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Books for Review should be sent to: Don D'Ammassa, 323 Dodge Street, East Providence, RI 02914

 LAST UPDATE 3/28/08

Dark Blood by John Meaney, Gollancz, 2008, £12.99, ISBN 978-0-575-07961-8  

The publishers are calling this series by John Meaney science fiction, but itís dark fantasy, set in a kind of gothic technological society that is one of the more innovative ones Iíve encountered recently.  The protagonist this time is a police officer who has been brought back to life, thanks to a kind of sorcerous implantation, one of many who have been revived.  The living donít particularly care for the living dead, or zombies, but thatís only part of the reason our hero is having trouble adjusting to the changes in his life.  He is also aware that he can somehow eavesdrop on the thoughts of others like himself, and thatís in addition to other enhancements he has acquired through the process of revivification.  Thatís the backdrop to a story of mystery and intrigue involving a plan to use subtle but powerful sorcery against the population in aid of one element in the power structure.  Bantam published the US edition of the first in the series, Bone Song, so hopefully this will be available here soon. 3/28/08

Armed & Magical by Lisa Shearin, Ace 5/08, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-441-01587-0  

The follow-up to Magic Lost, Trouble Found has our heroine, Raine Benares, trapped in an uncomfortable bondage to a mystical statue that consumes human souls.  This unhappy development has pretty much destroyed her former life and she has guards and magicians on every side, some trying to protect her, some trying to make use of her peculiar situation.  Finally she decides to travel to a remote island which is home to an exotic school of sorcery and, hopefully, some magical adepts who might be able to help.  But when she arrives, she soon finds that the school has troubles of its own, primarily a series of mysterious disappearances that somehow she finds herself responsible for investigating.  I really enjoyed her first outing, and the mystery in the second one is also quite good.  It did seem that the story moved a bit slowly at times, particularly early on, but that might have been simply because I was impatient for the main plot to get underway.  Iím sure this isnít Raineís last adventure, and it looks to be a better than average series.  3/27/08

Cruel Zinc Melodies by Glen Cook, Roc, 5/08, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-451-46192-6 - 1114 

Garrett is back for his twelfth adventure in one of the few series that I always find entertaining.  Garrett is a private investigator in a magical alternate world, and his latest case involves the construction of a new theater by a local entrepreneur.  It seems that construction has been interfered with by a series of manifestations Ė ghostly figures, giant insects, and such like Ė and the owner is desperate for a solution so that he can get back on schedule and finish the project.  Since thereís a personal relationship through his current girlfriend, Garrett agrees to look into matters, not really expecting to uncover a secret as enormous as the one that lies beneath the apparent pranks.  Thereís a mysterious and possibly not entirely sane intelligence at work, and the solution could change Garrettís life forever.  Cook uses fast moving scenes and very short chapters to give the story an added sense of movement, and he has a real knack for transposing the tough detective into a magical setting. This is one of the better titles in one of the better series fantasy has to offer. 3/26/08

The Edge of Reason by Melinda Snodgrass, Tor, 5/08, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-7653-1516-8

There have been many novels about the battle between good and evil but Melinda Snodgrass gives it all a new and sometimes thought provoking twist in her latest.  Richard Oort is a police officer in Albuquerque who figures the human villains in the world are bad enough.  When he comes to the assistance of a teenaged girl one night, he is shocked to discover that her assailants arenít human at all, may not even be living creatures in the normal sense.  The girl turns out to be a talented though untrained sorceress and she introduces him to a world he didnít know existed, where two magically armed forces contend with one another right under the noses of the rest of us.  They will recruit more allies as the story progresses, but their enemies grow more numerous and more effective as well.  In addition to playing good against evil, the author also presents the conflict between science and superstition, between genuine curiosity about the world and a narrowminded version accepted on faith rather than by observation.  There is a decidedly ungentle indictment of certain facets of our own society, which by implication have allied themselves Ė willingly or not Ė with the forces of darkness.  Itís also a very good contemporary fantasy adventure.  3/25/08

The Ruby Key by Holly Lisle, Orchard, 5/08, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-545-00012-3 - 1111 

Holly Lisle has produced a steady string of entertaining, sometimes very entertaining, fantasy novels for adult readers, and now she turns her hand to young adult fiction with this, the first in a new series.  The protagonists are brothers and sisters living in a small village on the edge of a mysterious forest that is home to the inhuman nightlings.  One day the children encounter a nightling slave who tells them that the village leader and their cruel King Letrin are in cahoots.  In order to save the village, they have to set off on a quest to find a magical secret with which to defeat Letrin and foil his human ally.  Obviously that doesnít get resolved although thereís a mini-climax to give this volume something of an actual ending.  Thankfully, Lisle does not condescend to her presumed audience but writes intelligently and with more than a little suspense.  This should be a good series. 3/24/08 

The Immortal Prince by Jennifer Fallon, Tor, 5/08, $27.95, ISBN 978-0-7653-1682-0 

Jennifer Fallon starts a new fantasy series with this, volume one of the Tide Lords.  The premise is a bit more complex this time than usual.  It opens with the apparent execution of a murderer, but the convicted man miraculously escapes death, and then proclaims that he is the reincarnation of a legendary figure, immortal and important to the future of his people.  Arkady Desean is a scholar who is enlisted to investigate his claim, because the throne is obviously not happy about the appearance of a superhero among the people and the royal spymaster, a particularly devious man, wants the pretender to be shown up for what he is as quickly as possible.  The problem is that the more Arkady looks into things, the more she suspects that there might be something to the manís claims after all.  That, obviously, does not sit well with her ostensible employer.  And if one legend can manifest itself, what about the others?  I thought this was much slower paced than the authorís previous books, but surprisingly that turns out to be a plus this time because the two main characters, and the underlying speculation, are much better developed than I expected.  This promises to be a very interesting series. 3/24/08

Pax Dakota by Ken Rand, Five Star, 5/08, $25.95, ISBN 978-1-59414-672-1  

The first novel I read by Ken Rand was pleasant but so light that Iíd forgotten it within a few days.  This new one has more staying power.  Itís set in an alternate history in which the Six Nations of the Dakotas were able to maintain their independence and create a country in the American northwest.  Sounds like SF, but this is definitely a fantasy because the plot involves the escape of Old Enemy, a Native American spirit of evil who was imprisoned some time in the past and held captive by another spirit, Watcher.  Unfortunately, Watcher needs some help if heís to regain control of his prisoner, and that help drags in a young man undergoing a personality crisis and a prostitute searching for a new life.  At times this veers toward supernatural horror, but itís also an interesting recreation of a system of myths that are very under represented in contemporary fantasy and horror novels.  The ending is a bit too predictable, but otherwise itís a very fine effort. 3/23/08

