Anthologies Kiwi Writers Reviews 

Te Kōrero Ahi Kā – A Review

TE KORERO AHI KA

edited by  Grace Bridges, Lee Murray and Aaron Compton

Review by Simon Litten

Te Korero Ahi Ka is a collection of works by members of Speculative Fiction New Zealand. The collection is of both new works and reprints, but the new works predominate. This is neither a themed anthology nor a collection of one particular author, rather it is a showcase of the variety of short stories (and occasional art work) produced by the members of Speculative Fiction New Zealand. To that end the collection is a very mixed bag with science fiction, fantasy, horror, poetry and even to my eye at least a non-genre work. Given that breadth of content what can one say about such a collection? | Read More...

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Rotovegas – a review

Earthcore Book 1: RotoVegas, by Grace Bridges

Reviewed by Jenn Rackham

RotoVegas is a fun book about the teen protagonist, Anira, visiting Rotorua and finding that the water gives her strange and unique powers. She sets out to find others like her and they form a team to stop others from using their powers for the wrong reason.

The title RotoVegas at first made me think it would be about gambling and casinos but I was pleasantly surprised to find it wasn’t. I felt the title choice was due to Grace highlighting the entertainment and tourism side of Rotorua in her usual visceral descriptions. | Read More...

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The City Builders, by Sean Monaghan

The City Builders, by Sean Monaghan

Review by Grant Stone

Desra’s in trouble. Her ship, the Leuwenhok was orbiting Mackelle, an uninhabited planet sixty light years from home when it was shot out of the sky. When she makes it to the surface it turns out the planet might not be as uninhabited as she’d expected. Now she’s trapped in the middle of a deserted and almost endless city that is being built, torn down and rebuilt by a fleet of robots. Help is on the way but it may not come soon enough. New models of robots are appearing, more humanoid in form and designed more for combat than construction. Meanwhile, the rescue ship faces challenges of its own. | Read More...

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Mariah’s Prologues, by Grace Bridges

Mariah’s Prologues, By Grace Bridges

A review by Jenn Rackham

Mariah’s Prologues is sixteen short stories of different characters living in a dystopian future in Ireland where food is scarce and corporations rule its famished citizens with an iron fist. Each short story focuses on one character and their relationship to their loved ones and to the world, like a piece of a jigsaw that completes the whole picture bit by bit.

Due to Grace’s brilliant and often visceral writing, many times I was uncomfortable reading such a dark and bleak world, yet I was encouraged to continue reading the stories as each characters were filled with emotions and hopes that were easily identifiable. I found myself rooting for the characters and eager to learn more about the world each chapter. | Read More...

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Reviews 

Crow Shine, by Alan Baxter -a review

Review by Piper Mejia

Crow Shine is a collection of short stories by Alan Baxter. Starting with the title tale, Baxter takes you on a journey of cursed objects and their even more cursed owners. From moonshine and guitars to a street side toy maker and a pair of stolen dice, each story is crafted to make any reader think twice about the power of possessions.
Though the male protagonists are easily recognisable as good time Charlies or the drinking buddy at the bar, the women are less so, but perhaps that’s to be expected as maybe women are not so easily lead astray by the thirst for power and fame.
However, in each story Baxter has shown his skill in observing the human condition; that all we want is to be noticed, to have our lives mean something, and that, in the end, there is nothing we won’t sacrifice for the people we love.
I admire the variation in his characters, his clever world play and his skill in taking an idea to a place you never thought of. For something to read when your life is too busy for a novel, I recommend you give Crow Shine your time. | Read More...

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Reviews 

The Frankie Files, by AJ Ponder – a review

The Frankie Files, by A.J. Ponder

Review by Robinne Weiss

Frankie N. Stein wants to be a famous inventor, but her inventions only get her into trouble. Her monster tomato named Martie grows to the size of a beach ball and terrorises the school, her shrink ray is confiscated by the teacher, her Homeworkulator decides it doesn’t like doing homework, her Megadron hot air balloon monster eats children…But these setbacks only spur Frankie to more wild ideas.

The Frankie Files is a collection of what are essentially journal entries written by a precocious, nerdy girl. Frankie’s voice is distinct, strong, and full of dry humour, though her thought processes are decidedly those of a child—don’t look for coherence or logic in the mind of a six year-old. As in many children’s books, most of the adult characters in The Frankie Files are simply impediments to Frankie’s brilliant ideas. All except one mysterious woman, Ms Xavier, who shows up from time to time to enable and encourage Frankie in her creative scientific pursuits. | Read More...

