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 LAST UPDATE 4/28/10 

Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay, Roc, 5/10, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-451-46330-2  

It has been too long since the last book by this author, so it brightened my day when this turned up.  One reason that I look forward to his work Ė other than the fact that it is inevitably well written Ė is that most of the time the novels are standalones, not part of the ubiquitous trilogy or open ended series.  This is a case in point. The setting for this one is 8th Century China and the main character is a professional soldier who has tired of his profession and dedicated himself to tending to the dead, whose spirits are sometimes audible in their restlessness.  When a foreign leader decides to acknowledge his efforts by sending him a valuable present, it turns out to be a mixed blessing because although it affords him considerable prestige, it also makes him a lot of instant enemies.  Most of the novel consists of his journey back to the imperial city, beset by thieves and other dangers, a journey across a mystical version of ancient China.  Despite all the adventure, the real charm of the book is the subtlety of the characterizations, the evocation of a quasi-real landscape, and the fluency of the prose.  Undoubtedly this will be one of the best fantasies of the year. 4/28/10

The Game of Sunken Places by M.T. Anderson, Scholastic, 2010, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-545-20008-0

I read this novel for younger readers when it first appeared in hardcover in 2004 and thought it had a good chance of becoming very popular.  It doesn't seem to have gained the popularity I predicted but perhaps this new edition will attract a more responsive audience.  The set up is a familiar one - two young boys go on an extended visit to a strange and sprawling mansion whose owner appears to be not quite right in the head.  They explore and find a unique and complex game - hence the title - whose conflicts and characters become all too real.  The plot is lively and full of surprises, the prose is rich enough to hold the interest of more sophisticated readers, and frankly the story is just good fun.   If you've missed it before, this is your chance to correct your mistake.  4/27/10

Watcher of the Dead by J.V. Jones, Tor, 4/10, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-1979-1  

Fourth book in the Sword of Shadows series, which I had begun to think might not appear. When we last looked into this world, the human population was divided and fighting among themselves despite the existence of magical beings who were threatening to end the world entirely.  Thatís pretty much the situation as this latest installment opens. In standard fantasy tradition, a new kind of hero begins to emerge from various segments of the population, most of them among the least likely to become heroic figures. Most of their personal stories come to some sort of resolution during the course of the novel, but the greater conflict remains open ended and there will presumably be another volume forthcoming, although hopefully sooner than the three year gap between the last two.  Jones has long been one of the stalwarts of this sort of fantasy and each new title is always welcome, although the long gaps between volumes sometimes makes it difficult to pick up the various plot threads. 4/26/10

Blood of the Mantis by Adrian Tchaikowsky, Pyr, 5/10, $16, ISBN 978-1-61614-199-8  

The third in the Shadows of the Apt series, a moderately innovative heroic fantasy series involving the usual battles between good and evil, with dark sorcery helping the evil.  The hero is on a modified quest to keep magical artifacts from falling into the wrong hands, and keep himself out of trouble at the same time if at all possible. Although the good guysí army has won a respite, the greater forces of the bad guys are regrouping and planning for a major offensive in the near future. And, as it turns out, itís not just the chief bad guy who would like to have his power enhanced by the artifacts.  High adventure in a very traditional mode. 4/25/10

Five Odd Honors by Jane Lindskold, Tor, 5/10, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-1702-5  

Jane Lindskold weaves together some diverse fantasy elements in the latest in her series about the Thirteen Orphans, magically empowered youngsters who now find themselves in an alternate world where the very laws of nature have changed.  Irish and Oriental mythologies converge as dangers threaten in both our world and the other, and former allies have reason to suspect one another as things boil toward an overflow. Thereís something for almost everyone here, urban fantasy, ancient legends, flawed characters and outstanding ones, treachery, redemption, hope, despair.  The disparate strands of this one could easily have escaped the authorís control but theyíre all managed well and shaped toward the conclusion.  Itís really hard to compare this to anything else as it borrows selectively from so many different sources.  Try it.  Youíll like it.  But you probably should read the earlier titles in the series first if you want to understand the conflicting motives of the characters. 4/22/10

Battle and Quests by Anthony Horowitz, Kingfisher, 2010, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-7534-1937-3

Beasts and Monsters by Anthony Horowitz, Kingfisher, 2010, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-7534-1936-6

Anthony Horowitz, who has written some interesting YA horror fiction, draws on ancient legends and mythology for these two collections of modern retellings.  Unlike most other variations of this theme, he is not Eurocentric and the first title, for example, borrows from South America, China, and elsewhere in addition to Greek and Roman stories, although the second offers only a Cheyenne myth as diversification.   More significantly, the author modernizes the language and makes no effort to use the artificial voice common in retellings, giving the stories a much more contemporary - and realistic - flavor.  Hopefully these will reawaken interest among some readers who will dig deeper into the rich and mostly overlooked content of ancient literature.  More volumes in this series are apparently forthcoming.

Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis, Tor, 2010, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2150-3

Here we have a very promising first novel, an alternate history fantasy which runs roughly parallel to World War II, but not as we know it.  The Americans never entered and the Russians came in late, with England on the ropes, and occupied virtually all of continental Europe.  The real twist here is that the Germans have recruited - through very cruel means - a number of people with extraordinary power - invisibility, pyrophoria, precognition, telekinesis, etc. - to spearhead their attack and perform several missions designed to advance their cause.  A British secret agent catches hints of this during the Spanish Civil War and becomes more intimately involved in the years that follow.  He is also part of a secret British project to solicit help from the Eidolons - roughly equivalent to demons or demigods - who can change the nature of reality in some instances, though always at a terrible price.  As the war progresses, there is little to distinguish one side from the other and even our hero becomes corrupted by the process.  There is also the unpredictable agenda of a precognitive woman, who might be manipulating events toward an outcome known only to her.   Great stuff and compulsive reading, but you cannot split weapons "between" three squads.  The word is "among". There is no indication of a sequel but there are so many loose ends that there almost certainly will be one.  4/17/10

Unholy Ghosts by Stacia Kane, Del Rey, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-345-51557-5

This is the opening title in a quasi-urban fantasy series, set after an apocalyptic alteration of reality has allowed the dead to rise and walk the world again.  The governments of most nations have collapsed and in the US, a barely recognizable variation of the Christian church is essentially the supreme power. The protagonist, Chess Putnam, is a witch and ghost hunter by profession who is coerced into performing a dangerous job that involves demons as well as ghosts.  I really enjoyed the set up for this one - which surprised me because I haven't cared for similar devices by other writers - and the plot and characterization are both reasonably good, which probably contributed.  I did have trouble with some of the dialogue, which seemed clunky and artificial at times, and frequently choppy and perfunctory.  Two more titles are already scheduled this year so I imagine Iíll be visiting her world again in the near future. 4/16/10

Dragonfly Falling by Adrian Tchaikowsky, Pyr, 4/10, $16, ISBN 978-1-61614-195-0  

Sequel to Empire in Black and Gold.  Various small states are faced with the presence of an aggressive and much larger menace, the Wasp army, which is systematically gobbling up its neighbors.  This time around we follow various characters as they continue their efforts to rally resistance.  Some of this involves spying on the enemy, although not always with the expected results.  Some of it involves trying to convince people that they cannot afford to do nothing.  Other characters are caught up in their own personal concerns, which may or may not have a direct impact on the main plot.  Several of the characters are much more interesting this time than they were before, or are new to this volume, including a kind of quasi-vampire.  Thereís a good bit of military stuff in this one as well, but I thought the authorís strongest writing was elsewhere and sometimes found the physical conflict distracting. Good, standard high fantasy that is at times refreshingly interesting. 4/15/10

The River Kingís Road by Liane Merciel, Gallery, 2010, $26, ISBN 978-1-4391-5911-8  

A new fantasy series and fantasy author debut with this traditional tale of magic conflict. There has been an uneasy peace between two bordering kingdoms but that threatens to end when a village becomes the scene of a brutal and grisly massacre aided by magical weaponry.  The only survivor is the infant son of a dead nobleman who is rescued by a mercenary and a peasant woman, which act sets them on a perilous journey.  Meanwhile some of those in power seek to avoid an open conflict and resolve the mystery of who conducted the slaughter and for what reason. The infant, predictably, proves to be the key to solve most of the problems in the story, although we wonít know for certain what the future holds since this is not a standalone novel.  Nothing remarkable but better than average characterization and a few interesting twists. 4/13/10

Angelology by Danielle Trussoni, Viking, 2010, $27.95, ISBN 978-0-670-02147-6  

This darkish fantasy novel Ė also a first novel Ė is a kind of secret history based in part on the history of the Roman Catholic Church.  The protagonist is a nun who discovers that there is an age old conflict between a secret order within the church and the Nephilim, a kind of fallen angel that rose from the mating of humans and angels many generations earlier. She also uncovers secret information which, if provided to the Nephilim, could alter the balance of power and allow them to work their nefarious deeds among the human race, changing history for the worse.  The story covers most of the latter half of the 20th Century including the latter days of World War II as the nun becomes a member of the society fighting a desperate battle to save humanity from subversion from within.  The author obviously did considerable research Ė the background information is occasionally a bit daunting Ė but the story is for the most part an exciting adventure written in a sometimes somewhat dense prose. This probably wonít be popular with many mainstream fantasy fans but should appeal to those who want something similar to but better written and more intense than The Da Vinci Code. 4/12/10

Bound in Blood by P.C. Hodgell, Baen, 2010, $14, ISBN 978-1-4391-3340-8  

Having reissued the first four Kencyrath novels, Baen now adds a fifth to the series.  Hodgellís fantasy world has a lot of unique elements that have distinguished this series from the outset, and several of these are evident this time around as well, including the trapping of the souls of the fallen in inanimate objects and the existence of a sleeping god that can be awakened only if three specific people co-exist at the same time and choose to raise him.  The protagonist is a young woman who knows all of this, but who spends most of her time getting into trouble, aided by a couple of frisky animals, but finds time to deal with several major plots at once including a murder mystery, an invasion, a plague of dumb but giant sized animals, and other dangers.  Hodgell packs her novels full of action but still finds time to present us with a distinct and likeable character.  Fun even for lackadaisical fantasy fans like me. 4/11/10