Free Fall by Laura Anne Gilman, Luna, 5/08, $14.95, ISBN 978-0-373-80267-8

Wren Valere and her partner, Sergei, return for their fifth adventure.  Under the surface of Manhattan there exists a secret population of magic users and supernatural beings.  It is among them that the two detectives find most of their cases, but tensions have been building in that community and thereís more than just a simple puzzle to solve this time around.  A magical war has broken out and threatens to escalate out of control and just as thing seem to be reaching a climax, Wren finds herself forced to operate on her own on what initially seems to be just another routine job, but which is actually another thrust in a battle that could destroy the city.  Although published in a romance line, the series is indistinguishable in that sense from most urban fantasy and should appeal to a broader audience.  It is also one of the most consistently satisfying of the current wave of contemporary fantasies with ass-kicking heroines, and tends to be a bit more cerebral than most.  Valere survives more often by quick wits than by martial skills.  3/20/08

The Boundless Deep by Kate Brallier, Forge, 2008, $14.95, ISBN 978-0-7653-1972-2

I was reasonably impressed with the authorís first novel of paranormal romance, Seal Island, which stood out because it avoided most of the genre clichťs.  This new one is somewhat similar in theme, quite similar in its originality, but even better written, positively spooky at times.  A young woman who has frequently experienced oddly realistic dreams of life at sea decides to spend some time on Nantucket Island to see how well her subconscious imagination matches reality.  But we smart readers know that it isnít her imagination at work, donít we?    Her proximity to the ocean intensifies her dreams, which become constant, unsettling, and overtly sexual.  There is a recurring character in them, a sea captain, to whom she is emotionally drawn.  But in her waking hours she is drawn to another man, and he is most definitely alive.  There are some additional subplots including a villain, and the reincarnation theme is rather obvious, but the writing is head and shoulders above most of the competition with snappy dialogue and a much more evocative atmosphere than in most romance fiction.  This one should appeal to a fairly wide audience. 3/14/08

The Silk Palace by Colin Harvey, Swimming Kangaroo Books, 2008, $17.99, ISBN 978-1-934041-42-0 

I donít recall ever hearing of this small press before but they put out a handsome looking product.  This is an other worlds fantasy that includes a number of disparate and sometimes quite striking images Ė hot air balloons mixed with gods and magical jewels that have consciousness, a city perched on an enormous rock between two empires, and a handful of idiosyncratic characters.  This is a mix of political thriller, magic conflict, coming of age, quest, and various other familiar fantasy themes, in a plot that is occasionally a bit too ambitious but mostly works.  The prose is not quite up to the project, however.  Oddly, itís not the dialogue that bothered me most, which is usually where I find problems.  The narrative contains too many sentences that fall into the same pattern in several places, which gives the text a monotonous feel even when exciting things are being described.  Other sentences just feel awkward, e.g., ďBluestocking stumbled away from the window back across the room, the way she had come, with frustrating slowness, but she dared go no quicker.Ē    The book needed another draft or two, and an editor to point out the awkward bits. 3/14/08

Dark Wraith of Shannara by Terry Brooks, adapted by Robert Place Napton, art by Edwin David, Del Rey, 2008, $13.95, ISBN 978-0-345-49462-7

Mouse Guard Fall 1152 by David Petersen, Villard, 2008, $17.95, ISBN 978-0-345-49686-7

Two graphic novels, both of them fantasy.  The first is from an original story by Terry Brooks and is set in the Shannara universe.  A young man with magical powers is distressed by a dream in which he is aided by the shades of the dead, then discovers that an inhuman race has captured two of his friends, who possess knowledge that could affect the future of the world.  He tries to recruit allies to help with a rescue mission and runs into resistance, but eventually gets limited help. He initially resists the temptation to appeal to the spirit of a dead warrior for help when they are attacked, but not for long. The Shannara books are not my favorite of Brooks' work, and the story in this instance only mildly interested me.  All black and white interiors, with pretty good artwork.  There's a somewhat interesting section about how they went about completing the adaptation.  Not my cup of tea but okay of its type.

The second title is also a quest story, but with mice as characters.  The art style is slightly out of the ordinary, giving it a distinctive look all through - and it's in color from start to finish.  The Mouse Guard is a kind of three musketeers for rodents, who defend the mouse culture against weasels and other threats.  When an influential mouse disappears, three of the Guard are sent to find out what happened to him, and they stumble into a much more far reaching plot, one which could undermine the Guard itself and all of mousedom.  There is much less dialogue in this than usual, which makes the artwork more important in telling the story.  It reminded me at times of Brian Jacques' Redwall series.  It's pretty grim at times, but younger readers should enjoy this just as much as older ones.  3/13/08

Iron Angel by Alan Campbell, Bantam, 4/08, $25, ISBN 978-0-553-38417-8  

New fantasy writer Alan Cambell returns to the city of Deepgate for this new novel.  Deepgate is suspended by chains above an apparently bottomless abyss into which the dead are thrown to appease a god, at least according to the church.  The city is currently ruled by the Spine, a strict and repressive government.  Dill, a young angel, and Rachel, an assassin and rebel, are both prisoners, but the situation outside their cells is deteriorating.  The spirits of the dead are restless and on the move and the gods themselves may be about to make war on one another.  Our heroes escape and begin to interact with the world, obviously, or they wouldnít be the heroes, but the story Ė while interesting in its own right Ė is almost secondary to the richly imagined setting.  The city of Deepgate is one of the most original and fascinating creations in modern fantasy, one of those rare cases when the setting tends to overshadow both characters and action.  The background is fairly complex, and it certainly helps if youíve read Scar Night.   This is the second volume in a proposed trilogy but has few of the drawbacks usually associated with the middle books in a set.  I hope Campbell doesnít end up making a career of Deepgate because his imagination seems unusually fertile.  3/11/08

The Isle of Masks by Ulysses Moore, Scholastic, 2008, $5,99, ISBN 978-0-439-77671-4

The Treasure of the Orkins by Tony Abbott, Scholastic, 2008, $4.99, ISBN 978-0-439-90253-3

