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Fantasy Book Review: Untold

Untold by Sarah Rees Brennan

Synopsis:
It’s time to choose sides. . . .

In this second book in the Lynburn Legacy, the sorcerous roots of Sorry-in-the-Vale have been exposed. No one in the town is safe, and a decision must be made: pay the sorcerers’ blood sacrifice, or fight. Will the townspeople (magical and not) become “owned” by the sorcerers who believe it is their right to rule? If Kami Glass has anything to say about it, evil will not win. Despite having given up her own piece of magic, she is determined to do everything she can to make a difference. And whether they want to or not, her circle of friends (and potential boyfriends) will not be able to help but go along with her unusual tactics.

Review:
Kami and Jared have broken their magical connection, and awkwardness ensues as neither know about their true feelings for each other. Ash adds to the strain as their lopsided love triangle continues. And Rusty is just my favorite character by far. Kami and her friends have amazing personalities that the author has created and developed. I enjoy reading their personal interactions and drama just as much as getting into the meat of the story.

Untold is a tension-filled, exciting build-up as magicians in Sorry-in-the-Vale must choose sides. Once again, this fantasy has plenty of humor, suspense, secrets, magic, and romance. There are several surprises along the way, concluding with a major cliffhanger that will leave readers impatient for the next in this emotional roller coaster ride of a fantasy series.

Guest Post: Anton Strout

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Author Anton Strout joins SciFiChick.com to talk about his latest release STONECAST and the latest trends in urban fantasy!

“Blank is the New Vampire”
By Anton Strout

I’ve been in the publishing industry for sixteen years now. Six of those years have been as an author: first, for my Simon Canderous paranormal detective novels and now for second series the gargoyle-tastic Spellmason Chronicles, which includes ALCHEMYSTIC and the just released STONECAST. During my time in the book world, I get asked at a minimum of at least twice the same rumbling industry wide question: what’s the next paranormal trend?

When I started behind the scenes in 1998 at one of the Big Six, vampires were the big undead man on campus. Even then, the industry was saying vampire literature was a dying trend (no pun intended). Yet here we are, years later, with vampires still making the bestseller list. Not so dead, are they?

In recent years (I’m looking in your direction, PRIDE & PREJUDICE & ZOMBIES) everyone’s favorite brain eaters have become super hot. Werewolves and other shapeshifters have also declared the new hotness. There was even a trend out there of publishing books about selkies, which—as best I can recall without looking it up—are shape shifting were-seals out for some sexay times. Over and over fantasy/romance trend pieces try to put their finger on what the next monster hotness will be, but does anyone really know?

Man, I hope it’s gargoyles. Continue reading Guest Post: Anton Strout

Fantasy Book Review: Conjured

Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst

Synopsis:
Eve has a new home, a new face, and a new name—but no memories of her past. She’s been told that she’s in a witness protection program. That she escaped a dangerous magic-wielding serial killer who still hunts her. The only thing she knows for sure is that there is something horrifying in her memories the people hiding her want to access—and there is nothing they won’t say—or do—to her to get her to remember.

At night she dreams of a tattered carnival tent and buttons being sewn into her skin. But during the day, she shelves books at the local library, trying to not let anyone know that she can do things—things like change the color of her eyes or walk through walls. When she does use her strange powers, she blacks out and is drawn into terrifying visions, returning to find that days or weeks have passed—and she’s lost all short-term memories. Eve must find out who and what she really is before the killer finds her—but the truth may be more dangerous than anyone could have ever imagined.

Review:
Eve suffers from severe memory loss. She remembers nothing before starting her new life with the Witness Protection Program. And when she discovers she has magic, she loses time and wakes up with memory loss almost every time she tries to use it. The agents working with her tell her they need to be a witness at a killer’s trial. But they won’t give her any information beyond that. Her dreams are dark and scary and are glimpses of her past. But Eve is so scared and confused, she doesn’t know who to trust. She’d rather run from her troubles than face them.

