2004.01


The Wizard Knight: A wonderful, deep, rewarding read

The Wizard Knight by Gene Wolfe

The Wizard Knight by Gene Wolfe is one of the best fantasy novels to appear in the last decade or so. The novel is split into two separate books, The Knight and The Wizard, but like Gene Wolfe’s classic BOOK OF THE NEW SUN, it’s really one big story split into separate volumes and best read back-to-back.

The Wizard Knight tells the story of Sir Able of the High Heart, a knight who is really a young boy pulled from our own world to Mythgardr, one of seven connected worlds that are mirrored on a combination of Norse mythology, medieval history and Christian theology. One of those other worlds, Aelfrice, is home to Disiri, an Aelf queen who helps Able towards manhood — even though he is mentally still a young boy inside a grown man's body — and tells him to f... Read More

Banewreaker: Beautiful but remote

Banewreaker by Jacqueline Carey

They say there are two sides to every story. In Banewreaker, the first book in Jacqueline Carey’s THE SUNDERING duology, we hear the story of the sundering of the world from the perspective of the dark side.

Satoris is one of the shapers of the world, seven sibling gods who crafted the creatures of the world and gave them their various gifts. When Satoris was too generous with the gifts he bestowed upon humans, his siblings attacked him and started a war that sundered the world. The humans, with their dearth of understanding, blame Satoris for their plight. Thus, for centuries, he has lived in isolation in his castle called Darkhaven with some servants, including a few men — his generals — whom he has given the gift of immortality.

One of these ... Read More

The Atrocity Archives: A sysadmin saves the world

The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross

The Atrocity Archives contains the first two novellas in Charles Stross’ THE LAUNDRY FILES: The Atrocity Archive and The Concrete Jungle. The series is based on the premise that, before he died, Alan Turing solved a theorem that proved that mathematics could be used to gain access to other space-time dimensions. Unfortunately, what’s out there is exactly what H.P. Lovecraft said there was — sleeping tentacled horrors that might be inclined to enter our universe if gateways were opened. To avoid mass panic, this has been kept secret from most humans. The ones who accidently find out are scooped up and brought into a secret organization where they are paid to help keep the world safe. In England, that organization is a government agency kn... Read More

Forty Signs of Rain: A realistic look at environmentalism and politics

Forty Signs of Rain by Kim Stanley Robinson

With the quality of special effects improved exponentially, the blockbuster disaster movie appeared in the 90s and hasn’t looked back. Tornadoes (Twister), meteors (Deep Impact and Armageddon), seismic activity (The Core), volcanoes (Dante’s Peak), massive weather events (The Perfect Storm), and, who can forget, Sharknado, have in one way or another tried to capitalize on the potential power of nature to earn a dollar. Opening with a reasonably plausible scientific premise (except in the case of the latter, of course), then quickly cutting to the melodrama and special effects, these films have done nothing to make people aware of the physical laws governing the actualities of our world and the true potential for catastrophe. In writing the SCIENCE IN THE CAPITOL trilogy, Read More

Raven’s Shadow: A fun, easy read with good worldbuilding

Raven’s Shadow by Patricia Briggs

Patricia Briggs’ novel Raven’s Shadow begins with a rescue and a romance. Tier, a Rederni ex-soldier, saves young Seraph, a Traveler girl, from murder at the hands of some ruffians in a tavern and a strange, dangerous man in the forest. Intrigued by this brave, foolhardy girl, Tier takes her home to his village to protect her from the forces that follow. Travelers are Briggs’ answer to Patrick Rothfuss’ Edema Ruh or Robert Jordan’s Tuatha’an... you know, your typical “gypsy” stereotype that seems to pop up in most high fantasy novels with lots of worldbuilding. In Raven’s Shadow, they are known for their innate uncanny... Read More

The Darkness That Comes Before: Intelligent fantasy

The Darkness That Comes Before by R. Scott Bakker

I believe it warrants mentioning in the beginning of this review that I find myself in a position where my own review might not be, well, very critical. I have been holding off having to review R. Scott Bakker's The Darkness That Comes Before because, to put it bluntly, I love it so much that I don't think any review I could write would serve its purpose qua review. However, after some insistence from the powers that be — that would be the inimitable Kat Hooper, FanLit's founder and savior — I decided that maybe I did have something borderline cogent to say about it.

