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

 LAST UPDATE 12/31/12

Once Upon a Curse edited by Anna Kashina, Dragonwell, 2012, $16.95, ISBN 978-0-9838320-5-8   

This is a collection of reprints of stories whose general theme should be obvious from the title. The opening story – which actually dominates the collection – is “Come Lady Death” by Peter S. Beagle, which has always been one of my very favorites. The supporting cast is pretty good as well, particularly stories by Patricia Wrede, Nancy Kress, and Lucy A. Snyder. The stories are based on traditional fairy tales, but told with sometimes quite startling twists, new perspectives, or outrageous interjections. There’s a reason why the original stories have lasted for generations, and they often benefit as well from a fresh look. No clunkers and generally a very high quality level.12/31/12

Called to Darkness by Richard Lee Byers, Paizo, 2012, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-60125-465-8 

This is a Pathfinder game related tie in novel, though you don’t have to be familiar with the game, as I am not. It’s a revenge quest story in which the protagonist, survivor of a treacherous attack on her family, sets out to track down the being responsible, a Frost Giant she had previously considered a friend. But the giant isn’t primarily responsible; he has been influenced by an evil god trying to extend its influence from a dark cavern into the surface world. Although the plot is a familiar one and the twists are more like bends, the underground setting does provide some interesting variations and Byers is as always a workmanlike and entertaining writer. 12/28/12

The Devil’s Guard by Talbot Mundy, Avon, 1926  

Ramsden and company unite again for a journey into forbidden Tibet when they receive a message suggesting that an earthshaking discovery has been made there which they can share if they rescue an old though not well liked acquaintance.  They spend the first half of the book just making their way to the border to enter Tibet, outwitting a pair of dubious characters who are spying on them and stumbling upon another man for whom they were looking as the result of an astonishing coincidence. There are various fantastic elements – mind control, telepathy, a kind of astral projection – but they are subordinate to the more mundane adventures. Ultimately we learn that there are two monastic orders in the forbidden land, one dedicated to good and one to evil, although it is not easy to tell which is which, or who is working for which side. The end is a bit of a letdown; our heroes are granted permission to enter the fabled city they sought, but the book ends before they reach it. 12/27/12

Bard’s Oath by Joanne Bertin, Tor, 2012, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-87370-7   

It has been so long since I read the first two in the series – the late 1990s – that I remembered virtually nothing about them, so this was like stepping into a series without reading the earlier books. Thankfully it is self contained and I didn’t miss any obvious context. The setting is a standard fantasy world peopled in part by weredragons. A bitter bard with a talent for magic has turned to the dark side in his quest for revenge, which may well cause wide spread effects, and which sweeps up an innocent man accused of treachery. He appeals to one of the weredragons, who usually remain aloof from human affairs, but it’s possible that even a dragonlord may have his limitations. Fans of high fantasy should find this well crafted tale appealing. 12/25/12

The Dusk Watchman by Tom Lloyd, Pyr, 2012, $17.95, ISBN 978-1-61614-630-6   

Fifth and presumably final volume of the Twilight Reign series. The series started off okay but slightly bland and improved as it went along. The final volume is in many ways the best and it obviously winds up all the various storylines. The future of the world is unclear because it appears that the bad guys have won a kind of victory, with demons at large and the rightful ruler’s powers sharply circumscribed. So it’s time to resort to the ultimate weapon, one that is almost as dangerous to the ones who wield it as to their enemies.  Not a lot of surprises here, or unexpected plot twists, but there’s plenty of action and things are wound up pretty neatly. 12/16/12

The Dreaming City by Michael Moorcock, Lancer, 1972 

This is kind of an expansion of the story of the same name in which Elric lays siege to his own city in an unsuccessful attempt to rescue the cousin he loves from her power hungry cousin. The first part describes how Elric loses his throne through treachery following a sea battle. He briefly regains it, but at the cost of his cherished principles, which doom him to lose it again and more permanently this time, after he appears to forgive his arch enemy despite many examples of the man’s treachery. It’s one of the better early Elric novels although I’ve noticed while rereading Moorcock that I like most of his other fantasy series much better. 12/13/12

