The Tower of Fools: Historical fantasy by the author of THE WITCHER

The Tower of Fools by Andrzej Sapkowski

Fans of THE WITCHER will be happy to see that another of Andrzej Sapkowski’s works has been translated into English. The Tower of Fools, the first in his HUSSITE TRILOGY, was published in Polish in 2002 (Polish title: Narrenturm), then other Eastern European languages, and has this year been translated into English by David French (translator of THE WITCHER) and published by Orbit (US) and Gollancz (UK).

The HUSSITE TRILOGY is a historical fantasy set in the time of the Hussite Revolution (the Bohemian Reformation) of the early 15th century. For those not as familiar with these hist... Read More

B.P.R.D. (Vol. 1): Hollow Earth and Other Stories: Abe takes the lead without Hellboy

B.P.R.D. (Vol. 1): Hollow Earth and Other Stories by Mike Mignola (writer) & various writers and artists

The first story in this collection, “Hollow Earth,” starts off in the Ural Mountains above the arctic circle where Liz Sherman is seeking help in a monastery as she hopes to learn how to control the fire within her. At headquarters we meet Kraus, whose origin story we get in B.P.R.D.: Being Human. He has just joined the bureau and moved in to make his home at headquarters since he can’t pass as human in the outside world. Kraus joins the B.P.R.D. at a crucial time: Hellboy has quit, Liz still hasn’t returned from the monastery, and Abe and Roger are threatening to leave the bureau. When Liz contacts Abe through paranormal means, she begs him for help, so before Abe can leave the bureau, he and Roger find themselves on a plane heading to the Ural Mountains. Kraus joins them on his first semi-official case ... Read More

The Skinner: Survival of the fittest

The Skinner by Neal Asher

Neal Asher’s 2002 The Skinner follows closely on the heels of Gridlinked’s success and is the first in a sub-series of the POLITY called SPATTERJAY. The novel is part horror, part fantasy, part science fiction, and its main character may be the water world Spatterjay itself, filled with vividly imaginative, exotic (and hungry) forms of indigenous life. The Skinner, Asher’s second published novel, improves upon the first and gives lovers of action/adventure sci-fi hope that a new voice is emerging.

At its core, The Skinner is the tale of four characters, though a handful more round out the cast. Erlin Tazer is a xenobiologist who is looking not only for an old lover, but some excitement in life. Spatterjay exists beyond the line of polity, i.e. the tamed part... Read More

Hawaiian Dick Vol. I: Byrd of Paradise by B. Clay Moore and Steven Griffin

Hawaiian Dick Vol. I: Byrd of Paradise by B. Clay Moore and Steven Griffin (An Oxford College Student Review!)

In this column, I feature comic book reviews written by my students at Oxford College of Emory University. Oxford College is a small liberal arts school just outside of Atlanta, Georgia. I challenge students to read and interpret comics because I believe sequential art and visual literacy are essential parts of education at any level (see my Manifesto!). I post the best of my students’ reviews in this column. Today, I am proud to present a review by Vivian Fu:

Vivian is a freshman at Oxford College of Emory and is aiming to pursue a PhD in psychology. She is from Hsinchu, Taiwan, and she came to the States for education at the age of fourteen. In the future, she wishes to become a family t... Read More

Abarat: A wild ride, a long way to go

Abarat by Clive Barker

Clive Barker began writing THE BOOKS OF ABARAT series after painting a number of images inspired by dreams. The first book, Abarat, certainly possesses a dreamy, wonderland quality. I felt curiously aware throughout that I had entered a rather indulgent flight of Barker's imagination. I didn't buy the illustrated version of Abarat, (because, I admit, I didn't know anything about it) but if I could go back I probably would. It's a funny one because I usually like to make up my own mind about how an imaginary place looks. I get worried by detailed front covers as I suspect they are trying to plant images in my mind (and woe-behold any book with a television actress on the front). But when an author starts with a painting, his own painting no less, it seems only fair to ... Read More

Dragon Bones: Despite falling short at times, still an entertaining read

Dragons Bones by Patricia Briggs

Dragon Bones is the first book in Patricia Briggs’ HUROG duology. Ward, our main character, has lived the past seven years of his life playing the role of a simpleton, ever since his father nearly beat him to death. His pretending has kept him alive all these years, but when his father dies in a hunting accident Ward is suddenly declared the heir of Hurog. He now has to convince his remaining family and friends that he has what it takes to rule Hurog, while also keeping his eyes on the threat posed by his uncle, who he isn’t sure he can trust.

