Review: Starship Grifters by Robert Kroese

Starship Grifters is one of the funniest things I’ve ever experienced. It is certainly the funniest book I’ve read.

As a science fiction humor story, comparisons to other science fiction humor stories is inevitable. So how does it compare to the oft-touted science fiction humor novel Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? It is MUCH funnier than Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. But, in my opinion, that’s also a very low bar. Robert Kroese has no regard for that bar and instead makes his own bar and beats other bars with his new bar until they ask him politely to stop. Writing comedy is difficult. My experience with humor stories is that they start off strong, but the hilarity tends to fade quickly. Robert Kroese conquers this problem magnificently, and Starship Grifters remained consistently funny throughout.

The protagonist Rex Nihilo is an absurd character who continuously (and miraculously) rolls 20s on every charisma check. The plot revolves around Rex trying to get out of massive debt. En route, Nihilo faces off against an evil galactic empire, a rebellion based in a car park, and Space Apostles who appear out of nowhere. Kroese tips over many sacred cows with finesse and without being coarse, vulgar, or insulting to his readers. Modern comedy writers should take a note. Or several. Star Wars gets several jabs. Bureaucracy, usury, corporatism, stale tropes, and likely many things I didn’t pick up on get jabs. But all of this is done without getting bogged down in painful, unwanted Pop Culture ™ references. Yay! The only thing remotely bog-related is the forest moon, which is mostly swamp.

Memorable characters abound. From the narrator robot Sasha to the beautiful and… er… impressive bounty hunter Pepper and gibberish-spouting Ted there’s a lot to love. Perhaps most memorable is the villainous Heinous Vlaak who seemed to me to be a ridiculous combination of every 1980s dystopian gang lord I’ve ever seen (complete with outlandish outfit and wraparound sunglasses) and Skeletor.

Who would enjoy this? Fans of Larry Correia’s The Adventures of Tom Stranger certainly. Fans of Star Wars spoofs like Spaceballs would also find immense enjoyment within this books many text-filled pages. Who won’t enjoy this? People without a sense of humor will hate it. People who are fans of massive debt and bureaucracy might be offended as well.

In any case this book comes very highly recommended. I do not recommend reading it while eating, however, as there is a distinct danger of choking on said food from laughter. Er… don’t ask.

Buy your copy here!

Review: All Things Huge and Hideous by G. Scott Huggins

Doctor James DeGrande is slave to the Dark Lord. In the Empire of Dread, he is essentially head veterinarian, dealing with dragons, basilisks, dire wolves, wyverns, and other creatures and monstrosities. Most of which are visible.

This is what you get when you filter Terry Pratchett through Blackadder and G.K. Chesterton. The fantasy world is plenty quirky and the situations and side characters colorful and memorable. I actually had to put the book down once because I was laughing so hard. The Chesterton-esque wit comes to the fore in the author’s ability to take a tense situation and cleverly turn it on its head and show that it is not only tense, but also absurd. There is something very Edmund Blackadder about DeGrande frantically trying to stay ahead of the Dark Lord and his minions and keep his head. G. Scott Huggins gives us a book that is often painfully funny.

It isn’t all laughs and jokes amidst the gore and darkness. In this world the Dark Lord won the war, the elves ran away, and humans are largely slaves. Heroism isn’t entirely dead, though, and the story never gets bogged down in its more serious content. DeGrande’s actions are not entirely selfish even if a lot of what he does is struggle to stay alive. He genuinely cares about the veterinary practice he inherited and his almost-witch assistant. There are even moments of subtle defiance when he is able to undermine the Dark Lord’s minions. So, in his own, limited way, our protagonist gets to play the hero. And it is always a joy when he does.

While I didn’t care too much for the plot thread involving a unicorn, this is a very consistently enjoyable read. From surgery inside of a dragon to facing vampires, necromancers, trolls, and an invisible creature that is definitely not a weasel, All Things Huge and Hideous is a hilarious, worthwhile read that left me wanting more. I hope there will be a sequel in the not-too-distant future. Highly recommended for fans of Terry Pratchett, Blackadder, veterinary medicine, and fractured fairytales.