Velveteen vs the Junior Super Patriots by Seanan McGuire, IsFic, 2012, $25, ISBN 978-098579891-8  

Although this story of young superheroes is occasionally amusing, I confess that I found it generally rather dull. Velveteen – who is really Velma – can bring toys to life, but she decides she wants to pursue her own course in life, to the consternation of her fellow super friends.  There is a serious premise here, an indictment of people and organizations which exploit relative innocents for their own gain. There are also bits of genuine humor, but I never was drawn into the story particularly. This is apparently the first of a projected series so it might be interesting to see what McGuire does with the premise in the future. 12/11/12

The Matador’s Crown by Alex Archer, Gold Eagle, 2012, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-373-62158-3 

The two fisted archaeologist with the magic sword returns yet again in this action adventure series published under the Archer house pseudonym. This particular installment is actually penned by Michele Hauf.  Annja Creed is in Spain this time, joining a dig that finds what appears to be an interesting but innocuous statue of a bull. Then one of the group is murdered by a sword blow used in bullfighting and a mystery unfolds as Creed tries to figure out the motive as well as the killer, a quest that will lead to the discovery of an even greater secret. Not much fantasy this time, but still an action packed and reasonably suspenseful novel. This series is one of my guilty pleasures.

Crown of Vengeance by Mercedes Lackey & James Mallory, Tor, 2012, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2438-2 

First in a new series, the Dragon Prophecy, which contains all of the tropes found in Lackey’s most popular work. This is the story of the youth of a young elven mage, an ambitious woman orphaned, wrenched from the career she coveted, forced into servitude only to discover that she possesses a great magical power that makes her uniquely qualified to rise above her station. She also learns about her birthright and begins the journey that will lead to a kind of alliance with dragons in her later life. If you haven’t liked Lackey’s previous novels, you won’t like this one because Mallory’s contributions don’t change them very much. I confess that my interest wandered about half way through and I took a break, although my enthusiasm revived pretty quickly when I went back to it. On the other hand, if you enjoyed Valdemar and other similar magical worlds, this is a promising start to a new epic. 12/1/12

The Doctor and the Rough Rider by Mike Resnick, Pyr, 2012, $17.95, ISBN 978-1-61614-690-0 

I had expected this series to begin its inevitable decline with this third volume, but if anything Resnick has managed to ratchet it up a notch. Geronimo has used magic to prevent the aggressive US from expanding westward, but he is willing to compromise if Theodore Roosevelt leads the negotiations. Unfortunately others who wish to maintain the blockade conjure up a supernaturally powered shaman to assassinate Roosevelt, and gunfighter John Wesley Hardin is allied with him. So Doc Holliday is forced to put off his retirement for one more battle, this time against forces that seem almost invulnerable. Read this one in a single sitting. Great fun from start to finish. 11/27/12

The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson, Tachyon, 2012, $14.95, ISBN 978-1-61696-092-6  

Brandon Sanderson is known for his very long fantasies but this one is comparatively short. A thief is caught red handed trying to replace a valuable artifact with a copy, but there’s a way she can avoid punishment. The emperor has been assaulted by an assassin that left his body alive but without a conscious spirit. If the thief can fashion a new soul for him before the population discovers the truth, she will be rewarded. Her own soul may be in jeopardy if she cannot.  A low key but well told adventure on a much smaller scale than the author’s usual canvases. 11/27/12

Luck of the Draw by Piers Anthony, Tor, 2012, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-3135-9 

I believe I missed the last couple of Xanth books. In any case, it has been long enough that I thought this one might feel fresh rather than just the thirty-odd volume in a repetitive series. For a while it worked. I enjoyed the early stages of the protagonist’s reaction to being brought to Xanth as part of a wager between some of the supernatural denizens thereof. His quest is to court a young woman who is reluctant to be wooed. There’s a magic sword, telepathy, puns galore, and true love at last – or is it?  There is some genuinely amusing humor here, particularly toward the end, but a lot of it has been done before and my attention started to flag about two thirds of the way through. 11/24/12

