Spindle’s End: A light, sweet, unhurried fantasy

Reposting to include Tadiana's review.

Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley

Spindle’s End (2000) is Robin McKinley’s delightful and very loose retelling of the Sleeping Beauty (Little Briar Rose) fairy tale.

On the princess’s naming day, a bad fairy declares a curse, stating that, on her 21st birthday, the princess will prick her finger on a spindle and die. In an attempt to thwart the curse, a good fairy named Katriona takes the princess to live with her aunt in a swampy region called Foggy Bottom. There, without any knowledge of her true heritage, Rosie grows up happily with human and animal companions while her mother, the Queen, pines for her lost daughter.

After the opening scenes in which the princess is cursed, Spindles’ End Read More

American Gods: Mixed opinions

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

This is a bad land for Gods... The old gods are ignored. The new gods are as quickly taken up as they are abandoned, cast aside for the next big thing. Either you've been forgotten, or you're scared you're going to be rendered obsolete, or maybe you're just getting tired of existing on the whims of people.

Shadow, just out of prison and with nothing to go home to, is hired to be Mr. Wednesday's bodyguard as he travels around America to warn all the other incarnations of gods, legends, and myths, that “a storm is coming.” There's going to be a battle between the old gods who were brought to melting pot America by their faithful followers generations ago, and the new gods of technology, convenience, and individuality.

That's the premise of Neil Gaiman's American Gods and it's just crackling with promise! But... Read More

The Perseids and Other Stories: Strange nights in Toronto

The Perseids and Other Stories by Robert Charles Wilson

I’m mostly a sceptic of both short stories and short story collections. When reading short science fiction, I can’t help thinking that if the premise were truly worthwhile, the author would have developed it into a novel — or at least a novella. I’m perhaps revealing my own limitations rather than my preferences. Still, I’ve found that the most common descriptions of short story collections are “mixed bag” or “some are duds.” And because every word counts so much more in shorts, the prose too often is so much more… overwrought. Ironic or not, considering that science fiction is often carried by an interesting premise rather than interesting characters, some part of me still insists that its best ideas be delivered as novels.

So I was pleased to realize that Robert ... Read More

Batman: Dark Victory by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale

Batman: Dark Victory by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale

Batman: Dark Victory (2000) takes place immediately after Batman: The Long Halloween (1997). In the aftermath of the Holiday Killer, Gotham’s Falcone and Maroni crime families are in chaos. Dark Victory is steeped in the same dark crime noir atmosphere as Long Halloween, so if you liked the first title you will like this one too. It’s all about mysterious killings, Mafia wars, the rise of the arch-villians, and the legacy of the past that weighs heavily on Batman and his friends and enemies. Everyone is struggling with a difficult past, and circumstances ... Read More

The Blind Assassin: Stories within stories within stories

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

A provincial Canadian town in the 1920s doesn’t automatically scream sci-fi to most readers. But that is the beauty of Margaret Atwood’s tenth novel, The Blind Assassin (2000). She weaves a sprawling, post-war tale with pulp science-fiction stories that have readers leaping between Port Ticonderoga and Planet Zycron. It doesn’t sound like it should work, but the story is only made richer by these contrasting worlds.

The novel opens with Iris Chase recalling that her sister drove a car off a bridge. Iris is now eighty-three, and so begins the first of three story threads in The Blind Assassin: her tale of her present-day life as an old woman haunted by her past, and the need she feels to record her history truthfully. Iris then returns to the beg... Read More

Galveston: May be Sean Stewart’s best novel

Galveston by Sean Stewart

This may be Sean Stewart's best novel, though it is not my favourite. Here we see Stewart displaying full mastery of his prose, his characterization, and his depiction of a fully realized magical world. Be warned though, neither the characters, nor the world presented, are always pleasant to behold.

We follow the story of Josh Cane, a young man with a chip on his shoulder due to the constrained circumstances of his life that are the result of his father's loss of a pivotal game of poker. Add to this the fact that Josh lives in a world after the occurrence of a magical apocalypse wherein everyone has to work hard to survive, not only due to their physical circumstances, but also due to the perilous proximity of the magical Otherworld, and you have the makings of a pretty downbeat story. Stewart himself has described this book as: "...your Basic "Boy Meets Girl, Boy Loses Everything, Girl becomes her Own Evil Twin, Boy... Read More

Sherwood: An attractive and interesting collection

Sherwood by Jane Yolen

Sherwood is a collection of eight short stories all based around the legends of Robin Hood. Edited by long-time Hood aficionado Jane Yolen, most of the stories centre on original or minor characters that are in some way related to Robin and his Merry Men. Judging by the "About the Authors" segment at the back of the book, all the contributors have had previous writing experience in both the fantasy and the medievalist period, with works such as Nancy Springer’s I Am Mordred, Yolen’s The Young Merlin Trilogy and Mary Frances Zambreno’s A Plague of Sorcerers to their name. As such, each one certainly seems qualified to add to the ever-growing mass of Robin Hood-related stories, and the ... Read More

Navohar: Too many first-timer’s typical poor choices

Navohar by Hilari Bell

You might have a hard time swallowing much of Navohar, the debut of Denver author Hilari Bell. But Bell produces easygoing, accessible writing that gives her book a degree of light-reading appeal. If only the whole affair weren't so pat and predictable.

Navohar is set towards the end of this century, after the people of Earth have thwarted an invasion by ruthless slave-trading aliens by knocking them out H.G. Wells-style with a horrid genetically-engineered virus. Tragically, this backfires, infecting human DNA as well and causing nearly an entire generation of kids to grow up with an incurably fatal genetic condition.