Although I’m a big fan of Briggs’ MERCY THOMPSON books, I often find myself wishing she would return to the high fantasy novels she produced earlier in her writing career. Dragon Bones and its sequel aren’t my favorite of her earlier works (in my opinion the later... Read More

The Tarot Café (Volume 1) by Sang-Sun Park

The Tarot Café (Volume 1) by Sang-Sun Park

The Tarot Café (Volume 1) by Sang-Sun Park is a light manhwa that is a pleasant read, particularly if the reader has any interest in Tarot cards. The story is straight-forward: Pamela, the owner of the Tarot Café, is a psychic who provides readings during the day for the regular clientele one would expect to seek out psychic help. However, at night she assists an unusual set of customers, including in this first volume a Cat, a... Read More

Across The Nightingale Floor: So much more than advertised

Across The Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn

The tagline stamped across the cover of Lian Hearn’s Across the Nightingale Floor is ‘One boy. One journey. One hidden destiny.’ Not only is this toe-curlingly clichéd, but it’s also pretty deceptive. It’s too reductive, too suggestive of the bog standard hero’s journey every fantasy fan has seen a million times. The book’s plot is complicated and surprising; its backdrop of a political feudal system riveting; the delicate Japanese-style landscape and customs are intricate. Across the Nightingale Floor, the first book in Lian Hearn’s TALES OF THE OTORI, is so much more than one boy, one journey, one hidden destiny. It’s fantasy at its finest and characters at their richest.

The story is introduced by Tomasu, our rather serious protagonist, who narrates the sacking of his village. He ma... Read More

Fables: Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham

Fables (Vol. 1): Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham (author) and Lan Medina (artist)

Snow White is having a rough week. It is only a few days away from Rememberance Day, Fabletown’s big celebration and fund-raiser. As the deputy mayor, she is in charge of the event. The Beast, of Beauty and the Beast, is reverting to his non-human form, and she must decide if he will be exiled from New York City and sent upstate to the “farm,” where the non-human immigrants from her home reality live. Her ex, the smarmy, philandering Prince Charming, is back in town. Now, Fabletown’s sheriff, Bigby Wolf, brings her bad news about her sister. Rose Red’s apartment is dripping with blood – Red’s blood – and she is missing.

Leg... Read More

The Merchant of Death: Perfect for a 14 year old boy

The Merchant of Death by D.J. MacHale

Bobby Pendragon is a normal middle-school kid and life is good. He’s the most valuable player on the basketball team and he’s just found out that Courtney, the girl he’s had a crush on for years, has a crush on him, too! Life could not be better... until Uncle Press arrives while Bobby is kissing Courtney and drags Bobby away to a medieval world where some oppressed people need Bobby’s help. For Bobby has special powers and: A Destiny! When Bobby disappears, Courtney and Mark, Bobby’s best friend, get worried and start investigating. They can’t find Bobby, but they do receive a letter from him which details all that’s happening to Bobby in Denduron.

The Merchant of Death is the first novel in D.J. MacHale’s young adult PENDRAGON series. It’s fast-paced and exciting, it has a likable teenage boy for a hero, there are monsters... Read More

Undead and Unwed: Cute and entertaining paranormal romance

Undead and Unwed by MaryJanice Davidson

Betsy Taylor is having a rough week. First she gets fired, then she gets hit by a car, and then she wakes up in a coffin lined with plush pink satin (yuck!) wearing an unfashionable dress, cheap shoes, and the wrong color make-up. How embarrassing! After piecing together the clues and visiting a minister, Betsy realizes that she’s a very unusual vampire — she’s not affected by crosses, holy water, or sunlight. She does, however, need to drink blood.