Ibbyís Magic Weekend by Heather Dyer, Chicken House, 2008, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-545-03209-4 Ė1136/7/8 

         

All three of these short fantasies are for kids, and the first two are parts of ongoing series.  The Doors of Time allow a group of children to visit various historical eras, searching fort the secret of the Doors and the man who apparently invented them.  An interesting series of puzzles awaits them as they search for their quarry, and become aware that they are not the only ones looking for them.  I donít know if the previous titles in this series were as good, but this one is quite clever.  The second title is number 32 in the Secrets of Droon series, longish stories rather than novels set in an elaborate fantasy world.  Another band of kids has to outwit thieves who have stolen a treasure.  The story is okay but thereís nothing notable about it.  Last up is the story of kids who discover the possessions of a one time stage magician who wasnít faking.  Before long we have kids floating, shrinking, and otherwise magically affected.  Although it probably sounds pretty minor, there are some genuinely funny moments and the story has a degree of charm that I wouldnít have expected from the description.  I personally enjoyed the Moore the best of these three, but Dyer was a close second. 3/9/08

Wicked Game by Jeri Smith-Ready

This review removed in response to a communication from the publisher's legal department.

Bewitching Season by Marissa Doyle, Henry Holt, 4/08, $16.95, ISBN 978-0-8050-8251-7

Victorian fantasy has always had a strong appeal for me, even those which are set in a world not entirely our own.  This debut novel is set just as Victoria is about to take the throne, but itís an England where magic is studied by young ladies just as they might take up drawing or music.  The protagonists are Persephone Leland and her sister Penelope, both just old enough to begin considering romance seriously, both students of a governess who is very skilled in the magical arts.  When the governess disappears mysteriously, kidnapped by conspirators who hope to use her skills as part of their plot to establish a secretive control over the new ruler, the sisters are not content to wait and see what happens.  The sisters are refreshingly perky, intelligent, and adventurous and the romantic element in the story is low key and unobtrusive.  Doyle brings the drawing room culture of that period to life and despite the villainous plot, the novel as a whole has a kind of good natured atmosphere that gives it a distinctive flavor.  I hope to see more along similar lines from this author.  3/4/08

Dragons Wild by Robert Asprin, Ace, 4/08, $14, ISBN 978-0-441-01470-5

Robert Asprin launches a new series with this story of a small time con artist and occasional card shark who discovers that he has inherited the ability to transform himself into a dragon.  When his uncle breaks the news to him, and reveals that his cousin Valerie has the same talent, Griffen decides that he is not about to submit to the tutelage of the older man and sets off with Valerie to visit New Orleans.  Old habits die hard and he soon runs into trouble with the local criminal establishment, but now he has an edge that they neither anticipate nor believe until itís too late.  Thereís also a presumably international organization of magical that tries to recruit Griffen.   A war between dragon factions seems to be coming in later volumes.  A nice blend of light humor and fantasy adventure, although I had some trouble identifying with Griffen, who is not the most admirable of characters.  Valerie is actually the more interesting of the two.  The premise doesnít seem likely to sustain a prolonged series but it should be fun while it lasts.  3/4/08

Key to Conspiracy by Talia Gryphon, Ace, 5/08, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-441-01576-4

Urban fantasy continues to proliferate, unfortunately following just as rigid a formula as high fantasy has done, at least for the most part.  This is the second volume in a series that at least has some unique twists.  The protagonist is a psychiatrist who specializes in treating supernormal beings.  Angst ridden vampires and werewolves with identity problems should apply here.  Anyway, Gillian Key can heal their minds, but her military background means she can also bruise their bodies when necessary, which is sometimes the case.  When an earthquake devastates part of Russia, she and a team of humans and semi-humans are sent to help deal with the aftermath, which includes a child selling racket.  What should have been a vacation from her vampire problems at home turns out otherwise, however, Dracula reappears, having gotten interested in her in the previous book, and then there's Jack the Ripper to take into consideration as well.  This one definitely drifts over to the horror end of the urban fantasy spectrum, and the visits by classic horror figures is nicely done.  The dialogue, which bothered me occasionally in the first book, is considerably better this time. 2/27/08

Magic Burns by Ilona Andrews, Ace, 4/08, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-441-01583-2

The Gryphon novel reviewed above is more horror than most in this new sub-genre, while this one - also the second in a series - is squarely in the middle.  The protagonist is Kate Daniels, and the setting is a future version of Atlanta after magic and the supernatural return to the world.  In fact, the incidence of magic fluctuates on a regular cycle and it's currently near a high point.  Her latest assignment is to acquire some intelligence for a local pack of werewolves, but with the ascendance of magic, the gods themselves - or demigods at least - can manifest themselves and they delight in elaborate battles with humans and semihumans as their pawns.  Daniels has to make some tough decisions about where her loyalties lie this time, and the gods aren't going to make it easy for her.  A pleasant read with an appealing protagonist, but nothing to really separate it from the rest of the pack - no pun intended.  2/27/08

Shadow Gate by Kate Elliott, Tor, 4/08, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-7653-1056-9

Crossroads, book two, follows Spirit Gate, which introduced us to a fantasy world where all of the old signs of authority have disappeared mysteriously or have lost the respect of the populace at large.  A fairly good sized cast of characters find themselves at odds, at risk, and at play in this interesting fantasy world that uses some familiar genre tropes and some unfamiliar ones.  Elliott is usually at her best when her stories take on a mythological or even fairy tale like tone, but her last series - though certainly entertaining - drifted into so many subplots that it became increasingly difficult to follow.  This one is, so far, much more tightly written, with the usual cast of well differentiated characters.  With chaos threatening to sweep away the last vestiges of order, a handful of individuals take it upon themselves to restore some semblance of calm and lawful conduct.  In this, second of a projected seven volumes, the old superhuman forces may be preparing to return to the world, but their intentions may be considerably different than they were in the past.    Elliott is adept at creating an integrated and credible setting for her work, and this one is no exception.  Promises to be her best series to date.  2/24/08

