Dark Lord of Derkholm: A delightfully satirical fantasy

Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones

Dark Lord of Derkholm (1998) is a delightful young adult story for those who like a heavy dose of satire in their fantasy. Similar to Diana Wynne JonesThe Tough Guide to Fantasyland, it pokes fun of the genre we love by exposing and exploiting some of its most common clichés.

The story takes place in a world parallel to ours to which people can travel and pay to have an adventure. The company that sells the tours, Chesney’s Pilgrim Parties, is from our world. Mr. Chesney’s company has constructed a medieval fantasy setting in the parallel world and employs the people who live there to act out the stereotypical characters that its customers expect.

Much to his dismay, this year Derk has... Read More

Summon the Keeper: Entertaining urban fantasy

Summon the Keeper by Tanya Huff

Tanya Huff’s KEEPER’S CHRONICLES is about a family of Keepers, descendants of Lilith who have the power to close up holes in the fabric of the universe that appear when evil things happen. Keepers get supernaturally summoned toward these holes, so they’re often on the go, traveling from place to place as they feel the pull of their summons.

Claire, a Canadian Keeper in her late 20s who travels with Austin, an elderly talking cat, has been summoned to a bed & breakfast called the Elysian Fields Guesthouse. When she arrives, the owner turns his establishment over to Claire and quickly bolts.

That’s because there’s an unconscious evil Keeper in room six, the place is haunted by a dead (but still horny) Frenchman, the elev... Read More

The Vintner’s Luck: Magic realism in a nineteenth century vineyard

The Vintner's Luck by Elizabeth Knox

In many ways this is a strange book in both content and format, but once you read the first few chapters and get used to the way in which the story is told, The Vintner's Luck (1998) is a compelling, page-turning read from an author whose style reminds me of a slightly more refined Joanne Harris.

Sobran Jodeau is a young vintner in early nineteenth century Burgundy; lovelorn and a little drunk when he wanders into his vineyards one summer night. It's there he meets an angel called Xas, physically imposing and with wings that smell like snow. A conversation is struck, and the two agree to meet again at the same place in a year's time.

So begins their relationship, spanning from 1808 to 1863, with each of The Vintner's Luck’s chapters set a year apart and ... Read More

THE CHRONICLES OF SIRKARA: Underappreciated epic fantasy


This series is also called THE SILERIAN TRILOGY and IN FIRE FORGED.

I enjoy running across books that haven’t received much attention. I also enjoy running across books that I enjoy a lot more than I expected to. When you smash both of those things together, you come up with THE CHRONICLES OF SIRKARA, a trilogy by Laura Resnick, which I read in about three days flat. Yep, that’s about a book a day. I should also note, I rarely read series books back-to-back. I’m not sure why. I usually take a little break between books in a series, probably to digest or something. I couldn’t do that with this series. I devoured them as fast as I could. That says something.

Epic fantasy is a genre I either love or hate. It’s easy to mess up epic fantasy, and it seems like a genre that’s hard to do right. I need a little background in my epic fantasy, some a... Read More

I Am Mordred: A short sad novel

I Am Mordred by Nancy Springer

Almost all the modern stories derived from Arthurian legends focus on King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, Sir Lancelot, Sir Gawain, and Merlin. Why does Mordred, the man who eventually brings down the whole shebang, get such short shrift? There’s plenty of source material, most notably Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae and Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. Maybe it’s that Mordred isn’t very romant... Read More

The Silver Wolf: A dark supernatural fantasy set in Ancient Rome

The Silver Wolf by Alice Borchardt

It actually wasn't until I finished The Silver Wolf that I learnt that author Alice Borchardt was the sister of vampire novelist Anne Rice (that explains why her endorsement is on the title page) but I doubt that this knowledge would have affected my reading experience. In hindsight, Borchardt follows in her sister's footsteps by writing about a supernatural creature in an historical context, but that's where the similarities end.

Set in the Roman Empire during its waning years, The Silver Wolf is the story of Regeane, a young woman with a dark secret. In the dubious care of her uncle and cousin, Regeane struggles to keep her inner wolf hidden from the rest of the world, knowing that it would mean death if she was ever discovered. Her remaining family has their... Read More