Oath of Fealty by Elizabeth Moon, Del Rey, 2010, $25, ISBN 978-0-345-50874-4  

Elizabeth Moon is one of the few writers I know who can write both science fiction and fantasy well, and one of the few whose fantasies I generally like better than her SF. Her newest is fantasy, a sequel to her Paksennarion trilogy from the 1980s which I remember liking, although I could not recall much of anything about the stories.  They were a blend of sword and sorcery and military as I recall.  The new ruler is a half human, half elf whose heritage was unknown even to him until recently.  But there are troubles in a neighboring kingdom where a plot against the throne has been partially revealed and the local ruler faces the animosity of a group of dark sorcerers who wish to control the kingdom for their own purposes. As you can probably guess, the solution to the problems besetting both kingdoms is for them to forge bonds between them while our various heroes run around plugging the holes.  Although this was hardly a groundbreaking novel, I enjoyed it much more than I have most similar recent fantasies, probably because the author presents familiar events in an unfamiliar fashion. 4/10/10

A Witch in Time by Madelyn Alt, Berkley, 2010, $23.95, ISBN 978-0-425-23261-3  

Number six in the Bewitching Mystery series.  Maggie OíNeill is a practicing witch Ė real magic Ė and an amateur sleuth, and she excels at both professions.  The recurring back stories include her budding romance and this time around her sisterís pregnancy and subsequent production of a pair of twins.  Maggie, who runs a magic shop Ė no surprise Ė is en route to congratulate the new mother when she hears about a local murder.  The death is none of her business and she has no intention of investigating until she overhears a whispered conversation that seems to relate to the crime, and which piques her interest. But thereís something very peculiar about both the murder and the conversation and Maggie will need all of her magical and logical talents to solve this one.  Lightweight fantasy mystery and, I thought, not quite as good as the previous one in the series. 4/8/10

Green Witch by Alice Hoffman, Scholastic, 2010, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-545-14195-6 

This slim little book is a literary fantasy for young adults.  The protagonist is an adolescent girl who has experienced great tragedy and who acquires a new appreciation for life by listening to the stories of several women who have been declared as witches. Her experiences are essentially a sequel to an earlier book, Green Angel.  The stories are nicely constructed and told but the whole book is really just a novelette and it wasn't my cup of tea.  I would have liked it better if it hadnít been told in the present tense, although it wasn't as obtrusive this time as it usually is, almost certainly because Hoffman is a much more talented writer.  4/5/10

Pinion by Jay Lake, Tor, 4/10, $26.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2186-2  

Jay Lake returns to the world he introduced in Mainspring, a clockwork variation of Earth that is run by giant machinery.  A sorceress is fleeing her enemies, who wish to make use of her powers for their own ends, and her journey provides the excuse for a trip through another part of Lakeís cleverly imagined world. Elsewhere another pair of fugitives also seek to avoid the attention of the secret rulers of the world. But the refuge to which they are moving is not necessarily a safe haven either, because the powers that be in those parts want no part of the conflict that hovers around the refugees. Although the story itself is entertaining, the real drawing power of this series is the imaginatively described world, unlike anything else in fantasy.  There are numerous little bits that made me stop and relish them before continuing onward.  You can read this by itself, but youíd be better off reading the previous two beforehand, so that you can retrace the authorís path of discovery and revelation. 3/29/10

Trade of Queens by Charles Stross, Tor, 3/10, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-1673-8  

The sixth story of the Merchant Princes, families who trade through alternate realities, concealing their existence Ė mostly Ė from the authorities in each plane of existence. The clan has schismed, however, and one faction is determined to rewrite the rules and wipe out the opposition. The plot comes to a boil in our reality when elements of the bad side of the clan seize control of the US government after setting off a nuclear explosion in Washington, with the assistance of dissidents within that very government. Thereís another world as well, one dominated by a variation of Great Britain, but there may be no safe havens. Stross brings the story to an apparent end this time, although one should never say never.  The series has been very consistent so I wouldnít characterize this as necessarily better than its predecessors, but tying up the loose ends almost always gives on a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. It will be interesting to see where Stross turns his energies next. 3/26/10

Tails of Wonder and Imagination edited by Ellen Datlow, Night Shade, 2010, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-59780-170-6 

It astonishes me how editor Datlow has been able to put together so many excellent collections of short stories with cats as the common element.  This is the latest of them, with an all star list of authors.  There are almost forty stories here Ė all previously published although sometimes in quite obscure places - so Iíll only touch on some of the highlights. Charles de Lint has a fairly quiet story that I enjoyed despite its being written in present tense, which usually puts me off.  Ray Vukcevich has a very short and Ė for him Ė typically odd story.   Kelly Link has an excellent story about witchcraft, revenge, and cats. George R.R. Martinís story is actually SF, part of his Haviland Tuf series, and quite good.  Michael Bishop adds an insightful but rather depressing insight into the mind of a man settling into dissolution.  A frightening dream torments an elderly man in Tanith Leeís story, the best short piece from her that Iíve read in a while, and Joyce Carol Oates describes the fate of a man who hates cats.  Elizabeth Hand contributes an Oriental fairy tale, a form Iíve grown more appreciative of in recent years. Stephen Kingís story is a reprint from the 1970s, but it appears in none of his collections that I know of.   Susanna Clarke, Sharyn McCrumb, John Crowley, and Graham Joyce also have stories I found particularly appealing.  Almost all of the other entries are excellent as well, particularly those by Jeffrey Ford, Michael Marshall Smith, Lucius Shepard, and Carole Nelson Douglas.  The best reprint fantasy anthology Iíve read in some time. 3/24/10

