John Ottinger (guest)

JOHN OTTINGER III, a guest contributor to FanLit, runs the Science Fiction / Fantasy blog Grasping for the Wind. His reviews, interviews, and articles have appeared in Publisher’s Weekly, The Fix, Sacramento Book Review, Flashing Swords, Stephen Hunt’s SFCrowsnest, Thaumatrope, and at

The Women of Nell Gwynne’s

The Women of Nell Gwynne's by Kage Baker

Crack open the pages of The Women of Nell Gwynne's and you will find action, mystery, and beautiful women. This novella by Kage Baker is everything a SF/F fan wishes the works of Charles Dickens had been.

The Women of Nell Gwynne's is about an elite brothel in Victorian London. Though these ladies of the night provide pleasure to the notables of the city, that is not the primary reason for their existence; They serve as a front and spy-center for a certain Gentlemen's Speculative Society, an entity which has appeared in other Baker works. Lady Beatrice, newly arrived for work at Nell Gwynne's, is promptly swept up into an adventure requiring all the skills she can muster. The ladies must find a man that the Gentlemen's Speculative Society has lost and learn what secrets his former employer, Lord Arthur Rawdon, is ... Read More

Madhouse: Not recommended

Madhouse by Rob Thurman

Madhouse is one of those novels that you think has potential when you look at it, but just doesn’t quite meet your expectations. Rob Thurman's writing style is easy to read and pleasant on the eyes and mind, but unfortunately, this third book about Cal and Nik Leandros is not well-plotted and suffers from an excess of innuendo.

The story is basic: Cal and Nik run a sort of supernatural detective agency in NYC. Nik is a ninja and Cal is a half monster/half human strong-arm. Together they are a pretty powerful pair. When a murderer from the past is reconstituted and begins his murderous rampage anew, they are hired to hunt him down and kill him (he isn’t human, although humans once thought he was). In the meantime, their friend the puck, Robin Goodfellow, is being hunted for a crime he committed nearly 8,000 years ago. Nik and Cal must save their friend and destroy the monster be... Read More

Heaven’s Net is Wide: Historical fantasy set in medieval Japan

Heaven's Net is Wide by Lian Hearn

Beauty, Grace, Eloquence. These words define the writing of author Lian Hearn. Her Tales of the Otori series of historical fantasy novels are extremely popular worldwide. If you haven't read the first four installments, Heaven's Net is Wide is a great place to begin the story.

Because it is a prequel, Hearn has not assumed the reader has much knowledge about the setting or characters. She begins with a hook, describing a confrontation between two members of the Tribe — a family of assassins. Readers of the prior books will recognize the importance of this event right away, but for the new reader, Hearn begins on just the right foot, hooking them into the story.

The tale is set in medieval Japan, with some mythic elements, mostly in relation to the unique abilities ... Read More

Honored Enemy & Murder in LaMut

Honored Enemy & Murder in LaMut by Raymond E. Feist, William R. Forstchen & Joel Rosenberg

Raymond E. Feist has always been notable for his willingness to share the world of Midkemia. In all his acknowledgments and dedications, Feist notes that from its very inception the world has been a collaborative effort. His Empire trilogy was a collaboration with Janny Wurts, and the computer game Betrayal at Krondor had to be shared, by its very nature. He has returned to the tradition of collaborative effort in his Legends of the Riftwar series.

Taking... Read More

Shadowrealm: Deeply philosophical for S&S

Shadowrealm by Paul S. Kemp
[Abelar] thought of Eldren, of Enden, recalled his father's words to him — the light is in you — and realized, with perfect clarity, that his father was right.
The light is in you. As a theme for Paul S. Kemp's Shadowrealm, the final novel in The Twilight War trilogy of Forgotten Realms novels, it might seem rather odd. After all, the story surrounds Erevis Cale, the First Chosen of the thief god Mask. Cale is a shadowman, able to twist and bend shadows to fulfill his will. His magic is not of the light, but of the darkness. Along with the Second of Mask, Riven, they are fighting an evil half-god by the name of Kesson Rel bent on destroying all of Toril with the Shadowstorm — while at the same time attempting to stop the takeover of all of Sembia by the Shadov... Read More