The people of Earth now live a fearful existence beneath domes, while a stalwart few venture out into the cosmos in an attempt to reconnect with the few human colonies that escaped the... Read More

The Snow Queen: Enchanting short YA

The Snow Queen by Eileen Kernaghan

The Snow Queen arrived on my doorstep on an unseasonably cold March day. I grabbed a blanket, curled up in my favorite chair, and read the book in a matter of a few hours. The Snow Queen is a short novel, a single-sitting book if you’re a fast reader like me, yet more enchanting than many longer works. Nothing is superfluous here; Eileen Kernaghan tells the story she has come to tell — a mythic reworking of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale of the same name — and that's it.

The enchantment begins with the lovely cover, graced with an illustration drawn from a 1913 book of fairy tales. Then, in the first paragraph, I was taken back to my childhood storybooks as Gerda and Kai sat among the flowerboxes, conversing across the narrow space between their townhouses. The setting is homey and familiar, both to the characters an... Read More

White as Snow: A dark, richly archetypal novel

White as Snow by Tanith Lee

A maiden is kidnapped. Her mother searches for her, disguised as an old beggar woman. A deadly fruit is eaten. The maiden dies, but not necessarily for good...

Depending on how you flesh out the rest of the tale, this could either be the Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone, or the fairy tale "Snow White." Tanith Lee weaves the two together in White as Snow until it's hard to tell where one begins and the other ends. The myth and the fairy tale fit together well in Lee's hands; the book follows both storylines and made me realize just how much symbolism the two stories have in common in the first place. It is a testament to Lee's skill that after reading the book, I began to seriously wonder whether the fairy tale truly is a corrupted version of the myth, distorted over the centuries. Whether there is any real conne... Read More

The Tower at Stony Wood: Not her best work

The Tower at Stony Wood by Patricia McKillip

Patricia McKillip is one of the most unique fantasy writers out there, blending echoes of ancient stories in with intricate and elegant poetic-prose that may surprise those new to her writing style. I must admit that her work is an acquired taste, it took me a few tries to fully understand and appreciate her work; to grasp the story underneath the many-layered poetic language that she invokes.

The Tower at Stony Wood is no exception to this style, so if you are a first-time reader to McKillip, and find this book incomprehensible; don't give up — try another of her books and you'll most likely become attuned to her way of writing and become as big a fan as I am. In this case, McKillip borrows two ideas from Celtic folklore: the legend of the selkies, half-seal, half-fish women that sometimes abandon the seas to live on the earth, and the famous image of "The L... Read More

The Redemption of Althalus

The Redemption of Althalus by David & Leigh Eddings

The Redemption of Althalus was almost as bad as Domes of Fire. I read it because I thought that maybe David & Leigh Eddings got better. Unfortunately, it was more of the same. That’s the end of my review. Otherwise, I’ll just be repeating myself.

The Redemption of Althalus — (2000) Publisher: It would be sheer folly to try to conceal the true nature of Althalus, for his flaws are the stuff of legend. He is, as all men know, a thief, a liar, an occasional murderer, an outrageous braggart, and a man devoid of even the slightest hint of honor. Yet of all the men in the world, it is Althalus, unrepentant rogue and scoundrel, who will become the champion of humanity in its desperate struggle against the forces of an ancient god determined to return th... Read More

Where Have the Unicorns Gone?

Where Have the Unicorns Gone? by Jane Yolen and Ruth Sanderson

Most people are struck by the idea of the unicorn: its imagery, its meaning and its origins. Unfortunately in present times the striking and semi-dangerous idea of a horned, goat-legged, lion-tailed creature has been reduced to a sugary-sweet horsey (usually portrayed in various shades of pink or purple).

Jane Yolen and Ruth Sanderson attempt to answer the question of Where Have The Unicorns Gone? The most popular story of where these creatures went to is found within the children's song, which tells how the unicorns were too proud to enter Noah's Ark and subsequently died. Legend tells that they went on to become the horned narwhal of the Arctic Seas.

Yolen and Sanderson keep the motif of the sea, but bring in a more contemporary theme of pollution and environmental destruction. For this reason... Read More

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is not just for aspiring writers or Stephen King fans. I'm neither, but I was completely entertained by On Writing. The first half of the book is Stephen King's autobiography of his first 50 years of life. He talks about his family, his childhood adventures with his brother, his relationship with his wife, some of the inspiration and research for his stories, how his alcohol and drug abuse affected his writing, and his accident with the van in 1999. This was interesting, informative, and very funny in parts. I listened to On Writing in audio format and it was read by Stephen King himself, which added poignancy to the narration.

The second part of On Writing contains some short lessons about what makes good writing and a look into some of King's p... Read More

Adventures in the Dream Trade: Rare Neil Gaiman

Adventures in the Dream Trade by Neil Gaiman

When I first saw Adventures in the Dream Trade, I was genuinely surprised because I never knew it existed. I found it in a specialty bookstore, and was going for a relatively high selling price. Still, thinking that it was a rare Neil Gaiman book, I shelled out the cash for it and I did find out it really was a rare Neil Gaiman book due to its small print-run. And anyone who's read it will know why.

Adventures in the Dream Trade collects various introductions and essays by Gaiman, a few poems, songs, really short fiction (the equivalent tern would be fast-food fiction), and several months worth of blog entries tackling the publication of American Gods. Why do I mention this? Because it shows you who should buy this book. Adventures in the Dream Trade doesn't really have a huge, encomp... Read More