The Wood Wife: A quiet, intimate novel

Reposting to include Jana's new review.

The Wood Wife by Terri Windling

Our heroine, Maggie, is reeling from her divorce and drifting rather aimlessly through life — she considers herself a poet but hasn't written a poem in years.

Then, her mentor dies mysteriously — drowned in a dry creekbed — and inexplicably leaves her his house in the Southwestern desert. She moves there, hoping to research a biography of him. At first, Maggie doesn't like the desert; it seems sterile, forbidding, devoid of charm. Then one night a pooka cuddles up to her in bed, and nothing is the same after that...

Maggie soon discovers a world of magic in the desert (and we, the readers, discover it right along with her), and digs up some fascinating secrets about her mentor's life. And suddenly, all the pieces come together.

Both a mystery and a fantasy, The Wood Wife (199... Read More

The Parafaith War: Interesting premise, too many problems

The Parafaith War by L.E. Modesitt Jr

In our far future, a young man named Trystin Desoll is a soldier in the long war that his high-tech civilization has been fighting with the Revs, a society of religious zealots. The Revs, who are outgrowing their own planet, believe that the Eco-Techs are sinful because they use brain implants and other technology to improve their bodies. Therefore, the Revs think it’s permissible for them to wipe out Trystin’s civilization, and they’ve been trying to do this for decades.

Trystin is rising rapidly in the Eco-Tech military. He’s smart and courageous, but he also feels like he has an extra burden to prove himself because, being blonde and blue-eyed, he looks a lot more like the Revs than the dark-haired, dark-eyed people of his own society.

All this — his intelligence, bravery, and coloring — make Trystin the perfect spy. When his nation realizes there’s no way they ... Read More

The House of Secrets by Steven T. Seagle and by Teddy Kristiansen

The House of Secrets written by Steven T. Seagle and illustrated by Teddy Kristiansen

The House of Secrets is a twenty-five issue series that started in 1996 and is written by Steven T. Seagle and illustrated by Teddy Kristiansen. It features a lying, unreliable runaway named Rain Harper; a young girl she takes under her wing named Traci; and a group of musicians, one of whom, Ben Volk, becomes the third central character in the series. Right after Rain and Traci meet, Traci tells Rain a valuable secret: She knows a place to squat where they will be safe. Rain, therefore, joins Traci and moves into the House of Secrets. And then all the fun starts.

This series brings with it a long history: House of Secrets, an old horror series that started in 1956, was mainly a platform for one-off stories in the tradition of all the old classic horror comic books, most famous of which were th... Read More

Desperation: In these silences something may rise

Desperation by Stephen King

My only disappointment in Stephen King’s Desperation is that it isn't longer. This book contains all that makes King so enjoyable to read: strong and believable character development; intuitive and subtle understanding of the childhood psyche; horror as defined by what's creepy, intense, psychological and sometimes gothic; mythological back-story that superbly connects past and present; and the believably supernatural.

Several travelers, mostly strangers to each other, are abducted by a seemingly deranged Sherriff and taken to the dusty Nevada town of Desperation. Mayhem ensues as King delves into the perverse and dark heart of humanity.

Desperation is not generally considered one of King’s stronger works, but I’d like to dig beneath the surfac... Read More

Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross

Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross

To understand Kingdom Come, you have to understand a few things about superhero comics. Now, if you have any sort of interest in the genre at all, I'm sure that sentence opens up nightmarish recollections of previous rabbit-holes down which you've ventured to try to understand some seemi... Read More

Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus

Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card

Scenario: If you knew there was a bomb in a building, would you feel obliged to yell as loudly as possible to warn other people? The bomb explodes and the injuries are high and the death toll unimaginable. But let’s then suppose you have an opportunity to go back in time and prevent the bomb from ever being planted in the first place. Take things one step further... let's say that you stop the bomber before he even places his bomb... what else might change? Now you're dealing with what's known as 'the butterfly effect' — if a butterfly flaps its wings in China, can it change the weather on the other side of the world?

Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus takes this concept one step further by asking: if you could change the course of one man's life, could you change the course of the entire world? What if that one man h... Read More

Clockwork: Bad things happen when you don’t finish a story

Clockwork: or All Wound Up by Philip Pullman

Clockwork: or All Wound Up (1996) is a very short (about 100 pages) children’s fairytale by Philip Pullman. It stars Karl and Fritz, two young Germans who have not finished a job that they were supposed to do and are worried about what will happen when the townspeople find out. Karl and Fritz meet one snowy evening in the local tavern. Karl, the clockmaker’s apprentice, is brooding because tomorrow is the day when he must unveil the mechanical project he’s supposed to have finished. For hundreds of years, each apprentice has contributed an exquisite clockwork figure to the town’s clock and everyone gathers on graduation day to admire it in the town square. Karl confesses to Fritz that he has not created anything.

