by John Marco
400pp (Hardcover)
My Rating: 6/10
Amazon Rating: 4/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.85/5
Goodreads Rating: 2.86/5

Starfinder is the first book in the Skylords series, a YA fantasy/steampunk trilogy by John Marco. It was just released in hardcover on May 5. After looking through other peoples’ reviews it seems like everyone has already said the same things I was thinking as I read this one. But since I review everything I read I wanted to post my review anyway, though I don’t know how much it adds that is different from what has already been mentioned.

Moth, an orphan, is cared for by Leroux, a sickly former Eldrin Knight who tells crazy stories about the land beyond the Reach. On Moth’s thirteenth birthday, Leroux tells him he has a very special gift for him that he will tell him about after his party. That night Leroux reveals that Lady Esme, his pet kestrel, is not actually a bird at all but rather a woman from the land beyond the Reach who was transformed by the Skylords. Leroux loved Lady Esme and has unsuccessfully tried to find a way to turn her back. Now he tells Moth he must use his gift to do what Leroux could not – take Lady Esme to her homeland, find the wizard Merceron, and turn her back into a woman. Moth eventually agrees to get Leroux to stop ranting and raving but dismisses the information as yet another one of the elderly man’s tall tales.

In the morning, Leroux is dead, having finally succumbed to old age. Moth goes to visit a neighbor then comes home to find the apartment being ransacked by Rendor, the governor and a great inventor. Rendor leaves without finding what he is looking for, and Moth finds a place to hide out where he is found by Lady Esme, who brings him a strange device. Moth decides to go to the the land across the Reach and his closest friend Fiona, the fourteen year old daughter of Rendor, insists on accompanying him on his quest to free Esme.

Starfinder is a short, quick read containing lots of short paragraphs and dialogue. The writing did seem choppy at times with somewhat short sentences that didn’t flow together well, especially toward the beginning. As I got further into the book, I didn’t notice this quite as much, although the writing does remain more simplistic than the average young adult novel I’ve read.

The story moves at a good pace and is entertaining. The main characters do not have an overwhelming amount of depth but they did not seem completely shallow or lacking in individual personalities, either. The two main protagonists balance each other nicely – Moth is a dreamer and an optimist who wants nothing more than to fly while Fiona is hot-tempered and has a more pessimistic outlook on the world. The two children were the more believable characters in the book (and not just because some of the others were birds who used to be women). There were a couple of characters who had a change of heart or turned out to be different than they had initially seemed and I found the way they were handled rather unconvincing.

Starfinder combines steampunk with a more traditional fantasy setting. Calio, the city in which Moth and Fiona live, is on the cutting-edge of technology with the invention of the dragonfly and other flying machines. The land the two children end up in on their quest to rescue Lady Esme from her fate contains mermaids, centaurs, dragons, and of course the Skylords.

If I were a young adult, I believe I would have loved this novel. It’s still an enjoyable tale, but the combination of the overly simplified writing style and the feeling that it doesn’t stand out from other books read before may make it appeal to older readers less. Starfinder combines elements that will feel very familiar to someone who has read a lot of fantasy – the quest, a magical object that can only be used by one person, the mythical world thought not to exist is real, orphaned children play a large role in events in a fantasy world. There were some parts that reminded me of fantasy books in general and there was one section that immediately made me think of Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass. However, I do think Starfinder would be a fantastic book for converting introducing younger readers to fantasy.

Starfinder is an entertaining adventure story reminiscent of many other fantasy stories. Its may not be as engaging to an adult reader due to its average characterization, very simple writing, and overly familiar plot elements, but it is a great book for a younger one.


Other Reviews:


I was hoping to get up a review of Starfinder, John Marco’s YA fantasy adventure that was released today, but after finishing work and then doing the grocery shopping, I was too tired. It is about halfway done so I am hoping to finish it tomorrow night (I usually end up working on reviews while waiting for Lost to come on). In the meantime, there is a very good interview with John Marco over at SciFiGuy – and a giveaway for a signed copy of the book.

Right now, I’m reading the new Lane Robins book, Kings and Assassins, that came out toward the end of last month. I really enjoyed her previous novel Maledicte and I’m also really enjoying this one. It’s definitely for people who like characters who aren’t always pleasant people, though.

Last week I visited Lane Robins’s blog and I discovered she actually had two books come out last month – she also wrote an urban fantasy under the name Lyn Benedict called Sins & Shadows. I hadn’t heard anything about that but ever since then I’ve been dying to read it, so I got a copy today and am planning to read it next.

