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

 LAST UPDATE 9/25/14

We Are Not Good People by Jeff Somers, Gallery, 2014, $16.99, ISBN 978-1-45159679-0   

Although this is set in a variation of our world, it really isn’t quite that simple. Magic is real and there’s an underground of magicians great and small who search for greater and more varied powers. Sometimes this involves human sacrifice, but good magicians settle for less drastic measures. When our two heroes encounter a damsel in distress, they decide to help her, only to discover that she is a pawn in a power struggle on a scale they cannot even begin to imagine. Shaken but unbowed, they decide to rescue her anyway regardless of the consequences. Nothing could go wrong, could it?  A little too long for the story but entertainingly written and with a twist or two I didn’t see coming. 9/25/14

The Temple of the Ten by H. Bedford-Jones and W.C. Robertson, Donald Grant, 1973 

This short novel was serialized in Adventure magazine in 1921. A group of adventurers raid a hidden temple in Afghanistan, killing all of the priests – who are actually an evil cabal – and their neighboring tribe – who seem to be at least partly innocent bystanders. They plan to rescue a party of slave girls and steal the local treasure, but their plans go awry when half of their contingent are ambushed and wiped out. The other half successfully seizes the temple, but find themselves trapped. It sometimes feels like a Talbot Mundy adventure, but without the sustained enjoyability and at the end, I was glad that it was a fairly short novel. 9/23/14

The Eye of Zoltar by Jasper Fforde, Houghton Mifflin, 2014, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-547-73849-9  

Third in a series, of which I have never seen the first two, which makes it a bit difficult to review this coming so late to the party. The protagonist is a teenage girl running things at a kind of magical management company. In the previous volumes, I gather she solved humorous fantastic emergencies, but it’s not absolutely necessary to be familiar with those to enjoy this one. This time she has to find a mystical object or her evil enemy will destroy the last two living dragons. So she’s off on a quest in a kind of tongue in cheek fantasy adventure that has hints of Harry Potter and other popular fantasy elements, with enough original material to make it stand out on its own. Fforde has some of the most readable prose you’ll find in any genre. 9/21/14

Scarlet Tides by David Hair, Jo Fletcher Books, 2014, $26.99, ISBN 978-1-62365-829-8  

Sequel to Mage’s Blood and second book of four. Two separate societies are linked only periodically by the rise of a submerged bridge. The more advanced one is aggressive and during the current cycle they have launched a war of conquest. Things are going well until a magical artifact disappears from the ruler’s control and a desperate effort is launched to recover it quickly. Naturally the good guys from the invaded country would prefer that not happen, and all their hopes may ride on the backs of some very unlikely heroes. Did you ever notice how many unlikely heroes there are in fantasy?  Sarcasm aside, this is a quite good fantasy adventure comparable to Raymond Feist or Dave Duncan, and I look forward to the next in the series. I would have edited a good sized chunk out in favor of a faster moving plot but otherwise it was just fine. 9/16/14

Evil Fairies Love Hair by Mary G. Thompson, Clarion, 2014, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-547-85903-3

I hadn't read any YA fantasy in a while when this one turned up. This one is aimed at a slightly younger age group than I usually read. A young girl finds a handful of diminutive fairies who will grant her wishes - sometimes nasty ones - if she just protects them and provides them with food. Unfortunately, what they eat is human hair, and that's not quite as easy to acquire as it seems at first. Young Ali tries to keep them cooperative and happy and change her life for the better, but things are more complicated than she realizes, and the fairies themselves haven't been entirely forthcoming about what they want in the long run. A cute story but not likely to have much appeal outside its target readership. 9/2/14

Reign of Stars by Tim Pratt, Paizo, 2014, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-60125-660-7

A Pathfinder game system tie-in novel. This series has been more sword and sorcery than high fantasy, and that suits my inclinations just fine. An alchemist who just wants to be left alone with his studies is coerced into participating in a dangerous mission. He and a companion are sent into a neighboring land where the local rulers use technology looted from a crashed spaceship (!) to maintain their grip on power. Our heroes have to anticipate the consequences of this treasure trove's discovery and if possible prevent it from becoming a factor in the general balance of power. And they have to accomplish all this even though at least some of their theoretical friends may in fact have a very different agenda. I've enjoyed Pratt's previous entries in this series so it's really no surprise that I liked this one as well. He has a very readable style, his plots are well constructed, and they always seem to pass by effortlessly. 8/29/14

The Crusader Road by Michael A. Stackpole, Paizo, 2014, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-60125-657-7

Tie-in novel to the Pathfinder game system. I've found Stackpole somewhat inconsistent in the past. Some of his fantasy novels have struck me as excellent while others have seemed quite pedestrian. This one lies somewhere between those two extremes. It concerns an aristocratic family driven out of their traditional home and in search of a new location from which they can extend a new network of power. The head of the family is a highly competent and determined woman who has to overcome a variety of obstacles, everything from monsters to political rivals, to achieve her goal. The plot falls somewhere between sword and sorcery and high fantasy. Definitely enjoyable, if not the author's best work. 8/27/14

