2001.01


The Magicians’ Guild: A simple but engaging story of class conflict

The Magicians’ Guild by Trudi Canavan
The first installment of Trudi Canavan’s THE BLACK MAGICIAN trilogy, The Magicians’ Guild is the story of a young girl, Sonea, who discovers that she possesses magical abilities. As a lower class street girl living in the slums of the imaginary city of Imardin with her aunt and uncle, Sonea’s life has been one of destitution and hatred of the city’s snobbish upper class. Every year, the magicians of Imardin hold a Purge, during which they sweep the streets of Imardin in an attempt to eliminate beggars and vagabonds. Unsurprisingly, the masses of Imardin have never been particularly taken up with the idea, so one day, Sonea, burning with loathing of the Magicians’ Guild, throws a rock at a thaumaturge. Protected by magical shields, the magicians of Imardin never expected to be in danger of a... Read More

Animal Man: One of the most important works in comics

Animal Man, Volume 1 (Issues 1-9) by Grant Morrison (writer), Chas Truog (artist, Issues 1-8) and Tom Grummett (artist, Issue 9)

The twenty-six issue run on Animal Man by Grant Morrison is one of the most important works in comics, but it must be understood in an historical and artistic context; otherwise, someone new to comics might just flip through it and see what looks like a slightly-dated comic with artwork that isn't currently as exciting and flashy and polished and colorful as newer comics. However, this twenty-five-year old comic is of higher quality than most of what is still put out on a monthly basis a quarter-of-a-century later. Most of the high quality comics being written today and aimed toward mature, intelligent audiences were made possible by and are a direct result of the risks Morrison took in writing the issues in this first volume of Animal M... Read More

Hardcase: Nothing special here

Hardcase by Dan Simmons

Readers of Dan Simmons have been spoiled by his numerous great works: THE HYPERION CANTOSSong of Kali, and The Terror, for example, which sold well around the world and in many languages. Hardcase, unfortunately, finds Simmons returning to earth from the heights of this success. Hardcase is run-of-the-mill action — well told, but still average.

Before buying the book, I noted that many reviewers enjoyed Simmons’s delving into detective noir to tell the story of hardened private eye Joe Kurtz, who solves a mystery while trying to stay alive with killers on his trail. Having now read the book, I’m at a loss to see where the spirit of Raymond Chandler can be seen glowing in the text. Certainly some of the elements speak to the noir genre — Kurtz’s office below a porno shop, his moral position outside the law but fighting for justice, and t... Read More

The Bone Doll’s Twin: Easy to like

The Bone Doll's Twin by Lynn Flewelling

I finished listening to the audio version of The Bone Doll’s Twin, the first in Lynn Flewelling’s fantasy epic THE TAMIR TRIAD, around midnight a few days ago. Instead of going to bed, like normal people might, I immediately downloaded book two, The Hidden Warrior, and listened for a couple more hours. That’s how much I was involved in this story about a young girl who doesn’t know she’s magically hidden in the body of a boy.

Tobin, who’s really a girl, has had a difficult childhood. When he was born, his uncle, the king of Skala, was covertly killing off the royal women and girls because a prophecy says that the land must have a queen as ruler. King Erius had gained his throne through treachery and he intends to keep it. Tobin’s parents asked a magician to hide their newborn daughter, but they didn’t realize what kind of dark magic they wer... Read More

Sweep Volume 1: Light YA supernatural romance

Sweep Volume 1 (an omnibus containing Book of Shadows, The Coven and Blood Witch) by Cate Tiernan

"She's Here, and She Has Power..."

Ah, memories. I read Cate Tiernan's collection of witch-related books back in high-school, and spotting the new editions (which include three instalments to a single book between an exceptionally attractive cover), I picked them up for a trip down memory lane. They were pretty much as I remember them: told in first-person account by sixteen year old Morgan Rowlands, we follow her story as she discovers her heritage as a witch, becomes caught in a love triangle, and learns to control her newfound powers as dark forces close in on her.