Sailing to Sarantium: Historical fantasy

Sailing to Sarantium by Guy Gavriel Kay

The new emperor in Sarantium has a lot to atone for, so he’s building a grand chapel to his god and calling the most famous artisans in the surrounding regions to come work for him. Crispin, a mosaicist from a neighboring country, is one of these. Unhappy since his wife and children died, Crispin doesn’t think he has much to live for anymore, and he doesn’t want to go to Sarantium. But when his young queen, who sits her throne precariously, asks Crispin to carry a secret proposal to the already-married emperor of Sarantium, Crispin is duty-bound. Now he is “sailing to Sarantium,” which means that he’s leaving everything behind to start a promising new life. Along the way, he befriends an alchemist with strange powers, a young woman who’s about to be sacrificed to a god, and a foul-mouthed army officer who loves to watch the chariot races. When Crispin gets to Sarantium, he finds that decorati... Read More

Planetary: All Over the World and Other Stories, Volume 1

Planetary: All Over the World and Other Stories, Volume 1 by Warren Ellis & John Cassaday

Planetary: All Over the World and Other Stories, Volume 1 by Warren Ellis and John Cassaday is for the reader who has a nostalgia for the space explorer- and Doc Savage-style pulp fiction along with a love of futuristic and science fiction settings. Three main characters make up the mysterious group called Planetary. Elijah Snow is about 100 years old, looks like a fit 40-50 year-old, can lower the temperature of a room by walking into it (hence his name), and is about as caring as his name suggests. Jakita Wagner takes lead and is physically strong on what seems to be a super-hero level. Drummer, as Jakita tells Snow, is crazy, AND (not because) he talks to machines — really. He seems to require drumsticks to communicate, tapping into energy flows throughout cities and other odd items that we don’t think of as computers bu... Read More

The Arm of the Stone: Mixed opinions

The Arm of the Stone by Victoria Strauss

The world has been torn asunder. Originally held together by disciplines of mind and hand, devotees of the powers of the mind have been pushed aside by the technological innovations of the devotees of hand power. As belief in the power of magic fades, the last enclaves of magic users simply disappear. But they are not actually gone. They have formed a second world, accessible only by a few Gates that bind the two worlds together. This new world is held together by the power of the Stone, a magical artifact that bestows all knowledge upon its possessor. Bron has been raised knowing that his was the last family in the 1000-year history of the world to hold the Stone before it was seized by the evil Percival, who used the Stone to set up a system of oppressive rule enforced by the Guardians. He has been raised on the Tale, a story of his noble lineage that must be kept secret at all costs. It foretells the c... Read More

Green Rider: A popcorn action fantasy

Green Rider by Kristen Britain

The trouble with Green Rider (or, well, the major trouble with Green Rider) is that it all just feels a bit silly. This may be a bit of a chuckle for some of you as, let’s face it, our entire genre could be and is regarded as rather silly what with the Halflings and dragons and so on, but the trick we demand of fantasy authors most of the time is that they either embrace that silliness in a sort of ironic, look-I’m-clever-anyway fashion or they transcend it to make what should be silly deadly serious and gripping. Kristen Britain, unfortunately, has a prose and organizational style that never lets the reader forget just how incredibly silly her narrative actually is.

This is rather unfortunate as the plot isn’t actually too bad. The style gets in the way a bit here too, and I can easily see how distracted or skimming readers could lose the nar... Read More

Bloodwinter: The lazy plotting is a festering wound

Bloodwinter by Tom Deitz

Tom Deitz spends rather a lot of time during the course of Bloodwinter telling the reader just how extraordinarily awful the winters of his fantasy kingdom of Eron are, how Herculean must be the efforts of those who seek to cross the frozen wasteland. Without getting cuter with this analogy, there were stretches where I felt much the same about reading the novel.

That isn’t to say that Bloodwinter is ever painful to read. Deitz has an excellent command of language and he uses it well, so the prose is never actually as listless as the events. The cover quotes inform me that the characterization was well-received and I too thought Deitz did a rather good job on that score (with a few notable exceptions, which I’ll describe below).

One recognizable problem with the novel right off the bat,... Read More

The Squire’s Tale: Great Arthur retelling for kids

The Squire's Tale by Gerald Morris

The Squire’s Tale is what I love to see out of kids’ fantasy. It’s charming, it’s well-told, it’s entertaining for a number of age groups, and even as it simplifies and plays with the mythology it uses, it remains lovingly respectful of the original texts.

I was actually surprised by how closely the novel sticks to the Arthurian legends. The Squire’s Tale introduces the character of Terence, Sir Gawain’s squire, and gives the magical end of things more of an Irish mythological slant, but beyond that scope it’s clear that Morris has read Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and probably a lot of other material as well. This firm grounding in the tradition gives his work a feel of casual authenticity. Yet Morris is also careful never to... Read More

The Dark City: Fast and gripping

The Dark City by Catherine Fisher

The Dark City is the first of a four-book series by Catherine Fisher published years ago in England and now being released (in its entirety rather than year by year) to the US. Classified as young adult, I’d say it skews toward the upper end of YA while also being one of those YA novels that, though it might read a little thin to adults, can absolutely be enjoyed by them.