The Alchemist's Code by Dave Duncan, Ace, 2008, $14, ISBN 978-0-441-01562-7

Both of today's books are fantasies involving spies, a coincidence rather than a conscious choice.  Duncan's is the sequel to The Alchemist's Apprentice, which introduced us to the historical figure of Nostradamus, sort of, in an alternate Venice where magic works and where our hero and his apprentice undertake missions for the local government, making use of his magical and psychic talents.  This time they're trying to locate a foreign agent and he figures that magical methods of detection are every bit as good as traditional ones.  Unfortunately, this isn't a particularly traditional spy.  Duncan started off in SF and moved into fantasy after only a few books.  Most of the time I regret the loss to SF when a promising new writer makes that transition, but I have to admit that many of my favorite fantasy adventures of the past few years have had Duncan's name on them, so it certainly wasn't a complete loss.  This is one of his better ones, relying on his skill at creating cultures and settings that live and breathe.  I also like the narrator, and I thought the dialogue in this one was particularly good.  You don't have to have read the first one to enjoy this, but you ought to anyway.  2/23/08

Heroes Adrift by Moira J. Moore, Ace, 2008, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-441-01598-6

Moore's third novel is also third in this series about a pair of bonded special agents, one male and one female, and they are acting as intelligence agents in this one.  The empress has set them on an important mission in a foreign land, to track down a lost branch of the royal family.  If only it was that easy.  Transporting an unlikely princess through hostile territory is not a cakewalk. Although the story itself is pretty good, the attraction in this one is the interplay between the two main characters, a kind of Fafhrd and Gray Mouser pairing with sexual tension and a touch of romance to liven things up.  They survive their various adventures, sometimes through force of arms, sometimes through a clash of wits.  Moore uses a clean, transparent prose style that is perfectly suited for the story.  Best so far in the series.  2/23/08

Oathbreaker by Nick Kyme, Black Library, 2008, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-84416-534-6

An attack by the nasty ratmen deprives the dwarves of one of their fortresses and they're not at all happy.  The protagonist vows to raise an army and take it back, and that's pretty much what takes up most of the rest of the novel.  I'm generally suspicious of stories that include a glossary since in general you ought to be able to pick up everything you need to know during the course of the story, particularly a light adventure like this one.  The narrative in this is fine, the dialogue less so, often choppy and sometimes descending into the artificial formality that is found so frequently in fantasy fiction.  The story is okay if you're not too fussy about things like that, but this is not one of the better sword and sorcery entries in the Warhammer series.  And call me a species-ist but I have trouble when the characters are described as being dwarves but are indistinguishable in general from ordinary humans.  Why make the distinction if there isn't one? 2/19/08

Lord of Lies by David Zindell, Tor, 4/08, $27.95, ISBN 978-0-7653-1130-6

Volume 3 of the series that opened with The Lightstone. A summary of this plot is going to sound a great deal like the plot of any number of fantasy epics.  A noble prince must secure and use a magical artifact to prevent a sorcerous enemy - the Dark Angel Morjin - from conquering and enslaving the people of Ea.  The first two books consisted of a chronicle of his adventures as he sought the lightstone and finally located it.  Unfortunately, villains don't just roll over and play dead because you happened to get the upper hand on them for the moment.  This becomes particularly obvious when the people you thought were your allies turn out to number a few fifth columnists among their number.  The second volume, The Silver Sword, had less emphasis on characters and more on action, and the pendulum swings a bit back toward the original balance in this one.  Not that it's short on action sequences, but the protagonist in particular becomes more reflective.  Nothing ground breaking here, just good, solid fantasy adventure in a traditional mold.  2/15/08

Poison Sleep by T.A. Pratt, Bantam, 3/08, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-553-58999-3

I was more than slightly impressed by the first book in this series, Blood Engines, but this one is even better.  Marla Mason is the chief mage for the city of Felport, where magic abounds and sometimes threatens the stability of the city.  Her job is to make sure that magic remains within its bounds and that practitioners don't impinge on the rights of others.  To that end, a number of insane magicians are confined in an institution specializing in containing them, but naturally there's always a way to escape if you're determined enough, and in this case someone is.  What really upsets things this time is that the escapee's particular insanity infects the dreams of others.  The problem to be solved is a good one but it's not nearly as interesting as the city itself and the two main characters, whose bantering interplay is funny, crisp, witty, and clever.  It's close enough to contemporary urban fantasy to include in that category, but I like the protagonist a great deal more than the cookie cutter urban warriors who people most of them.  Pratt is going to be a much more familiar name if the books continue to be of such high quality.  2/14/08

The Golden Cord by Paul Genesse, Five Star, 3/08, $25.95, ISBN 978-1-59414-659-6

First book in the Iron Dragon series.  The Pern books by Anne McCaffrey are often included with fantasy because the flying dragons in it resemble those in fantasy novels, and the plots are often similar to high fantasy.  This new series bears some similarities, but it's more clearly a fantasy despite being set on another planet.  Griffins and dragons both prey on humans on the planet Ae'leron (why the apostrophe?  What possible value does it have?  Another of my pet peeves.) but a more immediate threat to those who wish to live a live of freedom is the empire of Drobin, which enslaves those who fall into its clutches.  One of these secretive settlements runs into trouble when two warriors from that empire show up, but the newcomers provide unsatisfactory explanations for their presence.  Our hero and the woman he loves are going to be driven apart by the events that follow, and their entire world may be plunged into a devastating war.  More of the usual despite the slightly different setting.  Not badly written, but the same old same old.  2/14/08

Steward of Song by Adam Stemple, Tor, 3/08, $23.95, ISBN 978-0-7653-1630-1

Adam Stemple continues the story he began in Singer of Souls.  I liked the first one without being tremendously enthusiastic because I've never been particularly fond of Celtic fantasy or fairies, and this is a little bit of both, but the character was sufficiently differentiated to make him interesting and the story was efficiently and effectively unraveled.  In that one, a young man who has slipped into unsavory habits moves to Ireland to live with his grandmother and becomes aware of a magical world overlapping with ours.  It turns out that he has extraordinary magical powers of his own, sufficient that he seizes the throne of Faery.  That's pretty much the given as the sequel unfolds, except that power is a fleeting thing, particularly when there are other people in the world with magical powers as well.  Reasonably complex characters and a story that doesn't quite fall into the familiar category help elevate this a bit, but I'm still not a big fan of the subject matter.  2/11/08

A Curse as Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce, Arthur A. Levine, 2008, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-439-895767

