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 LAST UPDATE 8/29/11  

Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence, Ace, 2011, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-441-02032-4 

First book of the Broken Empire, which features one of the most overused clichťs of high fantasy, the usurped throne.  Our hero was left to die when his fatherís throne was stolen but he survived, led a gang of criminals for a while, and now decides itís time to regain his birthright even though the usurper has the assistance of dark magic.  Of course he does. The usual adventures follow.  Though not badly written, the feeling of dťjŗ vu was so strong throughout that I was half convinced Iíd read it before.  I was even able to anticipate several scenes in advance. It would be interesting to read something by Lawrence with a less derivative plot as he isn't a bad writer otherwise.  8/29/11

Across the Great Barrier by Patricia C. Wrede, Scholastic, 2011, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-545-03343-5 

A magical coming of age novel about a young girl who is ambivalent about her powers, particularly as they are much greater than normal. She is reluctant to accompany an adult on a journey to a distant land full of wonders and mystery, but at the same time glad to get away from the unwanted attention she is drawing and the resentment of her brother. Naturally her abilities are going to prove crucial to their mission, and to guaranteeing their safe return. The setting is a variant of the Old West and is quite vividly drawn. Although this is ostensibly for young adults, I didnít actually notice that when I was reading.  One of Wredeís best books. 8/28/11

Ghost Story by Jim Butcher, Roc, 2011, $27.95, ISBN 978-0-451-46379-1 

A new installment in the Dresden Files. Harry has a new problem this time. Heís dead, murdered, and in the limbo between life and the afterlife he discovers a plot against some of his friends. To save the day, he has to solve his own murder and do all this without having a physical body any more. There are the usual bit players including werewolves and archangels and the regular cast of humans.  The ghost solving his own murder bit has been done before but Butcher does give it some new twists.  The denouement, in which he is restored to life to have his next adventure, goes on a bit too long and we all know it was going to happen anyway.  Slightly above average for the series. 8/24/11

Path of the Seer by Gav Thorpe, Black Library, 2011, $8.99, ISBN 978-1-84970-081-8

Sons of Ellyrion by Graham McNeill, Black Library, 2011, $8.99, ISBN 978-1-84970-068-9 

Although the quality varies quite a bit from one book to the next, the sword and sorcery half of the Warhammer universe has been generally entertaining and when I'm in the mood for some familiar sword and sorcery, it almost always answers the call. The first of these two follows the adventures, physical and spiritual, of a young woman who visits an alternate reality and perceives a threat to her world. Itís a bit talky at times, but there are plenty of action scenes as well, and Thorpe tells a pretty good story as always. Itís a bit out of the ordinary for the series but with enough familiar hooks to satisfy its fans.  McNeill is also one of the better writers working this area, and his is more conventional. A fantasy realm is besieged by armies of elves and a handful of warriors have to rally the rest to defend against a war that plots annihilation rather than simple conquest.  Both of these are above average for the series. 8/20/11

Ravenwood by Andrew Peters, Chicken House, 2011, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-545-30550-1 

A plot summary of this one is going to sound pretty silly, whereas in fact it is only mildly silly.  In a community of tree dwellers, the protagonist is a young boy whose job is to unplug toilets. In the course of this duty, he overhears echoes of a plot by another community, which uses machines and is therefore obviously evil, to steal the resources of his own people. But naturally he canít just convince people of the danger and naturally he is in due course able to correct things himself.  Not as preachy as it sounds, but still kind of preachy, and thereís actually more of a suspenseful plot than you might expect from the summary.  Still, Iíd call this one a rather minor novel that falls on the borderline between young kids and young adults. 8/11/11

The Wild Side edited by Mark L. Van Name, Baen, 8/11, $14, ISBN 978-1-4391-3456-6 

