Book List

Best Battle-Ready Indie Sci-fi and Fantasy of 2014

A hugely entertaining techno-magic adventure novel.

Something Greater than Artifice

In Speegle’s (Pen and Platen, 2011) novel set in a fantastic future world, technologically enhanced craftsmen face a deadly new threat.

As the story opens, a young man named Gregor loses his home, his best friend and very nearly his life in the hinterlands at the fringe of the Tech Republic. He and his friend Anatoly are skilled “Artificers” who use small, handheld computers to tap into a “Feed” of neutral matter, which they electronically resequence to create things to suit their needs. But their skills don’t protect them when they’re attacked by Frontmen—soulless, interchangeable minions of an all-devouring malevolence called SILOS. Gregor’s life is only saved thanks to the appearance of a woman named Ros, who hails from another dystopian enclave: the musicians’ haven called State of Play. Ros uses technology and her considerable fighting skills to rescue Gregor and take him on her quest to fight SILOS by enlisting the aid of yet another enclave, the Writers’ Bloc. There, the people prize the written word above all else, and a text called the Book may hold the key to victory. Along the way, Gregor and Ros squabble (at one point, he sarcastically calls her “Ros the Unnecessarily Taciturn”), but she gradually fills him in on the perilous state of the world outside the Tech Republic, her own past and training in the State, and the rise of the evil quagmire of SILOS. The author conveys most of this information in prolonged flashback segments, which he handles with a great deal of skill. The technology in Speegle’s world has morphed and sharpened into something akin to magic, and the Tech Republic, in particular, is impeccably imagined. He also makes the various sects’ worldviews believably distinct. Overall, his crafting of his characters is sensitive and, at times, winningly funny.

A hugely entertaining techno-magic adventure novel.

Pub Date: April 20, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-692-26050-0

Page Count: 478

Publisher: &yet

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

An unsettling, profound and richly conceived fable for fans of complex, intellectual fantasy.

Grimoire of Stone

A ROMANCE OF WATER

For a mercenary with a dark history, survival looks more and more like rebirth in this bloody yet hopeful story that sets a lone protagonist adrift on a plane rife with exotic forces and entities.

When a poison-coated arrow pierces his skin, a horseback ride through a dystopian Mexican desert turns sour for Moses Stern, who was sent as a courier for several theological edicts. He becomes the target of witches who hope to use him as a proxy to destroy the dragons they so hate. What follows is a convoluted but enthralling tale of Stern’s adventure as he transitions into another plane of existence: the watery plane of Okeanus, home to thousands of islands, peoples and languages. Like Earth, the plane is beset by an imbalance of indeterminate origins but serious consequences, an infestation of blue-back dragons; tasked with traveling through Okeanus, he seeks the magus Bedwyr for a solution. His journey leads him not only to Bedwyr, but through countless encounters with the various inhabitants of this strange land. Now a shape-shifter, Stern makes use of his heretofore unknown power of bodily alteration as he attempts to escape the multiple antagonistic forces that pursue him. While alliances are formed and dissolved, loves found and lost, Stern eventually meets with the demon Kokabiel, who grants him the ability to understand any language spoken in Okeanus and, thus, to cast important spells; he also gives Stern a stone with which he can open portals to different worlds, including his own—Earth. This power is startling, but the resolution of his quest forces him to make an even more startling decision. Composed of a series of many deftly interlocked episodes, the novel traces its arc to an unpredictable but satisfying conclusion. Harvey’s prose is regal and textured, and the background mythology is exceptionally formed, fusing fantasy, sci-fi and allegory to a haunting illusion.

An unsettling, profound and richly conceived fable for fans of complex, intellectual fantasy.

Pub Date: May 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0970076120

Page Count: 334

Publisher: Britton International, Incorporated

Review Posted Online: Aug. 6, 2014

’Salem’s Lot meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer with incredible results.

NEW HOPE

Set in the remote Maine town of New Hope in the late 1980s, this exceptional debut novel is an enticing blend of supernatural fiction, horror and one young woman’s coming-of-age.