Petrodor by Joel Shepherd, Pyr, 3/10, $16, ISBN 978-1-61614-193-6  

I had ambivalent feelings about Sasha, first in this series, because I found it hard to sympathize with either side in a conflict that ravaged a typical fantasy world.  It seems like our protagonist has similar feelings because she has retreated to obscurity in a major city and is trying to reinvent herself and put the past behind her. Unfortunately, it appears that war is brewing again and she finds herself drawn into clandestine efforts to avert the inevitable, dipping into a world of intense political intrigue, although a ready sword often proves decisive in the ďnegotiationsĒ.  Old friends reappear but their loyalties are not necessarily predictable, and since the series is not over yet, there may still be layers of revelation and betrayal to come.  Either this one is a step up from the first or I was in a more receptive mood because I was thoroughly immersed this time and was almost surprised when I reached the end. 3/23/10

The Long Man by Steve Englehart, Tor, 3/10, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-1730-8  

Almost thirty years ago I read a quirky little fantasy novel that I actually still faintly remember about a radio disc jockey who discovers that a secret society of sorcerers is plotting to take over the country.  He is able to stop them by mastering his own ability to manipulate magic.  The author has since made a considerable name for himself in the comic book world, but only now has he written a sequel.  The aging problem is avoided by having hero Max August acquire magic which prevents his body from growing older Ė which has a kind of comic book feel to it.  The bad guys are back, and when Max saves one of their targets from being assassinated the two of them are launched into a round the world chase/quest/adventure before Max is able to save the world Ė again!  Not to be taken too seriously, and thereís a great deal of good natured magical fun along the way. 3/22/10

Empire in Black and Gold by Adrian Tchaikowsky, Pyr, 3/10, $16, ISBN 978-1-61614-192-9

High fantasy seems to be declining in quantity, but that hasnít stopped new writers from moving into the same territory.  This debut novel features a minor variation of the most popular plot.  A war is brewing as an evil, or at least rapacious empire begins gobbling up its neighbors.  A group of smaller city states has no chance individually so it must unite if it is to hold off the empire, but by doing so, they necessarily lose some of their independence of action.  One insightful man foresees the necessity but can he convince the various powers before agents of the empire decide to eliminate him from the playing board?  The presence of technology in an otherwise standard fantasy milieu provides some nice twists. The author has good command of his story line and his characters but itís too early to tell whether or not the series has staying power. 3/19/10

Feathered Serpent 2012 by Junius Podrug, Tor, 3/10, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-7653-0835-1  

The year 2012ís approach inevitably will inspire a rash of end of the world novels, many of them derivative, some of them probably silly as well.  This is the third Iíve read and so far itís probably the most entertaining, although no more scientifically plausible than the others. An archaeologist discovers that the ancient mythical serpent has been imprisoned for centuries inside the Earth but has now broken free. The serpent Ė who is obviously supernatural Ė plans to bring the end of time to the world, but our feisty protagonist and an ancient Mayan priest who somehow travels forward through time in an effort to save the world, must defeat the demigod and avert the fate foretold of old. I found it difficult to seriously credit the serpent or its purpose, but once past that problem I enjoyed the rest of the story.  Podrug also has the advantage of having beaten most of the flood of similar novels, if there is a flood, so the concepts here should be relatively new to readers.  And he has obviously done his research, making the Mayan legend as real as anyone is likely to. 3/16/10

The Sorcererís House by Gene Wolfe, Tor, 3/10, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2458-0  

I was greatly disappointed in Wolfeís previous novel, An Evil Guest, and was relieved after just a few chapters of this new one to realize it was much better.  Itís also an epistolary novel Ė consisting entirely of letters Ė a form which I generally enjoy.  The protagonist is a recently released, highly educated felon with no real means of support who stumbles upon a house which, unaccountably, has been left to him in the will of a dead magician.  Shortly after entering the house, he encounters a variety of strange visions and events, including magical devices and encounters with people from another reality.  Yes, itís a doorway to Faerie, sort of.  Anyway, he becomes increasingly involved with other worldly affairs and Wolfe presents us with a series of scenes that are individually fascinating.  Unfortunately, I donít think the novel holds together tremendously well as a whole.  The equanimity with which our hero accepts the most improbable events Ė including a talking fox Ė made it difficult for me to immerse myself in it as a realistic environment.  Lots of nice things in here, but they need some sorting out. 3/11/10

Call to Arms by Mitchel Scanlon, Black Library, 2010, $8.99, ISBN 978-1-84416-813-2 8 

