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

 LAST UPDATE 4/28/11

The Shining City by Fiona Patton, DAW, 2011, $15, ISBN 978-0-7564-0661-6  

Third in the Warriors of Estavia series, with the young seers now adults and really annoyed with each other. The setting is a walled city containing a magical nexus from which the gods are periodically born and there’s a new one on the way.  As it happens, the gods are mortal – seems a contradiction in terms – but anyway there are other creatures which can destroy young gods before they have fully mastered their powers. This new god needs help from both seers in order to survive, so they’re going to have to put aside their personal issues if they’re going to accomplish anything. Patton is one of the more reliable fantasy writers working this particular vein of the genre and she produces here a polished, intricate, and sometimes even surprising novel. 4/28/11

The Rise of the Iron Moon by Stephen Hunt, Tor, 2011, $26.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2766-6 

Third in a comparatively loosely organized series set in a cross between high fantasy and steampunk. A young woman escapes from a repressive misogynistic culture after killing one of the men guarding her. She finds a companion and learns that two rival nations are reluctantly shelving their own disputes in the face of a third and much more malevolent power. To no reader’s surprise, it turns out that she is a key figure in preventing the conquest of her people. Likeable enough, but despite the momentous events this seemed to me to move much more slowly than its predecessors, and at times threatened to break out in a full fledged lecture. There are no real major flaws but there aren’t any major virtues either. Perhaps the author - whom I normally enjoy a good deal more - should try a new setting for his next book. 4/27/11

The Scarab Path by Adrian Tchaikowsky, Pyr, 4/11, $16, ISBN 978-1-61614-361-9 

Fifth book in the Shadow of the Apt series. The war that dominated the first four books has come to an end, sort of, with neither side victorious. There’s still a nasty ruler on the throne and our protagonist is having second thoughts about the whole thing while recovering from her mental and physical wounds. There’s a missing person, a sort of quest, ancient secrets, and the threat of a new war. The author has used touches of originality in the setting and back story to make this seem more original than it really is, and the writing is generally quite good. I was kind of hoping for an actual conclusion though. Too many promising authors get trapped into writing interminable series. 4/26/11

The Demon Left Behind by Marie Jakober, Edge, 2011, $14.95, ISBN 978-1-894063-49-4  

This is an alternate contemporary world fantasy in which demons exist alongside humans, although I don’t see the point of calling them demons since they are benevolent and are working secretly behind the scenes to defuse a new global crisis. One of their number disappears during the mission and they have to go back and find out what happened to him. This leads them to interact with a diverse group of characters including a comedian and a survivalist group. Well written and sometimes quite interesting, but I had problems occasionally with the dialogue and there wasn’t enough tension in the plot. 4/24/11

May by Kathryn Lasky, Scholastic, 2011, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-439-78311-8  

Second in the Daughters of the Sea trilogy. This is a Victorian young adult series that involves young girls who are spiritually linked to the sea, a kind of updated mermaid story. May is the daughter of a lighthouse keeper who is forbidden to enter the water in order to suppress her instincts, but she rebels against her life on land, where young girls in Maine are expected to defer to males, their elders, and just about everyone else. Torn already between her commitments on land and her desire for the sea, she finds the struggle even more difficult when a charming visitor to the area becomes romantically interested in her.  The first in this series was pretty good; this one is even better. The conflicting desires have their analog in the real world. 4/24/11

The Chaos by Rachel Ward, Chicken House, 2011, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-545-24269-1  

I usually ignore blurbs but I have to admit laughing at this “Earth-Shattering Sequel to the Shocking Debut”, since the present book is hardly Earth shattering and the first wasn’t shocking. They do have an interesting premise though. The teenaged protagonist can look into someone’s eyes and see the date of their death.  This time he moves to London – and it’s about fifteen years in the future – and he notices that an awful lot of people have the same death day. Does that mean that some terrible catastrophe is about to befall the city, and if so, is there anything he can do about it? I was a little puzzled that the author never explains why these natural disasters are occurring all over the world, but maybe that’s going to happen in the next in the series. This one, incidentally, ends with a cliffhanger so don’t say I didn’t warn you.  Better than average for young adults, and at the very least it has something original to say. 4/21/11

Dark Jenny by Alex Bledsoe, Tor, 2011, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2743-7  

It’s always a pleasure to find a nice cross between fantasy and detective story, if only because it is so difficult to do well. The latest adventure of Eddie LaCrosse is set in a peaceful fantasy world where an uproar rises after the queen becomes the prime suspect in a murder case. Our hero gets drafted against his will and soon finds himself being cast as the chief villain, which provides an added incentive for discovering the truth. There’s the usual web of intricate court politics, hidden romances, and personal animosities. There is also a bit of jumping around in time that is slightly awkward but not fatally so. Bledsoe does a good job of mixing light surface humor with some rather biting satire about the wonderfulness of medieval societies.  Very enjoyable. 4/18/11

