To Ride Hell's Chasm by Janny Wurts, Meisha Merlin, 2/04, $25, ISBN 1-59222-023-1
Princess Anja is about to become engaged, but just before the ceremony she disappears under mysterious circumstances. Two men, mercenary and professional soldier, are given the task of finding out what happened to her and rescuing her from the assumed kidnappers, but they soon begin to wonder if she was kidnapped or was actually a party to the disappearance, fleeing from someone or something in the palace. Eventually they may well turn out to be the princess' allies rather than her rescuers. Wurts always tells a rousing story and this one, previously published in England in 2002, also has the advantage of being a standalone, so the entire story can be told at once.
Two Trains Running by Lucius Shepard, Golden Gryphon, 2004, $22.95, ISBN 1-930846-23-1
This slender collection results from the author's research into the lives of those who travel the rails, hopping freights to travel around the country. The article whose commission sparked this effort is included, along with two novelettes that draw on that material. One of these, "Jailbait", is pretty good, but the other "Over Yonder" is so excellent that it overshadows everything else in the collection. The protagonist boards a train that takes him right out of this world, into another universe filled with wondrous creatures and magical events. It reminded me at times of William Hope Hodgson, if Hodgson's prose had been much better than it was. This one's a real treat.
Wellspring of Chaos by L.E. Modesitt Jr., Tor, 4/04, $27.95, ISBN 0-765-30907-6
Modesitt returns to the land of Recluce for this story of murder and revenge. Kharl is a simple, successful artisan who makes the "mistake" of interfering twice in the corrupt affairs of the local aristocracy. Having made a mortal enemy of one of them, he is subsequently framed for murder, jailed, then mysteriously freed and forced to run for his life while his lover is executed for a crime she didn't commit. While in exile, he seeks the knowledge and the tools by which to gain his revenge, and bring low the man who caused him so much unhappiness. There are no surprises in this one, obviously, but it's an entertaining magical revenge story and the villains are nasty enough that we enjoy their eventual downfall.
Queen of the Amazons by Judith Tarr, Tor, 3/ 04, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30395-7
If there is anyone alive doing historical fantasies comparable to those of Judith Tarr, they've been well hidden. Her latest is set in the time of Alexander the Great when he encounters the woman of the title in Persia. Their meeting is accompanied by visions, battles, rival queens, individual combat to resolve the fate of nations, intervention by the gods and goddesses, and a clash of wills. As good as the story is, and it's a very good one, I was even more impressed by the way Tarr evokes the historical setting so smoothly and efficiently that I was drawn into an entirely believable magical other world. It's one of her best books, and there's some very serious competition there.
The Chernagor Pirates by Dan Chernenko, Roc, 4/04, $14.95, ISBN 0-451-45956-3
Dan Chernenko made his debut with The Bastard King, and now he follows up with the second volume of the Scepter of Mercy series. The land of Avornis is ruled by two kings in an odd pairing that is mostly amicable, although there are tensions between the two. Avornis is also troubled by the depredations of forces outside its borders, most troubling the increasing incursions by pirates. One of the kings leads an expeditionary force to crush the pirates and restore order along the border, but that's still a distraction from the battle against a much more powerful enemy, one who can only be vanquished if they acquire a magical artifact and use it in their defense. The sequel is a great deal better than its predecessor although it did feel rather talky to me, particularly in the middle of the book. Chernenko is a penname of Harry Turtledove.
Conqueror Fantastic edited by Pamela Sargent, DAW, 4/04, $6.99, ISBN 0-7564-0191-7
According to the spine, this all original anthology is fantasy but don't let that fool you, it's SF. Each of the stories is an alternate history, and each revolves around someone who was historical a conqueror. There's one about Napoleon, and another about Hitler, and a couple about recent American political leaders, among others. Editor Sargent has one of the best in the collection, and there are excellent contributions by Paul Di Filippo, Michelle West, Ian Watson, George Zebrowski, and Stephen Dedman, with quite respectable stories by several others to round out the selection. Good stuff here for alternate history fans and for discriminating readers as well.
Fire and Sword by Simon Brown, DAW, 3/ 04, $6.99, ISBN 0-7564-0175-5
The second novel of the Keys of Power series is a straightforward fantasy adventure. The succession has been a clouded matter and Prince Lynan, falsely accused of murdering his brother, has been forced to flee the country while his sister, Areana, assumes the throne. Lynan isn't resigned to the situation, however, and tries to raise a foreign army to claim his birthright, but that proves to be more difficult than he expected. Meanwhile, Areana has become involved in romantic matters and is distracted by them. The novel becomes a bit too sentimental for me at times, but the story is well plotted and the intrigues and politics ably described. Unfortunately, it has the feel of many middle volumes in trilogies, marking time but not resolving much.
The Amulet of Power by Mike Resnick, Del Rey, 12/03, $6.99, ISBN 0-345-46171-1
It was natural that the Tomb Raider movies would result in novelizations, and not particularly surprising that the computer game itself would generate a novel. What is surprising is that it was written by Mike Resnick. The plot is what you might expect. Croft is pursued across the Mideast by various parties who believe she has possession of a mystical amulet with unparalleled powers. Fortunately, she's not an easy target and her martial arts get quite a workout. Resnick gives some depth to what otherwise might be dismissed as a comic book story without the pictures and while the nature of things is that we know she must succeed, he even generates enough suspense to make the story exciting.
The Lion of Senet by Jennifer Fallon, Bantam, 4/04, $6.99, ISBN 0-553-58668-8
This is the first volume of a trilogy, but you won't have to wait long once you're hooked because all three books have been previously published in Australia and will be published in successive months by Bantam. The setting is a fairly familiar one, but with some interesting twists. The land of Ranadon has two suns, and its inhabitants are torn between magic and science. When an ancient ruler, believed dead, returns from exile, his presence is the catalyst for a social and political upheaval that will bring tumult to the entire nation. Some portions of the novel are all too familiar, but others are original enough to hold your attention, and the prose itself is quite good. But you might want to wait until you have all three volumes before starting this one.
Blood and Judgment by Lars Walker, Baen, 12/03, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-7173-3
Walker's previous fantasy novels have been amusing enough, but this new one is actively worth recommending. The protagonist is an actor who is magically transported to an alternate world where the events of Shakespeare's play Hamlet are not only real but ongoing. What's worse, from our hero's point of view, is that he is cast in the lead role and there doesn't seem to be any easy way to escape his fate. The plot wobbles a bit in the later chapters but the setup is nice and Walker has good fun with the Bard's creation.
As I Remember It by James Branch Cabell, Wildside, 2003, $35, ISBN 0-8095-3065-1
The King Was in His Counting House by James Branch Cabell, Wildside, 2003, $19.95, ISBN 0-8095-3062-7
James Branch Cabell is among my half dozen favorite fantasy writers, so I've spent considerable time hunting down his non-genre material as well. The first title above is one of his memoirs. It's beautifully written, but parts of it are somewhat impenetrable due to the passage of time and the loss of common milestones. Cabell enthusiasts will be pleased, but general readers might at times feel that they've been excluded from a private club using a secret language. The second title is of more general interest, a non-fantastic historical adventure story, set in Renaissance Italy. I enjoyed this when I first read it a few years back, despite its rather old fashioned prose style, and it's certainly nice to see it in print again for a new generation of readers. If the only thing print on demand books accomplished was to make the works of James Branch Cabell available again, that alone would justify their existence.
Gollum: How We Made Movie Magic by Andy Serkis, Houghton Mifflin, 2003, $9.95, ISBN 0-618-39104-5
Here's a Lord of the Rings tie-in book I was actually looking forward to. Andy Serkis, the man behind Gollum (or possibly some ghost writer, the man behind Andy Serkis) has given us a profusely illustrated book explaining just how they brought Gollum/Smeagol to life. Nifty pictures, interesting back lot stories, and just generally an entertaining and informative explanation of the process.
Mage of Clouds by S.J. Farrell, DAW, 1/ 04, $23.95, ISBN 0-7564-0169-0
The second volume in the Cloudmage series expands the complexity of the first. Jenna MacEagan is a magic user who has been instrumental in protecting her people from incursions from other tribes of primitive Ireland. Unfortunately, her half brother has joined the enemy and there are other signs that the conflict is approaching a more violent and critical moment. Jenna decides to send her daughter Meriel to be taught to control powerful sorcery, but Meriel has a nature much different from that of her mother and prefers to master the gentler art of healing. As the contending forces advance toward a confrontation, Meriel's skills may take on a more significant part than anyone expected. Pretty good Celtic fantasy, a little slow paced at times, but rich in background.
King of Foxes by Raymond E. Feist, Eos, 4/04, $24.95, ISBN 0-380-97709-5
Tal Hawkins, hero of Talon of the Silver Hawk, returns for a second adventure. Trained by the Conclave of Shadows, he sets out on his first mission on their behalf, to infiltrate the court of Duke Kaspar, a nobleman suspected of being involved in the dark arts. The suspicion is well founded and Kaspar has enormous ambitions, and when Hawkins confronts him, he is imprisoned and left under sentence of death. But you and I both know that no prison is going to hold our hero for long, and eventually he escapes to turn the tables on the rapacious Duke.
The Soddit by A.R.R.R. Roberts, Gollancz, 2003, $9.95, ISBN 0-575-07554-6
Barry Trotter and the Unnecessary Sequel by Michael Gerber, Gollancz, 2003, $9.95, ISBN 0-575-07558-9
I'm surprised that the first of these parodies has been so long coming, since Bored of the Rings appeared several decades ago. This one makes fun of the Hobbit, complete with amusing map and several very nice illustrations by Douglas Carrel, who does the same for the second title as well. The author is actually SF writer Adam Roberts, and he has some really hilarious moments in this one, but unfortunately I thought it went on rather too long for the subject matter. The second title, which obviously makes fun of Harry Potter, is more consistently funny, probably because the story line in the original provides more opportunities for lampooning. Both books are published in handsome, smaller than usual sizes, and they'd make great Christmas gifts for fans of either or both series.
A Scholar of Magics by Caroline Stevermer, Tor, 4/04, $19.95, ISBN 0-765-30308-6
I first noticed this author's name when I read a very good young adult novel titled River Rats a few years ago, but her next two books while readable didn't impress me as much. That all changes with this one, a sequel to A College of Magics, and one of the best fantasies I've read so far from the 2004 crop. The protagonist is Samuel Lambert, an Indiana Jones style adventurer, who visits a remote college in 1908 England, a place where not everything taught is entirely ordinary. There he meets a charming young woman, and almost immediately he's caught up in plots and counterplots, the mystery of a magical legacy, chases, rescues, escapes, battles, everything you want in a rousing adventure story. A wonderfully conceived and described setting, likable characters, worthy villains, a reasonable mystery, and delightful writing.
The Fairy Godmother by Mercedes Lackey, Luna Books, 2004, $24.95, ISBN 0-373-80202-1
Mercedes Lackey takes a vacation from heroic fantasy for this light, humorous romance novel. The protagonist is not happy with the man chosen as her husband, so instead of settling down as a nobleman's wife, she trains to be a kind of fairy godmother. It's not clear that she has the disposition for her, because she finds obnoxious young princes intolerable, and eventually she turns one of them into a donkey after he annoys her too much. But she takes the donkey home with her and that's going to change both their lives. A nice change of pace, and a generally amusing story. It's always nice to know that authors don't take this stuff seriously all the time.
New Spring: The Novel by Robert Jordan, Tor, 1/ 04, $22.95, ISBN 0-765-30629-8
A shorter version of this prequel to the "Wheel of Time" series previously appeared in the anthology Legends, edited by Robert Silverberg. Court politics appear to be proceeding as usual, but two young men get caught up in a mystery when someone starts murdering men, apparently at random, although the victims have at least one thing in common, a run of good luck which obviously ran out at last. Eventually they discover whose responsible and why, and that helps set up the major conflict that dominates the series itself. This is a substantial expansion of the original novella, but still small compared to the other novels in the series. Fans will want to pick it up though, because it fills in a lot of the gaps in the history of Jordan's world, and it's a better than average fantasy adventure in its own right.
First Blood edited by Robert Lynn Asprin and Lynn Abbey, Tor, 12/03, $14.95, ISBN 0-312-87488-X
Now that Tor books has revived the Thieves' World series and is publishing new volumes, it makes sense for them to reprint the old ones, first published two decades ago. This omnibus trade paperback includes the first two volumes, Thieves' World and Tales from the Vulgar Unicorn and has stories by Philip Jose Farmer, Joe Haldeman, Marion Zimmer Bradley, John Brunner, Poul Anderson, Andrew Offutt, A.E. van Vogt, Janet Morris, and many others. It was certainly the best of the shared world fantasy series, and it spawned standalone novels as well as the anthologies. Presumably the subsequent volumes will be appearing in due course, so here's your chance to own them if you haven't been able to chase up the original paperbacks from Ace.
Fantasy Readers Wanted Apply Within edited by Nick Aires and James Richey, Silver Lake, 2003, $18.95, ISBN 1-931095-67-1
It's refreshing to see a non-themed fantasy anthology like this one from a new small press publishing house. The stories contained here run the gamut of fantasy, humorous, serious, suspenseful, light, sentimental, frightening, traditional, and innovative, two of them reprints but the rest originals. There are good stories by Bruce Holland Rogers, Michael Bracken, Richard Parks, Rebecca Bradley, and Matthew Hughes, and a poem by Neil Gaiman. The balance of the stories are by relatively unknown writers, most of which are certainly good enough to deserve publication, a very few slight enough that I found myself skipping through them. Those few aside, this one certainly matches the quality level of most of the themed fantasy anthologies I've seen recently.
The Sun Sword by Michelle West, DAW, 1/ 04, $7.99, ISBN 0-7564-0170-4
The sixth and final volume of the Sun Sword series is here at last, almost a full thousand pages of exciting fantasy adventure. As the final battle draws near, the leader of the good side receives a magical sword, although he is not certain whether or not he has the ability to control its power. Arrayed against them are a host of enemies, including an army of demons. As the final battle draws near, the balance of power will be altered from an unexpected source, and leave the outcome in even more doubt than before. Fantasy action on a grand scale and well worth the price even at half the length.
Son of Avonar by Carol Berg, Roc, 2/04, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-45962-8
The opening volume of the Bridge of D'Arnath series has a pretty good setup. An expatriot woman befriends a fugitive soldier suffering from a form of amnesia, a man who has lost the power of speech, is fleeing from mysterious pursuers, harboring a secret that could lead to a catastrophe of terrible proportions. Readers will know long before the protagonist that the soldier's past is important, but we're not going to find out everything until at least the next book in the series. Competent fantasy adventure with an above average protagonist.
The Caves of Buda by Leah R. Cutter, Roc, 4/04, $6.50, ISBN 0-451-45972-5
Leah Cutter's second fantasy novel has a contemporary setting, and it's as much a horror novel as a fantasy. Zita Gardos has always dismissed her grandfather's stories as just that, things he made up to entertain people and which he may now, in his failing years, have begun to confuse with reality. She is particularly skeptical of the one in which he defeats a powerful demon back in Hungary. When he becomes agitation and goes missing, claiming that the demon is active again, she is more concerned with his sanity than with the safety of the world, but she will eventually have to descend into the bowels of the earth itself to discover the truth. Very suspenseful and engaging.
Conqueror's Moon by Julian May, Ace, 01 /04, $24.95, ISBN 0-441-01132-2
Julian May joins the list of SF writers who have switched, at least for the moment, to epic fantasy. This, opening volume of a surprise new series, is set on an island where four kingdoms exist in an uneasy balance of power. That may be about to change, however, because a prince and a sorceress have hatched a plot that they hope will catapult them to power over all four. May's prose is always a pleasure to read and I admit freely that I enjoyed the story, but at the same time I had the nagging feeling of dιjΰ vu. The characters, on the other hand, are fascinating, particularly the villains.
There Will Be Dragons by John Ringo, Baen, 11/03, $25, ISBN 0-7434-7164-4
A number of SF authors have tried to enjoy the best of both worlds, SF and fantasy, by combining them into a single book. After all, highly advanced technology can at times be indistinguishable from magic, right? Well, John Ringo is the latest to do so, in what appears to be the opening volume of a series. It's the far future and humanity can reshape itself physically into the forms of legendary creatures and command technology that mimics magic. Everything seems to be going great until an enigmatic war leads to the collapse of the world state, and individual communities are suddenly on their own. Of course, those who emulated a primitive lifestyle have a distinct advantage, but even that advantage can be overcome by the arrival of sufficiently powerful adversaries. There's quite a bit of military action, as you might expect from this author, but there's also sufficient story to entertain those who don't care for military SF. Certainly this one's entertaining enough to whet my appetite for the next in the series. Note: the hardcover comes with a CDRom that contains the complete text of many other Baen books, so it might be worth your money just for that.