This novel—which works equally well as a YA or adult read—revolves largely around almost-17-year-old Miri Jones, daughter of the town’s police chief. Attractive, intelligent, athletic and tenaciously inquisitive, Jones’ dream is to follow somewhat in her father’s footsteps, perhaps working as an investigator for the FBI. When she discovers the corpse of a young man while jogging on a woodland trail, she embraces her inner Nancy Drew and vows to solve the mystery, even though her father warns her to stay away. With her babysitting charge—13-year-old Christopher Marlowe—as partner, the young detective duo sets out to unravel the circumstances leading up to the bizarre murder. Marlowe, however, is hiding a bombshell of a secret, and once Jones discovers what Marlowe is concealing, the investigation takes a horrific turn. Jones’ worldview is obliterated when she learns that not only do creatures such as vampires and werewolves exist—they are in her own town! Accompanied by a small group of friends, Jones and Marlowe uncover jaw-dropping revelations that could very well get them—and those they love—brutally killed. So many aspects of the story are outstanding: character development, plot intricacy, innovative twists on old myths, setting—Hobbs nails the late ’80s vibe with references to Van Halen, Bob Seger, Steve Grogan of the New England Patriots, etc.—and narrative intensity. Also of note is the novel’s sardonic sense of humor; even in the most perilous of situations, the teenage protagonists still have wits enough to come up with some great comments: e.g., “By the way, there’s a lot of vampire crap at the library.” It’s fitting that Stephen King is mentioned in the storyline. This debut from Hobbs, who was raised in Maine, is very much comparable in tone and ambiance to King’s debut novel, Carrie (1974).

’Salem’s Lot meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer with incredible results.

Pub Date: May 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-1495349638

Page Count: 286

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 24, 2014

A flat-out astonishing debut.

THE GOD WAVE

In this sci-fi debut, a team of neuroscientists exposes new capabilities in the brain that may steer human evolution toward miraculous—and deadly—frontiers.

Chuck Brenton, who has a Ph.D. in neuroscience, has been researching ways to harness the energy of the human brain for basic physical tasks. Ideally, his work would aid the handicapped or perhaps space and sea exploration. His data on gamma waves, however, is missing a baseline reading of the brain that would propel the research forward. When mathematician Matt Streegman contacts Chuck with key data from a deceased loved one’s EEG readout, the two quickly team up. They open a lab called Advanced Kinetics and soon have test subjects using their minds—via the Brenton-Kobayashi Kinetic Interface—to manipulate both computer software and construction equipment. But Matt and Chuck differ fundamentally on what kind of investors to take on: medical or commercial. Stronger-willed Matt wins out and finds himself courted by military interests. He keeps the involvement of Gen. Howard a secret from Chuck long enough to enmesh the company in complex, restrictive research, from which there’s no turning back. Yet Chuck and the test subjects—Mike, Sara, Mini, Lanfen and Tim—realize that military control of their work will lead to disaster. Luckily they have a few secrets of their own. Author Hemstreet has prepared a hard-science feast in his riveting, immensely satisfying debut. The science is always clearly stated, as are the corresponding metaphors, like one that sums up the neuroscientists’ take on burgeoning brain power: “You develop the muscles appropriate to the activity, and you learn how to use them most effectively”—essentially, “these people are…flexing mental muscles we didn’t know they had.” His characters are studies in pointed charisma, especially Matt, who’d like to “[kick] God in the teeth.” Audiences will fear for them as the plot subtly, horribly coils tighter. Ultimately, Hemstreet polishes his ideals regarding individuality and creative passion while bowing to the action/sci-fi formula. The result should be absolute bliss for fans of everything from Star Trek to X-Men. He writes a mean cliffhanger, too, one that hints at a sequel full of further narrative triumphs.

A flat-out astonishing debut.

Pub Date: May 17, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-241950-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Harper Voyager

Review Posted Online: Sept. 23, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2014

Like the giant alien artifact in the story, this novel is so much more than the sum of its parts—a page-turner of the...

SLEEPING GIANTS

From the The Themis Files series , Vol. 1

This stellar debut novel—revolving around a top-secret project to assemble the ancient body parts of a giant humanoid relic buried throughout the world by aliens—masterfully blends together elements of sci-fi, political thriller and apocalyptic fiction.

The story begins in the Black Hills of South Dakota, where a young girl named Rose Franklin falls into a huge hole and literally lands in the palm of a giant metal hand. The government gets involved, but after failing to glean any military or technological secrets from the alien artifact, the hand eventually goes into storage. Years later, after the project is demilitarized, the University of Chicago takes over the research. The head of the project is no other than the South Dakota girl who fell into the hand—now grown and an acclaimed physicist. When other body parts are discovered throughout the country—and the world—Franklin’s formidable task is to somehow secretly unearth all parts, covertly remove them from their locations and transport them to an underground facility in Denver. But when the rest of the world discovers the plan, paranoia, fear and greed run rampant, pushing humankind to the brink of world war. Because the novel is narrated through a series of interviews, personal journals and mission logs, the grand-scale storyline immediately becomes intimate as readers experience the historic events through the eyes of characters like Franklin; Kara Resnik, a U.S. Army pilot tasked with finding a way to “drive” the robot, which may or may not be a colossal weapon of mass destruction; and Vincent Couture, a Quebecois linguist whose mission is to make sense of the alien symbols on panels found with some of the body parts.