The books are set in the near-medieval world of Anara, which is filled with the ruins and artifacts of a highly technological society destroyed by cataclysm a while ago. Myths have grown up about the time of the Makers who “came from the sky on stairways of ice”; of the Crow, the messenger between the Makers and people; of Kest, the Maker who betrayed the others; and of the fall of Tasceron, center of Maker life. The myths have been kept alive as a quasi-religion by the Order of Ke... Read More

Skellig: Sad and joyful, poignant and funny

Skellig by David Almond

Michael is living in a stage of upheaval and transition in his life: his parents have just moved to a rather derelict house, his unnamed baby sister is drastically ill, and the house is often visited by 'Doctor Death', the doctor sent to check up on his sister. On top of this, he now has to bus for school; the previous occupant of the house was dead for a week before anyone found him, and the outside garden is a wilderness. The garage in particular is a nightmare — slumping over, filled with junk and dead creatures, and liable to fall over any second. But Michael decides to have a peek inside, and finds an amazing discovery...

What is the strange creature hidden beneath the cobwebs and the dead flies? Is it a human, a bird or something else entirely? Calling itself Skellig, the strange being seems near death, and Michael longs to help it, feeling that in some strange way its fate is wrapped up with the fa... Read More

Heroes Die: Testosterone-driven guilty pleasure

Heroes Die by Matthew Woodring Stover

Science has discovered inter-dimensional travel and the other-dimensional world of Ankhanna, which we call Overworld. And like all most discoveries, it’s not long before someone figures out how to cash in. Big corporations create the ultimate reality entertainment by sending “actors” to Overworld on adventures for the masses to experience via cyber linkups for the elite who can afford them or by just watching through good ol’ fashioned video. Harri Michaelson, as the ruthless Caine, is by far the most popular “actor” on Earth and the most famous assassin in Ankhanna.

But when his ex-wife Shanna, the actress Pallas Rill, disappears during an Overworld adventure, Caine/Harri takes on the most powerful rulers of both worlds to save her. Equally as thrilling is the strategic and social struggle Caine must face on Earth against the all powerful corporation he’s contracted to work for.... Read More

Beyond the Deep Woods: Weak start to series

Beyond the Deep Woods by Paul Stewart

Beyond the Deepwoods is the start to the long-running Edge Chronicles. This first book does what one would expect, introduces the world, the major characters, and the major conflicts, but it does so in such shallow fashion that one might be hard-pressed to consider reading on. I don't know how the rest of the series goes, but I can say that the second novel, Stormchaser, improves in many ways upon the first.

Beyond the Deepwoods, aimed obviously at a younger audience, is highly episodic, following the breakneck adventures of Twig, a young boy brought up until now by a family of trolls, as he is sent out into the woods to avoid being picked up by Skypirates. As mentioned, the book moves at breakneck speed as Twig is rushed from one crisis to another, usu... Read More

The Sterkarm Handshake: Dense, immensely complicated

The Sterkarm Handshake by Susan Price

In the 21st century an invention has finally been perfected: The Time Tube, which allows contemporary scientists, researches and corporate moneymakers to travel back into the 16th century and mingle with the locals there. Think of the possibilities! Plentiful supplies of oil, gold and coal, an extraordinary opportunity to study ancient life, and a pollution-free resort for those wealthy enough to make the trip. The corporation FUP has already purchased the troublesome borderlands between 16th century Scotland and England in order to begin development.

But there's just one problem: the Sterkarms. This warrior tribe are those that lay claim to the land, and have a reputation that has gained themselves the saying: "Never shake hands with a Sterkarm." Since all the Sterkarms are left-handed, it is easy for them to conceal a dagger in their right hands whilst shaking with their left, and as such ar... Read More

Silk: Oh, what a tangled web…

Silk by Caitlin R. Kiernan

I'm trying to remember how long ago I first read Silk. It may have been as much as ten years ago, when the book was new. I can't say for sure, but I can say that few books have stayed with me the way Silk has. Even when I'd forgotten the details of the plot, images remained: the horror of the climactic scene, the kudzu-strangled trees. A few years after reading Silk, I went on a road trip through the South, and I couldn't help but think of Spyder Baxter when I saw a clearing where the trees had been so swallowed by the kudzu, they resembled ivy-covered pillars of some ruined church.

