Friday, August 27, 2010

The Collected Short Works of Poul Anderson, Volume 2: The Queen of Air and Darkness by Poul Anderson – Part 2

NOTE: The Collected Short Works of Poul Anderson, Volume 2: The Queen of Air and Darkness was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by NESFA Press.

It is part 2 of my review of The Collected Works of Poul Anderson, Volume 2: The Queen of Air and Darkness out from NESFA Press. For those interested in a prelude to the review, as well as the reviews of the stories from the first section, please see Part 1 of this review.

“Brake”: After a spaceship mutiny, the ship’s captain must stop a group of fanatics from either taking over or destroying the ship, and put a stopping block in front of a much larger conspiracy. This story showcases Anderson’s ability to write near-perfect hard science fiction action/adventure stories. Completely wonderful in both its action and its characterization.

“The Burning Bridge”: Another tale of space, this one is a bit quieter, yet with deep ethical considerations, as a ship on the brink of reaching a new world has received a message from their old one saying they can come back home. Another very strong story, this one rooted in character as well as ethical drama that reaches new extremes in the world of space exploration.

“A World Called Maanerek”: A man living on a planet, among a more primitive society, knows that he is not the same as everyone else. However, after a victorious hunt, it takes a UFO to show him just how different he is, and what destiny awaits him. At first, this story felt a little slow, but once I got into it, the plot fell into place beautifully, working in the twists and turns, the losses, and yet creating a satisfying ending. A strong piece.

“The Pirate”: When a less-than-honorable man claims to have come clean, a galactic police force of sorts isn’t quite so sure, and what they find when they begin to dig is far more than anyone expected. Another tautly written story, that unwraps perfectly as you read along.

“To Build a World”: After a disaster on the moon as the terraforming project seems to flounder, a plot begins to unfold that might reveal a conspiracy against making the moon into a new Earth. Another well-thought-out future, with strong characters, and plenty of grey characters, rather than black and white.

“Say It with Flowers”: A fun story of a man who is captured while trying to deliver a message in war time, and how he manages to find a way to get the message out. Flowers is a fun character, and his adventure was quick-paced and engaging.

There are also two essays:

“Science Fiction and Science: The Hardness of Hard Science Fiction”: An interesting look at both the hard science fiction out there, as well as Anderson’s own thought processes as he sets out to create a believable, science-based world.

“Science Fiction and History”: A look at history’s lessons, and what they may mean for the future, and also a critique on both well-envisioned futures and those that skimp on thoughtful analysis. An interesting essay, an intriguing point of view, and well-written. This one would find fans outside of the genre for what it has to say about humanity’s time.

And the following poems: “Jennifer’s Song” and “Veleda Speaks.”

The second part of the collection was simply brilliant. Anderson displays his versatility at writing quieter stories of introspection, and following them up with tales of action and hard science. He displays a knowledge of societal interworkings and thoughtful explorations of science and humanity that make for top notch reading. The more I delve into Anderson’s work, the more I find to like. Truly, he is revealing himself to be a literary and genre treasure, and I cannot wait to finish this collection.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Fear the Alien edited by Christian Dunn

NOTE: Fear the Alien was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by The Black Library.

After another lengthy absence from the world of Warhammer 40,000, I return again, this time with the upcoming anthology Fear the Alien. Prepare yourself for xenos/Empire conflict! The stories are as follows:

“Gardens of Tycho” by Dan Abnett: Abnett delivers a story of Magos Drusher, who teams with the local law to discover what is behind a string of brutal killings. But what seems like random slaughter may have a much darker rationale. This story is wonderful, flat out. The characters feel richly fleshed out, the mystery is genuinely engaging and suspenseful, and the plot is fun. If there are more Magos Drusher stories out there, I will be looking for them.

“Fear Itself” by Juliet E. McKenna: A group of soldiers hold a fort at a key placement protecting a bridge, fighting against wave after endless wave of tryanid, who take biological warfare to an extreme. McKenna’s tale is a blast, with strong action, great characters, and a grasp on conveying prolonged conflict that was truly well done. The ending felt a bit too deus ex machine for my tastes, but it was a small price to pay for an otherwise great story.

“Prometheus Requiem” by Nick Kyme: I have had trouble with other Kyme works (Assault on Black Reach: The Novel comes to mind), so I was leery with this one. And was I ever wrong. Kyme blew me away with this story of a group of Salamanders Space Marines exploring a dead ship with far more darkness inside it than they thought. Suspenseful, with strong characters and excellent action, this story is everything Warhammer 40,000 can be.