Empress: Bloody, violent, and creative

Empress by Karen Miller

Karen Miller’s novel, Empress is shockingly different from her previous duology, Kingmaker, Kingbreaker. Empress shows us the rise of a barbarian warlord in a culture like the ancient Assyrian or Babylonian empires, with their city states that eventual become powerful nations. The society of Mikak is violent, worshipping a scorpion god who craves bloody ritual sacrifice. The godspeakers are the only people who are able to hear the god. They perform sacrifices and are a police force and a political entity separate from the warlord’s control. But Hekat, a runaway slave girl, upsets that balance when she discovers that she can hear the god as well. Believing herself special, Hekat begins a slow climb up the social ladder of Mijak, seeki... Read More

Bloodheir: No Middle Book Syndrome here

Bloodheir by Brian Ruckley

Often, the second book in a trilogy is accused of something called “Middle Book Syndrome.” The idea is that the second book in most trilogies is mostly filler and very little plot movement really happens. And often it is true. But if anyone accuses Brian Ruckley’s second book in The Godless World trilogy, Bloodheir of suffering from middle book syndrome, I’m afraid I will have to scoff in his face.

Bloodheir moves the story from the personal to the epic. In the first book of the trilogy, Winterbirth, most of the story was about the harrowing near escapes of its protagonists, with occasional insights into the minds of the villains. While that sort of writing style continues in Bloodheir, the action moves out from the immediacy of survival for the heroes and catching them for the villains into gr... Read More

Confessor: The Sword of Truth is both widely popular and particularly reviled

Confessor by Terry Goodkind

Confessor is the last book in Terry Goodkind’s epic fantasy/philosophy series The Sword of Truth. When the series began, many readers thought this book would be a great fantasy trilogy, short and sweet. It quickly blossomed into eleven novels, each 500 or more pages in length, and the novella Debt of Bones. Throughout that time, it generated a lot of criticism from fans of speculative fiction and professional critics. Yet each novel has consistently stayed at the top of many bestseller lists, alongside many “mainstream” books. It is a strange sort of situation. The series is both widely popular and particularly reviled.

This is, I think, because Goodkind placed a great deal of his personal philosophy of Objectivism into the books. Many of the characters stop often to extemporize on ... Read More

Royal Exile: Dry and dull, full of flat characters

Royal Exile by Fiona McIntosh

In Royal Exile, Fiona McIntosh returns to the same world of the Percheron Saga. Though the concept is exactly what makes for good epic fantasy, the writer's execution does not bear it out. Wooden dialogue, information dumps, and characters indistinguishable from each other make this novel a sad caricature of its potential.

A tribal barbarian warlord by the name of Loethar is rapidly conquering the Set, a federation of kingdoms with a high medieval culture. The King of Penraven, most powerful of the Set, quickly realizes that he will soon be the last to fall, as each kingdom believed itself capable of stopping Loethar, but with no success. This provides the set-up for the rest of the story, and within a few chapters of its beginning, Loethar has conquered the Set.
But the King of Penraven ... Read More

Midshipwizard Halcyon Blithe: Just plain fun!

Midshipwizard Halcyon Blithe by James Ward

I first encountered James Ward when he wrote the best-selling Pools books for the FORGOTTEN REALMS shared world. When I came across Midshipwizard Halcyon Blithe, I just had to pick it up. I didn’t regret the decision.

The story is about young Midshipwizard Halcyon Blithe, a sixteen year old boy, late to his magical powers, who must learn to serve his country on a dragonship of the line. Much of the story is reminiscent of the Read More

City of Jade: A real snooze-fest

City of Jade by Dennis L. McKiernan

I hate to say it, because I have always liked the world of Mithgar, and most of the novels by Dennis L. McKiernan, but City of Jade is a real snooze-fest. Characters travel around, there are two battle scenes, and many characters nearly die, but are saved rather quickly. City of Jade lacks any real suspense. It's Lord of the Rings without the trip to Mordor, or George R.R. Martin without the political intrigue. If you don't have those, there pretty much is no story. And so it is for City of Jade.

