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 LAST UPDATE 6/29/18

Gerfalcon by Leslie Barringer, Newcastle, 1976 (originally published in 1927)

First in the Neustria trilogy, set in an alternate France in the 14th Century. Raoul, an orphan, is nonetheless heir to a duchy, much to the dismay of his uncle and guardian. Raoul flees after he is flogged and has a series of adventures before reaching his majority and claiming his birthright. The very fine action scenes alternate with occasionally slogging sequences that don’t contribute much to the story. Raoul is conflicted about religion, chivalry, and love, but he rises to the occasion and defeats bandits, madmen, and other dangers. No magic at all and almost an alternate world science fiction story. 6/29/18

City of Lies by Sam Hawke, Tor, 2018, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-9689-1

It has been quite a while since I read a really long fantasy novel, so this debut title - also apparently first in a series - found me in the right mood. There is nothing particularly new about the setting or characters. There is a city state whose rulers are reasonably benevolent but who are opposed by villainous and jealous parties within the population. The protagonist is a kind of chemist who is also a good friend of the heir to the throne, but our hero is also an expert on poisons and other concoctions and he is a kind of secret agent/vigilante. There are, of course, external enemies as well, and when the city's leader is poisoned and a hostile enemy approaches, it is pretty obvious that a treacherous alliance has been made. But our hero is not about to allow his city to be conquered. Nicely written adventure, a touch of mystery and more than a touch of intrigue. Could be an interesting series. 6/25/18

Tomorrow’s Journal by Dominick Cancilla, CD Publications, 2018, $14.95, ISBN 978-1-58767-665-9 

This is a kind of genre spanning book that I’m going to call a fantasy for lack of a more precise categorization. The protagonist finds a journal in his bedroom, the first entry of which is a set of rules about reading it. The journal allows communication with a future self and while everything in it is already written, it is important that our hero not read ahead. Slowly, during the course of the book, the truth begins to reveal itself as the mysterious future presence begins to hint at disaster. Can’t say too much without spoiling the surprises. Amusing, mildly suspenseful, and very quick reading. 6/24/18

The Thing in the Close by Jeffrey Barlough, Gresham & Doyle, 2018, $14.95, ISBN 978-0-9787634-6-6

This is the tenth book in the Western Lights series, although like the other volumes it is a standalone.  I have enjoyed these comparatively quiet fantasies since the first volume and my enthusiasm for them continues with the present volume, which is slightly more melodramatic than its predecessors. The title refers to a legendary monster that lurks inside a great cathedral, a monster that a reporter doubts is real until it shows up one day right behind him. This revelation coincides with a couple of other mysterious elements - a stranger who seems to have no real purpose in visiting the community and a change in the preferences of the younger residents in their modes of entertainment. The mysteries are all unwound eventually, but only after we pay another extended visit to Barlough's unusual created world. I suspect this is the kind of story we might have been reading if Anthony Trollope had been a fantasy writer. 6/20/18

The Sword Is Forged by Evangeline Walton, Pocket, 1984 

This was meant to be the first of a trilogy. It is my understanding that the other two books were written, but never published due to the author’s death.  The novel is a variation of the lives of Theseus and Antiope, queen of the Amazons, whose relationship begins with friendship, moves through rape to marriage and finally death. The prose is much denser than in her Welsh fantasies and her portrayal of most of the characters tends to be negative, although it is a recognition of the prevailing mores of that time. This was not published when originally written in the 1960s because the author assumed that Mary Renault’s duology about Theseus would glut the market. 6/2/18

Prince of Annwn by Evangeline Walton, Ballantine, 1974

The fourth published in this series is actually the first chronologically. A prince from our world is tricked by King Arawn of Annwn – a fairy realm – into taking his place in a magical combat. While there he meets Rhiannon, who will later come to the world of men and become his wife. There are lengthy conversations about the nature of the gods and how they interact with humans interspersed with various bizarre encounters and one sequence involving a gigantic monster. This was the least interesting installment in the series. 5/29/18