Scanlon wrote an average novel set in the Warhammer futuristic series, but heís actually much better working in the fantasy half of that shared universe.  Thereís not a lot of originality in most of these, which are primarily standard sword and sorcery with a shared background.  This one involves another war against the evil orcs, a war that is going so badly that the good guys decide to take an old general out of retirement and see if he can do something to change the tide of battle.  Where have I heard that one before?  Derivativeness aside, the story is surprisingly engaging and the characters some times threaten to actually come to life.  For light fantasy adventure, this is one of the more entertaining recent Warhammer novels. 3/6/10

Heartís Blood by Gail Dayton, Tor, 2010, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-6251-3  

Although this is a paranormal romance novel, donít let the label scare you off.  Iíve read at least one previous novel by Dayton, but I donít recall much about it.  This one will linger in my memory considerably longer.  Itís set in an alternate 19th Century London where magic is an acknowledged field of study Ė but only for men.  When a male practitioner finds himself indebted to a young woman who wants to develop her own magical talents, despite the rules against it, he resists but is coerced into accepting her as his informal apprentice.  Their relationship is uneasy but grows stronger as they become involved in the investigation of a murder, apparently accomplished by supernatural means, a threat that could endanger them as well if they proceed on their chosen course.  The relationship between the two is handled with considerable skill and I was quite caught up in the story, which is not always true in romance novels that concentrate too much on the romance and not enough on the story.  Iíll be reading Dayton again. 3/5/10

A Local Habitation by Seanan McGuire, DAW, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7564-0596-0  

October Daye, half human, half fey, returns for her second outing. As a halfbreed, she is part of an underclass among the faerie, although her considerable talents and past accomplishments have won her a degree of recognition. Her current patron asks her to undertake what should have been a light task this time.  She is to travel to the mortal world and find out why a fey woman has been out of touch for an unusually long period of time. Itís not that easy though, naturally.  The woman in question is caught in the middle of an ongoing battle between rival faerie factions and itís not long before Daye finds herself in the same position, and much more expendable. And someone has no compunction about killing people to get their way, and one of those in the way is our heroine.  Like the first in the series, this rises above the limitations of its format.  It would be a shame if this got lost in the crowd of similarly conceived though far less well executed novels. 3/3/10

Freefall by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams, Chicken House, 2010, $18.99, ISBN 978-0-545-13877-2 

This is the third in one of my favorite series for younger readers, following Tunnels and Deeper Ė and thereís a movie version on the horizon somewhere. Two youngsters stumble into a secret and elaborate underground world and have various adventures.  In their newest, they are lost ever more deeply beneath the surface, followed by their enemies after thwarting a plot against the surface world. They reach a new level where gravity is minimal and another ecosystem of strange creatures present an entirely new level of wondrous encounters. And meanwhile the evil plotters are planning to spread a plague to depopulate the surface.  Nastiness indeed! Yeah, itís for a younger or at least less sophisticated set of readers than, say, the Harry Potter books, but itís a type of childish fun that make Peter Pan and similar books perpetual classics.  Iím curious to see if the movie creates the same kind of public notice that it did for Rowling. 2/23/10

Ghouls Gone Wild by Victoria Laurie, Obsidian, 2010, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-451-22941-0

A Ghost Hunter mystery, a sort of crossover between urban fantasy and detective story, although a good chunk of the latter are essentially detective stories anyway.  This one doesnít take itself too seriously Ė witness the title which is not as silly as some of the earlier ones in the series.  M.J. Holliday can communicate with the dead, which gives her a certain obvious advantage in detection, although itís not as easy as you might expect. She works on a quasi-realistic television show that deals with the supernatural, and sheís on location in a series of caverns in Scotland when a dead body turns up unexpectedly, at least for her.  The reader will be expecting it right from the start. A little research reveals that the cavern was the site of execution for a group of possible witches a long time back and there are periodic deaths which are attributed to the curse levied way back when.  But this is an obvious cover for a very contemporary killer and Holliday has to solve the crime and separate reality from fantasy in the process.  Best yet in the series and Ė despite the awful titles Ė a very nice way to spend a couple of hours. 2/22/10

Blood in the Water by Juliet E. McKenna, Solaris, 2009, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-84416-841-5  

This is the second in the Lescari Revolution series, set in a fantasy world that vaguely resembles 19th Century Germany, or the states that would eventually become Germany. The aristocracy indulges in its various excesses and rivalries, exploiting the majority of the population so intensely that a group of rebels begin attracting serious attention.  The rebels themselves discover that revolution is not a romantic adventure but a grueling, unpleasant, frustrating, and potentially disastrous endeavor.  In fact their efforts play into the hands of some of the upper crust who play off events to further their own ambitions at the expense of their competitors.  McKenna has created a complex world for this one and a good sized cast of characters move into intersecting arcs as the story works itself out.  More ambitious and more interesting than her earlier work. 2/21/10