The Alchemist in the Shadows by Pierre Pevel, Pyr, 4/11, $16, ISBN 978-1-61614-366-4  

This is the sequel to The Cardinal’s Blades, in which Cardinal Richelieu deployed his elite band of adventurers to counter a sorcerous menace to France.  Well, the danger isn’t over and the secret organization plotting against him is as determined as ever to have their way. This time they have pitted their hopes on the magically endowed agent of the title, who may be too smart even for Richelieu’s minions.  But if it was too easy, there wouldn’t be much of a story.  Pevel has a fine touch for the derring do and the mystery elements aren’t badly handled either.  This was a lot of fun, a cross between Rafael Sabatini and Alexander Dumas, with a touch of magic. 4/15/11

Wolfsangel by M.D. Lachlan, Pyr, 3/11, $16, ISBN 978-1-61614-357-2  

First in a new fantasy series.  Norse mythology seems to be making a slight comeback in fantasy lately, as in this case, although Lachlan – a pseudonym – mixes forms a bit by making his Viking hero also a werewolf. The shapechanger in question is a child who may or not be the manifestation of a prophecy.  Right from the outset – when the Viking leader slaughters his own people in order to protect his secret – we know that this is not going to come out well. Although this one is a period piece, obviously, it looks like the series is going to follow the protagonist through the centuries, a kind of darker version of the St Germain stories by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro.  But that also suggests that the tone of the individual titles may vary considerably, so it’s hard to guess what’s in store for us.  The first one has some nicely done scenes but my attention flagged from time to time. 4/10/11

The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man by Mark Hodder, Pyr, 3/11, $16, ISBN 978-1-61614-359-6

Second in a fantasy series set in an alternate Victorian England, following The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack.  The path of time has been changed and Richard Burton is one of the few aware of the fact.  He and his sidekick, poet Algernon Swinburne, are currently investigating the existence of remnants of a prehistoric meteorite when they get caught up in the controversy caused by steam power and an egotistical and ambitious would-be nobleman. One of the better steampunkish series of recent days, at least based on the first two books, cleverly written, wonderfully imaginative, peopled with vivid characters, and nicely constructed.  One of my favorite fantasies so far this year. 4/8/11

Black Halo by Sam Sykes, Pyr, 3/11, $16, ISBN 978-1-61614-355-8  

The sequel to Tome of the Undergates struck me as darker and more methodical, but mildly less engaging.  The band of unlikable characters has stolen the magical treasure from under the sea but their voyage back is beset by adventures in the style of Odysseus.  Normally I don’t care for stories where I find all of the major characters reprehensible or worse but like its predecessor, Black Halo has enough going on that I couldn’t disengage easily. As overdone as quest adventures are, they still often manage to suck me in. Some sections of this one were very good indeed and at its weakest its still agreeable enough. I often wonder what would have happened if fantasy hadn't caught fire in the 1990s and if these new writers were all writing SF. Although I think much of the originality has been leeched out of SF as well these past several years, it's still rarely as formulaic and predictable as most fantasy.  4/7/11

The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss, DAW, 3/11, $29.95, ISBN 978-0-7564-0473-4

The sequel to The Name of the Wind is even bigger, both in page count and in concept. The protagonist is on a quest to discover the nature of his world and the various forces within it, and this quest covers what is almost a series of short novels as he is imprisoned, performs a series of tasks, visits strange lands, and meets an almost bewildering array of characters, human and otherwise.  The novel is extremely well written, and while the plot  is not a suspenseful page turner it has an inherent fascination that kept me up late reading for three consecutive nights in order to see  the story – or perhaps stories – to the end.  Set aside a large block of time if you start this one, because you’re not going to want to put it down until you absolutely have to. I had thought that the time of the big fantasy epic had passed and that only the established writers like George R.R. Martin would remain, but obviously I was mistaken. Proof, if you needed it, that even the most overworked vein can still produce some surprising gems. 4/1/11

Lady-Protector by L.E. Modesitt Jr., Tor, 3/11, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2804-5

This is the eighth volume of the Corean Chronicles, although it is sufficiently self contained that you don’t need to have read the previous books to understand the plot.  The protagonist is a woman who has recently gained the throne of her kingdom, but she is uneasy with her new responsibilities and faced with troublesome problems including the possibility of a foreign invasion.  More mundanely, the throne has serious financial problems that could wreak havoc in the local economy. The one thing she has going for her is a magical ability to interpret the motives and plans of other people, including her enemies. But even that has its dark side, because the stirring of that kind of magic suggests that something powerful and unhuman is stirring once again.  Modesitt’s fantasies are never dull and always satisfying.  Although most of his books are part of a series, they are usually – as in this case – standalone as well.  In general I think the world of the Corean books is his most interesting. 3/30/11

A Hundred Words for Hate by Thomas E. Sniegoski, Roc, 3/11, $14, ISBN 978-0-451-46377-7  