“Mistress Baeda’s Gift” by Braden Campbell: A tale of the dark elder, and what happens when they fall in love, this one didn’t work very well for me, falling flat and feeling over long.

“Iron Inferno” by C.L. Werner: Werner pleases, as usual, with this tale of orks and the mistake of trying to trick them using human standards. Werner address the ego-centric view that everything must think like us, while at the same time creating a tale without dialogue that thrills, is funny, and manages to do more for orks than any other book I have read on them.

Friday, August 20, 2010

X-Men: Legacy – Divided He Stands

X-Men: Messiah CompleX changed a lot. The team’s old headquarters were destroyed, and they made a major move to a new home in Uncanny X-Men: Divided We Stand. However, even more changed for Professor X. His story is found in the newly-re-titled X-Men: Legacy, the first volume of which is X-Men: Legacy – Divided He Stands.

After what should have been a fatal injury at the end of Messiah CompleX, Xavier is on the brink of death when he is rescued by, of all people, the villain Exodus. Exodus uses his powers to repair Xavier’s broken body, but he needs the help of Xavier’s long-time friend and archenemy Magneto to repair Xavier’s fractured mind. And just as that situation seems to be resolved, Xavier discovers a dark secret buried in his past.

X-Men: Legacy – Divided He Stands contains: X-Men: Legacy #208 (“From Genesis to Revelations”), #209 (From Genesis to Revelations, Part Two”), #210 (“From Genesis to Revelations, Part Three”), #211 (“Sins of the Father, Part One”), #212 (“Sins of the Father, Part Two”).

While X-Men: Legacy isn’t the action fest that Uncanny X-Men is, Mike Carey’s story is incredibly gripping, as he weaves huge amounts of the X-Men’s and Xavier’s past into the story. Xavier’s quest to save his mind and rediscover his memories is one that leads to a lot of dark places in X-Men history, and each is explored in a wonderful tapestry that all fits back together into the frame narrative.

There is plenty of character exploration, and lots and background. The story is an excellent character piece about Xavier, and what he went through and accomplished as head of the X-Men, both good and bad. Solid work.

Things that might perturb readers: The story is definitely continuity-heavy, so some new readers may not get all of the references. This isn’t necessary to enjoy the story, but it may still bother some. Also, while all volumes of X-Men are part of a larger story, and those no true, definite “end” is ever there, the wrapping up of the current story provides that end piece. This volume ends mid story, so it isn’t the best for those looking for a one-and-done book.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Eight Against Reality edited by Dario Ciriello

NOTE: Eight Against Reality was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Panverse Publishing.

Luke Reviews always has its eyes out for good new short story offerings, and a great place to look is among the smaller presses, which seem to take non-novel length fiction far more seriously than the big publishers do. Panverse Publishing made some waves with their first publication, Panverse One, and before the release of Panverse Two, the second in their novella anthology series, Panverse put out a new short fiction anthology, Eight Against Reality. After a very brief introduction from the editor, we dive into the stories.

“The Eminence’s Match” by Juliette Wade: A society grounded in a very distinct caste-system of sorts, this tale of a hard-to-please leader and his desire to control his servants, and the servant who just can’t seem to do things right, ends rather as expected, but getting there was a good journey. I found the plot less interesting than trying to figure out the society in the story, but still a good start to the anthology.

“Kip, Running” by Genevieve Williams: The story of a race through a future Seattle, where you do whatever it takes to be the first to reach the finish line, and worrying about laws is never among your thoughts, Williams’ tale was entertaining, although not as exciting as I had hoped. Perhaps it was a case of misplaced expectations. I thought it would be a story of action and excitement based on the beginning, but I felt it turned more into a melodrama of Kip’s inability to win the girl.

“The Lonely Heart” by Aliette de Bodard: An intriguing tale of China, child prostitution, and the evils that hide out in the open. This story read really smooth, with a flowing prose that worked perfectly for this tale. I had heard many good things about de Bodard’s work, but had yet to experience it, and this was a welcome pleasure.

“The Flying Squids of Zondor” by Doug Sharp: This movie script follows Commandrix Den Dron as she leads her crew to the planet Zondor, populated by sentient squids. I looked forward to pulp-ish adventure, but instead found an awkward, unenjoyable story. The attempts at comedy weren’t funny, the dialogue was stilted, and while it seemed at times to be on purpose, it failed at its attempt to satirize the earlier periods of the genre. The clunker of the volume.

