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

 LAST UPDATE 3/28/15

The Unremembered by Peter Orullian, Tor, 2015, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-7987-0

This is a revised version of an epic fantasy novel published a few years ago which I never saw, with an added short story and glossary, apparently designed to boost sales of a sequel. The plot is pretty generic. The gods have decided to disinvolve themselves from the world, which means that the barrier that keeps evil inhuman creatures out is no longer impermeable and the world becomes a much more dangerous place. There's a quest involving a small number of - as usual - unlikely companions, a series of adventures, gradual revelation of the nature of some mysteries and the evocation of others to be pursued presumably in future volumes. The writing is fine, the characters are as well drawn as is the case in most of the upper stratum of epic fantasy, and the world is a reasonably interesting place. The plot, however, is so familiar that you could almost interpose it in any of the other similar series - I was particularly reminded of early Robert Jordan and David Eddings - and that suggests some wasted potential. 4/28/15

Pip Bartlett's Guide to Magical Creatures by Jackson Pearce & Maggie Stiefvater, Scholastic, 2015, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-545-70926-2

This is for younger readers, but it's kind of cute. Pip is the daughter of a veterinarian who specializes in treating magical creatures, and Pip herself can communicate with them. She discovers that some of the recorded lore about various creatures is inaccurate but manages to solve a series of small crises involving them through ingenuity and resourcefulness. Some readers may find the cuteness a bit overwrought but it's a kind of modern fairy tale. Illustrated. 3/21/15

Throne of Darkness by Douglas Nicholas, Emily Bestler, 2015, $16, ISBN 978=1-4757-5598-4

I have never been much of a fan of historical fantasy, although obviously there are exceptions. This one takes place in the early 13th Century around the signing of the Magna Carta. King John has recruited a necromancer to help him subjugate the Irish tribes and their queen is desperate for a countermeasure. She will find a magical ally in an unexpected place in time to turn back the threat. I liked this more than I expected to, and that is largely because the writing was so good that I got carried into the story despite my predisposition. I believe this is the first book I've read by this author, and I suspect it will not be the last.  3/14/15

Bloodlands by Christine Cody,  Ace, 2011   

First in a trilogy by Chris Marie Green, who writes vampire novels under her own name. This is a blend of science fiction, fantasy, and horror elements and itís an uneasy alliance. The world has changed and part of the western US is now a wasteland inhabited by a handful of people with high tech devices and genetically engineered animals Ė and a vampire. I was initially rather put off by the prose style, which is way overdone. The protagonist is reminded of a gunfighter revealing his weapon by the way a wounded manís eyes blink.  How does that work? It doesnít remotely make sense. How does your heartbeat tangle?  The effort to merge the Old West with modern vampirism is intriguing but the prose is so far off the mark that I wonít be reading the two sequels. 3/11/15

Pirate's Promise by Chris A. Jackson, Paizo, 2015, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-60125-664-5

I've been a fan of pirate stories since I discovered Rafael Sabatini back in my teens. This new Pathfinder tie-in novel has a pirate captain as protagonist, although there's not much of the kind of swashbuckling I expected. He is recruited as a spy and finds himself in a precarious position, menaced by the forces of law and order as well as bands of slavers. The closing chapters have more swash and buckling with chases, fights, escapes, and trickery. This is a follow up to the author's earlier Pirate's Honor, which I thought was only so-so. This one is a much better story and I found myself more invested in the characters than I had before. 2/23/15

Nightblade by Liane Merciel, Paizo, 2015, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-60125-662-1

A Pathfinder Tales tie-in novel involving sorcery and swordplay. The protagonist was once in training to be a sorcerer himself but he broke away from what he considered an evil organization. He is recruited for a quest - it's almost always a quest in sword and sorcery stories - to sneak into a well guarded dungeon and recover some magical weapons that are powerful enough to kill demons and other creatures. He has the inevitable group of varied companions, some of whom have agendas of their own, and they encounter a variety of obstacles and menaces along the way. A bit darker than most of the other books in the series, and that's a good thing. 2/16/15

Madness in Solidar by L.E. Modesitt Jr., Tor, 2015, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-7985-6

