Mythago Wood: Dreamy and strange

Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock

After his post-WWII convalescence in France, Steven Huxley is returning to his family's home on the edge of Ryhope Wood, a patch of ancient forest, in Britain. For as long as Steven remembers, his father, who recently died, had been so obsessed with the forest that it destroyed their family.

Upon returning home, Steven finds that his brother Christian is quickly following in their father's footsteps — both figuratively and literally — for he has also discovered that this is no ordinary forest! It resists intrusion from Outsiders, time and distance are skewed there (so it is much larger inside than the 6 miles it covers in modern Britain should allow, and time seems to expand), and strange energy fields interact with human minds to create mythagos — the idealized forms of ancient mythical and legendary creatures, heroes, and villains formed from collective subconscious hopes and fears. So, fo... Read More

A Princess of the Chameln: A thoughtful and magical coming of age story

A Princess of the Chameln by Cherry Wilder

In A Princess of the Chameln, Cherry Wilder tells the story of Aidris Am Firn, whose parents, the king and queen of the Firn and one half of the rulership of the Chameln, are attacked in front of her. As her last living act, Aidris’s mother gives her a magical stone that will aid her in the future, and commands her not to let anyone else see it. Not long after, another assassination is attempted on her life and the life of her cousin, Sharn Am Zor, the prince who is destined to rule at Aidris’s side when they are grown. Aidris is sent to live with regent after regent, constantly on the run for her life, while she tries to seek out who poses a threat to her rule.

In some ways A Princess of the Chameln felt episodic rather than following one clearly-defined course of action. Aidris moves from location to location, lear... Read More

The Summer Tree: Not our favorite work by GGK

The Summer Tree by Guy Gavriel Kay

I absolutely loved everything about Guy Gavriel Kay’s stand-alone novels Tigana and A Song for Arbonne, so it was with great excitement that I downloaded the newly released audio version of The Summer Tree, the first novel in his famous The Fionavar Tapestry.

In The Summer Tree we meet Loren Silvercloak, a wizard who has traveled from the world of Fionavar to Toronto to fetch five university students (three guys and two girls) who are needed to help fight an ancient evil force that has been bound under a mountain for centuries. It is awakening, has adversely affected the weather, an... Read More

The Wild Shore: Are you waiting for America’s rebirth?

The Wild Shore by Kim Stanley Robinson

Kim Stanley Robinson’s debut novel, The Wild Shore, was first published in 1984 but its story begins decades after nuclear bombs were set off in America’s cities. Now, in 2047, Californian survivors in San Onofre dedicate their days to gathering food and maintaining their shelters rather than filming movies and computer programming.

Hank Fletcher, our narrator, is angry at the world. Unlike some angst-ridden teenagers, Hank has good reason to resent the world as all the other countries of the United Nations have agreed to prevent the American survivors from rebuilding. While the Californians struggle to figure out radios, they are spied upon by satellite. If the survivors show signs of repairing old railroads, patrolling Japanese ships launch missiles.

T... Read More

The Digging Leviathan: Dreamy, peculiar, and sweet

The Digging Leviathan by James P. Blaylock

The Digging Leviathan is the first book in James P. Blaylock’s LANGDON ST. IVES/NARBONDO series. I’ve been reading these out of order, which doesn’t seem to matter. The books have some overlapping characters, settings, and/or concepts, but each stands alone. The Digging Leviathan features two teenage boys, Jim Hastings and Giles Peach, who are living on the coast of Southern California during the mid-20th century. Each is a dreamer and each has his own “issues” involving his father.

Jim lives with his uncle Edward St. Ives (who, I’m assuming, is a direct descendant of Langdon St. Ives, the eccentric Victorian scientist who stars in several of the books in this series) because Jim’s mother is dead and his father is insane. (Or is he?) Most of the time Jim’s father lives in a mental hospital, but when he ma... Read More

Damiano: Historical fantasy set in Renaissance Italy

Damiano by R.A. MacAvoy

Young Damiano Delstrego is now the head of his house after his father, a witch, was killed when a spell went horribly wrong. Damiano is also a musician, an alchemist, and a witch, but he’s a good Christian, too, and he tries to use his powers only for good. That’s why he refused to help the army who came to take over his town, though they offered him riches. Instead, Damiano decides to follow the townsfolk who’ve fled for the hills. He wants to warn them that the army plans to find and plunder them. He’s particularly worried about Carla, the girl he has a crush on. He also wants to seek the aid of a powerful sorceress.