Alphabet of Thorn by Patricia A. McKillip, Ace, 1/ 04, $22.95, ISBN 0-441-01130-6
Patricia McKillip is one of the few modern fantasy writers who manages to convey a sense of fairy tale magic in her stories, and she's also one of the few who is consistently excellent. The protagonist of his new one is Nepenthe, a young orphan working in the royal library, who one day receives a book that is supposedly untranslatable, but which speaks to her in its own way and transforms her life. The fate of the newly ascended queen, a mysterious sorcerer, and all of her people depend upon how well she responds to this new challenge. Nicely unmelodramatic despite the story line and with another of McKillip's sympathetic and credible protagonists.
Moon's Dreaming by Marguerite Krause and Susan Sizemore, Five Star, 12/03, $25.95, ISBN 1-5941-4062-6
Moon's Dancing by Marguerite Krause and Susan Sizemore, Five Star, 12/03, $25.95, ISBN 1-5941-4063-4
These two titles make up the complete Children of the Rock duology, an epic fantasy. The setting is a world with three classes of people. The only ones who can control magic are those who have one parent from each of the other two classes, essentially nobles and commoners. Unfortunately, the separation between the two has grown so acute that there are fewer and fewer cross marriages, and the ability to use magic to protect and stabilize the kingdom is rapidly failing. The novel, because this is really a two part novel rather than a series, follows what happens as the situation reaches crisis levels. Ambitious men seek to use physical force to establish their own power, taking advantage of the weakness of the magicians and the general disorder, while some of the worker class decide this is the right time to rebel against what they see as tyrannical rule by the nobles. And through it all the magicians seek to restore order, calm the warring factions, and regain the stability they once enjoyed. Nothing out of the ordinary, but a good solid political adventure story.
Gods' Concubine by Sara Douglass, Tor, 3/ 04, $27.95, ISBN 0-765-30541-0
The second volume of The Troy Game is set in 11th Century England. The survivors of Troy migrated there centuries earlier and have all but forgotten their origins. Now King Edward is on the throne, hoping to be an effective ruler, but there are troubles in the kingdom. Although their Trojan past may be at least partly forgotten, those who fled there have been reincarnated and their old personalities affect their current interactions. This is a rich and complex novel full of rich and complex characters, but I have to admit that I found it a bit too slow paced at times, and not up to the quality of its predecessor, Hades' Daughter.
Earth Logic by Laurie J. Marks, Tor, 3/ 04, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-30952-1
The foreign invaders were repelled in Fire Logic and it looked like a happy ending was in the works, but things turn bad again in the sequel. Karis, the witch woman who was offered the throne, has refused to accept it. Predictably, confusion and uncertainty follow, with no one quite certain who should take charge, and the situation rapidly worsens when a mysterious plague begins to spread across the countryside and a group of religious fanatics launches its bid for power. Although I found myself becoming impatient with the protagonist at times, I still enjoyed the story, which was considerably more original and surprising that the first in the series. And I doubt very much that Marks is going to let the people of Shaftal rest easy for long.
Fool's Fate by Robin Hobb, Bantam, 2/04, $24.95, ISBN 0-553-80154-6
Fitzchivalry Farseer returns for his sixth and possibly final time in the third volume of The Tawny Man trilogy. Trained as a professional criminal, he has managed to alienate Chade, a powerful crimelord, and gained the respect of Prince Dutiful. The trick is in keeping his head on his shoulders after betraying Chade. Hobb writes centrist fantasy, so you pretty much know what to expect in one of her novels. She's not going to make you sit up and take notice very often, but she'll provide a few hours of satisfying entertainment, and every once in a while she'll throw in a plot twist that will catch you by surprise. I've never particularly cared for Farseer as a character, however, so if this is indeed his last appearance, I'll be looking forward more actively to her next book.
1610: A Sundial in a Grave by Mary Gentle, Gollancz, 2003, £12.99, ISBN 0-575-07251-2
This big new historical fantasy is the author's most impressive novel to date. The time is the early 17th Century, but it's a time when magic is real and it is possible to use it to look at the future. One of the main characters in this rich and complex novel uses magic to do so, and decides that the world needs to be changed, changed in such a dramatic way that magic itself might cease to exist, at least in its current form. Set against a wonderfully described historical setting, peopled with diverse, credible, and interesting characters, the novel has enough traditional fantasy elements to hold the mainstream fantasy readership but is also original and inventive enough to catch the interest of readers who have grown tired of magical quests, usurped thrones, and evil sorcerers. This one's too big to be read in a single sitting, but you're going to want to anyway.
The Knight by Gene Wolfe, Tor, 01/ 04, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-30989-0
Gene Wolfe's new fantasy novel, the first half of "The Wizard Knight", is going to be very hard to describe. The plot makes it sound like any of several lesser novels published recently. A young boy from our world wakes up one day in the body of an adult in a fantasy realm, makes friends and enemies, sets off on a quest, and encounters a collection of mythical creatures. Given that plot summary, you might expect a well written but typical fantasy epic. What you get instead is an almost poetic adventure that reminded me more of William Morris than of Tolkien, beautifully crafted language, a style that seems deceptively light even when its rich with images. Readers who are looking for another novel of court intrigues and magical adventures might find themselves quite surprised by this one, and readers who normally avoid fantasy would be well advised to reconsider in this case.
Bibliomancy by Elizabeth Hand, PS Publishing, 2003, $50, ISBN 1-902880-73-0
Although Elizabeth Hand has not been a particularly prolific writer, she has managed to acquire an enviable reputation based on a handful of novels and shorter works. This attractive new hardcover collects four of her longer stories, along with an introduction by Lucius Shepard, which together illustrate just why she is so highly regarded. My personal favorite of the four is "Cleopatra Brimstone", wherein the obsessed protagonist is a perfect vehicle for conveying Hand's often fascinating imagery. Close behind is "Chip Crockett's Christmas Carol", original to this collection, which shows us that television might have even more power to shape us than we think. There's also a very effective horror story about the uneasy dead and my least favorite, though still quite good, a story that mixes Tarot and tattoos and a touch of clairvoyance. Serious writing for serious readers.
Guardian of the Zercons by Brian Jeffrey Voigt, Blue Pig, 2003, $21.95, ISBN 1-932545-18-2
Although this is a pretty minor fantasy novel by adult standards, younger readers might enjoy it. The protagonist is a young dragon, the only one that hasn't been struck blind, who goes on a quest for a magical artifact that might make him a hero and save the other dragons from the depredations of soldiers. He meets the usual array of characters in his travels, has some mildly exciting adventures, and eventually succeeds. Contains some reasonably good interior illustrations by the author.
Digital Knight by Ryk E. Spoor, Baen, 10/03, $7.99, ISBN 0-7434-7161-X
This first novel looks like science fiction, is labeled fantasy, and the plot sounds like a horror novel. The protagonist is a computer expert who occasionally does evidence analysis for the police, but who otherwise leads a very private life until the day he finds a body, apparently the victim of a real live vampire, or a real undead one. And that's just the beginning. Before long, a number of supposedly mythical creatures are impinging on his life, including shapechangers and other menaces. The tone is more light adventure, tinged with humor, than overt horror, and it is more likely to appeal to fantasy fans than horror readers, although the latter might well enjoy it as a change of pace.
A Yuletide Universe edited by Brian M.Thomsen, Warner, 11/03, $12.95, ISBN 0-446-69187-9
It seems like every year there are one or two new Christmas themed anthologies, usually fantasy, usually of fair to poor quality. This year there's another, but the quality this time is quite good, and although it's a reprint anthology, there are a few I hadn't read before, and they vary enough in tone and subject matter that they make up quite a nice little book. There are Christmas ghosts and Christmas futures, there are themes dark and even horrifying and others uplifting or amusing or merely clever. There are stories of Santa Claus being kidnapped, on the verge of death, replaced, and reformed. The stories are by Michael Bishop, L. Frank Baum, Connie Willis, Clive Barker, William Gibson, Harlan Ellison, and several others.
Riddles and Dreams by Ardath Mayhar, Images Publishing, 2003, $9.95, ISBN 0-9677017-4-0
I haven't seen Mayhar's byline on a book in a while, so I was pleased to see this one, the first in the "Exiles of Damaria" series. It's a fantasy novel, and much of the plot is familiar a civil war in a fantasy world, the theft of a magical artifact, a quest and a perilous journey. What makes this one different is that it's also an "uplift" novel, that is, a number of animal species have been raised to human intelligence through magic. Much of the conflict is interspecies, but the protagonist soon accumulates an entourage of varied origins. This one might be hard to locate but it's carried by Amazon and can also be ordered from imagespublishing.net.
The Black Jewels Trilogy by Anne Bishop, Roc, 12/03, $18, ISBN 0-451-52901-4
This is an omnibus of the first three novels in the Black Jewels series, Daughter of the Blood, Heir to the Shadows, and Queen of the Darkness, which were previously published between 1998 and 2000. It seems rather soon for a retrospective omnibus to me, but since the earlier titles are out of print and a new installment in the series has recently appeared, the timing is probably right. At twelve hundred pages, this is an unusually good buy for the price, particularly since the stories themselves are quite good. They center on a newly elevated queen, a young woman with magical powers, but because of her inexperience she is prey to the manipulations of the various court factions. As the sequence progresses, she finds love as well as animosity, mixes successes with failures, masters her magical talents, and becomes a mature and effective ruler. There's nothing radically different about this series, but you'll have no trouble becoming immersed in Bishop's world and interested in the fate of her characters.
Taint of Evil by Neil McIntosh, Black Library, 9/03, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-4361-6
The Ambassador by Graham McNeill, Black Library, 9/03, $6.99, ISBN 1-84416-051-3
More sword and sorcery from the Warhammer universe, both set in the frozen tundras of the nation of Kislev, a Russian style fantasy realm. Kislev is a fairly civilized society in a world where dark magic and savage enemies prey on the unwary. Both of these novels tend toward more political conflicts, however. The first is more action oriented. The protagonist searches for a comrade, discovers a community engaged in a desperate battle against the forces of evil, and eventually must resolve a question about his friend's loyalties. The second is slower paced but more interesting as a story, with a new envoy trying to revive a failing alliance against a common enemy. Neither novel stands out from among the rest of the Warhammer series, but both are written well enough to entertain their readers.
For the Emperor by Sandy Mitchell, Black Library, 9/03, $7.99, ISBN 1-84416-050-5
Wolfblade by William King, Black Library, 9/03, $7.99, ISBN 1-84416-021-1
The Warhammer universe is a strange and sometimes paradoxical one. It incorporates Robert E. Howard style sword and sorcery and military SF, sometimes in the same book. These two are space adventures, and the Mitchell is, I believe, a first novel. It has a few awkward spots, but it's actually a not bad other worlds adventure story about efforts to contain a planetary civil war and solve the mystery of a murdered ambassador. The King novel is the fourth in his series within Warhammer about a mercenary group called the Space Wolves. This time they become involved in an assassination plot on a distant world, and discover that their talents aren't as useful in this situation as they would be in an open fight. I liked two of the first three in this series, but this one just didn't hold my attention. The characters never came to life and I never really got interested in the story line.
The Emerald Cavern by Mitchell Graham, Eos, 01/ 04, $7.99, ISBN 0-06-050675-X
The follow-up to The Fifth Ring continues the adventures of a young man on a quest. This is a little less Tolkienesque than the first volume, which saw its protagonist acquire a magical ring and set out on a perilous journey. The journey continues now as he finds himself in a tumultuous kingdom ruled by an enigmatic despot, and is caught up in the opening stages of a civil war. Although a bit slower paced than the first volume, this one is still full of overt adventure and menace. The court intrigues are reasonably well done, though predictable, and the character seems to have taken on more depth with this volume. The prose is straightforward and competent and there are even occasional touches of humor. I'd not ready to name Graham as a hot new name but he's certainly skillful enough to keep me interested.
The Annotated Legends by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, Wizards of the Coast, 9/03, $$34.95, ISBN 0-7869-2992-8
This is more than an omnibus, although it's that as well, including the early Dragonlance trilogy, now nearly twenty years old, consisting of Time of the Twins, War of the Twins, and Test of the Twins. The added material is marginal notations, quite a lot of them in fact, explaining things, referencing other Dragonlance novels written subsequently. There are also lots of black and white illustrations and some in color. The twins in the novels are two brothers, one a sorcerer and the other a warrior. When the former tries to acquire godlike powers, his brother is concerned that the power might turn him into an evil force in the world. The conflict, between the two brothers and within the warrior's mind, are more complex than most of the novels set in this shared universe, and these are still among the best novels in that setting.
The Wolves of Calla by Stephen King, Donald Grant, 2003, $35, ISBN 1-880418-56-8
The fifth volume of the Dark Tower is, I think, the longest and in some ways the strangest. Roland is back, along with his companions, still journeying across a bizarre landscape, accompanied now by a band of diverse friends. This time they reach an apparently peaceful, bucolic village, but appearances can be deceitful. There's a deadly danger coming in the form of creatures who appear to be a cross between human and wolf, and some even stranger. They become caught up in the problems of the community, and discover revelations about their world, our own, and the mysterious tower for which Roland is seeking. King's dark fantasies have a unique feel and his bizarre created landscape feels almost real as we accompany his characters on their journey. I often wonder what his mainstream audience thinks of this series, which blends fantasy and horror and creates something that is a little of both but not entirely either one.
Troll Fell by Katherine Langrish, HarperCollins, 5/04, $15.99, ISBN 0-06-058304-5
For some reason, I have rarely enjoyed Viking age fantasy novels, so I approached this first effort for young adults with something less than enthusiasm. To my surprise, it caught my attention right away and held it to the end. The protagonist is a young boy, recently orphaned, who discovers to his horror that he has an uncle, a brutal, uncouth man who takes him away to a new life in a remote area. There he eventually makes new friends, but he also discovers the existence of a colony of trolls in the area, and eventually comes to the aid of a kidnapped girl. Surprisingly good and intelligent enough for an adult audience as well.
The Outstretched Shadow by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory, Tor, 10/03, $27.95, ISBN 0-765-30219-5
With and without collaborators, Mercedes Lackey seems to be a veritable fantasy production line, and given the volume, it's surprising that she maintains a fairly high quality level. And occasionally, as in this case, the quality is noticeably good. The protagonist in this, the first in a new series, is the son of a powerful wizard who becomes a fugitive when he discovers documents that indicate magic is much more extensive and diverse than is admitted by the council who rule his people. Fleeing from his pursuers, he explores the possibilities of his own magical talents far beyond what would previously have been thought acceptable, and discovers as well that some of the creatures which he believed to be mythical are very much real, including demons. Confused, frightened, harried, he begins to wonder if he dares use this forbidden magic, because by doing so, he might well change himself beyond recognition. I particularly liked the depth of the created world in this one, which mixes familiar images, creatures, and other fantasy elements in a refreshing new arrangement.
Prince of Ayodhya by Ashok K. Banker, Warner, 2003, $24.95, ISBN 0-446-53092-1
The vast majority of contemporary fantasy novels draw on European mythology and story telling traditions, so it's always a pleasure to see some new influence for a change. This is the first novel in a series based on the India legend of the Ramayana, in which a prince has a vision of a future struggle between humans and a host of demons marshaled by a being from another world. In the opening volume, he sets off on his quest to prepare the world to repel the attackers, and while the plot isn't all that different from mainstream fantasy, the details, creatures, background, and the entire feel of the novel are new and refreshingly dissimilar.
Legends II edited by Robert Silverberg, Del Rey, 1 /04, $28.95, ISBN 0-345-45644-0
The first Legends anthology drew upon a number of noted fantasy writers, each of whom contributed a long story set within the series of novels for which they were perhaps best known. That tradition continues in this follow up, with a Shannara story by Terry Brooks, an Outlander tale by Diana Gabaldon, a Pern adventure from Anne McCaffrey, a Majipoor story by editor Silverberg, a Riftwar tale by Raymond E. Feist, and several others including, best of all, a story from George R.R. Martin's excellent multi-volume fantasy series. There were a couple of stories I thought weren't up to the quality level of the rest, but that might be because of my fondness or lack thereof for the series from which they were drawn, and the excellent stories more than make up for any marginal ones. This has a good chance of being the best all original fantasy anthology of the year.
A Perilous Power by E. Rose Sabin, Tor, 1 /04, $19.95, ISBN 0-765-30859-2
This author's first young adult fantasy novel, A School for Sorcery, was very well received and obviously took advantage of the popularity of the Harry Potter books. The follow up which is actually a prequel is less imitative and in many ways much more interesting. It's another one of those in which the protagonist discovers magical talents, which are forbidden by the powers that be, and who then travels around searching for a place where he won't be persecuted because of his talents. He and his friends promptly get into a variety of trouble and the resolution of all the conflicts is handled well enough to hold the interest of even more seasoned and older readers. It would be interesting to see what this author might accomplish in a novel aimed at an adult audience.
