to Fantasy Reviews  

  of Fantasy Reviews
 

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

 LAST UPDATE 3/29/13

Age of Voodoo by James Lovegrove, Solaris, 2013, $8.99, ISBN 978-1-78108-086-3

I haven't seen many Solaris titles lately and wondered if they had gone under, so spotting this one in a bookstore was something of a surprise. It's the latest in Lovegrove's series of thematically related novels each of which features a different pantheon of gods. Unlike the others, this one is set in our familiar world and bears a lot of resemblance to mainstream thrillers that add a touch of the fantastic. The protagonist is a semi-retired government hitman who is prevailed upon to engage in one last mission to the Caribbean. They infiltrate a secret installation which has melded modern science with voodoo magic to create monstrous creatures, who obviously are intent upon eliminating our hero and his companions - and maybe the rest of the world as well because the experimenters have awakened something more powerful than they had anticipated and if that being becomes fully aware, the world will change forever. It's almost redundant to say that a Lovegrove novel is worth reading, so I'll be redundant. This one is fun, and suspenseful. 3/29/13

Yamada Monogatari: Demon Hunter by Richard Parks, Prime, 2013, $14.95, ISBN 978-1-60701-383-9

Oriental fantasies have always appealed to me, perhaps in part because there are relatively few of them. Richard Parks is one of the few consistent and relatively prolific writers of short fantasy fiction. So combining the two into a single book was enough to convince me to buy this one. The protagonist, living in ancient Japan, is a kind of Elric figure, a fallen nobleman who has to make a living battling demons and other supernatural creatures out of Japanese mythology. He even has a sidekick, a somewhat less than competent sorceror. But where Elric was a simple character who occasionally gave vent to his guilty angst but showed few other emotions, Yamada is much more fully drawn over the course of the ten stories included here. The first two plus "Sanji's Demon" are probably the strongest in the collection but the stories are quite good and despite some superficial similarities quite varied as well. It's very hard to do this kind of story well at short length, but Parks carries it off again and again. 3/28/13

Portrait of Jennie by Robert Nathan, Popular Library, 1967 (originally published in 1939) 

This is certainly Nathanís best known work, a very short novel about an artist who has a series of strange encounters. He meets Jennie first as a child and when he draws a sketch of her, he is able to sell it to an art studio. Then she reappears a couple of years older, still acting as though she was living in the past. Itís a ghost story, but tragic and sentimental rather than frightening, and while it is only long enough to be considered a novella by contemporary standards, it has all the emotional content of a much longer piece.  Thereís a movie version, which I have never seen but which I have ordered. 3/26/13

Staff of Judea by Alex Archer, Gold Eagle, 2013, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-373-62161-3

Who says pulp novels are dead? This long running series - Archer is a house pseudonym and this installment is by Joe Nassise - says otherwise. Other than a handful that I've missed, I've read all of these and while they are pretty obviously written to a formula, I've almost always been entertained. Annja Creed is an archaeologist - think Tomb Raider - who acquired a magical sword and a mentor in the first volume and who has been thwarting groups of villains intent upon capturing ancient artifacts, sometimes magical ones, ever since. This time she's tracking down a lost temple despite the natural (sandstorms) and unnatural (saboteurs) dangers. The temple is rumored to hold Aaron's staff, a magical artifact that might be even more powerful than Joan of Arc's sword. Nothing deep here, just good light adventure. 3/20/13

Trinity Rising by Elspeth Cooper, Tor, 2013, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-3166-3

Sequel to Songs of the Earth, set in a world where music is a key to magic and its use is frowned upon. Unintentionally or not, the series is a scathing indictment of religious fanaticism. Our two protagonists are on the run following events in the first book, which allows the author to introduce us to new settings and new characters. There is also the almost inevitable ancient artifact of great power to consider. Elsewhere the female lead is concerned that the local religious leaders appear to be behind a movement toward war and conquest, although she senses that there is more happening under the surface than is readily apparent. Her prescient ability - which as usual has limited utility - has also suggested that there is great tragedy in the near future. Cooper is an engaging storyteller who has chosen here a perhaps over familiar story, added a few interesting twists, and delivers a story worth the price. If it was not such a well trodden path, she might have made a bigger splash by now. 3/14/15

