Driven, by Kelley Armstrongdriven_by_kelley_armstrong_limited_edition
Published January 2016 by Subterranean Press

With Driven, Kelley Armstrong returns to her Women of the Otherworld series for the first time in four years. This entry in the series focuses on Elena, adjusting to her roles both of mother and of Alpha to a werewolf Pack, as she leads an investigation into a serial murderer that’s started to attack other lycanthropes. The Elena we see here is a far cry from the reluctant werewolf that Elena was when the series started, and it was really enjoyable to see her slide into these roles and perform them in a way that readers wouldn’t have expected from previous characters that have held that role.

Another family-related element of the story that was really striking was the interaction between Clay and Malcolm, the man who in many ways was a father to him. Malcolm’s shadow has hung over Clay since the series began, and seeing him come to terms with that made for a very interesting evolution of his character.

Beyond the family elements, the rest of the main plot was a little underwhelming. The Cain clan, the main victims of the killer, have appeared before in the series, but have always been a bit forgettable as antagonists. Ideally, they could have been – they’re organized in such a way that they almost form a dark mirror to the Pack, but none of the individuals in the family stand out as being as interesting as the Pack they seem to try to emulate. Because of this, it was a little hard to have regard for them as victims, which in turn made it difficult to see the killer as an actual threat to the Pack members.

Despite this, for fans of Armstrong’s long-running Women of the Otherworld series, this book will be an absolute delight – it provides for a chance to check in with their favourite wolf pack, and provides a good luck at how much the Pack has evolved since Bitten was released in 2004. If you’re new to the Otherworld book series (even if you’ve come to the characters through the Bitten TV show), you might be better served by jumping in at an earlier point – a new reader would be able to understand the plot of Driven well enough, but a lot of the interactions between Malcolm, Clay, and Elena would lack a lot of the emotional impact that it deserves. Then, once you have, come back for this one, because you’ll love it.

(Note: thanks to Subterranean Press for making a copy of this book available for review)

Owl and the Japanese Circus

Owl and the Japanese Circus, by Kristi Charish 23213197-_uy475_ss475_

Published January 2015 by Gallery Books

We should start by getting something out of the way: If you’re looking for the story of an anthropomorphic predatory bird that runs away from home to join the circus, you might be a little disappointed. There are no actual owls in this book.

If, on the other hand, you’re in the market for a fun, fast-paced supernatural adventure story that’s reminiscent equally of Indiana Jones-style adventure stories and Whedonesque banter and self-aware humour, then you’re in luck, and Owl and the Japanese Circus is the type of novel you might want to check out.

Owl…, the debut novel from BC author Kristi Charish, is the story of the eponymous Owl, an antiquities thief who tries to live her life by one simple rule: don’t get caught up with the supernatural. This is, of course, a perfectly sensible rule, and like many perfectly sensible rules in life, it gets completely ignored as she gets mixed up with vampires, dragons, and other supernatural creatures in a globe-trotting, temple-robbing adventure. Owl is a rough-around-the-edges protagonist with an interesting backstory and a quick wit, and her adventures are cinematic in pace and scope, while still containing enough depth and complexity that the reader isn’t left wanting.

This is the first book in a series, and in it Charish establishes an interesting character and status quo for the rest of the series while also telling a story that stands well on its own. Without venturing into spoiler territory, this works somewhat as an origin story for Owl, both in terms of the backstory that’s provided for her and the path that she’s set on in terms of future adventures that she will no doubt be having. For fans of urban fantasy, pulpy classic adventure heroes, and compelling, sharp-tongued protagonists, Owl and the Japanese Circus is a title that’s definitely worth picking up.

The Affinities


The Affinities, by Robert Charles Wilson

Published April 2015 by Tor Books

There is often a gap between the technologies that shape the world, and the ones that are often written about in science fiction. While authors in previous generations wrote about intergalactic travel and contact with alien species, new inventions like the birth control pill, advanced vaccines, and antibiotics quietly reshaped the relationships that humanity had with both the natural world and with our own bodies.