So, with an Italian medieval village behind him and the towering Alps ahead, Damiano sets off in the snow with his lute and his beloved talking dog, Macchiata. Along the way, Damiano has a few mishaps, witnesses brutal deeds done by Roman soldiers, gets some inspiration from the archa... Read More

The Crystal Crown: The components are good, but…

The Crystal Crown by Brenda Clough

The Crystal Crown is basically a simple story. Liras-Ven, an unassuming and softspoken gardener, is chosen to be his nation’s next king, much to his horror. He makes a few bumbling attempts to extricate himself from the situation before settling down to endure a comical succession of royal duties and a military campaign that will test his resolve as leader as well as his ties to those he holds… he h….*snore*

Huh? What? Oh… right, yes. Anyway, The Crystal Crown measures in at about 230 pages in a pocket-size paperback, so it’s hardly a doorstopper, yet I must say I found it incredibly difficult to work my way through it. Having said that, most of the components that make up this novel are actually quite good. Clough’s prose is very deft, her sense of humor is charming, and the characters are overall fairly distinct. ... Read More

The Dragon Griaule: Collects all the Griaule stories

The Dragon Griaule by Lucius Shepard

His flesh has become one with the earth. He knows its every tremor and convulsion. His thoughts roam the plenum, his mind is a cloud that encompasses our world. His blood is the marrow of time. Centuries flow through him, leaving behind a residue that he incorporates into his being. Is it any wonder he controls our lives and knows our fates?

The Dragon Griaule collects Lucius Shepard’s six stories and novellas about Griaule, the mile-long 750-foot-high dragon that has been in a spellbound sleep for thousands of years. He rests in a valley where his body composes much of the landscape, creating hills and forests and waterfalls. Trees and other vegetation have taken root on his body and animals and parasites live in the habitat he produces. Griaule overlooks the town of Teocinte and another shantytown rests on his back. He’s angry about his situation and his negative... Read More

Moonheart: A truly satisfying read

Moonheart by Charles de Lint

Sara and her uncle Jamie live in Tamson House, the old family mansion that takes up a street block in Ottawa. While Sara runs their cluttered curiosity shop, Jamie spends his days studying the arcane and playing host to the eccentrics and homeless people who come and go through Tamson House. Sara and Jamie’s interests collide when Sara discovers an old gold ring that seems to draw her into an ancient past — a past where Welsh and Native American mythology comes alive. But not only does the ring pull Sara in, it draws Tamson House, and all its occupants, with it.

Moonheart was a truly satisfying read for me. I fell in love with Tamson House — just the idea of a big sprawling mansion that exists in two worlds is enough to fascinate me. Tamson House was my favorite “character” in Moonheart but, as rarely happens, I liked almost all of the chara... Read More

The Man of Gold: The living world of Tékumel

The Man of Gold by M.A.R. Barker

The Man of Gold is a lush, richly written fantasy novel. M.A.R. Barker’s work is both strongly developed and highly detailed, at levels that few other authors ever attain. Barker spent decades building the living, breathing world of Tékumel. In the 1970s, Barker developed this world into a role-playing setting; later, in the 1980s, he wrote a series of novels set there. The Man of Gold, published in 1984, is the first of these novels.

The protagonist, Harsan, is a talented young monk with the unusual background of having been raised by a non-human, insectoid race. Harsan’s accomplishments as a linguist bring him to the attention of seniors within his order when some ancient artifacts are found that are written in a language that v... Read More

The Infinity Concerto: Fails to deliver

The Infinity Concerto by Greg Bear

I give myself credit for finishing The Infinity Concerto, the first book of Songs of Earth and Power, written by Greg Bear in 1986. The Infinity Concerto has a compelling opening chapter but fails to deliver on that chapter’s promise.

Michael Perrin, the book’s main character, is a sixteen-year-old boy living in southern California, an only child who wants to be a poet. At a family party his father introduces him to the composer Arno Waltiri. Waltiri is a man with a strange story about another man, Clarkham, who persuaded Waltiri to write a concerto. Shortly after it was played for the first and only time, people began to disappear. Over time, twenty people who were in the audience vanished from Earth.

Waltiri gives Michael a book, a key and a se... Read More

Neuromancer: Clones, AIs, and Ninjas

Neuromancer by William Gibson

Originally published in 1984, William Gibson’s debut novel, Neuromancer, has it all: clones, artificial intelligences that manipulate human affairs, and ninjas. In contrast, our burned out hero, Henry Dorset Case, is not very impressive. But he’s trying.