Like the giant alien artifact in the story, this novel is so much more than the sum of its parts—a page-turner of the highest order!

Pub Date: April 26, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-88669-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Del Rey

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2014

Another worthy entry in this love-and-fangs series.

THE COWBOY AND THE VAMPIRE

ROUGH TRAILS AND SHALLOW GRAVES

In the third installment of their horror series, Hays and McFall (The Cowboy and the Vampire: Blood and Whiskey, 2014, etc.) return to LonePine, Wyoming, as human Tucker and vampire Lizzie discover that they have a whole new type of bloodsucker to worry about.

The world of vampires is dying out, as they’re unable to turn humans to replenish their ranks. But in LonePine, the nine vampire tribes have at last found a prophesied savior. Is it Lizzie, their new queen, who wields the power to save their kind, or is it her unborn child? Time will tell; for now, Tucker and Lizzie are just trying to enjoy a respite—and maybe even get married—now that a semblance of peace has been reached. But before they can say “I do,” a well-trained mercenary group kidnaps Lizzie. There’s no ransom and no demands; the man that hired them, fat-cat businessman Auscor Kingman, has other plans. With the help of Dr. Louisa Burkett, a scientist who will do anything to have one last shot at vindicating her theories, he intends to use Lizzie’s blood to synthesize a cure for human aging—and make a fortune selling it. As research begins, Burkett uncovers the existence of the Meta, the otherworldly plane where all vampires’ consciousnesses go during daylight hours—and where humans’ souls go when they die. While this discovery opens up new business opportunities, it also lets Elita, Lizzie’s friend and bodyguard, and Rurik, a Russian rival for the queen’s affections, know that Lizzie is still alive. Now it’s a race for the mixed-species rescuers (human, vampire and Tucker’s dog, Rex) to save Lizzie and her unborn child. This series is intended for audiences who like blood and bullets along with their romance, and the prose here is sharp and to the point, much like the majority of the characters. Although the plot this time around is fairly straightforward, its events result in dire consequences for the star-crossed lovers. With pulse-pounding action, ongoing intrigue over the fate of vampire-kind, and the tumultuous struggles of Tucker and Lizzie’s love story, Hays and McFall once again deliver a thoroughly entertaining novel for readers to sink their teeth into.

Another worthy entry in this love-and-fangs series.

Pub Date: May 5, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-9838200-4-8

Page Count: 346

Publisher: Pumpjack Press

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2014

A thrilling, if overly action-packed, sci-fi adventure.

TIME REAVERS

After discovering her ability to manipulate time, Nicole must fight otherworldly insects preparing to attack the human world.

Holo’s (The Dragons of Jupiter, 2013) novel begins in a hectic rush, as teenage Nicole finds herself seemingly the only moving person in a world suddenly frozen in time. She encounters Daniel, also moving in the freeze, and she’s given a crash course on tau guards—people like Daniel who have special powers when time stops—and reavers, giant metallic bugs that also freeze time and attack the tau guards. In the freeze, Nicole gains telekinetic powers, a rare ability among tau guards, and Daniel is assigned to keep an eye on her until she learns how to defend herself. Daniel has enough time to explain the world through the visual metaphor of a hamburger (an oft-mocked but surprisingly useful comparison) before reavers launch a well-coordinated ambush against the tau guards. After Nicole discovers that her sister, Amy—a goth girl so selfish she requested an adopted sister (Nicole) as a birthday present—is also a tau guard, Daniel and other tau guards take Nicole through a glut of nonstop fights to the secret city Chronopolis. During all this, nightmares haunt Nicole, leading her and her new friends to the true source of the danger. Though Nicole possesses special abilities—including the ability to hear what reavers think—her determination and quick thinking save her skin more than any newfound powers, and in spite of her fear, she remains funny and loyal. Characters joining the team on the way fit into standard categories—smarmy guy, tough young woman—but their bright, complicated personalities keep them from being stereotypes. After the fast opening, chapters rarely pass without a big, life-or-death battle, which leaves the novel in a nearly continuous intense state, which can be a bit overwhelming, though Holo’s clear descriptions prevent any confusion. The fast pace forces the narrative to truncate or skip lengthy explanations; since Nicole so frequently picks up history and fighting techniques as she goes, those lengthy explanations are hardly missed.

