The Ecolitan Operation: I’d like to see where this is going

The Ecolitan Operation by L.E. Modesitt Jr

Major Jimjoy Wright is the Empire’s most successful secret agent. That’s because he’s strong, brave, clever, deceptive, ruthless, and totally goal-oriented. Once he accepts a mission from his government, nothing gets in his way. He always gets the job done.

Though JimJoy thinks he’s highly ethical, most people would find his consequentialism to be psychopathic. For example, JimJoy is responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent people. This doesn’t bother him because if he hadn’t destroyed them, millions of other innocent people probably would have died (it’s like an extreme version of the Trolley Problem).

The fall-out from JimJoy’s actions are causing problems f... Read More

Necroscope: An original take on the vampire story

Necroscope by Brian Lumley

Necroscope (1986) is the first in a series of 18 novels and novellas that Brian Lumley has written about Harry Keogh, a man who has the power to speak to the dead. I have previously read one of these novellas (The Mobius Murders) and wanted to read more stories about Harry. I purchased the audiobook of this first one at Audible a few years ago and have been waiting for the rest to be put on audio before starting. Fortunately, Macmillan Audio is now producing them.

In Necroscope, we meet Harry for the first time. At the beginning of the story he is just a boy, growing up as an orphan and attending a private school in England. At first he’s a poor student, bu... Read More

Falling Free: An early stand-alone VORKOSIGAN book

Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold

Falling Free is an early stand-alone story in Lois McMaster Bujold’s VORKOSIGAN SAGA. It takes place before the events we read about in the other books and tells the story of the Quaddies, those genetically engineered “mutants” who have four arms and no legs and who, therefore, make good workers for zero-gravity situations. They were created in secret by a corporation who is using them as free labor.

The story starts when Leo Graf, an engineer, is hired to train students on a distant planet. Leo doesn’t know, and isn’t told, that his new students are Quaddies, so he’s quite surprised and repulsed when he first meets them. Despite their strange anatomy, though, the Quaddies are just as smart as other humans and their four arms makes them better at some mechanical tasks. Soon it becomes apparent that the Quaddies are really just children and ... Read More

The Hall of the Mountain King: Tarr’s style elevates this standard epic fantasy

The Hall of the Mountain King by Judith Tarr

Every day, for years, the King of Ianon has stood on his castle’s battlements, hoping to see his daughter coming home. He is old and she is his heir. When someone finally arrives, the king is told that his daughter is dead, but she had a son, Mirain, whose father is the god Avaryan. The grieving king opens his heart to this unknown grandson, but there are others who are not pleased with the new development — especially the king’s concubine and her son Moranden, the king’s bastard and a great warrior. Stuck in the middle is Vadin, a boy who’s assigned to be Mirain’s squire. It is Vadin who has the best vantage point and is able to witness the struggles, trials, and triumphs of two young men who want to be king.

The Hall of the Mountain King, first published in 1986, is the first in Judith Tarr’s AVARYAN RISING trilogy. You can tell by my description that it’s hig... Read More

Redwall: The hero’s tale in an animal world

Redwall by Brian Jacques

For those who have not discovered Brian Jacques delightful and exciting REDWALL series, you’re in for a real treat. Though aimed at the young (I first enjoyed the first book at age eleven), it can easily be enjoyed by adults as long as its intentions are understood (I read it this year, and though the experience was not the same, I still enjoyed it). A combination of animal and heroic fantasy, Jacques transforms the meadowlands and forest into an epic landscape where mice, badgers, shrews, moles, hares, foxes, stoats, and all variety of woodland creatures live in pastoral harmony, fighting for survival when evil looms. The series now standing at twenty-two books in total, the first, entitled Redwall, was published in 1986 and is the subject of this review.

