The Broken Crown: A slow, sprawling fantasy epic

The Broken Crown by Michelle West

I listened to 19 hours (60%) of the new audio version of Michelle West’s The Broken Crown before giving up. The Broken Crown (1997) is the first novel in West’s SUN SWORD series which contains six books that add up to a whopping 4,803 pages. After getting through 458 of these pages and feeling absolutely nothing, I was dreading the remaining 4,345. I decided to quit.

Many readers love long, slow, drawn-out fantasy epics. I used to, but the older I get, the less patience I have for them. I’ll enjoy them if the plot moves at a decent clip, if there are characters that I like and care about, if the world and magic system are fascinating, and if the writing style is appealing.

Unfortunately, The Br... Read More

Faces Under Water: A beautiful but dated template of a story

Faces Under Water by Tanith Lee

I found the first book of Tanith Lee’s THE SECRET BOOKS OF VENUS series, Faces Under Water, in a used bookstore recently. To call Lee a prolific writer is to understate things somewhat. I had never heard of this series, set in an alternate Venice and based on the four elements. They were published by Overlook Press in the late 1990s and early twenty-first century.

Faces Under Water is short but dense, and I would say that it provides everything Lee is known for. This means I really liked parts of it and was very irked with others. At times I felt like I was reading a template or a pattern, not a book. (“Here’s where I dump in some gorgeous description. Here’s where I truncate a sentence to change the pacing. Here’s where I use artful, poetic repetition, and here’s where my characters engage in witty and elliptical dialogue.”)

Furian Furiano ... Read More

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: We love it

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

I’m pretty sure every person in the western world knows who Harry Potter is and knows the basic story line. Harry Potter was The Boy Who Lived. Both his parents were killed by He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, the evil Lord Voldemort, but he survived the attack, somehow causing Voldemort to disappear. Now Harry is eleven, and off to his first year at Hogwarts wizarding school. But it seems like Voldemort is making a resurgence. Is Harry safe, even under the watchful eye of Headmaster Albus Dumbledore?

I recently felt a desire to go back and reread the HARRY POTTER books. I know I have a stack of books sitting on my bedside table that I need to read, and I will, but sometimes the lure of going back to visit an old friend is just too strong to be resisted. Sometimes this leads to disappointment, as books don’t live up to their memory, but I am happy to say that HARRY POTTER is as... Read More

The Awakening: Lacks anything special

Magelord: The Awakening by Thomas K. Martin

It is interesting to read older fantasy novels and see how the genre has grown and evolved. Thomas K. Martin published Magelord: The Awakening in 1997, and it feels dated.

Bjorn Rolfsson is a young hedge-wizard. In a time when people who can use magic are hunted down and burned alive, he and his father are part of a hidden, secretive group, called a Circle, who teach each other to use magic. I felt like I was reading about early Christians under the Roman Empire, where being exposed was a sure death. There are many different groups who have been persecuted like this throughout history, but that was what jumped into my mind.

Gavin is the son of the King of Ryykvid and a decent enough guy. He is trying to do what is right, but he has a problem: one of the Magelords, the former rulers of the world who destroyed each other and almost ... Read More

Island in the Sea of Time: A fun time-travel survival story

Island in the Sea of Time by S.M. Stirling

After a strange electrical storm, the residents of Nantucket discover that their entire island and its surrounding waters have been sent back to 1300 B.C. Now this society, which is mostly based on a tourist economy, must figure out how to establish a new identity in prehistory. This includes clearing and farming land, building ships, finding new sources of fuel, salt, and other necessities, and most difficult of all, developing a constitution and befriending native trading partners.

Fortunately, Nantucket has some citizens with valuable knowledge and skills who find themselves naturally rising to leadership positions: a brave and competent Baptist police chief, a widely-read and level-headed librarian, a black lesbian ship captain, a history professor, an astronomy student, the manager of the local grocery store, and a Catholic priest.