This is a sad thing, because for people who like Tolkien replicates, Mithgar is a pretty cool world.... Read More

The Four Forges: Leave this one on the shelf

The Four Forges by Jenna Rhodes

Rarely do I not like a book at all. But occasionally, a novel just doesn't resonate. Sometimes it's just reading the novel at the wrong time, perhaps at a time of reading burnout, or a style that just doesn't click. But even rarer is the book that I find to be just awfully written. Jenna Rhodes' The Four Forges is just awful. Rhodes writes an epic fantasy with a great setting, but a disturbing lack of a central plot.

The setting, which I found to be unique, and part of the reason I picked up the novel in the first place, is full of high fantasy elements. The Four Forges Is a story about two orphans. Sevryn is an accomplished street waif who rises to become the right hand of the queen of the elves. Rivergrace is an orphan who ends up being raised by a loving family of hobbit/dwarf-like people called Dwellers. In this story, however,... Read More

The Hidden City: Lovingly written, but very depressing

The Hidden City by Michelle Sagara West

A lovingly written yet very depressing novel, The Hidden City is unlike any fantasy novel I have encountered. A tragedy with no pretensions to the contrary, this new novel by acclaimed author Michelle West visits pain upon its protagonists for over 600 pages.

The Hidden City is the beginning of a prequel to the events in West's earlier books in The Sacred Hunt and The Sun Sword series. It relates the events leading up to the war for House Terafin.

Two characters drive the plot of The Hidden City. Rath is middle aged man who has turned his back on his family’s house, and now lives in the slums of Averalaan, scraping out an existence by discovering artifacts in the hidden ... Read More

Monster: Engrossing and funny paranormal fantasy

Monster by A. Lee Martinez

In this humorous paranormal fantasy, a young human by the name of Monster works for a subsidiary of the local animal control services. This agency locates and captures cryptobiologicals: "things that go bump in the night." Aptly named Monster hunts and captures trolls, unicorns, yetis, dragons and all sorts of animals with his employee, a sixth dimension paper gnome.

Monster's life is thrown upside down when he meets Judy, a seemingly normal human woman, a bit down on her luck, but otherwise just as incapable of seeing the creepy-crawlies Monster captures as anyone else. But it seems that no matter where Judy goes, more and more cryptobiologicals keep appearing. Meanwhile, an evil old granny by the name of Lotus is seeking to capture and subjugate Judy for a nefarious purpose. It is up to Monster to save Judy and in doing so, save the world as we know it (much as he hates the id... Read More

The Prodigal Troll: Here’s a gem

The Prodigal Troll by Charles Coleman Finlay

Although many cultures have a similar story, the most famous prodigal is that of the parable of Jesus told in Luke 15:11-31. In it, a young man takes his inheritance, leaves his family, and seeks his fortune in the wider world. He soon learns that the world is a cruel place and ends up returning to his father. The term “prodigal” eventually came to mean one who returned after a long absence, usually after finding trouble apart from their families.

The prodigal in Charles Coleman Finlay’s The Prodigal Troll is Maggot, a young man heir to power who ends up being reared by a lowly troll. Similar to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes, Maggot is a human reared by a more bestial race. Finlay’s trolls are what we expect: although not savage, they live a primitive, subsistence life, and with the constant push o... Read More

Goblin War: Humorous adventure fantasy for kids and adults

Goblin War by Jim Hines

Goblin War is a completely different novel from the first two novels in this series. Those two books were constrained by the small world of the lair and its surrounding caves. The goblins never left the caves under their mountain, for all the adventures that they had. This meant that the second novel, while having a different set of circumstances, was much like the first in plot and style, and didn’t add too much that was new to Jig the Goblin’s story. But in Goblin War, author Jim C. Hines has Jig and many of his fellow goblins leave the cave for the wider world, a world that pretty much wants to destroy them.