Fritz, a writer, tells Karl that authors also have ... Read More

Sacrifice of Fools: Aliens in Belfast

Sacrifice of Fools by Ian McDonald

Ian McDonald grew up in Belfast, a city known for the turmoil and unrest it has endured because of the conflict between Catholics and Protestants. Some of McDonald’s novels allegorically explore the causes and results of a divided city. In Sacrifice of Fools, McDonald presents a vivid and lively conflicted Belfast, and then he throws a third element into the mix: aliens.

The Shian are a peaceful alien species who, upon arrival on Earth, are allowed to settle in Belfast in exchange for sharing the secrets of their technological superiority. The Shian are humanoid in appearance, but have enough biological differences that they cannot successfully mate with humans. They also have very different languages, laws, culture, and customs. While their similarities make them attractive to many humans (and weird fetishes evolve), the differences cause misunderstandings and culture... Read More

The Darkness: Origins, Volume 1

The Darkness: Origins, Volume 1 by Garth Ennis (writer) and Marc Silvestri (artist)

The Darkness: Origins, Volume 1 by Garth Ennis is an excellent series that features and is named after a spinoff character from The Witchblade. The Darkness made his first appearance in issue #10 of Witchblade and got his own title soon after. He's essential to the mythic origins of the Witchblade, and in fact, along with the Angelus, predates the Witchblade. The Darkness is the elemental power of chaos; it is the symbolic dark side of the universe and human nature, but it must always have a human bearer, just like the Angelus and the Witchblade. The bearer of the Darkness is always male, and the Darkness, unlike the Angelus and the Witchblade, is always passed down through the blood-line. It is the force that opposes the Angelus, who, fr... Read More

Clouds End: Some of Stewart’s best writing

Clouds End by Sean Stewart

I love Sean Stewart, and I wish he hadn't given up on writing fantasy. His books are always a treat and pay back tenfold the effort put into them by the reader. Clouds End was Stewart's "pure fantasy" novel, in contrast to the mixed urban fantasy with science fictional elements type of story that characterizes the majority of his works. I have to admit that the first time I tried to read this book I didn't like it. I still think that Stewart wasn't fully successful in realizing what he was attempting, but Clouds End still has some of Stewart's best writing and character development, and a marvelous vision of a magical world.

Stewart has said that he wanted to write an epic fantasy in the mould of Tolkien, but from his own agnostic perspective as opposed to the religiously infused one of Tolkien. The world he creates i... Read More

Adiamante: My favorite science fiction novel by L.E. Modesitt Jr.

Adiamante by L.E. Modesitt Jr

Suppose that the world had gone through an apocalypse based on a conflict between two groups of super-technologically-advanced people with fundamentally different beliefs on how technology should be applied. One group wanted the logic of technology to replace human thought, and the other wanted technology to merely enhance human perception. Could this difference provide the footing for outright war?

Ecktor is a Demi, a human who has been enhanced with physical and mental abilities hard-coded into his DNA. His wife has died; her memories are everywhere and permeate the very home he lives in. Ecktor’s life goes on with the mundane tasks of exercise, cooking and the work that keeps his credit-balance at a reasonable level. His grief would be overwhelming, however, except for the appearance of a fleet of high-technology warships inbound to earth. A leader is required to manage the pending contact with a group of hu... Read More

Schismatrix Plus: What a great read

Schismatrix Plus by Bruce Sterling

What a great read this was. I've never been much of a fan of cyberpunk and I'm not particularly a fan of the authors generally noted to be founders of the genre (William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, etc.), but I really loved Schismatrix Plus and it has put Bruce Sterling near the top of my list for sci-fi writers. Sterling does an excellent job of melding his cyberpunk ethos with a space opera-ish background that is combined with the 'Grand Tour' of the solar system structure (cp. The Ophiuchi Hotline by John Varley or Vacuum Flowers by Michael Swanwic... Read More

Dark Moon: Pure genre fantasy

Dark Moon

In writing reviews of fantasy, everybody makes mention of those derivative books of sword and sorcery which lack imagination and either borrow exclusively from previous works (think Terry Goodkind) or possess so many archetypes that the whole book becomes cliché (think the DRAGONLANCE series). Everybody knows these cardboard Conans and Gandalfs wielding battleaxes, wands, and uttering the worst one-liners published today. But these comments about garbage fantasy are always directed to the “others” — someone else — never the work under review. Nobody wants to step on any toes.