This young adult fantasy is a first novel, and it's a real winner, one of the most innovative other worldly fantasies I've read in a while, adult or otherwise.  The world feels very much like England on the brink of the industrial revolution, when wealth was being redistributed thanks to entrepreneurship, but not as radically as one might hope, with things actually worsening for many people.  The protagonist is a young girl from a poor family who has a unique opportunity to improve their position by making a deal with an unusual man who can turn straw into gold.  Yes, that's right, this is an inventive retelling of the story of Rumpelstiltskin.  Despite the industrialized setting, the story is rife with folklore, genuine and original, and just because you know how the original story ends, don't think you're way ahead of the author, because she has some different ideas about that as well.  In its relatively quiet fashion, this might well turn out to be one of the best young adult fantasies of the year.  2/11/08

The Spiderwick Chronicles soundtrack, composed by James Horner, 2008, $18.98

I saw the trailer for this movie and it looked pretty good.  The soundtrack isn't too shabby either.  The opening track includes the theme, not spectacular but nice vaguely reminiscent of Star Wars at times for some reason.  Track 2 and 3 are more subordinated to the visuals, I suspect, and don't hold up as well on their own.  "Hogsqueal's Warning of a Bargain with Mulgarath" is livelier and considerably more memorable.  Then an okay track followed by another that evokes urgency and conflict, appropriately enough titled "Dark Armies from the Forest Attack."  Then another low key track, followed by the much more interesting "A Desperate Run Through the Tunnels".  I'm kind of getting the plot of the movie from reading the sequence of titles.  Parts of the next two tracks were nice, but as is the case with most soundtracks, they change mood at times because they have to match the story line.  The only track I didn't care for at all was "Escape from the Glade", a bit too chaotic for my taste.  "Jared and Mulgarath Fight for the Chronicles" is the one I liked best. 2/11/08

The Hidden City by Michelle West, DAW, 3/08, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-7564-0480-3

I only vaguely remember the Hunter novels by Michelle West, which I read back before fantasy novels had become so numerous and incestuous that I started having trouble telling one from the next.  I do recall liking them though, as well as her more recent Sun Sword novels, which got very much larger and more detailed as they went along.  This is a pretty hefty book as well, over 600 pages, and it's the first in a four part series set in the same world as the Hunter novels.  The main protagonist, so far at least, is a young orphan girl who is taken in hand by a secretive man whose motives are not entirely clear.  The two of them are drawn together by circumstance and perhaps as well by the power of the visions she experiences that hint of a tumultuous future.  There's a supernatural threat, of course, and a good sized cast of characters.  This volume is mostly to set the stage for the conflict to come, but that doesn't mean it's slow or boring, and West's characterization in particular continues to get better from one book to the next.  My only quibble with this one is the apparently unpronounceable names like Essalieyan but there's only a couple of them so it's not a big deal.  Looking forward to volume two.  2/9/08

Tangled Webs by Anne Bishop, Roc, 3/08, $23.95, ISBN 978-0-451-46160-5

The sixth and latest in the Black Jewels novel is something of a departure, and definitely darker in tone than those that have gone before.  It's a magical puzzle story in which a false invitation leads one party of characters into a charmed house where they are trapped, facing monstrous evil, unable to use their own talents by the nature of their confinement.  The second group of characters is outside the house, and they have two problems.  First of all, they want to help their friends to escape, and second of all, they need to discover who is responsible and why, because the trap itself is evidence of a powerful and dangerous magical ability.  Although this is set in the same fantasy world as the others in the series, it often has the feel of a contemporary horror novel or even an urban fantasy.  This is a decided plus because it discards most of the repetitious baggage that accompanies too many novels of high fantasy without sacrificing the basic background, without simply becoming a transplanted adventure of yet another strong minded female protagonist fighting evil.  Bishop is one of those wonderful writers who get steadily better as they grow more experienced and I have no problem saying this is the most enjoyable of her books to date, but I doubt it will stay that way for long.  2/7/08

Dead to Me by Anton Strout, Ace, 3/08, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-441-01578-8

Here's something relatively rare in modern urban fantasy.  The hero of this one is a man.  Other than Rob Thurman's series, I can't think of any others of the recent lot that have male protagonists, unless you count Simon R. Green, and he's doing his own thing and not really part of the pack.  Anyway, the hero of this one (and I'm guessing it's planned as a series) is Simon Canderous, who is a psychometrist, which is a form of clairvoyance that involves touching physical objects.  Although he has spent most of his life using his power to help his career as a petty thief, he has recently reformed and is now employed by a secret, paranormal unit with the New York City police department.  This is the story of his first serious case, which involves a ghostly woman whose murder is unsolved and various other goodies, supernatural and otherwise.  There's more than a slight touch of humor in this one, which is welcome, although a lot of it is predictable, bringing more smirks than smiles.  The prose is inoffensive and there are some nice bits in the details, and a plot that manages some moments of originality.  I'm not sure the premise will hold up for a protracted series, particularly given all the competition, but it's not bad at all for a first novel.  2/6/08

p/s A reader reminded me that Mark Del Franco also writes a series of urban fantasies with a male protagonist, which I had completely forgotten.  2/7/08

The Ancient by R.A. Salvatore, Tor, 3/08, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-7653-1789-6

My reaction to R.A. Salvatore novels has been all over the place.  I've found some of them rather dull and others very entertaining.  The Demon Wars series was one of the latter, and since this - first in the Saga of the First King - is set in the same world, I was hopeful that it would be among his better novels.  It's not bad, actually, but I'd put it squarely in the middle, a book I didn't regret having chose to read, but not one I could really get excited about.  The best part for me was some of the incidental stuff, the societies that the author creates as backdrop for his characters.  The characters themselves were deeper drawn than cardboard, but never completely came to life for me.  The plot reshuffles the usual.  There's a quest - the hero is searching for his missing father, and the magical war, which our hero finds himself caught up in despite his desire to be elsewhere.  Salvatore has been steadily improving since he started writing tie-in novels for Wizards of the Coast/TSR, and this one won't disappoint most fantasy readers.  And there are a few interesting bits here that I hope to see expanded in volume two.  2/5/08

Heart of Light by Sarah A. Hoyt, Bantam, 3/08, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-553-58966-5

Sarah A. Hoyt, who has brought us several excellent historical fantasies, tries a new era for this one, set in an alternate version of the British Empire where magic exists.  Late in the Victorian Age, a newly married couple travel to Cairo.  The apparent honeymoon is in fact a cover story, however, because Nigel Oldhall's real mission is to secure a magical jewel which is a source of considerable political power.  To accomplish his mission he has to defeat or evade a number of enemies, not all of them human.  And at the same time, he has to watch out for his wife, whom he considers a complete innocent.  But she's not exactly what she appears to be either.  I'm fascinated with the Victorian Age, real or imaginary, so this was going to have an advantage in getting my attention even before I opened it.  Eventually the chief villain is identified and confronted, and there's never any real doubt that good will triumph, but Hoyt's imagined world is vividly brought to life, her characters are the best drawn and most interesting yet, and the story itself is exciting and complex.  I'm astonished this is a paperback original.  2/4/08