Ninth book in the Imager Portfolio series. Much time has passed and the Collegium that governs magic has fallen into decline. Although appearances are kept up, it has also lost its influence with the secular authorities. The current ruler is facing an open revolt by his underlings and when a new man comes to head the Collegium he faces what appear to be insurmountable problems both internal and external. The most dangerous situation is that the Collegium has become the symbol of the struggle, with the nobles wanting to eliminate it and the ruler pressuring it to become an instrument of his battle against his followers. There seem to be no good guys and no way out for our protagonist, but he has the author on his side, and that's an enormous advantage. The conflict is more intellectual and political than physical this time but the author always delivers an entertaining story and this continues to be my favorite among his various series. 2/15/15

Dreamwalker by C.S. Friedman, DAW, 2014, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7564-0964-7

This is I believe the first DAW book I have seen in a bookstore in at least three months, and it's a reprint of a hardcover. The protagonist is a young woman who has had very vivid dreams all of her youth, so vivid that her game programmer brother makes use of some of the details in his work. The brother is supposedly the only person who knows about the dreams, but that proves to be untrue when a mysterious woman begins taking a decidedly unpleasant interest in her. Then the brother gets kidnapped and you can pretty well fill in your own plot summary from this point on. Protagonist goes to the rescue, discovers her dream worlds actually exist and that she has a very rare power to access them.  This is the first in a series. I've enjoyed almost everything I've read by Friedman and despite its predictability this one is entertaining enough that I will watch for the sequels. Hopefully they'll be easier to find. 2/14/15

Out from Boneville by Jeff Smith, Scholastic, 2015, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-545-80070-9

Bone is the name of the central characters in this collection of full color graphic adventures, most of which were previously published during the 1990s. The feel of this comic is a lot like Pogo Possum, though perhaps a bit darker. They have various adventures together and separately. The artwork is very distinctive and the humor, though at times grim, is generally  clever. This is a new edition with a bunch of new artwork included as a bonus, but no additional adventures. I'm not a big fan of graphic novels, but I make exceptions when they're this good. 2/14/15

Half-Resurrection Blues by Daniel Jose Older, Roc, 2015, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-27598-6

First in a new urban fantasy series. I hadn't read any of these in a while so this partially escaped the same old same old syndrome. It's set in an alternate New York City where ghosts and the living intermingle. The protagonist is stuck between life and death, resurrected in physical form but bereft of his memories. He acts as an agent for a kind of supernatural council and he is pitted against another similar to him who is a powerful sorcerer. The sorcerer is upsetting the balance between life and afterlife and the consequences could be catastrophic. Obviously our hero saves the world, discovering his own past in the process. Well enough written, different enough to have a fresh feel if you haven't overdosed on urban fantasy recently. And there's more to come.  2/11/15

The Eterna Files by Leanna Renee Hieber, Tor, 2015, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-3674-3

Following the death of Abraham Lincoln, a secret society was formed for the purpose of finding a way to magically provide invulnerability to future presidents. The group is virtually wiped out by an unknown enemy and one of the survivors finds it difficult to live with the possibility that she may have led them to their deaths. Meanwhile a British agent is looking into the matter clandestinely at the behest of Queen Victoria. I enjoy the Victorian period so this tale of clashing magic, clashing societies, and clashing ideals was quite enjoyable although I must admit that I wasn't entirely satisfied with the end, which I won't spoil by detailing here. It is more a matter of taste than storytelling  in any case. I will read more by this author. 2/4/15

Death Mask by Alex Archer, Gold Eagle, 2015, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-373-52172-9

I've read so many adventures of Annja Creed and her magic sword that each new one is like watching the latest episode of a television show. The basis for this one, actually written by Steven Savile, is less grandiose than most. A friend of hers has been kidnapped and he will dies within hours unless you acquires and turns over to the bad guys an archaeological artifact of peculiar importance. So part of this is as much a mystery novel as an adventure, although there's plenty of action as always to move things along. This one's about average for the series, but the formula is so similar from one book to the next that it is admittedly difficult to pick out any of them as exceptionally good or bad. 2/1/15

Righteous Fury by Markus Heitz, Jo Fletcher, 2015, $24.99, ISBN 978-1-62365-883-0