Get your copy here.

Review: Death Cult (Saint Tommy, NYPD #2) by Declan Finn

Superhero Detective Tommy Nolan returns in Death Cult, the follow-up to Hell Spawn. To my mind most sequels don’t deliver on the promise of the first installment. So, does it hold up or is the series dragged into a sophomore slump? Death Cult not only succeeds where many sequels fail, it doubles down on everything I loved about the first book. It might actually be better than Hell Spawn. A very nice surprise.

After the events of Hell Spawn, Tommy “I’m Not a Saint, Saints are Dead!” Nolan is dealing with the fallout: obnoxious legal issues, Internal Affairs, moving to a new house, the media predictably portraying Nolan as a villainous psychopath… and, oh yeah, the death cult that Nolan foiled wants him and his family dead. From the opening home invasion to the final action scene, Declan Finn doesn’t give you the chance to get bored.

Along with the death cult we get a fun take on the zombie genre. I hate the zombie genre, generally, but (thank God) there’s no overdone undead cannibalism here. No, instead we are given a Bond villain-esque voodoo witch doctor and his lifeless puppets. Much better. And that’s not all. Detective Nolan still must contend with normal human villains that seemed ripped from today’s headlines. Seriously, sometimes you feel like you’re reading current events and not an urban fantasy laced with horror.

Nolan loses none of the charm he had in Hell Spawn. He is quickly becoming one of my favorite action heroes. There’s no moping or shoegazing to be had here. Saint Tommy doesn’t do depressing, and his constant incredulity over people being unsurprised by his saint-like qualities is always amusing. We get to see some new developments with his powers, as well as some intriguing limitations. Declan Finn does fun and he does it well. Well enough that this series has become one of my go-to recommendations. Death Cult even leaves you with a fun twist. It left me chuckling and wanting the next installment.

If you like a good pulp / action / horror / urban fantasy story, you can’t do much better.

Treat yourself to a copy here.

If you don’t have the first one yet, try here.

Review: Gideon Ira: Knight of the Blood Cross by Adam Lane Smith

In a world where the veil between humanity and demons has been severed, knights stand against the demonic forces that threaten to devour mankind. Gideon Ira is one such knight.

Adam Lane Smith gives us an absurdly action-packed story set in a dystopian future. Demons act as warlords, ravaging and raiding towns and villages, taking humans for their bloody sacrifices. It’s a grim future, but one that is well built and imagined. Throughout there are wonderful tidbits of information thrown at the reader, giving just enough of a tease to the woes befallen the world to genuinely intrigue and amuse. References to previous missions and adventures also serve to immerse the reader in a world that is surprisingly well-developed for what is a fairly quick read.

The author’s understanding of human psychology paints some wonderful side characters. They all felt like real people. If given just a glimpse of motivation the characters are realistic, sympathetic, and fully realized. Even a character beaten down into despair has motivations that make sense.

If you like action, this book has loads of it. From tense stealth scenes to big brawls, the action is plentiful and varied. The demonic monsters are frightening and grotesque. The only real complaint I have about the book is that I found the descriptive nature of some of the violence to be excessive. I’m not likely to forget that cultists have intestines and are filled with blood. Other than that, the reader is treated to some very fun stuff here.

As someone who enjoys stories about knights destroying monsters, I recommend this book. If you don’t like stories about knights destroying monsters, this book might just change your mind. It is billed as a heavy metal Christian pulp adventure and the designation if fitting. The action hardly lets you stop for a breather and Christianity is portrayed in a positive light, especially as a force for good against terrible evil.

Cry “Deus vult!” and buy your copy here.

Review: Whom Shall I Fear? by Anne Clare

Anne Clare’s debut novel Whom Shall I Fear? is not my typical read. I’m not big on realistic war fiction or romance novels. This is both of those things, and yet I found myself drawn into the characters and their dilemmas. It’s a great story and surprisingly compelling.

Why did I like it even though it falls outside my general taste? Part of the reason is that Anne Clare made her characters likable. Without that seemingly simple ingredient, there wouldn’t have been any point to the story. It is heavily character-driven. Sergeant James Milburn reminded me of male leads in classic films. In fact, while reading this I felt like I was watching something like I’ll be Seeing You or It’s Always Fair Weather. And that is a very good thing.