Stormrage by Richard A. Knaak, Gallery, 2010, $25, ISBN 978-1-4165-5087-7  

I have never played, or even been tempted to play, World of Warcraft or any other online multi-player game.  This is a tie-in to Warcraft, but as far as I can tell, thereís nothing in particular to distinguish the setting from that of most other sword and sorcery adventures. In this case, a priestess experiences a vision of a wizardís impending death and she foresees troubles as a consequence of his passing.  Knaak has done a good many tie-ins and Iíve enjoyed several of them, but this time he Ė or the subject matter Ė just didnít light my fire.  Iíve grown increasingly frustrated with worlds filled with orcs, dwarves, trolls, elves, and such, particularly since most of the adventure stories set against that backdrop are variations of each other, and sometimes not even varying very much. I suppose readers who also play the games might find things more interesting Ė e.g. Warhammer, which has evolved an internal history into which most of the novels are set Ė but I found nothing in this one to suggest that it was anything other than a generic Tolkienesque fantasy adventure.  The limitation is probably in the subject matter rather than in the writing, but I was disappointed Ė and bored Ė nonetheless. 2/19/10

The Eye of the Forest by P.B. Kerr, Scholastic, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-439-93217-2  

If I had passed this in a bookstore without knowing about it, I probably would not have been tempted to pick it up.  It looks like a kidís version of an Indiana Jones novel, which in some ways is quite accurate.  Fifth in the Children of the Lamp series, it features two youngsters who are actually descended from djinn, which provides an interesting twist as they have their various adventures.  Iíve read two previous books in the series Ė each stands alone quite well despite the back story Ė and the third was as good or better than its predecessors.  A magical artifact has been pilfered and they are sent on a mission to recover it, which gets them involved with ancient Incan magic as well as more contemporary dangers. Itís obviously a plot to unleash something terrible and just as obviously the plot will be foiled in due course, but itís fun seeing how they get the job done.  I like this series as much as most adult fantasy sequences, and itís a good deal less pretentious than most. 2/17/10

Shaladorís Lady by Anne Bishop, Roc, 2010, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-451-46315-9  

With only one exception that I can think of, Iíve enjoyed the Black Jewels series over the years, a workmanlike set of adventures that generally avoid the overwhelming scale of most high fantasy in favor of more modest plots.  This one has a familiar set up.  The evil rulers have been thwarted and driven from power and the new queen wants to restore order and progress to the countryside.  Predictably, there are various powers who thrive on the disorder, or who hope to enhance their own position by playing off one faction against another.  Ultimately if she wants to change the situation for her people, she just might have to change herself.  The story is okay and the writing is fine but other than the protagonist the characters seems unusually flat and the plot this time was just a bit too familiar for me.  I kept feeling I had already read the book before and things turned out mostly just as I expected them to. 2/14/10

Dark Solstice by Sam Llewellyn, Orchard, 2010, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-439-93471-8 

This is volume two in the young adult Lyonesse series, following The Well of the Worlds.  The story is a partial reprise of the legend of King Arthur in a different reality. The young heir to the throne has pulled the sword from the stone, but the regent has no intention of ceding power and our hero is soon on the run from what should be his own government. His efforts to secure his birthright are diverted this time by the quest to rescue his sister, who has been kidnapped by pirates and taken to a distant land. In order to succeed he has to recruit his version of the Knights of the Round Table, but the only people he encounters are rogues, thieves, and misfits.  Can he make do with whatís available?  Of  course he can, or there wouldnít be much of a story now would there?   An amusing and entertaining alternate take on the Arthurian story. 2/12/10

Num8ers by Rachel Ward, Chicken House, 2010, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-545-14299-1 

The title of this young adult novel is as shown here on the cover and title page, but listed as Numbers on the flap.  Take your pick.  The protagonist is a teenager who has a unique talent.  She can look at people and see the date of their death Ė expressed somehow as a string of numbers.  Itís not a blessing but a curse, and she finds it difficult to relate to people because of the secret knowledge she possesses. But despite her good intentions she first gets involved with a boy who shares her inability to integrate normally with other people, and second runs into more serious trouble when she foresees a disaster and the police suspect she may have a perfectly ordinary reason for knowing what would happen, and a nefarious one.  This is quite well written and the author makes no effort to candy coat the consequences of her ability, or the reaction of the adult world.   With very little effort this could have been an adult novel, and a notable one. 2/12/10

The Spirit Lens by Carol Berg, Roc, 2010, $16, ISBN 978-0-451-46311-1  

Carol Bergís latest has an interesting setting, a mythical world where magic is being abandoned in favor of science.  The protagonist is a would-be sorcerer who is not happy with his inability to master that art and who has been relegated to an academic post.  Fortuitously, from his point of view anyway, a murder is committed which seems to have been accomplished with magical aid, so he is called upon to investigate in view of his deep knowledge of the subject.  His investigation will bring him into contact with two very different but very distinct individuals, one a man whose inadequacies have made him an object of ridicule, the other a rebellious magician whose lack of restraint will imperil others as well as himself.  Berg carries this off extremely well indeed, and I donít think Iíve enjoyed any of her other novels nearly as much.  The central murder mystery theme is, of course, one of my favorites.  If youíve never tried Berg, this is a very good place to start. 2/9/10

Shadow Prowler by Alexey Pehov, Tor, 2/10, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2403-0

