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

 LAST UPDATE 6/18/15

The Hollow Queen by Elizabeth Haydon, Tor, 2016, $26.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-0567-1  

This is the eighth book in the world if the Symphony of Ages and the final volume of a trilogy, bringing to a conclusion the war that has raged in the previous two books. Aided by traitors within the Cymrian Alliance, the evil empire seems to be on the verge of victory. Various characters try desperate measures to stave them off, but it seems inevitable that tragedy will fall even in a victory. A simple plot summary will make this sound a lot like a cookie cutter fantasy novel – and not without some justification – but the reason I enjoy Haydon is not so much the plot as her creation of a world of marvels and interesting characters, and her crisp, clear, evocative writing style. 7/18/15

The Iron Assassin by Ed Greenwood, Tor, 2015, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-3846-4

You could make an argument that this steampunk novel is SF, but it feels more like fantasy. I confess that I've not cared for any of this author's previous novels, not because of the writing but because he seems to choose subject matter I don't enjoy. I was also overdosed on steampunk when I read this. Those cavils aside, and much to my surprise, I liked this quite a lot. Queen Victoria is not queen in this alternate Victorian world. The protagonist has created a clockwork powered corpse that he plans as a bodyguard for the Prince Regent - there has been a spate of murders in London - but this is a powerful enough invention to attract covetous ideas with different plans. To say nothing of the fact that the mechanical zombie isn't quite as dead as he thought it was. Fun, and a little dark. 6/14/15

Stories of the Raksura Volume II by Martha Wells, Night Shade, 2015, $15.99, ISBN 978-1-59780-537-7

The five stories included here make up the fifth volume in the Raksura series. Two of them are novelettes, and they're both better than the short stories. They are closer to being sword and sorcery than anything else, with intelligent spider creatures and human villains both to be thwarted by the recurring hero. Although Moon appears in different stories, they are drawn from different periods in his life, so they combine to make her a more deeply drawn character than is usual in fantasy. It probably helps to have read at least the three novels in the series - I haven't seen the previous collection that makes up the fourth title. I was occasionally reminded of the Witch World series, but without some of the mannerisms in Norton's work that tended to put me off. 6/13/15

Storm and Steel by Jon Sprunk, Pyr, 2015, $18, ISBN 9781-63388-010-8

Second in the Black Earth series. A rebellion by slaves and other dissidents threatens the future of a magical realm. A wide cast of characters shows us the conflict from a variety of viewpoints, including rebels, ex-rebels, loyalists, and those merely caught up in the conflict. The action is thick and frequent and convincingly written, the magical elements demonstrate some systematic thought about how that would work, the characters vary in depth but the main ones are well drawn, and the setting is realistically drawn, though perhaps overly familiar as the backdrop for this kind of story. 6/11/15

Day of Atonement by Alex Archer, Gold Eagle, 2015, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-373-62174-3

After more than four dozen books, I probably should be tired of this series about an archaeologist with a magical sword, but it feels like a familiar television show that I watch as much out of habit as intent. It also poses some challenges for the writers - Steven Savile is the real author this time - because all of the famous archaeological treasures have been used up in earlier volumes. This one is about a madman who is trying to revive the Inquisition and Annja Creed is scheduled to be its first major subject. The usual hijinx follow. Light adventure, a hint of fantasy, and the promise of more to come. 6/2/15

Firesoul by Gary Kloster, Paizo, 2015, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-60125-741-3

A Pathfinder tie-in novel. The protagonist of this sword and sorcery adventure is a young female druid in a kind of African fantasy world. The villains are determined to pillage her people and to that end they have gained control of a supernatural entity which uses fire to destroy entire communities. This is a first novel, I believe, and some of the characterization is rather tentative, although the plot is well thought out and executed. I wasn't particularly fond o the setting, in part because it never really came to life for me. Signs of promise abound, but there are some bumps in the road. 5/29/15