The Grand Crusade by Michael A. Stackpole, Bantam, 12/03, $14.95, ISBN 0-553-37921-6
The fourth and final novel in the DragonCrown War series has the forces of good reeling from events in the previous volumes. The evil tyrant has not managed to impose rule over the entire world, but not for lack of trying, and has not been discouraged by the events in the past. More depressing for the forces of freedom is the apparent death of the man whom prophecy said would be crucial to a favorable outcome of the battle to come. The hero's former friends try to rally their forces even without his presence, but they're fighting an uphill battle. We know, of course, that they will eventually prevail since this is the end of the series, but Stackpole still manages to keep us in reasonable suspense for most of the novel, and he has held back a surprise or two for the final chapters. The series as a whole is far superior to Stackpole's earlier fantasy and bodes well for whatever project he tackles next.
The Magic Shop edited by Denise Little, DAW, 2/04, $6.99, ISBN 0-7564-0173-9
There is almost a little subcategory within fantasy about magic shops, with classics like Theodore Sturgeon's "Shottle Bop" and others. Denise Little has collected here fifteen original stories for yet another theme anthology, thankfully in this case one that leaves a lot of room for variation. The contributors include a lot of familiar names in fantasy including Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Michelle West, Laura Resnick, Rosemary Edghill, and others, all of whom provide good, workmanlike, and generally amusing stories. There are even better ones by Mel Odom, Gary Braunbeck, and Josepha Sherman. Thematically they run from very funny to lightly amusing to decidedly dark in tone, and if there's a tendency toward stories where magic goes awry, then that's just the nature of the beast. This is one of those collections where I recommend reading in batches rather than all at once.
Mortal Suns by Tanith Lee, Overlook, 2003, $26.95, ISBN 1-58567-207-6
The heir to the throne of a fantasy kingdom that resembles ancient Greece and Egypt is born with a horrible deformity no feet and is banished to a mystical underworld. There she grows to maturity before events return her to her homeland, and the fate that has been awaiting her and the kingdom. Tanith Lee has been one of my favorite fantasy writers ever since her first novels began to appear from DAW Books many years back. She has a unique talent for creating an environment that is strange enough to be interesting but familiar enough to be convincing. Since then, her ability to create believable characters even those existing under bizarre conditions has steadily improved. We don't see anywhere near enough original fantasy fiction, and we don't see anywhere near enough Tanith Lee titles to satisfy me.
Trickster's Choice by Tamora Pierce, Random House, 2003, $17.95, ISBN 0-375-81466-3
Tamora Pierce's young adult fantasies are filled with strong willed young women, but her latest is probably her feistiest heroine yet. Aly is the daughter of prominent citizens of Tortall, but that doesn't protect her when she is kidnapped by pirates and sold into slavery. But it's another case of the "Ransom of Red Chief" because she is soon making deals with magicians to improve her situation, and despite her low status, she ends up having a significant effect on the people who purchase her. Pierce is one of the few writers of young adult fiction whose work consistently appeals to adult tastes as well.
The Lone Drow by R.A. Salvatore, Wizards of the Coast, 10/03, $25.95, ISBN 0-7869-3012-8
R.A. Salvatore is one of the handful of writers who started with TSR books but who subsequently achieved significant success with other publishers. Salvatore has not forgotten his roots, however, and he still produces some of the best of the Forgotten Realms novels, of which this is the latest. His protagonist, Drizzt Do'Urden, is an elf who has appeared in previous books, including The Thousand Orcs, to which this is the direct sequel. This time he's involved in a major war, including a siege, travels through caverns that aren't entirely uninhabited, encountering dwarves, monsters, and other creatures. There's not much here for fans of literary fantasy, but plenty of swords and sorcery for adventure lovers.
Merlin the Sorcerer by William P. Burch, Taylor Madison, 2004, $24.95, ISBN 0-9744947-0-4
You might expect from the title that this would be an Arthurian fantasy novel, but it isn't exactly. It's more like an Arthurian SF novel. Merlin is Merlin Lakin, head of an archaeological expedition investigating the collapse of the Mayan Empire in the 9th Century. But they discover more than they bargained for, including a feasible means of traveling through time. In due course, they are sent back to the era of King Arthur on a special mission, but one which begins to develop in quite unexpected ways, as our Merlin becomes in fact the famous figure of legend, affecting the course of King Arthur's reign. This thoroughly researched adventure story is the first in a series, although it's not clear from the end of this one in which direction the sequels might go. The story is entertainingly told and fast moving, and the settings are quite well realized.
The Gates to Witch World by Andre Norton, Orb, 2003, $17.95, ISBN 0-765-30051-6
I have very mixed feelings about the first Witch World novel, published way back in 1963. The first in the series is still my favorite, and at the time I thought it was evidence that one of my favorite writers was branching out into new areas. Unfortunately, it was more than a branch, it was a new direction to her writing career, and one which disappointed me more often than not. She would occasionally produce a space adventure in the years that followed, but none with the liveliness of her earlier work. That said, this omnibus of her first three fantasy novels, Witch World, Web of the Witch World, and Year of the Unicorn, is still a welcome sight, particularly for fans of the series who haven't been able to find the older works. The second volume is a logical sequel; the evil Kolder, whose invasion was thwarted in the first book, are invaded in turn in the second. The third novel uses the same setting, but the adventure is much less compelling and the characters only slightly more interesting.
Thief of Lives by Barb & J.C. Hendee, Roc, 1/ 04, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-45953-9
Vampire slayers just don't get a break. Magiere and her elf companion, Leesil, have decided to abandon their trade and settle down in a small village, following the events in the first novel in this series, Dhampir. Magiere wants nothing to do with her former occupation, but when evidence appears of a vampire in a distant city, she is prevailed upon to track it down in return for a handsome bounty. She and Leesil set off, somewhat reluctantly on her part, but they are soon caught up in the mystery. And mystery it is, because Magiere discovers that she is the target of an elaborate and far reaching conspiracy. Vampires have appeared in fantasy worlds before, but rarely as well handled as in this new and, presumably, ongoing series.
A Wizard Named Nell by Jackie French Koller, Aladdin, 2003, $4.99, ISBN 0-689-84491-5
The job of Keeper's Apprentice has always been limited to young boys, but when none of them can qualify for the job, young Nell decides to try for the job. Opposing her are a number of forces, some of them evil, but the evil in this young adult novel is pretty tame and even though this is only the first in a series, the outcome is obviously not in doubt. The story is interesting enough but the novel is written down considerably and I suspect that even some readers in the targeted age group (8 to 12) will find this a bit too cute.
Lust by Geoffrey Ryman, St Martins, 2003, $25.95, ISBN 0-312-31211-3
This intriguing new novel was first published in England a couple of years ago and has finally made its way to this side of the Atlantic. The protagonist is a gay scientist who discovers one day that he can make things happen just by wishing them so. The ability to conjure up historical characters and engage them in sexual and other social activity is a powerful aphrodisiac and he deserts his long time lover for a series of clever and amusing adventures. Ultimately he finds that he is limited by his own psyche, that the forces that shaped him as a youth control him even now, and the ultimate power is not all that it's cracked up to be. A powerful, intelligent, and original story for those who want to read something a little out of the ordinary.
Avaryan Resplendent by Judith Tarr, Tor, 12/03, $19.95, ISBN 0-765-30902-5
The second three novels of Judith Tarr's Avaryan series, Arrows of the Sun, The Spear of Heaven, and The Tides of Darkness, are combined in this massive new trade paperback edition, over eight hundred pages of fine fantasy. In the first, a young man reluctantly assumes the throne, and almost immediately finds himself embroiled in a battle for power. Next is an attempt to use magical gates to explore other realities, a plan thwarted by a mysterious opposing force. And finally a powerful mental force sweeps through the various realities. Tarr's fantasies are invariably well written and rich in background detail. If you don't have these titles already, here's your chance to get them all at once, in a handsome single volume edition.
The Devil's Armor by John Marco, DAW, 11/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-7564-0155-0
John Marco follows up The Eyes of God with this new fantasy adventure, and it's one of the better ones I've read recently. Our hero is still sulking, feeling guilty about having betrayed his king in the previous volume, even though the man was criminally insane. In penance, he takes a posting at an obscure stronghold where his duties are designed to take his mind off the past. But there's another element of the past that's about to change his life. Deep in the stronghold is an ancient suit of armor, one which holds a strange fascination for him. It's a suit of armor, but not just an ordinary one. This one is possessed by a magic force, and its awakening could shake the entire world. A darker fantasy than his previous novels, but it's also the best work Marco has done to date.
Swan Sister edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, Simon & Schuster, 2003, $16.99, ISBN 0-689-84613-4
Most fairy tales were originally written as much for adults as children, and it isn't surprising that many have been rewritten some at novel length by modern fantasy writers. This new anthology consists of retellings of classic fairy tales, and though it is marketed for young readers, it should appeal to us old fogies just as much as did those earlier stories. There are two versions of Red Riding Hood here, some Arabian Nights stuff, and several other stories drawn from various sources and retold with modern sensibilities and considerable skill. The list of contributors would grace any adult anthology as well and includes Tanith Lee, Kathe Koja, Neil Gaiman, Jane Yolen, Midori Snyder, and several others. So sneak into the kids' section at the bookstore and buy yourself a copy. Tell the clerk it's for your kids.
The Blades of Chaos by Gav Thorpe, Black Library, 2003, $7.99, ISBN 1-84416-018-1
This is the second novel in a subseries of the Warhammer universe featuring a heroic warrior named Kurt Leitzig. In his new adventure, he sets off with a group of adventurers to a distant land, searching for treasure, and they find it by invading a long sealed tomb in the land of Araby. Unfortunately, the tomb is guarded by an army of the undead, and the army immediately seeks vengeance for the desecration of their trust. Lots of thud and blunder and hewing and hacking, better written than most similar novels, but with little to offer readers who aren't fond of this subgenre.
Thraxas by Martin Scott, Baen, 9/03, $7.99, ISBN 0-7434-7152-0
There have been at least six Thraxas novels published in the UK, and now the first two are combined into this single volume. The protagonist is a lapsed sorcerer turned private investigator in a more or less typical fantasy world, and in each of these two volumes he has to solve a mystery. That's only part of the story, however, because unlike the Lord Darcy stories by Randall Garrett, these are played primarily for laughs, although the plots themselves aren't bad. The humor is under control, however, not the broad farce found in some funny fantasy, but considerably more restrained so as not to disrupt the plot. I found the series a bit repetitious in the later volumes, but that shouldn't stop you from enjoying these first two outings.
The Red Glacier by Julia Gray, Orbit, 12/03, $7.95, ISBN 1-84149-123-3
Alyssa's Ring by Julia Gray, Orbit, 12/03, $7.95, ISBN 1-84149-146-2
These are the fourth and fifth in the Guardian series, from a fantasy writer who is overdue for an American publisher, although the Orbit editions are being distributed in this country by Trafalgar. In the fourth, our wandering protagonist finds a land where an ancient war is raging, and where even volcanoes can be turned into weapons. In the fifth and last, the exile finally decides to return to his homeland and confront the enemies who drove him out four volumes back. Both books are big, straightforward adventures with several surprises in the plot, an exotic and fairly original setting, and a likeable character whose exploits are entertaining and sometimes cleverly conceived. I wouldnt characterize these as gems hidden from the US reading public, but they're certainly as good or better than most of the fantasy titles currently in the bookstores.
Twilight Falling by Paul S. Kemp, Wizards of the Coast, 2003, $6.99, ISBN 0-7869-2998-7
The Alabaster Staff by Edward Bolme, Wizards of the Coast, 2003, $6.99, ISBN 0-7869-2962-6
Although I've never been particularly interested in the Forgotten Realms fantasy series, I sample volumes from time to time, and it's been clear that the quality of the writing has improved considerably over the course of the last several years. These two are good examples. Kemp lets us watch the adventures of Erevis Cale, a man whose latest employer is a bit out of the ordinary. Rather than contend for worldly goods and temporal power, he is after the ultimate treasure control of human souls. There's enough suspense to keep you guessing, and reading, right to the end. Even better is Bolme's story of a street entertainer who suddenly finds herself caught up in a web of intrigues, spies, murder, and false accusations. Kehrsyn is a reasonably well developed character and her exploits are fast paced and enthusiastically described. Neither book is a world beater but they're both nice, solid fantasies.
Tolkien and the Great War by John Garth, Houghton Mifflin, 11/03, $26, ISBN 0-618-33129-8
Although we've been inundated with new books about Tolkien in recent years, this one proved to be fairly new and quite interesting. The author, who has drawn on previously untapped sources, draws parallels between the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Tolkien's own experiences during World War I. Some of the comparisons are pretty obvious, but others are more subtle. It also provides more insight into Tolkien as a person than have some other books I've read that purport to do just that.
Exile's Valor by Mercedes Lackey, DAW, 10/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-7564-0206-9
Here's the second volume of a new subset of the Valdemar series. Alberich has become a herald even though he served in a foreign army for most of his career and had to overcome distrust and dislike when he switched his allegiance. Now the king is dead and his young daughter has assumed the throne, but her hold is weak and she is beset by various factions, each of whom wants her to marry one of their number in order to secure a position of power within Valdemar. She has different ideas, however, and Alberich is key to her plans to resist the pressure. This is another of those stories whose outcome is never really in doubt, but Lackey does her usual good job of making the journey an enjoyable one.
In the King's Service by Katherine Kurtz, Ace, 11/03, $23.95, ISBN 0-441-01060-1
Katherine Kurtz returns to Gwynedd and the Deryni for this new novel, part of a subset of that series, in this case set well before the events of the other novels. The Deryni are still respected although they are secretive, particularly in their influence of the throne and the king, a ruthless, domineering man who demands absolute obedience from his subjects. This is the story of some of those subjects, both human and Deryni, caught up in the political struggles of the aristocracy and the plans of an absolute ruler who uses people as pawns in his efforts to ensure the continuation of his dynasty. Kurtz is one of the best of those fantasy writers who use medieval-like settings for their novels, and this is one of her better books.
Any Man So Daring by Sarah A. Hoyt, Ace, 11/03, $23.95, ISBN 0-441-01092-X
Once again, Sarah Hoyt takes us the world of William Shakespeare, playwright and acquaintance of the ruler of the world of Faerie. Shakespeare is troubled by the lingering presence of the dead Christopher Marlowe, but this mild haunting will eventually become more significant when his son, Hamnet, crosses into the land of the fairies and is taken prisoner. Hoyt's previous two novels of Shakespeare and the fairies were both excellent, but I'd call this one merely pretty good. The novelty of the setting has faded, and this new adventure seems less spirited and engaging, although it was certainly pleasant enough to read. I suspect, however, that the author needs to turn to another subject.
Tales Before Tolkien edited by Douglas A. Anderson, Del Rey, 9/03, $26.95, ISBN 0-345-45854-0
I'm not sure if you could prove that the twenty two classic fantasy stories in this collection actually inspired J.R.R. Tolkien as the cover blurb would suggest, but they are in any case a representative cross section of mainstream fantasy in the early 20th Century. Among the authors included here are James Branch Cabell, H. Rider Haggard, William Hope Hodgson, Lord Dunsany, and A. Merritt, along with others less well known but no less interesting. There were actually a few stories here I hadn't encountered before, and although a couple of them were of more historical than literary interest, the majority are evocative stories that should not be allowed to vanish into footnotes and obscure collector's editions. So here's your chance to get a glimpse of what fantasy was like before The Lord of the Rings changed it forever.
Juliet Dove, Queen of Love by Bruce Coville, Harcourt, 10/03, $17, ISBN 0-15-204561-9
Juliet Dove is a typical teenaged girl, confused and unhappy about her romantic life, which isn't very active until she wanders into a magic shop and ends up with an amulet that attracts boys whether she wants them or not. As if that wasn't complication enough, she is experiencing other magical effects as well, including a visit from talking messenger rats with communications from the magic shop. Coville has always been one of the best at light contemporary young adult fantasy and this is one of his best. The events of the story don't involve epic battles, confrontations with the ultimate evil, or any of the melodrama of mainstream fantasy, but they're just as important to the characters and they resonate much more effectively with contemporary readers.
The Destroyer Goddess by Laura Resnick, Tor, 12/03, $27.95, ISBN 0-765-30875-4
This is actually the second half of one novel, the previous volume of which was The White Dragon, sequel to the earlier In Legends Born. The land of Sileria has been caught up in a violent power struggle, and now the leader of the rebels has died and our hero, Tansen, has taken his place. But Tansen's life is also in danger, until his rescue by a slightly mysterious outsider. If the future of Sileria is to be assured and the efforts of those who died is to be rewarded, Tansen will have to confront the most powerful figure in the world, and find a way to ensure that the people of Sileria will be free of magical as well as mundane compulsion. Well written mainstream fantasy, but don't try to read it without having first read the first half.