Conjured is another standalone fantasy from one of my favorite authors. This is more dark and creepy than her other novels. With plenty of suspense, unnerving imagery, mystery, romance, and magic – this fantasy is completely unpredictable and immensely captivating. It kept me guessing to the very end. The climactic ending made up for the slow start. And the feel of the story went from a dark, psychological fantasy into a twisted fairy tale. It’s wholly unique.

Exclusive Interview: Sarah Beth Durst

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Author Sarah Beth Durst joins SciFiChick.com again to talk about her latest fantasy release, CONJURED!

Can you tell us a bit about CONJURED in your own words?

CONJURED is the creepiest and wildest novel I’ve ever written. It’s basically a psychological thriller. With magic. Lots of magic. It’s about a girl in the paranormal witness protection program, who, haunted by visions of carnival tents and tarot cards, must remember her past and why she has strange abilities before a magic-wielding serial killer hunts her down.

Who is Eve? Why is she in the witness protection program?

Ooh, look, shiny bird!

*dodges question*

Seriously, those are the key questions. Who is Eve? She has no idea. She doesn’t know who she is. She doesn’t know who to trust. But the novel isn’t precisely about her discovering the answer — it’s about her creating the answer. The heart of the novel is her journey from no one to someone, from a pawn to someone in charge of her own destiny.

How did you approach writing a character with complete memory loss?

I wrote CONJURED using a very tight point-of-view. The idea is that the reader goes on this journey with Eve and feels all the claustrophobic chaos of being such a blank-slate kind of character. To compensate, I tried to make the world around her and all the secondary characters as vivid as possible, and I kept very careful track of everything that happens that Eve doesn’t witness or remember so that those things could inform the words and actions of those other characters.

[SPOILERISH] Why is the killer to be tried in our world’s courts versus the place where he committed the crimes?

This world has no magic. So it’s the only safe place to try a magic-wielding serial killer. (Note: the judge is not from this world so the trial is fair.) Plus it’s really Malcom’s case, and this is his home.

CONJURED is by far your darkest novel. Has this been a progression of your writing style? Or is it just how your stories have developed?

Continue reading Exclusive Interview: Sarah Beth Durst

SciFi Book Review: Steelheart

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

Synopsis:
Ten years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics.

But Epics are no friend of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man you must crush his will.

Nobody fights the Epics . . . nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans, they spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them.

And David wants in. He wants Steelheart—the Epic who is said to be invincible. The Epic who killed David’s father. For years, like the Reckoners, David’s been studying, and planning—and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience.

He’s seen Steelheart bleed. And he wants revenge.

Review:
David doesn’t think of himself as smart, but he’s an expert on weapons and Epics. Epics are the super-powered men and women who are now malevolent rulers, constantly fighting each other for more power. No Epics have ever stepped up to be heroes. Only the Reckoners fight back, regular humans who take out the Epics in secret. David’s brilliant deductions leads him to the Reckoners in hopes of finally having a chance to take out Steelheart and avenging his father’s murder.

Sanderson proves once again that he is a master at creating fascinating characters and weaving complex plots. Fast-paced and action-packed, Steelheart is a solid first installment in a new, science fiction YA trilogy. Fans of X-Men will enjoy this super-powered twist with plenty of adventure, suspense, and mystery.

Sanderson also wrote the start of an excellent new fantasy series for young adults, The Rithmatist, which released earlier this summer (reviewed here) that shouldn’t be missed.

SciFi Book Review: The Exodus Towers

The Exodus Towers by Jason M. Hough

Synopsis:
The sudden appearance of a second space elevator in Brazil only deepens the mystery about the aliens who provided it: the Builders. Scavenger crew captain Skyler Luiken and brilliant scientist Dr. Tania Sharma have formed a colony around the new Elevator’s base, utilizing mobile towers to protect humans from the Builders’ plague. But they are soon under attack from a roving band of plague-immune soldiers. Cut off from the colony, Skyler must wage a one-man war against the new threat as well as murderous subhumans and thugs from Darwin—all while trying to solve the puzzle of the Builders’ master plan . . . before it’s too late for the last vestiges of humanity.