Remy Chandler gave up his status as an angel to become a private investigator on Earth, where he sometimes uses some very unhuman powers to augment his human nature.  But sometimes the dangers he faces aren’t human either.  When the Garden of Eden becomes accessible once again, Remy suspects it’s a trap, that there’s a nefarious plot afoot.  Two rival groups cross his orbit, one which wants to open the gates to Eden, and one that is determined to keep the gates firmly locked.  The latter know that there is a horrible threat lying concealed within the earthly paradise, and Remy has to thread his way among various conflicting powers.  Above average for the series, with a couple of interesting supporting characters and an intriguing mystery. 3/26/11

The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells, Night Shade, 2011, $14.99, ISBN 978-1-59780-216-1 

Shapeshifters are common characters in fantasy, but this new novel from Martha Wells has an interesting twist.  Her protagonist can change into a winged creature capable of flight, a secret which he keeps because whenever it is revealed, he is cast out of whatever community he has adopted.  Then he meets another person with the same ability and learns that he is one of a distinct, though small and hidden race, and that a major crisis threatens their continued existence, a crisis which only he may be able to turn around.  I have always enjoyed this author’s work, particularly her science fiction, but she’s also one of the few fantasy authors who regularly take familiar themes and do unfamiliar things with them. 3/20/11

Etched in Bone by Adrian Phoenix, Pocket, 2011, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4391-3730-7

This is another series whose last volume I never saw, and as a consequence there were loose ends this time around that I had trouble picking up.  Dante Baptiste is a kind of focus point for contending supernatural forces including an organization of vampires, another of fallen angels, and ordinary humans with occult leanings. Dante, with his FBI agent lover, is determined to remain his independence of all those who seek to dominate him, but the odds are stacked pretty heavily against him. But their plans are about to be overthrown when they are attacked from an entirely unexpected quarter.  A mix of romance, occult adventure, and action story with overtones of horror.  One of the better writers in the urban fantasy/paranormal romance crowd. 3/19/11

Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch, Del Rey, 2011, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-345-52459-1  

The first in this series – Midnight Riot – was good enough to bump this one up the stack a few slots.  Peter Grant is a police detective with an unusual ability to communicate with the dead, and his boss is a skilled wizard, so their investigations take some unconventional twists.  This time it’s the murder of a musician which attracts their attention, because the condition of the body suggests that magical elements were involved.  They also link this death to other murders and delve into the past to discover what might tie them all together. The author has a slightly darker and grainier view of his world than do most of the other writers of urban fantasy, and he successfully blends mystery devices with the magical, no small feat in itself.  This looks to be a very promising series. 3/18/11

Rogue Oracle by Alayna Williams, Pocket, 2011, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4391-8281-9  

Once again I’m joining a series already in process, although I only missed the first this time.  This one is on the fringes of paranormal fantasy because it’s more a story of espionage than anything else and the fantasy element – though definite – is not as dominant as in most urban fantasy.  The protagonist is Tara Sheridan, a professional profiler who works with the police, and who also is a skilled Tarot reader.  Her main contact in the police is, needless to say, also her romantic interest and the latest case is going to call upon her skills in both her vocation and her avocation. When a group of scientist and technicians involved in sensitive government work begin to disappear, she and her lover have differing theories about what is going on, and she finds it difficult to convince him that something darker than simple international conspiracies might be involved.  Sufficiently different that it escaped my growing disinterest in urban fantasy and sufficiently well written to have held me even if that hadn’t been the case. 3/17/11

Iron Crowned by Richelle Mead, Zebra. 2011, 7.99, ISBN 978-1-4201-1179-8  

Third in the Dark Swan series, another urban fantasy clone, only one of whose previous volumes I’ve ever seen.  Eugenie Markham is a kind of cross between Harry Dresden and Anita Blake.  She’s a private detective shaman who is also queen of a magical land which is currently under siege by the forces of evil. So she has to go on a quest for the Iron Crown of the title, a magical artifact that will allow her to expel the bad guys. Naturally there are attempts to prevent her from achieving her goal, and naturally she suspects that one of her “friends” may be working for the other side.  Mead writes somewhat better than average, although I’ve found her occasionally uneven, but this one comes off pretty well. 3/12/11

The Griffin’s War by K.J. Taylor, Ace, 2011, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-441-02010-2  

Third in the Fallen Moon series. The man who formed an unusual alliance with a griffin in the first two books has discovered his true identity, but he is still in the hands of his enemies, who – among other things – worry that he might organize a rebellion.  Which is, of course, exactly what’s in the cards once he escapes. Transformed into a more than human figure through the intervention of a god, he also has a unique vulnerability.  Can he overcome those opposed to him before one of them finds his Achilles’ Heel?You’ll have to read it yourself to find out…but you can probably guess. Not earth shattering but quite nicely done. 3/10/11

Blackout by Rob Thurman, Roc, 2011, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-451-46386-9  