I reread Silk in one sitting last month, on a night when I was in a melancholy mood and snow was falling hard outside. I'd forgotten that there's a freak snowstorm in Silk. Once again, I felt a str... Read More

The Black Jewels Trilogy: Joy and pain, rage and celebration


Imagine a fairy-tale heroine. You know the type: beautiful, kind, able to charm all the beasties of the forest into eating out of her hand. On the astral plane, she even has a unicorn's horn. Now imagine that she has enough magical power to move mountains. (Literally.)

You might think this is a recipe for the worst Mary Sue in the history of literature, but in Black Jewels, it works. There's a reason Jaenelle is the way she is. One of her titles is "dreams made flesh," which means that Jaenelle is the embodiment of the desperate hopes of all the downtrodden people and animals in the realms of Terreille, Kaeleer, and Hell. She is impossibly powerful because she needs to be, and because she was created to be. It also works because Jaenelle is not the point-of-view character. The story is told through the eyes of the three men w... Read More

The Sum of All Men: Original ideas

The Sum of All Men by David Farland

Gaborn Orden, the next King of Mystarria is headed to the kingdom of Heredon to ask the lovely Princess Iome for her hand in marriage. Castle Sylvarresta however is under attack by the evil Raj Ahten, the Runelord of all Runelords. With thousands of endowments taken from other men and women, he is truly a man among men, and he takes over Castle Sylvarresta without a single drop of blood being shed. Gaborn however can see through this ruthless man. Endowed with the Gift of the Earth and deemed to be the future King who will seek revenge upon Raj, Ahten Gaborn flees with the Princess and King Sylvarresta to beat Raj Ahten to the fortress where he has mistakenly hidden several thousand forcibles — the key to his power. With the power of the Earth behind him, Gaborn must turn away from the lessons he was taught as a child in order to defeat the powers of evil and he learns the lesson that all rulers must learn: ... Read More

The Wolf Tower: Personal and interactive

The Wolf Tower by Tanith Lee

The Wolf Tower (also published as The Law of the Wolf Tower) is the first of a quartet of books concerning the young woman Claidi’s series of adventures in a fantasy realm, as told and recorded by her in her journal. Her story begins in the House where she works as a slave to the spoilt Lady Jade Leaf, which Claidi recounts in the book that she's stolen from her mistress's stationary chest. She's not entirely sure what made her do such a dangerous thing, especially since there's nothing particularly interesting to write about her life — she slaves after Jade Leaf night and day, living in fear of beatings and punishments and attending the endless rituals of the rigid House.

But then something does happen: a hot air balloon is shot down over the Garden and the House guards drag back an extraordinary young man named Nemian. Claidi is at once transfixed by him, and when she is... Read More

The Gilded Chain: Musketeers on speed

The Gilded Chain by Dave Duncan

Fantasy books can be like beverages: you have your exquisitely aged wines (The Lord of the Rings, Mists of Avalon); your rich ports and liquors (the works of Guy Kay and Patricia McKillip); your searingly clear vodka (A Song of Ice and Fire); your boxed wines (The Wheel of Time, Read More

Wit’ch Fire: Fortune favours the bold

Wit'ch Fire by James Clemens

Wit'ch Fire was a genuine impulse buy. I had read no reviews nor received recommendations — I was simply in the bookshop, liked the cover and plot synopsis on the reverse, and listened to my gut. Foolhardy, perhaps, but sometimes fortune favours the bold. This time, it did.

Wit'ch Fire is the first of a series of five books by James Clemens, also known to mystery and adventure fans as James Rollins and to others as the former veterinary surgeon Jim Czajkowski — his real name. The series — his first in fantasy — is called The Banned and the Banished, and is concerned with the adventures of a young girl, Elena Morinstal. But before I begin to talk about her, the prologue and its fictional foreword deserve a mention.

... Read More

The Witches of Eileanan: Disappointing

The Witches of Eileanan by Kate Forsyth

I wanted to like The Witches of Eileanan. I'm always looking for something to read and this is a pretty long series. Unfortunately, although I tried valiantly, I couldn't even finish it. Usually, for books that I can't make it through, I give a DNF (did not finish) rating. However, there were a couple of things here that were at least refreshing, which is why the one star.

For starters there was the accent. Now, generally stories with a Celtic bent in general drive me bonkers. They never come with a pronunciation guide. And granted this did drive me bonkers at first. The accent is bound to turn some people off majorly. Even I was turned off at first. However, Forsyth, unlike many authors who attempt accents, is consistent. So much so, in fact, that I eventually fell into the flow of reading the characters' accents and no longer have a problem with it. There is not, ... Read More