Originally started all the way back in 1983, the Vlad Taltos series follows a human assassin of the same name living on the planet Dragaera. The Dragaerans are a race of beings that were created when humans were cross-bred with a few of the local animals. The characteristics of these animals therefore became a genetic component of the members of each Great House, influencing their physical features and personality traits. The lone exception being the lowest of the Houses, the House of Jhereg, which is more of an organization formed by outcasts of the other Houses. House Jhereg is looked down upon by almost everyone and its very existence is controversial. Despite having no actual genetic basis for it, it too is named for a local creature, the Jhereg - which is a tiny, dragon-like animal. The House of Jhereg is quite a bit shadier than the other Houses and allows many frowned upon practices, including selling titles within the House for a price. That's why Vlad's father was able to buy his way in as a human, thus making Vlad a rare Easterner in a Great House. This puts Vlad in quite a unique position that he uses to his advantage in his role as an assassin for hire.
The Commune series has been a pretty good one so far. It has focused on a group of characters struggling to survive in the mountains of Wyoming after a Coronal Mass Ejection destroyed society as we know it. The series has been a gritty apocalyptic tale, and sometimes it's been quite brutal, but it has always been centered in realism. I appreciate the straight up story telling that doesn't rely on zombies or alien invasions to challenge the main characters. Speaking of those characters, I've been rooting for them to make it for 4 books now, so I eagerly picked up book 5 to see what was in store for them now. To my surprise, those characters are nowhere to be found. This book is centered in Washington, D.C. so it feels more like the start of a new series than a continuation of an old one. Does it hold up or is this just a money grab that takes advantage of the series name?
The extraordinarily wealthy Tesla Crane and her husband are incognito on their honeymoon cruise. Not only did she inherit the company responsible for Earth's telecommunications, but she was a brilliant robotic engineer whose career ended in tragedy, leaving her broken in both mind and body. A few days after the ship begins its journey from the Moon to Mars the newlyweds interrupt a murder outside their cabin. Being a famous detective, her husband chases the fleeing murderer while Tesla waits for medical help with the victim. Unfortunately, the security chief arrests Tesla's husband as the easiest suspect ,so it's up to Tesla to make them see reason. When reason fails she sets out to find the murderer herself. The really strange thing? Another body has turned up in the waste recycling system but everyone aboard is accounted for. Have there been two murders? And who is this spare man?
It's time for the next generation of characters to take center stage in The Band series, which gives this second book of the series a very different vibe from the first one. The all-male members of the band Saga are now retired and the story shifts to focus on Fable, a young band just entering their prime and led by the infamous Bloody Rose. Fable is a far more diverse group of adventurers than Saga was and they are also not prone to killing off their bard in every encounter. So it should probably not be a surprise that the main PoV character is actually Fable's new bard, Tam, who leaps at the opportunity to join the band to get a little adventure in her life. Tam is full of excitement at the prospect of telling the story of Bloody Rose, who is a living legend, but she quickly realizes that the real Rose is not the one the other bards sing about. Rose is fighting her own inner demons and is willing to risk everything, and everyone in the band, for glory, so this time around it might not be just the bard that dies.
"Clay had the bright idea to block his attacker's next strike, shortly after the next strike." That's how battles typically go for Clay "Slowhand" Cooper, so nicknamed because he was never fast enough to land the first blow in a fight. Clay Cooper is the main PoV character and a member of the retired band of mercenaries, Saga. In a world where bands of adventurers are the equivalent of modern day rock stars, Saga was the OG band of mercs and the best of the best, before the whole industry became a side show. None of that matters though, since Clay is married now and all he cares about is his wife and daughter. So when Saga's old front man, Gabe, comes knocking on his door and explains why the band needs to get back together, Clay flatly refuses him and sends him away. Sure Gabe's daughter's life was in danger, but Clay has a daughter of his own, so what kind of father would he be if he just up and left?
This series started a little slowly 9 years ago with Terms of Enlistment, but it has been going strong since then and rarely disappoints. This one picks up right where the last one left off with the NCS Washington stranded in a sunless system deep behind enemy lines. Winding up here was an accident and they have no way back home, so the first order of business is establishing a source of water and then a source of protein. There is a promising source of water, but protein is likely to be a more difficult proposition. So Major Grayson takes his special tactics team onto a moon with signs of life in the hopes of discovering a source of food, and not a Lanky presence. Of course, this is a military Sci-Fi series so Grayson's hopes are shattered when a substantial Lanky presence is discovered on the moon. Then one thing leads to another...
The last thing El Higgins saw before Orion pushed her through the gates of the Scholomance was the massive maw-mouth monster called Patience rolling towards him. With only moments until a super-volcano spell goes off and destroys the school, El doesn't understand why Orion didn't throw himself through the gate as well. After all, a maw-mouth is a fate worse than death, but El's determined to find Patience and destroy it to set Orion's soul free. Of course that assumes she can even find what's left of the school in the void, but in the meantime she's back at the commune in Wales with her mum. When she allowed herself to imagine a future after graduation, she dreamed of using the Golden Stone Sutras spell book she found in the Scholomance to build small enclaves to protect others. Instead she finds herself fighting to save the big enclaves as almost every day another one of them is attacked.
The Firefly series of books is the closest we will ever get to living in a world where the TV series wasn't canceled after just one season. Each book feels like a new episode of the show and Life Signs is the best one so far. Inara has not been aboard Serenity for a few books now and we finally find out why. Inara is dying. She has a terminal illness, Kiehl’s Myeloma, which is an incurable form of cancer and she has little time left. Therefore, she finally decides to let the crew of Serenity in on her secret and say goodbye. Of course this is devastating news to Mal and hard for him to accept. So hard, in fact, that he is willing to risk his own life, and the lives of his crew, on an impossible mission to save her. Mal decides that the crew needs to travel to an Alliance prison planet and break out a disgraced scientist on the slim chance that he might be able to help Inara. Pure madness.
Who is Nona? No one, least of all Nona herself, actually knows who's soul resides in the body originally belonging to Harrowhark. Her memory begins six months ago on planet dominated by different rebel factions and threatened by one of the Resurrection Beasts. Her friends, Pyrrha Dve (in the still living body of the dead Lyctor Gideon the First) and Camilla Hect, (who is sharing her body with her dead necromancer Palamedes Sextus), have only told her that they believe her to be one of two friends. Their supposed allies from the rebel group Blood of Eden are only allowing her to live because they hope her soul belongs to Gideon Nav who they need to open the Locked Tomb. Nona's personality is cheerful and completely innocent with only occasional flashes of what might be either the irreverent Gideon or serious Harrow. As Nona struggles to make sense of the events around her while her friends analyze every bit of her dreams she can recall in the hopes they are the key to unlocking her soul.
The last book was full of a lot of set up for this one and now it is time to see if there is going to be a payoff. The title implies that Ty is going to be front and center since he is the one tasked to go on a typical fantasy RPG collection quest and assemble the four-part key in or to bring a mythical wizard's keep back into existence. Of course he has no idea how to do this, but he knows that he must accomplish it before the White Tower becomes unstoppable. Ty must travel from one land to another through a series of magical portals to find these key pieces, so the constant changes of scenery keep his adventure feeling fresh and unique every step of the way. Unfortunately the same is not true for the other PoV characters. Ferrin remains on the run after his escape from the White Tower and Ayrion still does not have his memories back, so in a way all three of them are dawdling around on side quests while the main storyline goes unpursued. Will that change before this one ends or is this even more set-up for the next book?