The War Hound and the Worldís Pain by Michael Moorcock, Pocket, 1981 

The first of the Von Bek novels, and a decided upturn from the last several Moorcock novels. Von Bek is a military leader who makes a deal with Lucifer during the Thirty Years War. Lucifer was actually trying to prove he could create a better world, but his plans have obviously gone awry. He wants Von Bek to find the Holy Grail, hoping this will restore tranquility to the world and peace between Earth and Heaven.  Although our hero agrees to the quest, he believes it to be impossible and has serious doubts about not only Lucifer but God himself. Moorcockís work became generally more thoughtful and philosophical from this point onward, sometimes to the detriment of the story, but this one is close to the top of his work. 3/14/13

The Enchanted Voyage by Robert Nathan, Knopf, 1936 

This is a very light fantasy novel, and also the first Nathan novel I ever read. The protagonist is a rather henpecked man who built a fake boat in his yard as a place of refuge from his wife. When she sells the boat to a neighbor, she puts wheels on it to facilitate its removal from their property. Our hero is in the boat when a heavy wind comes up, fills the sails, and the boat is off on a landbound voyage down the road to Virginia before it ends. Along the way he picks up two passengers Ė a waitress unhappy with her life and a wandering dentist who doesnít really have one. The twosome are eventually romantically involved in a very restrained fashion as all three have some light adventures. The theme is obviously the need to escape from the humdrum in order to find happiness and itís nicely told in Nathanís usual very understated fashion. 3/8/13

The Bane of the Black Sword by Michael Moorcock, DAW, 1977

The Weird of the White Wolf by Michael Moorcock, DAW, 1977 

Both of these short Elric novels draw upon material previously published in Stealer of Souls and The Singing Citadel to fashion new episodic novels about the doomed antihero. Having precipitated the death of the woman he loved after betraying the kingdom he once ruled, Elric travels into the lands of the barbaric humans for a series of adventures involving sorcery, treachery, fiendish creatures, and even more fiendish men. The individual sections have the original titles so you can pick your way through this if youíve already read the previous ones, although it looks like at least some of them have been revised. Moorcock recently reorganized the Elric stories yet again for another series of titles, so this is even more confusing. Much of this is from early in his career when Moorcockís heroic fantasy felt fresher and more enthusiastic. 3/7/13

The Sailor on the Seas of Fate by Michael Moorcock, DAW, 1976 

Elric returned in this addition to his early wanderings. Once again we are reminded that Elric is only one manifestation of the eternal champion and once again our protagonist is adrift in time and space. This time he is joined by Erekose and Dorian Hawkmoon and Corum and others in still another quest to find Tanelorn. Various adventures and some swordplay follow but the authorís heart isnít in it and I very much suspect that he had lost all interest in heroic fantasy by now. The usual assortment of coincidences help him overcome his adversaries once again. Technically, I believe, this is now considered the second chronologically in the Elric series, although there have been so many rewrites and retitles that it is difficult to know for certain.2/28/13

Freaks by Kieran Larwood, Chicken House, 2013, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-545-52062-1   

This novel for younger readers is a kind of blend of Victorian steampunk and superheroes. The protagonists are three children traveling with a circus, each of whom has unusual powers. One is sort of a wereling, one is a super ninja, and one can climb like a monkey and drop stinkbombs on his opponents. The three have various adventures while trying to solve the mystery of disappearing street children as well as some peripheral problems. Quite well written of its type although a bit light for a more mature audience. This is probably the first in a series. 2/24/13

Elsewhens by Melanie Rawn, Tor, 2013, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2877-9 

The latest Rawn novel is a sequel to Touchstone and features the magically endowed theater troupe led by a wizard and an elf. The details of the interrelationships among the cast members are at the heart of the story because the magic that immerses the audiences completely in the performances is also potentially dangerous. The wizard also has an unusual ability to see into the future and sometimes what he sees there is very worrying. They are employed with a mission to a part of the world that does not tolerate magic - and the reasoning for this is not entirely convincing - but having passed that mild bump the story that follows is exciting and quite original for a fantasy novel, most of which tend to treat things much more conventionally. I sometimes find Rawn's fantasies a bit too conventional for my tastes but this series is definitely something I will continue to follow.  2/18/13

