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Arrows of the Queen: Engaging heroine in an interesting world

Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey

Talia is not like normal 13-year-old girls. She likes to read adventure stories and she fantasizes about being a Herald for the queen of Valdemar. She does not want to get married to one of the dreary men in her patriarchal village. So, when a Companion — one of the blue-eyed white horses who belongs to a Herald — shows up without a rider, Talia is happy to help him find his way home and stunned to learn that she’s been chosen to be trained as a Herald at the academy.

Published in 1987, Arrows of the Queen is Mercedes Lackey’s first novel and the first in her popular Valdemar series. This is a coming-of-age tale in which a naïve and wide-eyed youngster who has endured a repressive upbringing is suddenly freed and enrolled in a special school, where she makes friends and enemies and dis... Read More

Wraeththu: Lyrically written dark fantasy

Wraeththu by Storm Constantine

Oddly enough, I started reading Wraeththu because I happened upon it randomly in the bookstore and I was absolutely entranced by the fact that I didn’t like the cover art at all. That’s the opposite response I usually have toward cover art. I’m not sure why this is the one book that I looked at and thought, “Wow, that’s pretty terrible cover art. I better read the book.” Whatever the reason, I’m glad I did.

This was my first experience with any of Storm Constantine’s work, and I have never read such flowing, beautiful and absolutely evocative prose. While the subject matter will be hit-or-miss with readers, the writing itself is worth reading the book for. Constantine has mastered lyrical, flowing prose. Her writing makes her world and characters fly off t... Read More

Daughter of the Empire: Life on the other side of the rift

Daughter of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist & Janny Wurts

THE EMPIRE CYCLE is the second trilogy set in Raymond E. Feist’s (and in this case Janny Wurts’) Riftwar universe. Readers of the RIFTWAR SAGA (the first trilogy by publication date) will know all about the world of Midkemia and its war with the otherworldly Kelewan. Daughter of the Empire (1987) takes place entirely in Kelewan and so offers a new insight into the Riftwar universe, from the other side of the rift. Readers familiar with the earlier works will enjoy spotting the veiled references to familiar events and characters, but these are not central to Daughter of the Empire, which can e... Read More

Obernewtyn: Post-apocalyptic YA fantasy from the 1980s

Obernewtyn by Isobelle Carmody

Elspeth has dreams that come true. She can read thoughts, even the thoughts of animals, especially the strange cat Maruman. These gifts make her a Misfit, marked for death in her world.

Isobelle Carmody’s post-apocalyptic fantasy Obernewtyn, published in 1987, follows Elspeth from the “orphanage farm,” where she and her brother Jes were sent after the execution of their parents for sedition, to the strange mountain compound of Obernewtyn, a place of mystery, power and great danger.

In this world a strict government and a stricter religious order called The Herders control the population after a catastrophe, the Great White, nearly destroyed all life. It appears from the toxicity of the soil and the mention of whole sectors that are “badlands” that the event might have been thermonuclear. Anything from the Beforetimes, like books, is ... Read More

Swordspoint: A Melodrama of Manners

Swordspoint: A Melodrama of Manners by Ellen Kushner

Set in a fictional Georgian-era-type society, Swordspoint: A Melodrama of Manners is a “fantasy of manners” or “mannerpunk” novel. In contrast to epic fantasy, where the characters are fighting with swords and the fate of the universe is often at stake, mannerpunk novels are usually set in a hierarchical class-based society where the characters battle with words and wit. There may or may not be magic or sorcery involved and, in many ways, this subgenre of fantasy literature is more like historical fiction that takes place in an imaginary universe. The focus is on societal structures and social commentary. Characters may not be changing THE world, but they’re changing THEIR world. If you like Jane Austen and P.G. Wodehouse, mannerpunk may be just your thing.

In Swordspoint... Read More

Dawn: Impressive and disturbing

Dawn by Octavia Butler

Dawn (1987) is the first book in Octavia Butler’s XENOGENESIS trilogy, written after her PATTERNIST series. By this point she had been writing challenging science fiction novels for a decade, and her writing craft and ideas had reached a high level.

Dawn is a very impressive book. Imagine that mankind has largely destroyed itself and the planet — it’s a fairly common doomsday scenario. But instead of the survivors scrabbling for survival, what if they were saved and kept in storage for centuries by an alien race, the Oankali? And what if one were awakened first, as Lilith Iyabo was, by these strange and frightening alien beings, covered in sensory tentacles? And what if one were told that humanity had been saved and would be rep... Read More

Dawn for a Distant Earth: Has aged well

Dawn for a Distant Earth by L.E. Modesitt Jr

In the far future, after humanity has spread throughout the galaxy, Old Earth is an abandoned ruin. Nuclear waste and bad environmental policies have killed the ecology and changed the climate. Now Earth is a frozen and desolate wasteland with dangerous sheer winds. Only the toughest people manage to survive in such a harsh climate.