Baen books jumps into the urban fantasy arena with this collection of original stories, with a little more sex than is usually found there. None of the authors are really associated with that form, although Tanya Huff and Diana Rowland come the closest. Their resemblance varies considerably. Huff and Rowland have two of the best stories, closely followed by Sarah Hoyt, John Lambshead, and Caitlin Kittredge.  A couple didnít really stir my interest but none of them are badly written.  And while theyíre a bit more explicit than urban fantasy, they arenít nearly as much so as paranormal romance, which puts them somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. 8/10/11

Thrall: Twilight of the Aspects by Christie Golden, Gallery, 2011, $26, ISBN 978-1-4165-5088-4 

A World of Warcraft tie-in novel. I have played this game solo, way back when, but have never been tempted to try it online, so Iím not familiar with the source material. That seems pretty much irrelevant since this is a fairly generic sword and sorcery style fantasy. The protagonist has had a kind of vision of an impending armageddonlike conflict involving dragons. She is also aware of another personality who will prove pivotal in the outcome of the battle. What follows is a modified quest story with overtones of prophecy and other fantasy tropes. Itís not badly written and reasonably entertaining, but never really does anything to stand out. 8/9/11

Out of the Waters by David Drake, Tor, 7/11, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2079-7 

Second volume of the Book of the Elements. The governor of a magical city organizes an elaborate pageant as part of a festival, but things go awry. Instead of the illusions that were planned, the viewers see a monster rise from the ocean and devastate their city, and even though itís just an illusion and nothing really happened, the governor and others are alarmed.  Is this a prophetic look at something yet to come? Is it a warning of a possible future? And just who is responsible? As expected, Drake creates a compelling mystery inside an interesting fantasy world, adds quantities of adventure and in this case some really gruesome imagery.  One of his more intense and unpredictable stories and one of the better fantasies so far this year. 8/6/11

The Goblin Corps by Ari Marmell, Pyr, 7/11, $16, ISBN 978-1-61614-377-0   

Military fantasy is not as popular as military SF, but itís been increasing in frequency lately.  This one starts off with evil already defeated, sort of, though more through luck and obstinacy than anything else, and now the villains have retreated to reorganize. But the good guys arenít going to let them rest. This is a wild adventure story, told chiefly from the viewpoint of the villains, and it isnít meant to be taken at all seriously. Itís a pleasant change when fantasy doesnít take itself too seriously, and thatís the case here. Proof, if we needed it, that the villains are generally more interesting characters than the heroes, who are too predictable. 8/4/11

Bloodforged by Nathan Long, Black Library, 2011, $8.99, ISBN 978-1-84970-014-6   

A Warhammer fantasy novel, although not quite the usual sword and sorcery found in that series. This is a story of Ulrika the Vampire, a quasi-renegade of her kind who enjoys a good fight even if itís for someone elseís cause. In this case, she arrives too late for the straightforward battle between two peoples, but gets caught up in the struggle for power within one of the combatant cities in the aftermath. On top of everything else, none of the humans involved on either side particularly welcome her assistance, so she has to plot her own course in the increasingly violent chaos that follows.  One of the better Warhammer novels, despite my difficulty identifying with the protagonist. 7/29/11

Atlas Infernal by Rob Sanders, Black Library, 2011, $8.99, ISBN 978-1-84970-070-2

Sigvald by Darius Hinks, Black Library, 2011, $8.99, ISBN 978-1-84970-060-3   

Two novels from the fantasy half of the Warhammer universe.  I liked the first one a lot better than the second, and in fact itís one of my favorites from this shared universe series. Our hero is a fugitive who stole some secret documents that give him access to magical assistance while he flees a host of agents sent to track him down.  Although mostly a protracted chase sequence, Sanders plays game with reality and stretches the limits of the shared world considerably in this one.  The second title isnít bad, but it suffers by comparison since I read them both the same day. A decadent ruler gets caught up in an unwise war Ė is there such a thing as a wise one? Ė and various scenes of slaughter ensue.  I didnít like the protagonist and didnít care whether he succeeded or failed, which probably foredoomed me not to like the story particularly either. 7/20/11