Betsy is determined to make the most of her death by getting back to her normal life, but she soon discovers that the other vampires in town have expectations of her. Though she tries to stay clear of them, they will not let her rest in peace, and she ends up in the middle of a vampire clan war.

I thought that Undead and Unwed was totally not my kind of book. I don’t like sarcastic female protagoni... Read More

Hominids: What if Neanderthals survived on a parallel Earth?

Hominids by Robert J. Sawyer

What would it be like if Neanderthals had become the dominant race of humans on the planet? Hominids by Robert J. Sawyer explores that very idea. This book follows a brilliant Neanderthal physicist named Ponter Boddet. Ponter and his partner, while working on experimental quantum computers, accidently open a bridge between universes. The bridge leads to the world we (Homo sapiens sapiens) currently reside in. Ponter fell into our world accidently and has now become stranded here.

Robert J. Sawyer is a master at taking an interesting thought experiment and turning it into a full-length novel. What would a Neanderthal world be like? What would a modern Neanderthal do if he were dropped into our world? It’s fascinating to think about. Sawyer answers those questions in a thoughtful, heavily researched, and entertaining manner.

Ponter Bodd... Read More

Rules of Ascension: A pleasant surprise

Rules of Ascension by David B. Coe

I picked up Rules of Ascension randomly from the library. I was wandering around the shelves and saw the guy on the cover and thought, “huh, he’s oddly white…” This sealed the deal. I had to learn more about the abnormally white guy on the cover (isn’t my thought process fascinating?). It was rather exciting to pick up a book I had never heard of and knew nothing about. The experience paid off. I didn’t have high hopes for this book, but it ended up pleasantly surprising me.

David B. Coe takes his time setting up a rich and intricate world. For the first third of Rules of Ascension, this attention to detail and world building can be tedious and is almost a hindrance to the overall plot rather than a boon. There are no real sides to the conflict, and furthermore the reader spends much of this part of the book wonderi... Read More

Light: I feel drained

Light by M. John Harrison

Michael Kearney is a physicist. He’s also a serial killer. Obsessed with numbers and patterns since he was three, he sees something behind them. Something is there, something dark and ominous that starts to emerge sometimes. He calls it the Shrander and the only way to hold it back is to kill someone. Trying to appease the Shrander, Michael uses Tarot cards and a special pair of bone dice to try to figure out what he’s supposed to do next. He’s also teamed up with a colleague named Brian Tate to study the relationship between mathematics and prophecy.

Three hundred years later, explorers are using the “Tate-Kearney transformations” to navigate the space phenomenon they call the Kefahuchi (K) Tract where ancient alien races have left artifacts from their advanced civilizations. One of these explorers is Seria Mau, who was molested by her father and escaped by transferring her consciousness to a K... Read More

The Dragon DelaSangre: Troop can’t quite pull it off

The Dragon DelaSangre by Alan F. Troop

Peter DelaSangre is a dragon. Yes, he looks human; that’s because dragons are shapeshifters. And he appreciates a lot about the human race, including such things as television, music, and women — but he probably appreciates the way they taste most of all. Because for dragons, humans are prey, and nothing else will really do, at least not in the long run.

Alan F. Troop’s protagonist in his first novel, The Dragon DelaSangre, is therefore not a likeable character. It’s quite a challenge for a first-time novelist to make the bad guy his first-person narrator. Troop can’t quite pull it off, though it has to be granted that The Dragon DelaSangre is a unique approach to dragons. These are not Anne McCaffrey’s useful dragons, nor ... Read More

The Fifth Sorceress: Clutters rackspace

The Fifth Sorceress by Robert Newcomb

This ambitious debut novel is set in a realm in which two kingdoms are divided by an impassable sea. Over 300 years prior to the story's opening, a vicious war led to the exile of a coven of evil sorceresses whose lust for power would have led to the utter destruction of peaceful Eutracia had it not been for the intervention of the noble Directorate of Wizards. The book's startlingly blunt sexual politics, in which the heroes are all male and the villains female, is only one of its dubious qualities. Robert Newcomb has delivered a first novel that, while competently written, ends up little more than an amalgam of fourth-hand ideas borrowed from better books.