The Darkness That Comes Before is the first book of R. Scott Bakker's THE PRINCE OF NOTHING trilogy, itself the first of his THE SECOND APOC... Read More

The Safe-Keeper’s Secret: Interesting idea, weak plot

The Safe-Keeper’s Secret by Sharon Shinn

Safe-Keepers can be trusted to never reveal a secret. So it's no surprise that when a royal bastard needs to be hidden, a Safe-Keeper would be the logical place to hide the child. When the royal messenger who left the infant in the dark of night with the Safe-Keeper is found dead by his own hand a few miles away, the secret identity of the baby boy who was left behind becomes more of an open secret in the village. The Safe-Keeper decides to raise the child with her own daughter who was also born that night. But what happens when the King can't have any more children, and starts looking for the child who may be his son?

In The Safe-Keeper’s Secret, Sharon Shinn develops an interesting idea. There are people in this society who are responsible for keeping secrets until they need to be told, people who have a mythical ability to know and ... Read More

Ghosts in the Snow: CSI set in the Dark Ages

Ghosts in the Snow by Tamara Siler Jones

The police procedural isn’t just for the mystery genre any more. Frequently, fantasy writers are combining mysteries with magic in order to produce hybrids that provide all the fun of both genres in a single novel. Tamara Siler Jones accomplishes this feat in her first DUBRIC BRYERLY novel, Ghosts in the Snow.

Bryerly is the head of security at Castle Faldorrah in a world that does not appear to be our own, though the milieu is vaguely medieval. He is confronted with a series of murders that are particularly grotesque, for the killer takes the kidneys from each victim and, apparently, eats them. I thought that perhaps Jones was going to give us Jack the Ripper in an earlier incarnation, but no: this killer has his own obscene way of butchering his victims, and his own purpose. Bryerly must use all of his forensic skills to figure... Read More

Revenge of the Witch: Terrifying children’s fantasy

The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch by Joseph Delaney

Thomas Ward is the seventh son of a seventh son. Therefore, his mother has always planned to apprentice him to the Spook — the traveling exorcist who services the surrounding villages, ridding them of ghosts, witches, ghasts, boggarts, and other troublesome creatures. The Spook performs a nasty, dangerous, and necessary job for the community, and he’s well respected, but his line of work makes him an outsider — people just aren’t comfortable around him. Thomas doesn’t want to become the next Spook — the Spook’s life is hazardous and lonely — but as the seventh son, he doesn’t have other options and he doesn’t want to disappoint his mother.

As Thomas begins his apprenticeship, he starts to learn a lot about the handling of supernatural creatures and he discovers that many of the former apprentices failed... as in died on the job. Then, when the... Read More

Seraphim: Did Not Finish

Seraphim by Michele Hauf

The year is 1433. Seraphim d’Ange is a young woman riding through France on a quest for revenge. The de Morte brothers attacked the d’Ange castle, killing Seraphim’s family. Seraphim was raped, wounded, and left for dead. Now she is disguised as “the Black Knight” and killing off the de Morte brothers one by one. Two down, three to go.

All of this takes place before Seraphim begins. Sera is now preparing to eradicate the third brother. She and her squire, Baldwin, meet a stranger on their journey, who joins them when it turns out that he has similar aims. The stranger is Dominique St. Juste, a handsome man with faery blood. Sparks fly.

