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

 LAST UPDATE 6/29/14

Forget Me Not by Shawn Martin, Vinspire, 2014, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-9890632-3-4

I vacillated a bit about whether to call this fantasy or horror, and decided on the former. A teenager has found the love of her life, and lost him thanks to a magical amulet that suppresses her every memory of him. The lover, as it happens, is a centuries old being from a fantastic alternate reality who realizes what has happened but there is little he can do about it. The prose isn't bad and the basic situation was an interesting one but I confess that my attention drifted a great deal and the romantic theme seemed a bit cloying after awhile. Readers less finicky should enjoy it a good deal better. 6/29/14

Web of the Worlds by Harry Harrison & Katherine MacLean, Armchair, 2012

This short novel was originally published in 1953 but has never been in book form until now. Moments before his wedding is to start, the hero is transported into a barbarian world when a Norn crosses the strings of fate. He finds himself in the middle of a tavern brawl and escapes accompanied by a formidable warrior. Although always considered weak and unathletic, he manages to survive various encounters, taking advantage of his talents at archery. He becomes a mercenary, but eventually the Norn recognizes the problem, although he ends up in a variety of worlds before finally returning – much changed – to his original reality. Okay, but rather primitive, no pun intended. 6/26/14

Traitor's Blade by Sebastian de Castell, Jo Fletcher, 2014, $26.99, ISBN 978-1623658090

The protagonist of this adventure story is a member of an elite guard who finds himself adrift when conspirators seize the throne and murder the king. The aristocracy quarrels among themselves and chaos begins to spread. Our hero and his mates are distrusted by the men who overthrew the old order and distrusted by the loyalists who believe they failed in their duty to protect the old monarch, so they are forced to take jobs as mercenaries. But they are also party to a secret, a set of instructions that was spread among their number and which could, if reassembled, help to restore order in the kingdom as a whole and give renewed purpose to the lives of the elite. But they have been scattered far and wide and reunion might well be impossible. This is a pretty neat adventure story that reminded me of Dumas or Sabatini. A very welcome debut. 6/20/14

Minstrels' Covenant by Nance Bulow Morgan, Dreamer, 2014, $15.98, ISBN 978-0991562510

I enjoyed the previous book in this series, which mixes fantasy with detection. The second one involves a higher profile murder, one which could upset delicate diplomatic discussions. Our hero - a minstrel obviously - discovers the presence of an impostor but before the latter can be apprehended, she escapes across the border. Since his own mother is one of the suspects, he has a powerful motivation to pursue her and find out the truth, which naturally he does. This is less of a detective story and more of a chase adventure than the earlier book, so the plot didn't appeal to me quite as much, although it was strong enough to hold my interest. I imagine the protagonist will be back for another investigation in the near future. 6/12/14

The Merchant Emperor by Elizabeth Haydon, Tor, 2014, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-0566-4

This is seventh installment of the Symphony of Ages series, and second in a subseries. I read The Assassin King so long ago that I don't remember the connections well. The various characters are dispersed as the world moves inevitably toward the war that has been looming for a while. The leader of the bad guys has been consorting with demons and that's obviously not a good sign. There's a magical weapon that could change the nature of the battle, dragons, a child to be protected, chases, battles, intrigues, and so on. Although the novel - and the series - is quite solidly mainstream fantasy with the usual tropes and devices, I've always enjoyed her work a good deal more than that of most of her peers. I wouldn't call this her best novel but it would be hard to rank them in any case. It's another workmanlike, entertaining, though ultimately not tremendously memorable adventure story. 6/10/14

No Time for Toffee by Charles F. Meyers, Armchair, 2011 (originally published in 1952)  

There were several stories about Toffee, an imaginary but all too real woman, but I’ve never read any of the others. That probably contributes to my dislike of this one, because I couldn’t figure out what was going on much of the time. It has something to do with a dead man returned to life, except that the living and dead versions sometimes co-exist, Toffee’s fixation on the protagonist, a crooked politician, and a few other subplots, but if you can make sense out of this mishmash, you’re more attuned to the author’s flights of fancy that am I. 6/7/14