Swiftly by Adam Roberts, Gollancz, 3/08, £18.99, ISBN 978-0-575-07589-4

I have very ambivalent feelings toward Adam Roberts work, which has included some very interesting SF novels, some pretty trivial spoofs, and a few pieces that I could not decide whether or not I liked.  This is the first non-spoof fantasy novel he has written, and it's probably the single book by him that I liked best.  The setting is 1848, but not our 1848.  England and France are at war, but England has virtually enslaved the Lilliputians discovered by Lemuel Gulliver and is using their expertise in their conduct of the war.  Unfortunately, the French have recruited the aid of the giant Brobdingnagians, giants who can defeat the best ships England can send against them.  Leading the French armies, they have invaded the British Isles and it appears that defeat is inevitable.  The protagonist is a man torn by contradictory feelings.  On the one hand he feels quite understandable loyalty to his country and the need to defend her from foreign enemies.  On the other hand, he believes that the English subjugation of Lilliput is inherently evil. The ending is not what I expected and I won't spoil things by revealing it here.  A very unusual and quite out of the ordinary novel. 2/3/08

The Solaris Book of New Fantasy edited by George Mann, Solaris, 2007, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-84416-523-0

I misplaced by copy of this halfway through, so I may have been in a very different mood from beginning to end.  I really enjoyed the SF anthology in this series, so I was looking forward to this as well.  It's pretty good, overall, but I didn't think it measured up to the other, although part of that is because I find so much of modern fantasy to be imitative.  The collection opens with two well written but quite traditional fantasy stories by Mark Chadbourn and Janny Wurts, both of whom have entertained me with their novels.  James Maxey follows with a third, which didn't work for me at all, but right after that is a short by T.A. Pratt, a newcomer whose first novel really impressed me and, if anything, this shorter piece is even more impressive, the story of a kind of bureaucratic sorceress dealing with an insane, institutionalized sorcerer, a kind of humorous but magical take on Hannibal Lector.

Hal Duncan's story is very nicely done and almost impossible to describe, one of the few times when I thought present tense narration was appropriate.  Jeff VanderMeer's three short fairy tales are also worth noting.  Christopher Barzak's contribution is also well written, but the story never really engaged my interest.  Chris Roberson, who seems to be improving almost from month to month, invokes Abraham Van Helsing and unusual rats in his story.  Juliet McKenna has an okay story; she's another one who seems to need the room of a novel to really get her story going.  Mike Resnick has a cute but light weight tough detective/fantasy crossover. Steve Savile' story was another one that left me flat, but Jay Lake has a good one.  Conrad Williams and Scott Thomas both have quirky pieces after that, both of which I liked, but neither of which jumped off the page for me, though the latter came close but went on for a bit too long.  Lucius Shepard has the best in the collection, a contemporary fantasy that is beautifully written.  Steven Erikson finishes up with a quite good story that I probably would have like even better if I hadn't read it right after the Shepard.  There are no bad stories and only three I didn't care for, as opposed to two excellent and several quite good ones.  One of the best fantasy anthologies I've read recently.  1/29/08

Fire Study by Maria V. Snyder, Luna, 3/08, $13.96, ISBN 978-0-7783-2534-5

Third volume in a romantic fantasy series about Yelena, who started as a fire taster but whose special abilities soon led her to a different and greater destiny.  Among her talents is the ability to capture souls, which makes a very many people nervous at best, positively outraged more likely.  As if that wasn't already enough to keep her busy, an old enemy returns with a new plot to seize control of the city.  The story of her adventures is well plotted but without any real surprises.  The protagonist is really the only interesting character in the novel, however, and the short, choppy dialogue - which I don't remember from the previous books in the series but it might have been there as well - begins to sound very artificial after the first hundred pages or so.  The series may be on the verge of succumbing to the usual disease of series - either having to outdo the events of the previous installment in every subsequent volume, which often causes silliness, or descending into repetition.  1/28/08

Mad Kestrel by Misty Massey, Tor, 3/08, 14.95, ISBN 978-0-7653-1802-2

One of the ways to get me to like a fantasy novel that I might otherwise have found boring is to throw in a pirate or two.  That's the trick in this debut novel, set in a typical fantasy world, and one where a mysterious group known as the Danisoba spirit away any child who shows promise of having magical talents, to preserve their monopoly on such things. Our protagonist is one of the rare magically endowed people who escaped their attention, and she's been hiding her abilities all of her life.  Since large bodies of water neutralize magic, the easiest way to conceal herself is by becoming a sailor, which she does after various preliminary adventures.  So it looks like she's safe at last.  But if that was the case, there wouldn't be much of a story.  Eventually she ends up on a pirate ship, which is when I really started enjoying things of course.  She meets and gets romantically involved with the captain of another ship, and when he is taken captive, things ratchet up to yet another level.  Magical swashbuckling.  What more could you ask?  1/27/08

The Golden Rose by Kathleen Bryan, Tor, 3/08, $14.95, ISBN 978-0-7653-1329-4

Volume two of the War of the Roses, following The Serpent and the Rose.  The battle between Order and Chaos is superimposed on a fantasy world that resembles medieval Europe.  In the first installment, the protagonist became the champion of her people and assumed the title of Duchess of Quitaine, but only because of her reluctant agreement to an arrangement with the villainous king.  Now it's time for her to pay her part of the bargain, by traveling to the royal seat of power and choosing a husband from among those candidates proposed by the king. Political marriages are a staple of fantasy fiction - as well as the historical record - and this one has the usual complication.  She's in love with someone else.  Fortunately, she discovers that the king plans further treachery, so she renounces her vow and joins the resistance.  I liked this one a lot better than its predecessor.  The story moves more quickly, the characters acquired considerable depth and subtlety, and there was a much greater sense that the story was going somewhere.  Looking forward to the third and last (?) installment.  1/27/08

Snake Agent by Liz Williams, Night Shade, 2008, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-59780-107-2