The Last Sun by K.D. Edwards, Pyr, 2018, $17, ISBN 978-1-63388-423-6

A first novel and first in a series. It's set in New Atlantis, which is where the more than human Atlanteans went after regular humans destroyed the original Atlantis, The protagonist takes a job looking for the missing son of a prominent citizen. As you might guess, it is more than simply a missing person. His disappearance may cast light on an old catastrophe to say nothing of revealing dark secrets from the protagonist's past. There is a lot of magic in the book, much of it violent, and some abilities that in science fiction would be called psi. The immediate story is more or less resolved, but there is obviously more to come as the author lets us plunge deeper into his world. The prose is good, although the plot was perhaps a bit too familiar. 5/26/18

The Song of Rhiannon by Evangeline Walton, Ballantine, 1972 

This is the weakest of Walton’s four novels based on the Mabinogion. Two survivors of a terrible war return to the land of Dyved where one marries Queen Rhiannon. Then a curse makes all of the people and animals disappear except for four people and they have various mild adventures before the curse is lifted and the people are returned. The characters are more admirable than in the other books, but less interesting. 5/23/18

The Children of Llyr by Evangeline Walton, Ballantine, 1971 

The Welsh break tradition to allow Branwen, sister to their king, marry the king of Ireland. At first all seems well, but a half brother precipitates a crisis, the eventual consequences of which are war between the two kingdoms. The war is devastating and only seven of the Welshmen and none of the Irish soldiers survive. The meddlesome brother performs heroically, but since he was the cause of the trouble in the first place, he is not entirely redeemed. This was the second of the author’s books based on the Mabinogion. It’s rather depressing, but very well written. 5/20/18

The Island of the Mighty by Evangeline Walton, 1970 (originally published in 1936 as The Virgin and the Swine

This was the first of four books based on the Welsh Mabinogion. It is mostly the story of Gwydion, heir apparent to king Math of Gwynedd. Gwydion is not, however, a particularly nice man. He takes advantages of people around him, undercuts his mentor, condones rape, precipitates costly and bloody wars, and betrays and tricks his own sister. Walton points out contradictions and apparent errors in the source material rather than glossing over them. Although this is quite long, it feels much shorter. Sometimes years pass in a few pages. Gwynedd was just beginning to accept the institution of marriage at the time and some of the social attitudes are fascinating. The "hero", Gwydion, is not a nice person. 5/18/18

Fury from the Tomb by S.A. Sidor, Angry Robot, 2018, $8.99, ISBN 978-0-85766-761-8 

I really really wanted to like this book. It has many plot elements that I love – malevolent mummies, early 20th Century Egypt, an ancient curse, and lots of mysteries. The protagonist makes a startling discovery in Egypt and brings his findings back to the Southwestern US when it is stolen by a band of bandits who take it to Mexico. So our hero and friends have to retrieve the find, and deal with both mundane and non-mundane dangers. The plot is quite good. There were scenes I very much enjoyed. But overall, I found myself repeatedly irritated by odd sentences. “So we propelled onward.” Bits of dialogue felt inappropriate for the speaker. I never had a sense that the characters were taking their situations completely seriously. The book is fun and nicely plotted, but it never grabbed me the way, say, The List of Seven by Mark Frost did with somewhat similar material. Good enough that I’ll try the next – it’s the first in a series – but it could have been a lot better. 5/15/18

Venom of Luxur by J. Steven York, Ace, 2005   

Final volume in the trilogy. Our hero finds himself caught between two gods while clandestinely trying to undermine a cult and discover the people who killed his father. As if that wasn’t trouble enough, his increasing mastery over magic is having an adverse effect on his own soul and he is in danger of giving in to the corruption of power. With few friends and little hope, he perseveres and rights all of the various wrongs and escapes the consequences. Enjoyable as always, but the victory at the end seems to me to come just a tad too easy. 5/8/18