“Spoiling Veena” by Keyan Bowes: A story of designer children in a world where any physical change can be achieved through surgery, where a couple’s daughter decides that she wants to be their son, instead. Well-written, but I’m not sure if I really found the underlining of the story plausible.

“Man’s Best Enemy” by Janice Hardy: One of the best stories of the volume, this one chronicles man’s struggle for survival in a future in which the world has gone to the dogs, to make a bad joke. It isn’t the first story to fill in that setting, and there is one story (“Fit for a Dog” by Howard L. Myers) that I think was slightly more effective than this one, but Hardy’s tale was still a very engaging one, with strong characters and a fun plot. I’ll be looking for more from Hardy.

“Love, Blood, and Octli” by T.L. Morganfield: A tale that worked myth into narrative in a brilliant way (too bad the Mythopoeic Award is only for novels), this story was great in almost every way. Aztec mythology meets a young girl enjoying her childhood, as she is swept up into a tale of gods and a future worth fighting for. Excellent.

“Dancing by Numbers” by Dario Ciriello: A woman learns that she can explore alternate dimensions from the safety of her own head, and starts to lose her own life in the process, in this tale from our editor. This was an engaging take on the alternate dimension story, one that humanized it while still exploring the infinity of possibilities. It wasn’t the best of the collection, but was still a nice way to wrap up the collection.

Eight Against Reality proves to be a strong new collection, featuring four new stories and four reprints, and bodes well for the future of Panverse Publishing. While not all of the stories worked for me, overall they were strong, and had a very large number that were of high-quality. Fans of science fiction and fantasy short stories should check this one out.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Uncanny X-Men: Divided We Stand

Continuing my exploration of X-Men, I finished X-Men: Messiah CompleX, which did much to really revolutionize the status quo of the series. Following on from that story, I will be picking up the threads with Uncanny X-Men and the newly retitled X-Men: Legacy, as well as occasional interlinked stories not from those titles, and of course work on building up the back catalogue. Lots of work ahead! To start down that road, I picked up Uncanny X-Men: Divided We Stand, which picks up the pieces for the X-Men team after X-Men: Messiah CompleX.

After the shocking events to close out Messiah CompleX, the X-Men are on a bit of a hiatus. Scott Summers and Emma Frost are in the Savage Land on vacation, while Wolverine, Colossus, and Nightcrawler are in Russia, trying to help Colossus get over the grief of the apparent death of his love, Kitty Pryde (over in Astonishing X-Men, which isn’t reviewed here), and Angel, Iceman, Warpath, and Hepzibah head out west on a mission that is rather mysterious. However, no one gets the full relaxation that they need, as old enemies try to take advantage of Colossus and his friends, while the team that headed to San Francisco meets a powerful mutant force that seems to have turned the city back into the sixties.

Uncanny X-Men: Divided We Stand contains: Uncanny X-Men # 495-499

After the big blow-out extravaganza that was Messiah CompleX, the X-Men needed some down time. That was one of the highlights of Claremont’s run, showing us some of the time off for the X-Men. However, in Divided We Stand things don’t work out quite as well. The Summers/Frost storyline quickly pulls back to San Francisco, where the whole flower-power scene gets a little old after a while. The storyline just wasn’t as engaging as I would have liked it. However, it does come to a satisfying conclusion that sounds the call for a new home for the X-Men.

The Wolverine/Colossus/Nightcrawler story was much more engaging of the two, with great dialogue and good action. The story as a whole felt rather unimportant as a whole to the furthering of the X-Men storyline, but it was fun, and worth the read.

All-in-all, this one isn’t the best of the collections out there, but it is worth a pick up for fans of the series.


Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Collected Short Works of Poul Anderson, Volume 2: The Queen of Air and Darkness - Part 1

NOTE: The Collected Short Works of Poul Anderson, Volume 2: The Queen of Air and Darkness was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by NESFA Press.

It seems that NESFA Press is trying to educate me my genre of preference. No, it isn’t true that I haven’t read the classics. From Mary Shelley to Jules Verne and H.G. Wells to the pulp era of Hugo Gernsbeck to John W. Capmbell, Jr., Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, A. E. van Vogt, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Ursula K. Le Guin, on to more recent figures, such as Joe Haldeman, Robert Silverberg, etc. I’m obviously missing a host of authors in this bunch, but such is the fate of any list of names like this. Yet, somehow NESFA Press has put up three books in a row that fit right into gaps in my genre education. First James Blish, then Roger Zelazny, and now Poul Anderson. Prior to this, I had a very brief introduction to Poul Anderson, in the form of a single short story and mention of him in I. Asimov, Isaac Asimov’s third volume of his autobiography. So, with the excitement generated from the previous two volumes of NESFA Press collections, I dove into this hefty tome, which I am breaking apart into three reviews, both to focus on the stories a bit more, and to let me get in more reviews for you.