Sun in Glory and Other Tales of Valdemar edited by Mercedes Lackey, DAW, 12/03, $6.99, ISBN 0-7564-0166-6
Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar series has been the centerpiece of her fantasy career for more than a decade, and now she has opened up that world to other writers as well. Valdemar is a kingdom protected by a group of magic users known as the Heralds. Their exploits are further embellished here by Nancy Asire, Rosemary Edghill, Tanya Huff, Mickey Zucker Reichert, Josepha Sherman, and others. In most shared universe anthologies of this kind, the stories tend to be less vivid reflections of the original author's work, and that's the case here as well, although Sherman, Huff, Reichert, and Michelle West have quite good stories, and there's another by Lackey herself. Familiarity with the series helps but is not a prerequisite to enjoying this book.
Confidence Game by Michelle M. Welch, Bantam, 10/03, $5.99, ISBN 0-553-58627-2
This first novel is a blend of spy adventure and traditional fantasy. The protagonist is a young woman who has worked as a spy for her government, using her unusual magical powers to help things along. But she has decided to end her career and, as we all know, it's not that easy to resign from the spy business. Before long she is battling old enemies and old friends alike, as well as a deadly shapechanger. A solid adventure story with enough new twists to be noteworthy and perhaps the harbinger of better stories to come.
Agents of Light and Darkness by Simon R. Green, Ace, 11/03, $6.50, ISBN 0-441-01113-6
I'm a sucker for private detective crossover stories, so I really enjoyed Green's first John Taylor novel, and the second one is even better. This time he's off in pursuit of the Unholy Grail, that is, the cup from which Judas drank when he was about to betray Jesus. He is aided in his quest by Shotgun Suzie, a disreputable bounty hunter and a distinctly memorable character. What follows is the usual private eye stuff, but with a bizarre kick every once in a while, and it all adds up to one of the easiest and fastest reads I've had this summer.
Dragon Venom by Lawrence Watt-Evans, Tor, 10/03, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-30279-9
The conclusion of the Obsidian Chronicles proves that there's always a price to be paid. Arlian has the Duke's support in his efforts to wipe out the last of the magical dragons that have preyed on humans throughout history, but as the end approaches, he discovers that there is a down side. The remaining members of the Dragon Society, who live for a thousand years in return for giving birth to new dragons, have managed to hold out in a fortress, and they send word that Arlian's efforts may doom them all. The magic of the dragons kept other, even worse magics, from afflicting the land, and now that the power of the former is waning, there are warning signs along the borders that something even worse is waiting to take their place. I've enjoyed the author's previous fantasy novels without exception, and this new trilogy is easily his most gripping and intriguing work to date.
Power of Three by Diana Wynne Jones, Greenwillow, 2003, $16.99, ISBN 0-06-623743-2
This is a re-issue of a young adult fantasy originally published in 1976. Gair is one of three royal children, the other two of whom have psychic powers, although Gair believes that he has somehow been shortchanged in that regard. They live in a land where enigmatic giants and a race of shapechangers both make life interesting and dangerous, and they have been cautioned against taking chances. But when Gair decides that he has been bullied by another relative for too long, he decides to take a risk, and by doing so discovers a secret about the future of his people, as well as the truth about himself. This was thoroughly enjoyable when I first read it more than twenty years ago, and it hasn't lost any of its effectiveness with the passage of time.
East by Edith Pattou, Harcourt, 9/03, $18, ISBN 0-15-204563-5
Edith Pattou has taken the story of the Beauty and the Beast and given it an unusual and interesting new turn in this young adult novel. Ebba Rose, known as Rose, is the last of seven children in a Norwegian family of the distant past, although she has never really felt as though she was fully a part of her family. Then one day she is taken away by a magical white bear to a deserted castle where she is visited by a mysterious and engaging stranger, but only when the bear isn't around. Parts of what follow are predictable but other parts are quite new and thoughtfully developed, and Rose's discoveries, her joys and sorrows, are told at quite an adult level despite the packaging. This is not just another fairy tale retelling but an original work in its own right.
Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton, Tor, 11/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30264-0
Jo Walton's first three fantasies were very well written, but fit right in with mainstream fantasy, castles, kings, and the usual magic menaces. Her newest book breaks from that mold, and it's very much different from anything else I've read recently, even though in other ways it isn't all that out of the ordinary. The plot is pretty straightforward. The head of a prominent family dies, having made arrangements for the distribution of his estate, which is to be divided among his five children, all of whom have agreed in advance to the distribution. But things don't go quite as planned, and the children themselves take up very different lives as a consequence. Sounds almost like a contemporary novel, not even fantasy, doesn't it? Well, the catch is that the family consists of dragons, and that dragons have a very different way of dealing with life than do humans, not the least of which is their traditional eating of the body of their dead father. There is some low level but very wry humor at work behind the scenes in what is otherwise a very serious and absorbing novel. Walton has already proven that she can do better than most at what they all do; now she's demonstrating that she can do her own thing as well.
Magic's Song by Laura J. Underwood, Wildside, 2003, $14.99, ISBN 1-59224-118-2
The wandering bard has been a staple of the fantasy genre for longer than I've been reading it, and the device seems as popular today as it ever was. These sixteen stories follow the adventures of a bard who also has magical powers, and who encounters demons, dragons, beautiful women, heroic warriors, and cunning villains as he travels about. Despite the melodramatic plots in many of the stories, they are comparatively lighthanded and sometimes almost whimsical. About half of the stories appear for the first time, but you won't notice any difference in the quality, and as a unit the book flows well from one story to the next, without any really standing out except "A Winter's Tale" and "The Black Tower".
Dragon's Fire, Wizard's Flame by Michael R. Mennenga, Dragon Moon, 2003, $10.95, ISBN 1-896944-13-2
This young adult fantasy novel is perhaps a little bit too cute for most adult readers, but it has its moments. The protagonist is a young dragon (comparatively speaking, of course) who is unable to breathe fire like others of his kind. Unable to solve the problem at home, he ventures out into the wider world in search of a cure and has a series of very light adventures, while the reader is being shown metaphorically how unkindly people with handicaps are sometimes treated. It would probably be most successful with an early teen audience.
House of War by Judith Tarr, Roc, 10/03, $16, ISBN 0-451-52900-6
The first novel in this series, Devil's Bargain, was one of the best historical fantasies I've read recently, and the sequel is at least as good. Richard the Lionheart has accepted the throne of the land of fairies as well as becoming king of Jerusalem. In the first book, Richard and his allies defeated an evil sorcerer, but as you might expect, villains die hard and he's back. They'll need powerful magic to defeat him a second time, but this time the magic itself may prove dangerous to those who attempt to wield it. Tarr blends her magic with actual historical events as well or better than any other writer in the field, and her historical settings all have an air of authenticity and believability that is absent from too many recent fantasy epics. Anyone can plop their story down in the past and tell it, but it takes a writer of Tarr's caliber to make us believe in it.
Claiming Her by Marilyn Brahen, Wildside, 2003, $35, ISBN 1-59224-198-0
The protagonist of this new fantasy novel is a young woman trying to adjust to the fact that her marriage is on the rocks, a woman who feels out of step with the world, partly because of the psychic abilities which run in her family and which she keeps concealed from others. Eventually she begins to learn of deeper reasons for her discontent. She is the reincarnation of a woman who was once loved by a superhuman being from the distant past. Her rediscovery of herself involves the discovery of a vaster reality than she expected, and for the reader a journey through an intricately developed universe based partly on traditional views of Heaven and Hell, but inventive enough to keep the reader guessing. This is another of those books that is particularly rewarding to those who have had more than enough disguised historical novels with a fantasy overlay and who want to try something new and inventive, and it's pretty well written to boot.
Guardian Angel by Stephanie Bedwell-Grime, Telos, 2003, £9.99, ISBN 1-903889-62-6
Here's an odd little book, a contemporary fantasy with angels and demonic intervention and some sexy romance and even some genuinely amusing humor. The protagonist is a curvaceous guardian angel with a bit of a crush on one of her charges, and she gets pretty upset when the enemy moves against not only the innocent man, but his guardian herself. This is a British book and I'm not sure how much distribution Telos gets on this side of the ocean, but if you like good contemporary fantasy, or if you just want a break from the latest quest for the magical artifact or battle against the evil wizard and his minions, then here's a nice change of pace fantasy with likeable characters and a devilishly clever villain.
Come Armageddon by Anne Perry, Ace, 9/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-441-01089-X
The first half of this two part novel, Tathea, is a mystical fantasy that periodically gets too wrapped up in its own mysticism, but which nevertheless was reasonably entertaining. The second half, which in general has a more active plot, is actually even less interesting. Tathea has been wandering the wastelands for years, and now expects to find the legendary heroes who will face off against an evil force. But to her dismay, they don't seem to be there. I suspect the mysticism has something to do with the author's conversion to Mormonism, because I can see parallels in the story line here. Unfortunately, there's not enough entertainment value here to justify penetrating the idiosyncratic stuff.
The Third Magic by Molly Cochran, Forge, 10/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-312-86440-X
Molly Cochran collaborated with Warren Murphy on the previous volumes in this series, which transplant the story of King Arthur into modern America, but the latest is a solo effort. Arthur Blessing has grown to manhood and he's determined to find the Holy Grail and fulfill his destiny, but his path is block by Guinevere. Outside the circle of Camelot, the exertions by Arthur and the others sometimes looks very strange, but they persevere. Mixing taxicabs with knights, Air Force bases and magical artifacts, the story sometimes moves a bit roughly, some of the images jarring too much, but more often than not it provides an unusual and delightful new perspective on a very familiar story.
Goddess of the Ice Realm by David Drake, Tor, 9/03, $27.95, ISBN 0-312-87388-3
David Drake returns to the world of Lord of the Isles for a fifth round of adventures. In this volume, the stories separate significantly although they remain intertwined. Two of the central characters find themselves transported to entirely different and separate worlds, where they have to overcome unique obstacles of their own. In their home reality, their friendly wizard warns them of a new, supernatural evil menace. Complete with talking axes, volcanoes, good wizards and bad, clashes, battles, mysteries solved, and villains defeated, at least for the moment. Drake is one of the best at pure fantasy adventure. I find his settings to be rather generic most of the time and his characters are sometimes flat, but this one is livelier and deeper than most of his other work, and is certainly the best of his traditional fantasies.
Myth Alliances by Robert Asprin and Jody Lynn Nye, Meisha Merlin, 9/03, $25, ISBN 1-59222-008-8
This is a new Myth novel, not to be confused with the omnibus of the same name published by the Science Fiction Book Club a while back. Myth books almost need no description, because you know right up front that they're going to be broad farcical romps whose plots are almost irrelevant at times. Skeeve and Aahz are back again, of course, this time facing the usual flurry of tasks, primarily helping Wuhses. The Wuhses prevailed upon the Pervects to help them, but now they want rid of their bothersome benefactors as well, and our heroes have to ride to the rescue once again. There are the usual comic devices and this is hardly a new direction for the series, but sometimes low humor is comforting as well as amusing, particularly when it's well done.
Sissajig and Other Surprises by Ruth Plumly Thompson, Internation Wizard of Oz Club, 2003, $25 plus $3 shipping, ISBN 1-930764-05-7. There's also a trade paperback for $15 plus shipping. Both are from Joel Harris, 1407 A Str #D, Antioch, CA 94509.
Ruth Plumly Thompson was the most prolific of the Oz authors, and her nineteen novels outnumber even those by Baum himself. This is a collection of stories and poems, most of them very similar in tone to the Oz books, standalone and some in linked series including the Perhappsy Adventures and the Pumperdink Adventures. I thoroughly enjoyed most of them, particularly some of the poems, and they seem more clever and entertaining than even my recollection of the Oz books I read when much younger. There are nice black and white illustrations sprinkled throughout this handsome little book, a must for Oz fans and any reader who enjoys fairy tales and well written children's fantasy.
The Lair of Bones by David Farland, Tor, 11/03, $27.95, ISBN 0-765-30176-8
David Farland, who is actually Dave Wolverton, brings the Runelords series to an apparent end with this, the fourth volume. The evil genius who tried to dominate the world and become immortal through the use of dark magic forces has been, at least for the moment, defeated, as have his allies, a race of insectlike creatures who live beneath the Earth. But neither has been vanquished completely, and if Prince Gaborn's people are ever to be free of their threat, the war must be carried to them. Averan returns along with other familiar characters as humans invade the underground world and conduct the final battle for the future of the Earth. Farland manages to lift this above the swarm of similar novels on the strength of his characterization and the really nasty villains he has created for this series. Not an earthshaker, but definitely worth the price of admission.
Fudoki by Kij Johnson, Tor, 10/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30390-6
I've been partial to Oriental style fantasies ever since discovering Ernest Bramah back in the 1970s. Kij Johnson's second novel, like her first, is based at least partially on Japanese legends. The protagonist is a cat set to wander following a catastrophe. When she is noticed by a few minor deities, she is given a new form, and as a female human warrior, she is eventually a confidant of the higher social castes. Although this bears some similarities to its predecessor, The Fox Woman, the stage is larger this time, there's more overt action, and mainstream fantasy readers will probably find more to their liking. Although I personally preferred the more circumscribed setting of the first, this new one was certainly no disappointment. If Johnson explores this territory further, I will certainly be there to follow the path she lays.
Even Odder by Steve Burt, Burt Publications, 2003, $14.95, ISBN 0-9741407-0-8
Odd Lot by Steve Burt, Burt Publications, 2001, $14.95, ISBN 0-9649283-2-9
Under ordinary circumstances, when an author's name is the same as the publisher's name, it's clearly a vanity press and not worth reading. Occasionally there are exceptions. These two collections of short stories are in fact self published, and some of them are quite minor, but many of them are pretty good and some would not be out of place in professional genre magazines and anthologies. They are predominantly horror, I suppose, although more Twilight Zonish horror than anything else. Most of them previously appeared either in small press or non-genre publications, so they should be new to most readers. If you only read a book a month, these probably aren't worth your time. If you just can't get enough twisted stories to sate your appetite, these should be on your menu.
Barry Trotter and the Unauthorized Parody by Michael Gerber, Fireside, 2002, $11, ISBN 0-7432-4428-1
The title pretty much tells it all, although this is a much funnier parody than many others I've seen, and it must have done well in England, because there's already a sequel, Barry Trotter and the Unnecessary Sequel. In the tradition of the Harry Potter books, the title has even been changed. In the UK, it's the "shameless parody". Even the copyright page is hilarious. Hogwarts becomes Hogwash. Valdemoort become Valumart. Puns, send ups, bad jokes, good jokes, farce, and lots of fun. Most of the humor is at the other end of the spectrum from subtle, but some of it is very clever as well.
Echo of Eternity by Maggie Furey, Bantam, 7/03, $6.99, ISBN 0-553-58575-4
The third in the Shadowleague series falls right in the middle of mainstream fantasy. The barriers between realities have fallen, and Myrial is now vulnerable to attacks by creatures and forces from which it had previously been sheltered. After one particularly devastating attack, the powers that be decide to organize a stronger defense, but their plight seems hopeless until someone suggests that there might be powerful, magical artifacts which could turn the tide. The predictable quest follows, and it's pretty straightforward, but the story is lifted by some very good dialogue and a couple of more than usually interesting characters. Furey writes consistently at the top of what I'd consider the middle tier of fantasy writers. Based on the improvement I've seen during the course of her first few novels, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see her jump into the top rank.
The Iron Grail by Robert Holdstock, Earthlight, 2003, £6.99, ISBN 0-7434-4032-3
In Celtika, to which this is the sequel, Merlin searched for and eventually found Jason and the Argonauts, frozen in suspended animation, and helped Jason discover what had happened to his sons. Now, in the sequel, they band of companions is on its way back to the British Isles, but they're not going to find the voyage an easy or uneventful one. Although Holdstock is obviously drawing on existing myths here, he's also creating a sort of new myth cycle of his own, mixing the two strains and adding original material. There's a dreamlike quality to much of the novel that is very hard to describe, but which gives the story an ethereal quality that makes it far more memorable than would otherwise be the case. Some mainstream fantasy fans might well find this somewhat disorienting, but for those who are tired of that same old quest, Holdstock offers something new and intriguing.
The Wreck of Heaven by Holly Lisle, Eos, 4/03, $6.99, ISBN 0-380-81838-8
One of the familiar plot devices in fantasy fiction is the one in which people from our world find a gateway or are kidnapped into another reality, one where magic works. It's a useful set up because it makes it easier for the reader to identify with the protagonist, and provides a structured way to reveal the magical world, through the eyes of a character who is just as much in the dark as we are. This is the second volume in one such series. Two women from our reality find themselves on a quest, determined to defeat a viciously evil and inhuman entity from the magical land to which they've been brought. It isn't earthbreaking in scope or startling in originality, but the last few novels from Lisle have been much more tightly plotted and have been peopled by far more interesting characters than in her earlier work. If the local bookstores are representative, you might have to hunt a bit to find this. I've never even seen the first in the series. But it will be worth your time to do so.