The Fandom by Anna Day, Chicken House, 2018, $17.99, ISBN 978-1-338-23270-7

Game players trapped magically in a computer game has been a cliché for a long time. The protagonist and friends find themselves in a multi-player game whose story line is very familiar to them, but when they inadvertently change things upon arriving, all of their efforts to return to the original script run into difficulties. The author makes an effort to do something new with the device, and parts of the story are interesting, but then undercuts things by using first person present tense narration that tells us the protagonist is in no real danger. For younger readers. 5/4/`8

Heretic of Set by J. Steven York, Ace, 2005 

Anok has joined the Cult of Set, although his purpose is to undermine it and find the people who murdered his father. He is sent to a city of sorcerers where he undergoes a series of tests and faces Thoth-Amon, the greatest sorcerer of all. There he finds that the leaders of the cult are plotting against the very god they worship. This is the middle volume of a trilogy, so while it advances the story it provides no solutions. 5/3/18

Scion of the Serpent by J. Steven York, Ace, 2005 

First volume of a trilogy. A young boy sees his father killed by cultists worshipping Set, but he escapes, taking with him an amulet which turns out to have magical properties. Years later, he is part of a small group that lives by performing sometimes dangerous odd jobs and by stealing when no other choice is available. After various adventures, he joins the Cult of Set in order to develop his own magical talents, although his secret agenda is to destroy the Cult and improve the lot of the people of Stygia. This is another trilogy set in the world of Conan the Barbarian. 4/30/18

Dawn of the Ice Bear by Jeff Mariotte, Ace, 2006 

Concluding volume in the trilogy. Our heroes have retrieved the sacred crown from the sorcerer who stole it, but one of their former comrades takes a portion of it away with him, so they have to travel to Cimmeria to get it back. Meanwhile the enraged Picts have invaded Aquilonia and King Conan has raised an army to put them down. Our hero discovers its magic properties, kills the Stygians sent after him, and becomes the next guardian. He doesn’t end up with the girl. The war is called off and we never really find out what happens to the remaining characters. It’s a somewhat disappointing ending. 4/27/18

Winds of the Wild Sea by Jeff Mariotte, Ace, 2006 

A Pict warrior is determined to track down an artifact stolen from his people. Unfortunately, Stygian and local sorcerers are independently trying to acquire it. Back on the frontier, the Picts have rallied because of the theft and are threatening a major invasion of Aquilonia, so King Conan is forced to raise an army. Two young friends of the Pict have their own series of adventures. It’s the middle volume of a trilogy so it mostly just moves the story forward toward the set up for the final volume. Not bad though. 4/25/18

Flaming Zeppelins by Joe R. Lansdale, Tachyon, 2010 

This is the combined edition of two previously published novellas, Flaming London and Zeppelins West and they are the adventures of Ned the Seal in a raucous series of encounters in an alternate steampunkish world where real and fictional characters intermix freely. Dracula, Jules Verne, Sitting Bull, Annie Oakley, and Buffalo Bill Cody are only a few of the characters we encounter in this madcap duology. Elements of the Old West, science fiction, literary horror, and elements from other sources are all blended in a good natured, high spirited smorgasbord. Just picking out the famous characters should keep you busy enough. 4/24/18

Ghost of the Wall by Jeff Mariotte, Ace, 2006 

Kral is a young Pict who clandestinely meets a young woman from one of the Aquilonian forts along their contested border. When an ambitious nobleman instigates an attack that wipes out most of Kral’s clan, he vows revenge, particularly since the noble has stolen a sacred crown with religious and supernatural significance. The young woman and her brother become his allies, more or less, on his quest to track down the villain, who has abandoned the area and is headed deep into Aquilonia. Fast moving and well told, although I was not convinced by the scene in which the siblings decide to join Kral on an obviously murderous quest. 4/22/18

The Boy Who Went Magic by A.P. Winter, Chicken House, 2018, $17.99, ISBN 978-1-338-21714-8

