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 LAST UPDATE 4/30/12

Summoning the Night by Jenn Bennett, Pocket, 2012, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4516-2053-5

Deadly Descendant by Jenna Black, Pocket, 2012, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4516-0680-5

Just when I thought the urban fantasy/paranormal romance craze was fading, I find two books that are second volumes in new series, neither of which I had heard of.  Each of these is a little out of the ordinary, though not in the same directions. Bennett, whose byline is knew to me, writes about Arcadia Bell, a witch/magician who runs a bar for demons stranded on Earth. She and her inevitable romantic interest get involved in investigating a series of gruesome murders and digging into ancient secrets to find the solution. Fairly light despite the heavy subject, with readable prose and a good sense of pacing. Not quite different enough to stand out from other paranormal romances, but with its interesting moments. Black is a writer whose work I have read before, although I missed the first Nikki Glass novel. Nikki is a descendant of Artemis and she works as a private investigator, although some of her cases are decidedly out of the ordinary. This time she gets a call from Olympus that Anubis might be behind a series of attacks by dogs and that he may also have dire plans for the Earth. I looked up the first book and discovered that she battled another pantheon of gods in her debut, so next time it's probably going to be Loki.  Slightly better written and a bit more suspenseful, but also not quite different enough to be noteworthy. On the other hand, in this genre being too different might not be a plus. 4/30/12

Shadow Blizzard by Alexey Pehov, Tor, 2012, $26.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2405-4

Third in the Chronicles of Sial. Our hero has been on a quest to obtain a magical artifact, and that continues in this one despite a wide variety of human and inhuman opponents. As if that wasn't bad enough, there's a return trip to consider, which involves crossing a land dominated by armies of orcs who have rallied to the inevitable evil entity who has launched a war for control of the entire world. This is the concluding volume in a series which draws heavily on J.R.R. Tolkien but with a distinctly different air at times - it was originally published in Russia - and while the pacing is occasionally a bit slow in the first two volumes, this one was much more tightly knit. Slightly out of the ordinary but still well within the mainstream fantasy tradition. 4/29/12

Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal, Tor, 2012, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2557-0

This sequel to Shades of Milk and Honey doesn't look like a fantasy, but that's what it is. Set during the Napoleonic era, it follows the adventures of a young couple who are vacationing on the continent when Napoleon escapes from Elba, throwing everything into chaos.  They need to escape themselves, back to England, and to do so they will be compelled to use magic. This is a fairly low key fantasy adventure despite what sounds like a melodramatic plot, and has more to do with character interactions than with derring do. There's enough excitement for readers who enjoy such, but even the action has an almost leisurely and thoughtful feel to it. I think I liked this a bit more than the first, but they're both excellent and a very welcome change of pace from mainstream contemporary fantasy. 4/27/12

False Covenant by Ari Marmell, Pyr, 6/12, $16.95, ISBN 978-1-61614-621-4

Second in the Widdershins series. Our protagonist has reformed and is no longer technically a thief but a tavernkeeper. Unfortunately, the city in which she lives is in turmoil because of a rift between the population at large and the somewhat repressive church. But there's a more imminent danger because a mysterious and insidious evil force has also arrived and it is causing what could be an even more far reaching tension. I liked the first in this series well enough that I jumped this one up the stack a good ways and I'm glad I did. In theory this is a young adult series, but  it reads just fine for this not quite so young adult. 4/26/12

Lance of Earth and Sky by Erin Hoffman, Pyr, 2012, $16.95, ISBN 978-1-61614-615-3

Second in the Chaos Knight series. In the first book, our hero inadvertently opened a gateway between realities and allowed magic back into his world, along with a host of menacing and mysterious newcomers. Now he's caught up in a war where the nature of reality itself is uncertain, and the love of his life isn't too happy with him either. It's hard to say which bothers him the most. This is a pretty good light fantasy adventure that is perhaps a bit too busy at times - there are a whole lot of additional subplots and complications that I didn't mention. Despite that, I found it somewhat better than its predecessor, with a more interesting story line and a greater sense that the author was in control. 4/26/12

