Review – The Circuit : Executor Rising

Full Disclosure : I was provided a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I do not know the author personally, except for our brief interactions by email.

The Circuit : Executor Rising is a fast-paced and enjoyable science fiction yarn that takes place in a most interesting setting. It’s our own solar system, either during a time before interstellar travel becomes possible, or perhaps in a universe where the laws of physics never become more than what we know now. Regardless, Mr. Bruno does a great job showing us how our own tiny, insignificant star system can feel like a vast and wondrous place.

The story follows several principal characters : Sage is a young, deadly assassin known as an Executor ; a hard-working miner named Talon ; and perhaps most intriguingly, a disaffected scientist and former member of the system’s ruling council, Cassius Vale. Vale, and by extension, his AI creation known as ADIM, are definitely the antagonists in this story… Villains, even. And yet they are, by far, the most fascinating and sympathetic characters in the book. It takes a lot of storytelling talent to make a monomaniacal mad scientist feel like a real person, justified in his horrific actions to the point where you root for him, instead of those trying to stop him.

By and large, the plot is not something which will surprise a veteran science fiction reader, but rather serves as a showcase for Mr. Bruno’s adept worldbuilding and strong characterization. He gives us things to be genuinely interested by and characters we can believe in within the space of a few hundred pages, making for a thoroughly enjoyable read.

With no major editorial issues to speak of and pages that kept me coming back for more, The Circuit : Executor Rising earns 4.5 out of 5 stars. As is my standard policy, I will round this up to 5 stars on the appropriate websites.

Review: The Cabal of Thotash by J. Zachary Pike

thotashAmazon US

The Cabal of Thotash is an urban fantasy… Sort of.

Let’s start at the beginning. A mysterious cult devoted to an evil Lovecraftian deity meets in an unventilated basement once a week, and everything is going well enough. Honoring the Contract, doing evil deeds, making sacrifices of innocents upon the altar of Thotash, until one day they bring a young woman into their midst as an intended sacrifice… And everything changes.

Only 9,000 words or so long, that is all this story needed to tell a whimsical and downright hilarious tale of a Lovecraftian cult (sorry, cabal) which just can’t seem to get things right. If you’re a fan of Terry Pratchett or Douglas Adams, and love to revel in the absurdity of situations normal and supernatural, you should not hesitate to pick this up. Genre-savvy readers will instantly recognize both the familiar and the unfamiliar, and you can’t help but laugh as you watch this thoroughly respectable cabal become something infinitely greater than the sum of its parts.

For a first entry into the market by a new author, this short story/novella/novelette/whatever we’re calling short fiction these days is well worth the time and small investment. The formatting is invisible, and while I might wish for fewer ‘was’s in the first paragraph, it did not detract from my thorough enjoyment of the story, nor did it reduce the number of laugh-out-loud moments in this brief yarn.

5 stars. Highly recommended.

Amazon US

Review: PRIEST by Matthew Colville

PRIEST is perhaps one of the more perplexing books I’ve read this year.

Let’s start with the good, as I am oft wont to do. Contained within the covers of PRIEST is a compelling central narrative, structured around a priest and former “campaigner” (which appears to be this world’s word for “adventurer”) named Heden. When we first meet Heden, he is acting somewhat the knight errant, helping a poor girl who’s been imprisoned for being possessed… But Heden knows that she’s merely ill, and comes to her aid.

Heden, from what we are told, seems to be suffering from something much akin to (if it is not) Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He is withdrawn and suffers from paralyzing flashbacks to his campaigner days. He is also a priest–thus the title–and once his character is established we get to the heart of the matter. The north is threatened by invaders, and those who might protect the helpless–the Knights of the Green, mysterious forest paladins that no one knows much about–have been reduced from nine members to eight. Permanently.

Our hero is tasked with discovering what happened to the Knights and absolving them, meting out justice so that their ranks might be restored and they can protect the people.

That’s just the beginning of the story, and it unfurls from there into quite the enthralling yarn. The world-building is an intriguing and original take on many common fantasy tropes, building upon the ideas that every fantasy reader knows to create something more. The core of the plot is mysterious and continually commands the reader’s interest.

But. There’s a but here, and I would be remiss if I did not point it out.

I read the Kindle edition, offered free on Amazon a few weeks ago when the author published the second installment. The Kindle edition’s formatting is… lacking, as you can see in the attached screenshot from my iPad’s Kindle app. No paragraph indents is the first offense, and it’s a glaring one. The same problem occurred in Kindle Cloud Reader, so I know it’s not just my device. Overall, the formatting feels amateur at best, and could use a significant rework.