This book for younger readers is set in a world where magic has effectively been outlawed in favor of a calmer and more predictable existence. It is in fact generally believed that magic is no longer possible, although the young protagonist is one of those not entirely convinced that this is true. Eventually he and a very strange young girl are off on a quest that involves airships and wild adventures in strange lands, all while being pursued by a villain. Although written down a bit for its target readership, the adventures are well conceived and described. This would have been even better if it had aimed for slightly more sophisticated readers but even as it is, it held my attention. 4/20/18

The Silent Enemy by Richard A. Knaak, Ace, 2006 

Third and final adventure of Nermesa Klandes. There is another plot to kill Conan and our hero must rise to the occasion once again. Two neighboring kingdoms are on the attack and some of his own people are planning to assassinate him, using a drug to force our hero to carry out the plot. But he is made of sterner stuff than they anticipate. Like its predecessor, there are too many captures and escapes for my taste, but otherwise the writing is solid. 4/19/18

Verdict on Crimson Fields by M.C. Planck, Pyr, 2018, $18, ISBN978-1-63388-437-3

Fourth in a series in which an engineer from our world has adventures in a magical realm. In the first three books, he has proven himself to be a powerful military leader and strategic thinker, so much so in fact that the king he serves is beginning to see him as a rival and a threat. I'm surprised that this does not happen in a lot more fantasy novels than it actually does, since it seems to me a logical outcome. And naturally the fear becomes reality, but not until after our hero has dealt with witches, druids, wizards, and demons. Fast paced, entertainingly written, and with a few small surprises along the way. One of the better written of this type of fantasy series. 4/17/18

The Eye of Charon by Richard A. Knaak, Ace, 2006 

The second adventure of Nermesa Klandes, who is now a member of the personal guard of King Conan of Aquilonia. He is assigned to help guard a caravan and investigate a series of attacks, but is almost killed a few days after they set out during a raid. He encounters a spectral figure which conjures an army of small attackers out of foliage. After various adventures he discovers that one of the nobles is using a magical artifact to control a powerful sorcerer. He plans to seize the throne of Aquilonia. Our hero gets captured and escapes a few too many times for my taste, but eventually the sorcerer kills his temporary master before Nermesa outwits and kills him.  4/16/18

The Mayfair Mystery by Frank Richardson, Collins, 2017 (originally published in 1907)

Although packaged as a mystery this is really a fantasy. No crime is committed during the course of the book. The mystery involves a beautiful woman who appears in London society without antecedents and the periodic disappearance of a prominent doctor, who can cure most diseases by one hypnotic session in his office. The explanation is that he can project himself into an unconscious patient and take over their bodies. Although he is supposed to be a good person, he never shows any regret at having permanently erased the personality of the woman whose body he is using. I also found it hard to believe that no one noticed that the two houses the doctor owns are back to back, facilitating a secret passage, nor do I believe that an aggressively unattractive young woman could become the most beautiful woman in London simply by changing her clothing. The author is best known as a satirist and for inventing the term “face-fungus” to describe beards. 4/15/18

The Fairies of Sadieville by Alex Bledsoe, Tor, 2018, $29.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-8336-5

It appears that this will be the last novel about the Tufa. This series should not have been something I liked because the subject matter is one I generally find uninteresting. Despite my predilections, I found myself increasingly interested in the series as it progressed and I'm mildly sorry to see it go, although I look forward to seeing what the author will do next. The Tufa are a magical people, not quite human, who live in Appalachia, and at times the series has reminded me of some of the best work of Manly Wade Wellman. In this final visit, the discovery of a piece of very old movie film leads the protagonist to the discovery that magic and fairies are not fantasy after all. This leads all concerned to a major crisis and a painful decision, which I won't describe because it would be a spoiler. Bledsoe has made his mythical people so plausible that they feel genuinely real. It's always a pleasant surprise to have my prejudices about a story type overwhelmed by a  fine writer and this is one of the best examples. 4/14/18