The Fire Ascending by Chris D'Lacey, Orchard, 2012, $18.99, ISBN 978-0-545-40216-3

The seventh book in this series for younger readers is complex enough that you probably ought to read the previous books first. It's also the last in the series, so lots of earlier subplots get revived and resolved. The dragons are the good guys, united in their opposition - a kind of supernatural being that can infect all other forms of life with their evil and thus endanger the entire world. To thwart the bad guys and their villainous leader, and rescue an imprisoned dragon in the process, the other dragons and their human friend summon two children from the future to help them. Like the Harry Potter books, these seem to have been progressively aimed at a slightly higher reading level, although that might just be a result of the increased convolutions of the plot. Fans of the series should find this one rewarding but readers happening upon it by chance may be somewhat bewildered. 4/24/12

Royal Street by Suzanne Johnson, Tor, 2012, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2779-6

A first novel set in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The protagonist is an assistant to the wizard in charge of protecting New Orleans from the usual array of supernatural predators. The storm opens a rift between realities so that even more magical critters can show up, and there's also a serial killer at work. When the top wizard goes missing, our heroine and her new partner have to work out their own interrelationship while dealing with both magical and mundane crises. This edges further toward urban fantasy and away from paranormal romance, and there are even hints of literary horror as well. There's a very nice evocation of the city and a pretty good plot as well.  A more promising debut than most I see in this particular subgenre. 4/19/12

Blood on the Bayou by Stacey Jay, Pocket, 2012, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4391-8987-0

Second in the Annabel Lee series. After evil fairies invaded our world, the protagonist discovered that she had acquired magical powers of her own. In this adventure, she gets involved in the search for a nefarious laboratory while being torn among several handsome and dangerous men. The first in this series felt more like a horror novel, but this one is pure paranormal romance, with emphasis on the romance. This one goes by pretty fast and doesn't seem to have the atmosphere or suspense of its predecessor. I caution you that it's written in present tense, which I found as irritating and distracting as always. Okay but not something you should go out of your way to find.  4/19/12

Secrets of the Fire Sea by Stephen Hunt, Tor, 2012, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2767-3

I very much liked two of the three previous fantasy novels I've read by this author, and the third wasn't bad either. This one falls into the liked very much category. This one is set in that same far future quasi-Victorian world and deals with a woman who may be the target of a man who believes she has dangerous knowledge. The setting is an island surrounded by volcanic activity where technology is slightly ahead of the rest of the world. She is assisted by a pair of detectives, one of whom is steam powered, as she tries to discover the truth. Strongly character driven but with a wonderfully realized setting, this is a kind of steampunk detective story somewhere between China Mieville and Mary Gentle. It was originally published in England in 2011.  4/18/12

A Sliver of Shadow by Allison Pang, Pocket, 2012, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4391-9834-6

Second in the Abby Sinclair series of not quite urban fantasies. Sinclair is a kind of tour facilitator who helps people and fairies back and forth across the barrier between their two separate worlds. A series of unfortunate events leads to the sudden closure of the gateway with humans trapped in Faery and vice versa. Our protagonist, and her hunky romantic interest, have to find a way to restore the two way traffic, and maybe avert a confrontation with the minions of Hell at the same time. I've grown more than slightly tired of stories involving Faery, but this one is well told enough to hold my interest, although I skimmed some of the romantic sections. I thought paranormal fantasy had about run its course but obviously I was mistaken. 4/8/12

Blue Magic by A.M. Dellamonica, Tor, 2012, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-1948-7

Sequel to Indigo Springs, which I have never seen, and second half of a duology. Retroactively, as near as I can figure, the protagonist discovered that a river had become polluted by uncontrolled magic somewhere in Oregon. Although not specifically evil, it cause strange mutations in the plant and animal life nearby, which spreads and threatens to cause a magical crisis for the entire world. There is a plot to seize control of the world as well, and the conflict between former friends with altered viewpoints is the main focus of the story. Despite the fantastic content, this is really about the characters and the consequences of their different mind sets. I will have to look for a copy of the first. 4/8/12

