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

 LAST UPDATE 2/18/18

The Fox Woman by A. Merritt, Avon, 1949

Abraham Merritt was not a prolific writer and this collected all of his short fiction except his contributions to a couple of multi-author serials. The title story, set in a remote Chinese temple where women can turn into foxes, was supposed to be the fuirst part of a novel, but Merritt never completed it. Hannes Bok later wrote a sequel. "The People of the Pit" is a fairly creepy story about a lost, nonhuman civilization in the Yukon. "Through the Dragon Glass" is a visit to an alternate reality. "The Drone" is a very minor piece about shapechangers. "The Last Poet and the Robots" is a pretty awful excursion into SF. "Three Lines of Old French" is an overly sentimental story whose popularity I have never understood. "The White Road" is a fragment of an uncompleted story with no plot. "When Old Gods Wake" was also a fragment, possibly intended as the opening of a novel. "The Women of the Wood" suggests that it's not nice to abuse mother nature. Not as impressive as his novels but still worth while. 2/18/18

Blade and Bone by Jon Sprunk, Pyr, 2018, $18, ISBN 978-1-63388-269-0

Everything comes to a boil in the third book in this series. A slave rebellion threatens to completely reorder the power structure of a fantasy world. The protagonist is an ex-slave who, way back in the opening volume, discovered that he had magical talents which eventually led to his leadership role in overthrowing the slave owners. But he's not the only one in the world who can use magic. His allies are involved in managing the more practical aspects of a major uprising, but despite initial successes, the enemy is far from defeated. Not the least of them is a mysterious sorcerer who can and has raised an army of the undead and who appears poised to reverse everything that has been accomplished, and perhaps make things even worse than they were before. This is not a trilogy, so we don't get all the answers. A nice blend of intrigue, adventure, and suspense on a large scale and against a nicely constructed backdrop. 2/16/18

The Fall of the House of Cabal by Jonathan L. Howard, Thomas Dunne, 2016

The fifth adventure of Johannes Cabal, Necromancer, is somewhat episodic and revisits events from the first four books. There is a suggestion that this is the end of the series, but there are loose ends and other indications that the author is keeping his options open. Cabal and his vampire brother team up with a were-spider devil, a witch, and an old sometimes adversary on a quest to solve a riddle that requires them to confront situations in five different realities. His old enemy, the queen of Mirkarvia, is back and becomes his nemesis once again, or does she? I have constantly been reminded of James Branch Cabell while reading this series and wonder if the choice of Cabal's name is a conscious nod in that direction. Dark humor, inventive situations, wild adventure, over the top violence, and a very unusual visit to Hell can all be found here. I recommend the entire series. 2/3/18

Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen King, Scribner, 2017,  $32.50, ISBN 978-1-5011-6340-1

This strange novel never really caught fire for me. Women all over the world begin to fall into mysterious sleeping states during which their bodies eventually become cocooned. Disturbing them leads to violent confrontations. They are actually conscious in another, probably better world. The characters in general did not engage me and the message was very heavy handed, while the storytelling was often uninteresting. There are some very good parts, particular some set in a women's prison, but after two hundred pages of not caring about the people in the story, I really mostly drifted through the rest of the novel. 1/21/18

Child of a Mad God by R.A. Salvatore, Tor, 2018, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-9527-6

Back in the days of TSR/Wizards of the Coast tie in novels, there were only two of their regular writers whom I almost always enjoyed. R.A. Salvatore was one of them, and his subsequent move to other publishers was not only no surprise, but his expansion into worlds of his own creation made his work even better. An unhappy young woman living among a primitive tribe discovers that her magical powers are much greater than those of the official tribal witches. Unfortunately, they are in fact significant enough to attract unwanted attention not only from the tribe's leader and jealous rivals but are also enough to warrant the interest of a demon who lives nearby. Although she has a friend and ally in her struggles, ultimately everything will depend on her own actions. Eventually this will lead to a confrontation that will determine just how skillful and powerful she really is. Nothing particularly new or surprising in terms of plot, but good storytelling and characters that are somewhat better drawn than is usual in epic fantasies. 1/19/18

The Brothers Cabal by Jonathan L. Howard, Thomas Dunne, 2014  

Horst Cabal, the vampire brother of Johannes the necromancer, is restored to unlife by a group of financiers that want to organize a rebellion by supernatural creatures as an investment. Although he prides himself on never having taken a life, he feels strangely demonic urges in this stage of his existence. He also distrusts the three men providing the money, dislikes the head of an army of shapeshifters, and is puzzled by the presence of a female necromancer whose motives he cannot fathom. The story eventually becomes a supernatural war with creatures from other dimensions and doppelgangers added to the mix. Unlike the first three books, this one ends with a mild cliffhanger. Howard has become one of my favorite authors and Iím avidly looking forward to the next in the series. 1/10/18

Wychwood by George Mann, Titan, 2017,  $14.95, ISBN 978-1783294091    

Although this is technically fantasy, the fantastic content is very minor and could have been left out entirely without dramatically changing the story. A woman who recently broke up with her long term boyfriend returns to her motherís house in the country just in time to become involved in the career of a serial killer who patterns his murders after those in a famous local legend about the Carrion King. An old friend is a detective working the case and she is soon accompanying him to interviews and sharing speculations Ė and some of this is a bit contrived to keep her on the scene, though not egregiously so. I guessed the killerís identity rather early but otherwise this was well above average, mysterious if not suspenseful, and the stories from the Carrion King mythos are interesting in their own right. Mystery and fantasy fans should both enjoy this one. 1/8/18

Ink by Alice Broadway, Scholastic, 2018, $17.99, ISBN 978-1338196393

I once wrote a story in which an alien race chronicles each individual's life by etching his or her bones. This debut young adult novel has a more practical method. Each event is tattooed onto the individual while they are still alive. A young woman who loved her father is astonished to discover after his death that one of those tattoos indicates that he once committed a horrible crime. Before she can process this, the secret is out, reflecting badly on her as well as her father and leading to her efforts to uncover the truth. A variation of the predictable story follows, not badly done, but ruined for me because of the intrusive first person present tense narration. 1/6/18

 

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