Redwall Abbey is a brick structure standing in the middle of Mossflower Wood. A place of safety and tranquility, woodland crea... Read More

The Wizards and the Warriors: I would normally have steered clear of this book

The Wizards and the Warriors by Hugh Cook

With a title like The Wizards and the Warriors, I would normally have steered clear of this book for the foreseeable future. I don’t think I’m overly snobbish, but it just brings to mind so many B-movies of the fantasy genre from the late 70’s and early 80’s starring has-beens or never-will-bes that I wouldn’t have expected much of it, and would certainly not have desired to plow through 500+ pages of what I would have at most expected to be mildly entertaining, and perhaps moderately wince-inducing, fluff. Other reviewers I trust, however, conspired against me and assured me that there was much more to The Wizards and the Warriors than that. Turns out they were right.

I vaguely recall seeing some of HUGH COOK’s books in the CHRONICLES OF AN AGE OF DARKNESS series on ... Read More

Howl’s Moving Castle: A book that’s easy to love

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Howl’s Moving Castle is a book that is very easy to love. Diana Wynne Jones is a consistently entertaining author, and her prose seldom fails to be enticing and comfortable as settling into a favorite armchair, even when opening one of her books for the first time. What is perhaps even more impressive is that it’s generally very hard to discern any effort beneath the workings. Jones almost gives the impression that she writes at perfect ease, never agonizing but instead kicking back and letting the words flow in an uninterrupted, easy-going cascade.

This isn’t to say that Howl’s Moving Castle is a perfect book by any means, but I want to make the point early and strongly that it is a very enjoyable one. The story concerns one Sophie Hatter and her relationship with the wizard Howl. Sophie has been transformed by a... Read More

A Voice for Princess: Rather uninspiring

A Voice for Princess by John Morressy

A Voice for Princess is the first volume of John Morressy’s Kedrigern Chronicles, a series of novels and short stories about the reclusive wizard Kedrigern. In this first novel, Kedrigern retires from the wizard guild because he’s mad at his colleagues for schmoozing with alchemists (whom Kedrigern considers beneath barbarians on the human worth scale). Accompanied by his ugly but loyal house troll, Spot (whose vocabulary consists entirely of the word “Yah!”), off Kedrigern goes to build himself a solitary home on Silent Thunder Mountain.

Eventually Kedrigern becomes lonely and decides he’d like a wife. After a couple of unsuccessful courting efforts, he stumbles upon a beautiful and intelligent princess who has been turned into a frog. What luck! Kedrigern’s area of expertis... Read More

Guardians of the Flame: Pleasant surprise


Guardians of the Flame: The Warriors pleasantly surprised me. I’ll admit that going into it I was somewhat dubious: it looked like an obvious cash-in on a clichéd premise. Joel Rosenberg, however, turned out to be a more skilled author than I had anticipated, weaving a fun, fast-paced, often grim series that did exactly what it needed to. The Warriors is an omnibus volume consisting of the first three GUARDIANS OF THE FLAME novels: The Sleeping Dragon, The Sword and the Chain, and The Silver Crown.

The Guardians of the Flame series has a fairly basic conceit. A group of college students are playing a role-playing game transparently based on Dungeons and Dragons with a professor as dungeon master. They’re clearly a rathe... Read More

Pilgrimage to Hell: A book for dudes

Pilgrimage to Hell by Jack Adrian / James Axler

Pilgrimage to Hell is the first book in the long running Deathlands series. There are 100 volumes of Deathlands, written by 12 different authors under the house name James Axler. Pilgrimage to Hell was started by Christopher Lowder under the pen name Jack Adrian, but Lowder became ill and Laurence James stepped in to finish it under the penname James Axler. Pilgrimage to Hell is the one that started it all, and I've waited a long time to be able to read it.

Life as we know it was obliterated in a nuclear apocalypse in 2001. Pilgrimage to Hell takes place several generations after the nukes destroyed civilization. Ryan Cowdar and Krysty Wroth are the protagonists, though there is an array of support... Read More

A Place Among the Fallen: Strong beginning, then loses its appeal

A Place Among the Fallen by Adrian Cole

In the world of Omara, belief in gods or magical power can be punishable by death. But when Korbillian arrives from out of a storm-tossed sea, there is no denying something is at work that’s beyond explanation. Korbillian hails from another world and he’s on a mission to destroy the evil growing from an earthen mound in the distant land of the east. However, as powerful as Korbillian is, he can’t do it alone. Along the way, he must recruit as many others to the cause as he can. Korbillian must convince the non-believers that if they do not help, Omara will meet the same demise as his home world. Out of misfits, ruthless enforcers, fellow refugees, rival soldiers, and even Omara’s animals and plant-life, an army is formed. But will they be enough? And are they really Korbillian’s allies or just fodder to be sacrificed for the cause?