A thrilling, if overly action-packed, sci-fi adventure.

Pub Date: Jan. 3, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4942-6617-2

Page Count: 300

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 25, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2014

A multilayered blend of suspense, mythology and the supernatural, anchored by a thoughtful, young heroine.

TAKING JENNY HOME

In her first YA fantasy novel, Kane (Creative Writing, 2002, etc.) deftly weaves the absorbing tale of a shape-shifting Irish wizard, a lethal ghost, a cursed island and a modern-day young girl who may be able to put everything right.

Kane pulls out all the stops in her lively debut fantasy for teens and older tweens. Twelve-year-old Kaitlin, her little brother, poet father and artist mother have moved to Merlin’s Island off the coast of Maine to run an inn. The venture is failing, though, and the island is reputed to be cursed and haunted by the bloody ghost of a “fire-born changeling.” With the appearance of mysterious stranger Michael McClure, the family’s luck turns around; in no time, the inn is a bustling success. Is it merely a coincidence, or is Michael the mythical Irish sea-wizard Manannan Mac Lir, summoned by Kaitlin’s secret prayer? If so, has he been drawn by the island’s curse as well? Is a little girl’s ghost killing people with a bloody touch? And is Kaitlin actually a “true witch,” with the power to help heal the island and dispel its ghost? In this colorful, well-crafted fantasy, Kane easily keeps all of these plates spinning and more: Why does Kaitlin’s mom paint a disturbing and perhaps prescient piece of art? Is the sudden alliance between town busybody Mrs. Roseberry and antiques dealer Sheridan Lockwood more nefarious than simple rumormongering? The singing voices of both Kaitlin and Mac Lir prove crucial to the plot, as do the ancient Chain of Mongan that Kaitlin wears as Michael’s protective gift and a “witch’s scope” sent to Kaitlin by eccentric Dr. Castlemaine for use only in a dire supernatural emergency. Kane brings the diverse plotlines together in a satisfying, fiery crescendo of magical events that feature the redemptive act of a golden-eyed stag and a vivid depiction of Kaitlin’s courageous struggle to tap into a mystical song of healing. In a teasing question-mark twist as the novel draws to a close, the islanders try rationalize the inexplicable: Did any of it really happen? Either way, in Kane’s capable hands, the magic lingers for Kaitlin and for readers.

A multilayered blend of suspense, mythology and the supernatural, anchored by a thoughtful, young heroine. 

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-615-42302-9

Page Count: 250

Publisher: New Dublin Press

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2014

An exquisitely detailed, fantastic realm of wizards, witches, vampires and werecreatures that’s begging for a series.

THE BLACK PHOENIX

Kemp’s debut fantasy-thriller takes place in a world ruled by supernatural beings threatened by a looming horde of lost souls in the heart of Atlanta.

Seven years after the “supernaturals” took the world from the humans, Mutt, a half-breed—his mother’s a witch, his father's a werewolf—seems to prefer solitude. But he finds himself party to an imminent war between the surviving humans, many hiding behind the walls of Fort Buckhead, and the vampires, led by the queen, who’s upset that Mutt refused an offer to join her clan. Everyone, however, is menaced by Dead Town, an ever-expanding region of black magic from which most don’t return. The devastated lands—half the human population is gone—feel dystopian, and Kemp meticulously establishes this new world with searing details: a precarious truce between the supernaturals and humans; frequent orgies, for both indulgence and procreation; and complex villainy featuring Mutt’s vamp friend Darryl, who’s seemingly reluctant to partake in violence against humans, and a powerful wizard who holds no allegiances. Mutt may not be the most sympathetic protagonist (he’s isolated himself even from his family), but he’s certainly unique: He’s the only werepanther, at least in this book, and for guidance, he has a rare earth spirit: Ed, a talking cat. Mutt can also communicate with the ghosts that populate Dead Town. His exceptionality is why the vampires want to turn him and why he’s enlisted by the queen to find a way through Fort Buckhead’s hefty defenses and trace the wizard or witch who’s likely responsible for creating Dead Town. Kemp fills his book with intense scenes, like the gripping battle with Mutt and his pseudo-girlfriend Celeste, and plenty of mystery, including the ominous and recurring phrase “The Black Phoenix shall rise again.” There’s humor too; it’s easy to forget that Ed’s a cat, until he laps up his vodka. Some questions in the story are left unanswered, though a sequel should resolve those issues.