But of course there are also some cit... Read More

In the Garden of Iden: Historical science fiction romance

In the Garden of Iden by Kage Baker

Rescued from the dungeons of the Spanish Inquisition, feisty little Mendoza is enrolled in a special school and becomes a cyborg agent of The Company, a group of immortal merchants and scientists who travel backwards in time in order to make money for The Company and to benefit mankind in various ways.

Mendoza is educated and trained as a botanist and, for her first mission, she’s sent back to 16th century Europe to document and study samples from the famous Garden of Iden in England. She’s hoping to discover some extinct or rare species that she can analyze for medical use by future scientists.

Undercover as a Spaniard, at first Mendoza is afraid of the people she meets and despises them for their ignorance, brutishness, and lack of hygiene. But soon she discovers that some of them are not so bad, and then she even makes the mistake of falling in love with a mortal — an Read More

The Physiognomy: Sometimes brilliant, always bizarre

The Physiognomy by Jeffrey Ford

Physiognomist Cley has been sent by Master Drachton Below, the evil genius who constructed the Well-Built City, to the faraway mining district of Anamasobia to investigate the theft of a fruit that’s rumored to have grown in the Earthly Paradise and to have supernatural powers. Upon arriving, the skeptical and arrogant physiognomist finds a whole town of morons whose physical features clearly indicate that they are all backward and generally pathetic. Except for Arla, whose beautiful features suggest that she is intelligent and competent, and who seems to understand the science of physiognomy (even though that’s impossible because she’s a woman). But Cley likes looking at Arla (women do have their place), so he invites her to be his assistant as each of the dimwits in the town comes one-by-one to disrobe, pose, and present their bodies for physiognomical inspection, measurement, and analysis.

... Read More

Children of Amarid: Enjoyable and unpretentious

Children of Amarid by David B. Coe

The fantasy debut of historian David B. Coe is a highly readable adventure with a freshness and appeal that too many modern fantasies lack. I found the tale enjoyable, unpretentious, avoiding obvious Tolkienisms, with characterization superior to most of what is being sold and touted these days as the best of the best. Yet it has what you could term some routine first-novel flaws. Its pace is too languid, its narrative not always well focused. And it's loaded with predictable "surprises" that flatten suspense when it should be peaking.

Children of Amarid roots itself in that perennial Campbellian trope: a youth of humble origin who is destined for greatness. The peninsula of Tobyn-Ser is governed by the Children of Amarid, a benevolent order of mages. They generally keep a low profile... Read More

Sandry’s Book: Pure enjoyment for all ages

Sandry's Book by Tamora Pierce

THE CIRCLE OF MAGIC series by Tamora Pierce consists of four books, but the action and characters are so intertwined that it makes sense for me to review them as a series. These are some of my favorite YA stories, and ones that make me cry every time I read them.

THE CIRCLE OF MAGIC tells the story of four young people — Sandry, Tris, Daja and Briar — who are brought to the Winding Circle Temple by Niklaren Goldeye, a powerful mage who has had visions of each one of these young people. Sandry he rescues from a city destroyed by plague. Tris he finds at a small temple, where her family has abandoned her because of her temper. Daja is the lone survivor of a storm that destroyed her Trader family’s fleet, and Niko finds her clinging to a raft in the open ocean. Briar is a street rat and thief about to be sentenced to the docks when Niko intercede... Read More

The Harlequin’s Dance: I gave it 67 pages

The Harlequin's Dance by Tom Arden

I got 67 pages (eight chapters) into Tom Arden's The Harlequin's Dance (1997), and even those 67 pages were a struggle.

In fact, I started and stopped the book a few times before finally giving up. I'm a little disappointed, because it seems like there's potential  here. Characterization is thorough, there are some promising villains, and some subtle humor — all things that I appreciate.

And Tom Arden is a fine enough writer, though a bit choppy in parts:
Cata wiped her nose on her wrist. A grey squirrel was looking at her quizzically. She closed her eyes. For a moment she saw herself as the squirrel saw her: a little girl hunched on her mother's grave, forlornly tormenting a lifeless doll.