The first third I’m looking at begins after an editor’s note and an introduction by Mike Resnick. The stories are as follows:

“The Queen of Air and Darkness”: Likely the most famous story of the bunch in this section, it was also the one I liked least. Go figure. After a slow start, this story of a world seemingly populated by creatures from fairy tales picks up a bit, finally reaching a satisfying conclusion. Not bad, but not my favorite.

“Industrial Revolution”: A wonderful story of a moment in time that led to a war between Earth and the citizens of the asteroids. Exciting, intriguing, and fast-paced, this one was a lot of fun.

“Operation Afreet”: Absolutely wonderful. In a modern world with magic bound by the laws of physics and an army of mythical, mystical creatures, a werewolf and a witch set out on a secret mission to stop the linchpin of an Islamic terrorist army’s plans. A great combination of magic as rationalized by physics, this story was engaging, with very fun characters.

“The Longest Voyage”: Another of the more famous stories here, and another that I didn’t love. Fast paced, with an interesting premise, this story of sailors and island natives who discover a messiah from the sky had a conclusion that I found imminently predictable. It reminded me of a Ray Bradbury story, “The Flying Machine” I think is the title, where a man discovers a wondrous new technology to a rather odd reaction from his emperor. Perhaps this one suffers from being immolated too often in the genre, but regardless, it was good, but predictable.

“Brave to Be a King”: Part of Anderson’s Time Patrol series, this story of a man trapped in the Iran of 2500 years ago was very fun and fast paced. This is one to keep you entertained, with a thoroughly explored plot and entertaining characters.

The section also contains one essay:

“Science Fiction and Science: On Imaginary Science”: An interesting look at how stories have used science, stretched science, and warped science, in the name of science fiction.

Also included are a number of poems: “Jennifer’s Lament,” “Cradle Song,” “Upon the Occasion of Being Asked at a Court of Love to Declare That About His Lady Which Pleases Him the Most,” “Midsummer Song,” and “Christa McAuliffe.” Anderson’s work in verse is quite well done.

At the end of this segment of The Collected Short Works of Poul Anderson, Volume 2: The Queen of Air and Darkness, I’m having a lot of fun with this volume. The first story left me a little unsure, but the stories that came after were a lot of fun. I look forward to diving back into this one, and reading the second third, which has a number of stories that look appealing. So far, so good!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Evil Gazebo by Bernie Mojzes

NOTE: The Evil Gazebo was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Dark Quest Books.

In between big books, I like to try and mix in some shorter stuff. I like longer works as much as the next person, but sometimes you need a breather. That, and I think, in the current market driven by novels (novels pay better than short works, and authors have to fill their belly somehow), especially gigantic, overstuffed novels, the shorter works need to see the light of day and a bigger audience. Thus, when a copy of The Evil Gazebo by Bernie Mojzes was slipped in my mailbox, I made sure to dive right in.

In a dreary house, two girls keep watch on the evil gazebo, and nothing ever happens. So when something does appear, they have to go find out what it is. They discover that this creature may be friendly, and may not bite, and they aren’t sure what to make of it. From this, an adventure of sorts grows, as the girls and their new acquaintance explore the girls’ house, and decide what to do about the thing.

That likely isn’t a very cogent description of the plot of the book, but to say any more would be to take away from the pleasant surprise that is The Evil Gazebo. The story seems to flirt with the line between children’s tale and the fairy tale for adults, playing with dark themes, yet in such a way that it is accessible to all ages, and certainly no more gruesome than the Brothers Grimm and their set of tales. Mojzes has crafted just such a story, and it fits the style of dark fairy tale well, without losing any of the style distinct to Mojzes. It reminds this reviewer very much of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, both in style and quality.

Also of note is the plethora of illustrations that round out this volume, adding a bit to each short chapter. They are sufficiently weird to fit the tale quite well, although they may be a little too odd for some peoples’ tastes.

This is a short read, but very much worth picking up. It won’t take long to read, but is a nice way to spend a bit of captured time one quiet afternoon. And it will be one of those books you will want to read again. Numerous times. If you enjoy fables, fairy tales, stories with a lot more going on than you might imagine and that capture the magic in words, don’t hesitate to pick up a copy of this book.