The Porcelain Magician by Frank Owen, Gnome, 1948    

This is a collection of Oriental fantasies, published individually during the 1930s, most of them in Weird Tales. They have the feel of fairy tales although they are not based on actual legends. The title story is perhaps the best in the book. An artist in porcelain paints poisonous insects on tiles which mortally wound Japanese invaders who tread upon the.  Other stories feature a woman who can take on the guise of seductive youth, a house built into the ground as the home for a young girl who has never seen the sky, and other fantastic subject matter, some of it light, some quite dark. Although hardly a classic, this is a good collection and Iím rather surprised that it has never been reprinted. 2/17/13

Liar's Blade by Tim Pratt, Paizo, 2013, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-60125-515-0

A Pathfinder novel, although it's really just a generic sword and sorcery adventure. This one has a very engaging, roguish anti-hero, a professional con man with a talking sword who lets himself get talked into am apparently typical quest for a magical artifact in a dangerous land. He figures the trip is good for some ready cash at minimal risk, and his companions are tolerable if not his favorite people. But as they set out on their trip, a subtle change begins to overtake the group that suggests there may be more going on than he originally anticipated. And even talking swords have their secrets. A good set of adventures, a nice cast of characters, an engaging mystery, and smoothly written prose. 2/15/13

The Quest for Tanelorn by Michael Moorcock, Dell, 1975  

Third in the second set of Dorian Hawkmoon novels. Moorcock seemed to be coasting in this trilogy, which actually does involve much in the way of plot at all. He recovered his dead wife from an alternate world in the previous book and now heís trying to similarly recover his currently non-existent children. Hawkmoon doesnít spend quite so much time feeling sorry for himself this time, but he dreams a lot about his other existences as the eternal champion again, which ups the word count but fails to advance the story.  In order to complete his quest, he must find the mysterious city of Tanelorn, which exists in all realities although not always in the same form. There are modest problems to be overcome but little of the inventiveness that made Moorcockís earlier fantasies so fascinating. 2/13/13

The Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan, Tor, 2013, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-3196-0 

Fantasy writers almost constantly focus their stories on the extraordinary people in their created worlds, by which they mean princes and princesses, heroes, legendary thieves, rebels, etc.  They much rarely acknowledge that sometimes the most extraordinary people are those concerned with much less grandiose pursuits. This very fine novel is a case in point. The protagonist is a young woman who becomes devoted to the pursuit of knowledge about dragons, and she sets out on a series of journeys to discover everything she wants to know. There are adventures, of course, and mysteries to be solved, but in this instance swinging a sword or casting a spell is not the solution. Getting what we want is generally hard work. I've enjoyed all of Brennan's previous novels to one degree or another but I think this is the one I am most likely to remember twenty years from now. 2/11/13

The Bishopís Wife by Robert Nathan, 1928

There Is Another Heaven by Robert Nathan, 1929   

Two fantasy novels by Nathan. The first was made into a movie I havenít seen in years. The bishop of an unnamed church decides that only an angel from Heaven can fill the job as his archdeacon, and one promptly shows up.  The bishopís wife believes that she is happy with her marriage, but thatís not really true. The bishop, who is the only one who knows the newcomerís true nature, finds himself annoyed and disapproving of the angelís ďliberalĒ ideas, as well as being jealous that he is no longer the pinnacle of rectitude in the community, even though he is the only one aware of that fact. The wife and the angel become attracted to one another, much to the consternation of all concerned. Moments of humor, but this is actually a rather said story, though nicely told. The second novel opens literally with two men strolling along the approaches to Heaven and exchanging their life stories. They discover that people in Heaven are very much like they were on Earth, with all their faults. Amusing at times, but like much of Nathanís early work, more bittersweet than not. 2/10/13

The Aylesford Skull by James P. Blaylock, Titan, 2013, $14.95, ISBN 978-0857689795   

Langdon St Ives returns for a new adventure in this steampunkish fantasy.  He and his family are relaxing in a remote part of England when his old nemesis, Dr. Narbondo, attempts to poison them all. The next day he learns that Narbondo has just committed another murder and stolen a skull which has some special powers. He also sees the ghost of a young boy, his brother, whose skull Narbondo has stolen. Lots of chases, fights, and derring do, some of it involving a zeppelin, follow in due course as Narbondo kidnaps Langdonís son, threatening to sell his skull to parties unknown. A topnotch adventure story and a nice mix of steampunk and fantasy elements. I did think it was a bit longer than it should have been Ė some of the subsidiary stories interfered with the pacing at times Ė but not so much that I didnít enjoy it thoroughly. 2/4/13

Imagerís Battalion by L.E. Modesitt Jr., Tor, 2013, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-3283-7 