In The Fifth Sorceress we have, once again, a reluctant protagonist prophesied as the "Chosen One" who must face Overwhelming Evil in a battle to the finish with the guidance of his own personal G... Read More

Fires of the Faithful: Sad, frightening, stirring

Fires of the Faithful by Naomi Kritzer

Eliana’s music-conservatory education is uneventful until Mira and the new song arrive. Mira is her new roommate; Eliana is drawn to her but suspects she is lying about her past. The song — a catchy little ditty about a murderous stepmother –may actually be a cover for a controversial idea. Then the inquisitors of the Fedeli show up at the conservatory, looking for heretics. Eliana is shocked and angered when a friend is executed —— and shocked again when she learns the secret cause behind a famine that has been plaguing the land.

Fires of the Faithful is set in an alternate Italy of roughly the Renaissance period. It follows Eliana as she leaves the conservatory behind, travels through the devastated countryside, and eventually becomes a rebel leader. A music student may seem like an unlikely revolutionary, but Naomi Kritzer shows how her peasant common se... Read More

The Gates of Rome: A fast-paced adventure

The Gates of Rome by Conn Iggulden

I was surprised to discover that Conn Iggulden’s The Gates of Rome isn’t a fantasy novel.

Sure, The Gates of Rome is about Julius Caesar. And there is an author’s note discussing historical authenticity at the end of the story. Clearly, this is supposed to be a work of historical fiction. Nevertheless, that doesn’t stop Conn Iggulden from borrowing liberally from fantasy’s most enduring tropes, ranging from the defiance of bullies to the ascension of a child of fate.

Caesar, or Gaius, is a willful child when we meet him. He is determined to defend his family estate and himself against bullies much older than he is. Although Gaius is defeated and humiliated several times, that doesn’t stop him from returning time and again to get the upper hand. In fact, he even contemplates his revenge while h... Read More

Altered Carbon: Graphic, brutal, and thrilling

Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

Richard K Morgan’s Altered Carbon, the first Takeshi Kovacs novel, is a roller-coaster ride. Morgan cycles us through traditional science-fiction, some mean-streets detective drama and a fine caper story before the book ends, all told by Kovacs himself, a disillusioned killer, a futuristic Sam Spade only slightly less dirty than the dirty business he’s in, a battered knight in tarnished armor.

In Altered Carbon’s future world, science has given humanity the ability to digitize consciousness and store it in a tiny canister embedded in a vertebra at the base of the skull. What is stored in these “cortical stacks” lasts indefinitely and can be decanted into a virtual reality or “sleeved” into a clone or any vacant human body. This technology was refined... Read More

Tithe: Engaging characters in complex situations

Tithe by Holly Black

Kaye is not your typical 16-year-old. For one thing, she’s spent the last few years of her life acting as mother to her mother: holding Mom’s head as she vomits, following Mom around to her various unsuccessful singing gigs, working in a Chinese restaurant to make enough money so that she and Mom can eat from time to time. She doesn’t attend school and she isn’t happy in the least.

For another thing, as a child she used to have a few fairies as dear friends. Not imaginary creatures: real fairies. When Mom’s boyfriend tries to knife her, Kaye and Mom return to Grandma’s, where Kaye first knew her fairy friends, and she gets a chance to reunite with them. The only problem with this happy reunion is that the fairies have come up with a plan to — well, to say they plan to sacrifice Kaye is seemingly a tad strong. But there is no question that they want their freedom from the rule of the Unseelie Cour... Read More

Lords of Rainbow: Epic fantasy with no baggage

Lords of Rainbow by Vera Nararian

A decade ago, I was a big fan of secondary-world fantasies: big sprawling epic plots, an entirely different but familiar setting, and larger than life characters. Had I read Lords of Rainbow back then, I would have immediately fallen in love with it. As I am now, however, there's a lot less unabashed praise for that particular sub-genre and I've become more critical.