The relationship between Sergeant Milburn and Evie Worther is believable and charming. Achieving that is no easy feat. Is it a little cheesy? Maybe, but it ends up being a good contrast with the incredibly slimy villain.

Anne Clare also did an enormous amount of research and it comes through in the text in a big way. The attention to little details, whether it was some bit of geography, parts of a soldier’s kit, or some off-hand reference to surrounding events all made the story feel very real and solid. This wasn’t some half-hearted attempt at historical fiction. The author took her research seriously and it was clearly thorough.

Truly setting it apart from anything else that might be considered “Christian Romance” were the punchy action scenes. Sergeant Milburn doesn’t spend all of his days writing letters. He’s a soldier and the action in this book is full of tension and are executed with the precision of a sniper. And it really is war. Side characters you like might not make it out of the book.

If you are a history buff or tired of the slush typical of romance novels, give Whom Shall I Fear? a try here.

Review: The Unbearable Heaviness of Remembering by L. Jagi Lamplighter

With book 5 of the Books of Unexpected Enlightenment series, things explode. In many ways. In The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin we were introduced to a charming, magical world. By the time The Unbearable Heaviness of Remembering is over, that world has expanded and become enormously complex and the dangers more frightening and sinister. As if they weren’t already after book 3!

Many of the plot points surrounding Rachel Griffin have enormous payoff. From revelations about the Master of the World and Amber to development with Nastasia and Astrid, L. Jagi Lamplighter gives us an incredibly satisfying continuation of a series that has become one of my primary go-to recommendations. If you haven’t started this series yet, do it. You won’t regret a second of the time spent diving into this world. The characters are well-developed and feel like real people.

With the Heer of Dunderberg loosed, nasty creatures cause problems across the campus of Roanoke Academy. Redcaps and an each-uisge feature in their own little adventures and that’s one of the fun things about this series. There is a slice of life element to Rachel’s experiences at the school. They don’t detract from the story, but add to it and make the world the characters inhabit feel much more full and lively than a certain other magical school series that will illicit automatic comparisons. This series is much better than that one, however.

Most satisfying for me were the developments surrounding Rachel’s friendship issues. Hints of what might come surrounding Astrid and Nastasia took some turns I wanted to see happen and some turns that I didn’t expect (partly due to the fact that Rachel is a much more kind person than she would probably ever give herself credit for).

As a parent, the plotline surrounding Rachel, her family, and Amber was wrenching. L. Jagi Lamplighter delves into the (sometimes) horrifying consequences of altering memories and perceptions via magic. You’d have to be an automaton to not have to blink back tears while reading this volume. The moral choices that Rachel has to make toward the end are more poignant and overwhelming than anything I’ve read in other YA fantasy. Or much other fantasy in general, for that matter. I was holding my breath reading the build-up to the final stroke (or roar, in this case).

And this brings me to Leander. If memory serves me correctly, L. Jagi Lamplighter said in an interview that she prays before writing scenes involving the comfort lion. It shows. It shows enormously and helps explain why those scenes are so perfect. The mysteries surrounding Leander and Jariel come more and more to the fore as the series progresses and has become one of my favorite aspects to this ongoing tale.

And of course, there is more Siggy and Lucky the Dragon. The ridiculousness surrounding those two is always a treat.

There are angels, demons, magical lightning throwing imps, and even a masquerade. I can’t wait for the next book.

If you’re looking for a great story about a magic school, read this. Rachel Griffin is one of the most likable heroines I’ve read. Most female protagonists I’ve read don’t feel feminine or have a solid moral compass. Rachel has both and is an incredibly endearing kid that comes off as very real. If you loved Harry Potter and are looking for another magical school fix, you should find this series much more engrossing and satisfying.

The Unbearable Heaviness of Remembering challenges Rachel and the Many-Splendored Dreamland for the place of my favorite book in the series.

Buy a copy here if you’ve read the first four books.

If you haven’t, the first book can be found here.

Happy reading!