This is the sixth Cal Leandros novel, which really annoyed me because I like the series and wasn’t aware that there had been a fifth, Roadkill.  But I figured I could catch up on that later since there were no copies at the local bookstores.  Much to my dismay, I discovered that the series had set off in an entirely new direction in the book I missed, and frankly I said some difficulty figuring out what was going on when our hero wakes up in the middle of a bunch of corpses.  He goes through an interesting identity crisis this time, but that doesn’t stop him from having a number of physical adventures as well.  Enjoyable, but I probably would have liked it better if I’d been caught up on the series before I started. 3/10/11

Late Eclipses by Seanan McGuire, DAW, 2011, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7564-0666-0  

October Daye returns for her fourth adventure.  Daye, if you’ve read the earlier books, has tried to confine herself to the world of humans and ignore the fairy world, but without much success. By now, she’s resigned to having magic in her life, even if she remains physically isolated from faerie.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t prove possible either.  The problem is that a mysterious, and suspicious, illness has knocked out one of the fairy rulers, and the balance of power has shifted. There’s a great deal of politicking going on and although we obviously know that Daye is going to come out ahead, the path to that point is decidedly obscure.  Readable enough but although I liked the earlier books in the series, this one never quite sank its talons into me. 3/5/11

Under Wraps by Hannah Jayne, Kensington, 2011, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-7582-5892-2

Another new urban fantasy series opens with this story about a young woman whose immunity to magic somehow means that she is ideally suited to help supernatural creatures integrate themselves into human society. She has a werewolf boss and a vampire roomie, so you can pretty much anticipate most of the setup.  Her work is frenetic but benign until she gets pulled into the investigation of a series of vicious murders that might be the work of a demon and she gets teamed with – yes, you guessed right – a potential romantic partner who turns out to be hiding a dark secret.  A fairly sparse prose style, particularly the dialogue.  It’s an okay story that would have been better if it wasn’t version four hundred of this very same plot. 3/3/11

The Black Chalice by Steven Savile, Abaddon, 2011, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-907519-67-3  

This is the first in a series of novels supposedly modernized from a recently discovered manuscript by Thomas Malory extending the story of King Arthur and his knights.  Abaddon normally does shared universe novels so it isn’t clear if the series will be exclusively by Savile or include other writers.  The premise this time is that a knight discovers a cursed book, not the Necronomicon, which influences him to seek the black chalice of the title, a kind of anti-Grail. The result is a kind of Elric in England story in which he battles various parties in order to complete his quest, but begins to question whether the quest itself is worthwhile.  Not badly written, but I’ve overdosed on Arthurian fantasy. 3/2/11

The Scar-Crow Men by Mark Chadbourn, Pyr, 2/11, $16, ISBN 978-1-61614-254-4 

Despite the terrible title, the second in the Swords of Albion series is pretty good.  The setting is late 16th Century England, the time of the Black Death, and England is at war with the world of faerie, whose agents are assassinating key people throughout the British Isles. A mysterious manifestation and the murder of Christopher Marlowe are the opening moves in a game of danger and treachery which pit a lone British agent against a host of enemies. Lots of derring do interspersed with mystery and intrigue, and one of the best evocations of an historical period I recall in fantasy.  I liked the first in this series but the second one is much better and I hope that progression continues into the next. 2/28/11

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness, Viking, 2011, $28.95, ISBN 978-0-670-02241-0  

The protagonist of this interesting novel is a woman who has forsaken her legacy of witchcraft, but who stirs the magical pot when she consults a lost arcane text at a British library, an act which stirs the occult world.  As a consequence, a number of parties – not all of them human – begin to maneuver to acquire access to the document.  One of these latter is a very suave vampire whose presence will complicate matters for our protagonist, and sets her on a quest that will stretch around the world and back through time.  Intelligently plotted and written, full of fascinating little details, and driven by a well constructed and compelling plot.  This one’s on my short list of most interesting fantasies of 2011. 2/23/11

Angel’s Verdict by Mary Stanton, Berkley, 2011, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-23987-2

The lawyer protagonist of this light mystery series has previously worked on behalf of the dead, whose spirits can communicate with her.  She picks up a considerably more mundane case this time.  Her new client is an actress involved in recreating an unsolved murder mystery, and someone is very unhappy about the production – obviously the undiscovered killer.  When a series of “accidents” begins to hamper work, our lawyer heroine and her ghostly friends have to solve the old case to resolve the new one.  Cute, but I think the possibilities of this series were so limited to start with that they’re already beginning to run out. 2/21/11

The Warlord’s Legacy by Ari Marmell, 2011, $26, ISBN 978-0-553-80777-6  

Second in a series featuring a sort of anti-hero barbarian warrior, although Corvus is as glib as he is quick witted in an adventure that occasionally shows a wry side.  He vanquished the bad guy in the first book, The Conqueror’s Shadow, so he has a new opponent this time around, and naturally he’s an even badder ass than the first one. And the really nasty part is that Corvus is living under a false identity and the bad guy has apparently adopted his old persona and is ruining his reputation. Old enemies return, including his own daughter, and it’s obvious that he is no longer in control of events.  I don’t remember the first book being nearly as good as this one. 2/20/11