X-Men: Messiah CompleX by Ed Brubaker, Peter David, Craig Kyle & Chris Yost, and Mike Carey

Luke Reviews just explored Uncanny X-Men: The Extremists as we get caught up with today’s X-Men. The Extremists builds up to a major event that sets up a new status quo that informs the stories for the next few years, up through the just-finished X-Men: Second Coming. That event is the birth of a new mutant baby, the first after the events depicted in House of M. Thus begins X-Men: Messiah CompleX.

In Alaska, a baby mutant is born. The Reavers (focused on more in the X-Men series written by Mike Carey) and the Purifiers (seen predominantly in Craig Kyle & Chris Yost’s New X-Men) make the Alaskan town a battle zone in a fight to recover the baby, with the Purifiers wanting to kill the child as an act of religious fervor, and the Reavers wanting to use the child to further their mutant-dominant agenda. The X-Men find out about the birth, but arrive too late to get the child, instead trying to save the people hurt during the battle. As things play out, all of the major X-Men teams come together to try and save the baby, and give mutants and humans alike hope for the future.

X-Men: Messiah Complex contains: X-Men: Messiah Complex one-shot, Uncanny X-Men #492-494, X-Men #205-207, New X-Men #44-46, and X-Factor #25-27.

Crossovers hold a rather infamous place in X-Men and comics history, frequently being nothing more than a way to sell extra books, and having rather pointless storylines that are confusing if you aren’t reading every single x-book out there. Messiah CompleX proved to be the exception rather than the rule. While it is obvious as you are reading through that things have been building up in the other comics (especially in X-Men and New X-Men, it seems, far more so than in Uncanny X-Men), the major points and bits of information are covered, leaving even new readers with a good understanding of what is going on. While some background is necessary to enjoy this, being totally up-to-date on every book isn’t required.

The story is fast-paced, working through a huge number of different plot threads, yet managing to tie them all back together very nicely at the end. Everyone gets some face time, each of the teams plays a role, and the story flows right along without a hitch. The large cast of characters may seem overwhelming, but it works out well in the end, and is a lot of fun.

Those looking for a crossover with actual implications will find it here as well. New X-Men ended, and spawned the short-lived Young X-Men, while X-Men changed its name to X-Men: Legacy. We see the creation of X-Force, which gets its own series, X-Force, and Cable returns to a prominent role, entering his own new series, Cable. The whole status quo is revamped, and things are all-new all over again.

If you are looking for a fast paced story that wraps up old plot-lines and starts new ones, this is the place to be. Although perhaps not the best book for first-timers.


Uncanny X-Men: The Extremists by Ed Brubaker

Continuing the reading of X-Men, I finished Uncanny X-Men: Rise & Fall of the Shi’Ar Empire, which I loved. The ending left plenty still up in the air, with the team divided and the Shi’Ar Empire under new leadership. Those interested in following the story in space should check out the now out-of-print X-Men: Emperor Vulcan, then move on to X-Men: Kingbreaker, which is contained in War of Kings: Road to War of Kings, then move on to War of Kings and Realm of Kings. I moved on instead with the main X-Men group, and so continued on in Uncanny X-Men with Uncanny X-Men: The Extremists.

After an accident in the underground tunnels that are home to a group of grotesque and deformed mutants, one young mutant is kidnapped, while another barely survives, and makes his way to the home of the X-Men. His arrival leads to a team of X-Men, including “guest star” and returning X-Man Storm, heading underground to confront a secret mutant terrorist cult that wants to reassert mutants as a dangerous threat.

Uncanny X-Men: The Extremists contains: Uncanny X-Men #487-491

Brubaker follows up his epic-scale space opera with a much shorter tale that lies closer to home, featuring the return of a number of characters. This tale manages to be fun, although it also at times feels like a short tale to fill the space between Uncanny X-Men: Rise & Fall of the Shi’Ar Empire and X-Men: Messiah CompleX, working as a bridge that moves the different characters where they need to be for the next major confrontation.

Regardless of that, however, Brubaker delivers a tale that is fun and a fast read, and will leave you excited for the next installment.


Thursday, August 5, 2010

Demons edited by Jason M. Waltz

NOTE: Demons was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Rogue Blades Entertainment.