Thistle Down by Irene Radford, DAW, 2011, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7564-0670-7   

A lot of kids have imaginary friends but in one small town in Oregon, the imaginary pixies are real, even though most of the time theyíre forgotten as the children grow older. But a few, including our protagonist Dusty Carrick, donít forget and theyíre alarmed by the possibility that the magical wood where the pixies live might be wiped out.  Or rather, theyíre alarmed when one of the pixies occupies a mortal body and sounds the alarm.  But can she convince them in time, and can they do anything to avert the disaster?  This is a lot less melodramatic than most of Radfordís earlier work, under any of her various names Ė Phyllis Ann Karr, C.F. Bentley, P.R. Frost Ė and involves a less ambitious plot, but I found it quite charming and quite possibly my favorite of her books. 7/18/11

Miserere by Teresa Frohock, Night Shade, 2011, $14.99, ISBN 978-1-59780-289-5 

Hereís a dark fantasy for you, with death, maiming, demons, treachery, betrayal, Hell itself, and the imminent dominion of evil over the Earth. The protagonist is an exorcist who betrayed his lover to save his sister, who is in fact incurably evil. So he has to foil his sisterís plot, after escaping from her clutches, rescue the woman he abandoned to demonic possession, and keep Hell from spilling over into another reality. Nothing to it. This was well written enough that I finished it, but it wasnít a good match to my reading tastes. 7/16/11

The Snow Queenís Shadow by Jim C. Hines, DAW, 2011, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7564-0674-5   

Fourth and perhaps final installment in this series about Snow White, Red Riding Hood, etc. and the various magical and supernatural challenges they face.  This time trouble is precipitated by a flawed spell that shatters a magical mirror and lets a demon loose. The demon has the power to distort individualís perceptions of events and people and it affects humans and fairies alike. Despite the perhaps whimsical premise of the series, the individual books have been at heart quite serious adventures and this one is no exception. It is also the best in the series. 7/9/11

Citadels of the Lost by Tracy Hickman, DAW, 2011, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-7564-0672-1   

The elves are a kind of master race in this series, Annals of the Dragon, and their various subject species Ė including humans Ė long for the days when the can be free again. There is a prophecy Ė isnít there always? Ė that a single man will ignite a rebellion that will bring about their overthrow.  That individual is the leader of a group of escaped slaves who, during their protracted flight from their enemies, stumble upon an ancient secret that could restore dragons to the world and freedom to its various peoples.  Not the most original plot, obviously, but Hickman writes this sort of thing as well as any and dragons on the cover always make a distinct impression. Inconclusive, of course, but since we pretty much can guess whatís going to happen eventually, that doesnít matter particularly. 7/7/11

City of Ice by Lawrence Yep, Starscape, 2011, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-1925-8   

Second in a series set in an alternate version of the 1940s, with dragons and other mythical creatures, sequel to City of Fire. Thereís an evil villain with a dragon for a henchman, or henchthing anyway, and heís on the run, pursued by our protagonist and company, in this case to the Arctic. They want revenge for his past misdeeds but they also need to prevent him from acquiring a magical artifact that will give him unprecedented power. Their only hope is to request supernatural intercession on their behalf, but will the summoned spirit take their side or the other?  This is the middle volume of a trilogy so obviously few of the questions get answered. This is another one that felt a bit too young for me, but only in snatches when I wasnít caught up in the adventure. 7/6/11

Chicks Kick Butt edited by Rachel Caine and Kerrie L. Hughes, Tor, 2011, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2577-8 