Michele Hauf attempts an elevated, old-fashioned style, but breaks that tone with anachronisms: using “teen” to describe Baldwin, for example, and having people say “Really?” or “So?” The names don’t help eithe... Read More

Shadowmarch: Good start, and it is just a start

Shadowmarch by Tad Williams

Shadowmarch is the start of yet another epic fantasy trilogy by one of the genre's better known authors. While I wouldn't personally equate Shadowmarch with Tad Wiliams' earlier masterpiece (Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn), it does stand above much of what is being written today. As is typical of fantasy, for that matter most genre novels, there are echoes of earlier works by the same author and other works by different authors. One grows to expect that; it isn't the complete and utter originality that often makes a work but what one does with the similar situations/characters. By that comparison, Shadowmarch does quite well, for the most part.

The basic premise is the Southmarch lands border the Shadowline, a magical barrier... Read More

The Angel’s Game: Held me in thrall for a week

The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I had intended to simply glance at the first page of The Angel’s Game and then set it aside to finish other books I was reading, but the first paragraph ensnared me:
A writer never forgets the first time he accepted a few coins or a word of praise in exchange for a story. He will never forget the sweet poison of vanity in his blood, and the belief that, if he succeeds in not letting anyone discover his lack of talent, the dream of literature will provide him with a roof over his head, a hot meal at the end of the day, and what he covets the most: his name printed on a miserable piece of paper that surely will outlive him. A writer is condemned to remember that moment, because from then on he is doomed and his soul has a price.
The Angel’s Game follows up on the promise of its first paragraph with great skill. The... Read More

Peter and the Starcatchers: Blasphemous

Peter and the Starcatchers by Ridley Pearson & Dave Barry

How did Peter Pan get to Neverland? Where did Tinkerbell come from? How did Hook lose his hand? And most importantly, how did Captain Hook and Peter Pan meet? This last question is the one Paige Pearson asked her father after hearing "Peter Pan," which in turn led to Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson's collaborative effort Peter and the Starcatchers, written as a prequel to J.M. Barrie's classic work of children's literature.

The result is decidedly mixed: although some components are marvelously clever and mysterious, others fail to engage the reader's imagination, and at some points the authors make the blasphemous mistake of tampering with the established facts of Barrie's invented world. Barrie's Neverland is the internal wor... Read More

Day by Day Armageddon: Not as scary as sentient squirrels

Day by Day Armageddon by J.L. Bourne

Day by Day Armageddon is a fictional journal of an unnamed Navy pilot depicting the daily events of the zombie apocalypse. The journal begins with a new year’s resolution, describes newscasts about a virus outbreak in china, then continues to describe each day as things around the world get progressively worse, leading to the eventual total collapse of modern society.

J.L. Bourne has not brought anything new to the table as far as zombie lore goes. He sticks to the fundamentals laid out by George A. Romero’s films. These zombies are slow, stupid, and they bite. They also moan and shuffle around. Many zombie fans see this as a purist’s approach to zombie fiction; I see it as unoriginal.

However, despite the lack of an original premise, I was able to enjoy the story quite a bit. Bourne is a good writer, sticking with the concise verbiage you might ex... Read More

Silver’s Edge: Who to trust?

Silver's Edge by Anne Kelleher

I loved Silver's Edge. It's an eyes-glued-to-the-page story of politics and war between three realms in a world not unlike Dark Ages Britain or Ireland. The silver caul that once held the Sidhe, the goblins, and the humans in their own little worlds is missing; now the three races are thrown back together for reasons unknown, and chaos ensues.

The story focuses around several young women struggling to survive in this chaotic situation. I loved it — it's rare that a book about political intrigue really does surprise me and pull the rug out from under my feet. You don't know who to trust. A character can be presented as very sympathetic and then turn out to be otherwise — and vice versa. Few authors can really fool the reader like that. Anne Kelleher can.