David Gemmell’s Dark Moon is pure genre fantasy. This is one of the books everyone is indirectly referring to when they mention derivative fantasy. Reptilian uni-mind creatures attack innoc... Read More

The Pillow Friend: Too much for one book

The Pillow Friend by Lisa Tuttle

The Pillow Friend, by Lisa Tuttle, straddles two categories of fiction, psychological horror and the more conventional quasi-literary “women’s fiction.” Tuttle’s prose is exquisite. She is able to describe the thoughts and impulses of a girl growing toward womanhood in an immediate, authentic way. Her ability to set mood and place cannot be doubted. The book is dark and disturbing, but at the end, it felt less like a horror story and more like a report on a woman’s descent into insanity.

The book introduces us to Agnes Gray when she is six years old, growing up in Houston, Texas in the early sixties. Tuttle’s description of place is flawless. I could feel the wall of heat, smell fresh-cut grass and stale cigarette smoke.

Agnes is the youngest of three children. She has twin sisters who are about six years older than her, who are ... Read More

Fair Peril: Riotously funny and sweetly touching

Fair Peril by Nancy Springer

We don't have princes here. We don't even have Kennedys.

Both riotously funny and sweetly touching, Nancy Springer's Fair Peril is a fun and wonderful fantasy novel. It's set in modern times, in a sort of "Anytown, USA" — where the shopping mall is a portal into Fairyland, and anything can happen.

It all begins when Buffy Murphy discovers a talking frog who claims to be a prince. Buffy is a divorced and overweight woman, down on her luck, who holds down a practical job in a fake food factory and is a storyteller on the side. Hoping a gimmick will make her storytelling more sought-after, she takes the frog home... and has no plans to kiss it and turn it back into a prince.

Enter her teenage daughter. When the frog prince and 16-year-old Emily run away together, Buffy has to find them and rescue Emily from the story she's been caught up in. Buffy ... Read More

Zel: Deceptively simple — deep and evocative

Zel by Donna Jo Napoli

For readers who simply glance over the words and do no reading between the lines, Zel will simply read as a fleshed-out fairytale, in which the characters, settings and storylines are given more background and details. For those who take the time to read more luxuriously and deeply, they will find layer upon layer of meaning, symbolism, motivations and psychological breakdown that is simply intoxicating to discover. Underlying all of this is the concept of deep and powerful love, and its conflicting abilities to both nourish and destroy.

Set in the mountains of Switzerland in the mid-1500s, Rapunzel ("Zel") lives an isolated and innocent existence with her mother in their small farm, finding joy in such simple pleasures as visits into town and her birthday celebrations. But when her mother leaves her at the smithy, Zel comes into contact with her first male influence — the Prince ... Read More

Firebird: 90 pages in and it’s still starting

Firebird by Mercedes Lackey

Since Firebird is one of Mercedes Lackey’s somewhat older works, I thought I’d enjoy it. It certainly sounded promising.

And indeed, Firebird starts off with a lot of potential. Though the main character, Ilya, is yet another underappreciated, super-clever youth whose family is mean to him, etc. etc., he’s a bit of a, well, womanizer. He likes him some womenfolk, and it’s kind of charming in a rather “That’s not very like Mercedes Lackey” kind of way. I liked Ilya, and the book, with its charming premise, starts out well.

But… by page 90-something, it still hadn’t stopped starting. I kept waiting and waiting and waiting for the book to get on with it. By the time I put the book down, Ilya still had not been “cast out” as the blurb promises. In fact, he’s still ba... Read More

The Prestige: Haunting and thought-provoking

The Prestige by Christopher Priest

I was drawn to Christopher Priest's novel after having watched and enjoyed the Nolan brothers' film adaptation of The Prestige. Going into the reading, I knew that several plot twists would be spotted a mile away, but the film is sufficiently different from its source material that Priest's work contains several surprises.

Journalist Andrew Westley is brought under false pretences to a Derbyshire estate to meet with a young woman who is quite desperate to get in contact with him. Andrew is an entirely ordinary man, except for one quirk: having been adopted at a young age, he is convinced that he has a twin brother somewhere in the world, despite all evidence to the contrary. However, his informant Kate Angier thinks that she can shed some light on his situation, believing that a traumatic experience she had as a child and Andrew's own confused past all h... Read More

Winter Rose: A dreamy and mysterious tale of family secrets

Winter Rose by Patricia McKillip

The first time I read Patricia McKillip, I didn’t get very far. The book was the Riddlemaster of Hed, and I was completely unprepared for her complex use of language. But there must have been something in her style that intrigued me, because I tracked down Winter Rose not long afterwards, and since then have been a big fan of all her work. Out of all Patricia McKillip’s books (at least the ones I’ve read) Winter Rose is perhaps the most opaque. McKillip’s language has always been eloquent and atmospheric, often obscuring both plot and characterization, but in this case the plot itself is also rather vague and ambiguous. Based on the ballad of Tam Lin, this is a dreamy and mysterious tale of family secrets, unrequited love and the allure of faerie.

At the risk of making this book... Read More