Calling Adrian Cole’s style and... Read More

The Magician Trilogy: Should be on every child’s bookshelf


The Magician Trilogy by Jenny Nimmo are some of the best children's fantasy novels out there — and so inevitably they are virtually unknown. Set in the mountains of Wales, the books chronicle the experiences of Gwyn Griffith, a young boy magician dealing with the gift and burden of inheriting magical powers from his legendary ancestors. Before immediate comparisons are made with that other boy-wizard, rest assured that The Snow Spider was published several years before Harry Potter hit the scene.

In the The Snow Spider, Gwyn becomes aware of his abilities as a magician, using his gift to summon several magical artifacts from another world, including Arianwen, a tiny silver spider who helped him uncover the mystery of his sister Be... Read More

Latro in the Mist: Two fantastic novels


LATRO IN THE MIST is the omnibus edition containing two of Gene Wolfe’s historical fantasies set in ancient Greece: Soldier of the Mist and Soldier of Arete. They tell the story of Latro, a Roman mercenary wounded while fighting on the side of the Persians at the battle of Plataea. The wound to the head robs him of most of his long term memory as well as his short, limiting him to only about twenty-four hours before he forgets. The other effect is that Latro finds that he is able to see the gods, mythical creatures and the spirits of the dead. On the advice of an oracle of Apollo he sets off on a quest to restore his memory so he can return home that takes him across most of Greece meeting both minor and major deities, as well as famous historical figures.

Soldier of the Mist opens with a dedic... Read More

Daggerspell: Innovative world building, sympathetic characterization

Daggerspell by Katharine Kerr

As a young man, Nevyn’s inability to choose starts a series of events that leads to the death of his betrothed, her brother, and another man. At his beloved’s grave he swears to never rest until he has righted the wrongs he caused. The gods accept his vow, and he is gifted with immortality until he has fulfilled his promise. Daggerspell follows Nevyn’s attempts to pay the debts he owes as the spirits of the three people to whom he is spiritually tied are born and reborn.

Set in a pseudo-Celtic world, this first book in the Deverry series is an intriguing tale of love and redemption. The characters are interesting, and the central role of reincarnation provides an innovative variation on what would otherwise be a standard fantasy novel, complete with magical elves and dwarven blacksmiths. The system of magi... Read More

The Mirror of Her Dreams: Different, but disappointing

The Mirror of Her Dreams by Stephen R. Donaldson

The Mirror of Her Dreams is a low fantasy that chronicles the "translation" of the beautiful but insipid Terisa Morgan into the besieged realm of Mordant by way of "Imagery," sorcery that brings things out of mirrors. In this case, a clumsy apprentice, Gerarden, enters a mirror in Mordant in hope of finding the "champion" that the mirror depicts. Instead, he finds himself in Teresa's sterile New York penthouse and, thinking that she may instead be Mordant's savior, persuades her to return with him. A maelstrom of court intrigue arises on Terisa's appearance in Orison, the sprawling castle-capital of Mordant (reminiscent of the castle in Peake's Gormenghast saga); and of course, someone (or multiple someones) desire the newcomer's death. ... Read More

The King of Ys: I remember Ys, though I have never seen her

The King of Ys by Poul Anderson

"I remember Ys, though I have never seen her."

The King of Ys is a historical fantasy — it is set in our world just before the fall of the Roman Empire and it mixes in the legend of the mythical city of Ys which was built below sea level on the coast of Brittany. Many of the characters in The King of Ys (Roman emperors, Christian saints, etc) are based on legendary and real historical figures and Poul and Karen Anderson include plenty of footnotes which explain the legend of Ys and the culture and religion of the 5th century.

In Roma Mater, we meet Gaius Valerius Gratillonius, a Roman centurion stationed at Hadrian's Wall. Because of his loyalty to would-be-emperor Magnus Cleme... Read More