What's obviously commendable with Vera Nazarian is that her cosmology isn't a random hodgepodge of ideas but rather a cohesion of a single, united vision. As can be gleaned from the title, the rainbow — or rather the colors of the rainbow — plays a consistent role all throughout the novel. Right from the very start, one gets a sense that the narrative has its own unique culture as Nazarian uses alien terms and expressions, references unfamiliar pantheons, and uses fancifu... Read More

The Summer Country: Not your little sister’s faerie novel

The Summer Country by James A. Hetley

First, a caveat. Don't let the pretty cover art fool you. The Summer Country is not a "pretty" book. It's really more horror than fantasy, full of violence and truly twisted characters. That said, I enjoyed The Summer Country. It stands out, with a few others, as a novel that presents a distinctive and original way of looking at the Otherworld, the faerie realm.

James A Hetley's "Summer Country" is ruled by those of the Old Blood, scheming and utterly inhuman despots who keep slaves and mold reality to their wills. Into a war between two of this kind, come four others. Maureen, an emotionally wounded, reclusive young woman, carrying the Old Blood unknowingly in her veins. Jo, her sensual older sister. David, a performer of Celtic music. And Brian, born of the Old Blood but sworn to Christianity. Maureen and Brian are each des... Read More

The Devil in Green: Gripping edge-of-your-seat story

The Devil in Green by Mark Chadbourn

The Devil in Green takes place shortly after the end of Always Forever, the final book in Mark Chadbourn's Age of Misrule trilogy, which described the return to our lands of legendary creatures and gods, so old and powerful that their memories became the basis for many of our myths. Now the final battles are (seemingly) over, and humanity slowly tries to come to terms with the realities of the new Dark Age, society as we know it is practically gone: electricity, fuel and communication are virtually non-existent, and the Tuathe De Danaan are still abroad.

In this fractured version of more or less present-day U.K., the old faiths have lost much of their allure and power, but remnants of Christianity have banded together to provide a bastion of light, with a reformed Knights Templar serving as the muscle to protect the brethren a... Read More

Storm of Wings: Realistic military fantasy

Storm of Wings by Chris Bunch

Chris Bunch shows some real creativity in Storm of Wings by his ability to adequately blend real military action with fantasy themes. Undoubtedly, his service as a commander in Vietnam and his writing as a correspondent for Stars and Stripes gives him the background which makes his story so plausible.

Hal Kailas, our poor down-trodden adolescent hero, loves dragons and, through a series of events, he gets conscripted into the military. Hal's fascination with dragons gives him some useful ideas and skills which both reward and punish him at different points in the story.

There's nothing outrageously new in any of this, but what really sets the story apart is that Chris Bunch creates a military/war environment that feels real. His disdain for staff officers a... Read More

Sword of Change: Seek your quarters ’cause these books are dull

SWORD OF CHANGE by Patricia Bray

Devlin is a tortured soul. He wants to die, so he becomes his country's Chosen One because it pays a fortune (which he can send to his brother's widow) and it's certainly deadly.

Sounds exciting, but don't bother putting on your blood pressure cuff, because it wasn't.

Devlin's sure he's going to die during the initiation ceremony (actually, it was me who nearly died of boredom), but, unfortunately, he doesn't. And so we accompany him on his journeys which read more like a book report than an adventure. Descriptions are dull, people are dull (though a few had so much potential), fights are dull, monsters are dull.

And the language is dull. For example, Devlin doesn't see things, he beholds them. He doesn't talk to people, he has speech with them. He doesn't put on clothes, he dons garments. And he doesn't go to bed, he seeks his quarters. Here is part of the most exciting scene... Read More