The Queen of the Swords by Michael Moorcock, Berkley, 1971   

The second adventure of Corum, the man with the hand and eye of two dead gods. The evil human army seems poised to defeat the good humans so Corum in his companions venture into the continuum ruled by the Queen of the Swords, hoping to find some allies there to help them while evading the queen’s minions. They survive a series of inventive adventures including a giant flying shark, men changed into gruesome creatures, a desert of blood, and other pitfalls before reaching the fabled City in the Pyramid. Moorcock packs enough plot into 160 pages to support a 1200 page trilogy in current publishing terms. And his story is a lot better than most of these bloated extravaganzas. 11/23/12

The King of the Swords by Michael Moorcock, Berkley, 1971   

Third and last volume of the first Corum trilogy. The peace achieved in the last book is broken when a strange malady turns everyone in the realm against one another. Corum suspects correctly that his hold enemy has enlisted the aid of the King of the Swords to reconquer the world for Chaos. He and two companions embark on a dangerous journey from one realm to the next in a ship they cannot control, pursued at times by monstrous beasts and evil men. He confronts and defeats his old enemy as well as freeing the last of the realms from the rule of Chaos. This may have been intended as his final adventure but Moorcock later brought him back for three more adventures. This set of three is among his very best fantasy. 11/23/12

The Knight of the Swords by Michael Moorcock, Berkley, 1971   

First in the chronicles of Corum, one of the last of a dying race supplanted by humans, who would be featured in two trilogies of which this is the first. Outraged by the cruel slaughter perpetrated by some of the humans, Corum vows revenge but is captured and deprived of one hand and one eye. He manages to escape and is rescued by a more benevolent strain of humanity, but his enemy follows with an army, forcing him to make a pact with a would-be god by which he acquires a six fingered hand and a jeweled eye, both parts of gods now vanished from the world. The hand has a mind of its own and acts to protect its host, while the eye allows him to look into other dimensions and summon the dead to fight for him. After a number of adventures, he pays his debt to the demigod by stealing the heart of one of the lords of chaos, the same Arioch presumably who was Elric’s patron. Despite the contrivances that enable the hero to win, this is an excellent novel. 11/22/12

Tros of Samothrace: Tros by Talbot Mundy, Avon, 1925  

Tros of Samothrace: Helma by Talbot Mundy, Avon, 1925

Tros of Samothrace: Liafail by Talbot Mundy, Avon, 1925 

Tros of Samothrace: Helene by Talbot Mundy, Avon, 1925   

Although Avon published this as four “novels” (Zebra did it later using alternate titles but in only three volumes), it is actually a single book originally published as seven novelettes. It is primarily an historical adventure but there are some minor fantastic elements, chiefly precognition. Tros is a young man coerced by Julius Caesar, the evil genius of the series, into visiting the British Isles on an intelligence mission prior to a Roman invasion. Tros, on the other hand, warns the locals not to let the Romans land. Through a series of bold acts and clever ruses, he rescues his father from Caesar’s prison, although he dies shortly thereafter, and nearly captures Caesar himself. Tros then defeats two ships full of Vikings, acquires a wife who is later killed after being captured by the Romans, outwits a handful of minor enemies, and builds a ship bigger and faster than anything that ever sailed the oceans. With that ship he outwits Caesar again, acquires a full crew through subterfuge and battle. In the final series of adventures he travels to Rome to try to put pressure on Caesar to prevent the invasion of Britain. A few slow parts sprinkled through a great deal of action. 11/16/12

The Eternal Champion by Michael Moorcock, Dell, 1971

I believe this is the first case where Moorcock suggests that his hero, Erokose, is actually a different manifestation of his other heroes – Elric, Dorian Hawkmoon, Jerry Cornelius, etc. John Daker is a man from our time who is summoned to defend humanity from another menace – but he doesn’t know whether he’s in the distant past or the far future. I didn’t like this novel when it first appeared and a second reading hasn’t changed my opinion. It doesn’t feel like Moorcock’s other fantasy. It’s stiff, clumsy, and feels like a rough draft. The protagonist isn’t remotely admirable or likeable, nor are any of the other characters. In fact, it’s increasingly obvious that the humans who summoned Erekose are in fact the villains and the inhuman creatures they want him to destroy are benevolent. This becomes more obvious as the book goes along but our hero is too dimwitted to realize the truth until near the end and switches sides. A very minor Moorcock. 11/15/12

The Vanishing Tower by Michael Moorcock, DAW, 1970 (an unauthorized edit was published as The Sleeping Sorceress.) 