The Leopard by K.V. Johansen, Pyr, 2014, $18, ISBN 978-1-61614-904-8

First in the Marakand series. This one's more sword and sorcery than high fantasy. The protagonist is an assassin who has been cursed with immortality. His best chance at escaping into death is a deal with a perhaps unscrupulous goddess. Accompanied by a runaway slave, he seeks to earn his demise by assassinating a troublesome prophet who is popular enough in some quarters that our hero finds fulfilling his part of the deal a good deal more difficult than he had anticipated. There's a second plot with a different protagonist whom I actually found more interesting, although her part of the story isn't as good. The author writes well although there were a few spots where the momentum seemed to falter and I found my interest wandering.  This is the author's second novel. 5/31/14

Widow's Dozen by Marek Waldorf, Turtle Point, 2014, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-933527-77-2

Eleven short stories by a writer I'd never heard of from a publisher I'd never heard of. This did not sound like a recipe for success. This is a loosely thematically unified collection that ranges from mundane to science fiction to fantasy to magic realism. The style varies slightly at times but generally involves very long paragraphs which don't seem so long because of the cleanness of the prose. Some are almost character studies, some tend toward the more surreal. I suspect that if I had read any one of the stories in a vacuum I would have found it enjoyable but nothing extraordinary. Read as a unit, they make a much more favorable impression even though they are unrelated in terms of plot or character. This is a  handsomely done little book and a pleasant enough read that I hope to see more of this author, and this imprint, in the future. 5/30/14

When the World Tottered by Lester Del Rey, Armchair, 2011 (originally published in 1950, and has appeared as The Day of the Giants)  

Leif is a relatively gentle man surviving as World War III unfolds and the world is seared by an unprecedentedly violent winter. Two strangers show up just as he has to face off against his neighbors, a violent confrontation that apparently ends with Leif’s death, although he wakes up in Valhalla. Odin has sent for a hero – meant to be his brother Lee – because Ragnarok is approaching. Leif discovers that his recruiter is actually Loki, which partly explains the duplicity. Thor shows up with the twin and after some cajolery, Odin provisionally allows them both to stay. Leif is put to work making weapons but it’s not clear who are good gods and who are bad ones. There’s also a mild attempt at rationalization – Bifrost is an interdimensional bridge – but it’s half hearted and there’s no way one could call this science fiction.  Leif’s no prize either. He takes liberties with the women he encounters and pretends to be his twin in order to gain one’s affections.  And there’s a traitor in Asgard as well. Mild fun but Del Rey wrote much better work elsewhere. 5/22/14

Ghosts in the Yew by Blake Hausladen, Rook Creek, 2011, $30, ISBN 978-0983607113

Native Silver by Blake Hausladen, Rook Creek, 2014, $30, ISBN 978-0-9836071-5-1  

These are the first two longish books in a trilogy. The first volume introduces us to a kingdom and its complicated political and social hierarchy. One of the various princes has recently been banished to a largely uncharted forest region after an attempt to expose one of his siblings is turned against him. Part of the story is his coming of age because he finds something magical that helps transform him from brash and self centered to noble and a true leader. I wasn’t completely convinced by the transformation but that cavil aside, this was a pretty good example of contemporary high fantasy well written enough that a major publisher might well have picked it up. It is, perhaps, a bit too long and I took a break in the middle and read something else, but for most readers this probably won’t be a problem. The second volume continues the story with most of the same characters, but now there’s an evil empire and a nasty god to battle as well as their human enemies. Middle books in trilogies are notoriously weak, but this one holds up pretty well. The individual stories diverge and converge but there are enough new twists and revelations to avoid the usual trap. As with the first, I took a break halfway through, which suggests that there isn’t a lot of suspense, but it’s actually because the movement from one storyline to the next results in logical breakpoints.  There’s a lot of story to tell and not all of it is going to keep you on the edge of your seat. There are also quite a few illustrations and some of them are quite helpful. The author isn’t going to displace George R.R. Martin any time soon, but his work deserves to attract a strong following. 5/18/14