An exquisitely detailed, fantastic realm of wizards, witches, vampires and werecreatures that’s begging for a series.

Pub Date: Oct. 17, 2013

ISBN: 978-1492996675

Page Count: 316

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 3, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2014

Poetic fantasy tales that will mesmerize readers of any age.

The Legends of Lynquest

SEARCH FOR GREATNESS & SECRET OF THE CHILD & TALE OF TWO FACES

This YA fantasy debut anthologizes three novellas in which heroes search for treasure to help stop an evil sorceress.

Young Tobias lives in the cozy town of Summers Glen. One day, after escaping from some bullies, he encounters a strange old man who invites him to hear a tale about Lynquest the Great. “But those stories are just fairy tales,” Tobias argues, before he settles in to listen. So begins Search for Greatness, the first of three adventures detailing the life of Lynquest, a hero who starts out as a 12-year-old tanner’s son named Tiny. After the youngster removes a sword from a dragon’s hide, he and the creature become friends for life. Afterward, Tiny decides to test his manhood by traveling to the city of Salizar. His perilous undertakings soon raise his esteem in the eyes of Ironcrest Castle’s royalty. During these years, Tiny learns about a sacred scepter and four enchanted rings that are capable of uniting mankind. Every thousand years, however, a wicked sorceress named Salina attempts to gain control of the scepter and, through it, the world. Secret of the Child and Tale of Two Faces follow Lynquest and his friends as they fight to protect mankind. These magnificently imagined tales within tales show that debut author Hess knows and passionately loves classical fantasy. Tolkien himself might have been proud to have written these lines: “There is strength out here in the silence of nature. Here, a man’s thoughts can grow strong and tall like trees and his spirit is at peace.” The adventures are dense with mythic characters—such as Subakai the dragon and Queen Emily of the Eternal Rose—who accomplish equally mythic feats. In a thrilling sequence reminiscent of the 1967 film The Jungle Book, Lynquest and his boy companion, Sebastian, face enormous snakes known as Malice and Avarice. But for all the swashbuckling, Hess’ overall theme of hope remains paramount, for it is “[l]ike moonbeams on the surface of the water, so easily broken by a ripple but always returning.”

Poetic fantasy tales that will mesmerize readers of any age.

Pub Date: Nov. 25, 2013

ISBN: 978-1481964531

Page Count: 274

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2014

One of the best paranormal fantasy releases of this year—a self-publishing benchmark.

Masters' Mysterium

WISCONSIN DELLS

This extraordinary work of paranormal fantasy—a debut, no less—revolves largely around the morally bankrupt owner of a museum of oddities who attempts to reinvigorate his flagging business by capturing the Hodag, a legendary creature believed to inhabit the woodlands of northern Wisconsin.

The Rev. Jay Masters is a scumbag. A former faith healer, he currently owns Masters’ Mysterium—“a collection of every oddity, rumor, hearsay, improbable event, and conundrum created by nature or man”—a failing business in Wisconsin Dells that’s being overshadowed by nearby amusement and water parks. With few options left, he hires three hillbilly hunters to go into northern Wisconsin and trap a mysterious beast that has been rumored to be killing unwary travelers. But when two of the hunters end up ripped apart, the sole survivor ranting about aliens and monsters, Masters decides to visit the remote town of Creekside himself. There, he meets the town’s strange residents, including his 21-year-old daughter, Trudy, a waitress at the unfortunately named Cluck and Grunt restaurant; she’s not exactly happy to meet him for the first time. The mythical beast turns out to be a demon, and Masters and his daughter soon become entangled in a supernatural war between seraphic beings and the forces of evil. But this isn’t run-of-the-mill paranormal fantasy with angels. The characters are extremely well-developed, the narrative is intelligent and at times highly humorous, the storyline is original and engaging, and the religious aspects are decidedly understated. The first installment of a series, this is paranormal fantasy done right: a unique, relentlessly entertaining page-turner that will appeal to a wide range of readers. Fortunately, there’s more to come.

One of the best paranormal fantasy releases of this year—a self-publishing benchmark.

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2013

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 30, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

Beautifully refined, intelligent and profound.