Most of Earth’s sparse population huddles behind the walls of dilapidated shambletowns. Those who don’t have friends and family, or who don’t fit in for some other reason, remain outside. One of these misfits is a nameless “devil kid” who becomes the protagonist of L.E. Modesitt Jr’s FOREVER HERO trilogy after getting captured by the galactic empire. The empire takes him in, sends him to school, and enlists him in their military. Smart, stro... Read More

The Cadwal Chronicles: The first two books are some of Vance’s best

THE CADWAL CHRONICLES by Jack Vance

The 1980s found Jack Vance moving into his sixth decade of life. Imagination still sharp, he produced such works as the LYONESSE trilogy, the second half of the DYING EARTH saga, as well as began THE CADWAL CHRONICLES with Araminta Station published in 1989. The novel is on par with the best of Vance’s oeuvre. The second novel in the series, Ecce and Old Earth, sees only a slight decline in quality, the story furthered in fine fashion. However, Throy, the third and concluding volume, is like a different writer took hold of the script. It is dry and bland and does not come close to the bar set by the first two, but it is fortunately not bad enough to destroy the integrity of the series. THE CADWAL CHRONICLES contain all of the tropes that make Vance, Vance, and likewise mak... Read More

Consider Phlebas: The first, but not the best, CULTURE novel

Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks

Consider Phlebas, the first of Iain M. Banks’s CULTURE novels, introduces readers to the Culture, a machine-led intergalactic civilization that offers its biological humanoids a carefree, utopian lifestyle. Though most centuries are free from worry, Consider Phlebas takes place in the middle of the Idiran-Culture War.

The Culture is an intergalactic utopia, but readers should not come to Consider Phlebas expecting dystopian narrative. The machines, led by their brilliant and sentient Minds, are benevolent and they seek to offer a paradise to the humanoids in their care. The novel is not even a dystopian narrative in the way Thomas More’s Utopia often seems disturbing in its stringent rules and guidelines. Readers are meant to envy life in the Culture.

The Culture is perfect, or almost, but the universe is not. The Cultur... Read More

Seventh Son: Original and emotional

Seventh Son by Orson Scott Card

When you’re surrounded by light, how do you know whether it’s the glory of God, or the flames of Hell?


Set in an alternate American frontier, Seventh Son is the first in Orson Scott Card’s THE TALES OF ALVIN MAKER. Alvin Miller is the seventh son of a seventh son which makes him special and potentially a very powerful healer, or “maker” — at least that’s what many who practice folk magic, believe. They know that many folk have “knacks” and they’ve seen the effects of curses and charms. It’s obvious that there’s a supernatural war going on around Alvin Miller. He’s almost been killed many times (usually by water), but it’s clear that some other force is protecting him. While his family expects greatness from Alvin, some of his neighbors think he may be “devil spawn.”

Reverend Thrower, the new Christian ... Read More

In Conquest Born: Impressive world building

In Conquest Born by C.S. Friedman

If you like epic space opera with imaginatively detailed world-building and a focus on characters rather than gadgets, try In Conquest Born, C.S. Friedman’s extremely impressive first novel. This complex, sprawling story begins with the births of two enemies-to-be from two different worlds that have been fighting each other for generations:

Zatar, a Braxin, is bred for beauty and aggression because those are the qualities his brutal, elitist, and misogynist culture admires. Ruthless, clever, and perfectly poised, he is preparing himself and his world for his ascendancy to a throne that does not yet exist in his oligarchic government. Part of making himself most qualified for this potential position involves manipulating, discrediting, or simply getting rid of any man who might stand in his way. (Women are no threat in Braxa... or are they?)