On the Banks of the River of Heaven by Richard Parks, Prime, 2011, $24.95, ISBN 978-1-60701-226-9  

I’ve read quite a handful of short stories by Parks in the past; he’s one of the few who consistently writes excellent fantasy at shorter length rather than ponderous novels. This collection contains fourteen stories, a couple of them original here, drawn from Weird Tales, Realms of Fantasy, and various other sources.  I’d have to say it doesn’t quite measure up to his two previous collections that I’ve read, which probably contained the pick of his work, but there are several quite nice tales here including “The Man Who Carved Skull,” “The Twa Corbies Revisited,” and “Moon Viewing at Shijo Bridge.”  Parks has a light touch that makes his prose sparkle.  2/20/11

Blackveil by Kristen Britain, DAW, 2011, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-7564-0660-8  

This is the fourth Rider novel, although readers should be able to follow the story pretty well without having read the earlier ones.  I do suggest reading The High King’s Tomb first though.  The title refers to the prison wherein is held an insane ruler who became immortal through using dark magic. The consequences of that misuse have soured the population on the use of magic and after several centuries it is virtually unknown. When the wards failed, the immortal was sent into the future but now there is fresh conflict between two peoples each of whom claims authority over the now empty land, which is empty only of the magician king, not the various other dangers that have arisen there over the years.  An exciting and occasionally surprising plot highlight this, the best in the series to date. 2/19/11

God’s War by Kameron Hurley, Night Shade, 2011, $14.99, ISBN 978-1-59780-214-7  

Night Shade keeps publishing writers new to me, and so far their track record has been pretty good, including this one, set in a world where war has been going on so long that it’s an accepted part of life and no one even thinks about ending it.  It’s rather a phantasmagorical war at that, with impressed legions and professional soldiers, magicians and merchants and rogues, all intermixed.  The protagonist is a sanctioned assassin who has retired from the business, but who is activated again when it finally seems that the death of one particular individual could bring the fighting to an end.  Or maybe not.  And will she accept the task and, having accepted it, can she bring it off?  I didn’t expect to like this one because the plot summary on the cover put me off, but once I’d started, it was quickly obvious I was going to have to finish. 2/17/11

The King of the Crags by Stephen Deas, Roc, 2011, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-451-46376-0  

Sequel to The Adamantine Palace, which I don’t believe I’ve ever seen.  An ambitious man has seized the throne thanks to the legions of barely controlled dragons commanded by his lover.  A political error threatens to destroy the latter, which doesn’t entirely upset the not particularly admirable ruler, but his happiness is tempered by signs that an old prophecy may be on the verge of fulfillment, and that could bring about his own destruction.  Typical palace intrigues interspersed with action sequences, competent but nothing out of the ordinary.  The cast of rather miserable characters did not incline me to like the book very much, though it was competent enough that I finished it. 2/16/11

License to Ensorcell by Katharine Kerr, DAW, 2011, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7564-0656-1 1 

Katharine Kerr switches from her usual fantasy worlds to the contemporary one for this, the first in yet another new urban fantasy series.  Nola O’Grady is a psychic working for a secret government agency that deals with the paranormal, partnered with an irascible type who almost certainly becomes her romantic interest.  Their current case is a serial killer who believes that he is killing werewolves but – surprise! – he’s right.  The trouble is that they’re not evil ones but simply shapechangers living secretly within human society.  If I hadn’t already read so many similar novels, I’d have liked this one a good deal better.  Kerr is certainly a much better writer than most of the authors filling the racks with feisty female heroines dealing with the supernatural.  Unfortunately, paranormal overkill has numbed my sensitivities so while I enjoyed this, I had a constant feeling of déjà vu. 2/13/11

Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch, Del Rey, 2011, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-345-52425-6  

First in a new urban fantasy series set in London, from an author whose previous work has been primarily in tie-ins. Peter Grant is a police officer with a boring desk job who acquires some prominence when he discovers that he can communicate with ghosts and acquire information about crimes that would be otherwise impossible.  That gets him a new job in a special division working on paranormal crimes, just in time to get involved with a series of bizarre murders that suggests that some powerful and ancient evil force is on the prowl.  A lot grittier than most similar novels, and close enough to horror to please readers of either genre. 2/12/11

Of Truth and Beasts by Barb Hendee & J.C. Hendee, Roc, 2011, $26.95, ISBN 978-0-451-46375-3  

