Book Reviews Page

All reviews are the opinion of the individual reviewer, and do not imply any endorsement from On Spec.

April 22, 2018



Title: Gods, Monsters and the Lucky Peach
Author: Kelly Robson
Reviewed by Nicole M. Luiken
Publisher:, 2018
Length: Novella
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
Cover artist: Jon Foster

I was attracted to this book by its wonderful cover and was hooked from the first line: “The monster looked like an old grandmother from the waist up, but instead of legs it had six long octopus legs.”

The superior world-building is what I think of as ‘immersive’ SF, which is to say that new terms aren’t necessarily explained when they first appear in the text, but usually soon become clear from context. This can be a little challenging for the reader (I know there are things I missed on a single read-through), but makes for a much richer experience.

Post-apocalyptic worlds are nothing new, but the well-thought-out detail to Robson’s gave the setting new energy. The main character Minh is from an idealistic generation (known as the plague babies) who specialize in ecology and are trying to regain a foothold back on the surface of the earth after disasters have driven much of the population underground. However, their idealism is being worn away by economic concerns–the banks have a stranglehold on funding. Then on top of this base is laid the actual plot for the novel: Minh and her team receive an opportunity to travel back in time and do an ecological study of Mesopotamia thousands of years ago.

My favourite part of the novella was grouchy Minh’s relationship with the younger, energetic  Kiki. Minh has a bad habit of focussing on her work to the exclusion of people–she sends her fake (an avatar) to deal with most incoming messages. But Kiki, her admin assistant, is both plucky and persistent. Kiki wins a place on the time travel team and breaks down Minh’s barriers.

Each chapter begins with a short section from the point of view of Shulgi, a Mesopotamian king, who has to deal with the disruption the “monsters” are making to his kingdom.  Although Shulgi’s timeline doesn’t sync up with Minh’s until the latter half of the book, they worked well together, with Shulgi’s acting like a Sword of Damocles to increase suspense in Minh’s plotline.

All in all, a good read. Highly recommended.

Quibble: The ending had no denouement and felt more like the one-line punch ending to a short story. It left me wondering what happened next. However, I see from her website that there may be a sequel novella which will hopefully give me my answers.


Title: The Rosetta Man by Claire McCague
Reviewed by: Nicole M. Luiken
Publisher: Edge-Lite, 2015
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
The Rosetta Man is an intriguing alien first contact novel–with non-verbal aliens. The story starts out in New Zealand, but soon travels. Every nation desperately wants control over the aliens and since Estlin (an empath who’s mental shininess often attracts small animals) is the only one who can communicate, he gets dragged everywhere along with them. I enjoyed the international aspect of the story. Though the main character is Canadian, there are characters from New Zealand, China, America, Indonesia and Samoa among others. I found the novel to be very well-researched with lots of small details that gave the story authenticity. (Though most of the math–okay, all of the math–was over my head…) The intrigue of who would get control of the aliens and the mystery of what the aliens themselves wanted kept me turning pages past midnight.
Quibble: One of the subplots involved a Greenpeace ship and was told from the point of view of marine biologist, Jeannette. Since Jeannette had a past romantic connection with Estlin, when their paths finally crossed after hundred pages, I expected more to happen. Not necessarily a rekindling of the romance but perhaps an epiphany or realization related to either’s character arc.

About our Reviewer

Nicole Luiken is the author of thirteen published books for young adults, including Violet Eyes and its sequels Silver Eyes, Angel Eyes and Golden Eyes, Frost, Unlocking the Doors, The Catalyst, Escape to the Overworld, Dreamfire and the sequel Dreamline. Her latest release is In Truth & Ashes, book three of Otherselves. She also has an adult thriller, Running on Instinct, under the name N.M. Luiken and a fantasy romance series, Gate to Kandrith and Soul of Kandrith.

Nicole lives with her family in Edmonton, AB. It is physically impossible for her to go more than three days in a row without writing. Nicole Luiken wrote her first book at age 13 and never stopped.

Nicole wrote her first book at age 13 and never stopped, and she also published in On Spec’s first youth issue.


The Canadian Magazine of the Fantastic

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