Elric is in pursuit of an evil sorcerer in this short little adventure.  The book consists of three separate episodes in which Elric and Moonglum thwart plots hatched by the sorcerer, usually by means of a deus ex machina, common to the Elric saga. The first two are pretty good, with lots of the usual action, monsters, and a beautiful sleeping goddess. The third section is not nearly as interesting. Moorcock invokes two other aspects of his eternal champion – Corum and Erekose – and has them team up with Elric to finally exact his revenge. It’s talky and contrived and rather a letdown. 11/13/12

A Trace of Moonlight by Allison Pang, Pocket, 2012, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4391-9836-0  

This is the third Abby Sinclair novel, and I haven seen only one of the other two, which may explain why I was rather confused at times.  Abby has made a pact with a demon from which she hopes to escape but efforts by her well meaning friends just make things worse. Far worse. She dies, is restored to life, married unwillingly to an elf, makes a lot of new enemies, alienates her lover, and deprived of the artifact which helped her fend off a supernatural evil. All of this is told tongue in cheek and I was vaguely reminded of Kim Harrison’s novels, but only vaguely. The humor is okay but not as witty and the convolutions of the plot occasionally left me blinking. It’s certainly readable but I suspect I should have tracked down the first two volumes before tackling this one. 11/10/12

Om: The Secret of Ahbor Valley by Talbot Mundy, Avon, 1924   

Minimal fantastic content. A British adventurer named Ommony – “Om mani padme om”, get it? - in India is set the task of investigating the origin of a sliver of jade with unusual properties, including the ability to record human experiences in some fashion. He is also motivated by the desire to search for his sister and her husband, who disappeared in this same Ahbor region to the north twenty years earlier, an inaccessible place whose inhabitants reportedly kill any who venture within their borders. Our hero knows that a mysterious lama is connected to the fragment so he follows him north in the guise of an actor. There is also a mystery involving orphaned European girls smuggled into that region for purposes unknown. Although the first third is interesting, the action starts to bog down after that, including a far too lengthy description of a play the actors are supposed to perform and minor mysteries that aren’t sufficiently interesting. Ommony knows that the mysterious lama whom he suspects of perfidy knows his real identity and confronts him, but receives only ambiguous answers. This is one of those frustrating devices in movies and books where things would be cleared up if people were frank, but they remain obscure even when there is no good reason to do so. The ultimate revelation, following the overly long buildup, is disappointingly low key. Has some good moments, particularly early on, but fails to capitalize on them. 11/5/12

The Singing Citadel by Michael Moorcock, Berkley, 1970 

A collection of four heroic fantasy stories, all set in the world of Elric of Melnibone. Elric himself appears in the title story, helping a besieged queen thwart a jealous sorcerer and a kind of demigod from the realm of the Lords of Chaos. “Master of Chaos” is about a warrior who conquers creatures of his own imagination in an illusory castle. “To Rescue Tanelorn” is about a quest to find supernatural aid to defend a city against an invading army. Finally there is “The Greater Conqueror”, in which another hero confronts a god-king. This is set in the real historical past rather than the world of Elric and Tanelorn. Altogether a passable but unmemorable collection. 11/4/12

The Nine Unknown by Talbot Mundy, Avon, 1923 

Jim Grim, Athelstan King, Ramsden, and the rest of the gang from some of Mundy’s earlier novels are all together again for this quest to discover the secret horde of the Nine Unknown, a group of men whose organization has secretly drawn gold and silver from the world for at least a thousand years. This one is hard to classify. It’s a secret history, which might make it SF, but the organization has access to ancient books which reportedly hold magical secrets, which suggests that it is fantasy. In any case, the secretive group knows of their interest and sets about hindering them in a series of adventures including a hotel fire and the use of poison gas. It turns out that the Nine Unknown they are dealing with are pretenders seeking the secrets of the real Nine Unknown, who are benevolent. The latter arrange for our heroes to destroy the former.  Very good throughout. 11/3/12