Sixth in the Imager series, one of the authorís best sequences, although a lot of it is basically the same mix of pitched battles and court intrigues common to most of his other work. As it happens, he does this very well, particularly the clandestine plots, confrontations, and revelations, so much so that the physical events seem almost an afterthought at times. His character is a non-heroic hero, that is, he has constant doubts about his own ability to live up to the standards he sets for himself, and is constantly are of the risks of failure. This is smartly done fantasy adventure, which is harder to do and much less common than you might think. Modesitt is sometimes criticized for repeating his themes and plot elements, but he seems to get matter at them on each new pass. 2/3/13

Under the Gun by Hannah Jayne, Kensington, 2013, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7582-8110-4   

Fourth in the Underworld Detective Agency series, a slightly atypical paranormal fantasy series that edges toward the horror end of the spectrum. The protagonist is a female operative who has an immunity to magic, though werewolves and vampires can kill her just as dead with ordinary physical attacks. This time she answers a call for help from an old friend who is being troubled by a pair of murderous werewolves, while also dealing with the demons and vampires with whom she works in a not entirely peaceful office environment. Thereís a romantic interest as well. Light adventure mixed with even lighter mystery, but enjoyable. 1/29/13

The Eldritch Conspiracy by Cat Adams, Tor, 2013, $14,99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2874-8 

Urban fantasy often overlaps with horror, but his one is pretty clearly the former despite the fact that the protagonist is half vampire. Itís the fifth in the Celia Graves series, the first couple of which I found rather darker. Graves is also half-siren, as it happens, and employed as a bodyguard to a princess about to be married to the King of Rusland. Unfortunately, a number of people believe that she has enchanted him and at least some of those objecting have decided to resort to assassination to prevent the match from being consummated.  Her efforts to protect her charge are intertwined with ongoing back stories involving her mother and her romantic interest, but these arenít so intrusive as to seriously impede the central plot. 1/26/13

The Silver Warriors by Michael Moorcock, Dell, 1973   

The second adventure of Erekose, also published as Phoenix in Obsidian. This is my least favorite of Moorcockís heroic fantasy series, following The Eternal Champion, in which he exterminates the human race to protect another species. Now he is wrenched out of his world for an icebound land where the silver warriors of the title are invading and destroying everything they encounter. Once more he takes up his sword and by his presence saves the day. All of Moorcockís heroes indulge in self pity but Erekose, under whatever guise, always seems to take it to extremes. This undoubtedly makes me more sensitive to the other artifacts of the story, the coincidences primarily. My opinion of this one has not improved with time. 1/23/13

The Devilís Looking Glass by Mark Chadbourn, Pyr, 2013, $17.95, ISBN 978-1-61614-700-6   

Third in the Swords of Albion series. John Dee has gone missing. Even worse, he is believed to be in possession of a powerful magical artifact that could potentially cause world wide disaster. Our hero is sent to find him, but discovers a much more personal reason for pursuing the case, a clue to the disappearance of his lost love. As various natural and supernatural dangers move closer, he is off to the Americas to avoid human and elfin enemies and find the missing man, the missing artifact, and some missing answers as well. Fast paced fantasy adventure in a quasi-historical setting Ė itís not quite our 16th Century after all Ė from one of the more reliable hands at this kind of adventure. 1/21/13

The Champion of Garathorm by Michael Moorcock, Dell, 1973

The sixth book of Dorian Hawkmoon has him descending into madness from grief at discovering that reality has been changed and his wife is dead. In fact, he wallows in self pity so much that I thoroughly disliked him by page forty.  Then he is stirred to life by rumors of an army of mismatched soldiers in the Ukraine which includes people supposedly long dead, wondering if the love of his life might be among their number. Halfway through the book, Hawkmoon is transported against his will to another branch of the multiverse to defend another beleaguered people, but the clever variations that made most of the earlier uses of this formula entertaining are almost completely lacking this time around and the action is pedestrian at best.  He defeats the bad guys, who have benefited from a rift in the multiverse, finds his lost love, and seems to resolve everything Ė but thereís another adventure coming. 1/15/13