Grudgebearer by J.F. Lewis, Pyr, 2014, $18, ISBN 978-1-61614-985-7 

First volume in yet another trilogy. The author has had several previous novels, of which I have only seen one, which I rather liked. It was a kind of dark urban fantasy whereas this one is entirely different, set in a fantasy world that is certainly not your ordinary kingdom or sovereign city. The protagonist is a kind of immortal warrior whose race protects the master race from an inhuman enemy, although the old bondage has long since disappeared. But the peace that has lasted for centuries is about to come to an end, dark and light magic are both stirring, and our hero is about to find himself facing enemies both new and old. The story has a climax, although the greater issues are unresolved and presumably will remain so until the third book in the series. I got bogged down for a while about midway but when I returned to the book a day later it caught me up again and carried me to the end. Not entirely my kind of story, but not a bad one.  8/26/14

Sword of the Bright Lady by M.C. Planck, Pyr, 2014, $18, ISBN 978-1-61614-989-5 

First in a series, making use of a familiar family theme – the protagonist from our time who is somehow transported to a fantasy world, although in this case there are enough original aspects to the new setting that it doesn’t feel like as much of a cliché. The hero is an engineer whose main hope is to find a way back to his own reality – which I assume will happen further on in the series. For the moment, at least, he is trapped in a blend of classic fantasy world with 19th Century technology including primitive firearms. He lands in trouble, gets a death sentence, enlists in an army to avoid execution, and discovers one possible way to return, but only if he survives a steady stream of deadly enemies and situations. A little uneven but generally quite well done, and with enough novelty to make it more memorable. 8/25/14

The Model by Robert Aickman, Arbor House, 1987

This novella was published posthumously. The protagonist is a young girl in pre-Soviet Russia whose mother wants her to go into a convent and whose father wants to effectively sell her to a wealthy man to stave off his own financial ruin. She, on the other hand, dreams of being a ballerina and builds a large model of an opera house. Reality and her fantasy converge and become indistinguishable as she searched for a way out of her double dilemma. This has a feel similar to Aickman’s ghost stories and their sense of impending peril without the kind of supernatural terror found there. 8/24/14

Anarchy by James Treadwell, Atria, 2014, $16, ISBN 978-14516-6168-2

Publishers who send the middle books of series for review after not sending the first probably have a special part of Hell reserved for them. It's particularly annoying when the second book is so good, and in this case in particular it was difficult to figure out what significant events happened in the first book. The setting is our world, more or less, except that magic has begun to return. Gavin Stokes has had experiences with ghosts and mermaids, so he knows for certain that the nature of reality is changing. A host of new and unexplained events opens the second book, with false accusations of murder, a young girl who mysteriously disappears from a locked room, and strange creatures haunt the woods. Despite the male protagonist, this is actually about three different, well drawn female characters and the shapes of their lives in a time of decided unrest. The prose is marvelous and I'll probably track down the first book, Advent, as well as the concluding volume which is scheduled to appear late this year. Horror fans should like this as well if they prefer subtle supernatural rather than overt blood and gore. 8/22/14

Cursed by George Allan England, 1919 

The rather unpleasant crew of a rundown trading ship in Malaysia runs into trouble when their drunken captain kidnaps the daughter of the local witch woman. There’s a long battle between the ship and a fleet of Malay canoes that is quite well done, and Captain Briggs is one of the most exquisitely evil characters I’ve run into in fiction. Fifty years later, Briggs has retired and reformed – a bit too much to be plausible as a matter of fact. His wife, son, and daughter-in-law have all died over the years, but he still has his grandson Hal. Unfortunately, Hal suddenly begins exhibiting traits like those of his grandfather during his hell raising days and Briggs begins to wonder if the curse is working after all. This is much better written than England’s earlier novels, although more restrained in scope. England also seems to have undergone a change in his attitude toward other races as well, because he depicts the Malays as honorable, brave, and intelligent. 8/18/14

The Rose and the Ring by William Makepeace Thackeray, 1855   

The author of Vanity Fair also wrote this children’s fantasy, who also illustrated it. I’m not sure what children would make of it because of the literary and political allusions and other aspects that I doubt a child of that time – or this – would make sense of. A man with magical abilities is snubbed at a christening, and all know how that works out.  It’s a cute though somewhat complicated story, with the usual satirical elements of its era, but more of an interesting novelty than anything else. The illustrations are quite good. 8/3/14

Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone, Tor, 2014, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-3574-6

A novel of the Craft Sequence, which is set in a kind of corporate driven version of traditional sword and sorcery. The protagonist this time is involved in the manufacture of artificial gods - sort of semi-sentient machines - for a land where an earlier war has expunged the real gods, although they still exist elsewhere in the world. A job related accident leaves our protagonist injured, shaken by the experience, and regarded by her employer and co-workers as emotionally unstable and dangerous to associate with. When she starts investigating the circumstances of her accident, which involve the destruction of one of the substitute gods, she begins uncovering uncomfortable facts that place her in danger once again. This is structured like a detective story, which is difficult to do well in a fantasy setting. Readers who liked either or both of the first two in the series are almost certain to enjoy this one as well, although at times I thought the author had tongue firmly inserted in cheek. 7/31/14

