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

 LAST UPDATE  6/29/19

Claimed by Francis Stevens, Sense of Wonder, 2008 (originally published in 1919) 

A volcanic island appears briefly and a sailor takes a box as a souvenir. It cannot be opened and bears an inscription that magically always moves to the bottom. It is sold to a rich man who becomes obsessed with it. He, his niece, and his doctor have visions of the ocean seeping into their house and a terrifying form concealed within it. Stevens was one of the first female fantasy writers and was an influence on A. Merritt. There is a chase at sea involving a phantom ship and a vision of the fall of Atlantis. This ages very well given that it was written more than a century ago. 6/29/19

Lent by Jo Walton, Tor, 2019, $26.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-7906-1

I am not usually a big fan of historical fantasy but that doesn't mean I don't know a great one when I read it. This is set in Renaissance period Italy and involves a man who can see demons and drive them away, and around whom a variety of miracles occur, clearly connected even if not at his active instigation. Such a wondrous person naturally captures the attention and loyalty of good Christians, but the Pope is not a man who likes to share the limelight with anyone. Girolamo Savonarole was a real historical character, though presumably he had no such powers in real life and he was eventually executed on the Pope's orders. There is a good deal here about the spiritual life, but even for those who are uninterested in religion, the story insightfully examines how faith works, while condemning the corruption and malice that can be found within theological hierarchies. I had a bit of a problem identifying with the protagonist, whose world view is miles away from my own, but I was fascinated by his struggle and his determination. 6/26/19

Spine of the Dragon by Kevin J. Anderson, Tor, 2019, $26.99, ISBN 978-1-250-30210-6 

In this new epic fantasy adventure, humans were created by the wreth to help them in their wars among themselves. But the wreths supposedly all died many generations in the past. It is upsetting, obviously, when a group of them reappear and demand that humans give up their autonomy and become subservient once more, particularly since they have wars of their own to be fought. The story is a bit slow to develop because there are so many characters, each of whom needs to have his or her own back story, and this is, of course, just the first in a series. The viewpoint characters range from rulers to servants and provide a scattered but eventually unified look at this new world. The story, despite the magic, reminded me at times of the authorís series about an interstellar, as the wreths are essentially aliens with a unique point of view. It does not tell a complete story, since itís part of a series, but thatís an inherent flaw in epic fantasy that most readers have come to accept. 6/20/19

The Iron Dragon's Mother by Michael Swanwick, Tor, 2019, $26.99, ISBN 978-1-250-19825-9

This is obviously set in the same world as the author's novels The Iron Dragon's Daughter and The Dragons of Babel. It's a sort of high tech fairy tale setting in which magic and technology co-exist. The protagonist is a soldier who pilots a mechanical dragon, the equivalent of sentient starships in SF. After her latest mission, she finds that a disembodied soul has taken up residence in her mind, but that's a minor problem compared to the fact that her brother has been murdered and she is considered the primary suspects. So naturally the fugitive has to find out who is really responsible. And naturally there is more to the story than just a simple murder. A plot summary really doesn't do justice to this beautifully written fantasy set in a complex but quite well realized fantasy world. It was worth waiting more than a decade for this return to one of my favorite fantasy settings. 6/17/19

The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad, Scholastic, 2019, $18.99, ISBN 978-1338215502

This debut novel is targeted for young adults, but don't let that stop you from reading it. It's an historical fantasy set on the Silk Road. The protagonist is one of only three survivors of an attack by a tribe of violently inclined djinn, now living in their home city with a new ruler and the protection of a more amenable djinn tribe. But there is change coming. Relations between the various djinn are volatile, let alone with humans, and the humans are involved in the usual mix of palace intrigues and rivalries. I managed to read and enjoy this even though it is written in present tense, so it has to be out of the ordinary. 5/23/19

The True Knight by Susan Dexter, Del Rey, 1995 

This was the last of Dexterís novels for adults. Once again, Valadan is the only character carried over from the previous book. This is the story of a young man determined to prove himself worthy of knighthood. He gets involved with a wizard and his apprentice who are ordered by a queen to recover her son, who has been changed into a swan and who has flown away. They have various adventures including encounters with a band of men determined to capture another knight who has befriended the protagonist. This was Dexterís best novel and it is a shame that the years since have seen only two minor additional titles, both aimed at younger readers. 5/13/19

Moonlight by Susan Dexter, Wildside, 2001

Moonshine by Susan Dexter, Wildside, 2014 

Two versions of the same novella for younger readers set in the same world as the authorís adult novels. In the first, a hapless wizardís apprentice finally learns to master his own magical talents after meeting a talking cat. The second title is a revised and expanded version. The story is a familiar one and does nothing new with the premise. 5/13/19

The Wind-Witch by Susan Dexter, Del Rey, 1994 

Second volume of a trilogy, but the only continuing character is a magical horse. This volume is about a woman whose husband is killed fighting raiders. One of the supposed enemy was taken prisoner and she puts him to work on their farm. Heís an odd, dreamy character who has some magical talents, and so does she. She can summon storms, which proves to be significant later in the novel. Much of the book consists of their evolving relationship and there is little overt action until relatively late in a fairly long work, so some readers may find their interest flagging along the way. 5/7/19

The Prince of Ill-Luck by Susan Dexter, Del Rey, 1994 

First in a very loosely connected trilogy. A prince who is cursed with bad luck is shipwrecked in a distant land. There he becomes involved with a runaway noblewoman who is searching for her missing parents. Since the mother is a witch, the prince decides to accompany her and seek a lifting of the spell. But the situation is more complicated than it seems and the young woman does not desire his company. This is quite a nice little story, not too ambitious but very good at accomplishing what it sets out to do. Dexter improved considerably from book to book and the characters in this are very well drawn. 5/1/19

The Wizardís Shadow by Susan Dexter, Del Rey, 1993 

This standalone novel set in the same world as the authorís other books has a clever premise. A wizard is murdered but his shadow remains behind and replaces the shadow of a peddler, compelling him to help finish the wizardís last task. This involves a remote kingdom whose virtuous lord protector is preparing to cede authority to a dull and somewhat sinister prince who is coming of age to take the throne. Lots of court politics and intrigue, and an unlikely hero aided and obstructed at various times by his magical new shadow. 4/23/19

The Mountains of Channadran by Susan Dexter, Del Rey, 1986 

Concluding volume in a trilogy. Tristan may be king, but his people are still suffering from the fatal winter inflicted by Nimir from his frozen keep. Tristan and several friends set out to cross the mountains of the title, plus a frozen ocean, battling some zombies along the way, and finally lift the spell. This is fairly long and rather repetitious. Tristan gets wounded, buried in an avalanche, falls off a cliff, falls into a trap, etc. and in each case he is magically cured and assisted by his magical cat or in some other way helped back onto the trail. Standard fantasy fare. 4/18/19

The Sword of Calandra by Susan Dexter, Del Rey, 1985 

Middle volume in a trilogy that avoids most of the problems of middle volumes in trilogies. Things actually progress. The wizard who would be king is finally crowned. The magic sword is replaced. The immediate villain Ė a rival for the throne Ė is defeated. The romantic couples get together and happily so.  The magic cat becomes something of a deus ex machina. The wizardís wanderings are not always scintillating. The story would have been better about a quarter shorter. Noticeable improvements from the authorís first book. 4/11/19

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