Kiki’s Delivery Service: A warmhearted coming-of-age tale

Kiki’s Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono, translated by Emily Balistrieri

Kiki’s Delivery Service, a 1985 children’s fantasy novel first published in Japanese as Majo no Takkyūbin (or “Witch's Express Home Delivery”), is best known outside of Japan as the basis for a 1989 Studio Ghibli anime film directed by Hayao Miyazaki. In fact, the book won several prizes in Japan and Kadono has published five sequels over the years (unfortunately none of the sequels are currently available in English translations). Kiki’s Delivery Service was first published in English in 2003, but a new translation is now available.

Twelve-year-old Kiki lives in a small town with her mother Kokiri, a witch, and her human father Okino. Her coming-of-age day is nearing, and tradition requires young witches like Kiki to strike out on their own and find a town or village th... Read More

The Handmaid’s Tale: Chilling and tense

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood was once, via a review of her work, once taken a bit publicly to task by Ursula K. LeGuin for not wanting her books (specifically The Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx and Crake, and The Year of the Flood) to be labeled “science fiction,” because, LeGuin speculated, Atwood did not want to be relegated to the genre ghetto. Atwood, however, responded that it was merely a definitional issue. She preferred “speculative fiction”— which she read as fiction that really could happen but hadn’t — rather than “science fiction” — which she read as ... Read More

Bridge of Birds: Two five-star reviews

Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart

Welcome to a “story of ancient China that never was”. Barry Hughart's Bridge of Birds (1985) is a real romp of frenetic pace and fairy-tale style mingled with the mythology and legends of ancient China. It's as bonkers and as brilliant as they come.

The story centres on a simple but warm-hearted peasant boy, nicknamed Number 10 Ox for his great strength and the order of his birth. Upon learning that all of the children in his village have been struck down by a terrible disease he sets out to Peking seeking a wise man. Down a grimy back street he stumbles upon the only wise-man he can afford, a cantankerous old trickster, with “a slight flaw in his characternamed Li Kao. Together they set off to find the “root of power that will save the children. What ensues is a quest that takes the pair across the breadth of China, fro... Read More

Angel with the Sword: An immersive introduction to a larger universe

Angel with the Sword by C.J. Cherryh

C.J. Cherryh has penned both science fiction and fantasy tomes (as well as the blended Science Fantasy that partakes of both) and much of her significant sci-fi output has been in multiple series that span time, space, and in some ways even genre. And yet all of her works are part of a much larger future history of mankind amongst the stars: Angel with the Sword is the first book of the eight-book MEROVINGEN NIGHTS series, as well as a peripheral part of Cherryh’s ALLIANCE-UNION universe. I love the idea of sprawling future histories with room to really explore differing political, ideological, and personal aspects of the human condition, along with all of that cool what-if technology, and even crossing into other genres (like science fantasy). I say that I like ... Read More

Ender’s Game Alive: A new way to experience Ender’s Game

Ender’s Game Alive by Orson Scott Card

This review assumes you have read Ender's Game, or are familiar with it, so it may contain some spoilers for Ender’s Game.

Before becoming one of the of most accomplished science fiction authors of his generation, Orson Scott Card worked as a writer of full-length plays for BYU, where he studied. He also wrote audioplays on LDS Church history. It follows from his experience then, that when Orson Scott Card set his sights on adapting his hit novel Ender's Game into Ender's Game Alive, a full-cast audioplay, the result could be nothing less than that classic novel deserves.

If you've read the novel you know how it goes. Ender is the third child in a time where a couple is only allowed to have two children. Supposed to have the same geniality his brother and sister h... Read More

Ender’s Game: Intense psychological drama

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Ender Wiggin is a “Third.” His parents were allowed to have him only because their first two children, Peter and Valentine, showed so much promise. Earth is expecting another Bugger attack from outer space and humans are desperately trying to breed and train the children who they hope will be Earth’s saviors. Peter, Valentine, and Ender Wiggin are all geniuses, but Ender seems to have just the right balance of intelligence, resolve, independence, and sensitivity to make a great leader for Earth’s international forces.

When Ender is only six years old, the International Fleet comes to take him away to Battle School. There he meets dozens of other little geniuses, some who resent Ender for his quick advancement, and some who would even like to get him out of the way. Does Ender have what it takes to make it through the rigorous training and to become the military hero that Earth hopes for? ... Read More

The Castle in the Attic: A cozy, heartwarming medieval tale

The Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop

The Castle in the Attic is a warm story about a boy, an old toy castle, and a much-loved housekeeper. William does not want his babysitter, Mrs. Phillips, to leave him and return to England. William swears he will do anything to keep her with him (absolutely anything). But when she gives him her old miniature stone castle and its lone knight, William fears there will be no way to keep her around. Until the knight comes to life.

