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 LAST UPDATE 11/18/17

Conan the Marauder by John Maddox Roberts, Tor, 1988           

A standard but well constructed adventure in which Conan is enslaved, is freed and made an officer in a barbarian army, then is betrayed by a woman jealous of his influence with the chief of the tribe. There is also an evil sorcerer, a lady in peril, and a couple of worthy companions for Conan to befriend before he is instrumental in preventing a great war from getting underway. Roberts wrote several further Conan pastiches. 11/18/17

Conan the Bold by John Maddox Roberts, Tor, 1989

This is one of the most interesting of the Conan pastiches because it avoids many of the usual clichés. There is no evil sorcerer, no threat of warfare, no beautiful intriguer, and no highly placed villains. Conan and an unattractive woman team up to track down a band of outlaws who killed people they each loved. The two chief villains are also well developed characters and the pursuit covers multiple nations.  Very enjoyable. 11/18/17

Johannes Cabal the Detective by Jonathan L. Howard, Anchor, 2010 

Second in the series. Necromancer Cabal impersonates a minor government official to escape a small European country where he is under sentence of death. The escape is aboard a steampunkish airship and the trip will take several days. Then one of the other passengers is murdered, and when Cabal tries to indulge his curiosity, he almost becomes the second victim. Espionage, secret identities, and an international conspiracy ensue with Cabal caught in the middle and acting selflessly despite his inclinations to cut and run. This was even better than the first, with some exciting action sequences. It would make an interesting movie.  11/16/17

The Goat Without Horns by Thomas Burnett Swann, Ballantine, 1972   

A young man takes a position as tutor to a teenage girl who lives with her mother on a Caribbean island late in the 19th Century. He makes friends with a dolphin, who narrates the story, and is distressed by the young girl’s fondness for death and violence. She tells him that her father is the local headman and the two of them are declared married by that man some time later, much to the Englishman’s dismay. He resolves to leave the island even though she warns him that they will kill him if he tries to get away. The only element of fantasy is the intelligence of the dolphin, and that doesn’t entirely work because the dolphin is a little bit too human to be entirely convincing, and the revelation at the end that one of the natives can turn into a shark. A relatively quiet novel, beautifully written but a trifle contrived. 11/16/17

Conan of Venarium by Harry Turtledove, Tor, 2003 

Conan’s youth in Cimmeria has been chronicled a couple of times before, though briefly and with contradictions. This is a much longer version but it also contradicts the others. He is a young man when the Aquilonians invade and seize part of Cimmeria. He grows up in occupied territory and eventually kills the commander of the occupation force before participating in the expulsion of the invaders. Turtledove’ Conan is more nuanced but also more hotheaded. There is quite a bit about the Aquilonians as well, not all of whom are villains. This was Turtledove’s only Conan pastiche. 11/15/17

Moondust by Thomas Burnett Swann, Ace, 1968   

The first half of this novel set in Jericho is quite good. A family of Cretan refugees have a son replaced by a changeling, an ugly girl who eventually molts her outer skin and emerges beautiful and with wings. The second half is less satisfactory. She disappears and is followed into a hidden town ruled by telepathic foxes who keep human slaves. Conflict ensues before our heroes make their escape. The publisher blurbs this as science fiction, indicating that it involves an alien race with super science but that is clearly a lie. Swann was noted as a fantasy writer and it is not clear at all why they would try to mislead his readership. 11/14/17

The Eterna Solution by Leanna Renee Hieber, Tor, 2017, 28.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-3676-7

I wasn't entirely happy with the second novel in this series, but the third is much better. A demonically inspired politician was foiled in England, but his efforts may have caused an even more dire problem in America. The handful of psychics and detectives who opposed him cross the Atlantic hoping to prevent a disaster in New York City, but some of them are having private doubts about their continued use of and involvement with supernatural forces. Naturally we know they are going to succeed but the question is how they are going to do it and at what cost. This appears to be the final book in the series, which is a shame because I thought it had more potential. It's not exactly steampunk and it straddles the border between fantasy and horror quite artfully.11/13/17

Conan the Valorous by John Maddox Roberts, Tor, 1985 

Conan is tricked into carrying a magical object to the sacred mountain in his homeland of Cimmeria. Rival sorcerers want to stop him or at least arrive ahead of time because the cave will be the scene of a spell that will make one sorcerer all powerful. Conan has various adventures along the way and major ones once he arrives. This was the author's first Conan pastiche, one of the better entries in the series, and the closest view we see of the land  Cimmeria except for the Conan novel by Harry Turtledove.. 11/12/17