The original copyright on this says 2005 but I'm not sure where it was published.  Apparently the first three in the Inspector Chen series are being released very quickly, with at least one more to follow later this year.  Inspector Chen is a Singapore policeman who specializes in supernatural crimes and related incidents.  His latest concern is the soul of a girl recently murdered, which somehow gets misplaced before it reaches Heaven.  At the same time, a demonic policeman is trying to track down the soul of a prostitute which has escaped from Hell.  Could the two be related?  Could the two souls be the same?  Can an earthly detective and a demonic agent find common cause and work together?  Talk about having the partner from Hell!  This was pretty enjoyable, and that's saying quite a bit because I don't generally like stories in which Heaven and Hell are real places.  There's even bits of very wry humor.  I'll have to watch for the next Inspector Chen book.  1/26/08

Battle Dragon by Edo van Belkom, Five Star, 3/08, $25.95, ISBN 978=1=59414-671-8

Well believe it or not, it is possible to do something new and interesting with dragons, at least if you have some talent and imagination.  Edo van Belkom, whose horror fiction I've enjoyed for some time, has come up with a fascinating idea for this one.  A long time ago, somewhere in England, a wizard helps protect a village from a marauding dragon by sending it forward through time.  It reappears during World War II and the Battle of Britain, and boy is it angry!  So when an unusual number of British airmen are killed in flight, the British wonder if the Germans have come up with a new weapon.  So an English officer is assigned to find out what's going on.  But the Germans don't know anything about it either, and they send their own contingent to discover the same thing, but from a slightly different perspective.  Fortunately, there is still magic in the world, and people who know how to use it.  They decide to reverse the spell, but can they do it without recreating the original problem?  The story is a lot of fun, and certainly more original than another stolen throne, quest for a magical artifact, or - lately - yet another tough minded female who knows that vampires and werewolves exist and wants to kick ass.  This book kicks ass too, but in a whole different way.  1/25/08

Embrace the Night by Karen Chance, Roc, 4/08, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-451-46199-5

The Cassandra Palmer series is from the darker side of the urban fantasy to horror spectrum though it should appeal to both strains of readers.  Palmer - who has clairvoyant powers - has been psychically tied to a vampire, which seriously cramps both their styles.  Her research suggests that the bonds can be severed by using a spell found in an arcane book of magic lore, which naturally has gone missing.  But Palmer has an unusual ability.  She can examine the past and perhaps find out just what happened to it.  Her investigation, however, reveals that there are very good reasons why it is being hidden, and she might accomplish more evil than good by retrieving it from its present hiding place.  Palmer is another assertive female protagonist who is not above a little romance, so long as it is on her terms, and who can look a vampire right in the eye.  Chance is a competent writer and the story is entertaining.  I thought it was somewhat better than the first two in the series, which were so generic that I can barely remember them.  1/24/08

Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie, Gollancz, 3/08, £18.99, ISBN 978-0-575-07790-4

The third installment in the battle for the future of a magical city.  Most of the usual fantasy tropes are here.  The ruler is dying and there is a power struggle underway to influence the succession.  The populace as a whole is unhappy and moving rapidly toward open rebellion.  There's an external enemy chomping at the bit, waiting to tear apart the corpse.  We have a veteran soldier who's tired of the whole thing - he must have read a lot of high fantasy - and just wants to settle down with his wife and lead a normal life.  There's a magician who figures it's his responsibility to save the world, or at least this segment of it.  There are officials who resort to underhanded tricks to get things done, and find ways to justify it to themselves.   And there are lots of innocent people caught in the crossfire, along with some not so innocent ones.  Abercrombie does this all as good as most other and better than a lot of them but it's still just another variation of a very limited theme.  Oh, and this is, I believe, considerably longer than the first two in the series.  Or maybe it just felt that way. 1/22/08

Rumble in the Jungle by Matt Forbeck, Black Library, 2007, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-84416-517-9

The first three novels in this series were quite cute, a blend of the sports story with sword and sorcery.  In a somewhat atypical fantasy world, a team of not very human players travels about having various adventures, mixing violence with humor.  I thought the first three were all pretty good, but I think the formula has started to wear out with the fourth.  Maybe there's a reason why fantasy so frequently appears in trilogies after all!  Anyway, this time our heroes are off to the land of Lustria to play against an undefeated team of Amazons, but naturally they get into trouble right away and end up dealing with a pretty diverse group of creatures even before the match begins.  The game?  Oh, it's a kind of bloody version of soccer with some unusual twists.  Actually, the game sequences have generally been the high points of the books, a little like hussade in Jack Vance's Trullion: Alastor 2262.  1/20/08

Madhouse by Rob Thurman, Roc, 3/08, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-451-46196-4

Contemporary urban fantasy threatens to usurp the long standing dominance of high fantasy and if all of the newcomers are as good as this series, then they'll deserve to do so.  The third adventure of the Leandros brothers, following Nightlife and Moonshine, has them facing their toughest challenge yet.  They have been barely scraping by with their detective agency, despite their insights into the supernatural and the prolific population of vampires, shapechangers, and other creatures of legend, but business has been drying up.  It appears that being burned at the stake isn't enough to keep a really nasty bad guy out of the game, and the half human Cal Leandros has his hands full when someone starts killing human beings, threatening to upset the uneasy status quo between the familiar and unfamiliar worlds.  And the ending makes it quite clear that this is not a trilogy, that there are more adventures to come.  Reminiscent at times of the early Anita Blake stories, before they became overwhelmed with angst, with a touch of Simon R. Green.  And if you're not familiar with either of these, it means Thurman is really good at this, and getting better as he goes along.  1/19/08

Whitechapel Gods by S.M. Peters, Roc, 2/08, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-451-46193-3

Victorian fantasy is one of my weaknesses, and this debut novel was very much to my taste.  It's an alternate Victorian world, of course, bearing only passing resemblance to our own.  Whitechapel has been walled off from the rest of the city and is the demesne of two apparently artificial gods, real deus ex machinas.  Some of the human inhabitants aren't happy with the status quo, but there are brutal forces to hold them in check.  The novel is rich in imagination with lots of detail about the condensed fantasy world setting that I'd love to tell you about, but half the pleasure in this very good novel is exploring the author's creation, so I'll bite my virtual tongue and just say there are lots of little treats in store for you.  The main plot itself is quite good as well, intricately intertwined with the mysteries of this very strange sub-universe.  It's early in the year yet, but this is definitely one of the best first novels I've read in a very long time, and possibly one of the best fantasies of 2008.  1/18/08