My short story reading stint continues. Urban/paranormal fantasy is still riding its wave and anthologies of shorter adventures are appearing with more regularity.  The editors here have brought together a talented group from that genre Ė Iíve read novels by all but one of them Ė and they display quite a range of storyline and subject matter despite the constraints of the subgenre.  My favorites were those by Lilith Saintcrow, Jeanne C. Stein, Nancy Holder, and editor Caine herself.  There were a couple I found a little weak but not disastrously so. The balance are workmanlike and entertaining.  I did take a few days break halfway through to avoid any chance of monotony but the selections are varied enough that it probably wasnít necessary. 6/30/11

Songs of the Dying Earth edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, Tor, 2010, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2086-5 

I had set this aside to read several months ago and by mischance it got pushed into concealment and I forgot about it until a belated cleanup turned it up. Having recently listened to all four volumes of Jack Vanceís Dying Earth stories on audiobook, I was readily prepared for this very large tribute collection.  I am happy to say that almost all of the stories capture the essence of Vanceís world and sometimes his prose style.  There are a lot of very good fantasy stories here, and I read them steadily at two per day for a couple of weeks, regretting it when I finally reached the end.  Very high quality throughout, with special credit to the stories by Robert Silverberg, Lucius Shepard, Elizabeth Hand, Tad Williams, and Dan Simmons, although I feel as though Iím slighting the other stories by not mentioning them. This is probably the best ďshared worldĒ anthology Iíve ever read. It's probably the best fantasy anthology I've ever read, for that matter.  6/28/11

Central Park Knight by C.J. Henderson, Tor, 2011, $15.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2084-1

Most urban fantasy features female protagonists but there are a few that donít. This is the second in Hendersonís series about Professor Piers Knight, whom the blurbs compare to Indiana Jones rather inaccurately since Knight is considerably more cerebral. Years earlier, Knight convinced a committee of unearthed dragons not to rise and destroy humanity but rather to go back into their ages long sleep. But now theyíre awake again, fighting among themselves, and humanity might be collateral damage, particularly since one of the dragons is using nuclear weapons. I liked the first in this series quite a lot but never really got into this one. The dragons never seemed to me a credible plot element and though Knight is a likable character Ė as are some of his companions Ė his adventures this time just didnít catch my interest. 6/24/11

Happily Ever After edited by John Klima, Night Shade, 2011, $16.99, ISBN 978-1-59780-220-8 

Iíve been dipping into this for a while because I wanted to make it last. There have been several collections of stories retelling classic fairy tales over the years, and theyíve generally been of very high quality.  This one follows that pattern and it has an impressive list of authors including Susanna Clarke, Gregory Maguire, Neil Gaiman, Karen Joy Fowler, Peter Straub, Kelly Link, and many others since the stories tend to be quite short.  These are all reprints drawn from collections, other anthologies, and the usual places but theyíve been well selected and there were quite a few I hadnít encountered before.  There is something about a well told fairy tale that just isn't found in any other kind of story. This is the kind of book to set beside your bed and sample each night.  And maybe the following morning as well. 6/23/11

Dark Descendant by Jenna Black, Pocket, 2011, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4516-0679-9   

When a private investigator discovers that she is directly descended from Artemis, she has mixed feelings. On the one hand, it turns out that sheís an immortal, which is definitely on the plus side. On the other hand, she gets involved in cases that involve the offspring of Loki and other gods, which provides an additional layer of complication. All the other sets of gods are there as well, but it is the Olympians who are the most troublesome, because they arenít very tolerant of uppity descendants. Black caught my eye back when she was writing vampire romances and her urban fantasy Ė notably the Morgan Kingsley series Ė was also quite good. I was a little uneasy with the premise of this one, but since itís the first in a new series some of the gaps will presumably be filled as the story line progresses. 6/20/11

The Empire of Gut and Bone by M.T. Anderson, Scholastic, 6/11, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-545-13884-0  