Winterglass by Benjanun Sriduangkaew, Apex, 2017, $10.95, ISBN 978-1937009625

This is a novella that often feels like a fairy tale more than contemporary fantasy. The Winter Queen has seized control of a small fantasy realm and brought permanent winter, much to the dismay of many of the inhabitants including the protagonist. A rebel woman is determined to restore the former state to her people, even if that means losing her own soul in the process. Very nicely written despite the annoying present tense narration, which drains the intensity out of some of the scenes. 11/11/17

Johannes Cabal the Necromancer by Jonathan L. Howard, Anchor, 2009 

I did not expect to enjoy this book, which I had had mixed reactions to when I first read it back in 2009. But I picked up a copy of the sequel and decided to give the first a try again and I don't understand why I wasnt more enthusiastic the first time. . Cabal is a necromancer in what appears to be an alternate 19th Century America. He has already sold his soul to Satan, but he visits Hell and engages in a wager. He must claim100 souls within a year to get his soul back. To assist him, Satan provides a magical but evil carnival and a train to carry it about. Cabal is accompanied by his brother, who is a vampire, and a host of reanimated dead and artificial persons. The story is anecdotal and quite witty and humorous. Cabal is not a nice man, although he has his redeeming moments. I was sorry to reach the end, but there are sequels! 11/11/17

The Weirwoods by Thomas Burnett Swann, Ace, 1967 

An arrogant man ignores an agreement between humans and the creatures of the forest and enslaves a water sprite. This eventually leads to the intervention of a sorceress who raises the town’s cats to kill all of the masters and free their slaves. The violence gets out of control, however, and a young woman and a musician have some adventures as they attempt to escape in the aftermath. This was not nearly as good as Swann’s first novel, and it has rather cruel undertones,  although it is deftly written. Almost all of the characters are less than admirable. 11/8/17

Day of the Minotaur by Thomas Burnett Swann, Ace, 1966 

A brother and sister take refuge with the last minotaur in a magical forest on the island of Crete following a Greek invasion. But the invaders are unwilling to leave even the forest unconquered. Centaurs, dryads, and others unite to confront the invaders in this bittersweet tale of the decline of the mythical world in the face of human expansion. This was a Hugo nominee and is arguably Swann’s best novel. The assembly of friends inside the magical forest is the best part of the book and the conflict seems slightly out of place. The minotaur would return in two prequels, neither of which was as good as this one. 11/7/17

Conan the Formidable by Steve Perry, Tor, 1990 

Conan encounters a tribe of literal giants and is taken prisoner, although naturally he escapes before they can kill him. A traveling wizard with a collection of freakish humans uses magic to compel Conan's obedience. They are pursued by the leader of the giants and the leader of a cannibal tribe, both of whom have children who have been similarly ensorcelled. Conan finds a way to break the spell and after various adventures, the wizard is killed and they all go their separate ways. This was the weakest of Perry's pastiches, but still not bad. 11/7/17

Deadhouse Landing by Ian C. Esslemont, Tor, 2017, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-947-4

This is a novel about the Malazan Empire, which the author created with Steven Erikson, who has also written a number of novels in that setting. The present novel is part of a subset that shows how that empire was created starting with a comparatively small island of no particular note. One of the two protagonists, who has already shown a fondness for magic and ancient knowledge, is apparently obsessed with the island and his long time friend and companion is not sure what to make of it. Their path forward is to prove even more dangerous than the many threats they have overcome in the past. Fairly typical fantasy world adventures as the two men find themselves inextricably caught up in the flow of history. Should be of particular interest to fans of the series set after the empire is established. Can be read without having read the prequel, but it's better to have the background. 11/5/17

Where Is the Bird of Fire? by Thomas Burnett Swann, Ace, 1970  v793 

The title story of this collection of three novelets was on the Hugo ballot and was later expanded into the novel, The Lady of Bees. It is a magical retelling of the founding of Rome narrated by a Faun. The second story is about a dwarf who falls in love with a queen, and after various adventures he discovers that he is a fallen god. The third and weakest story is about a druidess who plots to marry a Roman merchant, but gives up her prospects to tend to a dying friend. Swann was a brilliant and emotionally moving writer whose work deserves to be more widely read. He was particularly effective at novelette length and several of his novels are also quite short.  11/4/17

Conan the Free Lance by Steve Perry, Tor, 1990 

Another unusual Conan pastiche. Dimma, a wizard, has been cursed in a way that makes him essentially just mist with no physical body. He wants to restore his usual form and that means stealing an artifact from the Tree Folk, who lives in the tops of giant trees. But a race of lizard people also wants the artifact because it will make the desert fertile and allow them to establish a new homeland. The multi-sided conflict involves Conan, who was a guest of the Tree Folk when the artifact is stolen, and after some quite well done adventures, he is instrumental in ensuring its return.  11/4/17