Devlin's Honor by Patricia Bray, Bantam, 6/03, $5.99, ISBN 0-553-58474-6
It used to be said, with some justification, that the middle volumes of trilogies were often the lowest point in the story. I don't know if this is meant to be a trilogy or a longer series, but the second volume in Devlin's career is definitely a letdown from the first. He has been declared the Chosen One, the fabled protector of his people, but some disagree with the decision because he doesn't possess the magical sword that is supposed to be part of the prophecy. Devlin recognizes a picture of the sword, which is back in his home town, and sets off to retrieve it and prove himself again, and the bulk of the book is about his journey which, while not completely uneventful, tends to plod at times and allowed my attention to wander more than once. Hopefully Bray will pick up the pace with the next volume.
Hidden Warrior by Lynn Flewelling, Bantam, 7/03, $6.99, ISBN 0-553-58342-5
Just when you think that no one could possibly do anything really original with the disguised child fantasy, someone proves you wrong. The protagonist is one of many doomed by royal decree, but she escapes after being magically transformed into the form of a man. In that guise, she or he, it gets really hard to pick pronouns in a case like this rises to a degree of prominence in the military and acquires a small circle of friends, none of whom know the truth about her/him. Eventually, however, the protagonist must forswear herself and act for the good of her people, if not her lord. This is really good stuff, one of the better fantasies I've read recently, and Tobin is also one of the more complex for obvious reasons characters the genre has produced.
Inheritance by Simon Brown, DAW, 10/03, $6.99, ISBN 0-7564-0162-3
In this, the opening volume of what I assume is a trilogy, the queen of a magical land divides the symbol of power among her four children. Lowest ranked of them all is Lynan, who is illegitimate. Frustrated by his exclusion from the inner circle of the throne, he is nevertheless stunned when his half siblings exclude him from their court after the queen has died. Unfortunately for them, they neglected to acquire his portion of the symbol, and now they're after him, while he in turn is trying to find out the truth about his father. Entertainingly written, and Lynan is well drawn enough to evoke our sympathy, but the plot is otherwise just another variation on a too commonly used theme.
Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett, Harper, 10/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-06-001315-X
The Bromeliad Trilogy by Terry Pratchett, Harper, 9/03, $17.99, ISBN 0-06-054855-X
Discworld is back, and if the humor is a bit less frantic this time, it's no less amusing. Polly, the protagonist, isn't happy working in a tavern and wants to join the army, so she impersonates a man in order to join the army. You can probably anticipate some of the consequences, but even when you see the joke coming, it's still funny. Polly makes friends with a vampire and the resident Igor and together they get into a lot more trouble. I'd put this in the upper third of the series in terms of quality. Also worth mentioning is the second title, a trade paperback that includes the three novels from 1989 and 1990, Truckers, Diggers, and Wings, previously published together by the SF Book Club as the Johnny Maxwell Trilogy. The stories involve a group of little people, and I mean real little people like John Peterson's " Littles" or Mary Norton's "Borrowers". They have various humorous adventures, and although they're not nearly as funny as Discworld, they have a unique charm of their own.
Darknesses by L.E. Modesitt Jr., Tor, 8/03, $27.95, ISBN 0-765-30704-9
The second volume of the Corean Chronicles picks up right where the last left off. Our hero, Alucius, managed to learn how to use his magical abilities and avoided slavery, instead becoming a member of his nation's military. The world is breaking up into chaos all around him though, and an ambitious sorcerer has evoked an ancient power in his bid for world dominance. The first volume in this series, Legacies, was sufficiently innovative in plot that it stood out, and I liked it a lot more than most of the author's other fantasy worlds. The sequel, while quite well written, disappointed me slightly because it seems to be moving back toward the tried and true battle with the evil sorcerer and the eventual triumph of the good guys but only after they face their darkest hour. Modesitt flirts with the idea of doing something new and different, but he has yet to completely embrace it.
Le Morte D'Avalon by J. Robert King, Tor, 9/03, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-30594-1
When I first heard that Tor was published this new trilogy of Arthurian novels, my initial reaction was less than enthusiastic. The stories have, after all, been told and retold so many times that there's unlikely to be any more juice in the grape. The fact that the author was known primarily for some readable but standard Dragonlance and Magic: The Gathering tie-in novels didn't make the prospect any more enticing. So naturally I was completely surprised when the three novels turned out to be not only entertaining but also original enough to be a significant addition to Arthurian lore. This, the third volume, examines the darkest part of Camelot, the rise of Morgan Le Fay, her son Mordred's treachery, Arthur's fall, and as such it's not the most cheerful story you're likely to read, but it may well be one of the more memorable ones.
Lucifer's Crown by Lillian Stewart Carl, Five Star, 9/03, $25.95, ISBN 0-7862-5348-7
Fantasy novels set in the contemporary, familiar world have long been a very small portion of the fantasy genre as a whole, perhaps because most fantasy readers are more interested in escaping the real world than in gaining any insight into it. This new novel by Lillian Stewart Carl is a good example of what they're missing. Maggie Sinclair and one of her more talented students are studying Arthurian lore in England when they get involved in romance, a murder mystery, and a battle between a man who has sold his soul in exchange for immortality, and another who is venerated for his goodness but conceals his secret faults. What I particularly enjoyed about this was that the villain is not irrevocably evil and the protagonists have their faults along with their virtues. The conflict they feel both spiritual and physical is realistically portrayed and reflects pressures all of us are exposed to. So if you want to escape reality, try something else. If you want to look at reality from a different perspective, this is what you're looking for.
The Divine Comedies by Tom Holt, Orbit, 2003, $13, ISBN 1-84149-145-4
With the exception of Terry Pratchett and Piers Anthony, humorous fantasy has largely been ignored in the US in recent years. Undeterred, Tom Holt has produced a long string of very funny novels on the other side of the Atlantic, including the two included in this omnibus, which is being distributed in the US. Both originally appeared in the mid-1990s and both involve deities. In Here Comes the Sun, there's a shakeup between Heaven and Earth about just how things will be run. It's a funny one, but not nearly as hilarious as Odds and Gods, set in a retirement home for deities who no loner have a following. They're as fractious and conceited as ever, and when Thor, Odin, Osiris, and others decide to indulge themselves, there's no stopping them. I'm not sure how well this will be distributed, but I suggest trying Amazon.com because you're not going to want to pass up a chance to add this to your collection.
Knighthood of the Dragon by Chris Bunch, Orbit, 10/03, $16.95, ISBN 1-84149-195-0
Trafalgarsquarebooks.com is apparently distributing at least some of Orbit's SF and fantasy line in the US, and that's welcome because a considerable number of their titles never seem to find a US publisher, and not because they lack quality. A good example is this, the second title in the Dragonmaster fantasy series. Chris Bunch writes some of the best adventure oriented fantasy, and although I didn't think this particular one was up to his usual standards, it's still better than a large portion of the similar fantasy fiction appearing in this country. The protagonist is a dragonmaster, which is exactly what you think it is, in a world torn by magical and mundane warfare. In this installment, he's captured by the enemy, but what should have been a major misfortune may turn out in the end to be a unique opportunity.
Tolkien: A Cultural Phenomenon by Brian Rosebury, Palgrave, 2003, $19.95, ISBN 1-4039-1263-7
This is an expanded edition of an earlier book, the bulk of which is a detailed critical discussion of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. Most of it is familiar although some of the discussion of Tolkien's shorter works were of some interest. I was more hopeful about the section discussing the influence of Tolkien's work on other authors, computer games, and the film versions of the first two books. Parts of this section were also of interest, but it felt almost like an afterthought and certainly didn't cover the subject as thoroughly as the first section of the book.
Conan of Venarium by Harry Turtledove, Tor, 8/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30466-X
The unstoppable wave of words from Harry Turtledove continues, but this time he has taken a break from alternate universes to relate for us the earliest adventure of Conan the Barbarian, set while he is still a young man living in Cimmeria. A neighboring kingdom has invaded and conquered, and Conan joins some of his fellow young warriors in their efforts to undermine and eventually expel the invaders. The novel is much more focused than the author's sprawling alternate history stories and the result is a fast paced and quite good barbarian fantasy that does a better than average job of capturing the atmosphere of Howard's original series.
The Anvil of the World by Kage Baker, Tor, 7/03, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-30818-5
Kage Baker temporarily abandons the Company and SF altogether for this new novel, a fantasy set in an interesting new setting. A retired assassin decides to use his old skills in pursuit of a new career, in this case managing a caravan that is crossing dangerous territory en route to its destination. At first things seem to be going fine, but eventually Smith learns that there's a great deal of difference between operating on one's own and trying to get a large number of recalcitrant people to follow instructions, even when it's to their own benefit. Nicely told adventure with a refreshingly light touch. Given my preference for SF over fantasy, I'm always a little ambivalent when a good SF writer ventures across the border, but when the results are this good, my reservations are swept away.
Impossible Odds by Dave Duncan, Avon Eos, 11/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-380-81834-5
Dave Duncan returns to the world of the King's Blades, his most consistently successful series, and the results is right up there with its predecessors. A distant nobleman shows up in court asking for assistance to recover a throne from a sorcerous usurper, but is eventually unmasked as a woman. Although she doesn't get exactly what she asks for, she does return with a few companions, although she has little hope that they will be adequate for the task at hand. We readers know better though, don't we? Although the goal is in sight almost from the outset, the pleasure of this book is in the wondrous journey Duncan provides while we're getting there. Along with Steven Brust, Duncan is one of the few who captures the high spirited, adventurous feel of the novels of Dumas and Sabatini.
The Lost Steersman by Rosemary Kirstein, Del Rey, 9/03, $14.95, ISBN 0-345-46229-7
Back in the early 1990s, Rosemary Kirstein wrote the very well received The Steerswoman and its sequel, The Outskirter's Secret, then apparently stopped writing. A decade later she's back, with this third in the series and a fourth on the way. Rowan is a young woman who angered the local organization of wizards by investigating the powers of some magical crystals, threatening their monopoly on that power. Now she has fresh enemies to deal with, potentially including an entire army of demons. And Slado the Wizard hasn't given up on getting revenge either. The prose seems a bit denser than before, more intricate, and the characterization much more intense, but not at the expense of a fast moving and entertaining plot. There are lots of writers who have fallen silent whom I don't miss, but it's good to see Kirstein back in the groove.
Reading Harry Potter edited by Giselle Liza Anatol, Praeger, 2003, $39.95, ISBN 0-313-32067-5
When it first became obvious that the Harry Potter books were enjoying enormous success, there was a spate of critical essays that ran largely to the negative, many of them clearly written by people with little knowledge of the existing body of children's fantasy and even less knowledge. The authors seemed more determined to protect the sanctity of Kenneth Grahame, E. Nesbit, and others than to actually judge the Potter books on their own merits. This is the first more measured collection I have seen, essays by people unknown to me but ranging from psychologists to college professors to lawyers to journalists to historians. The authors aren't all equally enthusiastic and several have their criticisms, but they do treat the series as literature worthy of study and find lots of things to praise. Many of the essays also refer directly or obliquely to the various hamheaded attempts to ban the books. These are academic studies and sometimes lapse into lecture mode, but for the most part they're accessible to casual readers and fans as well as academia.
Threshold by Sara Douglass, Tor, 9/03, $25.95, ISBN 0-312-87687-4
Tirzah is a young woman enslaved and set to work under a glassmaker on the construction of an enormous glass artifact which the local religious leaders believe will allow them to travel to other worlds. Tirzah discovers she can communicate with the glass using a forbidden form of magic, and she receives a warning that an evil presence is waiting to use it to invade her world. But how can she reveal it to her masters without exposing the fact that she has broken their laws? This is, for a pleasant change, a stand alone fantasy novel, and it's also sufficiently different to have stood out even if it wasn't well written, and since it has that advantage as well, it's one of those I can recommend without qualification. Good entertainment, and not just another retread.
Windwalker by Elaine Cunningham, Wizards of the Coast, 4/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-7869-2968-5
This novel set in the Forgotten Realms universe is the final installment of a trilogy that started back in 1995 with Daughter of the Drow. The two protagonists have set out on a perilous journey in order to return a magical object to its rightful place, but they are pursued and beset by a host of enemies. They finally hit upon a dangerous plan to ensure their safety, but it hinges on the woman's ability to impersonate one of their most dreaded foes. Cunningham is a talented writer and this new novel, like her previous adventure stories, have been well above the average in this wide ranging multi-author series, and it would be interesting to see what she would produce if she decided to create her own universe for a change.
Demon Witch by Geoffrey Huntington, Regan, 2003, $17.95, ISBN 0-06-001427-X
I never saw the predecessor to this suspense young adult novel, Sorcerors of the Nightwing, but I'll be keeping an eye out for it, because the second in the series is quite good. Teenager Devon March is adjusting to his new life in a remote house on the New England shore, living with his aunt and cousin, when the arrival of a new houseguest stirs things up. It turns out that she's a kind of succubus, stealing the life force from others, but unbeknownst to her, Devon himself has some psychic powers, although the outcome is, plotwise at least, in doubt for most of the book. Full of gnomes, mysterious voices, sorcery, and other magic, and not written down to any imagined limited reading level. Further adventures of Devon March are surely on the horizon.
Spirits in the Wires by Charles De Lint, Tor, 8/03, $27.95, ISBN 0-312-87398-0
Charles De Lint has become the leading writer of quiet, contemporary fantasy novels, of which the core is probably his Newford stories. His newest book is another in that loosely defined series, and features writer Christy Riddell. Newford, as you already know if you've read any of the previous books in the series, is a place where the border between our reality and a mystical otherwhere is thinner than in most places. There are two women in the novel, neither of whom may be entirely real, since Christy's imagination seems to be able to create other aspects of himself. One day a network problem locks up the computers in town, but it also causes a number of people to mysteriously disappear from various places all around the world, so Christy must travel to that other reality to find out what happened to them. There he encounters a variety of mystical creatures, magic users, slathering hellhounds, and such, has varied adventures before finally rescuing the missing people. There's a lot more overt action in this one than in some of the other Newford novels, but not enough to spoil the comforting near familiarity that contributes so much to their atmospheric setting.
Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold, Avon Eos, 10/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-380-97902-0
Bujold returns to the fantasy world of Chalion for this remarkably good followup. The aging royina, Ista, decides to go on a rambling pilgrimage in order to escape the well intentioned but smothering care of her friends and family. Unfortunately, she gets considerably more diversion than she expected. One of her company becomes inhabited by a demon, the god who used her as its tool in the past appears determined to renew their relationship, and a troop of enemy soldiers attacks them. Rescued and brought to a border fortress, she becomes caught up in a weird supernatural connection between the local lord, his wife, and his brother, and she is called upon to use her magical talents to bring things to a climax, although several of the other characters interfere, intentionally or otherwise, and it appears that her best intentions may have terrible results. I hated to have this one end. Despite the dire events, the pace is cool and deliberate and completely engrossing, and I begrudged the time I had to spend away from the book until I was able to finish it.
The Leopard Mask by Kaoru Kurimoto, Vertical, 6/03, $22.95, ISBN 1-952234-51-9
This is the first volume of a projected one hundred volume fantasy adventure, of which almost ninety have already been published in Japan. This new imprint plans to bring out the English language editions in hardcover editions. The story opens with the fall of the kingdom of Parros to an invading army and the death of its rulers. Their children, twins, escape the carnage and are befriended by the mysterious Guin, a man with the head of a leopard, who cannot remember anything of his past. They have various adventures as they set out to find safety, and Guin seeks to discover the mystery of his origin. Ok adventure, but the prose is simple, unadorned, and often has more the flavor of a comic book than of a prose work. It will be interesting to see if the series is as successful in English as it is in Japan.
The Fifth Ring by Mitchell Graham, Avon Eos, 1/03, $7.50, ISBN 0-06-050651-2
Mathew Lewin is a simple farmer who wants to lead a quiet life, but all that changes the day he finds a magical ring. It appears that the ring is coveted by an evil king of a distant land, who will stop at nothing to track it down, even sending teams of his dread Orlocks to find it. Against his wishes, the protagonist becomes protector of the ring, a fugitive in his own land, and has various adventures culminating in a large scale battle and victory. This isn't a badly written fantasy adventure, but the plot is so transparently lifted from Tolkien that I had trouble taking it seriously. I wouldn't be at all surprised to find out that it's the first in a trilogy, although there's nothing to indicate that in the cover copy.
One Knight Only by Peter David, Ace, 7/03, $23.95, ISBN 0-441-01057-1
Peter David returns to the world of Knight Life for another adventure of King Arthur and his companions, returned to us in contemporary America. Arthur Penn is now President of the United States, and like King Arthur of old, he is ready to confront dragons, whether they be foreign governments, terrorists, or murderers. Unfortunately, an assassin nearly kills his wife, leaving her in a coma from which she can be saved only if Arthur acquires the Holy Grail. He is aided in his quest by Sir Percival in a rousing adventure that involves a basilisk, Gilgamesh, and other visitors from legendry. It would have been easy to turn this toward light humor, but the author treats the subject with complete seriousness and despite my initial misgivings, I found myself caught up in the story very quickly.