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Kiwi Writers Reviews 

Review: Hounds of the Underworld by Lee Murray and Dan Rabarts

SpecFicNZ review of the new supernatural mystery by writing team Dan Rabarts and Lee Murray A scientist with parent problems and her tough-guy half-brother with a not-so-imaginary friend in the shadows…the perfect team to solve a mystery in which the body is missing. I enjoyed watching the back and forth as the two authors each steered one character’s point of view. I’d call this a dark urban fantasy that just barely touches the line into horror. Yes, there are slimy tentacles and lots of blood and gore, but all this tends to be limited to just a few pivotal scenes. For those with more sensitive tastes, there is animal death, but not directly impacting the characters we’re given time to love. The plot gives plenty of surprises and crash-bang twists and turns. There’s a good emphasis on science as the basis for investigations, and the troublesome parents are all too relatable, wishing their daughter would switch careers and marry the smarmy businessman they recommend to her. It is gratifying that she comes into her own when away from their influence, even though they make her feel so helpless and they do not respect her career – when she is out pursuing that career and probably a little harder than she should, she finds unexpected strength within herself to do the impossible and survive. Relationship development is also significant as Penny and Matiu grow closer and learn to trust and work with each other. In the beginning they are shown as very different and often not even on the same wavelength, but they are forced into collaboration and can only solve the crime by their combined and maximised effort, taking each to breaking point and beyond where they ever thought they could go. There are some vagaries of verb tense that don’t quite work for me, but I bet only a language nerd would ever notice. And I would have liked a little more detail in the setting, since my own home town doesn’t often feature in a novel. It almost feels a little bit generic except for the ubiquitous Harbour Bridge, and it was only when our intrepid heroes got out in the countryside that it started to feel more like New Zealand. By the same token it was great to see Auckland as the main backdrop for this tale, and perhaps in the future cities do become even more generic than they already are. Hounds of the Underworld is a fast-moving futuristic novel with a great New Zealand flavour and supernatural thrills on the side, excellently written in a noir whodunit style, and just slightly fewer dogs than the title suggests. Review by Grace Bridges Grab it at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1935738968
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Reviews 

Voiceless, by EG Wilson – a review

Voiceless by EG Wilson

Review by A.J. Ponder

Adelaide Te Ngawai’s voice is stolen, and not just her voice, her ability to communicate. She knows who infected her, Maunga Richards. But why would Maunga give her Vox Pox?

It’s the worst thing imaginable, especially for a writer, but Adelaide’s brother makes her a device to help her cope, and slowly but surely Adelaide begins to claw her life back. Still, nothing about the illness makes any sense, it’s restricted to a small area, and appears to be a man-made condition. But how? And why? Adelaide is determined to unravel the mystery. | Read More...

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In the News Reviews 

Bound by Alan Baxter – a review

Review: Bound by Alan Baxter

 Review by Nix Whittaker

Super action packed well-written story. Easy to read but a little darker than I like my books. Not just that but the swearing and other stuff though realistic to the character’s situation is not my thing.

 The story is of Alex Caine a street fighter who can see more than meets the eye. A stranger arrives at one of his fights and we basically fall into a quest/the one trope. I like these kinds of tropes so I thought I would enjoy the story more, especially since it was beautifully written. Unfortunately, I also like my stereotypical completely obvious stories to be peppered with more comedy. Also, I like a story that leans more to being able to pass the Bechdel test. I did like Silhouette. She was fun and witty. I’d recommend this book for male readers though and I admit I like my books geared towards either women or at least gender neutral. This reminded me of Ian Fleming. On the outside the main character looks bad ass and cool but the more you delve into the character you realise that he is shallow. I believe the author was aware of this issue and did try to alleviate this as Alex really doesn’t want to be that stereotypical bad ass. | Read More...

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Reviews 

Ferox by Chris Brausch – a review

Review: Ferox by Chris Brausch

Review by Nix Whittaker

If all the teenage dystopian texts had a love child with all the darkest space operas you would get Ferox. It is a little wordy but it is clever so I’ll forgive it its verbose nature.

Set a thousand years in the future where the world is pretty much starving to death and China has taken over New Zealand and made everyone into slaves. We follow the story of a few characters on both side so the conflict. We have the desperate and the pragmatic along with the plain just evil but they are pitched to us the reader in a way that makes us not completely hate them. | Read More...