After that, I plan to read Blackbringer by Laini Taylor, and then if I don’t chicken out I’ll attempt to read a book containing hard science fiction with my personal challenge book for this month, The Mote in God’s Eye. I’m hoping to have time to squeeze in Busted Flush, the second book in the new Wild Cards trilogy after that, but if not, I’ll read it sometime next month. (Last Argument of Kings will probably be one I review next month, too, since even though Best Served Cold isn’t a sequel I’d like to read that one first. And I desperately need to procure Santa Olivia, the new Jacqueline Carey book that is coming out the end of this month.)

So what are you reading/hoping to read soon?

The Last Hawk
by Catherine Asaro
480pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 9.5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.85/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.86/5

The Last Hawk is the third published novel in Catherine Asaro’s Saga of the Skolian Empire series. The books within this romantic science fiction series are written about several different characters and many of the books can stand alone. The Last Hawk is the first book about Kelric, the Imperator’s half brother and heir, whose story is continued in Ascendant Sun. Although this novel takes place outside of the Skolian Empire, it works well on its own and is a decent introduction to the series. It’s also my favorite Skolian Saga book so far because of its well-developed society and excellent characters.

When Kelric’s ship is attacked by the Traders, he is forced to land on the planet Coba before his vessel’s last engine fails. The inhabitants are frightened to discover the nearly dead man is not from their world since they do not want to be part of the Skolian Empire and have convinced Imperial Space Command to mark them as a restricted world. If Kelric were to return home, the news that there was no reason not to incorporate Coba into the empire would spread and their society would be ruined. Although they feel threatened by his presence, two of the most powerful women within the matriarchy are intrigued by the handsome stranger so he is cared for and his ship is destroyed.

While Kelric is recovering, he becomes excellent at playing Quis, an intricate game that is interwoven into Coban politics. The strongest estates on the planet are those whose managers (queens) are the best players, aided by the skills of their Calani. The Calani is comprised of the very best male Quis players, whose lives are dedicated to serving their estate through their skills at the game. These men are bound by very strict rules and must take a vow to avoid reading, writing, contact with the outside world, and speaking to most people.

After discovering the deliberate destruction of his ship, Kelric becomes very upset and attempts to escape. He very nearly succeeds at stealing one of the Coban ships, and once he is recaptured, one of the managers suggests he should be executed just in case he ever does manage to leave. Deha, the manager of the fourth most powerful estate, has fallen for Kelric and saves him by making him one of her Calani and her husband. Thus begins Kelric’s role as a political pawn – and sought-ought commodity – for the women of Coba.

With many books, there is one particular strength, but I felt this one excelled on all levels. It kept a great pace from start to finish, the society was fascinating, and the characters all felt unique. The Last Hawk also had a lot of diversity and it would be too narrow to classify it as a science fiction adventure or romantic science fiction. There was politics, action, focus on character relationships with some romance, and some elements of hard science fiction.

Although this novel is told from the perspective of several different characters, the main point of view character is Kelric, the Imperial heir from an empire with gender equality where his sister could be the next Imperator as easily as he. It’s hard not to love and empathize with Kelric. Not only does quiet, reserved Kelric have no freedom due to being an outsider but also due to being a male in a world dominated by females. Coba is a study in complete gender reversal from the normal patriarchy – the women make the rules and decisions, the women pursue the men, the women only want to marry virgins, and the women have certain expectations for how men should behave.

Matriarchies have been done before and just making the society function exactly like a patriarchy could make it seem stale, but it did not even though it was not very subtle. I’ve read many books in which the female lead is in the middle of a love triangle, but I honestly cannot think of a single book where the main male protagonist was part of one. In The Last Hawk, the man is the exotic beauty pursued by hordes of women, the one with an ability that makes him special (his mastery of Quis). By writing from the perspective of the hero, the feminist aspects never seem heavy-handed or preachy. It’s very clear that Kelric is equal to the women, not inferior. Also, each woman is very different and some are more sexist than others. One manager believed all men should dress in robes and only smile at their wives, and another caused a stir by promoting a man to a position previously only held by females.