When we meet him, Case is doing his best to hustle a living in Chiba City, Japan. He used to be a hacker, but his employers corrupted his body when they caught him stealing. Now, Case is searching for a miracle cure or perhaps a ticket out of this life. Enter Molly Millions, a woman whose implants have endowed her with lightning reflexes. And razorblades in her fingers. Molly and her backer set Case up with a series of new organs so that he can ride his console one more time.

Gibson’s writing is often remembered for its influence on cyberpunk and science fiction. But make no mistake: Wil... Read More

Stormwarden: It’s a great time to be an audiobook reader!

Stormwarden by Janny Wurts

This is a great time to be an audiobook reader! I’ve said often recently that I’m so pleased with Audible Frontiers for bringing us some older fantasy literature on audio, and this month their UK production team released Stormwarden, the first novel of Janny Wurts’ THE CYCLE OF FIRE trilogy which was first published in 1984.

Having greatly enjoyed Wurts’ stand-alone novel To Ride Hell’s Chasm, and knowing how several of my fellow FanLit reviewers feel about her THE WARS OF LIGHT AND SHADOW saga, I’ve been waiting and hoping to find one of her epics on audio. So when Audible Frontiers UK released Stormwarden, I snapped it up within a few hours.

Stormwarden is a coming-of-age story that focuses on three youth (Jaric, Emien, and Taen) who get ca... Read More

On a Pale Horse: Juvenile

On a Pale Horse by Piers Anthony

When the grim reaper shows up a few seconds early, Zane shoots him instead of using the gun on himself as he’d planned. Now, instead of being dead, Zane is Death. He has to take over the office, riding around the world in his convertible pale horse collecting and measuring the souls of those who’ve committed equal amounts of good and evil during their lives — those who are “in balance.” In his new guise (complete with all of the accoutrements: scythe, hooded cloak, skeleton face, etc), Zane sets out to change Death’s image while dealing with his own personal demons.

This is a fun premise and I expected Piers Anthony to do a lot with it, but unfortunately I found On a Pale Horse to be mostly illogical, trite and, worst sin of all, just plain boring. Part of the problem is that it doesn’t know if it wants to be a come... Read More

The DragonLance Chronicles: Who can forget?

THE DRAGONLANCE CHRONICLES by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman

Dragons of Autumn Twilight, a classic work of high fantasy, marks the beginning of a remarkable 6-book tale (the Chronicles Trilogy, followed by the even more magnificent Legends Trilogy), which greatly increased the interest in the Dungeons & Dragons game throughout the 1980's. It certainly does contain more than a few stock fantasy elements (e.g. dragons, elves, dwarves, an unlikely group of friends somehow being chosen to stop the conquest of Evil...). However, the straightforward, simple way in which the tale is told and, even more so, the distinct, "real" nature of most of its characters set it apart from the paperback fantasy pack.

Another wonderful aspect of the trilogy is the title s... Read More

The Black Company: Fantastical, anti-heroic fog of war

The Black Company by Glen Cook

The Black Company is an ancient mercenary brotherhood, its members as hard-bitten as skilled. As their ongoing commission in the city of Beryl disintegrates, they escape through the "trap-door" (in its fullest sense) of new employment by a mysterious northern sorcerer; and they soon find themselves the elite unit in the army of the Lady — a legendary figure who, in the eyes of the opposing Rebels, is the embodiment of evil.

The first of Glen Cook's Black Company novels, this one is narrated by Croaker, the company's chief medic and historian. His first-person, PG-13+ account is often vivid — though rarely with regard to settings — and moves quickly (though, due to his hard-boiled voice, not as quickly as one might expect from a paperback barely topping 300 pages); but at the same time, he makes few allowances fo... Read More

Legend: This is how it’s done

Legend by David Gemmell

Before there was J.R.R Tolkien, there was Robert E. Howard, who created what would later be called Heroic Fantasy or Sword-and-Sorcery. With the justly-earned popularity of Lord of the Rings, it seems to me that many writers and publishers of fantasy fiction have forsaken the heroic ballads for overly-complex, over-sized, and, endless series.

But David Gemmell has not forgotten the heart of a good fantasy tale which is simply heroes (or anti-heroes).

This is the story of Druss, the Captain of the Axe, the Deathwalker, the Legend and his defiant stand with the heroes of Dros Delnoch against the massive overwhelming barbarian hordes who vow to conquer the kingdom. It's the classic "few stood against many" theme that when done right makes one's heart so... Read More