Eighth in the Noble Dead series, possibly my favorite active sword and sorcery sequence. Having recently completed a dangerous mission for her putative employers, Wynn and her friends find themselves sent out on a meaningless quest meant to divert their attention from what’s going on with the items she has already retrieved.  She decides to pursue a more promising goal and seek the secrets concealed in a stronghold linked to past battles on an epic scale.  But she has lots of enemies, and a talent for making new ones, and her self assigned mission might turn out to be her last.  Riproaring adventure, convoluted characters, exotic settings, and some genuine storytelling.  I’m looking forward to number nine already. 2/11/11

Curiosity Thrilled the Cat by Sofie Kelly, Obsidian, 2011, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-451-23249-6  

I generally don’t like mysteries with fantasy elements, as opposed to fantasies with mystery elements.  The magic factor is too often used as a substitute for logic in working out the crime.  That, I’m afraid, is pretty much the case with this, the first in the Magical Cats series in which the protagonist is assisted in her murder investigation by a pair of cats who have more than feline powers.  It’s cute, but perhaps a bit too cute because I never felt any sense of reality.  The prose isn't bad but the story failed to interest me. It works better as fantasy than mystery, but it's pretty minor even as fantasy. 2/9/11

The Iron Palace by Morgan Howell, Del Rey, 2011, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-345-50398-5  

I sometimes get frustrated because I pick up a book in a series that looks interesting but can’t find the previous volumes.  Fortunately in this case the story is pretty much self contained, although I’d probably have understood things more clearly and earlier if I’d read the previous title in this series.  An evil sorcerer was deprived of his power through the act of sex with a woman, but the child of this union may be doomed to follow in his father’s footsteps, at least sort of.  His mother and her one time lover – not the bad guy – are determined to prevent this tragedy, but will it cost the life of her son to do so?  Well written – the author also writes SF as Will Hubbell – and with a somewhat novel premise, sort of The Omen in a fantasy world. 2/7/11

A Hard Day’s Knight by Simon R. Green, Ace, 2011, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-441-01970

John Taylor, one of my two favorite fantasy private investigators, is back for his eleventh adventure.  Taylor possesses, or is possessed by, Excalibur, an enigmatic artifact which he doesn’t understand.  Hoping to find out more about it, he decides to consult the reclusive last defenders of Camelot, which will take him on a perilous journey outside his normal haunts.  It’s a kind of Arthurian adventure story in a contemporary setting with a handful of unexpected twists to keep the reader guessing.  Green has this down to a science and as usual he delivers an engrossing and intelligent adventure story. 2/6/11

Of Blood and Honey by Stina Leicht, Night Shade, 2011, $14.99, ISBN 978-1-59780-213-0   

I’m more than a little tired of the land of faerie intersection with our world, violently or otherwise.  There are a lot of good books using that device, but there are too many overall and it’s a close second to usurped thrones in my list of plot devices done to death. But Stina Leicht, whom I’d never previously heard of, has a new and interesting take on the device, set against the backdrop of the 1970s conflict between England and Ireland.  In addition to fairies invading our world, there are also fallen angels, and the two races don’t get along. Our hero, ignorant of his intimate connection to the supernatural, gets caught in the middle when the secret conflict worsens.  The novel is transparently a commentary on the mundane political unrest of the time, but it is neither didactic nor simple minded and actually helps enrich the fantasy story.  Another writer to put on my much too lengthy “watch for” list. 2/4/11

Sword of Vengeance by Chris Wraight, Black Library, 2011, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-84970-021-4

God King by Graham McNeill, Black Library, 2011, $8.99, ISBN 978-1-84416-899-6 4028/4036 

Sword and sorcery thrives in the Warhammer universe, if less popular elsewhere.  These two new titles are good examples.  The theme of both of these, if they have a theme, is that individuals count for more than nations or political movements in the greater scheme of things, which is a common thread in S&S.  The first title gives us several examples as various parties try to influence the course of events in a fantasy world torn by chaotic forces and rival armies.  The second concentrates more specifically on one man, the leader of a nation beset by armies backed with dark sorcery.  Both are very familiar fantasy set ups and there isn’t a lot of variation in either book.  McNeill is probably the better writer, although I think I prefer his military SF, but Wraight has a more complex and interesting plot.   So if you have to choose, you’ll have to decide which is more important to you. 2/1/11

House Name by Michelle West, DAW, 2011, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-7564-0651-6

Third in the House Wars series.  West has created a nicely complex world for this series – which is related to her other novels as well.  Although there is the usual conflict taking place on the macrolevel, this series concentrates more on the struggle to control one particular prominent family and its enterprises, which are rather varied.  Added to the mix are demonic forces which interfere with the activities of humans on a regular basis. The focus this time is on one character who seeks to find a way into the mysterious realm beneath the city which is the haven of the demons.  Only by penetrating there can she hope to ensure that the family protecting her is safe from their assassins and charms. Someone, however, is actively countering her every attempt to descend into the underworld, and that’s all to set the stage for a more overt offensive against the family at large.  I’ve occasionally found West’s novels a bit wordy, though never fatally so, but this one seems much more tightly plotted and executed, a high point in the series.  It's definitely not a book you'll read in one day though.  1/31/11