Red Dust and Dancing Horses and Other Stories by Beth Cato, Fairwood, 2017, $17.99, ISBN 978-1-933846-68-2

This is a collection of mostly fantasy stories from an author who has already received one Nebula nomination. There are more than two dozen stories here, most of them on the short side, and all originally published since 2012. They appeared in a wide variety of publications - in fact I had only read three of them prior to this book appearing. They tend to be on the quieter, more introspective side of fantasy, although there are several instances of unrestrained humor. Some are sentimental, some suspenseful, and some indescribable. I was occasionally more interested in the character than in the plot. "The Souls of Horses" is the widest known and probably best story in the book, but there are lots of little gems and enough variety that everyone should find something to enjoy. There are also half a dozen poems. Oddly, the few stories that are science fiction were generally the ones I found less impressive, which is not usually the case fore. 11/3/17

The Dolphin and the Deep by Thomas Burnett Swann, Ace, 1968

Two novelettes and a short story. The title story could easily have been a novel. The protagonist and his friends have various adventures when they decide to find out what happened to Circe and track her to a new home in Africa. “The Manor of Roses,” which was a Hugo nominee, is also about a journey. Two boys unhappy with their lives decide to run off to London and go Crusading, accompanied by a young girl who might be a fallen angel. They have various adventures involving mandrakes, a humanoid race of trees who prey on humans, and vice versa, before taking refuge in the home of a widow. “The Murex” involves the friendship between an Amazon warrior and a young boy who is half insect. Swann’s beautiful language and exotic settings were rarely equaled in the genre. 11/2/17

The Mongrel Mage by L.E. Modesitt Jr., Tor, 2017, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-9468-2

The author returns to his longest fantasy series- Recluce - for this new novel. Chaos and Order have been at war throughout the series and that continues in this new volume. The protagonist is a powerful sorcerer whose abilities are coveted by Chaos, but he takes refuge among the supporters of Order. But he is too great a prize to be given up so easily and one of the Chaos sorcerers raises an army and attacks the city where our hero has been quietly trying to develop his own powers. But he may not have grown powerful enough yet to make a difference. The first half of the novel is relatively quiet despite the circumstances as each side gathers its forces and makes its plans, but once the battle is underway there is plenty of battle - magical and otherwise - to keep the attention of even the most jaded fantasy fan.11/1/17

Black Goat Blues by Levi Black, Tor, 2017, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-8250-4

The sequel to Red Right Hand continues to play havoc with the Cthulhu Mythos. The protagonist is a young woman who has become acolyte to Nyarlathotep, a kind of elder and not very nice god. She won her freedom, sort of, in the first book, but her boyfriend has had his soul stolen and is being held effectively as a hostage. But our heroine has arcane powers of her own, and possesses some magical artifacts as well, and she is determined to rescue the man she loves even if that means destroying or outwitting a host of monsters and supernatural beings in the process. This is a smart, fast moving, quirky, supernatural adventure with other literary references as well. The author has an inventive imagination and a wry sense of humor which is just to my taste. I liked the first book quite a lot but I am pleased to say that I enjoyed the sequel even more. And I even managed to ignore the fact that it's written in present tense! 10/31/17

Lightbringers by David Price, Macabre Ink, 2017, $14.99, ISBN 978-1-946025-24-1

This unusual fantasy novel has elements of science fiction as well. It is set on a kind of future Earth which has become a battlefield between two rival groups of alien gods. There is a vaguely Lovecraftian air about some of them. There is a prophecy involving  a group of saviors of the world, the Lightbringers, and their birth stirs the evil gods to action to undercut their destiny. Although they have been raised in seclusion, one of them decides to explore the world and discover the true nature of their destiny. He has powers of his own but will they be sufficient for the tasks ahead? There are enough surprises and inventions to make this an unusual variation of the quest story as well as a complex back story, although I thought there were too many different characters, which meant that only the protagonist really gets adequate treatment. The author provides a glossary of names and terms to help with this. 10/31/17

Conan the Indomitable by Steve Perry, Tor, 1988 

Perry's third Conan pastiche is rather out of the ordinary. He and two companions – later three – are trapped in an underground world where a witch and a sorcerer struggle for domination. Also in the caverns are intelligent races including white apes, blood sucking bats, web spinning plants, giant earthworms, and cyclops.  They are pursued by a band of cut throats led by a creature formed when two lovers magically became a single person, and they want Conan's sword because it will untangle them. Lots of chase scenes and more humor than is usual in sword and sorcery. 10/30/17

The Realms of God by Michael Livingston, Tor, 2017, $28.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-8035-7  

I am generally not fond of historical fantasy but there are always exceptions. The latest from Michael Livingston is set during the days of the Roman Empire, although not the one we know from history books. The emperor Tiberius, for example, is in league with a trio of demons who are attempting to acquire mystical artifacts that are rumored to possess godlike powers. Already the Ark of the Covenant has been smuggled out of Egypt to avoid its capture, but the demons are hot on the trail. This is the closing book in a trilogy that has been notably good about conforming to the historical record while providing the secret history of fantastic elements. I found the middle book a little slow but the conclusion makes up for it. 10/29/17

The Nine by Tracy Townsend, Pyr, 2017, $18, ISBN 978-1-63388-342-0

This is a first fantasy novel and, inevitably, the first in a series. Parts of the premise of the novel are quite interesting. There is a book that suggests that the Creator of the world chose nine people as part of a focused experiment. The book is itself a powerful magical weapon sought after by people with nefarious motives. Those defending it include a courier, an alchemist, a retired mercenary, and a minister, and those after it include an inhuman creature. Not everything gets resolved, of course, which is one of the problems in series of this nature, but the world itself is fairly interesting and the situation was sufficiently out of the ordinary that I remained interested. 10/27/17

Conan the Defiant by Steve Perry, Tor, 1987 

Conan becomes friends with a priest who is conveying a magical talisman back to his temple. An evil sorcerer who commands zombies covets the talisman and his agent kills Conan's friend. Conan then teams up with a runaway zombie who wants to truly die and a warrior woman to track the agent back to the sorcerer and kill them both. Perry's version of the Hyborian world is rather darker than is portrayed in most other pastiches, and he always tells a good story. 10/25/17

Legends of the Dragon Cowboys by David B. Riley and Laura Givens, Hadrosaur,  2017, $12.95, ISBN 978-1885093837

This is a kind of double book with two novellas that mix fantasy elements with the Old West, a particular interest of Riley. His story follows the adventures of a Chinese entrepreneur who just wants to open a gun shop, but who is drawn into a complicated series of magical events involving ancient Mayan deities and, of all things, an Abominable Snowman. The story is largely anecdotal although it progresses logically to a successful conclusion for the protagonist and the author. Givens also provides a series of adventures in which another Chinese entrepreneur tries to make a fortune in the Old West, through gambling and other means, and while his heart is in the right place, his body is frequently in the wrong one. This one is even wilder than the first, with robots, ghosts, and other dangers to be overcome and/or outwitted. Neither story tends toward literary fantasy - they are both just meant to be fun, not too serious adventures in a classic setting and with unusual protagonists to go with the unusual plots. 10/24/17

Conan the Fearless by Steve Perry, Tor, 1984

 Conan hires on as bodyguard for a magician and a young girl, the latter of whom is being sought by the evil sorcerer Sovartus because she is part of a set of four – the four elements – of which he has the other three. Sovartus sets a demon on their trail, and the demon has a half sister who is a witch. They also attract the attention of a were-panther whose day job is to serve as a rich senator. Everyone plots against everyone else before there is a final reckoning in the sorcerer's stronghold. This one is pretty good. 10/21/17

Conan the Mercenary by Andrew J. Offutt, Ace, 1980 

Although published third, this is the second in a trilogy about Conan. He has killed the sorcerer who stole his soul and is carrying the mirror in which it is imprisoned when he helps a noblewoman from Khauran who is beset by thieves. She hires him to guard her on her trip home and then prevails upon the queen, who has the power to restore his soul. In the process of all this, he discovers a plot by an ambitious nobleman and a wizard and foils it. Rather slow moving. 10/19/17

The Sword of Skelos by Andrew J. Offutt, Tor, 1979 

Offutt's final Conan novel reunites him with the female thief from his first effort, though they start off as enemies. Yet another evil sorcerer has created two magical swords, one for himself and one for the king of Koth. The swords fight all by themselves and do not stop until they have killed. Conan manages to survive two attempts to use the swords to kill him, one by an absurd trick that had me shaking my head, the other through a hidden rule of magic that we didn't know about. The weakest of Offutt's three pastiches. 10/19/17

Conan and the Sorcerer by Andrew J. Offutt, Ace, 1978

Conan breaks into the wrong wizard's house and gets his soul stolen. To get it back, he has to track down a woman who stole a magical artifact from the wizard. He has various adventures before accomplishing this task, but he kills the wizard when he reneges on their agreement. With his soul held in a mirror, Conan seeks another way to be made whole again in a cliff hanger ending. 10/16/17