In addition to the matriarchy, the culture is defined by Quis and its role in the civilization. For centuries, everyone has played Quis, a game played with colored dice. Wars are not waged through battle but via the game. One of the strongest assets to a manager is her Calani and Calani who have belonged to other estates are particularly prized for their knowledge and the political advantage the estate ruler gains from it. The most influential Quis players put some of themselves into the game and as various rulers play with each other, the ideas spread throughout the twelve estates. Quis is also used for figuring out scientific and mathematic concepts.

At times, I did have to suspend my disbelief with this novel but it was good enough that I mostly told my brain to just shut up and enjoy the story. The main part I had to quit thinking about was how it was possible for Quis to be able to convey so much. The way it was described with dice and colors that had some symbolism and a few rules about which shapes and colors could be next to each other made it seem very simple. This was explained when Kelric was first learning the game and could be attributed to taking baby steps. It was vague enough later that I decided to just go with it, especially since I loved the concept, and after that, I could find explanations for the other parts I found a bit incredulous. Initially, Kelric’s aptitude for Quis seemed believable since he had an internal computer system that helped him. Ever since his injury, this system had been malfunctioning and it was soon unable to help him, though, but he still continued to become an amazing player. It does make sense that he would be better at it than average due to his more advanced knowledge of science, math, and military strategy and would account for him being a genius at it. Also, every woman thought Kelric was beautiful, which seemed a bit over the top, but could also be explained by the fact that he was an exotic foreigner, plus his family had dabbled in genetic engineering. This also did not bother me too much since it was very much a reversal of the usual woman who is loved by every man who sees her. The aspect that I found most difficult to swallow was how willing several of these women were to trust a foreigner who seemed to have some dangerous tendencies. However, some women were more accepting than others and it was explained that Deha believed in him because she understood him from playing Quis with him. The others just wanted to like him because they thought he was pretty and it is true that people can be blinded by beauty.

The Last Hawk is one of those rare books with an entertaining story, great characters, and a fantastic culture. It’s easily my favorite book I have read so far this year.


This blog recently received one of the most originally named blog awards I’ve seen floating around on the Internet – The Zombie Chicken Award. Thanks Thea and Ana! If you haven’t by now, check out their blog, The Book Smugglers – it’s one of my favorites!

Here is what it means to be a recipient of the coveted Zombie Chicken:

The blogger who receives this award believes in the Tao of the zombie chicken – excellence, grace and persistence in all situations, even in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. These amazing bloggers regularly produce content so remarkable that their readers would brave a raving pack of zombie chickens just to be able to read their inspiring words. As a recipient of this world-renowned award, you now have the task of passing it on to at least 5 other worthy bloggers. Do not risk the wrath of the zombie chickens by choosing unwisely or not choosing at all…

Well, I wouldn’t want the zombie chickens to come after me and peck my brains out. In no particular order (oh fine, alphabetical because I’m anal like that), my nominees are:

Those choices should keep me safe from the wrath of the flock of zombie chickens for a while…

Science Fiction Awards Watch has listed the winners of the Nebula Award, who were announced at an awards ceremony last night. The winners are as follows:


  • Powers – Ursula K. Le Guin (Harcourt, Sep07)


  • “The Spacetime Pool” – Catherine Asaro (Analog, Mar08)


  • “Pride and Prometheus” – John Kessel (F&SF, Jan08)

Short Story

  • “Trophy Wives” – Nina Kiriki Hoffman (Fellowship Fantastic, ed. Greenberg and Hughes, Daw Jan08)


  • WALL-E” Screenplay by Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon, Original story by Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter (Walt Disney June 2008)

Andre Norton Award

  • Flora’s Dare: How a Girl of Spirit Gambles All to Expand Her Vocabulary, Confront a Bouncing Boy Terror, and Try to Save Califa from a Shaky Doom (Despite Being Confined to Her Room) – Ysabeau S. Wilce (Harcourt, Sep08)

Congratulations to the winners! I was especially glad to see Catherine Asaro on the list and I found this excellent interview with her on the Nebula Awards website.

Wicked Lovely
by Melissa Marr
352pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 3.5/10
Amazon Rating: 3.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.94/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.87/5

Wicked Lovely is a YA urban fantasy debut novel by Melissa Marr, who is now a New York Times bestselling author. Currently, Marr has two other books that take place in this world, Ink Exchange and Fragile Eternity. Fragile Eternity, the direct sequel to Wicked Lovely, was just released on April 21.

