bits that it’s laying into place, it would be bumped up to a 5.

https://www.amazon.com/Rags-Muffin-Deus-Magical-Girl/dp/1737573547

Review: Michael Gallagher’s Body and Blood

There is a genre out there of kickass gun-toting Catholic Priests who fight both worldly and supernatural enemies of the Church. I’m honestly not that well-versed in the genre, but I’m aware of it because a number of our friends have either dipped their toes into the genre or made names for themselves with some of their series. Doug Ernst’s Soulfinder comic series aside, this is actually the first book in this subgenre of adventure fiction I’ve read, and I’ve got to say: it was a lot of fun!

An older hard-drinking Irish(?) priest, Fr. James Keenan, and his younger [and swole] protege, Fr. Akono Nwosu, have been having problems with break-ins recently. They come to find that a witch has put a bounty out on church paraphernalia, ranging from brochures and missals to the ultimate prize: the sanctified Body of Christ. Everyone from urchins and minor delinquents to hardcore gangbangers are going after churches all over the city for these items which will be used in unspeakable blasphemous rites.

The side of Good, however, has plenty of back-up, including a tough-as-nails outlaw biker gang and the Russian mob! Things turn into an all-out war as Keenan and Nwosu and their allies bring the fight to the witch and her acolytes who are planning a massive human sacrifice to unleash a demon into the world.

There’s a LOT going on in this book. It’s very action-driven, and a little dense; it crams of lot of stuff into a relatively short span of time within the novel itself. While this isn’t a bad thing, the amount of action is almost overwhelming, and I found myself wanting a bit more space for the characters to breathe. There are a lot of point of view characters on all sides of the conflict in this story, but they’re all very distinct and give a complete view of all the action without anyone ever blending together or feeling under-developed or seeming extraneous to the story. The only downside is that there are SO many characters in the short span of the books events that I would’ve liked to have spent more time with some of them and gotten to know them better. Also, there are a lot of good horror elements and potential for mystery, yet while the horror delivers, I think that the compressed events of the timeline necessitated sacrificing rising tension for the sake of pacing.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that this book is BRUTAL. A lot of gore, a lot of body horror, and a lot of good people dying pretty nasty deaths. So, I’d say it’s not for the faint of heart.

Another interesting element is the near-future cyberpunk dystopian setting. In some places, it’s almost blink-and-you’ll miss it. In other places, the sci-tech elements are critical to the story. For the most part, though, it’s a nice excuse for the Priests and their comrades to have some serious ordnance.

All-in-all, Body and Blood is an excellent debut novel from Michael Gallagher. It’s a high-octane thriller with an explicitly Christian bent. Maybe I should check out more of those “Priests with guns fighting demons and witches” books? If those are your thing, you should absolutely check this one out.

Michael Gallagher sent us an ARC of Body and Blood. His cyber-noir thriller The Nighthawk will be appearing in the Winter issue of Cirsova Magazine.

New Review of The Paths of Cormanor!

There’s a new review of The Paths of Cormanor up at Upstream Reviews!

To paraphrase the song, this book is “for kids from one to ninety-two.” Anyone can read and enjoy this novel, but those who love Norse myths and Germanic fairy tales will find it especially engaging. Fans of J.R.R. Tolkien will also love this story for delving into “that great northern spirit” which inspired the professor so much.

It’s a well-written, well-conceived fantasy written in a modern day that too often waters down myths and fairy tales to make them “relatable” for the audience. If that isn’t reason enough to buy it, read it, and keep it safely on one’s shelf, then the world truly has gone mad.

Check out the whole review here!

The Paths of Cormanor by Jim Breyfogle is out now on Amazon and other sites.

Jim Breyfogle’s newest Mongoose and Meerkat story, The Wreck of the Cassada, is out wednesday in the Winter issue of Cirsova Magazine!

Pointman Comics Review

Okay, so, quick review of Pointman Comics. I wish I hadn’t been sleeping on these for so long, because I’ve been mutuals with Kassidy for a couple of years now.

Right now, Gorilla Galaxy is in the spotlight, because the new issue is a full length Gorilla Galaxy story.

Really, though, I’d like to mention the horror stories of the first and second issues. These are both really solid, and the one in the second issue is VERY much in the tradition of the classic horror books.

Leatherfist in issue 2, I wasn’t as hot on, but if Kassidy were to spin off a weird horror short series in vein of a Grimm’s Ghost Stories, that would be fantastic.

Gorilla Galaxy has a lot of potential as an IP, and I loved the one-off short in the first issue. Kinda reminded me of the classic Aniverse raygun romance stuff. After reading it, I was looking forward to a full-length adventure.