Cyador's Heirs by L.E. Modesitt Jr., Tor, 2014, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-7477-6

This is the 17th volume of the chronicles of Recluce,  Modesitt's longest running series, and one which happily includes mostly standalone novels. Cyador itself is no more but the survivors and descendants have re-established themselves elsewhere, a precarious foothold menaced on every side. The protagonist is the second son of the ruler, which means he is destined to a life in the military rather than sitting on the throne. He is sent on a kind of grand tour to study diplomacy and other arts - and yes this is a coming of age story - only to learn that he has a distinct talent for arcane magic, a talent which could have great significance if war erupts. And naturally war erupts. Modesitt always tells an entertaining story and the Recluce novels have by and large been among his better efforts. This one, however, seemed to me a little too derivative. I kept feeling that I was re-reading one of the earlier books rather than the latest. I know that series fans tend to want more of the same thing they've been reading all along, but it might be time for the author to shake things up a little. 5/16/14

The Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository by John Connolly, Mysterious, 2013 

This novelette is about a bookish man who spots what appears to be the ghost of a woman throwing herself in front of the train. It develops that she is actually Anna Karenina, one of several characters who have become corporeal because they have become known to so many people. She lives in the building of the title along with Sherlock Holmes, Count Dracula, Hamlet, and others. There is also a first edition or manuscript copy of each work creating them, and the protagonist discovers that by altering the original, he can retroactively change every copy in the world. So he decides to provide a happier ending for Anna. This is a delightful little fantasy that is labeled a mystery, but it’s not. 5/14/14

Valour and Vanity by Mary Robinette Kowal, Tor, 2014, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-3416-9

Fourth in the Glamourist History series, an alternate Regency period in which magic is real. They are continuing their tour of the continent when they are attacked by pirates and lose all their possessions. Destitute, they find refuge with a local man in a city known for its glassblowers. They are studying the glassblowing trade when their host disappears and they find themselves at a loss once again. The only way remaining to them to acquire enough money to return involves a slight transgression of the law. This has a slightly different tone than the first three books, and since I like heist stories, it was a definite plus for me. Although the Regency period is not one of my favorite settings, Kowal handles it well enough that I didn't object. 5/13/14.

Grendel's Curse by Alex Archer, Gold Eagle, 2014, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-373-62168-2

Latest in the long running series about Annja Creed, a woman with a magic sword who battles various bad guys, usually over the possession of mythical or ancient objects. This time the house pseudonym hides Steven Savile. The story involves yet another magical sword, this one supposedly used by Beowulf when he fought against Grendel and his mother. A megalomaniacal rightwing politician is determined to find the artifact because it will give him mystical and psychological power to lead his nation. Creed stands in his way, so he decides to eliminate her. That's obviously not going to happen. What is going to happen is that the villain is about to discover that there is a bad sign to acquiring power, particularly when it runs afoul of an ancient curse. Light adventure as always, but I've enjoyed this series steadily. 5/10/14

The Chronicle of Secret Riven by Ronlyn Domingue, Atria, 2014, $24, ISBN 978-1-4516-8891-7

Sequel to The Mapmaker's War, although it takes place one thousand years after the events in that book. Secret Riven is a young girl born to undistinguished parents who doesn't speak much to people but who can communicate with animals and even plants. She is estranged from her parents but makes a couple of human friends and she seems to have made a strange but viable life for herself until her mother receives an odd manuscript that gives her nightmares and Secret herself begins to experience disturbing visions. The manuscript disappears resulting in a convoluted quest and coming of age story that often feels more like a fairy tale than a modern fantasy novel. That's not a bad thing. The mysticism is a bit more prevalent than I usually care for, but the story itself is undeniably appealing. A third and presumably concluding volume is promised. 5/8/14