Most humans do not realize faeries exist and spend time in the mortal realm, but seventeen-year-old Aislinn has always been able to see faeries just like her mother and grandmother. Aislinn’s grandmother has taught her that she must never reveal that she can see the faeries by staring at them, talking to them, or attracting their attention in any way. However, Aislinn cannot help it when she captures the eye of Keenan, the Summer King, who has spent centuries searching for the Summer Queen and thinks Aislinn just might be the one to fill this role.

Only by finding the Summer Queen can the rule of Keenan’s mother, the frosty Winter Queen, end. Every time Keenan selects a girl as a prospective queen, she is forced to make a choice – either become part of a harem of his “Summer Girls” or take the test to determine if she is indeed his Summer Queen. If the girl does not pass the test, she is forced to bear the chill of the Winter Queen until another girl comes along and fails the test – and she must tell the new girl not to trust Keenan even though this girl’s failure could be her salvation.

As Aislinn is pursued by Keenan, it threatens her budding relationship with her old friend Seth, who has been in love with her for a long time. Will she succumb to the charms of the Summer King and leave Seth behind?

Once in a while one of those books comes along that on the surface really sounds like something you would like, but for some reason (or several reasons) it just doesn’t work for you. Maybe it’s just not what you’re in the mood for or maybe it just doesn’t click with your personal taste. Wicked Lovely was one of those books for me. At first, I thought maybe it was just because it was written for younger readers but I’ve read plenty of books intended for young adults or even younger audiences that I’ve enjoyed – the works of Robin McKinley, Diana Wynne Jones’s Dogsbody and Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book all come to mind. I suppose it just wasn’t my type of book.

After hearing so many good things about this book, I sought it out at my local Borders and read the two page prologue. The description of a girl failing the test for Summer Queen very much intrigued me and I wanted to know more about Keenan, his quest to find the Summer Queen, and why he was so desperately trying to find her (the dazzling cover may have had some influence as well). It sounded disturbing, but the rest of the book never lived up to that expectation for me. I did find it creepy that Keenan was going around spying on girls and convincing them to love him (especially when at least some of them were only teenagers) and that some of those girls ended up as part of his harem, but it never really seemed all that dark to me. Perhaps that was at least partially because I never cared at all about any of the characters other than Donia at times so nothing that happened ever impacted me on an emotional level.

The characters did not have much depth – most of them had one or two personality traits and other than that seemed fairly interchangeable. The two main human characters, Seth and Aislinn, seemed far too perfect. Seth used to sleep with every girl he could find but now he’s devoted to Aislinn and has eyes only for her. There’s no conflict there – he just seems to exist to dote on her and please her, which makes him very dull to read about. Aislinn is beautiful, smart, and has a special ability that sets her apart from others. She is pursued by Seth, who is of course gorgeous, and Keenan, who is also gorgeous in an other-worldly way. There are a couple of instances where I found myself cheering her on for her strength and feistiness, but for the most part, she seemed very bland.

The fae tended to be more interesting but not enough to make up for the rest of the lackluster cast. Keenan’s actions were motivated by his desire to do what was best for his people by overthrowing his wicked mother, which actually made him seem a little too good and human for a corrupt fae to me. (I love to read about the more amoral fae that seem truly inhuman, such as those in Elizabeth Bear’s Promethean Age series.) The only character I ever felt sympathy for was the current Winter Girl, Donia, who truly loved the Summer King but now held herself apart from him after being hurt by his pursuit of many other girls throughout the years. The Summer Queen was a disappointing and unconvincing villain – she was very evil for evil’s sake and she never scared me. In fact, she often seemed rather silly and over-the-top.

One quibble I had with this book was that I found it difficult to suspend my disbelief over the matter of Aislinn hiding her ability to see faeries for all those years. The very first chapter shows Aislinn hanging out in a pool hall having fun until the fae come in. She gets this look on her face that the humans around her recognize as meaning she’s going to leave. They don’t know why she looks that way, but they’ve seen it often enough to know what it means. Yet the faeries don’t get suspicious when she suddenly loses concentration on the game she’s playing, consciously does not look in their direction, and leaves every time they show up? I suppose they’re used to remaining unseen and maybe they are too busy reveling to notice this pattern.

The first 80 pages or so were very difficult for me to get through, but it was a short book so I persevered. It did get better after that, but it still never connected with me personally so I mostly read it so I could cross it off the to-read list and move on to something else. I do seem to be in the minority for not loving this book so be sure to check out some of the other reviews below.

Wicked Lovely had a couple of good moments, but mostly it did not jive with my personal taste. I will not be reading the rest of the series.


Other Reviews: