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 LAST UPDATE 9/19/16

The Dreaming Hunt by Cindy Dees and Bill Flippin, Tor, 2016, $28.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-3515-9  

Sequel to The Sleeping King, which introduced a mildly different fantasy world. Despite the presence of elves and such, it has effectively been conquered by alien invaders. As Koth extends its control, a prophecy suggests that a legendary figure will emerge from his ancient sleep to save the world. A handful of adventurers locate the sleeping king, but they don’t know how to revive them and their enemies are hot on their heels. As with the first in the series, I found this entertaining enough to read to the end, but also as with the first, it isn’t the kind of story I’m likely to remember much about next month. 9/19/16

The Light Ages by Ian R. MacLeod, Ace, 2003 

This fantasy is set in an alternate England in which a sort of Victorian age society has persisted. Magic can be refined from ore so there has never been any need to develop technology or science. Society is rigidly stratified. A young man from a working family rebels against what his future seems fated to be, runs off to London, and joins a rebel movement which eventually overthrows the old order, uncovers some well hidden secrets, and meets the girl of his dreams. But depressingly it appears that the new order is doomed to repeat the mistakes of their predecessors. If Dickens had written fantasy, it would have read something like this. 9/13/16

The Empty Ones by Robert Brockway, Tor, 2016, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-7968-8

This is one of those novels so just can't be described in a few sentences. The creation of a kind of metaphysical angel leads to the formation of a deadly cult that hopes to rule the world. The plot is sort of about two enemies of the cult, a movie actor who is actually immortal and evil, and various other strange people. This is the sequel to The Unnoticeables from last year and like that book it mixes horrific images with speculation, dark humor, wild adventure, and great prose. This is as close to surrealism as I generally like, and I imagine it won't appeal to every taste. But if you want something that is out of the ordinary and not quite over the top, this is a book you might want to consider. 9/2/16

The Elders by Inbali Iserles, Scholastic, 2016, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-545-69084-43   

I am not really fond of animal stories – stories in which animals are essentially human personalities in other bodies with their own society. I wasn't even that thrilled by Watership Down. This is the second in a series about essentially intelligent foxes. It is also a quest story as a young female fox goes searching for her missing brother, entering a large and mysterious forest, armed not only with her animal cunning but with a gift for magic. If her quest is to succeed, she must plumb the secret of a society of older foxes who conceal their activities from the rest. This was okay and I managed to finish it, but it’s really not my kind of story. 8/30/16

Gods of Nabban by K.V. Johansen, Pyr, 2016, $17, ISBN 978-1-63388-203-4 

Third in the Marakand series. The cursed assassin has finally been liberated from the spirit that has possessed him, but that doesn’t mean his life is suddenly a bowl of cherries. The gods still have their influence and he is compelled to return to the homeland he left many decades earlier. The deeds which he committed under the influence of the intrusive ghost have left him mentally scarred and burdened with guilt. And so encumbered, he walks into the middle of a war that involves both humans and superhumans, and the outcome is uncertain indeed. Although this is basically a story I’ve read many times before, I was caught up in this one, which I thought was noticeably better than the author’s previous novels. The characters are quite well drawn and not just the clockwork warriors and sorcerers that people so many similar stories. 8/29/16

Chapel of Ease by Alex Bledsoe, Tor, 2016, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-7656-5 

This is the latest novel of the Tufa, based in part on Appalachian folklore. The Tufa are essentially a secretive tribe living in a remote region who have access to magic in a limited fashion. The protagonist is an actor who meets one of the few members of that group to leave the mountains and he becomes obsessed with the untold portions of a story his new friend has told. As opening night for the play approaches, a series of strange and unsettling events begins to unfold and the Tufa playwright dies in his sleep. The opening is postponed and the protagonist decides to bring his friend’s ashes back to his home, and do a little investigating while he is there. But this is one of those cases where it is dangerous to ask questions. The subtle sense of mystery pervading this story is very skillfully managed. We learn a little more about the Tufa, but not enough to demystify them. This is pretty close to being the best in the series. 8/28/16

Marvin and the Moths by Matthew Holm & Jonathan Follett, Scholastic, 2016, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-545-87674-3

Oona Finds an Egg by Adele Griffin, Scholastic, 2016, $12.99, ISBN 978-0-545-73279-6

Every once in a while, I try reading some fantasy for younger readers. These are aimed at slightly different age groups. The first is for middle school kids and involves the kid who doesn't quite fit in, although he has some unusual friends - human sized moths that live in his attic and crack wise when he talks to them. They also tutor him in math, his worst subject. But if there are benevolent giant intelligent bugs, then there's likely to be nasty ones as well, and it isn't long before they show up and threaten the entire town. This was fun - though never even approaching seriousness. The advanced copy did not contain the interior illustrations so I can't comment on those. The second title is part of the Oodlethunks series and is for a younger crowd. Cave age kids have a pet stegosaurus - which is impossible since humans and dinosaurs did not overlap - and the oversized pet causes chaos in their community. The story is pretty much what you would expect. This one does have illustrations, a lot of them, and they're cartoonish but nicely done. 8/24/16

Spellbreaker by Blake Charlton, Tor, 2016, $26.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-1729-2 

There are some interesting details in this otherwise conventional fantasy novel, third in a series. The best of these is that one of the characters gets a prescient glimpse of her own future and discovers that within the course of the next day she is going to commit a murder. Even worse, the murder will be someone close to her, although she doesn't know who it will be. She also has a problem in that she can at times be the unwilling cause of any number of conflicts, disasters, and general bad outcomes, and this unwanted talent - if that's the right word for it - seems to be coming to the fore once again. There are demons poised to conquer the world, a mystery to be solved, family conflicts to be smoothed over, and adventures to be survived. There's also a magically enhanced spy and other villains to complicate matters even further. And an even greater upheaval is in the making. Nice wind up to the trilogy. 8/21/16

Witch Wood by John Buchan, Carroll & Graf, 1989 (originally published in 1929)   

During the Monmouth Rebellion in 17th Century England, the new young pastor of a remote community is shocked to discover that many of his parishioners are part of a witch cult. He strives to reclaim their souls while the warlock in charge proves to be a challenging opponent. The novel examines the tension between good and evil but it is also an indictment of some of the hypocrisy of the church. Some of the dialect is slow going and I had to refer to Wikipedia several times to figure out what Buchan was talking about, but if you devote some effort to reading this, it is actually a complex and thought provoking story. Despite the presence of witches, this is more of an historical fantasy than a horror novel. 8/15/16

Eterna and Omega by Leanna Renee Hieber, Tor, 2016, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-3675-0 

I generally liked the steampunkish The Eterna Files, so the follow up went high on the pile as soon as it arrived. A secret organization created to protect Presidents from magical assassination has been mysteriously attacked by an outside force that has killed several of their members.  Clara Templeton, a founder of the group and a psychic, believes that the British government is behind the murders, although she is wrong. Meanwhile, British psychics are also under attack, and they believe that the Americans are responsible. Agents of both sides are about to clash, unaware that both sides are being played by a third party. The resolution involves the conflict between science and magic, specifically electricity and ghosts. This was quite inventive and I found it to be a significant step up from its predecessor. 8/10/16

Starspawn by Wendy N. Wagner, Tor, 2016, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-8433-1 

I scratch by itch for sword and sorcery almost exclusively with tie-in novels, and since I don’t see new titles from Wizards of the Coast any more, most of them are in the Pathfinder series, like this one. The use of the term “series” isn’t really accurate. It’s more of a shared world. Wagner is one of the authors in this genre to whom I look forward, and this tale of a retired pirate who is startled when a storm raises a new island near her homeland is particularly rewarding. There is a very Lovecraftian feel to this one as she and her friends explore an alien environment and struggle against a cult that wants to evoke a malevolent deity. Great fun. 8/8/16

The Call by Peadar O’Guilin, Scholastic, 2016, $18.99, ISBN 978-1-338-04806-3   

Although this YA novel has an interesting premise – a world similar to ours in which individuals can be plucked away randomly into a mysterious and dangerous other reality – I found it difficult to feel any interest in the protagonist and the plot is sometimes awkwardly constructed. Part of this was probably the present tense narration, which I rarely enjoy, and part was that the focus seemed to skip around too much, particularly in the first half when it was more important to establish a connection to the protagonist. I was reading about a new series of events before I had properly digested the previous one. The prose itself isn’t bad and readers not troubled by the author’s narrative style might find this more enjoyable. 8/3/16

Amaryllis by Carrie Vaughn, Fairwood, 2016, $17.99, ISBN 978-1-933846-62-0 

Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty series is among my very favorite urban fantasy sort of thing, and I was actually a bit sorry to see it come to an end recently. I’ve read some other things by her though that led me to believe she wasn’t going to be a one hit wonder and this reinforces that opinion. There are both science fiction and fantasy tales here, although the latter predominate. She develops characters much more efficiently and convincingly than do a lot of her contemporaries. I had already read better than half of these and “The Art of Homecoming,” which I remembered, was my favorite in this present selection. “Roaring Twenties” and “Astrophilia” are also very good, and none of the stories are weak or disappointing.  There have been several exceptional single author collections published this year already, and this is one of them. 8/1/16

Red Right Hand by Levi Black, Tor, 2016, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-8248-1

Charlie Moore thinks she has problems enough when she is attacked one night by three skinless dogs, and helped by a man in black with mysterious powers. The man turns out to be a kind of demigod who demands her loyalty as payment for his intercession, and he’s not a nice demigod because he takes a friend of hers hostage to ensure her compliance. He wants her to use some innate magical powers she never previously suspected to help him track down other demigods whom, he says, threaten humanity. But no one is buying his story, not Charlie, and not the reader. So when the truth comes out, there really is no surprise. Ends with a bit of a cliffhanger so it’s obviously the first in a series. I would read the next, but I won’t be on tenterhooks waiting for it. Although the story has a few new twists and is well written, the basic plot is a bit too familiar for me and I sensed halfway through that it was not going to be a complete story. 7/28/16

The Stars Askew by Rjurik Davidson, Tor, 2016, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2989-9 

This is the sequel to The Unwrapped Sky, which was one of the more promising debut fantasy novels I’ve read. The setting is Caeli-Amur, a city in which science and magic co-exist. As was the case with the first book, there are multiple viewpoint characters as the intrigues introduced in that book develop further. The government has changed hands but that doesn’t mean that peace breaks out. There is a murder just as one protagonist discovers that means of controlling a powerful, but recently missing, magical artifact and while it is not entirely a mystery who is behind the killing, there are associated problems as well. And another protagonist is still trying to disengage himself from a god who has entered his body. A many sided power struggle breaks out and the future of the city, and our heroes, is cast into doubt. Not quite as good as the first but still very readable. 7/18/16

The Daughter of Thor by Edmond Hamilton, Armchair, 2016 (originally published in 1942)  

Shortly after the Nazis invade Norway, an American pilot is taken prisoner. He and a Norwegian soldier escape and steal a plane, but are pursued by a typically nasty Nazi. Both planes end up in another reality where the Norse gods have been living a secluded life, and both try to recruit the old gods to help with the war back on Earth. Since the gods are spoiling for a fight, it appears that the German might convince them to join his cause, but the protagonist and the daughter of Thor forge a special relationship which triumphs in the end. He is returned to our world, the gods stay where they were, and our hero vows to one day return. 7/16/16

Necessity by Jo Walton, Tor, 2016, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-7902-4 

Third and final novel in the trilogy that began with The Just City. The most predictable thing about Jo Walton’s fiction is that it is going to be unpredictable. This series is set in a mythical city created by the goddess Pallas Athene some time prior to the Trojan War, although it draws its inhabitants from various times and places. It was supposed to follow Platonic ideals, but naturally there were different interpretations, which led the city to divide into five separate entities, although they have overcome their original animosities. Then Zeus noticed the city and was unhappy about its possible effects on the flow of time and human history, so he moved it to another planet. But inevitably humans develop interstellar travel and one day a ship from Earth arrives, creating a new crisis. What ensues is a collision of philosophies, of perceptions of reality, and of different cultures, above and beyond the purely physical aspects of what is essentially a first contact story. Beautifully written as always, and filled with intelligent discourse. 7/7/16

Song of the Deep by Brian Hastings, Sterling, 2015, $12.95, ISBN 978-1-4549-2096-0 

This short fantasy is apparently a tie-in to a new game, and it is also a children’s book. A young girl lives with her fisherman father, who disappears at sea. She has a vision that he is trapped in an underwater realm, so she builds a submarine and goes looking for him, experiencing a number of low key adventures and discoveries along the way. There are some nice illustrations and the story itself is a pleasant tour of a magical world, although first person present tense narration undercuts its potential charm. 7/5/16

The Kraken Sea by E. Catherine Tobler, Apex, 2016, $11.95, ISBN 978-1-937009-40-3

A teenage boy is troubled by physical changes to his body over which he has no conscious control. He sometimes has scales covering his skin and his internal organs also appear to be malleable. Although he feels doomed to remain in an orphanage, he is sent away one day to a magical new home which feels like a darker version of Hogwarts. This is a coming of age story in which the protagonist has to make a life changing decision about where his loyalties lie. Although the plot suggests this is a YA novel, the prose is quite sophisticated and I have no doubt adult readers will be equally enthralled. 7/5/16

It Happened One Doomsday by Laurence McNaughton, Pyr, 2016, $18, ISBN 978-1-63388-187-7 

The world is menaced by a variety of inhuman creatures, but fortunately there is a secret order of magicians who protect humanity from incursions. The protagonist is a young woman who has some magical talents, but nothing powerful enough for her to join that elite organization. Then she meets a handsome man who has a problem – he has been cursed by demonic forces and may be the instrument through which the world is overwhelmed by evil. There’s a romantic connection, of course, but more significantly when she is in his presence, her own magical abilities are enormously magnified. And as if that wasn’t a big enough problem, there is another group of sorcerers who want to seize control of the world. Can she master her new talents in time to save the day? Of course she can. This one is good fun. 7/2/16

The Dinosaur Knights by Victor Milan, Tor, 2016, $26.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-3298-4  

Sequel to last year’s The Dinosaur Lords. Humans are not entirely in command of this alternate reality where dinosaurs still roam. They have managed to use some of the creatures of instruments of warfare, but the world as a whole is still dangerous and savage. A relatively peaceful kingdom is beset by external enemies who use religious prejudice to spur on an army intent upon genocide. As if that wasn’t bad enough, there are magical artifacts remaining from the days when the gods first created this world, and the artifacts have minds of their own and are active again for the first time in centuries. Milan invariably tells a rousing tale and this one is no exception, with lots of action, danger, and conflict. The setting is sufficiently different from the standard fantasy world to make it all seem fresh and new. There is more to come in this series and I’m looking forward to it. 7/1/16

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