Dead Winter by C.L. Werner, Black Library, 2012, $8.99, ISBN 978-1-84970-151-8

A Warhammer novel. Werner was one of the first Warhammer authors working the fantasy side that I found myself enjoying and he still is one of the better contributors to this ongoing series. The series in general varies much more than the SF side and his latest is a good example. In the aftermath of the rule of an incompetent monarch, a land is devastated by a terrible plague. But a horde of hungry creatures emerges from the underworld and the survivors, already sorely beset, now have the fight of their lives facing them. The dialogue gets a bit self consciously effusive at times, but otherwise this is a pretty good sword and sorcery adventure. 4/4/12

The Isis Collar by Cat Adams, Tor, 2012, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2873-1

This author's urban fantasies have generally been closer to horror and romance than fantasy, but this one moves a bit in the other direction even though the protagonist is a benevolent vampire. She also has the powers of a siren and a few family complications to stir things up. She responds to a warning about a magical attack and believes she has foiled it until a plague of zombie conversions begins to spread through the city. The consequences of this and other potential attacks are the central plot, but there are several others including possession, fugitives from the law, and mysterious disappearances. All of these are handled reasonably well, but the story line does seem a bit too busy at times. Adams manages to tie everything together with minimum confusion and the result is well above average of its type. 4/1/12

Dark North by Paul Finch, Abaddon, 2012, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-907992-89-6

There's dark magic afoot when King Arthur rallies his supporters to oppose a new wave of attacks by the Roman Empire. One of those responding to the call is a nobleman with personal reasons to dislike the Romans, a runaway wife, as well as a secret corruption that alarms even his own squire. But the Romans also have an unofficial supernatural ally, a sorceress whose son is the third leg of the lovers' triangle (although there is actually a fourth leg as well). I'd overdosed on Arthurian fantasy a while back so I didn't expect to enjoy this one but it was actually more engaging than I expected. The story moves fluidly and the characters are more than adequately drawn. One of the better books I've seen from this imprint. 3/27/12

Touchstone by Melanie Rawn, Tor, 2012, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2362-0

There's an interesting premise in Rawn's newest novel, complete in itself but the first of a trilogy. The main characters are part of a roving acting group each of whom uses magic to compose illusions during their performances. The world contains several different races and the major protagonist is a crossbreed who abandons a fancier lifestyle because of his fondness for the acting profession. In some ways the tale of their efforts to become celebrities is among Rawn's best efforts because the characters are nicely drawn and there is relatively little time to devoted to overt conflict. On the other hand, there's so little of the latter that the story tends to meander along at times and hardcore fantasy readers expecting swordplay, dangerous intrigues, captures and escapes, and so forth are likely to be disappointed. So for a certain subset of readers this is likely to be very good but very another subset it may be disappointing. 3/26/12

Age of Aztec by James Lovegrove, Solaris, 2012, $8.99, ISBN 978-1-907992-81-0

James Lovegrove has produced a steady stream of entertaining and sometimes outstanding novels including this, the fourth in his loose series based on different cosmologies. Obviously in this case it's the Aztecs who rule the world, and England is a land of jungles, human sacrifice, and repression. Opposed to their rule is an underground of rebels and a single charismatic vigilante who initially thinks he has time to develop an effective army. But then he discovers that there is a time limit and that unless the Aztecs relinquish power, the world faces a terrible fate. Caught in the middle is a duty bound police officer determined to bring the vigilante to justice, but also unaware that he may be helping bring about an apocalyptic event. My favorite in the series. 3/25/12

Shadow's Master by Jon Sprunk, Pyr, 2012, $17.95, ISBN 978-1-61614-605-4

Final volume in this trilogy about an ex-criminal in a fantasy world who has to deal with troubles from his family's past as well as the enmity of an evil force that resides in a remote part of his world swathed in eternal blackness. This time he has to venture into those unfriendly realms for the final confrontation, while dealing with a muted lovers' triangle and other problems. There's a good deal of action - and Sprunk does this part very well indeed - and everything gets resolved, predictably but competently. This is more sword and sorcery than most current fantasy fiction, not quite Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser but as good as we're likely to get until the next Fritz Leiber shows up. 3/18/12