Containing the first three books in the series (Book of Shadows, The Coven and Blood Wit... Read More

The Stone Mage & The Sea: Unique setting

The Stone Mage & The Sea by Sean Williams

Sal and his father have been on the run from something for as long as Sal can remember. Now they’ve come to the seaside town of Fundelry and it seems like Sal’s father may finally be giving up. Sal doesn’t know what they’ve been running from, or what happened to his mother, who left them when he was young. Most of the townsfolk are suspicious of the newcomers, but Lodo the hermit and his young apprentice Shilly take an interest in Sal. Under their tutelage, Sal learns that he has some blossoming magical powers, which might be what his father has been trying to keep concealed. He must learn to control these powers before the Sky Wardens can find him.

The Stone Mage & The Sea is the first novel in Sean Williams’ young adult series called THE CHANGE. Despite the familiar young-boy-discovers-he’s-got-a-destiny type of YA epic fanta... Read More

The Golden Age: A worthy read

The Golden Age by John C. Wright

John C. Wright's The Golden Age is a worthy read. Taking place in the far future, 10,000 years from now, it is a world where the transhuman 'singularity' has occurred long before and the population of the solar system is made up of humans of massive (and varied) intellects and powers as well as the “Sophotechs,” huge supercomputers of intellectual capacity to dwarf even their superhuman creators who make sure that the society of humanity does not lack for anything except perhaps risk and adventure, “deeds of renown without peer” as the main character would have it.

This main character is Phaeton, the aptly named son of Helion. His father is one of the seven peers who are the richest and most powerful men in the richest and most powerful age that humanity has ever known. Something does not sit well with Phaeton though, even in this golden age of peace and prosperity... Read More

ARABESK: How to get the reader to suspend disbelief

ARABESK: Pashazade, Effendi and Felaheen
In this review, I’m going to write about the willing suspension of disbelief. Perhaps more precisely, I’m writing about the intersection of world-building and the willing suspension of disbelief. Enter Jon Courtenay Grimwood and the ARABESK trilogy: Pashazade, Effendi and Felaheen.

In Grimwood’s world, the Ottoman Empire never collapsed. Woodrow Wilson brokered peace between London and Berlin in 1915, World War II never happened, and the major world powers seem to be Germany, France, the USA and the Empire. This alternate timeline stretches a few decades beyond current time, but in terms of fashion and technology, there’s nothing the science fiction reader won’t recognize. It’s the social, political and economic things that are different, and ... Read More

City of Saints and Madmen: A long strange trip

City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff VanderMeer

What a long strange trip City of Saints and Madmen is! Jeff VanderMeer’s first book about the city of Ambergris is a tour de force of imagination and style.

It’s a hard book to review, though. First of all, what is it? It’s not a novel. Is it a collection of short stories? Maybe, although some of the pieces included in City of Saints and Madmen are not stories, and in some cases, the stories seep in around the edges of the prose. Some of the prose pieces here are straightforward, be they fantasy or outright horror; some of the stories delight by imitating secret manuscripts hidden in other documents.

Swirling through all of this are images of the beautiful and sinister city, Ambergris, built on the shores of the river Moth; Ambergris, with its religious quarter and its battling religions, its large... Read More

Pure Dead Magic: Silly with a streak of black humor

Pure Dead Magic by Deb Gliori

Titus and his sister Pandora have another new nanny. It’s hard to keep nannies around the Strega-Borgia mansion, but despite the siblings’ best efforts to scare off the latest applicant, Mrs. McLachlan is undaunted. She’ll be taking care of the kids and their scary pets because their dad, Signor Luciano Strega-Borgia, has abandoned the family and their mom, Signora Baci Strega-Borgia, has started witch school.

The Strega-Borgia kids soon turn their attention to more difficult issues when their baby sister Damp is accidentally shrunken and uploaded into the World Wide Web. Soon after, a group of assassins hired by the mafia shows up at their house. Can Titus and Pandora get Damp back and defeat the killers, too?

