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Jennifer Murdley’s Toad: Perhaps the best of the Magic Shop books

Jennifer Murdley's Toad by Bruce Coville

This may well be my favourite of the MAGIC SHOP books, a series of standalone stories that feature a young boy or girl entering Mr Elives' Magic Shop and leaving with a strange artefact of some kind — one which will have taught them an important life-lesson by the end of the book (though not before causing them a heap of trouble in the interim).

Perhaps the best thing about the series is that each book is surprisingly different in tone. For instance, Russell Troy, Monster Boy (published in the US as The Monster’s Ring) was a comedy/horror, whilst Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher was a coming-of-age tale about a boy and his magical pet. In con... Read More

Helliconia Winter: Deserves the BSFA award it won

Helliconia Winter by Brian W. Aldiss

Like an architect seeing a cathedral they’ve designed have the steeple raised, or an engineer watching the bowsprit attached to a ship they’ve built, so too must Aldiss have felt writing the final chapter of Helliconia Winter (1985). The orbits within orbits, themes revolving around themes, and characters caught in the cycle of life, come to an end. But only on the page.

The series has covered millennia. The third and final book, Helliconia Winter, continues to tell a human-scale tale in harmony with the larger forces at play — geology, astrophysics, and biology all heavily influencing the narrative. This time around, however, Aldiss wields a heavier thematic hammer. The understated Gaian theme of Helliconia Spring and Helliconia Summer is now pressed on the reader in more overt an... Read More

A Knot in the Grain: An engaging collection of five fantasies

A Knot in the Grain by Robin McKinley

I’m not sure if I bought this fantasy short story collection by Robin McKinley when I first saw it in the mid-1990s because McKinley was one of my favorite fantasy authors or because I was entranced by the cover art on the paperback, with the colorful contrast between the girl in a brilliant sapphire dress and the bright gold background of buttercups. Actually, at that time I was pretty much automatically buying everything McKinley wrote. Regardless, I very much enjoyed the collection of five fantasy short stories, and have reread them several times since. These tales are set in different lands and, for the most part, different worlds, but they are bound together by the fantasy element and their young women protagonists. As a whole, I rate this collection 4 stars, but I’ve given each story its own rating below. Read More

The Waste Lands: What Kind of Knights Are These?

The Waste Lands by Stephen King

The Gunslinger introduces us to Roland Deschain, the last cowboy-knight of a world that has moved on. In The Drawing of the Three, King gives Roland partners. The Waste Lands, the third novel of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower novels, focuses on fleshing out the details of Roland’s quest.

But not too many details.

It turns out that a Crimson King is doing everything in his power to destroy the universe from atop the Dark Tower. After centuries of searching, Roland has begun to make real progress in his quest to find the Dark Tower because he and his heroes have come across one of the beams that control the world. Like most of King’s creations, it reads better in the book than in summary.

King forces ... Read More

The Pearl of the Soul of the World: Had a lot to live up to

The Pearl of the Soul of the World by Meredith Ann Pierce

As the last installment of the Darkangel trilogy, The Pearl of the Soul of the World had a lot to live up to, as well as a lot to wrap up. In the first book The Darkangel, slavegirl Aerial saved the darkangel Irrylath from the misery of his own existence under the power of the White Witch and returned him to his mother's house. In A Gathering of Gargoyles she undertook another task, in searching for the lost lons to fight against the White Witch in the coming battle and in doing so discovered her own extraordinary heritage. Now the various countries of Aerial's world have gathered together in a great army to march against the witch, with her husband Irrylath at its head.

But the story begins in the most unexpected way. As the story o... Read More