ETHICS OF THE UNDEAD

VAMPIRES POSE QUESTIONS ON LOVE, DIVERSITY AND RELIGION IN THE SAWTOOTH MOUNTAINS

Four teens must cling to each other for survival when they find that their remote wilderness boarding school is actually a school for vampires who are all too eager to feast on their new classmates.

Jung Soo, Hector Campos, Kathy Campion-Swink and Lionel Worthington each have different reasons for accepting scholarships to the Sawtooth Wilderness Academy: Soo loves the mountains and hopes to improve her English; Hector is offered the school as an alternative to juvie; Kathy has run away from a slew of boarding schools, and her parents were reassured to hear the academy has never had a successful runaway; and Lionel, who dreams of joining the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, has been promised private violin instruction at the academy after cuts to arts funding and rejectionfrom the Chicago High School for the Arts left him without other routes to pursue his dreams. Little do they know that the academy is actually a school for vampires; it has recently become a public charter school in order to accept state funding. To keep its funding, however, the school must pass an inspection by the school board, demonstrating a certain level of diversity, which the student body is severely lacking—that’s where the scholarship students come in. While the faculty has taken measures to protect the new students during the weeks leading up to the inspection, that hardly makes them feel safe: The Satanic Legion’s strong presence in the school is dying to find a way around the rules, and the moody, unpredictable teenage vampires constantly drool over them as a convenient source of nutrition. While they quickly find allies among the students and faculty, the main characters know they must escape. But how? And who will get hurt in the process? Schechter (Murder in Millbrook, 2012) manages to explore complex questions about ethics, diversity and culture without proselytizing to readers or detracting from an absolutely riveting storyline that few YA authors beyond Neal Shusterman have pulled off. The slow, sophisticated narrative structure reflects Shusterman’s, using multiple points of view and a lot of patience to allow readers to form their own opinions about richly developed characters as the story unfolds. While fans of teen vampires will be delighted to find something different, teen dystopia and horror fans who turn their noses up at the genre should certainly make an exception for this smart, fun read from an up-and-coming YA author.

Beautifully refined, intelligent and profound.

Pub Date: Nov. 20, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-939166-26-5

Page Count: 446

Publisher: Merrimack Media

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2014

A winsome cyberpunk adventure.

NETfold

In Shomron’s sci-fi debut set in a virtual world known as the NET, a 15-year-old boy must combat users’ connections being sabotaged as well as a possible alien invasion.

Troy Bentley, a well-known puzzle champ, is one of many surfers of the NET. Unfortunately, so is his supercomputer, Flint, who develops an anti-virus program that’s more effective than Babel, the unit designed to protect the NET. Flint’s program is an anomaly, since it doesn’t seem to derive its energy from the NET, prompting Babel to open an investigation. Babel is also looking into a surfer who, after his connection was prematurely severed, had his memory wiped completely rather than forgetting only his last surf. Meanwhile, Flint and Troy check out a time fold—a gap that’s not part of the NET—that Flint’s discovered; there, they find what might be an abandoned civilization. But when they try to close the opening they’ve created, they figure out that something, perhaps aliens, might have passed through. Shomron has constructed a world that’s deliciously complex but described in such a compact, coherent manner that readers might not realize how much info he’s packed in. He clearly distinguishes the NET by referring to the real world as “Earth” and noting the time discrepancy—every Earth hour is a full NET day. The endlessly fascinating virtual world was allowed to develop on its own for millions of NET years; now, it’s much like an alien planet, with its only city, Netville, surrounded by regions of dense jungles and strange creatures, such as a tree that attacks prey with its branches. The exhilarating, elaborate plot includes an attempted murder, a secret conspirator and a rogue group, Pira-net, working against NET authorities. Troy’s friend Maggie and his younger brother, Adam, are worthy companions, but Flint steals the show with his hysterical antics: He takes on different forms, like a dragon or, most adorably, a bear in a green suit, and he isn’t above pretending to be Troy in the NET so that, for example, he can win a contest in which a computer upgrade is the prize. Parts of the story are oversimplified but charmingly so, in particular the instantly recognizable components of the NET, like the NET police or a cup of hot choco-net.

A winsome cyberpunk adventure.

Pub Date: July 16, 2014

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 358

Publisher: Mendele Electronic Books Ltd

Review Posted Online: Aug. 14, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

A visually powerful, angst-ridden and sometimes funny story set in a world of killer DJs and smuggled soul music.