Editor Jason Waltz is turning his publishing house, Rogue Blades Entertainment, into a real go to source for strong modern sword and sorcery action fantasy. He runs a couple of lines of anthologies, the first being the yearly RBE Signature anthologies, which so far consist of Return of the Sword and Rage of the Behemoth, which was reviewed here at Luke Reviews not too long ago, receiving a top notch mark. The second line he is introducing is actually one he has recovered from another publisher. Carnifex Press had a line of anthologies entitled Clash of Steel. However, after Carnifex Press had to close its doors, the series wound up in the hands of Waltz, a huge fan. He retooled the series, taking stories from the original volumes and mixing in new ones, and putting these newly redone anthologies back into the market. Thus, Clash of Steel: Demon, edited by Armand Rosamilia, became Demons: A Clash of Steel Anthology, edited by Jason M. Waltz.

After acknowledgements from Waltz, and an introduction from the original series editor Armand Rosamilia, the stories begin:

“The Man with the Webbed Throat” by Steve Moody: When a bloody man enters a chapel, his discussion with the local priest leads to a startling revelation. An interesting thought piece on free will that seems to espouse a number of beliefs deeply held in the S&S genre, but not the best choice to open the anthology with in my opinion, being low on the “clash of steel” the anthology purports to be all about.

“Imprisoned” by Carl Walmsley: Walmsley’s previous tale, “Serpents beneath the Ice” in Rage of the Behemoth, wasn’t my favorite, and neither was this one. A man who keeps demons trapped in his mind loses one, and must fit to get it back. Walmsley’s style doesn’t engage me as much as a number of the other authors here, but the excitement is there for fans of Walmsley’s work.

“Toxic” by Steven L. Shrewsbury: When a woman comes to town with a demon in tow, who do you run to in hopes of being saved? The comedian?! A fun story that was humorous without going too far, and still contained action and a nice bit of ingenuity. A solid addition to the collection.

“Azieran: Bound by Virtue” by Christopher Heath: An engaging tale of a mage who summons a demon to combat another one on its way to kill him. Heath’s world of Azieran (which comes back later in this volume) seems to have some nice possibilities.

“Bodyguard of the Dead” by C.L. Werner: Shintaro Oba returns in this story of immortals and revenge. Werner presents one of the best stories in this volume, and one of the best stories from 2010 I have read so far.

“Kron Darkbow” by Ty Johnston: An engaging story of a man-for-hire seeking a magical artifact, Johnston has given another entertaining addition to the anthology.

“The Vengance of Tibor” by Ron Shiflet: Another solid story, this time of the lengths a man will go to kill the demon that slaughtered his family.

“The Beast of Lyoness” by Christopher Stires: A man with a troubled past sets out to save as city from a monster that is more than willing to fight fair, this one has a satisfying end that likely won’t be what you expected.

“Fifteen Breaths” by Phil Emery: Not what I was expecting in this anthology, but intriguing nonetheless, this story is of a man looking for something to believe in, and the price he pays to prove it. An interesting piece.

“The Pact” by Jonathan Green: A tale of epic war with Hell, this one had a “surprise” ending that I guessed before it appeared, but still was well-written and fun.

“Blood Ties” by Trista Robichaud: A prostitute and a mercenary set out on a unique rescue mission. A very fun tale with characters I would like to read more about.

“Zeerembuk” by Steve Goble: A demon makes the best of a bad situation in this tale from Goble, which is very engaging, with an ending that works perfectly for his story.

“The Fearsome Hunger” by Rob Mancebo: A Celtic-inspired tale of a man far darker than he seems, and an evil that plagues a town. Yet another great story in this volume.

“The Furnace” by Sandro G. Franco: Up there with Werner’s contribution, this is one of the highlights of the collection, doing a great job of presenting solid characters and an engaging plot. A man sent to hunt down a witch finds far more at stake when he enters a world overrun by demons.

“The First League Out From Land” by Brian Dolton: Not the best of the bunch, but still good, this story of a thief who may have bitten off more than she can chew moved a little slow at first for me, but picked up with a solid, if predictable, conclusion.

“The Sacrifice” by Jason Irrgang: A fast-paced tale of a last stand against the armies of Hell, Irrgang’s story is engaging, exciting, and pulled off a conclusion that was neither neat nor clean, thus perfect for the tale. Well done.

“Son of the Rock” by Laura J. Underwood: A story that seems set in a world the author may have further developed elsewhere, this story of a mage and a warrior exploring a mystery hidden in a deserted town was well written and, as so many of the stories here, very engaging.

“Into Shards” by Murray J.D. Leeder: A king haunted by his impending death seeks the help of a witch n this tale from Leeder, which wasn’t my favorite, but even the stories that don’t top this collection are still among the better half of what I’ve read from the year.