Third in the Norumbegan Quartet. Our two young heroes find themselves in a kingdom entirely enclosed inside a gigantic living creature Ė hence the title Ė for their third outing. There they encounter a host of grumbling robot servants and a puzzling murder, both of which interfere with their real mission Ė finding help to avert an alien invasion of Earth. Thereís actually a good deal of science fiction in this, although itís really a fantasy. I actively liked the first two in this series, and the third is almost as good but not quite. Written smartly enough for all ages of readers. 6/19/11

Urchin and the Rage Tide by M.I. McAllister, Hyperion, 2010, $17.99, ISBN 978-142310185-7 

This has to be a contender for worst fantasy book title of the year, although the book itself is considerably better. Itís also the final volume of a series whose previous titles Iíve never seen, which had me trying to fill in blanks from time to time. And itís an animal fantasy, which I rarely enjoy. So with several strikes against it, I still read to the end so I imagine that makes it noteworthy of a kind. The kingdom of animals has presumably survived many other challenges but now the land is threatened by a tidal wave. There are some magical rules that werenít always clear to me but I muddled through. Not impressive enough to make me look for the earlier volumes but as good as the Redwall books by the late Brian Jacques. 6/19/11

The Chaos Crystal by Jennifer Fallon, Tor, 2011, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-1685-1  

The nature of the world has changed and the immortals have their old powers again, which means that our hero prince can finally get what he was wanted for millennia -  his own death. Or does it? But the artifact that could bring him his wish is sought for by others as well, and his fellow immortals are not as benevolently inclined as he is, much to the dismay of the mortal population. This is the fourth and final book in the Tide Lords series, so obviously it ties up the loose ends in ways which I shall refrain from explaining. Fallon has risen in my estimation considerably since her work first began appearing and Iíd number her now among my favorites although I thought this series was slightly less successful than her previous work. Not enough to matter though. 6/17/11

Desdaemona by Ben MacAllan, Solaris, 2011, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-907519-63-5

This appears to be a pseudonym for Chaz Brenchley and falls into that group of novels that straddle the border between horror and urban fantasy.  It might also be considered a YA since the protagonist, Jordan, is a teenager. He has the rare ability to be able to function in both our world and a supernatural one invisible to the rest of us. Although he spends his time helping people who get caught up in this dichotomy, he is not entirely ready for his latest challenge. A woman seeks his help in finding her missing sister, who may have run afoul of a very powerful and evil entity. But this time his efforts evoke a powerful and potentially fatal response. I like his more traditional fantasy somewhat better but this isnít a bad kickoff to what I assume is a new series. 6/15/11

Sword of Fire and Sea by Erin Hoffman, Pyr, 6/11, $16, ISBN 978-1-61614-373-2   

First volume in the Chaos Knight series, which falls toward the sword & sorcery segment of current fantasy. The protagonist is the last of his family, which labored under a magical curse. His task in the opening volume is to escort a princess across a dangerous land filled with pirates, while being pursued by potentially even more dangerous magic wielding cultists who want to kill his charge for having gained forbidden knowledge. The plot is a bit busy Ė there are gods and intrigues and hidden secrets and the death of magic and a variety of other fantasy tropes Ė but the writing is basically sound and some of the action sequences are particularly well done. A welcome newcomer. 6/14/11

Dead of Veridon by Tim Akers, Solaris, 2011, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-907519-48-2

Although he heroically saved the world from a demented archangel in his first adventure, Jacob Burn has fallen on hard times and is ostracized by friend and enemy alike. When someone begins to use mechanical devices to restore the dead to life, he is called upon to investigate once again, and paradoxically finds himself allied with his former foes, at least temporarily. The first book in the series was pretty good; the second is considerably better, with a clever plot that holds more than one surprise at it unravels. Akers looks like a promising addition to the fantasy field and while most of the elements of this novel are familiar in themselves, he assembles things into a refreshingly interesting whole. 6/13/11

Shadowís Lure by Jon Sprunk, Pyr, 6/11, $16, ISBN 978-1-61614-371-8 

Sequel to Shadowís Son. Assassins are popular protagonists in sword & sorcery. The hero in this case is an assassin gone straight, but the past has a way of catching up to him. Having more or less completed the mission in the first novel, he is now engaged in discovering the truth about his parentsí mysterious past and gets caught up in a magical war, a battle with witchcraft, abduction, intrigue, and lots of running around and fighting. I always preferred sword & sorcery to high fantasy and this tilts toward the first end of the scale. There are, I think, a few too many viewpoint changes for a book this length, which occasionally interrupted the story flow, but otherwise it was a lot of fun. 6/9/11

Troubletwisters by Garth Nix and Sean Williams, Scholastic, 2011, $17.95, ISBN 978-0-545-25897-5

Okay, the basic story line for this Ė which Iím sure is the first in a series Ė is so familiar youíre going to yawn when you hear it.  A brother and sister discover that they are destined to protect our world from a magical evil force.  This is simply evidence that plot summaries are often misleading. Itís the way this all unfolds that matters, and the authors have created a likeable pair and subjected them to a whole series of semi-comical events leading up to that revelation, and a fairly good adventure afterward. If I had to compare it to something, Iíd suggest Alan Garner crossed with Diana Wynne Jones. Itís lively, witty, mysterious, and amusing.  Let out your inner kid and read this one. 6/8/11

Stonewielder by Ian C. Esslemont, Tor, 5/11, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2984-4 

Iím not entirely clear on the way this came about - apparently something to do with a role playing game - but it appears that Esslemont co-created the world of Malazan with Steven Erikson, who has written almost a dozen novels set there. This is, I believe, Esslemontís second.  Our hero is a fugitive trying to make a new life for himself in a remote part of the empire, but he canít outrun his past. As an ambitious ruler prepares to use dark magic to conquer his peaceful neighbor, who in turn is facing a variety of troubles including a simmering religious war within its boundaries. Throw in a couple of more subplots involving murders and mayhem and you have the raw materials for a broad scale Ė if rather conventional Ė high fantasy epics. A little too long for its story perhaps but should satisfy most of its readers. 6/6/11

Shadow Chaser by Alexey Pehov, Tor, 2011, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2404-7 

Second book in the Chronicles of Siala, originally published in Russia. Our hero is a quasi-reformed thief who finds himself leading the effort to save his people. He leads a group of adventurers into an underground maze in search of a magical artifact Ė yes, this is a quest story Ė but their task seems doomed to failure as they are pursued by the minions of not one but two separate evil masters. And naturally there are unrelated dangers and obstacles, including the fact that the final part of the journey must be completed by our hero alone.  Lots of wild action scenes, a fairly complex set of subplots, and reasonably well drawn characters all add to the fun. Translated by the author. 5/31/11

Redwood and Wildfire by Andrea Hairston, Aqueduct, 2011, $20, ISBN 978-1-933500-52-2   

Hereís an unconventional fantasy for you, set within the theater community around 1890. Two very different performers travel to Chicago where they become part of the world of minstrel shows and vaudeville. One is half Native American, the other a voodoo practitioner. Thereís a good deal of peripheral magic, some of it ambiguous, involving such things as mind reading and out of body experiences, and these are contrasted with the technological wonders being displayed at the current Worldís Fair. Itís also about the role of art in transforming society. This is a very ambitious book, and itís far enough out of the mainstream of fantasy that it might daunt many potential readers. Comparisons are imperfect, particularly with really original work, but this should appeal to fans of John Crowley or Tim Powers. 5/29/11

Born of Shadows by Sherrilyn Kenyon, Grand Central, 2011, $21.99, ISBN 978-0-446-57325-2   

