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The Last American Vampire

Seth Grahame-Smith. Grand Central, $27 (416p) ISBN 978-1-4555-0212-7

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Grahame-Smith follows 2010’s Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter with another often fun, occasionally frustrating secret history. Lincoln’s companion Henry Sturges once lived in Roanoke, and was turned into a vampire after most of the colonists (including his pregnant wife) were slaughtered. Shortly after Lincoln’s assassination, Sturges is drawn into political intrigue when a mysterious European vampire named Grander seems to declare war on the U.S. vampires. As Sturges investigates Grander over the years, he encounters celebrities on both sides of the Atlantic, including Arthur Conan Doyle, Teddy Roosevelt, and John D. Rockefeller. Grahame-Smith clearly has fun mixing vampire mythology and politics into some well-researched history, and readers will forgive the occasional overused trope or bit of excessive cinematic theatricality, as when Sturges blows smoke through the nostrils of a decapitated head. There are some nice twists—one spoiled by the previous book, unfortunately—and fans of supernatural fights and gory killings will find plenty to enjoy. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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A Murder of Clones: The Anniversary Day Saga, Book 3

Kristine Kathryn Rusch. WMG (www.wmgpublishing.com), $18.99 trade paper (380p) ISBN 978-1-56146-608-5

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Clone family arguments produce corpses in this involving far-future thriller (following 2012’s Blowback). Earth Alliance marshal Judita Gomez, responding to a request for assistance from an alien race applying for Alliance membership, discovers a hidden enclave of clones busy hunting each other. After rescuing three, she watches, horrified, as the enclave self-destructs. Fifteen years later, when Earth’s moon is assaulted in repeated terrorist attacks, she is upset to find that the suspects are more of the same clones. Rusch creates a well-populated and morally shaky setting where clones are property and full humans act more alien than the extraterrestrials. The action sequences are sometimes rushed, but the ethical conundrums are examined in the right amount of detail. Fans of Rusch’s Retrieval Artist universe will enjoy the expansion of the Anniversary Day story, with new characters providing more perspectives on its signature events, while newcomers will get a good introduction to the series. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Mime Order

Samantha Shannon. Bloomsbury, $25 (528p) ISBN 978-1-62040-893-3

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This intricate second installment in Shannon’s ambitious seven-book series, after 2013’s The Bone Season, follows dreamwalker Paige Mahoney, a peculiarly opaque protagonist, after her daring escape from the penal colony of Sheol I. Now on the run from Scion, the organization that controls the London of 2059, Paige’s only hope for survival is to return to the Unnatural Assembly, those who control the community of clairvoyants who rule London’s underground. In order to destroy Scion and alert her fellow voyants to the existence of the mysterious, often malevolent Rephaim, she decides to seize control of the Assembly and become the new Underqueen of the syndicate. To do that, she’ll have to truly master her powers, avoid relentless authorities and occasional hit men, and possibly betray those closest to her. Though the story starts slowly, it quickly picks up speed, racing toward broadly telegraphed plot points in unexpected ways. Shannon’s world-building is original and intriguing, especially the complex, almost mythic voyant underground. However, this installment does rely heavily on knowledge of the previous one. Agent: David Godwin, David Godwin Associates. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Wildalone

Krassi Zourkova. Morrow, $25.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-232802-1

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Ancient Greek mystery religions, culture clash, and college romance form a heady blend in Zourkova’s poetic, striking debut. In the fall of 2006, Thea Slavin applies to Princeton from her native Bulgaria, unaware that her older sister, Elza—about whom Thea’s family refuses to speak—disappeared from the university 15 years earlier. Once on campus, Thea finds the memory of her passionate, talented “earlier version” impossible to evade, as one of her professors is obsessed with Elza’s theories about Orpheus and Dionysus. Thea also has to contend with the attentions of beautiful, wealthy brothers Rhys and Jake Estlin, whose dizzying sexual allure almost disguises their secretive, erratic behavior. Bulgarian-born Zourkova draws perceptive and persuasive connections between Balkan folklore and Greek myth, especially when she identifies the Bulgarian samodivi—lethal, sensual female spirits of the forest, translated by Thea as “wildalones”—with the Greek maenads, but she fails to anchor her romantic triangle with the same meticulous conviction. The resulting novel is strongest when building its maddening mysteries, and it falters when its characters need to deal with the answering revelations. Agent: Grainne Fox, Fletcher & Company. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Thousand Emperors

Gary Gibson. Tor UK (Trafalgar Sq., dist.), $13.95 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-330-51972-4

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This dark and cautionary stand-alone sequel to Final Days careens through a future world that has survived one apocalypse, but seems to be heading toward another. The intricately crafted plot is centered on the Tian Di, a collection of worlds that represents half of a human race fractured after a disastrous run-in with alien technology. While the other human collective, called the Coalition, thrives and evolves, the Tian Di suffers under the stagnant and benighted leadership of the Temur Council, which rules through fear while aggregating unto itself all privilege and power, including the ability to live nearly forever. When a Council member is murdered, the Council turns to Archivist Luc Gabion for help. Gabion is soon overwhelmed, enmeshed in intrigue after intrigue, not knowing whom to trust. Eventually, he is led to re-evaluate his own understanding of history as well as his political allegiances as he slowly grasps the enormity of the danger facing both the Tian Di and the Coalition. The sweep of this book is impressive, and Gibson deftly keeps the action going and the reader enthralled right through the unexpected but thoroughly satisfying ending. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Last Supper