This, the first in the Chronicles of Sial, was originally published in Russian and is translated by Andrew Bloomfield.  It follows much the same pattern as English language epic fantasy.  There is a big bad, the Nameless One, and a protagonist who really doesnít want to be the last hope of the world.  He gets recruited in a familiar way Ė heís a talented thief who has fallen into the clutches of the law and the law Ė in this case the king Ė wants him to save the day as the price for his freedom. Aided, or encumbered, by a cast of supporting characters Ė not all of whom are human Ė he sets out on a quest to find a fabulous artifact that can keep the Nameless One from conquering the world. Some of the details in this one are innovative, but the central story is a well trodden path that seems to be finally falling out of favor.  It held my interest though, and that hasnít always been the case with the recent crop of quest stories. 2/7/10

Firespell by Chloe Neill, Signet, 2010, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-451-22886-4   

The author of the Chicagoland Vampire series opens up a new sequence with this, the first novel of the Dark Elite.  The protagonist is a young girl named Lily who is new at a boarding school were certain of her classmates seem unusually secretive.  In due course she discovers that they are part of an organization that battles supernatural evil in their spare time. After a prank goes awry, Lily learns part of what is happening and decides to join their group, but does she have the necessary talent?  And what is the ultimate purpose of the mysterious and dastardly Reapers?  This isnít labeled a young adult novel, although thatís obviously the target audience.  Thereís a little bit of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which is not a bad thing, and if the supporting characters develop a little more personality in subsequence books, this series might be a lot of fun. 2/6/10

Heart of Veridon by Tim Akers, Solaris, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-84416-759-3  

Although this is technically a fantasy, itís one of those that might appeal to a lot of SF hardcore readers as well because it has the feel of an otherworld adventure. The setting is a magical city full of complexities and dangers.  The protagonist is the black sheep of his respected family, disgraced and desperate.  He gets caught up in a mystery that results in his becoming a hunted fugitive, meets various people who can help or hinder him, survives various adventures, and takes us on a tour of the city of Veridon in the process.  Much of the trip is filled with wonders and there were only a couple of brief times when I felt my attention falter.  Thereís nothing specifically saying this is the first in a series, but I expect to be back in Veridon sooner or later.  Solaris is about to have a new publisher and if they find more promising writers like Akers the new owners should be happy with the results. 2/3/10

The Mezentian Gate by E.R. Eddison, Ballantine, 1969, originally published 1958  

The third volume in the Zimiamvian trilogy actually starts twenty years before the events in the other two, although it overlaps with A Fish Dinner in Memison.  Itís also incomplete, although the author had prepared detailed descriptions of the plot in the chapters he had yet to right Ė which are in the middle rather than at either end of the novel.  The early chapters describe the rise of the Parry family, particularly the man who will become the Vicar, who almost destroys the disparate kingdom in Mistress of Mistresses. I think one of Eddisonís subtexts is that it is the villains who make history, at least in heroic fiction.  Without a villain, heroes rarely have the opportunity to demonstrate their greatness.  Most of this novel Ė including the unwritten parts Ė is more concerned about the doings of the various Parries, a family of ambitious and unscrupulous schemers Ė than about the achievements of the less flawed characters.  Itís a shame Eddison died without completing this.  For that matter, without writing a whole shelf of additional books.   2/2/10

Through Stone and Sea by Barb & JC Hendee, Roc, 2010, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-451-46312-8  

The Noble Dead is one of my favorite fantasy adventure series, a kind of other worldly Buffy the Vampire Slayer Ė although it has moved away from that direction recently - with plenty of twists and turns.  In this installment one of the subsidiary characters from the earlier books is off on a series of adventures of her own. Accompanied by a vampire and a kind of fairy wolf, she proceeds to investigate some arcane texts, but her attempt at scholarship is going to stir up things decidedly unscholarly. Although this is a solid and enjoyable story, I didnít find it quite as impressive as some of the earlier titles in the series, perhaps because it felt a lot more conventional to me and therefore less likely to keep me guessing, but even a slight dip doesnít drop this into the characterless ocean of contemporary fantasy novels.  The spinoff format is promising, providing more room for development and a slightly different perspective about the magical world, and I hope and expect to see more of it. 2/1/10

Brooklyn Knight by C.J. Henderson, Tor, 2010, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2083-4

C.J. Henderson has been writing occult adventure stories for a long time now, which positioned him properly for this new urban fantasy.  Piers Knight is a museum curator working in New York City who has a unique job qualification which is known to him alone.  His study of ancient cultures and belief systems has given him a working knowledge of the magic arts, which comes in handy because the museum naturally attracts objects of magical potential and therefore unscrupulous people who wish to obtain them for their personal use. When humans and demons alike target an object which formerly seemed to have no occult value, Knight and his assistant have to call upon their hidden talents to repel a powerful supernatural force and discover the secrets of the artifact before they are used to change the world. Lots of fun here with enough darkness for horror fans and enough magic for fantasy aficionados.  This one is almost certainly the kickoff of a new series. 1/29/10

The Good, the Bad, and the Uncanny by Simon R. Green, Ace, 2010, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-441-01816-1  

Simon R. Green returns to the world of the Nightside once again in this rather short novel. John Taylor is a detective who works a mythical part of London where the supernatural is natural and almost anything can happen. Taylor doesnít have any good, remunerative cases so he is reduced to accepting jobs that he would formerly have shunned including tracking down missing persons, or unpersons.  But when the chief administrator of the Nightside comes to him with a proposition, he realizes that maybe a really big case is not necessarily a plus.  Green has a relaxed though lively style of writing that I almost always enjoy, and this is no exception.  I read this one through in a single sitting and found myself disappointed that there wasnít another John Taylor story sitting in the unread pile. 1/24/10

