The Blue Sword: Strong female lead, interesting moral conundrum

The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley

This, my friends, is how young adult fantasy is done. In The Blue Sword, Robin McKinley has created a world out of whole cloth and polished it until it shines. Or in this case, until it is a dusty desert full of horse riding warriors, a dwindling magic, demon barbarians invading from the north, and civilized white men invading from across the ocean. McKinley is a master of prose, and this book has stood the test of time for almost 25 years now.

The Blue Sword is the story of Harry Crewe — don’t you dare call her by her given name of Angharad — who, upon the death of her parents, is sent to live at a fort on the Homeland frontier with her brother who is in the colonial army. Unlike most of the colonists, Harry is fascinated by the desert, and when Corlath, the leader of the Free Hillfolk of Damar, comes to the Homeland fort to negotiate for a... Read More

Saga of the Swamp Thing: Book One: The figures seem to jump out of the pages

In this column, I feature comic book reviews written by my students at Oxford College of Emory University. Oxford College is a small liberal arts school just outside of Atlanta, Georgia. I challenge students to read and interpret comics because I believe sequential art and visual literacy are essential parts of education at any level (see my Manifesto!). I post the best of my students’ reviews in this column. Today, I am proud to present a review by Jacob Brummeler:

Jacob Brummeler is a sophomore at Oxford College of Emory University and is pursuing a double major in Playwriting and Media Studies. He lives on Long Island, New York and enjoys telling stories in any medium. Jacob aspires to be playwright and a cinematographer in the future.

Saga of the Swamp Thing: Book One (Iss... Read More

Nifft the Lean: Vance’s Cugel reimagined by Hieronymus Bosch

Nifft the Lean by Michael Shea

Back in 1950, Hillman Periodicals published a little book for 25 cents called The Dying Earth by Jack Vance. It could easily have disappeared into obscurity like thousands of other books, but there was something special about it. There weren’t any other books in SF/Fantasy quite like it, depicting an incredibly distant future earth where the sun has cooled to a red color, the moon is gone, and humanity has declined to a pale shadow of former greatness, and struggles to survive amongst the ruins of the past. The world is filled with magicians, sorcerers, maidens, demons, ghouls, brigands, thieves, and adventurers.

The Dying Earth inspired many works ranging from Read More

Helliconia Spring: A battle for survival on a fantastic planet

Helliconia Spring by Brian W. Aldiss

What if the planets orbited not only the sun, but the whole solar system orbited another, even larger sun? Cycles within cycles is the basic premise of Brian Aldiss’s HELLICONIA trilogy, of which the first installment is Helliconia Spring (1983). A planet of the fantastic, Helliconia is home to a diverse variety of imaginative flora and fauna a la Jack Vance. The sentient life, however, bears comparison to our own. Struggling Darwinian style, humans and a species called Phagors inhabit the planet, the latter forming a group which thrives in the ice ages that cover Helliconia in the millennia its meta-orbit moves through aphelion. Humans likewise having their moment in the sun (forgive the pun) in perihelion, this ongoing cycle highlights the species battles for survival.
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The Monster’s Ring: A quick and breezy Halloween tale

The Monster’s Ring by Bruce Coville

Note: This book is titled Russell Troy, Monster Boy in some markets.

For kids that are too young for the complexity of the HARRY POTTER series, and yet still interested in fantasy stories, Bruce Coville's MAGIC SHOP books might be the thing to hook them up with. Five in total, each one revolves around a simple premise: a young child with the usual kid problems (home trouble, bullies, crushes, angry teachers, etc) stumble across Mr Elives' Magic Shop, and leaves with an unusual purchase which initially creates more trouble for them, but ultimately teaches them important lessons.

They've recently been reissued with new cover art by Read More

The Elfin Ship: Charming, light-hearted and funny

The Elfin Ship by James P. Blaylock

Audible has recently put several of James P. Blaylock’s novels in audio format, so I’m giving a few of them a try. The Elfin Ship, first published in 1982, is the first book in Blaylock’s BALUMNIA trilogy about a whimsical fantasy world filled with elves, goblins, dwarves, wizards, and (because it’s Blaylock), a few steampunk elements such as submarines and airships.

In The Elfin Ship we meet Jonathan Bing, a cheesemaker who lives in a quaint little village with his dog Ahab. It’s just before Christmas, a time when Bing should be selling his famous cheeses to neighboring towns. However, something is afoot in the outside world and trade is drying up. Not only is Bing’s business in danger, but all of the villagers will have a dreary holiday if they are unable to buy their traditional toys and treats. Somebody must be sent to investigate what’s happening outside... Read More

The Gunslinger: The world has moved on

The Gunslinger by Stephen King

Stephen King’s The Gunslinger is a post-apocalyptic Western-fantasy hybrid about the gunslinger Roland Deschain and his pursuit of the man in black across a desert.

