Review: The Vanished Birds

Vanished BirdsTitle: The Vanished Birds (2020)
Author: Simon Jimenez
Pages: 390


This is an exceptional debut novel. Simon Jimenez is clearly a skilled storyteller and is an exciting new voice in science fiction. His prose is beautiful and in The Vanished Birds he seamlessly weaves multiple threads into a tightly-plotted tour de force.

The pace is slow, but measured, as each character is given ample time to establish themselves. As we bounce from vignette to vignette and from character to character the plot is always moving forward as the overarching story comes into focus. When the dust settles we’re left with a profound and deeply human story told on an epic scale across millennia. I loved it.

★★★★½ out of 5

Review: Bonds of Brass

Bonds of BrassTitle: Bonds of Brass (April 7, 2020)
Author: Emily Skrutskie
Pages: 304
Series: The Bloodright Trilogy #1 (Series Tracker)


This was a fun ride. I’m sometimes overwhelmed by sprawling space operas, so this interplanetary story with a small but mighty cast of characters was a welcome relief.  I drew several parallels to Pierce Brown’s Red Rising series (apart from RR’s expansive cast) – propulsive pacing, an absorbing narrative, and a charming underdog looking to topple his subjugators. Ettian’s personal journey and evolution of loyalty is quite compelling. Author Emily Skrutskie unspools his story slowly and pulls on his allegiances from several different directions.

The tone of Skrutskie’s prose is casual yet sharp, which is always a nice combination and makes for a pleasant reading experience. I tend to gloss over extended space battle scenes, but her descriptions of space flight and aerial dogfights are vivid and engrossing.

Despite a lull in pacing and some rushed story beats in the back half of the novel, I enjoyed this to the end. I’ll be interested to see how the future books play out, especially with what unfolded in the final few pages.

★★★★ out of 5

My thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Prosper’s Demon

Prosper's DemonTitle: Prosper’s Demon (2020)
Author: K.J. Parker
Pages: 112


The protagonist makes it very clear right off the bat – he’s unlikable…and that’s by design. Of course, his self-deprecation, supposed misdeeds, and biting wit make him lovable, nonetheless. This is a short and sharp story that turns in several unexpected directions. For instance, I was not expecting the casting of a giant bronze horse statue to become such a central plot point! Ultimately, I enjoyed this novella for its brevity and its distinct voice.

★★★¼  out of 5

My thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

Interview: Rod Duncan, Author of The Map of Unknown Things series

Duncan-CoverThe Speculative Shelf is excited to welcome Rod Duncan to the blog today for a discussion about his upcoming book, The Fugitive and the Vanishing Man (out January 14, 2020) from Angry Robot Books. It’s the third and final book in The Map of Unknown Things series. This trilogy closes the chapter on the Elizabeth Barnabus saga, which began in Duncan’s award-winning Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire trilogy. I’ve reviewed all six of the books here on the blog and I think you’ll really enjoy this final chapter if you’ve been following this wonderful alternate history series. Many thanks to Rod for taking the time to answer my questions so thoughtfully.


Hello Rod, thank you for joining us here today! Let’s jump right in:

From a process standpoint, how much preplanning do you do when writing a series like this? When you started penning the first book, did you know how this final book would conclude?

I began writing the first book – the Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter – without much idea of what would follow. Indeed, at the very start, I thought it would be a short story.

9200000084559751But, from your question, I’m guessing you’ve spotted various connections between book one and book six, The Fugitive and the Vanishing Man. The most obvious perhaps is the motif of Elizabeth’s pistol with the emblem of the leaping Hare inlaid in turquoise on the stock. As well as being a weapon, it is an object resonant with meaning for her, being the last gift from her father. It symbolizes that ideal of family life, which was taken from her and against which she measures her present reality.

I knew that her recollection of the past and what it meant would eventually be challenged. If you re-read the Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter, you’ll find more clues layered in. Chapter 9 begins with a quotation that mentions the switching of guns in a conjuring trick, hinting that there may be an exact replica of Elizabeth’s pistol. Twins are mentioned twice in the following pages. All this was quite deliberate.

But don’t take that to mean the series was planned out. I knew about certain plot strands and story beats. But I didn’t know the story itself. By this, I mean, I did not understand the emotions – which are the foundation of the whole thing. Elizabeth would be confronted by her past in this final book of the trilogy. But how would she feel about it – this I did not know.

Continue reading

Review: The Fugitive and the Vanishing Man

9780857668448.jpgTitle: The Fugitive and the Vanishing Man (January 14, 2020)
Author: Rod Duncan
Pages: 400
Series: The Map of Unknown Things #3, Gas-Lit Empire #6 (Series Tracker)


Elizabeth Barnabus, our intrepid adventurer, having made it to the Free States of America, is pursued, caught, and eventually escapes the custody of Gas-Lit Empire agents. She flees to a kingdom in Oregon, where a power-hungry monarch has plans for eastward conquest. Only a grand illusion and an assist from a long-lost ally can save her skin and keep the world from falling into ruin.

This is the sixth and final(?) adventure for Elizabeth and these books have been really enjoyable. This specific trilogy has improved with each subsequent installment, with each book exploring a new frontier and story type. Book 1 was a seafaring tale, Book 2 a revenge story, and Book 3 now deals with court intrigue and politics. While I’m less interested in the world-altering events that Elizabeth continues to be mixed up with, her personal journey is the hook that keeps me coming back for more. The smaller moments of this book that deal with Elizabeth finding her identity, her family, and her real place in the world are exceedingly well done. 

In all, this is a satisfying conclusion to a six-book, two-trilogy saga that has been supremely entertaining and well-told by an author with a wonderful flair for storytelling.

★★★★ out of 5

My thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.