This is the fourth in the League series, which is the authorís closest approach to traditional fantasy; her previous work has been largely in the paranormal romance area. The protagonist worked as a mercenary until it is revealed that he has unsuspected family connections.  Predictably, he finds that the world of intrigue and politics is every bit as dangerous and deadly, and even more treacherous, than the battlefield. His story alternates Ė until it converges Ė with that of a female warrior who has uncovered an assassination plot, and they make common cause as both their lives are suddenly in jeopardy.  Some of the dialogue is a little clunky but overall itís well done, though I thought perhaps a shade too long for its plot. 5/25/11

Night Mares in the Hamptons by Celia Jerome, DAW, 2011, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7564-0663-9  

The second outing of Willow Tate, a cartoonist who can pull magical creatures into our world simply by drawing them. She lives in the Hamptons, where a lot of the other human characters have one or another magical ability as well. The amity of that community is troubled by the appearance of three magical horses searching for one of their own. Tate is aided, after a fashion, by a Texan more interested in her than in the mission. There are complications, of course, including a mad scientist of sorts as well as some low key crooks but the tone is comparatively light hearted for urban fantasy and the story passes surprisingly quickly and easily. If you prefer your urban fantasy with a little less angst than usual, this series is for you. 5/24/11

Heavenís Needle by Liane Merciel, Pocket Star, 2011, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4391-5916-3

The second book of Ithelas borrows from a current trend in horror, the zombie. An ancient fortress destroyed in ages past conceals the secret of hordes of the living dead. A small group of travelers discovers that the ancient evil is beginning to stir again, and a typical heroic figure arrives on a mission to prevent the contagious evil from spreading across the land as it did once before. I like my fantasies dark and this oneís pretty dark indeed. The authorís first novel was competent but unmemorable; I wonít have trouble remembering this one, which is much better. 5/23/11

Spellcast by Barbara Ashford, DAW, 2011, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7564-0682-0  

A young woman unhappy with her life takes a weekend trip to Vermont and finds herself joining a small amateur theatrical group. The area seems oddly familiar to her and several members of the theater staff just seem odd.  The mysteries multiply and she eventually discovers Ė I suppose this is a spoiler but itís obvious quite early Ė that they are from the land of Faerie. Iím often put off by fairy stories but this one is sufficiently different that my aversion never kicked in. The story is a lot more concerned with the relationships among the characters and often their magical attributes are almost irrelevant.  I canít say that I found this compelling reading because the pace is rather relaxed and in fact I took a break halfway through to read another, but I came back to it promptly and felt satisfied when I was done. 5/20/11

Caledor by Gav Thorpe, Black Library, 2011, $8.99, ISBN 978-1-84970-051-1

A sword and sorcery adventure in the Warhammer universe. This is the third in a subset called the Sundering following the fall of a major city state.  The evil elves have defeated the good ones and monsters prowl the land and hunt the survivors. Caledor is a prince who somewhat reluctantly becomes the last hope for his people as a stolen throne, a civil war, and the ongoing menace of dark magic threaten to quench all hope. Lots of rousing action for fans of the series. I find that many of the fantasies in this series  would have been better if the authors had not resorted to a kind of artificially formal dialogue, and this is a good example. 5/19/11

Among Thieves by Douglas Hulick, Roc, 2011, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-451-46390-6

There is an entire subset of other worlds fantasy that focuses on assassins and petty criminals, though few approach the quality of Fritz Leiberís Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. This is another, a first novel but probably the first in the Tales of the Kin series. The protagonist is a petty crook, an errand boy and low key enforcer, working for one of the crimelords in a typical fantasy city. What appears to be a routine assignment to find out who is making trouble turns into a lot more than that when he stumbles across information concerning a powerful magical artifact and a plot that involves a good deal more than muscling around a few villains.  Competently written, a few very good scenes, and a continuation of a long standing tradition. 5/14/11