Epic Legends of Fantasy edited by John Joseph Adams, Tachyon, 2012, $17.95, ISBN 978-1-61696-084-1  

Every few years someone comes out with a big – in more ways than just page count – collection of fantasy fiction. This year it’s John Joseph Adams with this assemblage of seventeen stories by some of the most famous and popular writers in the genre. There’s a new Earthsea story from Ursula K. Le Guin, a Game of Thrones short from George R.R. Martin – possibly the best in the collection, an Elric adventure by Michael Moorcock, and others from the worlds made popular by Patrick Rothfuss, Robin Hobb, Juliet Marillier, Brandon Sanderson, as well as a few newer writers like Mary Robinette Kowal and Carrie Vaughn. Six hundred pages of high quality fantasy, mostly heroic in tone, and all of it original to this volume. I enjoyed every one of them. This smells like an award contender. 11/2/12

Sorcerer’s Amulet by Michael Moorcock, 1968 

The second Dorian Hawkmoon novel, also known as Mad God’s Amulet, takes up where the previous ended. No longer enslaved by the jewel embedded in his skull, Hawkmoon and his companion attempt to return to Count Brass but run into trouble when captured by minions of the evil Granbretanians, although they are quickly rescued by the population of a city who have moved themselves into another dimension.  Hawkmoon falls into the company of a former enemy who changes sides as they jointly face a couple of common enemies, then track down an insane warlord who has captured the woman Hawkmoon loves and usurped the power of an amulet sacred to the supposedly mythical Runestaff, served by the mysterious Warrior in Jet and Gold. The rescue is effected and the various parties are reunited to face the Granbretanians again. 10/26/12

Sword of the Dawn by Michael Moorcock, 1968    

Third in the Runestaff series. Count Brass and his people are hidden in an alternate world, but at least one minion of the evil Grandbretanians has found a way to transfer himself to their reality. They have no choice but to plan a mission to destroy the technology that makes this possible. To do this, they enter the enemy’s capital city disguised as emissaries from a far empire as yet unthreatened by Grandbretan. Meanwhile his arch enemy Meladius has become disenchanted with the king and believes he would be a better ruler of the Dark Empire. Eventually Hawkmoon is transferred to yet another alternate world where he must retrieve the magical sword of the title.  The Lancer edition has a truly breath taking number of typographic errors. 10/26/12

The Secret of the Runestaff by Michael Moorcock, 1969   

There’s an amusing typographical error in this one where our heroes struggle to make their way across a dessert – undoubtedly their feet got caught in the chocolate. Anyway, it’s the final Dorian Hawkmoon adventure, culminating in the downfall of the Dark Empire when it devolves into civil war just as Hawkmoon shows up with a magical sword, a magical amulet, and a magical runestaff. The series is admittedly filled with coincidences and convenient appearances of just the right kind of help at just the right moment to save the day, but it’s still a lot of fun and among the best of the sword and sorcery series of its time. Moorcock even kills off some of his heroes. 10/26/12

Whispers Under Ground by Ben Aaronovitch, Del Rey, 2012, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-345-52461-4 

Third in the Peter Grant series, somewhere between urban fantasy and horror. Grant is a police officer with an affinity for spirits of the dead. With his partner, a wizard, Grant investigates the murder of a member of a powerful family who believe the killer was mundane, though Grant soon suspects otherwise. He suspects it’s a twisted magician who is responsible and his investigations will lead the two of them into the elaborate subway system under London. Additional tension and some humor are provided by a third team member, a Christian fundamentalist who believes that anything magical must by definition be Satanic. A fun series, and this is the best of the first three. I’m also a sucker for subway stories. 10/25/12

The Jewel in the Skull by Michael Moorcock, 1967 

Count Brass rules a small state on the Mediterranean in what appears to be a future Earth where magic has returned. Great Britain (Granbretan) is the Dark Empire, a nation of insane people who have begun to conquer the many warring states on the European continent.  Dorian Hawkmoon is caught by the bad guys and coerced into acting against Brass thanks to a magical jewel embedded in his forehead. Although I enjoyed the Elric stories, this was the Moorcock novel that made me a fan. The bad guys are outsmarted and then out fought in a major pitched battle, after which Hawkmoon is off to Persia to find a sorcerer who can remove the jewel before it kills him. There are rather too many convenient magical wards that show up just in the nicks of time, but otherwise it’s a good sword and sorcery adventure. 10/23/12