Songs of the Earth by Elspeth Cooper, Tor, 2012, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-3165-6

First in the Wild Hunt series and also a debut novel. The premise is somewhat familiar. Magic, or in this case the ability to hear magical music, is forbidden and the protagonist's discovery that he can do so leads to his being condemned to death as a witch. Naturally we all know that the magic is actually a force for good, and he learns this as well when he finds unexpected allies who wish his assistance as a magical crisis is looming over the world. His story is mostly straightforward adventure, competently written but standard. The political rivalries among the church hierarchy are actually the most interesting part of the novel, and the players in that game seemed to me much more interesting, if not admirable, characters. No clear resolution, of course, since this is the opening of a series, but it shows some promise. 3/15/12

Chrysanthe by Yves Menard, Tor, 2012, $15.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-3026-0

A young girl is kidnapped from the magical world of Chrysanthe and stashed in a contrived world where her memories are suppressed and where psychologists are convinced that her mental turmoil is caused by long forgotten childhood abuse. Eventually she is rescued and, after adventures in various realities, returns to her original home. Her arrival there precipitates an epic battle between good and evil. Pretty standard fantasy fare and the prose is very nice, but I lost interest partway through, left it for a few days, came back and read another big chunk, and then waited a few more days before finally finishing it. The problem is that the novel is just too long for the plot, and much of the detail adds nothing to the narrative. Some of the characters were also pretty flat, which left me with neither they nor the story line to hold my interest more actively. This has some of the feel of a Victorian novel and while the final chapters are engrossing, it takes a long time to get to them. 3/14/12

Above by Leah Bobet, Arthur Levine, 2012, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-545-29670-0

This young adult romance is a kind of urban fantasy, though sufficiently different that I'm not completely comfortable using that label. The hero is one of several people sheltering in a tunnel system to avoid the rather unpleasant city above when he encounters a winged girl with whom he falls in love. When their hidden world is invaded by the bad guy and his minions, they have to decide whether to run or fight. There is some nice imagery in this one and I liked some of the characters as well but my prejudice against pointless present tense narration asserted itself and I find it very difficult to read to the end. This is a first novel. 3/13/12

Slaine: Books of Invasions by Pat Mills & Clint Langley, 2000 AD, 2012, $19.99, ISBN 978-1-907992-68-1

This is a full color graphic novel featuring Slaine, once king of ancient Ireland, now a warrior protecting his people from their enemies. Some of them are completely human, some not. This is Celtic sword and sorcery, obviously, a series of short but colorful episodes full of battle sequences with brief respites in between. The script is about what you'd expect but the artwork is sometimes quite striking. I particularly noted the use of consistent color schemes during segments of the stories. Although the individual frames are only occasionally outstanding, they combine to make quite an interesting visual presentation. 3/12/12

Kings of Morning by Paul Kearney, Solaris, 2012, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-907519-39-0

In Corvus, the middle volume in this series, the title character became supreme ruler of a fantasy realm at a very young age. Now that he has the authority, he plans a war against a much larger power, and much of the book consists of accounts of the battle preparations and actual fighting. This is essentially military fantasy and the fantastic elements are more window dressing than anything else, although Kearney does them much better than most of his peers. Since I found Corvus rather offputting, and none of the characters really appealed to me, there wasn't much of an emotional attachment to what was going on, which I think is a serious shortcoming. The three novels in this trilogy are each effectively standalone as well, though better if read in sequence. 3/7/12

Other Kingdoms by Richard Matheson, Tor, 2012, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2769-7 

I never saw the hardcover edition of this from 2011 so Iím late reading this new novel by one of the most enduring writers in the genre. A World War I soldier receives a lump of gold from a dying friend and sets out to visit the dead manís home town in England. There he discovers that people have a variety of strange reactions to the gold.  He also discovers that the town lives in uneasy harmony with the little people, fairies, leprechauns, or whatever.  Eventually he gets caught up in a romantic triangle, the other two points being a witch and a fey woman, and when heís finally forced to choose between them, things escalate unpredictably. Nicely written, with a kind of fairy tale flavor tempered by adult sensibilities, but not one of his major novels. 3/5/12