A Fish Dinner in Memison by E.R. Eddison, Ballantine, 1968, originally published 1941  

Second volume of the Zimiamvian trilogy, although it takes place prior to the first.  This one deals with the efforts by the king to control the Vicar, an ambitious officer who plots to break off part of the kingdom for his own rule.  Itís less satisfying even though a lot of familiar characters turn up, with the action starting very slowly, although some portions of the interplay of the aristocracy Ė particularly the women Ė are fascinating. The visit by King Mezentius to the secret meeting of those plotting against him is probably the high spot of the novel, which is mostly about mild court intrigues and the romance involving Lessingham, chief protagonist of Mistress of Mistresses.  Most of the tension takes place at a single, protracted, and critical dinner party, hence the title. Like its predecessor, this is not for those who like clear, simple, transparent prose. 1/24/10

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, Dial, 2/10, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-8037-3396-1  

Iíve read at least a couple earlier young adult fantasies by Catherine Fisher, but none of them made much of a lasting impression.  This one will be different.  The setting is Ė as the title suggests Ė an enclosed world that is essentially an enormous prison filled with magical aspects.  The protagonist is one of the few that believes that anything exists outside and is determined to escape.  To do so, he must form an alliance with a young girl who claims to be the daughter of the man in charge of Incarceron.  Much of the invented landscape is highly original and sometimes quite bizarre and although some aspects of the relationship between the two main characters are rather familiar, thatís because they work so well, particularly when in such able hands.  I would be very curious to see what might happen if Fisher tried to do adult fantasy. 1/19/10

Shadow King by Gav Thorpe, Black Library, 2009, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-84416-817-0  

A nobleman whose family is murdered through treachery goes into hiding and plots revenge against those responsible, but his personal quest is set against a background of greater conflict as an island nation prepares to defend itself against a foreign invasion and simultaneous unrest at home.  This longish Warhammer novel is predictably violent and action packed, with most of the characters fleshed in only superficially. The plot resembles high fantasy more than most other titles in the series, but thatís an illusion.  This is pure sword and sorcery, a style of fantasy that survives primarily in tie-in novels nowadays.  As such, itís an exciting adventure story that certainly wonít challenge the reader but should pass the time pleasurably enough. 1/11/10

Under the Mere by Catherynne M. Valente, Rabid Transit, 2010, $10, ISBN 978-0-9817437-1-4  

Although Iíve liked just about everything Iíve read by Catherine Valente, this short novel fell short of my expectations.  Part of it is almost certainly personal preference; Iím just so tired of Arthurian variations that even the more innovative ones have to struggle to hold my attention.  This one evokes several characters from Camelot and allows them to overlap with the contemporary world.  The language is marvelous in parts and some of the imagery is impressive but I just could not maintain my interest because of my aversion to the subject matter.  I probably should impose a reading moratorium on Arthurian fiction for a year or so before trying another. Your mileage will almost certainly vary on this one since Valente is clearly an accomplished writer and the continued frequency of Arthurian tales suggests that there is a waiting audience.  I'm just not a member of it. 1/5/10

Will Power by A.J. Hartley, Tor, 2/10, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2125-1  

The sequel to Act of Will takes Will Hawthorne out of his familiar setting and places him in the middle of a war being fought against a horde of goblins.  No, this isnít another Tolkien clone at all.  In the first book, we were introduced to the quick witted, witty, and sometimes delightfully gauche Will and his friends, but this time they feel decidedly out of place when confronting a human population that is stiff and formal and ever so dignified.  Itís not long before Will, and the reader, begins to wonder if maybe the goblins donít have a legitimate gripe after all.  It is very difficult to mix humor and adventure without ending up with too much of one or the other.  Hartley pulled it off in the first novel, and heís just as much in control this time around.  Although some of the novelty of the characters has worn off, I still thought this was every bit as good as the first.  1/3/10

Mistress of Mistresses by E.R. Eddison, Ballantine, 1967, originally published 1935 

The first novel in the Zimiamvian trilogy, loosely connected to The Worm Ouroboros.  Unlike most trilogies, this one is written in reverse chronological order and the opening volume deals with the aftermath of the death of the king who has held three disparate peoples together. It opens with a largely unrelated chapter that can be easily skipped.  Eddisonís dense prose and plotting might be somewhat daunting because it takes a while before we begin to understand just what is going on.  There are three contenders for the throne, or a portion thereof Ė the legitimate son, the illegitimate one, and the Vicar.  Lessingham is the agent of the Vicar, who is a villain, but Lessingham himself is the only really honorable character.  He negotiates a peace that initially infuriates the Vicar, who eventually accepts it, although with plans to get around the provisions at the first opportunity. The inevitably tragic ending feels perfect. Modern readers might be put off by the baroque language, leisurely pace, and elaborate descriptiveness of the prose, but the story underlying it is much more interesting than most contemporary fantasy. 1/1/10

 

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