I just wish I'd known this was a series! Yeah, I know everything has to be a trilogy th... Read More

The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane: Check yourself for wounds

The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane by Robert E. Howard

Dressed in black with the tall slouch-hat typical of Puritan fashion, and armed with sword, flint-locks, and, later, an ancient carved staff, Solomon Kane stalks the 16th century world from the remote reaches of Europe to the bloody decks of the high seas, and into the deepest, darkest African jungles. Whether it be a witch-cursed monstrosity, hell-spawned vampire, mutant throwback, or just a wicked wretch of humankind, Solomon Kane will fight with equal determination and enthusiasm to see good triumph.

Robert E. Howard’s tales are so alive, you almost have to check yourself for wounds. Between the lines broods an ancient feeling of melancholy that lends such realism to the writing. And the beautiful, sweeping illustrations in this book by the award-winning artist Gary Gianni bring that classical storytelling feel to the forefront.

As with all o... Read More

The Cup of the World: Good atmosphere, character a bit weak

The Cup of the World by John Dickinson

John Dickinson's The Cup of the World centers on Phaedra, daughter and only child of the Warden of Trant, an all-important land/fortress in a land with a long history of internal warfare. Her combination of looks, inheritance, and intelligence makes her the prime bridal catch, even one of the two princes is her suitor, but she rejects them all for two basic reasons: fear (of losing her independence and her life as her mother did, dying in childbirth) and love (of a strange man who comes to her in her dreams). Her father gives in as he has to her desires ever since she threw a hunger strike at him when he considered remarrying. Her marriage is resolved when she slips away with her dream man, who it turns is real and has some strange abilities. Her marriage, her choice of husband (though she didn't know who he was at the time), and her rejection of many of the land's proudest men spa... Read More

The Sea of Trolls: Solid story lacks some spark

The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer

While it was a nice breath of fresh air to see a book that incorporated the Norse mythology involving Odin, Thor, Ragnarok, etc., something relatively rare in all the fantasy out there, it seemed The Sea of Trolls as a whole lacked a spirit or spark to make it stand out.

The story follows just-started apprentice bard Jack as he and his little sister Lucy are taken prisoner by raiding Northmen (basically Vikings). The Sea of Trolls opens with Jack starting his apprenticeship, moves quickly to the raid and subsequent capture/enthralldom, then slows down a bit in pace. The story is mostly episodic, as Jack experiences a sea voyage, another raid, a short time as thrall to Olaf (the giant Northman berserker who captured him), and a confrontation with Olaf's queen, a half-troll half human shapeshifter whom Jack inadvertently insults in public via magic... Read More

Dead Witch Walking: Comparing Rachel Morgan and Anita Blake

Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison

Robert read the omnibus version called This Witch for Hire. It contains Dead Witch Walking and The Good, The Bad, and the Undead.

A guilty pleasure of mine, pardon the pun, was reading the ANITA BLAKE series by author Laurell K. Hamilton. Unfortunately, like many readers, I was turned off by the direction that the series was heading with later novels, and eventually stopped reading the books altogether with 2003’s Cerulean Sins. A few years later, and I find myself missing the fun little adventures that I spent with Anita Blake, and in search of a somewhat similar series, I discover not one, but several including such veterans as Read More

Troll Fell: A bit pallid but for Norse background

Troll Fell by Katherine Langrish

Troll Fell is a decent young adult book whose Norse background gives a more fresh feel to an otherwise relatively mundane plot and set of characters. Younger readers will most likely enjoy it if not be inspired or captured by it; older readers won't find much to chew on.

The story follows young Peer Ulfsson who upon his father's death is grabbed up (literally) by a pair of wicked ogrish uncles for their own hidden reasons, the most transparent of which is to use him as free labor at their run-down mill, no longer frequented by the local villagefolk who have grown tired of being cheated by the uncles. Troll Fell is also the story of similarly aged Hilde, whose family, besides having been cheated by the uncles, has a long-running feud with them over a parcel of land under which lies the local troll kingdom (and its gold). Year's ago, Hilde's father managed to escape from the... Read More

The Stone of the Stars: I’d have treasured it at 13

The Stone of the Stars by Alison Baird

The Stone of the Stars is a fun, if imperfect, high fantasy with gently feminist overtones, a coming-of-age theme, and a slight hint of romance.