Honestly, though, I don’t care for the new art as much in issue 3. One selling point of GG, naturally, is cute girls. But the new art doesn’t really show them being cute. It’s a matter of taste, obviously, and while the new art is VERY expressive, it borders on grotesque–it would be nice to be able to let the characters have a few panels where they aren’t mugging and making twisted, contorted faces.

Image
Redd in Issue #1
Redd in Issue #3

That said, I still plan on supporting Pointman Comics and will stick with Gorilla Galaxy for another issue [though I really liked the first artist better].

Anyway, you can pick up all 3 issues of Pointman Comics here at IndyPlanet.

Band on the Run! – A Review of “Our Lady of the Open Road” and A Song For A New Day by Sarah Pinsker (Guest Post by J. Comer)

    When SF fans (such as myself) speak to people who don’t read SF, or who know the field through media, there are two reactions which come when we explain the difference between hard SF (Hal Clement’s or Robert Forward’s work) and media ‘soft’ SF (Star Wars).  One reaction is that hard SF is ‘prediction’; the other is that hard SF must be boring. In this reviewer’s experience neither is true.

    Many SF writers, such as Anne McCaffrey, Pat Cadigan, and Spider Robinson, love to write about music. While this work can date itself quickly (The Rainbow Cadenza), some has aged well (Dragonsong).  With her SF novel of rock music, musician and writer Sarah Pinsker[1] tells a convincing story of a repressive era and the need for performance in the human soul.

     The novelette “Our Lady of the Open Road” introduces the Joan Jett-like rocker Luce Cannon, her band, and their van Daisy the Diesel.  The band performs rock music in an era when congregating for any reason is illegal because of terrorist bombs and disease- a world in permanent lockdown. The performers in this dystopia are people who cannot perform without the feedback of an audience.  Luce must find illegal, often literally underground venues to which fans come by word of mouth, and do a show, escaping before police bust the club. She and her band sleep in the van and live on next to nothing. Her biodiesel van, Daisy, is transport and home for them, virtually a member of the band herself.  The band face crime as well as friendly squatters, and despite agonizing hardship, vows to rock on, any way possible. (They mention touring on bicycles, which the Ditty Bops actually did at one point.)

     In the novel A Song For A New Day, Luce’s world is expanded with peeks at her Chasidic family, her last concert, and her interaction with Rosemary, a young fan trying to recruit Luce for StageHoloLive, a megacorporation which brings performers into living rooms via holographic technology.  Farm-girl Rosemary, who grew up in the lockdown, is unused to in-person interaction, and there is same-sex love brewing. Is StageHolo out to wreck the underground scene?  Can Luce and Rosemary cut a deal that will respect Luce’s authenticity as well as corporate needs? The ending hints at a changed world.

     And here we come to unprecedented times. “Our Lady” won a Nebula for Best Novelette in 2016, and A Song won Best Novel in 2019…before Covid-19 reshaped American life.  Like William Jenks’ Memoir of the Northern Kingdom (which predicted the Civil War in 1808) or Cleve Cartmill’s “Deadline” (which foresaw the atomic bomb in 1944), Pinsker’s novel is guilty of unwilling prediction via the golden road of SF.  I would argue that in all three cases, the author, rather than seeking to predict events, merely saw the facts of their own era and worked with them. Recommended to music fans as well as lovers of well-crafted hard SF.


[1] Music of one band, Stalking Horses, is here.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b4Os0k7w-jk&list=PLDPpAYpRllKs–rzemQB3LvDHrvUH3E_V

[Be sure to check out our kickstarter to restore Julian Hawthorne’s near-lost All-Story Weekly fiction, The Strange Recollections of Martha Klemm!

Also, check out J. Comer’s latest story in the Summer issue of Cirsova!]

Advanced Review of The Paths of Cormanor

Earlier this month, we sent out a few advanced review copies of The Paths of Cormanor to help generate some buzz in advance of our Kickstarter on Tuesday. We’ve got the first review in from Rick Stump at Harbinger Games.

The book is quite good and I heartily recommend it. …the setting and story reminded me of Vance and Lyonesse while the action was akin to Burroughs in A Fighting Man of Mars. It has been some time since I enjoyed a fantasy novel as much as I did this one, and that book was over 50 years old!

Read the full review here!

Be sure to sign up to be notified when The Paths of Cormanor Kickstarter goes live!

Also, if you can’t wait for more Jim Breyfogle, make sure you’ve picked up the Summer issue with the latest adventure of Mongoose and Meerkat.