Pure Dead Magic is the first in a series of children’s fantasy novels by Debi Gliori. It’s dark, zany, and over the top. Inside you... Read More

The Fire Within: Charmingly whimsical

The Fire Within by Chris d'Lacey

The Fire Within is the opening book of Chris d’Lacey’s Last Dragon Chronicles. Interestingly enough, despite the series’ title, and the dragon on the cover, there are surprisingly few dragons in the book. In fact, one could make an argument that the dominant creatures are squirrels. Yes, squirrels. But somehow, it works (dragons play a much larger role in succeeding books).

The novel begins when David, a college student, takes a room with the Pennykettles — mother Liz and young daughter Lucy. Liz makes clay dragons in her upstairs studio, called the Dragon Den, and the house is filled with them. David finds the pair a bit odd, especially the way they speak of the dragons as if they were alive. When Liz makes David a special dragon, Gadzooks, which she claims will help him with his wri... Read More

The Silver Horn: Unoriginal with shallow characters

The Silver Horn by Cherith Baldry

Vair, a young pine marten, talks his mom and dad into taking the family to the fair in Watersmeet, but on the way, a group of bandits led by Ragnar, a silver fox, attack them and press Vair into their service. Vair soon discovers that these bandits are working for the evil Lord Owl who plans to take over the whole country. The Lord Owl wants Ragnar’s bandits to find the legendary and powerful Silver Horn in Watersmeet. Can Vair find his family and stop the evil Owl’s plans?

Cherith Baldry’s The Silver Horn is the first book in her Eaglesmount trilogy, an anthropomorphic fantasy for children. I’m not a huge fan of anthropomorphic tales because I can’t suspend disbelief well enough to feel comfortable with animals with paws holding swords and beer mugs or animals without the proper vocal apparatus sp... Read More

Shadow: Immerse yourself in the world of an amnesiac

Shadow by K.J. Parker

Shadow by K.J. Parker is a difficult book to recommend because I highly enjoyed it, but I can also understand why many readers might hate it or be unable to finish it. It’s a unique book.

Shadow opens with the protagonist waking up surrounded by dead bodies and having no memory of who he is. He goes from one odd situation to another trying to make some sort of life for himself while trying to find out who he is and where he fits in the world. This may seem to be a rather cliché plot, but Parker keeps the reader just as clueless as the protagonist is through most of Shadow, so the reader gleans bits and pieces of the world, culture, and custom at the same rate as the protagonist does. Parker does this artfully, with a finesse that adds much-needed layers to the world.

However, this is why readers w... Read More

Rowan Hood: Feels like an appetizer

Rowan Hood by Nancy Springer

Thirteen year old Rosemary returns home from gathering herbs to find her home burnt to the ground and her mother dead. Not willing to try her luck in a town or on an estate, she decides to disguise herself as a boy and travel to Sherwood Forest in order to find her father: Robin Hood. Rosemary has never met or even seen her father, who is already a famous hero in ballads across England. Unsure why he left her mother or even if he wants a daughter, Rosemary cuts her hair, dons boy's clothes and starts calling herself Rowan.

She makes several new friends on the journey to her father: a dog/wolf hybrid that can catch arrows in the air, a simple-minded giant with a gift for music, and a runaway princess who willingly chooses life in the wilderness over an arranged marriage. When she finally runs into Robin Hood, she decides to keep her paternity a secret as she assesses the man behind the legend and how he... Read More

Once Upon a Winter’s Night: We don’t need this anymore

Once Upon a Winter’s Night by Dennis L. McKiernan

have a thing for retold fairy tales. There was a time when I had even more of a thing for retold fairy tales. I was obsessed. I combed bookstores for anything claiming to be a retelling of this or that. I was especially interested in treatments of the lesser-known tales, and one of those lesser-known tales was “East o’ the Sun and West o’ the Moon.”

When I learned of Once Upon a Winter’s Night, I was ecstatic. I hadn’t stumbled across any other retellings of “East o’ the Sun” and I bought this novel eagerly. I remember enjoying it at the time. It wasn’t incredibly deep, adding length but no new layers to the tale, but I thought it was sweet and fun for the most part. Yet it left a vague, unpleasant taste in my mouth that I couldn’t quite define at the time.