The beginning is… well, inauspicious. There’s a Prologue that has the feel of warmed-over Tolkien as seen through the lens of the “back in the good old days, everyone was a peaceful Goddess-worshipper” myth. Then, in chapter one, we meet our heroine, Ailia, in a scene that has “Mary Sue” written all over it, right down to the color-changing eyes. Fortunately, it gets better.

The Stone of the Stars consists of two parts. The first section deals with Ailia’s journey from her small island to the larger world of higher education. While there, she meets the four others who will be her companions throughout... Read More

The Game of Sunken Places: Bit muddled

The Game of Sunken Places by M.T. Anderson

The Game of Sunken Places has at its core several relatively humdrum concepts: a board game that plays for real, a hidden kingdom, two friends (one timid, one outgoing), a race to save the (or a) world. This isn't so bad since so much fantasy works with the same basic materials. The question is whether the author transcends the familiar and here the answer tends to be no.

The story follows a pair of thirteen-year-old friends, Gregory and Brian, as they go up to Vermont to visit Uncle Max (not really related) and cousin Prudence. Tension is set from the start by a surprisingly dark intro piece set at Max's. Once the boys arrive, they become quickly embroiled in playing the game, or, as it's referred to by everyone, The Game, the board version of which they found in the old nursery. The boys must solve riddles; avoid near-fatal run-ins with their seeming opponent J... Read More

THE BRIDGE OF D’ARNATH: Carol Berg is a favorite

THE BRIDGE OF D'ARNATH by Carol Berg

Carol Berg has been one of my favorite authors for years now, ever since I picked up Son of Avonar, having been intrigued by both the title and the cover. She’s an author who can handle first person point of view with skill (no, it’s not easier, trust me), weaves some truly fascinating plots with excellent twists, and creates interesting worlds peopled by races that feel unique in a genre full of elves, dwarves, and the like. Though she has her occasional disappointments, the quality of her writing is still above and beyond a lot of what can be found on the shelves next to her.

Son of Avonar is the first book in The Bridge of D'Arnath quartet. It introduces Seriana, and her twin journeys: Through the world she inhabits, yes, but also through memories of her past. Acc... Read More

Firethorn: Sarah Micklem’s prose is beautiful

Firethorn by Sarah Micklem

Reading the publisher's blurb quoted above, you might expect a very different book from this one. It's not that it's inaccurate, per se. It's just that all of the events in the blurb happen at the very beginning of the story. By page 15, Luck has fled the estate and is hiding out in the Kingswood, trying to survive on what she can forage. After what can best be described as a shamanic near-death experience, Luck believes she has been chosen by Ardor, the god of fire, for some unknown purpose, and changes her name to Firethorn.

Firethorn returns to civilization, where she becomes the lover of Sire Galan, a handsome, reckless young knight on his way to the king's war. Infatuated with him, and having no better options, Firethorn follows Galan to the Marchfield, where the army is assembling. The rest of Firethorn takes place at the Marchfield, and the main plotline concerns a feud b... Read More

The Year of Our War: Cluttered plot, erratic execution

The Year of Our War by Steph Swainston

I’m always drawn to material that is described as “fresh,” “original” or “inventive.” So when I was introduced to Steph Swainston and her highly praised fantasy series, I was eager to delve into this fascinating new world starting with Ms. Swainston’s debut The Year of Our War. Unluckily for me, it wasn’t quite what I expected.

Set in The Fourlands, The Year of Our War focuses on three races (humans, winged yet flightless Awians, and the mysterious Rhydanne) who have been at war for almost 2000 years with the giant, carnivorous, ant-like Insects. Aiding the Zascai (mortals) in their constant battle against the Insects are Emperor San and his chosen Circle of fifty Immortals (Eszai), each of whom are masters in a certain area (The Swordsman, The Sailor, The Blacksmith, etc.). While the majority of the book centers on battles... Read More