This author - who writes in German - is new to me although he has written a popular fantasy series about dwarves which I have never see in a bookstore. This is also the first volume in a series.  It's set in a more or less familiar fantasy realm where war is imminent and one side has decided that adding a demon as an ally is likely to improve their chances. This seems like a dubious ploy to me, but what do I know? There is also a major disagreement about whether the war should be about protecting the existing borders between the sides or in expanding the territory of the protagonists to make them more powerful in the long run. There's the usual flurry of palace intrigues, and intrigues elsewhere, some exciting action sequences, and an ending that is not, of course, the end since there are more books to come. This one read quite well but it didn't provide any new wrinkles to the genre and at times I had a feeling of deja vu. 1/22/15

The Wide World's End by James Enge, Pyr, 2015, $18, ISBN 978-1-61614-907-9

This is a prequel to the author's series about Morlock Ambrosius, covering a new and dangerous period in his life. Ambrosius is a wanderer and and a swordsman who lives in a world where magic is both widespread and varied. In this adventure the world is in peril because of an inhuman plot to steal the world's light and turn it into a frozen wasteland. There is an opposing force, of course, but it looks like the longstanding battle might finally be tilting in the direction of the bad guys. Ambrosius' wife plays defense while he goes on offense, penetrating the enemy's land to find a way to disrupt their plans. This appears to be the last in an above average series which mixes broad adventure with a relatively novel fantasy landscape. 1/17/15

Covenant's End by Ari Marmell, Pyr, 2015, $17.99, ISBN 978-1-61614-986-4

Fourth in the Widdershins series, which is ostensibly for young adults but which reads pretty much like an adult fantasy, although it's shorter than is currently fashionable. Widdershins is a reformed thief and some times tavern keeper who spent a year away from home in the last book, and returns now to discover that her arch enemy has acquired an array of supernatural powers. Her enemy also has influence with the local rulers and our young protagonist has a spotty history regarding legality. Their battle - rarely in the open - goes on for a while and ends somewhat predictably, although the aftermath may take readers of the series by surprise. This is the final volume although the author suggests in a postscript that he may well return to the world of Widdershins some time in the future. A pretty good series throughout. 1/16/15

The Whispering Swarm by Michael Moorcock, Tor, 2014, $26.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2477-1   

First in a fantasy trilogy by the nearly legendary Michael Moorcock, although fans should be aware that this bears no resemblance to the sword and sorcery adventure stories for which he is perhaps best known. Nor is this linked to the Multiverse except indirectly. The protagonist is the young Michael Moorcock, and undoubtedly a great deal of what we are shown is genuinely autobiographical. He encounters as White Friar who introduces him to Alsacia, a hidden area within London which can only be seen by a very few and whose inhabitants seem to be drawn from various times and alternate histories. This fairly long book is mostly an introduction to its wonders, some of which are fascinating, but at times I felt impatient for the plot to move on from some point it was elaborating needlessly. I did ultimately find it very enjoyable but I took a break half way through to read something else when my interest flagged. 1/15/15

An Opened Grave by L. Frank James, Salt Works, 2006 

I only finished this religiously themed Sherlock Holmes story because itís quite short. Although the prose is rather awkward, the first few chapters werenít dreadful. Holmes comes out of retirement for a new case which makes him question his own sanity and world view after he witnesses an apparent miracle. This drives him to investigate the truth of the death and resurrection of Jesus and from that point on we are essentially listening to a sermon, not surprisingly since the author is a pastor. No entertainment value whatsoever. 1/7/15

Blood Will Follow by Snorri Kristjansson, Jo Fletcher, 2014, $24.99, ISBN 978-1623658724

Sequel to Swords of Good Men, which was more historical adventure than fantasy, although it moves further from reality this time. The two heroes have just survived a battle between Christian converts and Norse traditionalists and thanks to a witch they are now blessed, or cursed, with the inability to die. The two travel very separate ways for two separate strings of adventures while other characters also come and go and sometimes we follow their viewpoints. Eventually there is the inevitable quest to find the source of magic powers, which similarly may not be entirely a good thing to possess. There's treachery near the end and the book concludes with the lead in for the next volume, a journey for vengeance, if not justice. I've never been a fan of Viking adventure stories but this one held my interest and I found it much improved over the first in the series. 1/1/15

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