Never Knew Another by J.M. McDermott, Night Shade, 2011, $14.99, ISBN 978-1-59780-215-4  

Here’s something a little out of the ordinary.  The setting is a somewhat atypical fantasy world called Dogland, a kind of exaggerated version of our world where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.  Not all that much of an exaggeration actually.  Anyway, the two protagonists are a man and a woman.  The woman is a newcomer to the city who is concealing the fact that she has demon blood, which is definitely not a plus.  The man is a local resident who is also part demon, but he conceals his secret by acting brashly and imitating his supposed peers.  Obviously the two have to meet to resolve their various internal conflicts and therein lies the story.   The author frequently sidestepped my expectations in this one. 1/30/11

Secrets of the Demon by Diana Rowland, DAW, 2011, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7564-0652-3  

Third in the Kara Gillian series and first from this publisher.  This is another series that straddles fantasy and horror, though it’s labeled fantasy.  Gillian is a member of an elite FBI team that deals with supernatural and magical crimes, and her unique talent is that she can summon demons.  One of her fellow team members provides the romantic interest, but she is also admired by one of the most powerful of all demons, who substitute for vampires in this series.  There has been a series of mysterious murders and she’s on the case, which is complicated by personal issues and frequently sidetracked.  The police procedural aspects are pretty good and the writing in general isn’t bad.  It’s just that this is basically another urban fantasy romance and that vein of literary ore has long since been panned out. 1/26/11

The Dark Griffin by K.J. Taylor, Ace, 2011, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-441-01978-6

First in a new fantasy series, previously published in Australia.  We’ve had lots of fantasies where the protagonist is teamed with a dragon, and sometimes a unicorn, but I think this is the first where a griffin is featured.  Our hero in this case is an ex-slave who has a run of bad luck and gets involved with a wild griffin, duels to the death, and other adventures.  The griffins, incidentally, are intelligent, not just animals, and not entirely friendly to humans.  There’s a pretty dark undercurrent in the novel – Arren is not a happy or forgiving man – and although a single central plot dominates the action, there are interesting side issues as well.  Looking forward to the rest of the series. 1/22/11

The Soul Mirror by Carol Berg, Roc, 1/10, $16, ISBN 978-0-451-46374-9  

Berg continues her saga of the Collegia Magica, which is more of a common setting than a traditional series.  The protagonist this time is a young woman from a family fallen on hard times after her father’s criminal excesses made him a fugitive. Although she has no magical talents, her younger sister does until she dies in an apparent accident, after which she finds herself being pushed into a marriage she does not wish. But there are magical threats in the air and another death, clearly a murder, raises questions about her sister’s death as well as the political intrigues that endanger the throne.  This is essentially a murder mystery with magic, just as its predecessor The Spirit Lens was, and again like its predecessor, it’s Berg at the very top of her form. 1/19/11

A Princess of the Linear Jungle by Paul Di Filippo, PS, 2010, £12, ISBN 978-1-848631-08-3  

Another indescribable chapbook from Paul Di Filippo, this one sort of a follow up to A Year in the Linear City of a few years back.  The protagonist is a young woman trying to pursue a career in one portion of the presumably infinite world.  Her perambulations eventually lead her to join an expedition into an unknown part of the world, where she makes a startling discovery.  Full of odd creatures, odder characters, and the oddest situations, all delivered in the author’s own inimitable style.  Some of the imaginative tweaks will leave you wanting to know more, but then you’re swept on to some other wonder.  1/15/11

The Last Hieroglyph by Clark Ashton Smith, Night Shade, 2010, $39.99, ISBN 978-1-59780-032-7

Although Clark Ashton Smith wrote a substantial body of fine short fiction, it appears even larger than it is because of the various cross collections of his work over the years.  Night Shade has done a new round in hard cover – this is volume five – and they’re handsomely produced as well as nice to read.  If you already have a lot of Smith in your collection, you might want to look at these selectively, but if you are coming to the author for the first time, this is a great way to acquire all of the short fiction in one fell swoop.   There are 29 stories here, plus variant versions and other hard to find pieces, and a bibliography.  The title story is probably the best known in this volume, but there are a number of other exceptional ones including “Monster in the Night” and “The Coming of the White Worm.” It's always as pleasure to discover that great old fiction is still available for new readers. 1/14/11

Dark Waters by Alex Prentiss, Bantam, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-553-59298-6  

Here’s a fairly unusual dark fantasy romance.  The protagonist is a woman who has a strange affinity for a particular lake, where she communes after a fashion with some mysterious spirits resident therein.  Unfortunately, a typically evil developer has plans which will disrupt this idyllic state and naturally she’s opposed to them.  There’s also a murder, a tall dark stranger, and some fairly explicit sex.  The prose is pretty good and most of the time the story held my attention,  I thought the ending, while exciting, was far too predictable and Hollywoodish, but otherwise it wasn’t bad at all. 1/12/11