Conan and the Shaman's Curse by Sean A. Moore, Tor, 1997 

Conan gets cursed by a dying man and has a series of episodic adventures including a brief transformation into a giant ape, a fight with giant vultures, and other dangers. He eventually realizes the curse is responsible for his string of bad luck and tracks down another magic maker who can lift the curse. This was the weakest of Moore's three Conan pastiches although it has some good bits scattered throughout. 10/11/17

Boneyard by Seanan McGuire, Tor, 2017, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-7530-8

This one is a tie-in to the Deadlands role playing game, which is set in the late 19th Century in a version of America where magic is common. I am unfamiliar with the game which appears to be similar to Magic the Gathering in its mechanics.  This particular novel takes place in Oregon inside a traveling circus. The protagonist is the woman who runs one of the exhibits, who has a mute daughter and a troubled past that is finally catching up to her. The show is stopping at a small town with promises good revenue, but there are also rumors of disappearances of transients in the area, and naturally that's going to be the focus of the bulk of the novel. There are some clever critters sprinkled through the book, which I thought was better than the author's urban fantasies that I've read. 10/10/17

Conan and the Grim Grey God by Sean A. Moore, Tor, 1997

This is a quite complex sword and sorcery adventure in which Conan is searching for a buried city that supposedly holds a statue worth a great deal of money. It is actually the embodiment of a god whose name has been forgotten. His recurring enemy, Thoth-Amon, is also looking for the statue, along with another sorcerer, a professional assassin, the head of the local thieves' guild, an adventurous woman, and other parties. A long dead warrior is brought back from the dead and the world is in danger until Conan ends the threat. This was quite enjoyable. 10/9/27

Conan the Hunter by Sean A. Moore, Tor, 1994

I know very little about the author, who died quite young after producing three Conan novels and the novelization of the Kull movie. Although this first novel is yet another variation of the same theme – a sorcerer assists some traitors in an effort to usurp a throne – there are some nice touches here and there and the prose is quite good. It's a shame we never had a chance to see any original material by Moore. The sorceress this time is not even human. Conan is accused of murdering the royal princess, and goes underground – quite literally – to prove his innocence. 10/8/17

Conan the Victorious by Robert Jordan, Tor, 1984

Conan has been poisoned and will die unless he can find the antidote within a few days. His opponent has died so he must trace him back into the wilds of Vendhya, where he gets caught up in the usual efforts to steal the throne from the rightful king, aided by a nefarious sorcerer. As always Jordan told a good story, but the repetition of the same basic plot is not relieved by the few minor variations that he adds. He switched to his own fantasy world for the Wheel of Time series and never returned to Conan. 10/5/17

Conan the Magnificent by Robert Jordan, Tor, 1984  

The evil sorcerer this time is organizing the hillmen for war against the cities of Zamora. Conan has been out smarted by a female thief, but has also managed to raise the hackles of a predatory noblewoman and an avaricious merchant. They all ride out into the desert to pursue rumors of a dragon, but the dragon is more dangerous than expected and nearly kills them all. The sorcerer gets defeated and Conan ends up with the purloined jewels. A nicely told adventure. 10/3/17

Conan the Destroyer by Robert Jordan, Tor, 1984

The novelization of the second Conan movie contains none of the annoying inconsistencies of the first. Conan is hired to escort a young woman who has a magical bond to an artifact which will eventually be used to wake the Sleeping God. But his employer has more nefarious secrets that will make Conan balk at the final consummation of the deal. This wasn't a bad movie and the novelization is quite readable. 10/3/17

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater, Scholastic, 2017, $18.99, ISBN 978-0-545-93080-2

The Scarecrow Queen by Melinda Salisbury, Scholastic, 2017, $11.99, ISBN 978-1-338-19295-7

Two new Young Adult fantasy novels. The first is set more or less in our world, though in a small town in California where magic and the miraculous are not unusual. Three members of the family each have unusual powers, unusual personal problems and preoccupations, and each will contribute significantly to the future of their town and each other. The author always spends a great deal of time bringing her characters to life and in some ways they are themselves more intriguing than the story, although the story itself is intriguing, though perhaps a bit slow to develop. The second title is more of a traditional fantasy mixed with a fairy tale. The Sleeping Prince has awakened and is not a happy camper. He imposes a rigid rule over two kingdoms and sends his minions to track down and eliminate the rebels, among whom are out two protagonists. Each of them has a series of adventures. This is the final volume in a trilogy and I've never seen the first two, so it was a little difficult to follow the story at times. 10/1/17