Jig is trapped between two competing factions, both intent on wiping out him and his goblin clan. The first, the human rulers of the upper world, need slave labor to perform various tasks too dangerous for the morally superior h... Read More

Swords of Dragonfire: Some of Greenwood’s more interesting characters

Swords of Dragonfire by Ed Greenwood

Although I generally don’t like reviewing the second book in a trilogy, (middle books often seem to just be filler) I just had to write about Ed Greenwood’s Swords of Dragonfire which continues the early exploits of the Knights of Myth Drannor, some of Greenwood’s more interesting characters. A roaming band of adventurers, loyal to the crown of Cormyr, the Knights are perhaps some of the most successful bunglers in the history of the Forgotten Realms. Florin Falconhand and his friends had appeared as wise and worldly adventurers in previous Greenwood books, but their history had never been fully explored. The Knights of Myth Drannor series is Greenwood’s story of their humble beginnings as callow youths in love with the spirit of a... Read More

Obsidian Ridge: Adventure in The Forgotten Realms

Obsidian Ridge by Jess Lebow

Jess Lebowhas brought some of the adventure back to the Forgotten Realms campaign setting. It is much like the early Ed Greenwood, when he first began writing media tie in novels for his Forgotten Realms campaign setting.

Obsidian Ridge tells the story of three primary heroes. The Claw is the king’s assassin, whose bladed gauntlets remind me of Wolverine (and The Claw uses them to equal effect). Mariko is the king’s daughter — a budding spellcaster and damsel in distress. Korox, King of Erlkazar (a newly formed nation that broke off from Tethyr) is forced to make a decision about whether or not to give up his daughter to the arch magus Xeries, master of a floating mountain in the sky called the Obsidian Ridge. Twisted in body and mind, Xeries ... Read More

Road of the Patriarch: Rousing adventure

Road of the Patriarch by R.A. Salvatore

The previous book in R.A. Salvatore's Sellswords trilogy, Promise of the Witch-King was disappointing. Road of the Patriarch redeemed Salvatore in my eyes after that previous lackluster effort.

Road of the Patriarch follows Jarlaxle and Artemis Entreri as they wrap up their sojourn in the Bloodstone lands. Jarlaxle is especially in fine form as he sows chaos in his wake with what seems to be very little effort. Many of his actions seem random (he is a drow after all) but when his schemes coalesce, one finds that his machinations are brilliant, and that what may have seemed a failure or lost opportunity is actually a success. Lolth would be proud, if Jarlaxle believed in such.

The characterization of Artemis Entreri is here developed to ... Read More

Ascendancy of the Last: Exciting and accessible

Ascendancy of the Last by Lisa Smedman

The sava game is still being played, and Lolth and Eilistraee continue to vie for control of all the drow of Faerun. But the drow were once dark elves — surface dwellers — and faithful to the pantheon of the "light" elves. As Lisa Smedman's The Lady Penitent draws to its conclusion, the fate of all hangs in the balance. Ascendency of the Last, the concluding volume of this trilogy, returns the reader to the halls of the Promenade, where Eilistraee's faithful dwell. But all is not well, as their leader Qilue is beset by a demon, the drow-turned-demon Halistraa is reborn a demigod, and Ghaunadaur's oozes are preparing themselves for a final assault on the Promenade.

Smedman gives us a sword and sorcery tale that rarely takes a breath. But unlike simplistic tales that tend to bore us a... Read More

Crypt of the Moaning Diamond: Opera?

Crypt of the Moaning Diamond by Rosemary Jones

What happens when an writer who works for an opera company turns to writing fantasy? Does the story take on qualities of the epic? Do people take forever to die? Or does everyone just walk around singing loudly and wearing funny costumes? If these are questions you have asked yourself (or even if they aren’t) you ought to turn your attention to Crypt of the Moaning Diamond by Rosemary Jones. An opera writer and first time novelist, Jones has created a dungeon delving story both humorous and out of the ordinary set in the Forgotten Realms mythos.