Elric: Swords and Roses by Michael Moorcock, Del Rey, 2010, $16, ISBN 978-0-345-49867-0

I just wanted to mention this latest in the reprint series of Moorcock’s Elric, one of the greatest fantasy sequences of all time.  The major item here is the novel, The Revenge of the Rose, but possibly the most interesting is the screenplay for a Stormbringer movie.  There is another longish story and some non-fiction, including a very useful guide to the publishing history of Elric, which helps sort out the cross collections and chronology.  These new editions ares probably the best way to collect Elric since they also contain so much explanatory and other material. 1/12/11

The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan, Hyperion, 2010, $17.99, ISBN 978-142311338-6  

I quite enjoyed the author’s five volume Olympians series and was curious what he would do next.  Now I know.  This is the first in a new series that promises to be even better.  The protagonists are brother and sister who have been raised in very separate circumstances following their mother’s death, one traveling with Egyptologist father, the other attending school in England, and both envy the other for what is perceived as a better life. They are reunited at last just as an Egyptian god kidnaps their father and sets in motion a nefarious scheme which the siblings, presumably, will foil in subsequent titles.  This could be the big YA series of 2011 and beyond. 1/9/11

The Ghost and the Goth by Stacey Kade, Hyperion, 2010, 16.99, ISBN 978-142312197-8 

I have quite a stack of young adult fantasy piled up so I guess it’s time to shed a few years mentally and start through them.  This one is one of those ghost stories that could fall into horror/supernatural or fantasy, depending on your definition.  The narrator is a fashion conscious teenaged girl, think Legally Blonde, who unfortunately was accidentally killed.  She’s still hanging around, mostly, although the only one who can actually see her is a boy she wouldn’t be caught dead talking to – pun intended – under ordinary circumstances. The boy, on the other hand, doesn’t want to be able to communicate with ghosts, particularly since one of them is holding a grudge and wants to manipulate him into getting killed.  Naturally the two have to find a meeting of the minds to solve their separate problems.  Cute. 1/6/11

Kingdom Keepers III: Disney in Shadow by Ridley Pearson, Hyperion, 2010, $17.99, ISBN 978-142312899-1  

I was a bit reluctant to read this one, since I haven’t seen the previous two volumes in the series, but I’ve enjoyed other work by Pearson and the story appeared to be self contained.  The premise is that somehow teenagers will occasionally fall asleep and somehow be transformed into holograms in Disneyland.  Sounds pretty tame.  As it happens, however, the hologrammatic world is full of dangers and a pretty nasty villain plus henchmen, and the latter aren’t fond of the newcomers. This time their conflict involves a quest for a magic sword, not as corny as it sounds, the deciphering of a number of puzzles, and other adventures.  This one should appeal to the kid in you. 1/5/11

Phantom Prospect by Alex Archer, Gold Eagle, 2010, $6,99, ISBN 978-0-373-62146-0  

Gold Eagle has lousy distribution locally so I’ve missed a few installments in this series, an unusual “men’s adventure” with a female protagonist, an archaeologist who has a magic sword.  Think Tomb Raider.  This one is written by Jon Merz and involves the apparent discovery of a famous ship lost off the coast of Canada long ago.  The ship reportedly contains a fabulous treasure – of course – but recovery is problematic because of the presence of a megalodon, a prehistoric shark.  Our protagonist decides to help but soon discovers that not all is as it seems and that there is someone among the expedition who plans a decidedly different outcome than the one intended.  Lots of fun. 1/4/11

The Age of Odin by James Lovegrove, Solaris, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-907519-41-3 

I could pretty much have guessed the title of this one given The Age of Zeus and The Age of Ra.  The protagonist is an ex-soldier who signs up for a new and dangerous assignment, unaware that he is to be arrayed with the Norse gods against their enemies at Ragnarok.  It’s a kind of military fantasy, but given my experience with Lovegrove’s other work, I was prepared for an innovative roller coast ride and that’s what I got.  It reminded me at times of A Yank at Valhalla by Edmond Hamilton, although much better written of course.  The author’s fresh look at the legends of the gods and the frost giants is clever and interesting in its own right, wrapped around a fast paced adventure. I think I actually liked this one the best of the three. 1/3/11

Black Wings by Christina Henry, Ace, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-441-01963-2

Much of urban fantasy is actually horror, but this one’s firmly in the former category.  The protagonist has magical powers and is assigned the job of escorting the recently dead to the afterlife. She discovers that she has more talents than she realized when her new neighbor’s arrival leads to the appearance of supernatural creatures in increasing numbers, culminating in a powerful creature whose advent could have implications for the entire city.  The romance was a bit sappy but the talking gargoyle is a very nice touch.   There were also a few too many coincidences, but on balance I’d say this was better than average and not quite as cut and pasted as many similar series. 1/1/11

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