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Tag Archive: Harper Voyager Books


Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s a fantasy novella that reads like a classic Louis L’Amour Western, full of legend and lore, a book for readers that enjoy every word by an author who really knows how to pen sweeping, artful prose.  And don’t let the fact that it comes at the end of a series stop you from giving it a try.  It’s Peter V. Brett’s Barren, part of his Demon Cycle series, just released by Harper Voyager.  It’s a rather epic story of the past catching up to the present for Selia, a woman warrior in her late sixties.  She’s the leader of a community with its own religion and a dialect that could double for the speech of colonists from the Firefly ‘verse.  It’s also a community that has a variety of demon attacks it must fend off each nightfall.  And while this warrior wrestles with managing the village problems and her own personal relationships, the attacks are only getting worse.

Brett, known for writing his first fantasy novel on his telephone during commutes on the subway, writes his world of the village of Tibbet’s Brook quite eloquently.  Unlike most fiction these days, every sentence is not simply about rushing the reader to the gotcha at story’s end.  Brett fully immerses the reader in this unfamiliar place, with struggles that parallel those of our own world in any decade.  At times Barren feels as classic and on-point as Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter, with a bit of the unexpected a la Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery.  The fear in the story isn’t some uncertain future or neighboring army, but both themes are part of the story–the fear comes from the trust and prejudices of those that surround Selia.  The Western feel comes from the relationships of Brett’s characters with an interconnected past, a close-knit group of recently united but competitive chieftains akin to the culture in the World of Warcraft realm.  In this regard you could drop the fantastical elements and swap spears for rifles and these characters, and this story would hold up as a L’Amour novel (Selia is a grown-up Echo Sackett from Ride the River).

Told from two stages of Selia’s life, we meet the young woman learning from her mother and father, the tribal leader, and then as the older woman who has taken on her father’s role.   She gains and loses her most significant personal relationships along the way with only the support of those who are closest to her.  She’s an inspiring, strong heroine lead, respected by many in Tibbet’s Brook, the kind of leader who is first into the battle–she gets some nicely choregraphed action scenes to prove her physical prowess.  For the short page count there are a surprising number of good supporting characters.  If Brett’s other stories include such fascinating female leads, then this would be a series for fans of the fantasy genre to reach out for.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Colonel Carl Butler has done it all long before he is asked by his former boss and mentor–a general with plenty of influence to get things done–to take on a strange mission far away.  The son of a High Council member has gone missing and the investigation is at a standstill.  Butler is a semi-retired hero, he’s loyal to an old military boss, and that man has asked him to go on a far-away mission as a favor.  Butler takes the mission, but always has that niggling feeling all is not what it seems.  The price of the mission is great as he is put into cryo freeze for the long voyage ahead, but his wife is set up nicely with family for the duration.  It’s all a favor to someone who has always commanded his loyal and respect.

All goes downhill even before his arrival as he’s pulled out of cryo early.  On arrival Butler is immediately odd-man-out.  He is assigned some help, but he is disregarded by everyone in authority and all his efforts to sleuth-out what happened to the missing soldier are thwarted.  Even the medical branch won’t help, and a member of the press is persistent, asking why Butler was chosen for this mission and no one else.  That becomes the mystery for Butler, too, as much as discovering the story behind the missing man.  He’s on a space station and the planet below is at war with the alien inhabitants.  Butler does everything to avoid going planetside to meet with the local commander.  Can he stay away, or are all the answers down there?  And will he get those answers without taking command himself?

Arriving in bookstores tomorrow, retired Army officer Michael Mammay’s debut novel Planetside is a military conspiracy-thriller couched in sci-fi dress.  Heavier on the soldiering than the sci-fi, it has common elements you’d find in The General’s Daughter or Courage Under Fire (Mammay does it better).  Yet it is completely accessible to both fans of war novels and sci-fi readers thumbing the paperback rack for their next enjoyable read in the mystery genre, like Forbidden Planet, Blade Runner 2049, or Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s All You Need Is Kill (known to moviegoers as Edge of Tomorrow).  The author’s key strength in Planetside is the first person voice of Colonel Butler.  No doubt derived from Mammay’s years of encounters with similar types as a soldier in Desert Storm, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, Butler has that stilted dialogue and manner that seems to define long-tenured soldiers in books and movies.  Both Butler’s inner voice and his orders to those around him give the novel fuel to skip along at a brisk pace.  Butler is very much in the realm of Colonel Graff in Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, and he could have fought alongside Sgt. Zim or Lt. Rasczak–although Planetside is not a story immersed in ground and aerial combat as in Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, Mammay’s realism pulls readers in with some significant skirmishes along the way.

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