At first glance, the Western plays the largest role in The Gunslinger. Roland carries two heavy six shooters with sandalwood handles, and he can fire them both with deadly accuracy. He wears a duster, leads a pack mule when we first meet him, and is chasing his quarry across a seemingly endless desert. So it is not surprising that King cites The Good, the Bad and the Ugly as an influence in his introductory essay “On Being Nineteen (and a Few Other Things).”

The Western may be the more prominent inspiration for Roland, but his quest would make any author of epic fantasy jealous. It is not Read More

Magician: Apprentice: A less graphic reminder

Magician: Apprentice by Raymond E. Feist

Raymond E. Feist’s Magician: Apprentice was one of my favorite books in the mid-1980’s — I read it over and over. If I have read this book less than 20 times I would be completely amazed. The wonderful part of re-reading it recently and having 20 years plus of fantasy literature experience is that I can appreciate something sublime.

Pug and Tomas are best friends raised practically as brothers at the Keep of the Duchy of Crydee. Tomas’ parents are in charge of the kitchens and the boys have lived a fairly happy childhood. Pug is an orphan who has lived at the grace of Duke Borric. It’s a wonderfully typical beginning for a fantasy novel.

During the course of the story, Pug is selected as the Apprentice to the court Magician, Kulgan and has a lot of interesting experiences as he learns to harness his gifts. Tomas, the stronger and more ch... Read More

God Stalk: Heists, action, intrigue

God Stalk by P.C. Hodgell

God Stalk, first in the Kencyrath series authored by P.C. Hodgell in the early 80s, opens with Jame stumbling into Tai-Tastigon, which is apparently deserted, after being so long on the run that she's delirious with exhaustion and fighting off her race's healing dwar sleep. She chances upon Penari, a famous thief, as he's trapped in a doorway by a couple of footpads. Jame rushes to the rescue and Penari offers her a job as recompense. Too weak, confused and lost to comprehend, Jame wanders the maze of Tai-Tastigon until she collapses just inside the doorstep of the Res a'Bytrr, one of the few taverns open on the eve of the Feast of the Dead Gods.

Jame is adopted into the hearts and hearth of the tavern owner and his staff. She recovers rapidly, but is stalked by nightmares of her life before arriving at Tai-Tastigon... Read More

Pawn of Prophecy: Juvenile

Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings

I read Pawn of Prophecy as an adult, a few years ago. I had heard great things about it, so I was disappointed after reading it. The plot is typical "orphan boy saves the world" fantasy, the description is weak, the dialogue is often silly (humor is a focus, and much of the dialogue is funny — but it's not realistic). The pace is rapid, however, and I flew through the book in one day.

The Belgariad would be just right for a teenager (so I give it 3 stars), but not for an adult who's looking for something deeper to savor.

~Kat Hooper


Here is Bill's review of the entire BELGARIAD series:

Back before David Eddings became a shampoo-rinse-repeat sort of author, churning out the same old storylines and character types, there was the o... Read More

The Belgariad: Sometimes fun is enough

THE BELGARIAD by David Eddings

Back before David Eddings became a shampoo-rinse-repeat sort of author, churning out the same old storylines and character types, there was the original Belgariad series, which remains by far his best work.

The premise is an old stand-by — farmboy discovers he’s not who he thought he was and, along with a band of helpers, goes on a quest to stop the world’s destruction/domination by the evil one. But Eddings manages to breathe a lot of life into the archetypical plot. His characters are gradually revealed throughout the series to have hidden layers of complexity, his main character, Garion, grows throughout the series, the tone darkens and deepens as one goes on, the world tour is detailed and interesting, the plot quick moving, and there is a great deal of humor laced throughout, often in the form of great character ban... Read More

The Darkangel: An Incredible Tale

The Darkangel by Meredith Ann Pierce

I picked up The Darkangel the first time at my school library when I was 13 and I stayed up past three in the morning trying to finish it; It was that captivating. It has all the components of a fairytale, and yet is worked into a fantasy novel that includes vampires, gargoyles and other strange and macabre creatures.

Don't be put off by the word 'vampire' though; this book isn't yet another vampire book of that most over-used genre, but an incredible story with a huge scope and scale that stretches from a small village, to the vampire's forbidden castle, to a seemingly endless desert.

It begins when a young Aerial's mistress is kidnapped upon the hills by a dark angel, or a vampire. Taking it upon herself to rescue her, she sets off on a wonderful journey that includes characters you've only ever seen in myths and legends. With her bravery, kindness an... Read More