The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett, Harpercollins, 2003, $16.99, ISBN 0-06-001236-6
The thirtieth Discworld novel is another one directed at younger readers. Oddly enough, the tone is often more serious than in the adult novels in the same series. The protagonist is a young would-be witch who has the talent but not the training to use magic. When her brother is kidnapped into the land of the fairies, she resolves to rescue him, with or without help. But these are particularly nasty fairies, and they are planning an invasion and conquest of her world. Fortunately, she finds allies, the fearsome Wee Free Men, diminutive blue warriors with a reputation for being great fighters, but not always very serious ones. It's an amusing romp but doesn't really have the feel of the other books in the series.
Condemnation by Richard Baker, Wizards of the Coast, 2003, $24.95, ISBN 0-7869-2824-7
The Forgotten Realms game tie-in series has spawned many subordinate series of which this is one masterminded by popular writer R.A. Salvatore. Six different writers will chronicle the War of the Spider Queen, of which this is the third adventure. The drow people are in big trouble. Their enemies are gathering on every side and the goddess upon whom they rely for protection has become uncommunicative. Is the goddess gone forever or will she return as before, or perhaps in some new manifestation. A pair of priestesses and their companions set out to track down a priest who might know the answers, but the party is not an amicable one and internal tensions make more difficult what was already a possibly impossible quest. This is pure sword and sorcery, not the kind of high court intrigue that dominates most other fantasy publishers. The emphasis is on action and adventure, with some conspiracies, rivalries, and other complications to embellish the plot. Unfortunately, you won't be able to find out what happens to the drow until the sixth volume, and that's not coming until 2005.
Speaking with Angels by Michelle West, Five Star, 7/03, $25.95, ISBN 0-7862-5343-6
Although Michelle West is primarily known for her very long fantasy novels, she has occasionally taken the time to write at shorter length. Most of the short stories are collected in this volume. My prejudice may be showing here, but two of the best are the SF entries, "Diamonds" and "Elegies". There's another that plays on the legend of King Arthur, a few about elves, and other magical themes including the tarot, wild magic, the devil, more or less benevolent ghosts, an Arabian Nights style adventure, magical places, and other themes. Although her strength lies in her longer work, most of these stories are quite good and all of them are readable. Her reputation is not likely to rest on her short fiction, but these are a nice accompanying piece to her novels, and a pleasant change of pace, particularly as they are much more good natured and less self conscious than most similar fantasy.
Wizardspawn by Larry Segriff, Five Star, 7/03, $25.95, ISBN 0-7862-5340-1
Five Star has been publishing primarily short story collections so far, but they've started with an occasional novel, including this one. The set up of the plot sounds like a Philip K. Dick story. The protagonist is a reasonably successful writer who discovers one day that there is no record of his marriage or the birth of his son, even though he remembers his family quite distinctly. His subsequent investigations are stymied by mysterious figures that warn him off and private detectives who may have hidden agendas. Where Dick would have turned this into a government conspiracy, Segriff turns to fantasy. Our writer friend has been victimized by magic for the purpose of generating a son, and the rival magical forces involved aren't interested in letting him back into the game. A pretty good tale, showing more polish and confidence than the author's two previous solo SF novels.
White Wolf by David Gemmell, Del Rey, 4/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-345-45831-1
David Gemmell has been retelling the adventures of Druss, a mighty warrior, for several volumes now. In this latest adventure, he introduces an equally hearty fighter, Skilgannon. The two meet and their initial reaction to each other is far from favorable, but when they are forced to pool their resources in the face of a tribe of shapechanging creatures who prey on the local folk, their relationship slowly evolves into respect and friendship. There's really nothing unusually surprising about the plot, and we can pretty much guess that the two heroes are going to become buddies by the end, but that doesn't mean this isn't a very refreshing story. Gemmell has a smooth, straightforward narrative style that is deceptively simple at times, but quickly catches you up and carries you on its headlong flight. I reached the end with a sense of surprise, and some regret, that it was over. But Druss will almost certainly be back, and his new friend as well.
Night of Blood by Richard A. Knaak, Wizards of the Coast, 6/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-7869-2938-3
Knaak opens a new trilogy set within the overall framework of the Dragonlance universe with this story of conspiracy and mayhem. The minotaurs of Krynn have a tradition of peaceful changes of government, but that ends when one of their generals takes advantage of the spreading conflict throughout the world to seize power. That action obviously alienates many of his subjects, including a military officer, who abandons his former position to become, eventually, a leader of the rebel movement. Nothing is resolved, of course, since we have two books to go, but if you don't mind the fact that none of the characters are human and for the most part you probably won't even notice then here's an above average, action packed sword and sorcery adventure, and you don't have to be conversant with the Dragonlance universe to immerse yourself in this little subset.
Beyond the Hanging Wall by Sara Douglass, Tor, 7/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30449-X
Although this novel has a teenaged protagonist, it doesn't feel at all like a young adult novel. The boy is an apprenticed healer who accompanies his father to the mines where prisoners are forced to harvest the substance that fills the kingdom's coffers. While ministering to one of the prisoners, he makes an astonishing discovery. The prisoner is actually a noble who disappeared nearly twenty years previously, and his presence here implies a conspiracy at the highest levels. With his father's assistance, he is able to bring about an eventual escape, but the prisoner is broken in spirit and not easily turned to contemplating what caused him to be so treated. A nice little court intrigue mystery in a pseudo-medieval fantasy world.
First Rider's Call by Kristen Britain, DAW, 8/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-7564-0209-3
Karigan is a young woman who acquired magical powers when she became one of the king's messengers. Now the barrier protecting her people from evil magic has been sundered, and even though she has resolved to retire and live quietly in her home village, she cannot escape the ghostly presence of the founder of her order, a woman long dead, who appears to her in dreamlike episodes and who may hold the key to the fate of her world. This is the sequel to Green Rider, which was a pretty good first novel, and it's an even better second attempt. The plot doesn't have many surprises and the fantasy world is basically a familiar one, but the main character in particular is interesting and convincing, and it's always nice to see an evil force going down to defeat, even when we know well in advance that it's going to wind up that way.
Lord of Snow and Shadows by Sarah Ash, Bantam, 8/03, $21.95, ISBN 0-553-80334-4
I've started to grow numb with the avalanche of fantasy trilogies in recent weeks, but there's always room for one more, particularly one that stands out from among the pack. That's the case with this, the first volume of the Tears of Artamon, by an author whose previous novels have been competent but fairly bland. That's not true in this case. The protagonist is a young artist who is blissfully happy with his life despite not knowing much about the father he never knew. Then emissaries arrive from a distant, violent land who tell him that his father was their ruler, now murdered, and that despite his lack of experience as a leader or a warrior, he must travel there in order to avenge the man's death. The twist is the potion which he drinks at their instigation, which turns him into what is essentially a vampire, infused with the power to wreak the vengeance he seeks, but only if he is willing to sustain himself by drinking the blood of others. The setting, the situation, and the main character are all interesting enough in themselves, and in combination they produce a very interesting and entertaining first novel, and perhaps the sign of a new star rising in the fantasy firmament.
Coyote Cowgirl by Kim Antieau, Forge, 6/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-39267-5
Jeanne Les Flambeaux is a bit of a disappointment to her family, but they leave her in charge of two treasured artifacts while they go on vacation. Unfortunately, her disreputable boyfriend steals one of them and disappears somewhere into the American Southwest. Determined to recover the item, Jeanne takes the other a crystal skull for safekeeping and sets out in pursuit. Her tracks soon cross those of a charming lawyer, who might be more than he seems, and things get even more complicated when the skull starts talking to her, and offering advice. Sparkling humor, a very appealing protagonist, substantial supporting characters, an amusing and intriguing plot, and an inventive imagination make this one of the standout fantasies of early 2003, and probably for the entire year.
Sword of King James by J. Ardian Lee, Ace, 7/03, $14, ISBN 0-441-01059-8
The third adventure of Dylan Matheson, a man of our time transported back to 18th Century Scotland, changes directions a bit. Readers of the earlier books will know that Dylan found his true love, only to have her die, leaving him to raise two children on his own. The century is one where he feels comfortable, however, particular because of the friendship and assistance of his fairy friend. Unfortunately, things aren't going to remain peaceful for long. The English redcoats are all about, working to suppress Scottish freedom. That would be bad enough in itself since one man cannot hope to hold back the course of history, but then he finds himself the target of an evil goddess, who captures his friend and brings pressure to bear on Dylan, hoping to turn him into a tool she can use to manipulate the mortal world. The series has had the feel of an intelligently written time travel romance novel, but now seems to be turning toward new territory. It will be interesting to see where Lee takes us next.
Long Hot Summoning by Tanya Huff, DAW, 5.03, $6.99, ISBN 0-7564-0136-4
This is the third but surely not the last of the Keeper's Chronicles. The Keepers use a kind of benevolent sorcery or psychic power to alter reality, within certain limits. Diana and her sister Claire are both very young Keepers, each accompanied by a cat familiar, although in Diana's case the cat was once an angel. Anyway, the Shadowlord is this evil creature from another reality who wants to meddle in our world, and it's up to the two young women and their cats to save the day. It's an adventure story, but a light hearted one despite the terrible evil being and his plot against the world. The interplay among the characters is fresh, witty, and amusing. There are reanimated mummies, a shopping mall that could mean the end of the world as we know it, a basilisk, and lots of other goodies. Great reading for a hot summer night when you want to be whisked away to another world but not one that will be too depressing.
Rebel Thunder by Bill McCay, Del Rey, 5/03, $6.99, ISBN 0-345-45968-7
Dark Debts by Doranna Durgin, Del Rey, 5/03, $6.99, ISBN 0-345-45969-5
These are the first two tie-in novels to the Mage Knight game system, and for a change the plots seem to be fairly loyal to the game rather than just generic fantasy adventures. Which is not to say they're enormously original, but they don't feel quite as cookie cutter as some of the others I've read. In the first, a rebellion against the oppressive rule of the flying city of Atlantis may be helped by the introduction of gunpowder. In the second, an assassin seeks to free herself of an obligation so that she can choose her own path in the battle between Atlantis and its subject states. Both stories are competently told and in fact the plots are quite exciting in both cases. I thought McCay's story was slightly better told, but Durgin's writing was more satisfying. Unlike some tie-in series, I wouldn't mind seeing this one get continued.
The Riven Shield by Michelle West, DAW, 7/03, $6.99, ISBN 0-7564-0146-1
I confess I don't understand the mechanics of the publishing business. I've seen numerous second rate fantasy epics in hardcover, but Michelle West's far superior work always shows up as a paperback original. On the other hand, that means a bigger bang for your buck if you're smart enough to have been following the Sun Sword series, of which this is the fifth volume. War has been imminent throughout the first four books, with one side consisting of demonic forces and their human allies, the other being the forces of good, although they are typically reluctant to commit themselves to a common defense. There's a large cast of characters including the adventurers from the previous volume, conspiracies and political struggles within their ranks, chases, escapes, battles, rivalries, friendships, and dark magic. The saga doesn't end with this one either, and it appears that great armies will have to resolve matters in the old fashioned way. Intricately plotted, featuring several skillfully developed characters, this is one of the longest and best fantasies of the year, although it would be even better if there'd been a more concrete resolution.
Plague of Ice by T.H. Lain, Wizards of the Coast, 2003, $5.99, ISBN 0-7869-2953-7
Treachery's Wake by T.H. Lain, Wizards of the Coast, 2003, $5.99, ISBN 0-7869-2926-X
Two new volumes in the Dungeons & Dragons series, which has so far been surprisingly entertaining. Both novels, like their predecessors, are quite short for fantasies, but at their best they remind me a bit of Robert Howard. In the first, a warrior, a thief, and a druid are off to a lost city, frozen and supposedly dead, but actually home to a variety of monsters. In the second, a wizard enlists that very same wizard as part of a party whose purpose is to recover the cargo from a shipwreck, a trip that gets them all into lots of frantic trouble when they discover sabotage, and get chased around the countryside. These are light adventures, obviously, but they're just right for those moments when you don't want to have to deal with court intrigues, the current volume in the latest epic trilogy, or writing that takes itself too seriously.
Lord of Stormweather by Dave Gross, Wizards of the Coast, 2003, $6.99, ISBN 0-7869-2932-4
Winterheim by Douglas Niles, Wizards of the Coast, 2003, $6.99, ISBN 0-7869-2911-1
A Warrior's Journey by Paul B. Thompson and Tonya C. Cook, Wizards of the Coast, 2003, $6.99, ISBN 0-7869-2965-0
Time for one of my periodic samplings of the Dragonlance/Forgotten Realms shared world novels. Dave Gross is a comparative newcomer, and this turned out to be a pretty good book. The Sembia series is much more urban than most of the other subsets of the Wizards universe, and the novels seem generally more thoughtful. In this case, a magical assassin wipes out most of a noble family, and the oldest surviving son must mature quickly if he is to protect his siblings and his family name from being extinguished. Next up is one of the regular contributors to this subgenre and generally one of its better writers, but I found this particular story of internal struggles among the ogre tribes a bit too simplistic and routine. He has done much better in the past, but this one just isn't up to snuff. Finally there's another collaboration between Thompson and Cook, the story of a young soldier who becomes an influential force in the imperial court. It's nothing out of the ordinary, and I never really identified with the protagonist, but it's a good story and won't disappoint most readers.
The Wraiths of Will and Pleasure by Storm Constantine, Tor, 5/03, $27.95, ISBN 0-765-30346-9
Back in the late 1980s, Storm Constantine wrote a trilogy about the Wraethu, a race that evolved out of humankind in the far future which psychic powers that marked them as a separate species, and which were in some cases indistinguishable from magic. Now we return to that world for the first volume in the Wraethu Histories series, set parallel to and essentially separate from the events in the original trilogy. The Wraethu have yet to become the powerful, dominating force that they will eventually be, and live in small tribes scattered across the ruins of Earth. This is the story of their sudden transformation, their realization that they are destined to rule the world. I hesitate to say that with Constantine plots are almost irrelevant, but there's an element of truth to that. The interplay among the characters and the clarity and rhythm of the prose steal the show and turn even what might be just another variation on an old theme into something new and exciting. When you add in a good plot as well, which is the case here, you get truly marvelous results. Read it as SF or as fantasy, whichever you prefer, but you should enjoy it no matter which genre you're fondest of.
Allan Quatermain and the Ice Gods by H. Rider Haggard, Wildside, 2002, $15.99, ISBN 158715708X
H. Rider Haggard wrote two of his best novels about Allan Quatermain, King Solomon's Mines and Allan Quatermain. Unfortunately, he also wrote some pretty minor ones featuring his recurring protagonist, of which this is one. It's also the last Allan adventure, so he goes out on a low note. In the last few, Allan used exotic drugs in order to briefly visit earlier incarnations of himself, and that's the plot of this one as well. This time he travels way back to the last Ice Age and finds himself leading a primitive tribe, battling rival tribes, the elements, and wild animals. It's a fair to minor caveman adventure story, and the Allan Quatermain overlay is artificial and doesn't really contribute much to the book. His fans will welcome a new edition, but this isn't likely to win him any new readers.
Fantasy Adventures #1 edited by Philip Harbottle, Cosmos, 2002, $14.99, ISBN 1587155133
Approximately half of this anthology of otherwise apparently original stories is the first part of a John Russell Fearn novel, which originally appeared in 1952 as "Time Trap" as by Vargo Statten. Fearn was a good storyteller but not a good stylist, but this is actually one of his better efforts, in which a carload of people find themselves traveling through a portal to an unknown world. The most interesting entry is E.C. Tubb's "Child of Earth", an adventure of Dumarest of Terra, whose wandering around the galaxy lasted through more than a dozen novels. The other stories are from writers I haven't seen for a while, Philip High, Andrew Darlington, and Sydney J. Bounds, as well as a few new to me. The adventures are unsophisticated but they're fun, and it's nice to have some well written, undemanding fiction as a change of pace from all the intensely self aware fiction that appears lately.
The Court of the Midnight King by Freda Warrington, Pocket (UK only), 2003, £7.99, ISBN 0-7434-1567-1
Despite having produced a steady string of very good fantasy and horror novels in the UK, Freda Warrington remains almost unknown in the US. Maybe this exciting new novel will change that. It's set in an alternate history where Richard III did not die in disgrace but rather is thought of fondly, at least by those who support him. Warrington's England is not otherwise the same as the one we know historically. Worshippers of a female deity rival those who bow to the male God and the tension between the two has an obvious effect on the political struggles. There's sorcery and treachery and romance and adventure and intrigue and just about everything else you can imagine. There's no indication that this is part of a new series, but there's clearly room for a sequel or two and I wouldn't be surprised if we see more of the history of this strangely familiar yet different version of our world. And hopefully some US publisher will finally start issuing her fantasy on this side of the Atlantic.