Haven by Joel Shepherd, Pyr, 2011, $16, ISBN 978-1-61614-364-0 

Fourth and final volume in the Trial of Blood and Steel.  War and civil war have ravaged the world and families are split by conflicting loyalties and confused allegiances. The climactic battle is shaping up in the vicinity of Haven, a city of refugees. Our main protagonist, Sasha, breaks with the rest of her family as a matter of honor and finds herself thrust into a role she neither wanted nor feels comfortable filling. Shepherd pulls all of his many story threads together for a rousing conclusion. I find his dialogue choppy at times but he tells an exciting and fast moving story and some of the battle sequences are very good indeed. Pyr has managed to gather several of the more interesting new fantasy writers these past few years.  5/13/11

Con & Conjure by Lisa Shearin, Ace, 2011, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-441-02018-8

Raine Benares returns for her fifth adventure. Sheís a psychic with the ability to find things, from a family of criminals who tend to steal things. This is an alternate fantasy world, not an urban fantasy, and there is an array of mythical creatures including goblins and elves Ė aggressive elves as a matter of fact Ė and others. The plot this time involves a complex, large scale confidence trick designed to prevent any of the contending factions from gaining possession of magic powerful enough to defeat the rest.  Adventure and intrigue with a liberal dose of wry humor.  Iíve been finding this series increasingly enjoyable. 5/12/11

Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente, Tor, 2011, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2630-0   

Valenteís reworking of the Russian legend of Koschei is structured as a reflection of contemporary problems in Russian society. The heart of the story is the evolving personality of a young woman who is forcibly seduced by Koschei, as a consequence of which she begins to lose touch with her human nature and become something vaguely mystical, at least until she is redeemed by contact with another human. The world to which she is taken is fascinating and colorful and at times I was more interested in the setting than the characters. Although the story seems to be quite straightforward, and certainly can be read that way, it also contains loops and surprises and sly comments and other elements you might not spot if youíre not paying attention. This is probably the authorís best book to date and one of the most innovative reimaginings of a fairy tale Iíve ever read. 5//7/11

The Winds of Khalakovo by Bradley P. Beaulieu, Night Shade, 2011, $14.99, ISBN 978-1-59780-218-5   

This falls somewhere between sword and sorcery and high fantasy. The setting is a blend of Russian and Turkish elements although itís a fantasy world. The title refers to a fabled city that is situated in an advantageous spot but which as a consequence is the focus of considerable plotting. Tensions within the local culture have neared civil war and a council is called to deal with matters. When one of their number is murdered, the rest of the aristocracy is obviously inclined toward vengeance, but it is possible that the person behind the supernatural assault might also possess the only secret that can hold the land together. A fairly interesting dilemma for our heroes, reasonably well told and likely to entertain most readers. 5/5/11

Closer by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams, Chicken House, 2011, $18.99, ISBN 978-0-545-20115-5   

Fourth in the young readers series that began with Tunnels. The story started with our young hero searching for his father in a series of tunnels beneath the Earthís surface and discovering that they led to an underground world. The search continued for three volumes but now he and his father are reunited. That doesnít mean the story is going to end and in fact there are two more volumes projected.  Anyway, in this one our hero and his sort of girlfriend find themselves pursued by old enemies and new ones, including a horde of nasties intent on conquest and destruction.  Now that the Harry Potter books are done, Iím tempted to say this is the best written fantasy series for younger readers, but there are a couple of other close contenders so letís just say itís right up there near the top. And best of all, it sophisticated and clever enough to entertain adults as well. 5/3/11

The Trials of Trass Kathra by Mike Wild, Abaddon, 2011, $12.99, ISBN 978-1-907519-65-9   

Iím afraid the background for this fantasy novel is so complicated that I had trouble following this story. Thatís not surprising since itís the eight novel in a multi-author shared world series. The protagonist takes refuge on an island where she is besieged by icky monsters and her friends are imprisoned and scheduled for elimination. There are so many references to events and people from the previous books that I was frequently tossed right out of the story. Fans of the series will undoubtedly like this, and the writing is crisp and exciting, but newcomers are likely to be completely lost. 5/2/11

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