The story of William and the Silver Knight is nothing if not heartwarming. William is a very kind boy and loves his housekeeper very much. She has been there his whole life, and he does not want to let her go. In the castle in his attic, he meets the Silver Knight: not a metallic toy but a very real (very tiny) knight. The spell that was cast on him had been broken, and the Silver Knight (Sir Simon) wants to go back to his world and rec... Read More

The Isle of Glass: A derivative novel done well

The Isle of Glass by Judith Tarr

I’ve gone back and forth on this text quite a bit, unsure how generous I’m willing to be. The facts are these: Judith Tarr’s prose is better than expected, the story flows well, and the pacing is great, but on the other hand, this is not a book that beyond its style really seems to have a lot to do. The Isle of Glass is the kind of novel that readers will finish with a nod and a shrug rather than a smile or tears.

The plot is scanty and rather unambitious. Alfred, or “Alf,” the protagonist, is one of the Fair Folk raised as a monk, which of course means that he’s righteous, sheltered, and troubled by his heritage. He’s the handsome naïf trope played straight as an arrow. One day, a wounded knight of the Fairies arrives with a mission to prevent a war, and the unassuming Alf is drafted as messenger and king-manipulator supreme, leaving his qu... Read More

Five-Twelfths of Heaven: A trilogy worthy of rediscovery

Five-Twelfths of Heaven by Melissa Scott

The first volume of Melissa Scott's highly-regarded Roads of Heaven trilogy is an unusual SF novel in that it treats indistinguishable-from-magic science pretty much as if it were magic. It's the sort of thing that makes scientific purists (and guys like me) roll our eyes much of the time. If I have a pet peeve, it's when a "science" fiction story hits me with paranormal, unscientific concepts. If that's what you want to write, then just write paranormal fiction. Scott avoids the claptrap trap, however, by defining her ground rules — precisely how these arcane concepts work within her milieu — early on in her story and then assiduously following them. The end result is an imaginative, compelling story for which even hard SF devotees shouldn't have trouble suspending disbelief. Throw in a believable trio of protagonists, solid space opera action, and some surprising social relevance ma... Read More

The Secret Country: A role-player’s dream

The Secret Country by Pamela Dean

The Secret Country is a fun fantasy about five teenagers and pre-teens who accidentally stumble into the fantasy world that they themselves created in play. Unfortunately, they are their normal selves, not their powerful alter egos, and so they are in a magical medieval kingdom without magical abilities, weapons skills, or even decent horsemanship. And the catch is that everyone expects them to know these things, since their characters do! This book is a role-player's dream, and perhaps nightmare as well.

They get by, becoming involved in court intrigue while trying to stay out of trouble by quick thinking and by calling on their knowledge of the way the world works. But then the world starts to change, with characters and objects behaving in ways they never thought of in their game.

Pamela Dean, as always, is brilliant at characterization.... Read More

Dealing with Dragons: No more embroidery!

Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

Princess Cimorene is tired of embroidery, etiquette, dancing, and protocol classes. She wants to take Latin, fencing, magic, and cooking lessons instead. But, that's just "not done." Princesses are supposed to be beautiful, submissive and, preferably, in distress. They're supposed to wait for a handsome prince to rescue them.

Not Cimorene. To avoid a betrothal to a handsome and charming (but not particularly bright) prince, she runs away to become housekeeper for a dragon. As a dragon's princess, Cimorene gets the freedom to cook and clean and to organize libraries and treasure rooms. She also has to fend off persistent knights who come to rescue her, and investigate the actions of a couple of sneaky wizards in The Enchanted Forest.

Patricia C. Wrede's Dealing with Dragons is a refreshing change from some of the more recent fantasy ... Read More

Liavek: A light read that will transport you to another world

Liavek by Will Shetterly & Emma Bull

One of the things I love about used bookstores is stumbling across out of print books from favorite authors. I picked up Liavek because I’ve enjoyed Emma Bull since The War for the Oaks, and discovered a fun collection of short stories. Unlike most anthologies, Liavek is a shared world universe, where all the authors write short stories that are set in the same location, with the same characters. Not only do characters reoccur, but events from early stories are referenced in later tales in the volume. This makes the anthology read more like a novel than a collection of loosely linked stories.

Liavek is a city of magic. Most people can do a little magic, though it takes training to become a great wizard. A person only has access to their magic for their birth period, the hours that their mother was in labor with ... Read More

Birth of the Firebringer: You haven’t read this before

Birth of the Firebringer by Meredith Ann Pierce

Meredith Ann Pierce is best known for her wonderful Darkangel trilogy, which sadly is not as renowned as it deserves to be. Even lesser known is Pierce's Firebringer trilogy, based on stories she wrote and dreams she experienced as a young child, which chronicle the lives and adventures of a tribe of unicorns exiled from their home.

Legend tells of how the unicorns were driven out from their Hallow Hills by the serpentine wyverns, who by trickery, superior numbers and mastery of fire, forced the Princess Halla to remove her people from their ancestral home and find new feeding grounds in the Vale. But all is not well; the unicorns pine for their true homelands, especially the Mirror of the Moon, to which a dangerous pilgrimage is done ever... Read More