Alanna: The First Adventure: Swords, sorcery, and fun

Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce

Alanna: The First Adventure is, indeed, the first volume of well-known fantasy author Tamora Pierce’s four-book series THE SONG OF THE LIONESS. First published back in the 1980s, the quartet was remarkable in many ways, tackling issues like gender roles, cultural tensions, self-determination, and inherited versus achieved power. Written at a time when “young adult” didn’t exist as a genre and feisty teenage girls couldn’t find much positive representation in mainstream fantasy, the series laid out many of the familiar paths and tropes of what has become modern YA fantasy. Since I’ve read a lot of novels influenced by Pierce’s work, the series’ 2014 hardcover re-release and their attending Author Afterwords was rather like following a river back to its sou... Read More

The Anubis Gates: A very generous book

The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers

Tim Powers' fourth novel, 1983's The Anubis Gates, is a book that I had been meaning to read for years. Chosen for inclusion in both David Pringle's Modern Fantasy: The Hundred Best Novels and Jones & Newman's Horror: 100 Best Books, as well as the recipient of the Philip K. Dick Memorial Award in 1984, the book came with plenty of good word of mouth, to say the least. And, as it turns out, all the ballyhoo back when was fully justified, as this really IS ... Read More

Tea With the Black Dragon: Refreshing romance + 1980s computer nostalgia

Tea With the Black Dragon by R.A. MacAvoy

Martha Macnamara is a free spirit. Although she’s 50 years old and has accumulated much wisdom over the years, she can also be innocent and even childlike. She’s a musician with much talent, but no fame, and she usually spends her time travelling around and staying with friends. When we meet her, she has flown to California at her grown daughter’s request. Elizabeth, who’s just as independent as her mother but is career-driven and successful, has paid for Martha to stay in an elegant hotel in San Francisco.

While Martha is waiting for Liz to call on her, she meets Mayland Long, a wealthy Asian man who lives at the hotel. Martha and Mayland are instantly attracted to, and intrigued by, each other. When Liz goes missing and Martha starts investigating, Mayland decides to help. When Martha then also disappears right in front of his eyes, Mayland is determined to find her. Fortunately,... Read More

Harpy’s Flight: Robin Hobb’s first novel

Harpy's Flight by Megan Lindholm

Harpy's Flight (1983) is Megan Lindholm's first novel and the first of a series of four starring the characters Ki and Vandien. I understand that at one time, Lindholm had plans to write more but that never happened. Given the success of Lindholm's writing under the pen name Robin Hobb, I very much doubt it ever will. Lindholm’s novels are very different in style and tone from Hobb’s novels. I love both the epic fantasy of Hobb and the more diverse output of Lindholm, but that is certainly not true for all readers.

Ki is out for revenge. A pair of Harpies have taken her husband and two young children and despite the fact that they can easily take her as well, she is determined to make them feel her loss. Against all odds, Ki survives the climb to the Hapries' lair and the ensuing fight. She is left ... Read More

The Book of Lost Tales 1: Recommended for hardcore Tolkien fans

The Book of Lost Tales 1 by J.R.R. Tolkien

My first attempt to read The Book of Lost Tales 1 was made way too early in my life and made certain that my response was to put it on the shelf and decide that all of this background stuff, especially taken from this early phase in Tolkien’s life as a writer, was way too different from the Middle-Earth stories that I loved for me to waste any time on it.

Looking at where the bookmark from my first attempt still sat when I picked it up again, I noticed that I didn’t even get much beyond the first several pages of the introductory chapter “The Cottage of Lost Play.” I remember thinking that it was just altogether too twee for me, what with the Eldar of Middle-Earth still being referred to as ‘faeries’ and the, to me, bizarre structure of a wanderer coming to a tiny cottage (bigger on the inside than the outside) peopled by dancing and singing children and adults who primari... Read More

Earthseed: Flat

Earthseed by Pamela Sargent

Earthseed, by Pamela Sargent, is the first in a science fiction YA trilogy that follows the inhabitants of a seed ship from Earth sent out long ago to colonize other planets. We pick up the story as Ship (the AI mind which is the vessel personified) is nearing its destination and thus as its young inhabitants must begin their preparations for life outside of Ship’s watchful, protective eyes.

Up to this point, Ship has been the kids’ parent and teacher, birthing them from artificial wombs and then raising them — there are no adults aboard. Now on the cusp of adulthood, the adolescents will soon move into “The Hollow” — a huge open-space area (Ship is a large asteroid) where they will build their own shelters, grow their own food, etc. in order to learn the skills necessary for when they are landed on their new planet. They soon discover, though, that learning how to farm or build homes pale... Read More

Jhereg: Appealing and now on audio

Jhereg by Steven Brust

Audio readers, rejoice! Finally, Steven Brust’s VLAD TALTOS novels have been produced in audio by Audible Frontiers. For years I’ve been planning to read this long series and have only been waiting for this moment.