I can define it now. Sexism. Here are a few highlights:
... Read More

The DragonCrown War Cycle: Fanboy fantasy at its very worst

THE DRAGONCROWN WAR CYCLE by Michael A. Stackpole


I enjoyed The Dark Glory War, the prequel to The Dragoncrown War Cycle trilogy, a fair amount. That being said, the story took a steady downhill slide from there.

It is pure fanboy fantasy, and at its very worst. These heroes have all the personality of mud. The men are all “humble” and act completely shocked to find themselves in the roles of heroes. And the women are downright offensive. These strong, proud, independent women, who turn into docile, eager-to-please slaves when their men look at them. They fall in love with the male protagonists, even though they hardly know them, and the males have few qualities worth falling in love with as it is.
The “heroes” of the books are always going on in the vein of “We're heroes, because...” as though they're try... Read More

The Eyes of God: Big fantasy beefsteak, not fully cooked

The Eyes of God by John Marco

The Eyes of God is a sprawling, medieval fantasy novel. The seed for the next book (The Devil's Armor) is planted well in the first, and I hope more of the good than the bad from the first book carries over.

The Eyes of God consists of three parts. (And before that, a beautiful cover — one of its very best features.) The first is basically a rehashing of Camelot's love triangle. The book does open very well indeed with excellent, fresh introductions of the scholarly King Akeela the Good; his handsome champion, Lukien the Bronze Knight; and his new bride, Cassandra, the beautiful seal on a peace treaty. However, even with the twist of Cassandra's mysterious illness and Lukien's quest to heal her, the first part fails to escape Camelot's shadow — it simply starts too squarely within it.

The second part begin... Read More

Artemis Fowl: A flashy, funny little explosion of a book

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

Artemis Fowl is a fast-paced blend of 21st century technology and ancient fairy magic, written by Irishman Eoin Colfer for young enthusiasts of science-fiction and fantasy. The plot is straightforward: Artemis, a 12-year-old genius and the son of the missing overlord of a criminal dynasty, concocts a scheme to acquire the little golden book of fairy lore and, using its secrets, hold a fairy hostage for an enormous ransom. The only thing is, Colfer's fairies aren't delicate little Tinkerbell-types; rather, they boast an elite "LEP-Recon" unit of laser-toting, time-stopping commandos. Can Artemis and his highly trained bodyguard Butler hold off their assault/rescue attempt and claim a fortune in fairy gold?

Colfer's yarn moves quickly, and cleverly reimagines the 'little people' for the 21st century. It also has more than its sha... Read More

Way of the Wolf: A strange mix that works well

Way of the Wolf by E.E. Knight

Post-apocalyptic science fiction is one of my favorite sub-genres. Finding a good fantasy equivalent can sometimes be difficult, as it usually gets classified as science fiction. E.E. Knight’s Way of the Wolf has vampires and magic, and clearly falls into the category of fantasy. It also is about a post-nuclear United States with aliens, and scattered communities of humanity fighting for survival. It’s a strange mix, but it all works out well.

In the 2020’s a series of natural disasters struck earth, followed by a disease that caused the infected to go insane and die. The population of the earth was decimated. Shortly after these events, the Kurians, a race of magical beings, appeared and assumed control over the planet. The Kurians feed off the life force of humans (and others), and they use a group of really tough critters (Reapers) to do their colle... Read More

The Pillars of the World: Not appealing

The Pillars of the World by Anne Bishop

I loved Anne Bishop's Black Jewels Trilogy so much. But it took me a long time to pick up The Pillars of the World, because it just didn't sound terribly appealing.

And it wasn't appealing in the least. The one character I did like was portrayed as a cold, possessive jerk by the end of the book. The mysterious Lucien is shunted aside for the "sweet" Neall who has about as much depth as a puddle. And Ari, as a heroine, is a joke. There was nothing to like about her at all.