The Good, the Bad, and the Infernal by Guy Adams, Solaris, 2013, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-78108-089-4

Once Upon a Time in Hell by Guy Adams, Solaris, 2013, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-78108-156-3 

These are the first two volumes of the Heaven’s Gate trilogy, the third of which has not yet appeared. The town of Wormwood is magic; it appears at intervals in random areas and provides a direct link to Heaven for as long as it is accessible. A very disparate group of characters is searching for it in the American Midwest as this series opens, but in a time where stage coaches and horses were the main means of transportation.  The various characters are introduced and loosely organized into three groups, each of whom faces some kind of challenge as they travel, which winnows their number down a bit. The multiple viewpoint characters are sometimes a bit confusing – particularly since more than one narrates in first person – and even with a smaller cast in book two, I had to remind myself who was talking on more than one occasion. They reach Wormwood but discover that the hardest part is yet to come. It turns out that the road to Heaven passes through Hell first. Both are worth reading, but it does take a while to get into the story, and you need to read them in order or you’ll be completely lost. 5/6/14

A Dark Inheritance by Chris D'Lacey, Scholastic, 2014, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-545-60876-3

First in a new series for younger readers. The young protagonist finds a dog in peril and rescues him, discovering in the process that he has a paranormal talent that enables him to alter aspects of reality. This is a dangerous plot device because it makes it very difficult to establish rules the reader can rely upon. The boy is faced with a series of minor but escalating mysteries which point toward an explanation of what happened to his own father, who disappeared a few years earlier under mysterious circumstances. He also discovers that he is not the only person with extraordinary powers, and that there is an organization which has been recruiting them for purposes one might characterize as ambiguous. The bigger mysteries don't get resolved, of course, because this is the opening volume of a series, but they're set up reasonably well. Quite a change from the author's previous YA series. 5/3/14

Thornlost by Melanie Rawn, Tor, 2014, $26.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2878-6

Sequel to Touchstone and Elsewhens. Touchstone is the name of a traveling troupe of actors who use forms of magic during their performances. Different members of the cast have different powers and it is the interaction and cooperation of these powers which make them so effective. Although the troupe is successful, inner strains are beginning to expand into chasms. Goals important to one are considered trivial by others and the tensions when they are not performing threaten to splinter them into factions. There are also rules about how magic can be employed because it was used in a terrible war not that long before. It's a fine continuation of my favorite series by this writer, and my only complaint is that there are perhaps a few too many characters. I had to refer to the character list appendix more than once in order to keep things straight. 4/30/14

Minstrels' Gambit by Nance Bulow Morgan, Dreamer Books, 2014, $15.98, ISBN 978-0991562503

Primeval Origins: Paths of Anguish by Brett Vonsik, Celestial Fury, 2014, $18.95, ISBN 978-0-578-13860-2

Here we have a pair of fantasy novels by authors I'm not familiar with from two imprints I've never previously encountered. The first one plays more to my preferences because it involves a murder mystery. A pair of minstrels visit a typical fantasy world city, hoping for a rest after a major engagement, only to get caught up in the investigation of a puzzling murder. The murders are linked to a set of musical scores and the music is in turn linked to an ancient and very powerful danger. The minstrels find themselves the chief suspects, in part because of the musical connection, and they also discover that various factions are contending for the power inherent in the magic hidden in the notes. More than competent prose and a fairly good set of subplots help this one along and it was quite enjoyable. The second title is completely different. A contemporary researcher is mentally regressed through time to a prehistoric period. She protagonist finds herself in the body of a warrior in a civilization in which inhuman forces seek to dominate the world. There's a mild tendency to kitchen sink plotting as the story tries to incorporate various mythologies about the origins of humanity and other elements into a coherent whole. The plot is fairly straightforward and so is the prose. The premise is not one of my favorites but the story held my attention. 4/26/14