Oathkeeper by J.F. Lewis, Pyr, 2015, $18, ISBN 978-1-63388-054-2

Second in the Grudgebearer series. The protagonist has just become the leader of an artificially created race who are slaves to another and employed as soldiers to fend off the attacks of an inhuman enemy. They are hard pressed and defeat seems inevitable when their slave race wavers and considers renouncing its oath, which was obviously given under duress. The viewpoint alternates between that of the leadership of beleaguered Eldrennai, who have factional problems of their own, and the formerly enslaved Aern, who are faced with a difficult ethical choice. Although this is not my favorite sort of fantasy, Lewis has an engaging style and keeps the pot boiling throughout. The end leaves all the big questions unanswered, however, to be finished off presumably in the final volume. 5/27/15

Of Noble Family by Mary Robinette Kowal, Tor, 2015, $27.99, ISBN 978-9-7653-7836-1

Latest and longest in the Glamourist History series. Our two protagonists are off to another part of the world in this alternate history fantasy series, this time to the West Indies to deal with some family problems. Jane gets pregnant during the course of the long voyage, which adds a level of complication to their problems and arrive to discover they have been misinformed about what awaited them - which includes an incipient slave rebellion. Rather than take to their heels, which would have been the sensible thing to do, they decide to stay and deal with the problems, even though it is not really their responsibility. This is the darkest book in the series - and apparently the concluding volume - and parts of it are very good, particularly those speculating with the nature of magic. It loses momentum for a while toward the middle but accelerates again for the grand finale. It will be interesting to see what this author tries next. 5/26/15

Lord of Runes by Dave Gross, Paizo, 2015, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-7451-6

A Pathfinder novel. A nobleman in a fantasy world inherits a rare book of magical spells and clues to the location of a necromancer. The necromancer is attempting to gain enough sorcerous power to establish himself as a kind of demigod. With the aid of his companion and bodyguard, our hero organizes a force to interfere with this new rise to power. There are lots of battles with villains and creatures, a dollop of evil magic, and various other appurtenances of sword and sorcery. This seemed a bit longer than most similar stories but it kept my attention 5/25/15

Forge of Ashes by Josh Vogt, Paizo, 2015, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-60125-743-7

I have found in recent years that I prefer sword and sorcery to high fantasy. I think a large part of this is that s&s adventures tend not to be as bloated, i.e., they're shorter and can be read in a single sitting, and they are almost always complete stories in themselves instead of parts of trilogies, even though they may be an open ended series. Technically this is part of a series of tie-ins to the Pathfinder role playing game, but the individual authors seem to have pretty much a free hand, even more so than in Dungeons & Dragons, or Dragonlance. This was is about a female dwarf, a warrior, who returns to her homeland after a long absence to find things much changed. Her brother is eventually kidnapped by outsiders so she's off on a quest to bring him home. There's a nice embellishment in this one. The protagonist is accompanied  by what is essentially a homunculus. Light but entertaining fantasy fare. 5/23/15

Trial of Intentions by Peter Orullian, Tor, 2015, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2572-3

The conflict begun in The Unremembered advances in this sequel. The gods have left the world except for one whose malevolence they confined in a single warded location. But their power has atrophied with the passage of time and monsters are emerging. The various human kingdoms could probably contain them if they were united, but predictably they squabble among themselves, even talk of open warfare between their kingdoms, and it is less to scattered individuals to take up the slack and try to present an effective defense against the encroachments. As with the first volume, the author has taken care with his characters so that even though the plot is nothing out of the ordinary, it has more depth than most. It is also not the final book in the series, so readers should be prepared for at best an interim solution, if not even more distressing news. The prose is smooth and well suited to the story. I thought it was a trifle too long, but then I think that about most high fantasy. 5/20/15