The God in the Moon by Richard A. Knaak, Ace, 2006   

First volume in a trilogy set in the world of Conan the Barbarian. Conan is currently king of Aquilonia. Nermesa is the son of an aristocratic family who decides to prove himself in the military. He is sent to the uneasy border with the Picts where, through luck as well as skill, he manages to capture a famous bandit. But things do not go smoothly. There are traitors among the army and the bandit escapes. Although he is eventually killed, his sister takes over and is even more determined to kill Nermesa, and she also controls the giant whom the Picts believe is the god who lives in the moon. Pretty good, and the story is complete in itself. 4/12/18

Songs of Victory by Loren L. Coleman, Ace, 2005

Final volume in a trilogy. The Cimmerians are still quarreling among themselves, the evil Vanir are still gathering their strength for an invasion, and our hero remains an outcast in large part because he is believed to be a half breed. There are multiple threats this time. A wizard raises an army of the undead, an old enemy suborns one of our hero’s closest comrades, a prominent Cimmerian is considering joining the invaders, and so on. There is nothing at all new to the form or to the series and I found it rather disappointing. It even fails to tie up some loose ends. 4/8/18

The Night Dahlia by R.S. Belcher, Tor, 2018, $18.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-9012-7

There have been lots of novels and series set in alternate versions of our world where fantastic creatures exist and are taken for granted - vampires, werewolves, fairies, and so on. Sometimes they're meant to be funny, some times they are gritty and "realistic." This series, which started with Nightwise, falls into the latter category. The protagonist is Latham Ballard, an investigator who in this case is hired by a member of a kind of fairy Mafia to find his daughter, who has been missing for some time. But this case turns out to be more complex and lengthy than even he expected, taking him to various places around the world before he discovers the truth. The prose is really excellent and the story had me almost from the first page. I really liked the previous book but this one is even better. I hope there's more to come. 4/7/18

The Call by Peader O’Guilin, Scholastic, 2018, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-338-16070-3  v1123-4

The Invasion by Peadar O’Guilin, Scholastic, 2018, $18.99, ISBN 978-1-338-04562-8

Two young adult fantasies with a dark cast. I struggled to enjoy the first one when I read it a couple of years ago. The premise is that teens can be summarily transported to an alternate reality that is much less pleasant than our own. While the author did a good job in differentiating and varying the characters, I didn't like any of them particularly and I thought the end was rushed. The fact that ot was written in present tense did not help matters. The sequel is marginally better and I was able to empathize somewhat with the protagonists, although once again it is written in present tense. Now there are problems in the original world because it is believed that some individuals are collaborating with the evil forces. Anyone who manages to escape abduction is suspect, and that leads to a whole different kind of adventure. Extra points to the author for creating a fairly original world and an interesting plot set therein. 4/5/18

Cimmerian Rage by Loren L. Coleman, Ace, 2005

Although Grimnir and his raiders have been driven back, they are merely regrouping and the attacks continue along the entire frontier. Most of this middle volume in the trilogy involves random skirmishes and peripheral adventures as Grimnir sends a henchman to track down his enemy and Kern has to decide whether or not to appeal to Aquilonia for help. The Cimmerians, as usual, are quarreling among themselves and are not realistically planning for the war to come. Other than an encounter with a giant spider, this was even more routine than its predecessor. 4/3/18

After the End of the World by Jonathan L. Howard, Thomas Dunne, 2017, $26.99, ISBN 978-1-250-06090-7 

Sequel to Carter and Lovecraft. At the end of that book, the protagonists had inadvertently changed reality and now find themselves in a world where Germany concentrated on Russia and won World War II. There is a German-American scientific project going on, but something is decidedly wrong. There is clearly a hidden agenda and there are organizations within organizations to confuse our heroes, who find themselves providing security for a project supported by ugly sea creatures, a secret cult within the German government, and other entities. This was great fun from beginning to end, and there is clearly more to come in at least one more volume. Mixes horror, science fiction, and fantasy and makes it all work. 4/2/18

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