Review:
Following the events in the last novel, Skyler is separated from the rest of his group and teams up with immune survivors in Brazil against a ruthless thug. Tania tries to lead from the new Elevator, but having to trade with the loathsome Russell. And Russell makes a deal with the leader of a religious cult, which he comes to regret. Just when you think you can’t hate anyone more than Russell, we’re introduced to two more characters who are more than a match for his evil.

Once again, Hough has done an exceptional job of character-building and continuing the story with drama, suspense, and intrigue. The Exodus Towers is a solid sequel that continues to tease about the nature and purpose of the alien builders. Meanwhile, the dark and gritty, post-apocalyptic setting is engaging. And the story is even more fast-paced and exciting than the first. I’m looking forward to the third in the impressive Dire Earth Cycle and finally learning the answers teased in these first two novels.

Fantasy Book Review: The Third Door

The Third Door by Emily Rodda

Synopsis:
Three magic Doors are the only way in and out of the walled city of Weld. The golden Door is grand and majestic — a Door for heroes. The silver Door hints at mystery and knowledge — a door for schemers. But the plain wooden Door has always held the most appeal for Rye and his friend Sonia. And now, at last, they have the chance to open it.

The city of Weld is under attack by skimmers, flying beasts that terrorize the night. If Rye and Sonia can’t discover the enemy sending the skimmers in time, Weld has no hope. Twice before, Rye and Sonia left Weld on a quest to save it. Twice before, they failed.

Now there’s just one Door left — one last chance to save the people of Weld. Rye and Sonia know everything depends on them. But nothing can prepare them for the horror that waits behind the wooden Door.

Review:
Rye, his brothers, and Sonia use the wooden door this time – the one that calls to Rye. And it’s their last chance to save Weld. The Gold door was an adventure that led to stopping a dictator. The Silver door led to a dark place where mutant beasts were being bred. The wooden door leads to a town where a traitor is at work.

The Third Door concludes this fantasy trilogy with big revelations. While some details are a bit predictable, the big reveal is completely surprising. The characters are engaging. The lore is fascinating. And the plot is fresh and suspenseful. Full of mystery, drama, humor, and magic – I thoroughly enjoyed this trilogy and recommend it to fantasy fans of all ages.

SciFi Book Review: Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot: To Obey

Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot: To Obey by Mickey Zucker Reichert

Synopsis:
Law 2. A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

2036: Robotic technology has evolved into the realm of self-aware, sentient mechanical entities. But even as humanity contends with the consequences of its most brilliant creation, there are those who have their own designs for the robots: enslavement…or annihilation.

Susan Calvin is about to enter her second year as a psych resident at the Manhattan Hasbro teaching hospital when a violent crime strikes her very close to home.

When she was young, Susan lost her mother in a terrible car wreck that also badly injured her father. She now believes the accident was an attempted murder by government powers who wanted her parents dead. Susan has always known that there was a faction of the U.S. government that wanted to hijack her father’s work for military use. Now, it seems that faction is back.

As she struggles to overcome her pain and confusion as well as deal with her studies, Susan finds herself hunted by violent anti-tech vigilantes who would revert mankind to the dark ages—and at the same time watched very closely by extremists who want high-tech genocide. Somehow she must find a way to stop them both.

Review:
Susan cares deeply for her patients, and takes their cases personally – looking for misdiagnosis and cures instead of just treating the way former doctors have. And as she is just recovering from her boyfriend’s death, another murder happens to someone close to her. Now Susan must put aside her career to uncover a mystery about her past and the present while fleeing from people who think she holds the secret to unlocking the robotic laws.

This sequel is even more exciting than the last novel. Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot: To Obey blends medical drama, science fiction, mystery, and intrigue. Though the action doesn’t really pick up until about a third of the way in the novel. While the first part is interesting and moving, I don’t get as into medical drama and procedures. However, the second half of the book certainly pays off as Susan gets pulled into her father’s work and a fight against an unknown enemy. Susan is a great character; and the story is intriguing. I look forward to the next in this solid series.