Forge of Darkness by Steven Erikson, Tor, 2012, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2356-9  

I thought at first that Erikson had finally abandoned his Malazan series, but this is the beginning of a new sequence set in that same world, although much earlier historically. The setting is a magical realm which is threatened by civil war as a consequence of an unpopular royal engagement. Predictably an outside power – in this case a supernatural one – hopes to take advantage of the discontent for its own aggrandizement. As usual, a group of comparative innocents get caught up in the struggle. This was certainly well written but I found it vaguely but not fatally disappointing, perhaps because I had anticipated something further divergent from the Malazan books. It’s sure to appeal to his fans and perhaps recruit some new ones. 10/22/12

Queen of Thorns by Dave Gross, Paizo, 2012, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-60125-463-4  

Part of the Pathfinder series of game related sword & sorcery adventures, several of which I've found quite enjoyable. This one involves a party of elves who are ostensibly searching for a druid, who had earlier disappeared under the inevitable mysterious circumstances. Two outsiders are allowed to enter the elven lands despite traditions against it and they get caught up not only in the search but in a growing political dispute among the locals. Added to the mix is a supernatural menace that might make all the other issues immaterial. Pretty good adventure but I wasn’t particularly fond of the elvish society as depicted here. 10/19/12

Initiate’s Trial by Janny Wurts, Harper, 2012, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-00-721783-0 

This is the nine book of the War of Light and Shadows, which means I’ve missed three – in fact, I’ve never seen any of them at all. That’s probably why I had so much difficulty following this very complex novel about several magical forces converging, even though it is itself the first in a new subset, Sword of the Canon. Wurts also uses a lot of unpronounceable names, which slows down those of us who subvocalize when we read. One of these unpronounceable people is being compelled by a religious order to battle a legion of wraiths. There’s another plot involving efforts to seize control of one of the realms and our main protagonist discovers that he’s a fulcrum point in this struggle as well. Throw in a few other supporting protagonists with their own problems and you have an intricate adventure story with lots of political intrigue. This paperback edition also uses tiny print for some reason. If you’ve been following the series, you will probably find this much more accessible than I did. If not, you have to persevere for a while before it all starts to fall together. 10/15/12

The Stealer of Souls by Michael Moorcock, 1966  

This was technically the second Elric book, but the stories were published before the first novel. The opening story is “The Dreaming City”, later expanded into a novel, in which Elric leads raiders against the city of his people to rescue the cousin he loves, who has been placed into a sorcerous sleep by her brother, who also usurped the throne. Elric is an anti-hero, however, so even though the city falls, he inadvertently kills the woman he loves and then betrays his allies who perish to the man. “While the Gods Laugh” is a fairly routine quest story, this time for a book of ancient knowledge, but there’s a nice twist at the end. The book has deteriorated over time and is unreadable. “The Stealer of Souls” involves an assault on a merchant’s castle and a vendetta against an evil magician. This one is quite good. “Kings in Darkness” and “The Flame Bringers” round things out, both solid, traditional fantasy adventures.  The Elric stories made quite a splash when they appeared and have remained popular since.10/14/12

Library of Gold by Alex Archer, Gold Eagle, 2012, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-373-62157-6 

The Rogue Angel books are the only men’s adventure series I still follow. The protagonist is a female archaeologist armed with a magical sword who thwarts villains as she travels around the world uncovering ancient treasures, in this case a legendary library believed to be concealed somewhere inside Russia. Naturally the authorities don’t want her to take it out of the country and some are even more determined to stop her. The series varies a bit – it’s written by several authors under this house pseudonym – but this installment by Joseph Nassise is one of the better adventures. Formulaic, of course, but a successful formula.10/9/12

A Modern Fairy Tale by Mary Eckert, AuthorHouse, 2012, $14.95, ISBN 978-1-4685-0664-8  