Darkening Skies by Juliet E. McKenna, Solaris, 2012, $8.99, ISBN 978-1-907992-77-3

Second in the Hadrumal Crisis series. Previously a renegade sorcerer who appeared to be helping pirates battle the legitimate government proved to have more devious motives. Now the populace is happy because it appears that the threat is ended, but it has only taken a different form as the renegade now becomes a political and military as well as magical force. Our hero is Captain Corrain, who knows some of the truth, and who is afraid that a greater conflict is yet to come. Everything may depend on the decision of a council of mages who could probably act against policy and destroy the upstart. But will they, or will they take even more drastic steps? There's a magical cataclysm and it appears that this might only be a two book cycle, although there's a hint at the end that there may be more to come.  Pretty good. 3/4/12

The Scar by Sergey and Marina Dyachenko, Tor, 2012, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2993-6

The anti-hero protagonist of this very impressive fantasy novel starts the story as a braggart who challenges a romantic rival to a duel even though he knows the other man is no match for him. After killing the other man, he is in turn challenged by a mysterious Wanderer, who leaves him with the scar of the title across his face, which also brands him as a coward. The scarred man finally feels shame and abandons his old life, but is still drawn to the woman he wronged, hoping to escape his personal torment by gaining her forgiveness, if not her love. The relationship between himself and her family is particularly complex. And the Wanderer is not through with him yet either. I'm not easily impressed by standard fantasy fare, even when the plot shows signs of originality, but this was a notable exception. The novel is apparently the second in a series, the first of which was less impressive, which might explain why a few things - chiefly the nature of the Wanderer - are not to be found, but this isn't a serious problem. 2/29/12

Lucy by Kathryn Lasky, Scholastic, 2012, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-439-78312-5

Third in the Daughters of the Sea series. Each of the books has a different young female protagonist who turns out to be in some fashion connected with the people of the sea. This time the girl is a minister's daughter who feels uncomfortable living in a city and thus welcomes the move to a seaside community. Complicating matters are the attentions of a nobleman smitten with her beauty and her own attraction to a young man of far simpler lineage. Naturally her parents have strong feelings in the matter and their machinations will ultimately result in a violent death and the implication that their daughter might be responsible. Lasky is a seasoned writer of young adult stories and even though this one breaks no new ground, it's a light and pleasant read for adults as well.  2/27/12

Fair Coin by E.C. Myers, Pyr, 2012, $16.95, ISBN 978-1-61614-609-2

I jumped this up the pile because the premise is very similar to a pair of stories I wrote a while back, although Myers takes it in an entirely different direction. The young protagonist discovers that his exact double has turned up dead and in his pocket is a magic coin that grants wishes when it is flipped.  But this is a variation of the classic story "The Monkey's Paw" by W.W. Jacobs, because sometimes the means by which the wish is granted are bad enough to outweigh whatever he gained. But after using it several times, he doesn't know how to change things back, isn't sure if he wants to anyway, and there's always the possibility that the coin will stop working. Some clever twists and a very quick read. 2/27/12

Thief's Covenant by Ari Marmell, Pyr, 2012, $16.95, ISBN 978-1-61614-547-7

I believe this is the first young adult novel from Pyr, and it's the first in the Widdershins series. The premise is a familiar coming of age story with a female protagonist, an orphan who after predictable travails becomes briefly a respectable member of society before disaster reduces her to the role of a proficient thief. She's also the only remaining adherent of a peculiar god who may or may not be able to help her. Along the way she acquires quite an array of enemies ranging from the local police force, understandably, to the enmity of a mysterious entity from the unknown past. This is pretty much an adult fantasy novel plot with a teenaged protagonist so don't be put off by the label regardless of your age. Marmell writes a lively story. 2/24/12

Path of the Renegade by Andy Chambers, Black Library, 2012, $8.99, ISBN 978-1-84970-137-2