The Fae storyline was tragically typical. They're arrogant and uncaring, so now their world is disappearing. Can't we have some Fae that aren't high and mighty? The only thing truly interesting about them was their positions which coincided with gods of ancient Greek and Roman myth, and their ability to... Read More

Honored Enemy & Murder in LaMut

Honored Enemy & Murder in LaMut by Raymond E. Feist, William R. Forstchen & Joel Rosenberg

Raymond E. Feist has always been notable for his willingness to share the world of Midkemia. In all his acknowledgments and dedications, Feist notes that from its very inception the world has been a collaborative effort. His Empire trilogy was a collaboration with Janny Wurts, and the computer game Betrayal at Krondor had to be shared, by its very nature. He has returned to the tradition of collaborative effort in his Legends of the Riftwar series.

Taking... Read More

Dead Until Dark: Sookie Stackhouse is a delight!

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

Charles de Lint said once that the current urban-fantasy novels are highly focused on character, and that readers like or dislike a series based on whether they connect with the protagonist. (I wish I could find that quote!) Based on this, I'm not surprised that Charlaine Harris has, as I write this review, the top three best-selling fantasy titles on Amazon. Disclaimer: I've only read this first book so far, and haven’t seen the TV series. But from what I've seen, Sookie Stackhouse is a delight.

Sookie is a Louisiana waitress with telepathic abilities. She sees her telepathy as a disability, not a gift; it's brought her a lot of trouble over the years and hampered her social life and love life. Other than the telepathy, though, she's a fairly normal woman.... Read More

Ill Met by Moonlight: Amusing Shakespearean fantasy

Ill Met by Moonlight by Sarah A. Hoyt

Quicksilver is a faery version of Prince Hamlet. He is the rightful ruler of his people, but his inheritance has been usurped by his murderous brother. He can only wreak revenge and claim his birthright with the help of a mortal, and Will Shakespeare seems like just the man for the job. Luckily, Quicksilver has a gender-shifting talent, and Will is much intrigued by Q's female aspect...

Will has an agenda as well; his wife has been kidnapped by the aforementioned usurping king, to be a nurse to the king's daughter. Worse, the king eventually plans to make Anne his new queen. Will must save Anne from the faery kingdom before it's too late.

Ill Met by Moonlight (2001) is an amusing romp consisting of a generous helping of Hamlet, set in the world of A Midsummer Night's Dream, spiced up with fairy-nurse ... Read More

Mortal Engines: A new brand of fantasy for the 21st century

Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

In the years beyond the 30th century, after life as we know it is destroyed in the Sixty Minutes War, the world is divided into three: the Static communities, who live in farms and buildings firmly stationed on the earth, the aviators, who travel the Bird Roads in the sky, and the Traction Cities, the giant cities on engineered wheels who live by the Municipal Darwinism — the big cities devour the little cities for their resources. And the biggest Traction City of them all is London, on the move for larger hunting grounds and more resources.

Living in London are two very different young people — Tom, a Third Class Apprentice in the History Guild, and Katherine, an upper class noble daughter of the famed archeologist Thaddeus Valentine, whom both of them adore for his bravery and exciting exploits. Yet after London destroys the small town of Salthook whilst the three of them are touring the Gut (t... Read More

Yesterday’s Dreams: Celtic myth, women’s empowerment

Yesterday's Dreams by Danielle Ackley-McPhail

Danielle Ackley-McPhail’s novel Yesterday’s Dreams is an interesting mix of Celtic myth, women’s empowerment literature, and urban fantasy. The story is about Kara O’Keefe, a gifted violinist who, through unfortunate circumstance, is forced to pawn her most prized possession, her violin. In doing so, she comes across an unusual pawnshop, called Yesterday’s Dreams, with a caring and kind proprietor who gets Kara out of her jam. But unbeknownst to Kara, this pawnshop and its proprietor are unique in magical and mystical ways. This leads into an adventure that will have Kara relying on a dead man she has never met and fighting against an evil magician.

Ackley-McPhail knows her Celtic mythology. The story, though set in a modern period, is imbued with all the details and richness that readers expect from Celtic lore. Wri... Read More