Grooveworld

THE OHM CHRONICLES BOOK 1

In Gray’s sci-fi/fantasy debut, the highly stratified society of Overtone finds itself torn apart in a fight to channel the Ohm, a ubiquitous but tightly controlled energy source akin to electricity.

Like most young men, Flick dreams of being a Shaper, someone who can literally create new worlds by adeptly joining and mixing musical sounds. To see if he has this ability, he visits the Resident, the Shaper designator, who lives in the center of Overtone. The Resident says nothing significant at their first meeting, yet Flick comes to a much fuller understanding of the scope of his powers when an explosion upsets the flow of Ohm to the grid, unleashing tensions between the privileged people of the Inner Rings and the hardworking citizens of the Outer Rings. Flick begins a wildly imaginative journey that takes him through fights against far more powerful, embittered foes while exposing him to the heartbreak of hero worship and love from afar. Partly a coming-of-age story, partly a detailed exploration of the physics of music and sound waves, Gray’s novel features marvelous passages of sci-fi flight: “[Flick] examined the various shapes and sizes of the sound waves, the way the bold bass throes bounded forward like lumbering whales, or the way the high pitched screams frizzed up like dust motes on a kitchen floor. The tunnel of light and sound throbbed and shifted and echoed.” While the conceit of a world that operates entirely on sound waves and bootleg mixes wears slightly thin over the course of a full-length novel, the enthusiasm with which Gray writes often makes up for the occasionally heavy-handed allusions to a society engaged in class war. Flick’s culture shock and growing awareness of the disparities inherent in a tightly regulated caste system are interspersed with oversize, playful creatures that are half-organic, half-subwoofer. The novel suffers a bit from its worldbuilding; every one of the hero’s actions is colored with outré magnitude. Regardless, Gray’s ability to create a richly imagined universe will delight genre enthusiasts, and his skill bodes well for future efforts.

A visually powerful, angst-ridden and sometimes funny story set in a world of killer DJs and smuggled soul music.

Pub Date: May 8, 2014

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Ohm Press

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2014

An inventive, delectable take on Stoker’s classic.

The Carpathian Assignment

THE TRUE HISTORY OF THE APPREHENSION AND DEATH OF DRACULA VLAD TEPES, COUNT AND VOIVODE OF THE PRINCIPALITY OF TRANSYLVANIA

In Wagar’s (An American in Vienna, 2011) historical horror novel, detectives in 1896 Transylvania suspect that the enigmatic Count Dracula is responsible for numerous disappearances in the area.

When newly assigned Chief of Police Kálváry Istvan arrives in Transylvania’s Bistritz district, he’s initially unaware of the unusually high number of unexplained missing persons, which includes his predecessor. Bistritz also has its share of unsolved murders, so Istvan and Inspector Gábor Kasza believe a serial murderer is at large. It isn’t long before the investigation centers on Count Dracula, who locals think is a vampire. The Roma who live in the woods on Dracula’s estate in exchange for work—including hauling mysterious boxes filled with dirt—are apparently too scared to talk about the count. Meanwhile, Dracula is shipping an abundance of crates overseas. Finally, frustrated police decide to raid his nearby castle. Wagar’s story, framed as an account from Istvan’s grandson, Stefan Dietrich, in 1924, suggests that Bram Stoker’s definitive 1897 novel Dracula is a fact-based narrative. Although Stefan claims his story is “unabridged,” it mostly relates Stoker’s well-known tale from alternate perspectives. It shows events that take place prior to Jonathan Harker’s arrival in Transylvania, shows young Roma Natália’s point of view while Harker’s at the castle, and updates Bistritz police on Dracula’s time in England via Harker’s telegrams. Many readers, however, will be jarred by Harker’s own story, which is significantly different from the well-known version. The eclectic cast of characters encompasses other figures from Stoker’s original, such as Abraham Van Helsing and Mina Harker, as well as real-life historical figures such as famed psychiatrists Sigmund Freud and Richard von Krafft-Ebing; the latter actively aids the investigation. Wagar fortunately doesn’t rely solely on his primary source of inspiration. He also delivers a few truly shocking sequences, such as when Natália’s overly curious father and uncle, Béla and Nikola, peek inside one of the heavily guarded boxes in transport. There are also some alluringly elegiac passages: “The sky went pink, then purple and then twilight until the sun sank behind the mountains.” Because no vampire story is complete without a romance, Wagar provides a new one: Widower Istvan, who lost his wife two years ago, has his passion reignited by the Baroness Ribanszky Julianna, whose daughter is one of the disappeared.