Knight of the Blazing Sun by Josh Reynolds, Black Library, 2012, $8.99, ISBN 978-1-84970-141-9

I generally like the fantasy side of the Warhammer universe better than the science fiction side. There is more room for innovation and the stories are much more varied, although the writing level seems about the same. These two are fantasy and they are both, I believe, first novels. The first one was far more my cup of tea even though the plot - overthrowing a tyrant - is old hat. The conspirators this time include a homunculus who helps revive an ancient warrior who might be powerful enough to overcome the bad guy's magical allies. The dialogue is occasionally a bit stilted, possibly deliberately to suggest an archaic age, but otherwise it's competently and entertainingly written. The second is about as well written although the dialogue is frequently choppy. A group of knights disappears under mysterious circumstances and the protagonist goes searching for them. He has various adventures before and after finding them, but is troubled by disturbing dreams which suggest that something darkly evil is present. He's right. 2/22/12

Dreaming Awake by Gwen Hayes, NAL, 2012, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-451-23554-1

Sequel to Falling Under, which I considered horror, but this one feels more like a fantasy. In the first, a teenaged girl has erotic dreams in which she falls under the sway of a mysterious male figure, who then shows up as the new kid in school. The result is not the most traditional of romances, although it's nothing out of the ordinary. There's a created fantasy world, the Under, which casts its spell in our world, and sometimes the tension there works quite well. Unfortunately I found the protagonist to be frustratingly naive and shortsighted at times and while I accept that this might be true of a great many teenagers, it seems more of a contrivance to keep the plot churning. Not badly written and slightly better than the first, but still of limited appeal. 2/14/12

Shadow Heir by Richelle Mead, Zebra, 2012, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4201-1180-4

I've read and enjoyed some books by this author but this, the final volume in the Dark Swan series, is not among them. Our magically empowered protagonist sets off to protect her people from another menace, while dealing with complicating personal and romantic relationships and her about to be newborn children, the latter of which she pretty much ignores. The challenge isn't particularly interesting and the structure of the novel itself is disjointed, almost anecdotal, and seems more like the middle volume of a trilogy than the ending of a series. I also don't recall the protagonist being so woolly headed in the earlier books. Mead writes enjoyable prose, but this time her plot fails to live up that standard. 2/11/12

Pandemonium by Chris Wooding and Cassandra Diaz, Scholastic, 2012, $12.99, ISBN 978-0-439-87759-6

This graphic novel is a fantasy version of Anthony Hope's The Prisoner of Zenda. The main character is a commoner who just wants to see the world outside his village. When the local prince disappears, it precipitates a crisis and our hero is drafted to fill in for him temporarily since he's practically a twin. Naturally he has no trouble with the general public, but the prince's enemies know that he's not the real thing and they don't like disruptions to their plans. Not badly done. The artwork by Diaz has a vague feel of anime. No particularly striking images but it's nicely done and full color all the way through. 2/7/12

Luthor Huss by Chris Wraight, Black Library, 2012, $8.99, ISBN 978-1-84970-131-0

A new Warhammer novel. A witch hunter gets involved in the investigation of a series of murders which through a series of complications places him at the head of army, which will eventually interact with the title character, a sorcerer who is currently trying to protect his people from a plague of zombies. Predictably the two problems become interrelated and the two story lines eventually converge. I found this one to be surprisingly good reading despite the large array of cliches inevitable in a game tie-in novel. There are even a few creepy scenes sprinkled among the violence and the two main characters even have enough foibles that they rise a bit above the usual stereotyped images that prevail. A blend of traditional sword and sorcery and the contemporary obsession with the walking dead that actually works reasonably well. 2/5/12