My second issue is the use of language. It’s made clear that Heden has an informal speech style, but even so, using constructions like “ok” and “alright” grate on me as a reader, because they seem more like mistakes than characterization. There is also a significant scene later in the book where the word “reigns” is substituted for “reins” (the horsy kind) 5-10 times in rapid succession.

Ebooks these days are often seen as works-in-progress, which is fine, but I really feel like these are problems which should have been fixed long before the author published the second book.

The important takeaway here, however, is that none of these issues prevented me from reading (and enjoying) the book, all the way to the conclusion. In fact, I’d say it’s quite probable that I will pick up the second installment in the future, because I genuinely want to know what happens to Heden. Given that formatting issues and use of language will often cause me to drop a book before Chapter 2, the author must be commended very highly for creating a story that allowed me to see past these issues to the gem of a tale beneath.

PRIEST gets four stars from me. With polished language and a formatting fix, it would easily be four and a half, and possibly even a full five. This really is an enticing, riveting story, and if you can bring yourself to see past the rough spots, you won’t regret the time you spend reading it. Recommended.

Review: Magebane by Lee Arthur Chane

Magebane-Actual-Cover-smIn Magebane, the debut novel from Lee Arthur Chane, a tiny magical kingdom is locked off from the rest of the world by a centuries-old impenetrable wall of magic. The mages and their people believe everything outside the barrier is pure wilderness, and for those living outside it, magic has been reduced to myths and legend. As a young aeronaut flies over the barrier from the outside, and parties scheme to bring down the barrier from the inside, both ways of life cannot remain unchanged.

In a meeting of steampunk and magic, Magebane is more about the plots and machinations of the people involved than the whiz-bang-neato potential of the world elements. This is not a bad thing – the steampunk elements are basic, and while the basics of magic are cool, they’re not enough to carry the story. The characters, however, are.

The slowly-unfolding plot gradually reveals layers of intrigue, manipulation, and hidden agendas from the mage side of the world. Various parties are working to bring down the barrier – each for their own diverging purposes – and all are perfectly fine with a healthy dosing of murder, torture, and/or mass slaughter to get there.

In fact, for a story of violence and massive political upheaval, the pacing is almost leisurely. It didn’t drag, just took its time with descriptions and worldbuilding to make sure that each action was in complete, full context to bring the reader along with all possible implications.


So, what’s inside:

  • Schemes upon schemes tied up in other schemes, with very few people to be taken at face value

  • Complex evil characters who are absolutely convinced they’re doing the right thing and that this death/destruction/torture/etc will all be worth it for a higher cause.

  • Steampunk technology, and magic that at times acts suspiciously steampunk-like (swap a few cogs and coals for magic, and leave the rest intact). Both of them get lush descriptions and beautiful execution.

  • A complex social and political system, built on top of a complex magic system, all of which make perfect sense together. The worldbuilding is thorough and well done.


What’s not inside:

  • A fast-paced page turner. This book takes its time, which is not necessarily a bad thing. But if you want a political thriller, this isn’t the speedy read you’re looking for.

  • An unexpected ending. But the path to get to the expected ending is a fun enough read that it doesn’t really matter.

  • A kick-in-the-pants beginning. Chane does a lot of worldbuilding up front, which is a bit slow in the beginning of the book. Some of it, in my opinion, could have waited until a bit later.


TL/DR: A pretty book with that takes its time as evil characters unfold their plans and subterfuge, less about the meeting of steampunk and magic and more about what nasty people with power are scheming to do about it.

488 pages

Review: Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

republicofthievesFor the uninitiated: Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastards series is like a higher-stakes game of Ocean’s 11, but in a Venetian-style fantasy world. Like all good con stories, the reader is strung along, just trying to figure out how the thieves will manage their impossible plan. A nice bonus for the series is that it can lay claim to actually having all the wit and cleverness that Ocean’s 11 only thinks it has.

The Republic of Thieves is the long-awaited third installment of the escapades of Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen: rogues, thieves, and clever wise-ass bastards. It picks up shortly after Red Seas Under Red Skies leaves off, though is enough of a self-encapsulated book that a new reader could pick it up cold and still have a rolicking good time.