An inventive, delectable take on Stoker’s classic.

Pub Date: May 28, 2014

ISBN: 978-1495498909

Page Count: 324

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 12, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

Sharp-toothed and Bluetoothed—gigabyte-size political and social satire for the wired generation.

FURTL

In a dumbed-down, dystopic near-future America, high-tech tycoon Manny Kahn fights to save the nation from political pathologies brought about by his own creation, a ubiquitous online search engine.

Any resemblance to Google or Facebook is very likely intentional in Witherspoon’s satirical, near-future look at the political swamps into which info-tech pathologies are taking America. Manny Kahn was once an idealistic hacktavist who created a breakthrough search-engine algorithm called furtl, primarily to hype his parents’ floral business. Now furtl is everywhere as a tech device/multimedia platform. But after a grim long-range business projection due to unexpected killer-app competition from China, Manny gets ousted from his company (and failing marriage) via a fraudulent sex-harassment charge. After six years spent in an off-the-grid rustic retreat in Bhutan, Manny gets a glimpse of the isolationist, corrupt Red State nightmare that America has become thanks to his unscrupulous successors at furtl. A senile, Reagan-like president presides over 25 percent unemployment following calamitous privatization of most social services, which left a few powerful Washington, D.C.–connected corporations in charge. The rich dwell in gated communities with private militias, while dissent (or belief in evolution) among the poor and angry is quashed by a powerful Homeland Security–type department empowered by furtl’s data-mining surveillance. Obesity has hit 80 percent; potato chips are the standard diet. Manny returns to take down the establishment he unwittingly created, but even the Occupy-like terrorists (the “Leftea Party”) he joins seem to be the cretins of tomorrow from Mike Judge’s film Idiocracy. Tech-talk sometimes comes in massive doses, intimidating for noobs, but Witherspoon keeps the narrative as lean as an iPad and resists the gimmick of writing the thing in text-message shorthand. Though characterizations are often tweet-deep, the nonstop invention and wit spare neither the left nor the right. Such is the author’s Swiftian persuasion that the upbeat denouement rings rather hollow; a society gone this far down the anti-intellectual pipeline will have a hard time booting back up.

Sharp-toothed and Bluetoothed—gigabyte-size political and social satire for the wired generation.

Pub Date: Nov. 23, 2013

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 180

Publisher: Marginal Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 20, 2014

A resounding success that will have audiences begging for more.

Galadria

PETER HUDDLESTON & THE RITES OF PASSAGE (THE GALADRIA FANTASY TRILOGY) (VOLUME 1)

In this YA fantasy debut, a lonely boy discovers that his fate is tied to a hidden realm.

Peter Huddleston, 12, spends his time alone, reading comics and mystery novels, eating candy and throwing his boomerang. He has taken the death of his mother, Patricia, quite hard and doesn’t enjoy other kids’ company. His father has since remarried, and his stepmother’s penchants for bland food and the color beige only depress him more. Now that school has ended, Peter has been roaming his small world, and the neighbors see him and his boomerang as a menace. When his father tells him that he must spend the summer at his maternal aunt Gillian’s home, Hillside Manor, he thinks the worst. The lavish property, however, shocks Peter from his doldrums; it has an animal preserve, a museum, a library—and leads to Galadria, the Golden Realm. Gillian explains to the boy that she—along with Peter’s mother, when she was still alive—rules this magical world as the leader of the House of Willowbrook. More astoundingly, Peter is next in line to rule! But the slimy Knor, of the House of Shadowray, says that Peter isn’t fit for the throne. Can he complete the four Rites of Passage and ensure Willowbrook’s reign? Debut novelist de Leon begins his trilogy right, transporting readers with animated prose and colorful ideas. He captures the adolescent mind perfectly, as when Peter envisions life with his aunt, where he “would probably have to floss years of dried, chewed up prunes from her crusty dentures.” During the dangerous Rites of Passage, Peter is aided by enchanted Creamers, which, when eaten, imbue him with magical abilities (a far cry from the horrendous amount of junk food he eats in the story’s first half). A spark of maturity resonates when Gillian tells her nephew, “I ask you to agree to a life of great privilege and great responsibility.” Overall, this adventure does everything the first portion of a trilogy should—except reveal Galadria. de Leon mischievously pushes readers toward Part 2.

A resounding success that will have audiences begging for more.

Pub Date: June 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-0692227268

Page Count: 170

Publisher: Galadria Worldwide

Review Posted Online: July 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

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