Get in Trouble by Kelly Link, Random House, 2015, $25, ISBN 978-0-8041-7968-3 

The last book I read by this author, Pretty Monsters, was one of the best single author collections I had read in years. I had great hopes for this new one, but alas it was very disappointing. It starts well with “The Summer People,” in which a young woman is caretaker for a very peculiar set of magical neighbors, although I thought the end was rather weak. The next two stories, however, were very disappointing – more shadow than substance with some unusual narrative techniques but really not much of a narrative. The rest of the stories are just so-so although I rather liked “Valley of the Girls” and “Light.”  Some of them feel unfinished, some lack strong plots.  5/11/15

When the Heavens Fall by Marc Turner, Tor, 2015, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-3712-2

Despite the rather generic title, this debut novel and opening volume in another epic fantasy series has some nicely dark twists that provide some separation from the standard intrigue, war, and sorcery plots of most otherwise similar series. A magical book has been stolen which provides the power to raise the dead and form them into a rather daunting army. Four separate characters will undergo trials and tribulations as each seeks his or her own goal in the ensuing chaos, either to recover the book or counter its magic or deal with personal issues related to recent events. The prose is readable, the characters well differentiated, and some of the scenes are quite gripping. There is, of course, no proper climax since this is the beginning of a series, so it doesn't really succeed as a novel separate from its sequels, but it promises more thrills and chills to come. 5/10/15

Bathed in Blood by Alex Archer, Gold Eagle, 2015, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-373-62173-6

Latest in this fantasy adventure series, written under a house pseudonym, in this case masking Joseph Nassise. Annja Creed is an archaeologist who, way back in the first book, found the magical sword of Joan of Arc, which materializes only when she needs it. In her latest, Creed is reminded of the legend of Countess Bathory, who bathed in the blood of maidens, when she finds a girl bleeding to death. She discovers that almost two dozen women have disappeared and battles superstitious fear of vampirism as well as the secretiveness of that part of rural Slovakia. There's a rational explanation, although it's science fiction, and a nice climax. I still find this series entertaining after more than forty titles. 5/8/15

Alexander's Army by Chris D'Lacey, Scholastic, 2015, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-545-60880-0

Sequel to A Dark Inheritance. The young protagonist works for the UNICORNE agency, which investigates magical disturbances. His latest mission takes him into the world of comic books, where a new title seems to be the focus of odd events. There is something going on at the comic store, and he senses not only that malevolent forces are gathering behind the scenes but that they may have subverted even some of those working for his own agency. And then the mysterious spectral figure become physically real. But what do they want? This is really aimed at the younger end of the YA spectrum. The prose is deliberately sparse and the story, while mysterious, is not complex. Nor is the mystery itself much of a revelation. On the other hand, it reads crisply and progresses rapidly from point to point. It may be a little too simple for more sophisticated tastes, but it has some interesting moments. 5/5/15

Long Black Curl by Alex Bledsoe, Tor, 2015, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-7655-1

This is the latest novel of the Tupa. The blurb calls this urban fantasy but it feels more like Manly Wade Wellman than Laurell Hamilton. The magical Tufa are divided into tribes and intermarriage is a taboo. When one couple tried to break with tradition, the results were disastrous and they were both exiled. One of them has come back and she is determined to impose control over both tribes, and it is possible that the only way to resist her effectively is to summon back her former lover as a counterbalance. Unfortunately, he is ambivalent about the entire situation. I didn't like Bo Kate from the outset so I hoping all along to see her plans disrupted. This was an entertaining tale but I didn't think it was as good as the earlier novels in the series. 5/4/15

The Warring States by Aidan Harte, Jo Fletcher, 2015, $26.99, ISBN 978-1623654177

Second volume of a trilogy, following The Irenicon. The setting is a magical city divided into two parts by a river that is both sentient and hostile. Civil war and external threats have led to a period of chaos and intrigue. I really liked the first in this series and the second book is almost as good, although the novelty of the cleverly constructed world has dulled a bit. The main protagonist, a pregnant woman, is moved by a prophecy to flee toward another kingdom, even though she doesn't know exactly what her welcome might be, given that she was at one time slated to become a head of state herself. A number of themes and tropes get worked into the story including reincarnation, a quest story, and naturally lots of action. Harte also writes a very smooth and engaging prose. Looking forward to the conclusion. 4/22/15