Assail by Ian C. Esslemont, Tor, 2014, $19.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-3000-0

A novel of the Malazan Empire, more frequently associated with Steven Erickson. A part of the world long covered with snow and ice has begun to thaw and adventurers, bandits, and treasure hunters are beginning to explore the exposed landscape. There are inhabitants to contend with as well, both human and otherwise. Among the intruders are a bard, an amnesiac, a troop of mercenaries, and a mysterious warrior. There is also a fresh threat to the peace of the world, a promise of war, and a determined woman who seeks to avert catastrophe. Their various stories are all interwoven in what appears to be an attempt to bring the series to a close. Straightforward and competently done fantasy adventure on a large canvas with a handful of interesting characters and some good action sequences. 7/29/14

The Untold Tales of Ozman Droom by Robin Spriggs, Anomalous, 2014, $16.95, ISBN 978-0-9634296-6-7  

This is a decidedly peculiar book that is neither novel nor collection but something of both. The life of Ozman Droom – which has some very weird aspects -  is described in prose and verse, memoir and conventional narrative, vignette and extended story. Some of the individual pieces could stand on their own but they actually work much better as a group. Parts of it I liked very much; other parts almost failed to hold my interest, and would have if they had not been so interrelated. I had only read a half dozen or so of the author’s short stories before this so I had no idea what to expect, and having read this, I have no idea what to expect next. But it will be interesting to find out. 7/26/14

The Godless by Ben Peak, Thomas Dunne, 2014, $25.99, ISBN 978-1250050021   

First in a series. The gods have waged war and are dying and now some humans have inherited godlike powers. One such is the chief protagonist, who discovers she is immune to fire and that makes her the target for people who wish either to kill her or exploit her new abilities. The story develops a bit slowly but eventually there is a major battle which we see through various perspectives, and the climax is worth the wait. Although part of a series, this is pretty close to being a complete story in itself. I think it would have benefited from some pruning early on but the second half is much better. There is enough novelty to make this somewhat more interesting than the scores of similar stories being published and Peak has a promising style.7/24/14

The Cobbler of Ridingham by Jeffrey E. Barlough, Gresham & Doyle, 2014, $14.95, ISBN 978-0-9787634-4-2  

This is, I believe, the eighth volume in the Western Lights series, set in a kind of pastoral fantasy world where dark mysteries await solutions. Strange apparitions and visions afflict the residents of a remote community in a kind of Victorian America in a world where the Ice Age never ended. One of Barlough’s recurring characters returns – although I think this actually precedes his earlier appearance chronologically – to solve the mystery, which is neatly done. What really makes this series appealing is the setting and the way Barlough tells his stories, which have something of the feel of fairy tales even though they are in fact usually dark mysteries with hints of the supernatural. I found this one particularly effective in that regard, and the story itself is pretty good as well. I’m surprised this series isn’t more widely known. 7/2314

The Devil’s Chord by Alex Archer, Gold Eagle, 2014, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-373-62169-4 

Alex Archer is a house pseudonym in this case masking Michelle Hauf, who has written several earlier books in the Annja Creed/Rogue Angel series. Creed is an archaeologist in this Lara Croft tradition who found a magical sword and spends most of her time battling villains for control of other artifacts, magical or otherwise. Reading one of these is like watching an episode of a familiar television show. We know that the regular cast is going to survive and that good will triumph over evil. It’s just a matter of how. This time she’s looking for an ancient cross that was dropped into one of the canals of Venice. It turns out that the cross is a clue to one of Da Vinci’s secret inventions and that one of the men she is working with is actually a thief who has reasons of his own for wanting the cross. Nothing out of the ordinary but fun. 7/16/14

The Court of Lies by Mark Teppo, Fairwood Press, 2014, $17.99, ISBN 978-1-933846-44-6  

The author has written at least two fantasy novels, neither of which I have ever seen, so this collection of short stories – previously published as three ebooks apparently – was my first introduction to his work. It is varied enough to defy easy classification – everything from fairy tales to atmospheric horror, although they are predominantly fantasy of one type or another, both dark and light. They are obviously the work of an experienced writer although as far as I can see, none of them were published prior to being collected. I particularly enjoyed “Wolves, in Darkness,” “The Lost Technique of Blackmail,” and “The Queen of Faith,” but my tastes tend to the darker stories. Lots of good stuff here if you don’t mind a pretty wide variety of themes and moods. 7/7/14

The Return of the Discontinued Man by Mark Hodder, Pyr, 2014, $18, ISBN 978-1-61614-905-5

The fourth adventure of Burton & Swinburne in an alternate Victorian world. An experiment by a British scientist inadvertently brings back one of Burton’s old enemies and Burton – currently suffering from what appear to be hallucinations or visions of alternate worlds – is hardly in a condition to deal with the issue. This all leads up to a journey into a strangely altered future Britain where technology has altered society in part under the direction of a mysterious power. In a world of artificial intelligence and other wonders, our heroes must rely on their wits and the usual daring audacity to invade the chambers of government and avoid a world war. This one has its moments but I didn’t think it matched the quality of the first three novels. It may be time for the author to move on to a different subject. 7/2/14

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