Allison M. Dickson. Hobbes End (www.hobbes-
endpublishing.com), $10.99 trade paper (369p) ISBN 978-0-9859110-5-8

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Tragedy and triumph charge this story set in a weed-infested, mutated future full of provocative paradoxes of amorality and faith. “My last meal has a salad. I’ve always hated salad,” recounts tortured hero John Welland at the beginning of his memoir of a life spent battling and dodging sentient superweeds, the land-savaging Blight, and the Divine Right, religious zealots who ensure obedience through terror. After Welland’s wife fails her yearly “exam,” a justification for further life, and eats her poisoned last supper, “white hot rage” propels Welland to join an underground rebellion. They introduce him to the Elan Vital, the life force, and soon he discovers a personal connection to it. Marrying speculative, realistic, and fabulist traditions to dystopian formula, Dickson’s paean to individualism both breaks and strengthens the heart. Welland’s character receives “no comfort as he comes face to face with his own tragedy.” The Kafkaesque world of warped normalcy and cruel politics brings intimacy to the classic theme of self-definition in the face of oppression. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Karen Memory

Elizabeth Bear. Tor, $25.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-7653-7524-7

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Bear’s rollicking, suspenseful, and sentimental steampunk novel introduces Karen Memery (“like ‘memory’ only spelt with an e”), a teenage “seamstress”—that is, a prostitute—at Madame Damnable’s Hôtel Mon Cherie in Rapid City. This Pacific Northwest city of an alternate 1878 is home to airships, surgical machines, and other mechanical wonders that can also be put to horrific use. As Karen meets and begins to fall for Priya, another sex worker who escaped from evil pimp Peter Bantle, they learn that Bantle has more dark plans than brothel competition. U.S. Deputy Marshal Bass Reeves and his Comanche partner, Tomoatooah, also tie Bantle to the gruesome murders of some of Rapid City’s most vulnerable women. Bear (The Eternal Sky) gives Karen a colorful voice, sharp eyes, and the spunk and skills necessary to scuffle with bad types as well as to win over people whose help she needs. Her story is a timeless one: a woman doing what is needed to get by while dreaming and fighting for great things to come. Agent: Jennifer Jackson, Donald Maass Literary Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Hammer and Bone

Kirby Crow. Riptide, $16.99 trade paper (250p) ISBN 978-1-62649-205-9

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Crow (Prisoner of the Raven) includes eight dark fantasy stories, ranging from unsatisfyingly short to longer and stronger, in this passable debut collection. The shorter pieces, such as the steampunk “Crank,” suffer severely from being told instead of shown. The titular postapocalyptic zombie tale crams information about its world into the space where the plot should be, and the priest-gone-bad story “No Gods and No Tomorrows” is almost entirely atmosphere. The best piece, “Knights of the Risen God,” pleasantly evokes pulp magazines in its cynically revealing depiction of two men whose government sends them to investigate a mysterious deity or monster in a city made of pearl. “Crowheart” and “Sundog” are also fairly effective tales about smalltown xenophobia, homophobia, magic, and vengeance. Unfortunately, bland prose and a lack of originality prevent even the best pieces from being more than a moment’s diversion. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Crime’s Coming of Age

Clint Miller. CMG, $12.99 trade paper (206p) ISBN 978-0-692234-66-2

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Offbeat doesn’t begin to describe Miller’s caper novel, which centers on simultaneous plots by 17-year-old Kitty Banks and her 11-year-old brother, Kat. When robbers hit the bank owned by their father, Kitty, who’s the bank’s greeter, reacts by mentally rewriting her college admissions essay to describe her heroic actions to foil the thieves. In the real world, Kitty is taken hostage, but she soon turns the tables on her captors, whom she recognizes from school. In an effort to get revenge on her parents, who favor Kat, Kitty leads the crooks to her house to steal her father’s money. Meanwhile, Kat fakes his own kidnapping after he breaks into his mother’s safe and makes off with bags of gold bars. He later tries to convert the precious metal into cash. The plot only gets more ludicrous, and the book only demonstrates how hard it is to successfully mix crime and humor. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Devil’s Dance: A David Spandau Thriller

Daniel Depp. Severn, $28.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8433-6

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David Spandau has a lot on his plate in Depp’s welcome third outing for the L.A. PI (after 2010’s Babylon Nights). Spandau’s relationship with lover Anna Mayhew is at a tipping point, and his absent boss, Walter Coren, has left him to run Coren Security and Investigations. Spandau agrees to take on a job for an old enemy of his, producer Frank Jurado: discovering who is trying to smear comeback director Jerry Margashack. Meanwhile, Spandau’s ex-wife, Dee, wants him to find her husband, Charlie, whose gambling debts have caught up with him. In addition, Spandau must deal with Hollywood moguls like Mel Rosenthal and mobsters like crazy Atom Baldessarian, whose three inept enforcers are known as the Chipmunks. In Depp’s capable hands, Spandau has plenty of time to ponder philosophical questions as he attempts to sort out the tangled lives and lies of others. Agent: Meg Davis, Ki Agency (U.K.). (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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