Anzha is an ou... Read More

Infernal Devices: A Mad Victorian Fantasy

Infernal Devices: A Mad Victorian Fantasy by K.W. Jeter

George Dower’s father was a watchmaker, but he didn’t just make watches. Some of his special customers knew he was a genius with all sorts of gear work. When his father died, George inherited the watch shop. Unfortunately, he didn’t inherit his father’s genius. He can sometimes manage to fix a customer’s watch if he sees that a part has worn out, or something else obvious is wrong, but that’s about it. He’s completely flummoxed when a strange brown man brings in something he’s never seen before — something George’s father made. George has no idea what this infernal device does, but when he agrees to help, he’s soon embroiled in a wild adventure that involves a secret London district with fishy-looking citizens, the Royal Anti-Society, the formidable woman who heads up the Ladies Union for the Suppression of Carnal Vice, a robot doppelganger, and a man and woman who spe... Read More

Child of the Northern Spring: Guinevere’s early life

Child of the Northern Spring by Persia Woolley

Child of the Northern Spring is not, strictly speaking, a retelling of the Arthurian legend. I discovered it on a used-bookstore shelf and didn't realize that it was the first book in a trilogy, and that it only dealt with Guinevere's early life, up until her marriage to Arthur.

Persia Woolley’s Guinevere isn't the annoying, preachy character you might recall from Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, but neither is she the fascinating character readers might be hoping for. She’s like many other young romance heroines: a sweet, tomboyish girl who loves horses.

I was looking forward to seeing how she developed, though, as she grew older and took on the mantle of Queen. Readers should be advised ... Read More

Bones of the Moon: Got sent back

Bones of the Moon by Jonathan Carroll

I know Bones of the Moon by Jonathan Carroll has gotten really good reviews, and is supposed to be the source material for the Sandman graphic novels by Neil Gaiman, but 50 pages in to the story, I didn’t care about any of the characters and the only fantastical thing that had happened was the main character, a self-involved woman named Cullen, started having weird serial dreams about a talking dog and a young boy named Pepsi.

Not caring about any of the characters is bad enough, but I also didn’t care enough about the setting — switching back and forth between a sterile New York and an idyllic Europe that felt like a pretentious foreign film starring the kind of people that like pretentious foreign films. I also had a problem with Cullen having an abortion for reasons of con... Read More

The Tale of Krispos: Fairly enjoyable alternate history

THE TALE OF KRISPOS by Harry Turtledove

The opening chapter of The Tale of Krispos really sucked me in. There is realism, which I'm always a fan of, and there are hardly any wasted words. At least that's how it is at first — but more on that later. Harry Turtledove does a great job of describing what is going on by working the information you need into the narrative in natural ways rather than just straight-out telling you certain facts.

The three books that make up The Tale of KrisposKrispos Rising, Krispos of Videssos, and Krispos the Emperor — are based on the life and times of Basil I, the founder of the Macedonian dynasty of Byzantium. As such, this story rests in the fantasy sub-genre of alternate history. There is a little bit of magic, th... Read More

The Malloreon: Strangely familiar

THE MALLOREON by David Eddings

Take the plot from The Belgariad, add in the same characters, plus a couple of new ones that look strangely similar to ones in The Belgariad, and you have The Malloreon. Instead of chasing the Orb, the gang is chasing Garion and Ce'Nedra's son.

This is a quest type of fantasy, and the same things that made The Belgariad so enjoyable are here: interesting characters and a humourous banter that makes for a quick read. The pace is fast. The difficulty is this: this is the same story as The Belgariad. The humourous banter is starting to get tired, and some of the jokes are recycled. Read More

Stalking the Unicorn: A complete blast!

Stalking the Unicorn by Mike Resnick

I had a complete blast reading Mike Resnick's Stalking the Unicorn.

It was smart, highly inventive, outrageously funny — led by hilariously wry dialogue — and fun.

It was also immensely rewarding, especially getting to see how John Justin Mallory ended up in the other Manhattan, how he became partners with Winnifred Carruthers, his first meeting with the cat-girl Felina and Grundy — “the most powerful demon in New York” — and the clever manner in which he solved the case.

Stalking the Unicorn is a true classic, the kind that will stand the test of time and be just as much fun to read now or twenty years in the future, as it was when the book was first published in 1987.

 

 

 


Fable of Tonig... Read More

The Night of the Solstice: A passable children’s fantasy

The Night of the Solstice by L.J. Smith

The Night of the Solstice, followed by its sequel Heart of Valor, were Lisa Jane Smith's first novels, targeted at younger readers, unlike her later (and more popular) horror/teen romance novels surrounding the lives of vampires, witches, shapeshifters and the like.

In her delving into the fantasy world, L.J. Smith introduces us to the four siblings, responsible Alys, normal Charles, kooky Janie and dreamy Claudia who have absolutely nothing to do with each other. All that changes however, when a red vixen lures seven year old Claudia to the strange house upon the hill and asks for her help in saving her mistress, the sorceress Morgana Shee. Convincing Claudia to bring her brother and sisters to the house, the vixen soon enlists all three of them to help her in her quest.

She explains that the house is called Fell And... Read More