In The Affinities, Robert Charles Wilson takes a look at one of those technologies that is reshaping society in the 21st century – the internet-based technologies we can collectively label “social media” – and looks at both how it is reshaping society now, as well as expending that reshaping into the future. Central to the novel are the eponymous groups, Affinities, that are created after a psychologist attempts to map out and profile personality and form common interest groups around them. Imagine you sign up for twitter, or whatever the next version of twitter is going to be, and the first step in the process is to take a Myers-Briggs Type Inventory. You’re classified as, say, INTJ, and your timeline is then filled with nothing but other INTJs in your area. It is at first an idea that seems compelling – social media without having to worry about that racist uncle who posts conspiracy theories about lizard people, or that person that sat behind you in your grade 10 math class decades ago – as well as one that mostly any internet user could find relatable.

What makes the book work so well is that Wilson really does a good job of showing the benefits that groups like this would initially have: a chosen, tight-knit community, the sense of belonging that escapes so many in the modern world, and a way of identifying and understanding who you are. The dangers of this type of organization are just as real, as well – confirmation bias is a real thing, and one that leads many people toward extremism as they start to follow and listen only to people with similar mindsets and ideology, and Wilson makes sure to address those as well, rather than just present the Affinities as a utopian cure-all.

While The Affinities does a good job of exploring how social media will continue to expand and alter society; the one downside to this exploration is that it stays too focused on one Affinity, Tau, with only token development of the others. Given the plural nature of the book’s title, it would have been interesting to see it take a broader look at this revolutionary concept.

Overall, The Affinities provides an interesting look at the way social media is changing how society organizes itself, and manages to describe the possible drawbacks of this reorganization without falling into dystopia.

The Untold Tale

The Untold Tale, by JM Frey1-243x400

Published December 2015 by Reuts Publications

The Untold Tale by JM Frey tells the story of Lucy Piper, a young, bookish hero who travels through a portal to a much beloved literary world, and undergoes a journey wherein she interacts with the characters she has been fascinated  with for years. On the surface, this is one of those fun, self-aware types of stories that get told from time to time – think of classics like The Neverending Story, or Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet). If one digs a bit deeper into Frey’s novel, however, we see that it goes beyond the meta-analysis that is usually a feature of this type of story.

One of the obvious elements of the story that Frey wishes to address with The Untold Tale is the ongoing and needed conversation that science fiction and fantasy fandom is having with itself regarding ongoing and historical sexism and racism in many otherwise beloved works. Through the character of Lucy, Frey explicitly addresses and rebuts many of the unspoken assumptions fantasy characters make regarding women and their role in the societies presented in fantasy literature. While many authors attempt to address sexism do so by just slapping a sword and suit of armour on a character, Red Sonja style, Frey goes deeper than that, taking the traditionally-masculine idea of the hero and looking at whether or not that in and of itself is an admirable archetype. Throughout this analysis, it’s clear that Frey and Lucy both have a great love of the genre, and that love is what inspires them to want to make it even better than it has been in the past.

Part of this analysis occurs through the experiences Frey subjects her twin protagonists, Lucy and Forsyth, to as they go on their heroic quest. Throughout their experiences in the novel, she addresses important psychological issues that often plague literary heroes but not genre ones, such as post-traumatic stress and immobilizing self-doubt. The challenges that they face in overcoming these issues fill the novel with a sense of actual realism: not the type of “realism” that is often just disguised pessimism and gore, but actual realism that makes the characters recognizable as tragic, flawed people that just happen to be undergoing fantastic experiences.  Exemplifying qualities such as intellectualism, compassion, and cleverness, the heroes of The Untold Tale force us as readers to re-evaluate how we define the traditional heroic figure, and how those characters would often not represent values we would want to live by in real life. By making these issues so real, and so deeply personal, Frey has created characters that readers will be keeping in their thoughts long after they finish reading the story.