So, what’s inside:

  • Twisted clever schemes upon schemes tied up in other schemes
  • Fantastic quotes like “[The never-fail universal apology is:] I was badly misinformed, I deeply regret the error, go fuck yourself with this bag of money.”
  • Biting satire on political systems and the theater, which in many ways are more like each other than not
  • A touchingly awkward and somewhat-broken romance
  • Spooky-weird mind-melding magi

What’s not inside:

  • A heist or con as clever as any of the multilayered ones in the first two books. That’s OK though, since for once the bigger emphasis was on the characters themselves, who actually spent time telling the truth. (To each other, not to their marks. We can’t have that.)
  • As satisfying an aha-moment as in the end of the first two books. But that’s also OK though, because Republic of Thieves opens more questions than it closes – ones that Lynch has been quietly seeding though the first two books.
  • A timeline for when book 4, The Thorn of Emberlain is coming, because even though I just spent a roughly ten-hour block reading this book, I want the next one already. (Sorry, picky reader gripe.)

************HERE THERE BE SPOILERS************

In The Republic of Thieves, we finally meet the mysterious Sabetha. And hot damn, was she a woman worth waiting for. Her relationship with Locke is explored in two layered stories: one of their past (from how they met, to the tormented beginnings of their relationship) and one of their present, where they are reunited as adversaries, pitted against each other in rigging an election. They play a game of wits as they try to out-maneuver each other, both for the election and to seize control of their relationship.

The two narratives of past and present intertwine beautifully. Lynch does a great job of showing the anguish and elation of confused teenage love, and then showing how so much of that mess remains in adults. In this, it feels like a much more emotionally-mature book than The Lies of Locke Lamora or Red Seas Under Red Skies. It’s a good thing too, because if it weren’t for these fantastic character explorations (the pair’s flirting/fighting makes for the best scenes in the book, and Sabetha nearly always plays Locke like a fiddle), it would be a let-down from the con side.

In the current storyline, the bondsmagi, Locke’s sworn enemies, are the only ones who can save him from his poisoning from book 2. They save his life in exchange for his services in rigging their local election. So here comes a slew of electioneering cons, but few of them are more serious or complex than ones we could easily see happening today. Create a mole in the other organization, or have one in yours? Seen it. Be so obnoxious while campaigning for the opposition that you annoy people into joining your side? Seen it. There’s a laundry list of straightforward mini-efforts like this, and one of Lynch’s strengths is writing the incredibly convoluted cons. There is one multi-step con that leads to the election outcome as a draw, which includes a clever money-laundering scheme. But it’s not nearly as complex as we know Lynch can write.

In the flashback storyline, the young Gentleman Bastards crew of thieves is sent to apprentice at a theater troupe. Here too, the cons are fairly simple, although that’s to be expected from young and inexperienced thieves. Straightforward “whoops we killed the evil nobleman and need to not get caught while putting on a play” schemes are comic, but are excusably so. And at the same time, we readers are treated to the entertaining equivalent of Shakespearean theater in Lynch’s world, so there’s plenty else going on.

But since the emphasis of the story is the exploration of Locke and Sabetha’s relationship, with the cons more as a backdrop (for all that they take up the bulk of the book), that is all fine. The Republic of Thieves shows us a more human side of Locke, behind the wise-ass bravado and pluck. As we get to know how truly and honestly he loves Sabetha, to the point where he makes himself more vulnerable to her than we’ve ever seen him before (and this includes him lying near death poisoned, or near death in a barrel of pee, or any number of other near-death experiences), it looks like the richer and more multifaceted character is being set up for something much much bigger in book 4. Whisperings about his ties to the magi in his distant and forgotten past, whether true or not, make this reader eager to get to the next book already.

************END OF SPOILERS************

TL/DR: Another awesome book from an awesome author. Fast paced and snarky, but tones down a bit of the heist cleverness from books 1 and 2 (though there’s still plenty of it) to make room for a more emotional and human story as Locke and Sabetha’s relationship is finally explored.

609 pages

~ Reviewed by Effie Seiberg

Review: In Siege of Daylight by Gregory S. Close

siegeofdaylight-smIn Siege of Daylight is the fantasy debut of author Gregory S. Close.

This book is the epic-est of epic fantasy. Full stop. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a door-stopper like this one, and even longer since I’ve enjoyed one half as much.

Some books work on the strength of their world-building. Others falter when it comes to the world, but pull you through on the strength of the characters alone. Others may have a stirring plot that carries from beginning to end, with a masterful weaving of threads throughout. I am glad to say that Greg Close succeeds on all three accounts, something much easier to say than to do. His characterization is strong, his world-building simply staggering, and the story itself is brilliant. Though at times, due to its immense length, I found myself wondering whether a certain point-of-view was entirely necessary, the end pulled them all together and left me with an understanding that yes, indeed, they are all necessary.