Grace of Kings by Ken Liu, Saga Press, 2015, $27.99, ISBN 978-1-4814-2700-5

I have enjoyed everything by Ken Liu that I have read, so I was really looking forward to this hefty fantasy novel, first in a series. The setting is a typical fantasy world where one of several kingdoms has temporarily conquered the others and established an empire. But the conquerors impose cruel laws and deterioration sets in quickly, leading to a series of scrambles for power. All of this is shown to us by means of a large cast of characters scattered in several groups, although there are crossovers as the story progresses. Comparisons to George R.R. Martin are inevitable, but Liu's world is quite different, and the story itself is structured in a very different fashion. All of that said, I found this very disappointing. Almost all of the episodes are told in such a fleeting fashion that they felt like outlines for longer stories. None of the characters is developed in any particular depth and several of them are flat stereotypes. We never see much of the physical world and the setting seemed more like a gameboard than a map - and the location of one of the islands on the map radically differs from the description of its location in the text. This felt from beginning to end as though it was done in haste. 4/20/15

Hexed by Michael Alan Nelson, Pyr, 2015, $14.99, ISBN 978-1-63388-056-6

This is a young adult fantasy novel based on a comic series by the same name, which I have never seen. The protagonist is Lucy, short of Lucifer, a teenaged girl who supports herself by stealing things from the inhabitants of a borderlands type of existence that lies hidden next to our own reality. She only picks on villains to steal from, so we can safely assume that her criminal conduct is socially acceptable. Her latest endeavor is to rescue a young girl who has been abducted by an evil supernatural force, in which quest she is aided by the missing girl's boyfriend, and the romantic tension is obvious almost immediately. The prose is full of very visual imagery, which is not surprising given that the author also writes the comic. The adventures are colorful and exciting if not particularly original and it kept me reading until I finished it in one gulp. 4/17/15

Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan, Tor, 2015, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-3198-4

The third novel featuring Lady Trent has her going on a two year voyage around the world in search of more information about dragons, which are fairly common in this alternate version of our world. There is a fair amount of melodrama - storms, foreign wars, etc. - but the core of the story is the inter-relationships among the various people on the ship and their growing knowledge about the habits and nature of dragons. This series is something of a departure from most of the rest of current fantasy in that it avoids most of the clichés and is more interesting in intellectual discoveries than martial combat. It doesn't hurt any that it is also very well written. I have liked each of these better than its predecessors, so I'm actively looking forward to the next. 4/15/15

Rook by Sharon Cameron, Scholastic, 2015, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-545-67499-4

An alternate version of Paris provides the interesting setting for this young adult novel which could be read as either SF or fantasy since it's set in the far distant future where Earth has changed dramatically and technology has been supplanted by something that feels like magic. It is also in part a retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel, in which a British hero rescued French aristocrats from the murderous revolutionaries. The Red Rook is the secret identity of a young woman who clandestinely helps people escape a new tyranny, while dealing with her romantic relationship with another Frenchman. The story is based on a classic and is sprightly and engaging.  One of the best YA novels I've read in a long time. 4/6/15

Window Wall by Melanie Rawn, Tor, 2015, $28.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-7734-0

Fourth in the series that began with Touchstone. A traveling troupe of actors in a fantasy world use magic to enhance the special effects of their performances. One of the actors who tries to avoid catching glimpses of possible futures has visions of a series of explosions that spur him to action because he knows that it is within his power to alter the future, but only if he can discover who is responsible for the deadly attacks. The local ruling family seems to be the ultimate target so one would think his quest would be a popular one, but the use of magic has become the subject of suspicion. This series is head and shoulders above Rawn's earlier work, which wasn't that shabby either. 4/2/15