Ready Player One was a fun sci-fi adventure that became a favorite of gamers everywhere, including myself, and it went on to also become a successful movie directed by Steven Spielberg. With so few good gamer centric novels being written I was instantly worried when I saw this sequel was in the works because I felt there would be no way for Ernest Cline to recapture the magic of the first book. Sure he could load up another novel with a ton of pop culture trivia but it was the magic of the giant Easter egg hunt with a fortune at stake that truly captured one's imagination. So I went into this one with trepidation, and while it is not as good as the original, it was able to grab my attention with all of the tantalizing possibilities of where gaming and technology might go in the future.
In the first book of the series, Firefly: Big Damn Hero we got a glimpse of Shepherd Book's mysterious background before he became a man of the cloth, and this time around we get a lot more than just a glimpse of the past of the man they call Jayne. Jayne's past catches up to him when an old flame, Temperance. reaches out to him in dire need of assistance. Her small town on a dusty planet in the middle of nowhere is under threat from a band of thugs and she is desperate enough to reach out to Jayne even though they didn't part on good terms. This does sound like a job for Jayne but he also knows he can't go it alone so the entire crew winds up risking their lives for someone they don't even know. Not to mention this isn't even a paying gig.
The Stormlight Archive continues with Rhythm of War, which is unbelievably even bigger than the first 3 books, both in number of pages (1,232) and scope of story. The war between humanity and the Dawnsingers has been waged back and forth for millennia in waves known as Desolations which are separated by centuries of rebuilding for the human civilizations that always get ravaged. This time around is different though as the Heralds who always lead humanity against the Dawnsingers are no more. They declared victory after the Last Desolation and have lain down their weapons for good. Of course the Dawnsingers were not defeated and now that they have returned yet again they find their human opponents woefully unprepared. Despite this disadvantage, Dalinar Kohlin has managed to lead a coalition of forces to keep them at bay but in his heart he knows he can't win a traditional war. Therefore he is looking for a way to strike a killing blow that ends this endless cycle of war for good, but unfortunately for him, so is the enemy, and they know a lot more about this conflict than he does.
Evie is a an orphan who grew up in the palace as a poor relation of Queen Cordelia. It might have been different if she could boast of powerful magic but all she has is one of the mutt magics, in her case a magically keen sense of smell. She wanted to boast of her secret immunity to magic but as she grew up she realized her parents were right and that it would be dangerous to say anything about it. So she spent her time performing whatever tasks none of the other royals want to do until the day Crown Princess Vasilia decided to take the throne for herself leaving alive no one to challenge her claim. Saved by her immunity, and assumed dead by her cousin, Evie finds herself in the gladiator troupe owned by Queen Cordelia's former bodyguard, Serilda. Uncertain if she can trust Serilda, Evie is determined to gain the skills that would allow her to get vengeance on her cousin who is a master with the sword. But the Black Swan gladiator troupe has just as many rivalries and secrets as the palace did.
Terry Brooks, best known as the author of the Shannara series, offers up a dystopian sci-fi tale set in the United Territories, which is the country that was formed after the fall of the United States. Ash Collins is a typical teenager working on his homework when he gets a vidview from his Dad. "Ash! Get out now! Go into the Red Zone. Go to Street Freaks. Don't wait!" his out of breath Dad urgently says before the call gets abruptly cut off. Ash is pretty surprised by that call since the Red Zone is the forbidden area of Los Angeles that is way too dangerous for him to have ever been there; however, when his apartment is suddenly assaulted he flees out a window without a real plan. Ash has lived a sheltered life and is ill prepared to be hunted by professionals, so when his Dad shows up on the news for supposedly committing suicide, Ash has little choice but to follow his Dad's cryptic final instructions and head into the Red Zone to find Street Freaks, whatever that is.
Before Briggs became known for the Mercy Thompson series of urban fantasy she was one of the first to adopt the lighter style that replaced the heavy epic fantasy of the 90's. When Demons Walk is one of four books she wrote that only qualify as a series because they all take place in the same world. Shamera, "Sham", is a wizard, thief, and occasional rebel in Southwood which was conquered ten years ago by the Cymbellian empire. She can't forgive the conquerors for killing her parents and blinding her Master, the former Royal Magician. Kerim, the Reeve (governor) of Southwood, was once a great warrior and favored by the god Altis but his body is weakening for no obvious reason and he spends most of his days in a wheeled chair. The Cymbellian's regard magic as local superstition but when Kerim's half-brother dies under mysterious circumstances he needs the help of Southwood's remaining wizard.
I have never had a desire to delve into the plethora of books related to existing TV/movie sci-fi franchises, like Star Trek or Star Wars, but Firefly's cancellation remains such a sore spot for me that I couldn't resist a chance to experience more of the characters I fell in love with and didn't get enough of. Big Damn Hero is the first novel set in the world of the short-lived TV series created by Joss Whedon and it reads like it could easily have been an episode of the series. Set in a time before the movie Serenity, as evidenced by all of the characters being present, Big Damn Hero offers up a chance for you to return to the Verse and spend more time with Mal and the crew as they try to make a living under the watchful eye of the Alliance.
The four storylines in Maresca's Maradaine series come together with plenty of mayhem in City of the People. The main characters from the four series are thrown together as they battle necromancy, cultists, magical constructs, complicated contraptions, and a dragon in their efforts to save the missing children. Can vigilante college students, honest constables, criminal masterminds, and brave knights survive the betrayals and plotting of the Brotherhood of the Nine?
Tony Valdez is a Dispatcher, but times are tough in Chicago and he is struggling to make ends meet. His job is bound by strict rules, after all murdering people in order to save their lives is a complicated business, but when the bills start to stack up some of those "grey area" gigs become more attractive. As we experienced in the first novella, The Dispatcher, for an unknown reason it has become almost impossible to murder anyone as 99.9% of the time when someone is murdered their body disappears and they find themselves back at home alive and well with full knowledge of their death. Society has had 12 years to come to grips with this new reality and people are starting to get creative in how they take advantage of this phenomenon. This makes life complicated for Tony and his potential side gigs because he really could use the money.
The previous book was a total cliffhanger so it is up to this series finale to wrap up all the open storylines. The war in Europe went FUBAR when the dirty bombs did not wipe out the Variants as intended so Team Ghost is now up against a whole new level of enemy. The radiation from the bombs has caused the monsters to accelerate their rate of mutation and it has resulted in the evolution of a Queen mutant capable of controlling the others. Back in the US there is a full blown civil war underway and President Ringgold is on the run since many believe she ordered attacks on the very safe zones that she created. Horne is doing his best to keep Dr. Novato alive while Beckham is lost and presumed dead. Is it finally time for the human race to go extinct or will the remaining humans give all they have to prevail?