In the past few decades, many fantasy writers seem to be plying their trade with a certain sense of secret shame and/or irony. Perhaps the most famous work in fantasy right now is George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (thanks in large part to its HBO adaptation), which is a thorough deconstruction of the fantasy tropes introduced by Tolkien and carried like buckets of water by the following generations, slowly slopping their meaning and wonder over the sides as they labor beneath the weight of the grandfather of fantasy.

Greg Close takes precisely the opposite tack. His story runs directly into the face of the fantasy tropes that we’ve been reading for years, and instead of shrinking from them, he embraces them without irony, incorporating them into his world. Instead of being shackled to the norms of fantasy, he bends them to his own purposes, allowing things to feel simultaneously familiar and new. This story contains many of the things we all expect to see in the most cliche fantasy: a young prince with a destiny, a star-struck backwoods boy, knights and kings, mysterious elves, dwarves beneath the mountains, and more–and yet there is enough new imagination here to make these creaking and aged tropes feel young again.

This is a lofty comparison indeed, but In Siege of Daylight works for many of the same reasons that Star Wars: A New Hope does. At their core they are both the Hero’s Journey, but they each contain enough real wonder, enough heart and strength in storytelling that, as a fantasy fan, it may feel like you’re reading about things that you know like the back of your hand for the very first time.

~Reviewed by Christopher Kellen   ChristopherKellen

Review: NEXUS by Ramez Naam

(Originally posted at on 2013-01-30)

nexus-75-dpi-197x300The best books are those that stay with you, that make you think about the questions they ask long after you put it down. In his stellar debut novel, Ramez Naam does exactly that. Naam offers us a near-future, roller-coaster adventure that will grab you by the throat and won’t let you go even once you finish the novel. This one will stay with you, and keep you thinking. I’m can’t say for sure, but I’m fairly certain, this one is going to be popping back into my brain from my subconscious for a long time yet.

In the book, Nexus is a nanotechnology “drug” that allows users to link wirelessly to each other’s brains. They can share thoughts, memories, and in some cases,  control each other’s actions. Previous iterations of the drug burn out of people’s systems in a short amount of time. It opens with the main protagonist of the story, Kade, experimenting with the permanent version of the “drug,” Nexus 5. He and some friends have created a computer operating system to integrate with the drug, so that it stays with them, and they can add programs and applications to it that make them essentially hyper-human. Needless to say, certain governmental agencies aren’t even remotely okay with this.  Within the first few pages of the book, Kade and his friends are neck-deep in trouble with the US government, but maybe, just maybe, if Kade helps the government, there might be a way out for he and his friends. And that’s as much of the plot as I’m going to give. Anything else would be a disservice to the reader.

Nexus is fantastic. It’s brilliant. Feel free to tack on as many positive adjectives as you can come up with. It’s not just a well-written and thought-provoking book, it’s also highly entertaining. The “high ideas” Nexus calls the reader to consider are woven seemlessly into the plot by the characters. Through their interactions, conversations, and private musings, we see many sides of the trans and post human ideas Naam is working with. The best part is that while each character knows exactly where he or she stands on that particular issue at any moment (some characters do change their stance/outlook, and each of these moments of change come organically from the events they experience), Naam does not beat the reader over the head with any authorial agenda.  Or, if he does, I had such a great time reading the book and getting lost in the story that I completely missed it.

When I sat down to write this review, I tried to come up with pairs of writers I could compare the book to to give possible readers a feeling of what they are going to get. A few of the names bouncing in my head were: William Gibson, James Rollins, David Brin, Michael Chriton, Neal Stephenson, and more. While trying to pair a comparison down to two names I couldn’t. Naam’s tone and ideas are a unique  and fresh voice to science fiction. Do yourself a favor and get on the Ramez Naam band wagon now, so you can say, “I was there when.”

It would not surprise me in the least to see this on the Hugo ballet for best novel at this year’s World Science Fiction Convention.

Reviewed by M. Todd Gallowglas    MTGallowglas

Review: The Dragon Bone Flute by M. Todd Gallowglas

(Originally posted at on 2013-04-02)

Full Disclosure: M. Todd Gallowglas is a founding member of the Genre Underground, a friend and colleague. That hasn’t stopped me from reviewing his work before, and it won’t stop me now.