The Glasswright's Test by Mindy L. Klasky, Roc, 6/03, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-45931-8
Rani Trader is back for her fourth adventure. Previously she alienated herself from the glasswright's guild by undermining their power and forcing them to surrender their authority, but by doing so, she believed she had given up all hope of ever becoming recognized as a master of their craft. So when she's invited to the land of Brianta to take the necessary tests, she feels a mixture of suspicion and elation. The suspicion is justified as she is maneuvered into a complicated series of intrigues involving court politics, during which she finds herself romantically drawn toward a ruler as well as being involved in the kidnapping of a child. Klasky tells a strong, straightforward, and convincing story full of entertaining twists and turns. Her first book marked her as a writer to be watched, and those that have followed have been every bit as good or better.
Fantastic Odysseys edited by Mary Pharr, Praeger, 2003, $64.95, ISBN 0-313-32324-0
The latest collection of essays from the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, academic studies of SF. Bernadette Bosky is the only contributor with whom I'm familiar, and she has one of the better entries, a look at Peter Straub and Arthur Machen. Other authors whose work is dissected here include Michael Ende, Patricia McKillip, James Tiptree, Stephen King, and Kim Stanley Robinson. Some of the articles cover films as well as books. Susan George has an interesting piece on women in SF films, and about half of these are of interest to general readers, while the other half will probably only appeal to fans of the particular author or work being examined.
The White Dragon by Laura Resnick, Tor, 5/03, $25.95, ISBN 0-312-89056-7
This is the first half of a two part novel, which is also the sequel to Resnick's earlier novel of Sileria, In Legends Born. The plot is nothing out of the ordinary. Violence is spreading across Sileria and old grudges, new ambitions, and other conflicts begin to boil. Obviously little is going to be resolved in the first half, but we are drawn ever deeper into her complex and interesting created world. The characters are given no easy choices as they face one problem after another and it appears that nothing they can do will do more than slow the inevitable collapse. There's violence and humor and mystery and surprises and plenty of action, and the only drawback is that it stops rather than ends and we're going to have to wait a while to find out how it all comes out.
The Dragon of Despair by Jane Lindskold, Tor, 8/03, $27.95, ISBN 0-765-30259-4
This appears to be the concluding volume of Lindskold's Wolf trilogy, and it's bigger and better than the adventures that have gone before. The protagonist was raised by wolves and has only slowly adapted to human society. An old nemesis is back, a powerful sorceress who has the power to affect the minds and perceptions of others. Unfortunately, our heroine can't just wait for someone else to deal with the problem. It's her destiny to protect the world from her rival's evil sorcery, no matter what the cost. I had a lukewarm reaction to the first two volumes, but the third is a definite winner despite its familiar plot, an entertaining web of conspiracies, intrigues, adventure, battles, and villainy foiled at last.
Water: Tales of Elemental Spirits by Robin McKinley and Peter Dickinson, Ace, 5/03, $14, ISBN 0-441-01056-3
Two of my favorite fantasy writers have teamed up here to produce an unusual and exceptional collection of stories. The "collaboration" is an odd one, because none of the stories were written collaboratively, rather the collection alternates between one writer and the other. All of the stories involve legends of the sea, everything from familiar merpeople to others entirely original to the authors. Both authors write with a texture to their prose that is missing from most other fantasy writers and although it appears that this is meant as a young adult book, more mature readers would never know it from the content. These are modern day fairy tales and "The Sea Serpent", "The Kraken" and "A Pool in the Desert" will stick in your memory for a long time to come.
Death Masks by Jim Butcher, Roc, 8/03, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-45940-7
The fifth adventure of Harry Dresden, a professional wizard living in a variation of our familiar Chicago, is a bit of a kitchen sink novel. There are the usual murders and mutilations, of course, and his vampiric ex-girlfriend is back to stir things up, but he has other problems as well, including the delivery of a challenge involving a duel to the death, some mundane gangsters, and other dangers. And he has to locate the Shroud of Turin during his free time. Think Anita Blake with a sense of humor or Glen Cook's Garrett, private detective, with more magic. Despite the vampires and serial killings, this feels more like fantasy than horror. Whatever you want to call it, the series has consistently mixed humor and mayhem with great success, a more difficult trick than it might seem. You can read this one even if you haven't tried the earlier volumes, but I recommend picking them all up and reading them in succession.
There Were Two Pirates by James Branch Cabell, Wildside, 2003, $13.99, ISBN 1-59224-083-6
The Brethren by H. Rider Haggard, Wildside, 2003, $17.95, ISBN 1-58715-750-0
The big positive side to print on demand publishing is that it makes available books that might otherwise not be economically viable in new editions. These two titles from Wildside are cases in point non fantasy works by major fantasy writers that have been unavailable for more than a generation. I had read the Cabell before; it's an entertaining story about a pirate who wants to live as a respected man. None of the flash and action of Rafael Sabatini, but an interesting character study, deftly handled by one of the most underrated American writers. The Haggard was new to me, and while I wouldn't number it among his best work, it's an exciting historical adventure novel set during the Crusades. The dialogue is rather artificial; I'm not sure whether this was an early novel or whether Haggard affected the stilted style in a misguided attempt to make it sound more "historical", but the plot itself is a good one and there's lots of action and adventure. Neither are classics but neither deserve to disappear into obscurity either.
Paying the Piper at the Gates of Dawn by Rosemary Edghill, Five Star, 6/03, $25.95, ISBN 0-7862-5345-2
Rosemary Edghill's fantasies are often light and seem almost casual, but it's an illusion. There's some serious story telling going on here. This is, I believe, her first collection and it includes a diverse cast of protagonists, knights, assassins, fortune tellers, witches, psychics, happy and unhappy people, and even a cat or two. People get their wishes and discover that there's always a catch, or glimpse what might have been had they chosen a different path. They try to outwit fate and often outwit themselves. Magic, mayhem, and a little bit of mystery, all leavened with a light but effective sense of humor.
Lords of Rainbow by Vera Nazarian, Betancourt, 2003, $34.95, ISBN 1-59224-823-3
Vengeance of Masks by Rosemary Edghill, Betancourt, 2003, $35, ISBN 1-58715-115-4
These two new fantasy novels are superficially somewhat similar. Both are set in corrupt, repressive fantasy realms, each with the story focusing on a single city. Both involve crises caused or aggravated by the appearance/escape of a more than human figure, and both involve magical conflicts to determine the future of their respective civilizations. The similarities pretty much end there. Nazarian's world is not a typical fantasy setting it's set in a world that didn't know color until the appearance of a strange new sun. Her story is filled with adventure but it also works on a much less physical level, with very strong characterization and an almost poetic feel to the prose. Edghill's story is more conventional fantasy adventure, and it's the first in a series about Childeric the Shatterer. An ancient demon has escaped the bonds that held him. It's an easier story to read, and it's a pretty good one, but I suspect that weeks from now the images that I retain will be from Nazarian's bizarre otherworld.
The Silver Gryphon edited by Gary Turner and Marty Halpern, Golden Gryphon, 2003, ISBN 1-930846-15-0
To mark the publication of twenty four previous books, Golden Gryphon is issuing an all original anthology with stories by each of the authors of those that went before. The result is a mixed bag of mostly SF, with quality ranging from good to very good indeed. Michael Bishop provides a bizarre story of a zombie doorgunner serving in Vietnam, Richard Lupoff looks at a parallel America, a woman seeks vengeance in multiple universes in Kevin J. Anderson's entry, and Paul Di Filippo employs his unique warped view of the world in another. Geoffrey Landis contributes an amusing time travel story, Lucius Shepard and Kristine Kathryn Rusch both havevery effective though not fantastic stories of a man's obsession and a woman's attempt to change her life. There are good stories as well by Neal Barrett, Richard Paul Russo, and others. Quite a nice anthology overall.
White Crow by Mary Gentle, Gollancz, 2003, £9.99, ISBN 0-575-07519-8
Back in the early 1990s, Mary Gentle produced two very fine fantasies set in a weird sort of alternate Europe. These were Rats and Gargoyles and The Architecture of Desire. Both of those novels are collected in this omnibus edition along with a short novel and some associated shorter works. The result is a very fine and decidedly offbeat volume of fantasy, the perfect cure for too many magical quests, seized thrones, or menacing dragons. Intelligent rats, a battle for control of a city's architecture, the future of London, magic, and mysteries both occult and mundane. These excellent stories have been out of print for ten years in the US, and I'm not sure if the book is available here, but it's definitely worth making some effort to secure a copy.
Light Stealer by James Barclay, PS Publishing, 2002, $14, ISBN 1-902880-61-7
This short novel is linked to Barclay's four volume Raven series of fantasy adventures. This one is a thinly disguised allegory about the role of science. A prominent sorcerer develops the most powerful spell ever conceived, one that could literally destroy the world. Although he doesn't plan to tell anyone how to work the spell, he has no compunctions about revealing its existence, oblivious to the fact that this will make him a tempting target for the leaders of one or more warring nations. The protagonist is more caricature than character, but otherwise it's an effective story.
Rootabaga Stories by Carl Sandburg, Harcourt, 2003, $17, ISBN 0-15-204709-3
More Rootabaga Stories by Carl Sandburg, Harcourt, 2003, $17, ISBN 0-15-204713-1
I had not realized that Sandburg wrote fantasy stories for children until these showed up, reprints of two collections originally published in the early 1920s. Most of these are tall tales, apparently originally written to entertain Sandburg's daughter very early in his career. They're full of fairies, intelligent animals, goofy characters, odd situations, and a quirky but effective sense of humor. Harcourt has brought them back into print in very handsomely packaged hardcover editions and I'm quite sure they'll find as receptive an audience now as they did when originally published, and not just among young children either.
The Salt Sorceror of Oz and Other Stories by Eric Shanower, Hungry Tiger, 2003, $24.95, ISBN 1-929527-06-3
Oz fandom is alive and well. This is a collection of six Oz stories, previously published over the last decade, in a handsomely produced and well illustrated volume. The stories cover a wide variety of aspects of the land beyond the rainbow, everything from angry beasts to mischievous handmaidens to lost worlds underground. Although the stories are obviously aimed at a younger readership, they are also delightful for those who are merely young at heart. Frequently humorous, always whimsical, occasionally touching, these stories make up a welcome new volume in the ongoing history of what is possibly the most famous fantasy world of all time.
The War of the Flowers by Tad Williams, DAW, 6/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-7564-0135-6
The character from our world who crosses over into Fairyland or some alternate universe where magic works is as common in contemporary fantasy novels as space travel in science fiction. What's important is what comes after, and in the case of this new, apparently standalone, novel from Tad Williams, what comes after is fascinating indeed. The protagonist is an ex-rock singer whose life is pretty much coming apart at the seams. He goes off to be by himself for a while, finds an old manuscript, reads it, and is attacked by a hideous monster. Theo escapes at the last minute with the assistance of a sprite who leads him into another universe, a sort of land of Faerie, but one unlike anything you've ever encountered before. In some ways it's a dark reflection of our world, more technological than we're used to, and its inhabitants include a variety of rather creepy monsters, several of whom seem to have it in for our hero. A very elaborate and fully realized setting for adventure, intrigue, and more than an occasional chill.
In the Forests of Serre by Patricia A. McKillip, Ace, 6/03, $22.95, ISBN 0-441-01011-3
When Prince Ronan inadvertently offends a witch, he discovers that he has been cursed, but since his life has been a series of personal tragedies of late, he doesn't think much of it. Then he discovers that he is destined for an unwelcome arranged marriage. The only escape is into another world, but by running away, he puts more than his future in jeopardy. I don't think there's another writer alive who does light fantasy as well and as distinctly as does McKillip. Her novels always remind me of William Morris and George MacDonald, possessing a fairy tale richness that makes them distinctive, memorable, and always worth the time to read.
Time Travelers, Ghosts, and Other Visitors by Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Five Star, 5/03, $25.95, ISBN 0-7862-5338-X
Nina Kiriki Hoffman is one of the most undercollected writers in the genre, and it's a pleasant change to see that someone has collected nine of her finely crafted tales for this new hardcover. The stories, one of which is original to this volume, range far and wide, from SF to fantasy to horror. There are werewolves here, and time travelers, alien pets, abductions by aliens, ghosts, murderers, and quite a few very interesting and likable characters. Most of the stories are much more concerned with developing the people that inhabit them than is true in the vast majority of genre fiction. The mood is usually serious, but not always, the prose is never unduly heavy and the narration is always smooth and involving. I believe this publisher distributes mostly to libraries, so you may not be able to find this in your corner book store, but it's worth hunting around on the internet to find a copy.
Year Zero by Brian Stableford, Five Star, 5/03, $25.95, ISBN 0-7862-5333-9
Molly isn't exactly your average person. She's taking drugs, mostly legal, but unfortunately she has lost custody of her children. After deciding that the year 2000 should be a fresh star, Year Zero, she runs into Elvis Presley in a food market, spots a fallen angel, lunches with Mephistopheles and his friends, is abducted by aliens, returned, and promptly snatched up by the Men in Black, and that's just the highlights of her very unconventional life. Stableford plays with these and other contemporary insanities, but I suspect the novel was more fun to write than to read. He plays it straight enough that it isn't really funny, and humorously enough that I couldn't take it seriously. But it's certainly the oddest book he's written so far.
The Light Ages by Ian R. MacLeod, Ace, 5/03, $23.95, ISBN 0-441-01055-5
If the first two months are any indication, 2003 is going to be a very good year for fantasy. I've already read almost as many outstanding fantasy novels as I did in all of 2002. This new one by Ian R. MacLeod is easily the best so far, set in a sort of alternate Victorian England. Magic exists, and in fact a kind of magical power is literally mined from the ground. The social system is rigid and not particularly kind, and those individuals who have magical talents are treated differently than "true" humans. Against this backdrop we follow the lives of two people, one male and one female, from their childhood to their maturity, during which they cast a skeptical eye at the way things happen around them. Ultimately they rebel against society, and their rebellion is going to prove unusually effective. Highly literate, very engaging, and one of the most smoothly readable novels I've encountered in a long time.
Riders of the Dead by Dan Abnett, Black Library, 4/03, $19.99, ISBN 0-7434-4327-6
The Warhammer series is apparently popular enough that Black Library is going to start a hardcover line to complement its ever growing selection of paperback tie in novels. This is on the fantasy rather than SF side of the spectrum. Two experienced soldiers are sent from the Empire to the borderland of Kislev, which acts as a buffer between civilized lands and the chaotic forces of magic and evil that lay in the wastelands beyond. Unfortunately, close proximity to the border exposes them to the subtle influences emanating from beyond, and those influences will soon cause the two former comrades to find themselves enemies. Fairly standard sword and sorcery fare, but one of the better ones in the Warhammer series. Abnett shows more interest in developing his characters this time than in his previous efforts, and the story is therefore more involving.
The Etched City by K.J. Bishop, Prime Press, 2/03, $16.95, ISBN 1-894815-22-X
Here's a first novel that should brighten the day of any serious fantasy fan. Bishop's debut is a delicately crafted, witty, and evocative story set in a magical city that reminded me of China Mieville and Mary Gentle. Two fugitives arrive in Ashamoil, hoping to have eluded their memories and to now embark on a new life. They feel somewhat disillusioned with the world, but their appreciation of the complexity and mystery of life soon returns as they, and the reader, see the many bizarre wonders concealed in Ashamoil. But the past has a way of catching up with us all. This one works on multiple levels the story can be read as a straightforward adventure, or as a genuine literary treat.
Tales of Wonder by Mark Twain, University of Nebraska Press, 3/03, $16.95, ISBN 0-8032-9452-2
Mark Twain's major contribution to SF is undoubtedly A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, one of the first novels about time travel, but he wrote a number of short stories that involved fantastic elements as well. This is a collection of many of those, ranging from sketches to novelette length. There's everything here from visits to heaven to utopian spoofs. The editor, who provides detailed notes, has arranged these in three sections, humorous, speculative, and Instantaneous Communication. Included are some outlines for fantastic stories Twain never got around to writing and other odds and ends. This is a substantial book, nearly 400 pages, and while some of the contents are lightweight, others are of considerable merit, particularly those collected as "Doubtful Speculations". Although Twain is not as important to the genre as the editor suggests, his contributions remain readable and interesting and should not be allowed to fade from sight.
Mark of Damnation by James Wallis, Black Library, 2003, $6.95, ISBN 0-7434-4350-0
Angels of Darkness by Gav Thorpe, Black Library, 2003, $6.95, ISBN 0-84154-278-4
Shadow Point by Gordon Rennie, Black Library, 2003, $6.95, ISBN 0-7434-4326-8
The latest three Warhammer novels arrived as my stack to be read was reaching bottom, so I read three of them consecutively, which I'd never done before. As usual, I had a very mixed reaction. Two of these are set in the far future when Earth dominates a vast empire ruled with the help of the Space Marines, who fight enemies of various types including some demons. The mix of fantasy and SF tropes always puts me off, but they're not quite so obtrusive in these two. In Angels, the protagonist uncovers a well hidden secret in the past of the Space Marines that makes him doubt much of what he has always believed. In Shadow Point, the race is on between various parties seeking control of a cache of superweapons which could spell the difference in a war between the empire and the forces of a rebellious madman. The Thorpe novel is somewhat better written and more convincing, but I liked Rennie's story a lot better. Mark of Damnation is a more conventional fantasy, although set on a planet with multiple moons. A military officer uncovers a heresy among the troops and exposes those responsible, but in so doing he acquires doubts about his own convictions. This is the most ambitious of the three novels. The prose is a little stiff, but it's a first novel, and Wallis might well turn out to be a genuine talent as he gains experience.