This is a novella that is clearly a kind of wish fulfillment project. The protagonist is a young woman, bored and unsure of herself, who is transported to a world filled with mythical creatures after an encounter with a mysterious stranger. There are some mildly interesting adventures as she finds herself as a person, a touch of romance, and occasional interesting ideas. The prose, however, is awkward and unpolished with dangling and misplaced modifiers and occasional missing words. A good example is “She tried to shift into a more comfortable position finding her hands and feet bound.” It’s obvious what she meant but as phrased she tried to move before she found out she was tied up. And it was probably her wrists and ankles that were bound, but that’s a quibble. A good editor could have made this a much better book. 10/7/12

The Tangled Bridge by Rhodi Hawk, Tor, 2012, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2497-9   

This sequel to A Twisted Ladder is a good example of how the publishing field has become so fragmented that it threatens to fly apart. With the death of Borders – the only major bookstore in the Providence area – and the decision by publishers to stop sending catalogues to reviewers, too many books are falling between the cracks. Not only have I never seen a copy of the first novel in this series, I had never even heard of it until this one showed up. That wouldn’t have been too awful if the novel had been a standalone but it is heavily dependent on what happened in the first volume – apparently a woman discovers that her family is involved with the paranormal in contemporary New Orleans – and I was frequently confused and sometimes completely lost reading her further adventures in a vacuum. It’s particularly annoying because I liked the parts I understood and the author is clearly talented, but I wonder how many readers stumbling across this one are going to bother to go online and track down the first. 10/4/12

Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone, Tor, 2012, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-3310-0   

A fantasy debut, and a promising one, with a particularly interesting setting. The god protecting a fantasy world city has died and it is necessary to resurrect him promptly before something really bad happens. The city combines elements of traditional high fantasy with contemporary steampunk, and it is literally the machinery of the city that will fail without the power of the god to keep it operating. The protagonists are investigators who discover that the god was actually murdered by parties unknown and a chunk of the novel is given over to a fascinating court room sequence involving the crime. This may be the most exciting first novel in the fantasy genre in the last couple of years. 10/3/12

Quantum Coin by E.C. Myers, Pyr, 2012, $16.95, ISBN 978-1-61614-682-5  

Sequel to Fair Coin. At the end of the first novel in this YA fantasy series, the magic coin stopped working and our hero has settled back into a normal life. That comes to an abrupt end when an alternate version of his girlfriend shows up from a parallel universe. She has bad news as well for her advent reveals that the structure of the multiverse is in jeopardy, which means our heroes and their various alternate egos will have to act once again. There are time paradoxes as well as visits to different realities. Although there are moments of genuine humor, there are hints of tragedy as well. This doesn’t have the feel of a YA novel and while the plot is a bit less controlled than in its predecessor, I actually enjoyed it a good deal more. 10/2/12

Stormbringer by Michael Moorcock, 1965  

The first Elric book is essentially a novel split into three parts. The first part, “The Coming of Chaos”, is excellent. Demons kidnap Elric’s wife in order to force him into a confrontation with a newly revived Dead God, whose presence could shift the balance between Law and Chaos and plunge the world into unending evil. The title is the name of his sword, which is enchanted, half alive, and which drinks the souls of the people it kills. Elric is a member of an ancient race that preceded humans, who make up the Young Kingdoms, but he is among the very last of his kind.  After destroying the Dead God, he teams up with Moonglum, who will be his companion in many adventures, to overthrow an ambitious dictator who is seeking to control the world.  Although Elric destroys many of his enemies, this section ends with the forces of Chaos virtually unopposed in their war against the world. Part two, “Sad Giant’s Shield”, follows Elric as he claims a magical shield and then defeats one of the Lords of Chaos.  The final victory comes in “Doomed Lord’s Passing,” although to accomplish it both Elric and Moonglum would die.  But Moorcock didn’t let him stay dead for long. 9/25/12

Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch, Scholastic, 2012, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-545-46988-3  