Ivy is the leader of the Siegebreakers, a small band of sappers who hire themselves out to armies needing to have walls come a’tumblin down. Ivy’s crew consists of a 300 year old dwarf who loves dogs, the dog Wiggles, two sisters with very differen... Read More

Stardeep: A setting little explored

Stardeep by Bruce E. Cordell

Kiril Duskmorn, who first appeared in Darkvision, has returned. Compelled by a love lost, and a self-righteous sentient sword, Kiril must return to the Dungeon of the Traitor to fulfill her role as a Keeper of the Cerulean Sign. Once a star elf, the Traitor gave himself to an evil, primeval influence and has since been confined and magically bound in a pocket dimension, guarded by magical and mundane guards. But when the traitor influences one of his guardians, it is up to Kiril and Raidon, a half-Shou-half- star elf with a desire to know his mother’s past, to stop him.

Bruce Cordell has always been able to reach into the lesser know areas of the Forgotten Realms campaign setting, and give us a story about characters and powers rarely seen. Drawing on his own expertise as a campaign setting writer, he weaves a tale that adds depth and b... Read More

Shadowstorm: Kemp makes the Forgotten Realms a real place

Shadowstorm by Paul S. Kemp

A storm is brewing in the country of Sembia. Erevis Cale must use the powers of Mask to stop it. Civil War is tearing apart the merchant kingdom, and Tamlin, the Hulorn of Selgaunt has made a deal with the last of the Netherese, the Shadovar. Into this turmoil comes the Shadowstorm.

Shadowstorm, Paul S. Kemp’s second book in The Twilight War, continues where Shadowbred left off. Erevis Cale, Drasik Riven, and Magadon continue their quest through the planes. Magadon wars within himself over his human and devil natures, and Erevis defies the very god who gives him power. Meanwhile, Tamlin, feckless son and poor leader, now oversees the defense of Selgaunt from the Overmistress’ forces with the aide of the Shade Rivalen.

Kemp has once again created a story filled with human characters surrounded by... Read More

Yesterday’s Dreams: Celtic myth, women’s empowerment

Yesterday's Dreams by Danielle Ackley-McPhail

Danielle Ackley-McPhail’s novel Yesterday’s Dreams is an interesting mix of Celtic myth, women’s empowerment literature, and urban fantasy. The story is about Kara O’Keefe, a gifted violinist who, through unfortunate circumstance, is forced to pawn her most prized possession, her violin. In doing so, she comes across an unusual pawnshop, called Yesterday’s Dreams, with a caring and kind proprietor who gets Kara out of her jam. But unbeknownst to Kara, this pawnshop and its proprietor are unique in magical and mystical ways. This leads into an adventure that will have Kara relying on a dead man she has never met and fighting against an evil magician.

Ackley-McPhail knows her Celtic mythology. The story, though set in a modern period, is imbued with all the details and richness that readers expect from Celtic lore. Wri... Read More

Plague of Spells: Like playing D&D

Plague of Spells by Bruce R. Cordell

Building on the success of his last novel, Stardeep (see my review above) Bruce R. Cordell continues the story of Raidon Kane, the monk with the Cerulean sign, in Plague of Spells. Cordell uses this novel as an opportunity to introduce fans of the Forgotten Realms to a novelized form of the spellplague. This terrifying event occurred after the goddess Mystra was murdered and rendered many wizards without powers, changed the landscape of Toril dramatically, and created new mutations and creatures.

Raidon finds himself caught up in the onset of the spellplague, knocked unconscious by its force. When he wakes (ten years later) his daughter is dead, his Cerulean sign is gone — fused into his chest as a tattoo — and the golem that was Stardeep is now speaking into his head. There ... Read More

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