“Through the Dark” by Darla J. Bowen: A half-human woman sets out to rescue a kidnapped girl. Bowen paints an engaging setting and a tense plot.

“Joenna’s Ax” by Elaine Isaak: A brilliant story of one woman’s quest for revenge for her son, and her struggle against discrimination. Very well done; I will be looking for more from Isaak, who has other stories set in this world setting.

“The Lesser: A Sword of the Daemor Tale” by Patrick Thomas: Terrorbelle is given a very difficult choice between the lesser of two evils in this very well written tale from Thomas. Look back here for a review of Thomas’ Mystic Investigators, which contains another Terrorbelle story. A very fun story.

“When the Darkness Grows” by Frederick Tor: RBE’s house author gives us another tale of Kaimer, this time as he seeks down a secret cult that threatens all of Skovolis. An ending that, while it didn’t have the surprise effect I think was intended, was still very satisfying capped off another solid effort from “Frederick Tor.”

“Demon Heart” by Bryan Lindenberger: A knight and a wizard find themselves in competition for far more than the pride of a hunt in this story. Lindenberger gives us a very fun tale.

“Azieran: Racked upon the Altar of Eeyuu” by Christopher Heath: In my mind, this tale isn’t as engaging as Heath’s other Azieran tale in this volume, it still is a fun story of one man who sets out to unite the tribes against a future evil, and the toll fate plays on him. This one hits some metaphysical depths that are certainly intriguing, mainly that of the role we play in destiny.

“Born Warriors” by T.W. Williams: The typical “beware making bargains with a [insert bad bargain maker here]” is given the demon treatment. While this one held no surprises, it was well-written.

“Mistaken Identity” by Robert J. Santa: A story with some mixed roles reminiscent of Twelfth Night, this story of a man trapped in a demon’s body has very solid characterization. I would love to read more about these two.

“Box of Bones” by Jonathan Moeller: A great story of a demon hunter/ spoiled drunkard son was very well written, containing great action scenes. Moeller has created a character I think could carry a series (if he doesn’t already), and is a lot of fun to follow.

“By Hellish Means” by Bill Ward: My least favorite of the anthology happen to also be the last, in this tale of a woman setting out to save a world overrun by Hell. I found myself having a hard time getting wrapped up in this one, although it had exciting action scenes and a plot twist that is satisfying if a little expected.

After having viewed a couple of Rogue Blades Entertainment’s anthologies now, and seeing what they have on the horizon, I can say without hesitation that Jason Waltz and RBE are among the most important forces working in Sword & Sorcery today, if not on top of that list. Demons continues the trend of anthologies mixing well-known names with relative newcomers, and rounding out an anthology that is nothing short of stellar. No one agrees or loves every story in an anthology, but no editor has come closer to getting me to that mark than Waltz, and if he pulled it off it wouldn’t surprise me.

You can’t go wrong picking up an RBE book, and Demons is up there with the best. Also be sure to keep tabs on the other upcoming works from RBE, including Assassins, the next Clash of Steel anthology. After reading this one, you won’t want to miss the next one, and you will have a whole handful of new authors to check out. If you like Sword & Sorcery, heroic fantasy, fantasy in general, or fast-paced action stories of any genre, especially those that manage to be intelligent as well, don’t think twice about picking up Demons or any other RBE anthology.


Uncanny X-Men: Rise & Fall of the Shi’Ar Empire by Ed Brubaker

As Luke Reviews fans know, I’m digging into X-Men, trying to get caught up to the current releases, and exploring the stuff I loved at a much younger age. My last stop was Ed Brubaker’s X-Men: Deadly Genesis, which was good, if not great, but seemed to do quite a bit to set up Brubaker’s run on Uncanny X-Men. After wrapping up Deadly Genesis, it was time to see the next title, Uncanny X-Men: Rise & Fall of the Shi’Ar Empire, Brubaker’s first under the Uncanny X-Men banner.

After the events of X-Men: Deadly Genesis, Vulcan flies out to space, intent on wreaking revenge on the man who killed his mother: D’Ken, the comatose former emperor of the Shi’Ar Empire. Professor Xavier doesn’t want to add more carnage to the wrath of his greatest mistake, so he gathers a team of X-Men consisting of Marvel Girl, Warpath, Nightcrawler, Havok, Polaris, and Darwin (introduced in Deadly Genesis) to race against time to warn Empress Lilandra that her Empire will soon fall under attack from one of the most powerful, and most dangerous, mutants alive.