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Reviews 

Review: The Devil’s Children and Threshold of Madness

The Devil’s Children and Standing on the Threshold of Madness by Benjamin Blake

Review by Dan Rabarts

Benjamin Blake’s The Devil’s Children is a coming-home story, a tale of two young men who have left the small town behind them, but the town has never really let them go. Fuelled by nostalgia, the pointlessness of their existences, and a gnawing sense of things left undone, Harry and Adam return to their hometown of Wycombe, Massachusetts with plans to relive their easy-going teen years in a haze of beer fumes and cigarette smoke, only to find that things are not how they remember. The town is plagued by strange happenings, and so they set about investigating – when they’re not drinking or hunting fruitlessly for their lost phones. | Read More...

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Auckland Allies – Review

Auckland Allies, by Mike Reeves-McMillan

Reviewed by Nix Whittaker.

I’m a big fan of stories that represent who we are. I hadn’t realised how important it was to also have stories set in places familiar to us as well. Auckland Allies is set in Auckland where I went to Uni just like Steampunk Sally. The places the Auckland Allies run around is a wallow in nostalgia that was glorious.

Auckland Allies is set in modern times but with people with magic, called practitioners, Tara is a Maker and Sparx is her neighbour. They end up being chased by blokes in black all because Tara did some work for Sally. A mistake on their part as instead of keeping their plans secret they made enemies. Okay, they aren’t powerful enemies but they are resourceful. | Read More...

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Hand of the Trickster – Review

Hand of the Trickster by Mike McMillan-Reeves

Reviewed by Nix Whittaker

This is a novella about a band of thieves that have come together to steal a book of questionable safety. Mostly we follow the character Now you see it. He is a a priest of the trickster cult that allows him to conjure up items. They have been commissioned to steal the book by a demon and things get tricky from there.

It took me a while to read this even though it isn’t very long mainly because I’m not a fan of male protagonists but Now is an interesting man with a strong set of rules that fits interestingly with his complete lack of qualms about stealing things. | Read More...

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The Dragon Slayer’s Son – Review

The Dragon Slayer’s Son, by Robinne Weiss Review by Mike Reeves-McMillan found this YA/MG story fresh and well executed. The New Zealand setting was well conveyed – not only the landscape, but cultural references, and the generally cooperative and helpful vibe among the characters. Not that there weren’t antagonists – there definitely were, and there was conflict and tension, and conflict even within the team at times – but the general feeling was that any new person you met was more likely to be friendly and helpful than not. Also, the main character wasn’t ever formally appointed as the leader, and for a long time the group didn’t appear to have (or need) a leader, making decisions by informal consensus. This is very much Kiwi culture. I appreciated that the kids, even the boys, didn’t feel the need to be emotionless and staunch, and that the losses they’d all suffered were treated realistically and shown to matter. The central group were well drawn, clearly distinct from one another, and all brought important contributions to the table; all of them stepped up when needed, even whiny Ella. I also appreciated that there were two girls in the core team, who were very different from one another, and two people of non-European ancestry. The kids were believable as kids, and the actions they took were also believable as things (unusually heroic and sensible) kids could and would do. There were a couple of big challenges to my suspension of disbelief, but I don’t know if they’d bother the main target audience of middle-grade readers. Firstly, that the existence of dragons up to 30 metres long has been successfully hidden up to the present day, and secondly, that dragon-slayers only get trained once their parents die (and are sent to training as soon as their dragon-slayer parent dies). The latter seemed to be in there not because it made any sense as a rule in itself, but simply to set up the scenario of the dragon-slayer school and the characters being sent there. But everything else was so well done and flowed so well that I was willing to overlook that one. The ecological thread is strong and clear without being preachy. Overall, highly recommended. I received a copy of this book for review through the SpecFicNZ review programme.
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Kalanon’s Rising – Review

Kalanon’s Rising, by Darian Smith

Book One in the Agents of Kalanon Series

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Ever since Darian Smith won the SpecFicNZ/Steam Press Manuscript Award, many of us have been waiting less than patiently for the release of Kalanon’s Rising, the first book in his Agents of Kalanon fantasy mystery series. Let me just say, it’s been worth the wait.

Simply put the story goes like this: when the body of the king’s cousin is found mutilated in a local inn, the king calls in his friend, soldier-turned-surgeon, Sir Brannon Kesh, to solve the murder. | Read More...

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