Unwrapped Sky by Rjurik Davidson, Tor, 2014, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2988-2

It's always nice to read a debut fantasy novel that doesn't quite fit the standard pattern for epic fantasy. This one opens fairly conventionally in a city where science and magic co-exist and even overlap. Following its near destruction generations earlier, the city fell under the sway of several families whose magical talents give them power over their fellow citizens, although not everyone is resigned to the status quo. We see the story from multiple points of view including one man who wants to find an ancient secret that might change the balance of power and another who is an agent of the authorities determined to ferret out and squash dissent. If it was crystal clear who was villainous and who heroic, this would probably be a fairly good novel of intrigue and adventure, but things aren't that simple in real life, or in this novel, and the result is much better, leading the reader to question just what outcome is better. Very promising first effort. 4/25/14

American Craftsmen by Tom Doyle, Tor, 2014, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-3751-1

Urban fantasy with a military twist. It's set in a usual alternate America where magic works and the protagonist, Dale Morton, is a soldier specializing in magic, hence the title. He also suffers from a curse which subjects him to the taunting of his ancestral ghosts, some of whom are evil, and there is suspicion that our hero might have crossed to the dark side to team up with them for various nefarious purposes. So naturally Morton has to figure out a way to redeem his good name, thwart the evil ghosts, and eventually get the girl as well. His efforts in this regard lead to the discovery of a secret magical cabal within the military and that's when things really start to get complicated. This is essentially a slightly more violent than average variation with a male protagonist instead of the usual female one. The author writes well - although there were times when I wished he'd spent a bit more time on description even if that meant slowing the pace slightly. There were a few points where I had trouble picturing just what was going on. That quibble aside, it's a pretty good story and, presumably, the first in a series. 4/20/14

The Silk Map by Chris Willrich, Pyr, 2014, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-61614-899-7

Gaunt & Bone, professional thieves in a magical world, return for their second adventure following The Scroll of Years. The first book ended with a minor cliffhanger. The twosome have saved their child but only by transporting him into another reality. In order to rescue him now, they need the assistance of a magician, who agrees to help but only if they acquire something for him first. What follows is a wide ranging treasure hunt and Gaunt & Bones have to overcome a variety of obstacles to achieve their goal. It's a quest story obviously with a bit of grand tour added. The plot is rather anecdotal and some segments are more appealing than others. There's some light humor, some heavy adventure, lots of action but little actual character development. Thieves have always had an honored place in sword and sorcery and this series should be popular enough because it's inventive and exciting. My only complaint is that there isn't enough physical description of the various settings to make them really come to life for me. 4/17/14

The Severed Streets by Paul Cornell, Tor, 2014, $26.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-3028-4   

Second in the series that started with London Falling. This one has particular appeal to me because it involves references to Jack the Ripper. Two murders of prominent officials bear odd similarities to the killing spree of the Ripper, except that instead of prostitutes this new killer targets rich and powerful men. The protagonist is head of an elite police unit that was formed to investigate crimes involving the paranormal, but since things have been quiet on that front and their upkeep is expensive, there has been recent talk of disbanding them. I haven’t seen the first book in the series, but I thought this was the best of several books I’ve read by Cornell, with a nicely contrived puzzle, an interesting backdrop, and a suspenseful plot. So I ordered a copy right after finishing this. You should do the same after reviewing this review. 4/15/14

In the Shadows, text by Kiersten White, art by Jim Di Bartolo, Scholastic, 2014, $21.99, ISBN 978-0-545-56145-7