Funny, exciting, psychologically and emotionally complex – throughout The Untold Tale, JM Frey takes readers on a fantastic journey that covers many familiar tropes while encouraging them to rethink how they feel toward beloved genre classics.

(Note: Special thanks to JM Frey and Reuts Publications for providing a copy of The Untold Tale for review)

Led Astray, by Kelley Armstrong


Led Astray, by Kelley Armstrong

Published September 2015 by Tachyon Publications

“Best of” is always an awkward phrase to see on the title of a collection. The nature of art, and especially storytelling, is subjective enough that readers likely won’t agree on what someone’s best stories are. These collections can then do a disservice to entrenched fans (who will wonder why story X wasn’t included), as well as newcomers (who may get an unrealistic view of an author’s work).

Putting aside the Best Of label, Led Astray serves as a great survey of Kelley Armstrong’s work and the stories she tells. The different multi-story worlds that she’s built are all present (except the non-supernatural Nadia Stafford series), mixed in with a good amount of original, non-series stories as well. This provides a good balance for existing fans, as well as allowing those who haven’t read Armstrong before a chance to slowly work their way into her oeuvre.

One of the ways that Armstrong manages to keep the collection interesting is that she borrows from a wide variety of source mythology for her stories. So there are werewolves, vampires, and zombies, as one might expect, but there are also lesser-known supernaturals such as Rakshashi, Kitsune, and the Wild Hunt.

Stylistically, Armstrong tells stories that are quickly-paced, easily-digestible, and contain a lighthearted, irreverent attitude. At times the stories can get fairly dark, but that lighthearted attitude prevents them from becoming overly morbid. The myriad narrators all feel distinct and unique, and lead to a fun reading experience.

Throughout Led Astray, Armstrong takes familiar tales of the supernatural and tells them in fresh, interesting ways that still pay homage to what made those things such powerful storytelling elements in the first place. It’s a great read for both entrenched fans of her work, as well as those unfamiliar with her that might be looking for a good entryway into her storytelling style.

(editorial note: a special thank you to the folks at Tachyon Publishing for providing a copy of this book for review)

Reminder – Last week for Aurora Voting

A friendly reminder to those eligible that the voting for the Aurora Awards closes this Saturday. If you’re a member of the CSFFA and haven’t voted yet, click on this link to access the ballot. Voting for the awards is done based on ranking, and voters can abstain from voting in some categories if they’d like.

If you’re in need of a refresher before voting, below is a list of all of the nominees for Best Novel, and their reviews on Northern Tomorrows:

My Real Children by Jo Walton
The Peripheral by William Gibson
The Future Falls by Tanya Huff
Echopraxia by Peter Watts
A Play of Shadow by Julie Czernada

An Ancient Peace, by Tanya Huff


An Ancient Peace, by Tanya Huff

Published October 6, 2015 by DAW

An Ancient Peace finds Tanya Huff returning to Gunnery Sargeant Torin Kerr and her team of Marines, as they continue to work to keep the Confederation safe from a new threat. This might seem a little surprising, as their last outing brought an end to the intergalactic war the Confederation was taking part in. For Torin and crew, this mostly just means the name on their paycheques have changed form the Marine Corps to the Justice Department, but otherwise things are very similar.

For a lot of series like this, that amount of similarity would be a sign that the series was starting to get stale or boring. That’s definitely not the case here, though; Huff manages to keep the story fun and engaging throughout, primarily through her ability to create interesting characters that it’s easy for the audience to empathize with. It’s clear who the villains are and who we should be cheering for, but all of the characters are given equal treatment on the characterization front.

For readers new to this series (it’s labelled as part one of the Peacemaker series, but is really a continuation of the five part Confederation series by the same author), An Ancient Peace might be the most fun you’ll have with a book this year. For entrenched fans of the series, it’s more of what you already loved, with just enough of a new direction to keep things interesting.

(editorial note: a special thanks to the folks at Penguin Publishing Group for providing a copy of this book for review)