Uncanny X-Men: Rise & Fall of the Shi’Ar Empire contains: Uncanny X-Men #475 (“Plan B”), #476 (“The Things They Left Behind”), #477 (“Vulcan’s Progress”), #478 (“Castaways”), #479 (“Double-Edged”), #480 (“Vulcan’s Progress (Redux)”), #481 (“Crossing the Rubicon”), #482 (“Imperial Rescue”), #483 (“Vulcan’s Descent”), #484 (“In Exile”), #485 (“The End of All That Is”), #486 (“Endings and Beginnings”), as well as sketches, a diagram of the ship used by the X-Men team, and an interview with Ed Brubaker and artist Billy Tan from an uncredited issue of Marvel Spotlight.

After the okay but not stellar performance in Deadly Genesis, I was a little hesitant about diving into this rather large story, but it turned out that I had absolutely no reason to be. Brubaker has created a fast-paced story that still maintains an epic scope. His storytelling is spot on, throwing wrenches into the plans of the X-Men at every turn, mixing action and solid plot together very well.

His characterization is also spot on. He reworks old character Warpath, and makes him a very engaging and exciting person to follow, and his work on new character Darwin is also top notch, making him a solid addition to the X-Men team, and very much an individual. His exploration of Vulcan gets a bit better, although it still felt a little weak for a villain taking up such a huge amount of the X-Men’s time.

Uncanny X-Men: Rise & Fall of the Shi’Ar Empire is space opera at its most fun, with an engaging cast of characters, plenty of space flight, and no lack of action and excitement. A very fun read.


The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

Fans of Luke Reviews know it: When it comes to Agatha Christie, I am a fan. She is a brilliant author, who can do so much in such a short number of pages, and really make every mystery one to draw you in. So why has it been so long since I last looked at her work? I certainly can’t think of a good reason for it. I set out to rectify this with the next of her Hercule Poirot books that I am reading through in order of publication, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

In a small country village, one person’s business is everyone’s business. So when a rich widow commits suicide, everyone knows about it, and speculates as to the reason why. And everyone wonders, does it have anything to do with her new paramour, Roger Ackroyd? However, when Ackroyd is found murdered after a mysterious phone call to the local doctor, it is up to Poirot to solve a case in which everyone seems to have had the chance, the motive…or both.

This one has all of the traits that make me love Christie’s work: strong characterization of everyone in the novel, very tightly written plotting, with no wasted verbiage and lots of plot details and twists, and the ability to piece together the crime and follow the clues, if you are quick witted enough to keep up with Poirot.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd also has what is likely to be Christie’s most controversial ending in any of her novels or short stories. It is one that readers will either love or hate, or in some cases (like with this reviewer), not be entirely sure how you feel about it. Christie pulls a trick out of her hat that is both brilliant and infuriating, and quite over the top. It is believable, well-explained, and yet to some will feel like a cheat. I certainly still don’t know what to think of it.

Despite that, or perhaps because of it, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd has become a classic of the mystery genre, and the novel that really sent Christie to literary fame. It is a fast paced, thoroughly engaging novel that readers will find hard to put down, and a cornerstone of a genre. Fans of great storytelling, mysteries, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle shouldn’t miss this one.


The Harrowing by Alexandra Sokoloff

It has been quite some time since I have indulged in a horror novel, and I can never really figure out why I go so long without reading them, when I know I am a fan of the genre. Wanting to correct this, I pulled a book off my shelf I have owned for a little while, The Harrowing by Alexandra Sokoloff, with the hopes of discovering a new author worth following in the horror genre.

Robin is staying at her dorm over thanksgiving break, because she can’t take going home to her alcoholic, emotionally abusive mother. She expects a long weekend alone, but in fact finds that four other students are staying as well. However, after a ferocious storm knocks out the pair, the five students begin a game that turns out to have very deadly consequences. And when the weekend ends, they realize that their terror has only just begun.

Sokoloff’s novel began a little slowly, with a bit of extreme angst, as Robin falls into a deep, suicidal depression, but after the first few chapters, the story really kicks in, and the pages fly by. The character’s are very fun, and all feel rather well fleshed out. The story also manages to play both as a ghost story, as well as pulling in some religious mysticism, and both elements work very well. The story alternates between researching the past to find out what the students are dealing with, and struggling with the paranormal entity.

Sokoloff’s debut novel is a thriller of a horror novel, and an absolute joy to read. I would definitely recommend this one to fans of the genre, but also to those interested in the genre but looking for a nice entry point. A solid short novel.