This is a well done but basically familiar fantasy adventure for young adults. The Rift is a barrier between our world and another place about which various contradictory rumors have emerged. A teenage girl tries to ignore its existence because she is wrapped up in her own personal problems, but when her father is arrested on some mysterious charge, she is propelled into a series of reactions that will lead her across the barrier and into contact with some strange and frightening creatures that live beyond the Rift. And she also discovers that there are many worlds, not just two, and that opens up an infinite number of possibilities. I was a bit impatient with the protagonist at times but otherwise found this quite enjoyable. 9/21/12

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell, Vintage, 2011, $14.95, ISBN 978-0-307-27668-1

The title refers to a Florida amusement park run by a family which begins to disintegrate when it’s star attraction dies of cancer, leaving her husband, senile father, and three children to deal with the challenge of a much better financed alternate park a short distance away. The main, but not only, viewpoint character is daughter Ava, whose sister is seduced by a ghost and whose brother runs away to work for the competition. Ava has to rescue her sister and deal with the imminent collapse of everything she has known. This  is a very strange and very moving novel that doesn’t fall into easy genre classification and which will leave some readers scratching their heads if they aren’t willing to expand their horizons slightly. A very well drawn protagonist and very few and mostly minor flaws. 9/12/12

The Golden Barge by Michael Moorcock, 1979 (but written in 1958) 

This was the first novel Moorcock wrote, although it wasn’t published until twenty years later when he’d become successful. It’s an elaborate, sometimes obscure, sometimes obvious allegory about a man who pursues a possibly insubstantial golden barge down a river. On the way he has several episodic encounters that introduce him to sex, war, responsibility, treachery, etc., none of which make a very big impression since he is emotionally flat and incapable of feeling affection or hatred. It’s not very good actually, despite occasional interesting moments, and obviously Moorcock learned a great deal more about story telling as the years passed. On the other hand, it’s better than many another first novel I’ve read, even several that have been published. 9/9/12

A Guile of Dragons by James Enge, Pyr, 2012, $17.95, ISBN 978-1-61614-628-3   

Fourth adventure of Ambroisus, first in the Tournament of Shadows series which follows the original trilogy, featuring Ambrosius, warrior and son of a traitor. The setting is standard fantasy world with goblins, dwarves, and dragons. The dragons have been gone a long time but they’re back and they’re pissed off and war devastates everything in sight. Can Ambrosius pull together the good guys and prevent a complete disaster? You can figure that out without my help. The previous book in this series showed some promise but this one left me feeling a bit flat despite the high level of violence and action throughout. I think I’ve overdosed on goblin wars. It would be nice to see writers like Enge explore different territory for a change. 9/8/12

This Case Is Gonna Kill Me by Phillipa Bornikova, Tor, 2012, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2682-9   

I believe this is a pseudonym of Melinda Snodgrass, whose work I have enjoyed in the past. It’s an urban fantasy set in a law firm that deals with legal issues involving supernatural beings. Vampires, werewolves, fairies, and others are clearly in the driving seat of this alternate Earth and humans spend most of their time trying to curry favor with one or another for protection, advancement, or other reasons. The protagonist is a female lawyer interested in promotion who finds herself oddly sidelined by office politics, then overtly attacked in a series of violent incidents for which she has no explanation. Obviously there’s something about her that she doesn’t even know herself, and she’d better figure out what it is before it is the death of her. Fun, and one of the better recent urban fantasy novels I’ve read. 9/3/12

Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce, Doubleday, 2012, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-385-53578-6

Graham Joyce is at one time one of the most unpredictable and reliable writers I follow. He is reliably entertaining and thoughtful while I never know what to expect from a new book. His newest is a retelling of the story of Rip Van Winkle. A teenaged girl has a fight with her boyfriend, then agrees to accompany a mysterious man on what she assumes is a short trip. Instead he takes her to a kind of erotic fairyland where she is forced to remain for six months, during which twenty years pass back in our world. When she returns, no one believes her story even though she does not appear to have aged at all and her interactions with family and former lover are the heart of a story which concludes that you cannot go home again after that much change. The message is a bit muddied, however. One of the "fairies" follows her and intervenes, which means that the problems she faces are not inherent to her situation. I was not entirely satisfied with the ending either, even though I thought it was inevitable that something similar would occur. Not his best but still one of the best contemporary fantasies I've read in a long while. 9/2/12

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