Mystery Date edited by Denise Little, DAW, 2/08, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7564-0469-7

This is another theme anthology, a bit tighter than most since each story must involve a first date.   They're predominantly fantasy and generally by relatively unknown authors.  Jody Lynn Nye and Pauline Alama suggest there might be complications dating a deity, virtual or otherwise.  Kristine Kathryn Rusch deals with magic and assassination.  Nancy Springer introduces us to the difficulties of dating a shapechanger.   Diane Duane assumes that the unseen world of legends is real after all.  And so forth.  None of these stories are bad at all, but there was the predictable sameness about many of them, and none of them really made me sit up and take notice.  The best of the batch are by Springer, Rusch, Janet Deaver-Pack, Laura Resnick, and Jean Rabe.  Very light fantasy reading, much of it lightly humorous, but rather bland. 1/18/08

A Magic of Twilight by S.L. Farrell, DAW, 2/08, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-7564-0466-6

Stephen Leigh is the author of several pretty good SF and fantasy novels, but his name hadn't appeared in a while and he is now reincarnated as S.L. Farrell, author of a good Celtic fantasy series and now this, the first of the Nessantico Cycle.  It's high fantasy, set in a fantasy realm roughly equivalent to the Renaissance.  The empire has had a single ruler for generations but her grip is being to loosen and there are any number of ambitious aristocrats and interest groups who want to have a say in how the power alignment recreates itself.  There's also uncertainty about the leadership of the local religion, and evidence that the army is experiencing some difficulties deciding where their loyalties lie in the long run. It took a while to get into this because there is so much to absorb - and there's an appendix to help you get the details straight.  Once I was acclimatized, I enjoyed myself though, and I'm ready for another visit, hopefully not to be long delayed.  1/16/08

Masters of Magic by Christopher Wraight, Black Library, 2008, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-84416-533-9

Wraight is a new name in the Warhammer novel series, and his debut is a kind of military fantasy.  The human empire is beset on all sides by its inhuman enemies and they're able to keep them at bay only by making use of battle wizards.  Sometimes there is as much trouble keeping the wizards from turning on one another as there is in defeating the enemy - in this case an invading army of orcs.  It's a sword and sorcery story, of course, and the plot is typical and not unappealing, but this one really needed some copy editing or preferably another draft completely.  "Calling his men together, they formed a cordon..."  Come on.  Even a cursory proofing should have caught that.  "'How goes it castellan?' asked Lothar at length."  Four words is not "at length."  "Marius stepped forwards..."  "Helmut's aura had curled back and over the shaman, engulfing it..."  It is a him.  Far too many of these not to be fatally distracting.  1/13/08

Seekers of the Chalice by Brian Cullen, Tor, 2/08, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-7653-1473-4

If you haven't guessed from the title, this is a quest story.  It's also based loosely on Celtic mythology, which is one reason why I've put off reading it for some time.  Celtic fantasy is right there with Arthurian and generic high fantasy in my list of done too often fantasy tropes.  As it turns out, it must have been a while since I last read one of these because it seemed actually fresh and interesting for most of the story.  A sacred object with magical powers is stolen and our heroes have to go off and retrieve it, overcoming a variety of obstacles along the way.  Not startlingly new by any means.  The seekers aren't all human and they are opposed by your typical evil wizard.  The prose and style are actually pretty good and the story should hold you if you haven't recently overdosed on quests or Celtic lore.  Good enough that I'd be curious about the author's next, if I didn't know that this is the first volume in yet another trilogy.  1/8/08

The Battle for Skandia by John Flanagan, 3/08, $16.99, ISBN 0-978-399-24457-5

I probably would have enjoyed this much more if I had read the previous three volumes in the Ranger's Apprentice series, but I've never even seen copies of them.  The setting is a fantasy world that resembles Norse historical fiction so much that at times the fantasy content seemed almost intrusive.  Anyway, the two main characters are teenagers - one of each gender - who have apparently escaped an evil empire and are attempting to make their way back home.  Alas, they run into trouble with another group and the female half of the team is captured yet again, though subsequently rescued.  But that's just the beginning of their problems because the evil empire has now invaded their homeland and there may be no place for them to go.  I gather that this is a very popular series and has been optioned for the screen.  It might well be that the earlier books were markedly better, or that I'd have liked this one more if I'd had them under my belt.  As it stands, this was a mildly enjoyable fantasy adventure with nothing that makes it stand out, and certainly nothing that would make me say it's perfect for a movie.  1/7/08

Tracing the Shadow by Sarah Ash, Bantam, 2/08, $24, ISBN 978-385-80519-2

Although I have to admit I only vaguely recall the Artamon trilogy by this author from a year or two back, I do remember that it started off very strongly and that I was mildly disappointed with the ending.  The setting was a familiar fantasy world but she did some unusual things with the characters that caught my interest at the time.  This new book also struck me as having much better dialogue than most high fantasy, plus pronounceable proper nouns, which is always a plus.  Although not part of the original series, it is set in the same world as the Artamon trilogy, following a pogrom in which magic practitioners were driven to apparent extinction.  Yes, it's one of those stories and, as you might guess, there is a young child who is an heir of sorts to powerful magic and who is being used as an instrument of vengeance against her father's enemies.  There is a kind of coming of age story here, although the protagonist is aged well beyond her years even as we first meet her.  The conflict is obvious but surprisingly subdued, more of a chess game than a boxing match.  I wasn't expecting to like this very much based on the blurb, but I did get caught up after a couple of chapters and read compulsively to reach the final confrontation.  1/3/08

The Key to Rondo by Emily Rodda, Scholastic, 2008, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-545-03535-4

I have read one previous book by this author, which had much of the same fairy tale feel as this new one.  A young boy inherits a magical music box to which are attached a set of rules he follows carefully, until one of his friends breaks the rule and reveals the secret of the box.  It serves as a kind of prison to a sorceress, and now she's free again.  The only way to undo the damage is to find out the rest of the secrets of the box, track down the witch, and return her to imprisonment.  But how do they start?  During the first couple of chapters, I thought of this as just another slight children's book, but to my surprise I was drawn deeper into the story as it progressed.  It doesn't have the power of a more adult novel, but it comes very close.  Not in the Harry Potter category, but I was reminded of Alan Garner at times, and I don't get to say that too often.  1/1/08

2007 FANTASY REVIEWS