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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The Sleeper’s Dance

The Sleeper’s Dance, Mouse Diver-Dudfield

Reviewed by Lee Murray

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Mouse Diver-Dudfield is an exciting new voice in New Zealand dark fiction, whom I stumbled upon by chance via social media. It was a lucky find. I one-clicked her novella, The Sleeper’s Dance and read it that same night before bed. In short, I loved it. A blend of historical fiction and pulp zombie, this is the story you might get if David Livingstone had discovered a new life form amongst the ruins of an Incan civilisation ‒ that is, if Livingstone hadn’t been somewhere in southern Africa at the time. Diver-Dudfield’s particular skill is in the voice of her main character and narrator, Rupert Mendenhall, his gentleman’s account so perfectly academic and matter-of-fact in spite of the calamity his party faces. There is no breathless panic, no thundering of hearts, or stench of blood in the nostrils. And it’s this restraint, this careful pacing of her narrative, which serves to freeze the reader’s blood. Small and perfectly formed, for the cost of a gold coin, The Sleeper’s Dance is a must-read for horror fans. | Read More...

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Mariah’s Dream by Grace Bridges

Mariah’s Dream by Grace Bridges.

Review by Lee Murray

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I read Mariah’s Dream quickly last year, when it appeared on the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Awards ballot, but because there was a lot of material on the reading list, I didn’t get around to reviewing it, which meant I’ve now the pleasure of reading it a second time. And the second time around, Mariah’s Dream is as satisfying and thought-provoking as the first.

Grace Bridges’ dystopic tale is set in a near future, in Ireland, where history is repeating itself and the people of Belfast are dying of starvation. The crops fail, this time by design, when a ‘terminator gene’ is introduced by a government regime as a means to oppress the people. Mariah has already lost her mother, her brother is mouldering in a work camp, and now, on the eve of a breakthrough which might save them all, her best friend is being deported by the regime. Amid the turbulence, outspoken and resourceful Mariah becomes the unwitting leader of the Guild, a group which just might turn out to be the world’s best chance of survival. | Read More...

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Changes in NZ book review media

For all you self-pubbers out there doing DIY book promotion – an update. All book reviews for Fairfax Media now go through Michelle Hurley in Auckland. She is the National Books Editor for all of Fairfax’s newspapers, including The Dom Post, The Press, and The Sunday Star-Times, as well as several other regional papers. Please check the full list. What I’m hearing from various newspaper editors and arts journos around the country is that they still want to hear from you direct if you have a place-specific news story or… | Read More...

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Book Review: The Factory World by Joseph Edward Ryan

The Factory World is a novel published by Steam Press and written by New Zealand author Joseph Edward Ryan and follows (literally) a ten year old boy Simon through a derelict and broken world.

The story is a simple journey. Simon and his friend, the Tin Man, must journey through this world of ruin and decay to try and find a way home. We learn of the world with Simon. We are experiencing his journey. There is no base experience to leverage off. Everything is strange and foreign and this is what absorbs you as a reader. You need to learn what is over the next wall. You need to make sure that Simon and the Tin Man escape the current horror, only to face more down the path. | Read More...

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Book review: When We Wake, by Karen Healey

When We Wake by Karen Healey begins in Australia in the year 2027. It’s all told from the point of view of 16-year-old Tegan, who is cryogenically frozen and wakes up in the year 2128. She is still in Australia, but climate change has taken hold: temperatures are rising and, while the world’s population increases, available land is shrinking. Apparently ignoring the plight of its distressed neighbours, Australia has completely closed its borders. The well-drawn setting of When We Wake and the exploration of big ideas are undoubtedly the strengths… | Read More...

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Book review: The Martian, by Andy Weir

The biggest buzz in international sci-fi book circles at the moment is The Martian by Andy Weir: Robinson Crusoe on Mars. Set in the foreseeable future, astronaut Mark Watney is alone on Mars, left behind by crewmates who believe he’s dead, with no way to communicate with Earth and only limited supplies of food, water and oxygen. Cue a fast-paced, warm-hearted, sci-fi action movie romp. Critics have complained that The Martian is too heavy on the technical detail and too light on philosophical meatiness, and these are fair points. There… | Read More...

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Book review: Misplaced, by Lee Murray

Lovely review of Misplaced by SpecFicNZ member Lee Murray on Bookman Beattie’s blog:

Set in Tauranga, Misplaced follows a teenage boy, Adam, as his life unravels after his mother goes missing one evening. As a teen novel, the story uses the mystery as a jumping point to explore the confusing and fractured life of a teenage boy as he tries to navigate his way through school, family drama, friendships and romance. From the opening chapter to the last page, Murray holds her reader’s interest firmly in the palm of her hand. | Read More...

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Volunteer Reviewers Wanted

Occasionally, SpecFicNZ receives requests from speculative fiction authors or publishers to review books on our website, or conduct author interviews.

With the thought of meeting this need in the future, we are asking members that might be interested in reviewing books (or conducting author interviews) to contact us at specficnz(at)gmail(dot)com.

Please put the word “Reviewer” in the subject line of your e-mail.

In the body of your e-mail, please tell us any reviewing or interviewing experience you have (though experience is not required), what type of spec fic you prefer to read (sci-fi, fantasy, horror, spec fic poetry, spec fic humour, etc), and your contact information (both your e-mail as well as postal address to send review copies to). | Read More...

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