52Under2: Week 14 Shortlist

Week 14 of my 52Under2 book reviews.

I decided to step out of the YA silo this week and read something a bit different. These are the Top 5 books that caught my eye in SF and Fantasy on Smashwords this week and I’ll be reviewing one of them in depth later in the week.

Young Republican, Yuppie Princess by Nicole Chardenet
It’s 1984 and a yuppie-in-training gets zapped into a parallel dimension.
I really liked the description of this book, it sounded like it had a lot of fun elements in it: undines, a heavy-metal sorcerer, floppy disks (ah, nostalgia), and – according to a review quoted at the front of the book – the nerds save the day. The excerpt was good, in that the narrator had a very distinctive – though not particularly likeable – voice. However, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to enjoy the book to its fullest. Even after a few pages I could already tell that it would be chock full of US-1980s references that would go straight over my head and be wasted on me. But for someone who was there, this seems like it would be a fun read.

Beneath the Heavens by Christine O’Neill
A group of dying teenagers travel by train to the mysterious Everlands, where their diseases will be miraculously cured.
This is probably YA, even though not categorised under that heading. The description sounded interesting, especially when it mentioned mysterious deaths on the train. I wondered if I might be in for a SF/alternate world murder on the Orient Express. The excerpt let itself down almost instantly. The author uses wacky spellings of familiar places as a cheap way to create the ‘alternate universe’ vibe and does this three times within the first two paragraphs. It seems the main feature of this alternate world is that there would be a lot more ‘Y’s needed to play Scrabble. That irritated me straight out of the gate. Then there was the problem of not being sure who the protagonist was to be, as each new chapter came from the (3rd person) POV of a new character. presumably this was to set up all the inhabitants of the train (suspects?) but there are surely more succinct ways of doing this – that get more quickly to the main conflict of the story.

Blackstone and Brenwen: The Mirror and The Meretrix by Andrew Mellusco
A young fairytale lawyer must defend Red Riding Hood against a charge of murder.
This one lured me in with a great description, a good cover, and a hint that what lay within might be a little Tom-Holtish.  Reuse of fairytale characters is always a popular theme with me. The author’s use of language is fun and witty. There is quite a lot of situation-based humour. The character of the young lawyer is immediately very real and likeable. The only problem I had with it was that the first chapter – dealing with a law case that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the main plot – was way too slow, probably because in the middle of the summing up all of the courtroom falls asleep. This is a funny situation I would have enjoyed if the author hadn’t decided that this meant he could drop a crapload of back story into the gap caused by their slumber. Snooze.

Spirit of ’76 by Jeff Beck
1976. When John’s first friend at a new school is found dead, John strives to find the truth about his friend’s death.
The description made this seem like quite and interesting story strongly grounded in a place and time. The fantasy elements promised by the tags – parapsychology, magic, and cults – sounded like they would add interesting flavour to the tale. However, the writing style didn’t do too much for me – being skewed towards tell over show and being utterly infested with exclamation marks, italics (for brand names and famous people’s names), bold, and inverted commas. Though 50% of this book is available in the excerpt, I don’t think I got past 2%. It was just a little too slow.

The Ironlane Detective by Paul Witham
A telepathic detective, following orders from a voice in his head, ends up deep in chaos and conspiracy.
I fell like the description for this book let it down a little. It’s listed under ‘steampunk/retropunk’ (always a favourite with me), but its description calls it an epic sci-fi set far in the future. OK – I guess I’ll wait and see how these elements tie together. The short description goes on about telepathic voices, emperors-in-exile and revolution, but the long description starts off talking about a generation ship and it isn’t until the end of the (not very long) long description that an inkling is given of how this ties into the telepaths bit. Also who is the Ironlane Detective of the title? How does he come into the revolution story? Is he the protagonist? Is he the telepath?
All of these questions are answered very quickly in the excerpt which gets straight down to business. The main character is quickly introduced as is his situation and a mysterious mission that we watch him embark on at the behest of the voices in his head. The writing of the piece has a good tone that fits well with the retro/steampunk setting that is being evoked. There are some wobbly bits, but my interest was piqued.
This is the novel I will be reviewing later in the week.

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