Count Brass by Michael Moorcock, Dell, 1973 

Dorian Hawkmoon returns in this, the first of a trilogy. His reputation is at risk because of the appearance of what appear to be the ghosts of his old friends who died battling the Dark Empire in the first series of books. He confronts them and they mutually decide that they are all the victims of a plot, possibly involving transferring them from an alternate universe as part of a plot to kill Hawkmoon and restore the Empire. As his friends are eliminated one by one, Hawkmoon must ultimately travel to an alternate world where the evil empire still exists and attempt to destroy it once again. He does so, after a fashion, but ends up in another reality where the woman he loves died and Count Brass lived, a circumstance so bizarre that he loses his sanity. At least until the next book in the series. 1/13/13

The Shadow Mask by Lin Oliver & Theo Baker, Scholastic, 2013, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-545-19694-0   

Sequel to Sound Bender, which was quasi-SF. This moves closer to fantasy. The young protagonist has psychometry Ė he can tell the history of an object by touching or listening to it. Whether this is psi or magic is up to the reader. In the second book, he is chafing under the restrictions of his guardian uncle when he learns of a strange mask which might throw light on some family secrets. The catch is that the mask is on the other side of the world and its owners might not want to part with it. Fair story, competently told, but I didnít care much for the characters. 1/9/13

The Oak and the Ram by Michael Moorcock, Berkley, 1973 

In order to unite the five surviving human kingdoms against six magical creatures who are destroying the world, Corum sets off with a cloak of invisibility to rescue their high king, who is being held captive in territory long lost to the invaders. He does so, but then must go on a second quest to acquire a means to cure the high king, who is subject to a terrible spell. A man whom we suspected of nefariousness in the previous book shows his true colors and an enemy from the first trilogy returns from Limbo to oppose our hero once again.  There is also an army of men whose blood has been replaced by pine sap and others who are essentially zombies with no will but a trace of intelligence. This second book in the second trilogy also has an actual ending, but there are still five of the evil giants to battle in the final installment. 1/6/13

The Sword and the Stallion by Michael Moorcock, Berkley, 1973 

The final adventure of Corum. The last surviving humans have come together to conduct a desperate assault on the evil giants who have conquered most of the world. Corum is aided by two other supernatural beings, but the odds are still against them so he decides to risk venturing to a forbidden island, supposedly home to a magically powerful race of mysterious beings. There also he assumes he will confront his alternate self, whom prophecy has said may kill Corum.  Like most of Moorcockís fantasy, this is very dark and most of the characters die including, ultimately, Corum himself. I confess that I found the self pity a bit overdone in this latter series but the adventures are still inventive enough to be interesting. 1/6/13

Kalimpura by Jay Lake, Tor, 2013, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2677-5 

Although I enjoyed the first two adventures of Green, a young woman in a rather cleverly designed fantasy world, I found it much more difficult to get into this one, although the plot is certainly lively enough. Green is still in trouble with a variety of supernatural beings whose interest in her results from her earlier escapades.  In short order she is enlisted in an effort to rescue two young girls, a venture which will only deepen her involvement in the various political organizations in the city, complicating her already complicated life. I liked the second half a lot better so it might just have been the mood I was in, but the first half seemed unusually slow and unnecessarily detailed. 1/5/13

The Bull and the Spear by Michael Moorcock, Berkley, 1973  

The fourth book of Corum, which takes him into his own distant future where a handful of gigantic creatures with supernatural powers are threatening to kill the human population and turn the world into a frozen rock. In order to turn the tide of battle, Corum must find certain mystical weapons lost some time in the past, in this case the two mentioned in the title. He does so after various adventures and helps a handful of humans resist an overwhelming attack force by the mysterious giants. Although thereís a definite end to the story, the bad guys are still around to menace anew in the next volume. Embellished by a handful of unusual characters. 1/4/13

The Paladin Prophecy by Mark Frost, Random House, 2012, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-375-87045-3   

One of my all time favorite novels is The List of 7 by Mark Frost, so when I noticed this new novel I picked it up even though itís a YA with a plot description that sounded rather familiar. The protagonist is a teenager who has extraordinary mental and physical capabilities which his family has been at pains to conceal. But eventually the cat is out of the bag and men in mysterious dark cars are chasing him. There are lots of coincidences and so many odd events in such a short span of time that itís a bit overkill. Small goof Ė turning off your cell phone does not render the GPS unit inside it inoperable; you have to remove the battery. The plot isnít very plausible, even for a YA, and once I reached the point where I could no longer suspend my disbelief, it was simply slogging until the end. Very disappointing. 1/1/13

MORE REVIEWS