Greatshadow by James Maxey, Solaris, 2012, $8.99, ISBN 978-1-907992-72-8

First volume of the Dragon Apocalypse. That and the blurb almost discouraged me from reading this one. The plot involves a female mercenary who joins a company which seeks to steal the treasure guarded by a famous and powerful dragon. The mission has conflicting purposes because some are in it for wealth and glory, but others are fanatics who want the dragon killed because of its mystical powers over humankind. Despite my trepidations, I found myself reading this with considerable pleasure, mostly because the interplay of characters was better than I had anticipated and the adventure, while nothing out of the ordinary, was well constructed and revealed. I tried to read Maxey's earlier trilogy and gave up on it very early, but perhaps I should go back and give it another try. 2/4/12

Babylon Steel by Gaie Sebold, Solaris, 2011, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-907992-38-4

There are signs that the urban fantasy trend may be abating somewhat. This debut novel has some of its attributes - feisty female, urban setting, wry humor, and a touch of romance - but it's set entirely in a fantasy world city. The protagonist, whose name is the title, is a brothel owner fallen on hard times because of protests against her business by religious fanatics so she agrees to take a job tracking down a missing girl, whose problems make up a secondary plot. There's some pretty explicit and kinky sex in this one, spicing up a mixture of adventure and mystery. The writing is fine, if occasionally a bit too cute. I'd read another of Steel's adventures, and something tells me I probably will. 1/29/12

Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon by Mark Hodder, Pyr, 2011, ISBN 978-1-61614-535-4

Third of the Burton & Swinburne books, and my favorite so far. Adventurer Richard Burton and his sidekick, poet Algernon Swinburne, are off on their wildest mission yet. It's an alternate version of the 1860s where the world is on the brink of an earlier world war than in our timeline. Possession of three occult stones of great power could alter the balance of power so our heroes and the nature of time itself has been changed, allowing the author to sample different time periods. This is apparently the final book in the series, which is a real shame as I was getting very fond of the characters. Hopefully Hodder's next project will be even better. 1/26/12

Tempest by Julie Cross, Thomas Dunne, 2011, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-312-56889-4

Some surprisingly good fantasy gets published in the young adult field, along with some equally surprisingly bad fantasy. This one, which one might argue is actually SF, falls somewhere in between. It's about a college student who can move back and forth in time. His visits to the past don't change the present, so he considers them mere jaunts with no consequences. But then mysterious assassins fatally wound his girlfriend and when he jumps back to 2007, he finds himself unaccountably stuck there.  And the assassins are after him, planning to recruit him into their organization. Comparisons to Steven Gould's Jumper are inevitable. There are a few shortcuts that I found a bit hard to believe, like having friends who can run DNA tests and answer highly technical questions or hack into computer systems, but for the most part this was a lot of fun. First in a projected series. 1/24/12

Under Attack by Hannan Jayne, Kensington, 2011, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7582-5893-9

I believe this is the second in an urban fantasy series about Sophie Lawson, a woman who is theoretically immune to magic.  In this one she has to deal with a fallen angel and his secretive plans involving the inevitable magical artifact. At the same time, someone is killing even supernatural characters and the demons themselves are upset about the state of affairs. When Sophie finds herself without a job, and with her mysterious love interest back but preoccupied, she finds herself launched on a series of sometimes bruising adventures.  About average of its type, with occasionally clever dialogue but nothing particularly interesting about the plot. 1/7/12

When the Saints by Dave Duncan, Tor, 2011, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2348-4

Even at the height of the high fantasy phase when I cringed at the sight of another sword swinging hero, besieged castle, or rampant dragon, I always looked forward to the next Dave Duncan novel. He could take even the most basic and familiar idea and spin it into a new shape and over the course of his career he has only managed to disappoint me once. This is not the second time. The setting is another small war, but in this case one side can call on supernatural assistant - saints or devils is not clear. There's someone on the other side who might also appeal for their help, but there is a strong religious prohibition against such things, and if he attempts to save his people, he might be branded a heretic in the process.  Above average for Duncan, although I still like the King's Blades series much more than anything else he's ever written, but even an average Duncan is worth a shelf full of lesser writers.  1/6/12

The Thirteen Hallows by Michael Scott and Colette Freedman, Tor, 2011, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2852-6