This fantasy novel has an interesting format, alternating chapters in regular text with chapters that are full color graphics. The story involves two sisters, whose mother runs a boarding house, and three young men who are currently staying there. The setting is a generic small town where things seem just a bit off center all the time. There is a malevolent force, revealed in the closing chapters, and the girls are in jeopardy. Some creepy dark secrets and other intrigues are revealed along the way. The text is fine but the format makes it feel as though it jumps around a lot. The art - full color - is not a style I particularly care for but is well done and advances the story skillfully. I'm not sure the blend of graphics and text works that well but it's an interesting experiment. The story itself is pretty good, but I was a little disappointed in the ending. Target audience is young adults, who might be more open to the mixture. 4/8/14

The Bone Flower Throne by TL Morganfield, Panverse, 2014, $19.95, ISBN 978-1-940581-91-0

First volume in a trilogy set in a fantasy version of 10th Century Mexico. Rival gods and raiders from the continent to the north have thrown the local society into near chaos. One of the gods seeks human sacrifice and other cruelties while another seeks to preserve life and establish a more peaceful order. The chief protagonist is a young woman who is called upon by the more benevolent god to help his human son battle the forces of darkness. She has personal reasons for wanting to help as well, including avenging the murder of her father. And there's some romantic motives as well. Much of the mythology is authentic and the invented stuff fits right in. This isn't a very common setting for fantasy novels so it feels different and original right off the bat. The characters are well developed, the plot is straightforward and engrossing, and the only real drawback is that the story is necessarily incomplete. 4/6/14

Skinwalkers by Wendy N. Wagner, Paizo, 2014, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-60125-616-4

Another tie in novel to the Pathfinder game series, but once again one where you don't need to know anything about the game. It's a fairly generic sword and sorcery novel. The protagonist, like Conan, is alone in the world after raiders destroyed not only her family but her entire village, but she is of course a female in a male oriented world. After working with pirates for a while, she decides to retire and raise her young son in a small village. Naturally that doesn't last and her neighbors are threatened by barbaric shapechangers - hence the title - and our protagonist has to dust off her weapons and fight to defend her new home. There are few surprises in this, but that's true of most sword and sorcery. It's well written and the main character is interesting enough as a person, although the supporting cast mostly lack depth. 4/5/14

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, Tor, 2014, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2699-7

Katherine Addison is a penname for Sarah Monette, whose fantasy under her own name I've generally liked. This one is very different, perhaps explaining the alternate byline. The protagonist is half goblin and his father, the emperor, sends him into exile, preferring his three human sons. But when all four of them are killed in an apparent accident, he is recalled and told that he has succeeded to the throne. It doesn't take much imagination to realize that the accident was murder, but our hero has no idea why anyone would want him to assume the throne. He believes that he must be next on the assassin's list, although it seems to me that a pliable, inexperienced emperor might also have been a plausible goal. Naturally everyone at court wants to be his friend, and just as naturally most of them are definitely not, but how is an inexperienced virtual stranger to the capital city to separate one from the other? A bit of a coming of age story, with political intrigue, a bit of overt adventure, and lots of secrets to be revealed. I didn't think this was up to the author's usual standard but it's still pretty good. 4/4/14

The Redemption Engine by James L. Sutter, Paizo, 2014, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-60125-618-8

A Pathfinder game tie-in novel. There's effective a Hell waiting for the souls of the sinful in the Pathfinder universe, but when some of those scheduled to arrive prove delinquent, the goddess of death is not amused. She enlists the aid of Salim Ghadafar, an atheist mercenary, to investigate, although why someone who works for the denizens of the afterlife should disbelieve in their existence is a bit puzzling. His investigation spans three realities - the world of the living, Hell itself, and the Heavenly sphere, and along the way he encounters mystery, adventure, and bizarre events while meeting an equally bizarre cast of supporting characters. The book is a shade too long for its theme, but not fatally so, and it's certainly more inventive and varied than most other recent sword and sorcery fiction. In some ways this is almost structured like a murder mystery, but with far more action and a lot less detection than is normally the case. This one's not just for people who play the games. 4/3/14

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