The VLAD TALTOS novels follow Vlad Taltos, a well-known and highly successful human assassin living on the planet Dragaera. The native species, the Dragaerans, are a tall long-lived race created by sorcerers who cross-bred humans and certain animals. The characteristics of the animals give each clan, or “House,” its name, physical features, and personality traits. The exception is the house of Jhereg (named after a small dragon-like creature) which is a low-class conglomerate of outcasts from other clans and also any true humans who can buy their way in, which is what Vlad Taltos’ father did. Each of Brusts’ novels in this series is named after one of ... Read More

The Color of Magic: Non-stop quirky adventure

The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett

The Color of Magic, published in 1983, is the first book in Sir Terry Pratchett’s enormously popular DISCWORLD series. The Disworld is a flat world which rides on the back of four elephants which ride on the back of a giant turtle named Great A’Tuin. The DISCWORLD novels are humorous, satirical and spoofy, often making fun of their own genre and various real-world cultural and political issues and institutions. Before HARRY POTTER, Terry Pratchett was the UK’s top selling author.

The Color of Magic introduces Rincewind who is technically a wizard because one dangerous spell attached itself to his brain when Rincewind opened a forbidden book. Rincewind doesn’t know what the spell does or how to cast it, and he doesn... Read More

Ariel: A real prize back in print… with a sequel

Ariel by Steven R. Boyett

It's unusual for obscure mass market paperback originals from a quarter century ago to get a second life. But when the books in question are lost little gems that richly deserve such a life, it's most welcome. And it ought to serve as a wake-up call to all of you: just how many hidden gems are on the racks right now that you haven't noticed? More than you might think. Look deeper.

Ariel was first released in 1983, when mass market originals were a much more common format for first-time publication than they are today. Back then, pricey hardcovers and trade paperbacks were largely rationed to established names dropping surefire bestsellers. To those lucky enough to discover it at the time, Ariel was a real prize, the kind of book that makes rummaging through the racks and taking a shot on something unfamiliar worthwhile. But it didn't have more than a cou... Read More

Ratha’s Creature: Romeo and Juliet with cats

Ratha's Creature by Clare Bell

Anyone who has a cat can tell you that they are amazingly intelligent. Imagine if they could talk. Talking cats are the central conceit of Ratha's Creature, the tale of the female cat Ratha and her fight for respect in the clan of cats that make up her family. Ratha is a challenge to the leadership of her clan, especially the misogynistic Meoran. But when she learns to tame fire, she is a threat that can no longer be tolerated.

I’ve heard books called workmanlike, and I was never really sure what that meant. Now I do. There isn’t anything wrong with Ratha's Creature. The story is fine, the characters are well-written, but I never really connected with the story. It took me several weeks to finish the book because I just wasn’t intrigued enough to pick it up whenever I had time to read. Once I finally soldiered through the middle, the action di... Read More

Suldrun’s Garden: Why is Lyonesse out of print?

Suldrun's Garden by Jack Vance

As I'm writing this, Jack Vance's under-appreciated Lyonesse trilogy has been off the shelves for years. My library doesn't even have a copy — it had to be interlibrary loaned for me. Why is that? Publishers have been printing a seemingly endless stream of vampire and werewolf novels these days — same plot, same characters, blah blah blah. If not that, it's grit. We all want grit.

Or maybe it's that more women are reading fantasy these days and publishers think we want to read about bad-ass heroines who kill vampires. But, the publishers and authors are just giving us what we demand, I suppose. We all got sick of the sweeping medieval-style multi-volume epics that take forever to write, publish, and read. So now we get vampires and sassy chicks with tattoos and bare midriffs. When we've become glutted with those (it can't be long no... Read More

So You Want to be a Wizard: First book in an impressive series

So You Want to be a Wizard by Diane Duane

So You Want to be a Wizardcame along well before the current trend of young fantasy so one shouldn't dismiss it as "yet another Harry Potter follower." Wizard centers on 13-yr-old Nita, a picked-upon young teen, and 12-yr-old Kit, another lonely young teen. Nita, taking refuge from bullies in the local library, stumbles across the reference book providing the title of the novel and into the world of wizardry. Shortly afterward, she meets up with Kit, who himself has just become a wizard.

While the two of them have their share of whimsical uses for their magic (revenge on the bullies, tracking down a stolen pen), wizardry is not play. To become wizards each has taken a life-long oath that boiled down means they're responsible at all times for pretty much everything — life (and "life" doesn't simply mean human life) and the universe — and may be asked to sacrifi... Read More