This is the first in a series that is technically fantasy although it has much the feel of a horror novel, involving several explicit murders and other mayhem. It reminded me a bit of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, my favorite collaborative team. The hallows of the title are magical artifacts sprinkled around the British Isles and the novel/series partially involves the quest to find them. Whether they are benevolent or malevolent is unclear, and in fact may depend more upon the motives of their possessors. The hallows were originally guarded by a secret order, but someone is murdering them systematically and stealing the artifacts. Our protagonist is enlisted in the job of delivering one of these to a new keeper, but ends up suspected of murder herself, and the chase is on. Folklore mixes with modern evil in this gripping and very effective suspense novel. It's a kind of fantasy we don't see very often. 1/6/12

The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson, Tor, 2011, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-3042-0

The world of the Mistborn series has progressed considerably in the three century gap between this and the previous book. There is electricity, railroads cross the land, and skyscrapers are appearing in the cities. The protagonist is an ex-lawman from a kind of Old West part of the world who gets involved in the investigation of a gang of unusual thieves when he comes to the big city. Needless to say, things don't proceed conventionally. Sanderson has an interesting magic system which he expands upon here, and the switch to quasi-steampunk is surprisingly smooth. You can find traces of the older Mistborn world here from time to time, but often they've been altered a bit by fading memories. The mystery plot itself is actually pretty good too, although I thought the novel's ending could have been stronger. This is not directly related to the earlier trilogy and appears to be a standalone despite the setting.  1/6/12

Kultus by Richard Ford, Solaris, 2011, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-907992-28-5

The protagonist of this one is a combination mercenary, psychic detective, etc. who takes on an all too familiar task, acquiring a magical artifact. The slight difference this time is that he lives in a steampunkish alternate version of England. The action here is straightforward and fast paced - you won't find much to surprise you. Ford's style is spare at times, but he keeps the plot flowing forward consistently. I found it a bit difficult to invest much interest in whether or not his protagonist actually succeeded, since he's such a disagreeable person, but then again, the various forces opposed to him are even worse.  Lightweight but agreeable. 1/6/12

Mercury Rises by Robert Kroese, Amazon Encore, 2011, $14.95, ISBN 9781612180861

Second in a series about a fallen angel - Mercury - who wants to prevent the world from sliding into apocalypse. And there's certainly plenty of possible disasters to choose among. This time - I haven't seen the first in the series - the central focus is a megalomaniac who wants to perform a dangerous scientific experiment that could bring the universe to an end. There are enemies both human and inhuman, and an underlying sense of humor that makes things a bit hard to take really seriously, which undermines the suspenseful elements. The story also jumps around in time a bit. The best part is Mercury's encounter with Noah and the "truth" about the Ark.  Fun, and there's a final volume promised.  1/5/12

Virtual Virgin by Carole Nelson Douglas, Pocket, 2011, $7/99, ISBN 978-1-4391-6779-3

This installment in another urban fantasy series has something for everyone, vampires, robots, zombies, romance, action, mystery, and even some humor. Sequel to Silver Zombie, which I haven't seen, it features Delilah Street, a paranormal investigator and recent conversion to vampirism, of the relatively benevolent variety. Her problem is that a self aware robot, who happens to be a tool of a gang run by demons, has the hots for Delilah's boyfriend. Much of this is standard material but Douglas adds a touch of flare and maybe because I haven't read much of this subgenre recently, this one seemed more original and entertaining than most. Have to look for the first in the series. 1/5/12

A Dance of Dragons by George R.R. Martin, Bantam, 2011, $35, ISBN 978-0-553-80147-7

The latest and longest installment in Martin's epic fantasy answers some questions and raises many more. This volume follows the adventures of approximately half of the cast of characters including my favorite, Tyrion Lannister. The wars among the various would be kings begin to whittle the numbers somewhat and a few more of the regulars die - one of which came as a considerable surprise to me. There's trouble along the great wall to the north, among the distant slaver kingdoms, and all around fallen Winterfell.  It's hard to call this a great novel because it's really only part of a novel with no beginning or end, but it's great, whatever it is.  I've never had 1000 pages go by so quickly.  But now I have to settle down for a longish wait for the next one.  1/1/12

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