She sprang up.


It was a word the village-brats would say; they thought it w... Read More

Crown of Stars: Stunning in scale and complexity

CROWN OF STARS by Kate Elliott

CROWN OF STARS is well-thought out and obviously well-planned. It’s epic in scope and it’s got a lot of texture. There are many complex characters who we follow in parallel, as in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. Some of them are very likeable, and there are some really excellent villains (e.g., Hugh). Kate Elliott's creatures are imaginative and enjoyable, and I especially liked the way they interact with the humans. Ms. Elliott uses a lot of description and intricate world-building and therefore her plot moves very slowly (again, similar to WOT).

The writing was inconsistent throughout the series. Sometimes it seems brilliant, but at other times I'd think “why did she tell me that?” or “this could be moving a little faster.” It’s often word... Read More

Lord of the Isles: Not bad, but not engrossing enough

Lord of the Isles by David Drake

David Drake has a considerable reputation as a science-fiction writer, but Lord of the Isles was my first introduction to his work. To be frank, it is not a good introduction.

Lord of the Isles begins in the tried-and-tested high fantasy tradition — ancient events outlined in the prologue, cut to the present on a bucolic location, unexceptional adolescent male character introduced, and on you go. The island of Haft in the Isles of the title is then shocked by the appearance of a ship from the past. And the story begins.

I was not enthused enough in the plot to outline it here — I did not find it good enough to be drawn along by it to the end of the book, so perhaps I should not try to detail it. Certainly it has not lived long in the memory — and in truth, I was never sure entirely what was going on. There are... Read More

When the Gods Slept: Go to the library

When the Gods Slept by Allan Cole

When the Gods Slept is the first book in Allan Cole's Timuras trilogy and I am debating whether I should read the other two books or not. Generally, I don’t like writing a review until I have read all the books in a trilogy, but I also have a strict rule against paying for additional books when the initial story is pedestrian at best. If I could develop a rating system it would not be based on stars or numbers or thumbs, but on cost.  For example, if an author and his/her work is outstanding I would give it a “BUY THE HARD COVER VERSION AT FULL PRICE.”  If the book is good I would give it a “BUY THE PAPERBACK VERSION.”  And if the book is mediocre, like this one, I would give it the ‘ole “GET ON YOUR BIKE AND GO TO THE LIBRARY FOR A COPY.”

At first I thought ... Read More

Running With the Demon: Brooks’ best novel

Running With the Demon by Terry Brooks

Did You Sell Your Soul for So Little?

Terry Brooks is best known for his Shannara series, which is immensely popular despite being rather obviously inspired by Tolkien's plots, characters and themes. For reasons even I can't explain, I've read quite a few of these novels (despite my disdain for them) and so I can say with a fair amount of confidence that Running With the Demon is undoubtedly Brooks's best novel. Moving away from his fantasy subworld of dwarfs, elves, magical talismans and plucky young farmboys-cum-heroes, the only thing Brooks hangs on to is his good against evil theme, placing it in contemporary America.

Here good and evil are repre... Read More

Switchers: Slow start, but drastically improves

Switchers by Kate Thompson

Tess is a reasonably distant and lonely child, who takes long walks out into the forest and park lands each day, returning home each evening to somewhat bemused parents. They don't believe anything is seriously wrong with their child despite the fact she has no friends — they just think she's a loner that loves the outdoors. But it just so happens that Tess is very different from other teenagers, and harbors a secret that she keeps from every other person on the planet. She has had the ability from a very early age to change into any animal she desires, and her daily walks into the wilderness are due to her transformations and adventures in animal form. It is a wonderful life as a “Switcher,” and she's not lonely — just alone.

Until one day, when a boy begins to follow her home from the bus station and utters some terrifying words: “I know who you are. I know what yo... Read More