Something from the Nightside by Simon R. Green, Ace, 5/03, $6.50, ISBN 0-441-01065-2
In this opening volume of a new series, Simon R. Green brings together two popular devices from modern fantasy. One is the secret world hidden within our own, the Borderlands or Secret Country that exists within our world, but which is not entirely a part of it. The other is the mix of hardboiled detective and magic, a combination which works much better than other forms of mystery because there is less of a problem with magical solutions to the core mystery. John Taylor is a private detective who is somewhat reluctant to take on the job of finding a missing teenager, but he relents when it appears that she has disappeared into the Nightside portion of London, a place full of dangers we wouldn't recognize in our own world. Green takes us on a grand tour, introducing his interesting but not entirely surprising underside of reality, but the setup and the writing are good enough to make me hope for more in the near future.
Guardian of the Promise by Irene Radford, DAW, 4/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-7564-0078-3
This is the fourth and final volume in the Merlin's Descendants series. I thought the first three were entertaining, but nothing special. The final volume is a different story entirely, no pun intended. Donovan Kirkwood has been confined to England by order of the queen, but his nieces and nephews are not similarly constrained, and they are all potential heirs to the power of Camelot. One of them, Deirdre, has been experiencing visions of evil centered in Paris, the result of a pact her mother made with a demon. Disobeying her guardian's instructions, she and three companions make their way to the continent for a series of adventures in a eerily depicted Paris that is filled with werewolves and other dangers. Rich in detail and haunting in some of its depictions of 16th Century Europe, this is far and away the best volume in the series.
Not Really the Prisoner of Zenda by Joel Rosenberg, Tor, 6/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30046-X
Joel Rosenberg's latest semi-spoof of the adventure genre follows his takes on The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas and Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini. Now it's the Graustarkian romance of Anthony Hope's The Prisoner of Zenda. Jason was once offered the throne but he turned it down, preferring to live a simpler and considerably more private life. He and his three friends, one of them a wizard, have survived a number of adventures, but their efforts to avoid becoming embroiled in the mesh of court intrigues don't quite work. This light hearted and occasionally very funny adventure story has its parallels to its semi-namesake, with disguises, impersonations, miscommunication, swordfights, chases, captures and escapes. But at the same time it's very much its own story, and one destined to delight a large number of Rosenberg's loyal readers.
Mistress of Dragons by Margaret Weis, Tor, 5/03, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-30468-6
Journey into the Void by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, Avon Eos, 8/03, $25.95, ISBN 0-06-105178-0
Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman are probably the major architects of the universe of Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms tie-in novels. Most of their work is filled with orcs, trolls, goblins, sorcerers, and heroes, an amalgam of Tolkienesque images and standard sword and sorcery. I confess that I find most of the novels in this form repetitive, trivial, and sometimes actively bad. There are a few writers who rise above the limitations of the material, however, and Weis & Hickman are in that elite group. The solo novel is the first in a new series set in a new universe, and is more like mainstream fantasy. Humans and dragons have lived separately and in comparative peace for generations, but someone has violated the terms of their truce and conflict is brewing. The best hope for a peaceful resolution lies in a creature that looks like a man but is not, the only one of his kind and the only hope for the future. The collaboration is volume three of the Sovereign Stone series, and it's much more in the TSR/Wizards of the Coast vein. An evil sorcerer has raised an army with which he is menacing all the races of the world, races who separately possess portions of a magical artifact. The only way they can defeat their adversary is by uniting the separate parts at a specific location, so off go the representatives of four races on a quest to forge the weapon and win the war. But the bad guy isn't going to just sit around and wait for them to do it. The solo novel is considerably better than the other, not because of the writing but because the world is more unique, the characters more interesting, and the devices less familiar.
Crossroads of Twilight by Robert Jordan, Tor, 2003, $29.95, ISBN 0-312-86459-0
The immediate sequel to Winter's Heart is the tenth in Jordan's massive "Wheel of Time" series, which I expect in wordcount is now the largest single author fantasy sequence ever written. As with its predecessor, it jumps from one story line to another, all wrapped around the building conflict over the fate of the world. There are court intrigues designed to forge an alliance against a dark power, visions, magic, betrayals, pursuits and escapes, and much more, all set against a complex world that Jordan has brought to vivid life with a succession of best selling adventures. There's a very large cast of characters, and I suspect that readers who haven't read earlier books in the series are going to be completely lost, but for those who have been swept up in the past, the ride is never more exciting than it is now.
None But Lucifer by H.L. Gold and L. Sprague de Camp, Gateways Retro SF, 2003, $19.95, ISBN 0-89556-128-X
It wasn't until I saw this book that I realized that this classic novel from Unknown, originally published in 1939, has never before been available in book form. Considering its highly respected reputation, I can't imagine how it was left in obscurity for so long, even if it does seem a bit dated by contemporary standards. William Hale, the protagonist, manages to track down Lucifer, the devil himself, who runs a quiet but influential business in Manhattan. He maneuvers Lucifer into taking him on as a full partner, gaining immortality and other powers, but he doesn't understand how the system works and soon finds himself psychologically linked to a woman he can't stand and faced with other problems. Ultimately he decides to outfox Lucifer and I'm not going to tell you how it all comes out. This one's a real treat even if it does have a few cobwebs.
The Wonder Clock by Howard Pyle, Starscape, 1/03, $5.99, ISBN 0-765-34266-9
Here's a book likely to help you recapture your childhood. Howard Pyle is perhaps best remembered for his coverage of World War II and his cartoons about soldiers serving in Europe, but he was also the author of a number of children's books, including this collection of short, clever fairy tales. Profusely illustrated by the author, this is a great buy for the low cover price, a delight for younger and older readers alike. There's the usual subject matter, giants, princesses, magic, etc., and a whimsical tone absent from contemporary fantasy fiction, even most of it aimed at younger readers. This probably first appeared around the turn of the century, the 20th Century that is, but the publisher has not listed the original publication date.
Hatching Magic by Ann Downer, Atheneum, 5/03, $16.95, ISBN 0-689-83400-4
It's difficult to recapture the enthusiasm I had for books when I first started reading. I still enjoy them thoroughly, but my perspective has changed, and not everything is as bright and new as it once was. I still remember what a great discovery it was to find the Winston juveniles or to read The Wind in the Willows for the very first time. But from time to time I still read young adult fantasy and SF, and occasionally I get just a taste of that old, welcome feeling. That was the case with this new book by Ann Downer. It's about a wizard whose dragon has slipped through a timewarp to lay its eggs in the 21st Century. The wizard follows and gets caught up in an adventure with a young girl from our time. Its light and sometimes predictable but good natured and humorous and sometimes downright clever.
The Dragon's Doom by Ed Greenwood, Tor, 5/03, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-30223-3
Mainstream fantasy fiction seems to be developing into two mostly separate branches, one in which the details of the fantasy world are almost as important as the plot, resulting in richly textured, intricate and thoughtful novels that sometimes fail to provide an interesting story to keep us interested, and one in which action and adventure are paramount and the worlds themselves could almost be interchangeable, usually providing excitement but occasionally failing to create a believable or interesting setting. The fourth volume in Greenwood's Band of Four series falls into the second category, although he does flesh in his world enough to make it all worthwhile. In the previous volumes, a band of four heroes has helped revive a comatose king, restored him to his throne, and defeated his sorcerous opponent. But evil never really dies, at least not in fantasy series. Now his opponents have hatched a new plot, this one involving the unleashing of a plague of shapechanging designed to destabilize the kingdom. So the foursome are forced to take up their swords again, in this case largely at the direction of their female member, a powerful sorceress, to defeat the minions of the Serpent. It's fast and furious and fun, with the flavor of the Three Musketeers.
The Tain by China Mieville, PS Publishing, 2002, $14, ISBN 1-902880-63-3
PS continues its line of high quality both in physical form and content novellas with this eerie tale from China Mieville. It's based on the famous Chinese legend of the king who imprisoned magical creatures on the opposite sides of reflections, mirrors, and the like. In this story, the imagos have managed to escape into our world, and have devastated London, taking various forms including vampires, changing buildings through magic, and killing virtually every human they encounter. The protagonist is a wanderer who believes he has found a way to defeat the invaders, but he's about to discover that the situation is more complex than even he imagined.
Comes the End by William Creed, House of Stuart, 2003, $14.95, ISBN 0-9722891-3-5
Despite efforts by the government to cover up the imminent arrival of aliens, a feisty reporter uncovers the truth. Subsequently he is chosen as one of 144,000 people authorized to meet with the aliens, a weird set up that doesn't seem to ring enough bells with people even after they realize that everyone selected is agnostic or an atheist. Yes, folks, this is a Christian fantasy novel disguised as SF, and the aliens are actually demons from Hell plotting the damnation of the human race. There are good Christian fantasies out there, but in this case the deck is stacked so obviously in one direction that the outcome is never in doubt. The plot (the author's and the aliens') is transparent from the outset, and with God on the good guys' side, the results are inevitable. The End comes, but it doesn't come soon enough.
Magic's Silken Snare by Elizabeth Gilligan, DAW, 4/03, $6.99, ISBN 0-7564-0127-5
A debut novel and the first in a new fantasy series. This one's a kind of Graustarkian murder mystery with magic. It's set in the year 1684 and involves gypsies and a mythical island kingdom called Tyrrhia. The protagonist is a young woman whose sister died while attending court in Tyrrhia. With only her servants, Luciana sets off to investigate and discovers a very complex web of intrigues before solving the mystery. Gilligan's narrative is very detailed and atmospheric, and although the story is in fact quite good, it could just as easily have been written as a mundane historical with only minor changes. It would still be a very good mundane historical, and not a bad mystery either.
Joust by Mercedes Lackey, DAW, 3/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-7564-0122-4
The people of Alta have been subjugated by an invading force that accomplished that task thanks to their ability to control dragons and use them as weapons of war. The protagonist is a young Altan who resents what amounts to slavery, but who is unable to think of any way to constructively oppose the conquerors until one of their number takes him on as a servant, with duties involving a tame dragon. He sees this as an opportunity not only for himself but for his people, because if he can learn the secret of the invaders, he may be able to turn their own best weapon against them. This is a pretty standard fantasy adventure and doesn't hold a lot of surprises for the seasoned fantasy reader, but it's a good adventure story and satisfies that common urge to see the overbearing snobs et their comeuppance.
Sorcery & Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer, Harcourt, 5/03, $17, ISBN 0-15-204615-1
This is a revised and expanded version of the novel originally published in 1988, and set in an alternate quasi-Regency world where magic works. It was and still is a clever, adventure filled, and frequently very funny novel featuring two young women who use their wits and blind luck to solve mysteries and avoid unfortunate consequences. This new edition is apparently to be followed by sequels retelling their further adventures and aimed at young adult readers, although the original was never labeled as anything other than an adult fantasy. That's good news, because the result is a fanciful adventure that isn't watered down to the perceived level of younger readers, and which can be equally entertaining for those of us who will never see our teens again. I liked this when it first appeared, and I liked it again this time round.
Sword of the Rightful King by Jane Yolen, Harcourt, 5/03, $17, ISBN 0-15-202527-8
Wizard at Work by Vivian Vande Velde, Harcourt, 4/03, $16, ISBN 0-15-204559-7
Two new young adult books from Harcourt. Jane Yolen continues her re-examination of the legend of King Arthur in this retelling of the early days of Camelot. The novel is necessarily episodic, and most of the story is quite familiar, but Yolen brings it to life once again, and her prose is crisp and clear enough that adult readers should find this enjoyable as well. Vivian Vande Velde writes for a slightly less sophisticated reader in her shorter, episodic "novel" as well. A wizard decides to take a vacation from his vocation, teaching other wizards, but every effort he makes to relax just leads him into another humorous magical problem, which he eventually resolves. Much lighter than the Yolen novel, mildly amusing for adults, but probably perfect for younger readers who still aren't ready for more fiber in their reading diet.
Shelf Life edited by Greg Ketter, Dreamhaven, 2002, $75, ISBN 1-892058-05-7
This is a limited edition hardcover, signed by the contributors, with the common theme being that each story involves a book store. I expected multiple variations of the magic bookshop theme, and there are a few, including one of the best in the collection, "One Copy Only" by Ramsey Campbell. Others involve book burning in Germany during World War II, cats who live among the shelves, books with magical secrets, and others. The stories by Charles De Lint and Harlan Ellison are both reprints, very good ones that are hard to find elsewhere, and there are outstanding stories by Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Rick Hautala, Melanie Tem, Jack Williamson, and others. Many people will buy this simply as a collector's item, but it's also a very readable book with stories that will linger in your memory for a long time after you've closed the covers.
The Wizard Hunters by Martha Wells, Avon Eos, 5/03, $24.95, ISBN 0-380-97788-5
This is the first volume in a trilogy, and it's also the sequel to the author's very well received The Death of the Necromancer from a few years back. The nation of Ile-Rien is in danger of falling to an invading army which, among other things, holds the secret of flight. The protagonist is a young woman with emotional problems who finds herself when a misdirected spell sends her and several others into an alternate world. There, completely disoriented, they must survive under a new set of rules, and eventually they discover that the enemies of their people exist in this plane as well, and that it might be possible to strike a decisive blow against them where they least expect it. A very richly described environment and a set of more than usually interesting characters mark this as one of the better heroic fantasies of recent months.
Jaws of Darkness by Harry Turtledove, Tor, 4/03, $27.95, ISBN 0-765-30417-1
Here's the fifth in Turtledove's series about a global war fought in a fantasy world, one in which dragons and magic function very much like aircraft and battleships did in World War II. The armies of Algarve overwhelmed most of their opposition in the earlier novels and it looked like the coalition of nations opposed to them were doomed. But freshly developed magical defenses have stopped the enemy advance and for the first time lost territory is being reclaimed. But is the shift enough to bring the war to an end? As with the previous volumes, we see the action from a large number of viewpoints, and there are so many characters that it's difficult to keep them all straight. I find the inventiveness in the forms of warfare interesting, but it's hard to invest any feeling in any of the characters.
Worlds of Shadow by Lawrence Watt-Evans, Betancourt & Company, 2003, $49.95, ISBN 1-59224-944-2
Here's the first hardcover omnibus volume of the trilogy consists of Out of This World, In the Empire of Shadow, and The Reign of the Brown Magician. The author made one of the rare attempts to blend SF and fantasy in this series about three alternate worlds, our own, one where a galactic empire exists, and another that is a classical fantasy world. An insidious evil force is threatening to spread through all three, and already the barriers among them are beginning to falter. But rayguns don't work in the fantasy realm, and magic doesn't work outside their own universe, so containing the evil which also manifests itself in different forms becomes quite a problem. The premise is interesting, the writing up to Watt-Evans' usual high standards, and the conclusion is a rousing one. This appears to be another imprint of Wildside Press, so you can probably order it through their website. The price seems pretty steep until you realize that you're getting three hardcover novels in one edition.
Grail Prince by Nancy McKenzie, Del Rey, 1/03, $14.95, ISBN 0-345-45648-3
This is the third Arthurian novel I've read by McKenzie, and it's far and away the most interesting. Sir Galahad is the son of Sir Lancelot, and following the death of Arthur and the beginning of the collapse of Camelot, Galahad feels guilt and dismay over his father's perfidy and the general state of the realm. He is committed to the task set him by Arthur, the recovery of the Holy Grail, and sets out to find it, troubled not only by Lancelot's sin but also by his own emotional attachment to a young woman whom it seems he is destined to lose. McKenzie does a superb job of evoking the atmosphere of post-Arthurian Britain and imbues Galahad with enough character that readers will have no difficulty sharing his doubts and troubles.
Stealing the Elf-King's Roses by Diane Duane, Aspect, 11/02, $6.99, ISBN 0-446-60983-8
I was casually browsing through a bookstore when I stumbled across this title, which I didn't even know existed until that moment. It looked like it might be a humorous fantasy, so I added it to my pile. To my surprise, it is actually a blend of fantasy and detective story, and one of the best crossovers I've read. The protagonist is a kind of psychic who investigates crimes by using her powers in a Los Angeles where elves freely mix with humans. Her latest assignment is the murder of a high placed executive, but her investigation leads her into an increasingly complex and dangerous series of plots, the resolution of which requires that she infiltrate the world of the elves, despite the prohibition against mortal intervention in that realm. Duane does a good job of keeping the mystery plausible despite the magical elements, and her quasi-Los Angeles is a convincing and entertaining setting. I liked this better than any of her previous work, and I hope I'm the only reviewer Warner missed in its publicity campaign.