I’ve read several of Mr. Gallowglas’ works by this time, starting with his Tears of Rage sequence and moving on to his Halloween Jack stories and others. However, it wasn’t until I was recently reminded that he’s soon to be releasing a new entry following The Dragon Bone Flute that I remembered that I already had a copy, and it was in my Kindle Cloud Reader, waiting to be read.

As a genuine fan and regular reader of Mr. Gallowglas’ work, I know that he has a sense of humor (Halloween Jack) and a sense of drama (Tears of Rage) but until I picked up this novella (novelette?) I didn’t really quite have a grasp on his sense of wonder. This is a fairy tale with an edge, back like they used to have before Disney sanitized them and robbed them of their real impact. Elzibeth’s tale is short, poignant, and filled to brimming with emotion, music and a true sense of wonder.

Editorially speaking, I found the version of The Dragon Bone Flute that I read to be polished and free of errors. The writing was smooth and unblemished, drawing the reader into the story and not letting go until the conclusion.

I am very happy to give this book a full five stars, with no caveats or qualifications. The Dragon Bone Flute is a beautiful short tale of music, love, fantasy, loss and adventure that deserves a place at the top of any fantasy lover’s reading list.

Reviewed by Christopher Kellen  ChristopherKellen

Review: Deja Vu by Ian Hocking

picturesDéjà-Vu-Hocking-cover-(Review cross-posted from, original date 2013-03-20)

Déjà Vu by Ian Hocking is best described as a techno-thriller, a type of book that I’ve enjoyed from time to time (most notably with last year’s review of WIRED and my more recent review of The Cestus Concern).

The plot begins with a twist, and as things go along, it gets stranger and stranger. Set in the not-too-distant future, Saskia Brandt is told only that she needs to capture one David Proctor. She doesn’t know how or why, just that she needs to.

Déjà Vu doesn’t give you a moment to rest as the author’s style carries smoothly along, following the twists and turns of this story deeper down the rabbit hole. When the final plot twist finally comes, you’ll realize just how little you were expecting it… but how perfectly it all comes together.

Déjà Vu also has the notable honor of standing among the finest and most professional indie ebooks I’ve read, with zero typos, grammar errors or questionable punctuation. I must applaud this author for showing a dedication to professionalism and proving that he deserves to be a #1 bestseller.

Although Déjà Vu doesn’t break any new ground when it comes to its chosen subject (you’ll have to read it to see what I’m talking about, because anything else would contain spoilers) it explores a relatively-disused subject in a fun, engaging and thoughtful manner. Recommended.

(Side note: I’m giving this book 4.5 stars, but I’ll be rounding it up on sites that don’t allow half-star ratings, because that’s my chosen policy.)


Reviewed by Christopher Kellen

Review: The Cestus Concern by Mat Nastos

I was psyched to see that my Twitter compadre Mat Nastos (@NiftyMat)–who has read and reviewed several of my books over the past year that I’ve been chatting with him–had released a novel. The cover art drew me right in, and I was prepared for cyberpunk badassery on a massive scale.cestus-concern-cover-200x300

As it turns out, The Cestus Concern is a bit more modern sci-fi thriller than cyberpunk, but that didn’t make it any less badass, and it most certainly did not reduce the scale.

The Cestus Concern starts off in a place which might be familiar to fans of the genre. A metal table, wires and tubes protruding everywhere, a sense of confusion and strangeness as the consciousness slowly returns after some sort of terrible accident. Unfortunately for Malcom Weir, things are only going to get worse.

This book is sheer, unmitigated, balls-to-the-wall fun that plays like a movie in your head. It’s impossible not to visualize the amazing special effects (and mind-blowing budget requirements) of this AAA sci-fi thriller. It’s action-film-in-a-book, filled to bursting with sickeningly-bloody violence, amazing mental picturescapes and a healthy dose of good humor to top all of it off.

Honestly, my only quibbles were minor and editing related; I had no problem at all with the characterization, plot or other important parts. I found a few places where words seemed to be missing, or when the obviously-intended word was replaced with another (I had an unintentional snort of laughter when someone’s hair was described as perfectly ‘quaffed’ — I assume it was supposed to be ‘coiffed’ but I spent the next few minutes trying to figure out how you’re supposed to drink hair…) The important part here is that the story was so engaging that my mind only made minor notes of these quibbles before hungrily moving on to the next word, the next paragraph, the next page.

There is no doubt about it: I loved this book, and would recommend it to any fans of action-thrillers, sci-fi, super soldier projects, or just awesome books.