James Nicoll Reviews

Home > Reviews


A Signal in the Heavens

Hunted by the Sky  (Wrath of Ambar, book 1)

By Tanaz Bhathena 

26 Jun, 2020

Doing What the WFC Cannot Do


2020’s Hunted by the Sky is the first volume in Tanaz Bhathena’s Wrath of Ambar series.

Alarmed by a prophecy that an unnamed girl with a star-shaped birthmark would be his downfall, Ambar’s King Lohar did what so many rulers of myth and legend have done: command his Sky Warriors to find and kill every girl with such a birthmark.

Gul is a star-marked girl; she survives because her parents sacrificed their lives to protect her. The murderous assault that was intended to save the king’s life has left Gul determined to kill both the ruler and his right hand man, homicidal sadist Major Shayla.

That said, she’s a fourteen-year-old home-schooled orphan with no access to the king and no real training in combat or magic. Killing Lohar will be a challenge.

Read more ➤

Let Your Patriotism Explode

The Eleventh Commandment

By Lester del Rey 

21 Jun, 2020

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You

1 comment

Lester del Rey’s The Eleventh Commandment: A Novel of a Church and its world is a standalone population-bomb novel. My edition is the revised 1970 edition.

A tragic mishap during a program of world nuclear disarmament led to the very nuclear war that the program was intended to prevent. As lethal fallout covered the Earth, sparing only a few lucky refugia, American and Russian spacemen1 created a new society on Mars. Mars became a high-tech utopia, populated by a eugenic elite, whereas Earth was left to stew in its own juices. 

Boyd Jenson believes he has been sent to Earth to study there, a kind attempt to salvage his academic career after his long illness. In fact, the government of Mars has quietly decided Boyd does not meet Mars’ exacting genetic standards. He is not a transfer student. He is an exile. Boyd only discovers this after he is stranded on Earth, far too late to escape his terrible fate.

North America is a particularly dire part of a battered world, thanks in large part to the American Catholic Eclectic Church.

Read more ➤

No Pill’s Gonna Cure My Ill

Witchmark  (Kingston Cycle, book 1)

By C. L. Polk 

19 Jun, 2020

Doing What the WFC Cannot Do


C. L. Polk’s 2017 Witchmark is the first volume in their Kingston Cycle. 

Having survived a lamentable childhood and a bloody war, Doctor Singer would like to put his past behind him and focus on healing people. His good Samaritan instincts betray him when he tries to assist Nick Elliott. The dying journalist refers to the doctor as starred one” in the hearing of Tristan Hunter. Elliott might as well have called Singer a witch. 

If Hunter were to report Singer to the authorities, it would be disastrous for the doctor. The nation of Aeland has a firm policy where witches are concerned: dispatch them to asylums as soon as they are discovered. But Hunter, a foreigner, isn’t interested in exposing Singer. Hunter simply wants the doctor’s help in learning who murdered Elliott — and why.

Read more ➤

Dancing Shadows and Firelight


By Madeline Miller 

16 Jun, 2020

Special Requests


Madeline Miller’s 2018 Circe is a retelling of Greek myth. 

Titan Helios is a god; his wife Perse is a naiad, a water nymph. Their daughter Circe is immortal but otherwise unremarkable for beauty or supernatural powers. Her parents don’t see much hope that she will make a good marriage. Her father prophesies that she will have settle for a mere mortal. 

But there is more to Circe than the gods first perceive.

Read more ➤

Rose with the Sun

The Whenabouts of Burr

By Michael Kurland 

14 Jun, 2020

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You


Michael Kurland’s 1975 The Whenabouts of Burr is a standalone science fiction mystery novel.

Constitutional scholar Professor William Kranzler makes a momentous discovery. Someone has stolen the original American Constitution, replacing it with a very nearly identical copy. The copy has one flaw: where Alexander Hamilton’s signature should be, Aaron Burr’s signature appears.

President Gosport is determined to recover the document before his Republican foes (or worse, Democratic supposed allies) discover the theft. He can’t call on the FBI, because Gosport is utterly convinced that the FBI is out to get him. He also rules out every conventional law enforcement or intelligence group, believing there is no way to use them in this matter that would not end with a leak. 

The President has an ace in the hole: he has quietly transformed the Bureau of Weights and Measures into his own private investigation agency. Thus, innocuously titled Field Observer Nathan Hale (Nate) Swift is handed the task of recovering the Constitution. 

Read more ➤

Feed Them on Your Dreams

Deadman Wonderland

By Jinsei Kataoka & Kazuma Kondou 

13 Jun, 2020


1 comment

Jinsei Kataoka’s Deadman Wonderland (Japanese: Deddoman Wandārando ), with art by Kazuma Kondou, was serialized in Shōnen Ace from May 2007 to August 2013. It has since been published in thirteen volumes.

Ten years after a catastrophic earthquake leveled much of Tokyo, Ganta Igarashi is enjoying what starts out to be a perfectly normal school day with his chums. A red-clad figure floats in through the third-floor window and massacres everyone in the classroom save for Ganta. The killer implants Ganta with a mysterious jewel, then leaves the boy to explain to authorities what happened to his classmates.

Ganta’s story is rather implausible. The authorities have a better explanation for the carnage. It’s clearly the case that diminutive, traumatized Ganta slaughtered the other kids. Ganta is sentenced to death.

That would be that for our young hero, were it not that Japan’s death penalty takes a baroque form.

Read more ➤

A Subtle Touch on the Silver Key

The Hero of Numbani  (Overwatch, book 1)

By Nicky Drayden 

12 Jun, 2020

Doing What the WFC Cannot Do


Nicky Drayden’s 2020 The Hero of Numbani is an Overwatch tie-in novel. Overwatch is a popular video game I have not played. More details here.

The Omnic Crisis (an AI uprising) is thirty years in the past. This matters to protagonist Efi Oladele mainly because living through the crisis left Efi’s mother with PTSD. What also matters to Efi is finding a way to use her exceptional intellect that will not cost her her best friends.

Read more ➤