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

 LAST UPDATE  9/12/21

The Black Coast by Mike Brooks, Solaris, 2021

I enjoyed this author's recent SF series so was looking forward to his first fantasy. It's okay, but I won't be waiting impatiently for the next in the series. A supernatural creature possesses a human and dominates a sort of Viking society, causing one of its tribes to relocate to the mainland where it formerly raided. There are various cultural clashes, which are mostly quite well done, and the mainland society is also torn by conflicting attitudes toward the resettlement. All of this proceeds at a relatively leisurely pace. A bit too leisurely. Bits of information that should have been no more than a paragraph are expanded into subplots - a common failing of fantasy fiction which all too often has to expand 250 pages of story to 400 or more pages of text. There are also two separate devices designed to show us that genders are not regarded in the same way. One is to have characters refer to themselves constantly in third person and by their job title. The other is to include elision marks over every pronoun. The former is slightly awkward. The latter is not only distracting but it accomplishes nothing, since the author is still using "he," "she," "I," etc. 9/12/21

Fancies and Goodnights by John Collier, Bantam, 1951 

This contains almost all of the author’s short fiction, which includes so many classics – “Thus I Refute Beelzy,” “Another American Tragedy,” “The Lady on the Grey,” “Evening Primrose,” “Green Thoughts,” etc. – that it is almost breathtaking to read. Only about half of the stories are fantastic but nearly all of them are ironic. A dozen or so have been filmed, usually for television. Murders gone awry, imaginary creatures who are real, deals with the devil, thwarted love, simple minded fiends, and a touch of surrealism here and there. I hadn’t read this in decades and it was liking being reunited with a bunch of old friends. You absolutely owe it to yourself to read these stories. The uniformity of the quality is astonishing. 9/7/21

Echoes of the Great Song by David Gemmell, Del Rey, 1997 

This is not one of Gemmell’s best despite a few good scenes. Several heroes are living in a world where an immortal aristocracy’s grip over the mass of the population has been weakened by the onset of an ice age. After introducing the characters and explaining the conflict, Gemmell changes course dramatically. A new moon appears in the sky and it is home to an aggressive queen who sends her soldiers to conquer the world. The immortals have to reconcile themselves with their former slaves in order to present an adequate defense. A large number of named characters, including some of the protagonists, die in this rather long novel. 9/5/21

Dark Moon by David Gemmell, Corgi, 1996 

Another standalone fantasy epic set in a world where there used to be three non-human intelligent races. One of them was vicious and aggressive but they mysteriously disappeared. After introducing us to the primary protagonist, a man who shares his body with his not very pleasant unborn twin, we discover that the dangerous aliens have returned. Most of the novel describes efforts by three courageous heroes to direct the defense of a city under siege by the demonic enemy. The military sequences are well done as always and there are hints that the imagined world might be interesting, although these are never carried through. Perhaps Gemmell had planned to return to this world. 9/1/21

Once Upon a Dream by Liz Braswell, Hyperion, 2016 

I picked this up out of curiosity. It’s a kind of alternate version of a fairy tale. Sleeping Beauty is not awakened and has a series of adventures in her dream world. After the minor novelty of the set up, the story becomes just another light fantasy adventure, and it’s aimed at young adult readers in a very transparent prose style. The plot is uncomplicated. Actual fantasy fans will probably be disappointed but casual readers should find it enjoyable. 8/27/21

Morningstar by David Gemmell, Del Rey, 1992 

This heroic fantasy adventure borrows considerably from Robin Hood, although the heroic protagonist is actually manipulated rather effectively by the narrator, a bard, who creates the romantic image and applies it to a rogue, around whom others gather. The rogue himself is transformed by his assumed role. After battling a number of fairly prosaic villains, they have to act against a vampire king who has returned from some realm to which he was exiled generations earlier. He has converted virtually an entire city, all of whose undead residents will disintegrate in Buffy the Vampire Slayer fashion if the king is destroyed. Which of course is exactly what happens. 8/26/21

Dark Prince by David Gemmell, Del Rey, 1991   

Sequel to Lion of Macedon.  Much more fantasy this time as young Alexander, son of Philip of Macedon, is part demon and is abducted into an alternate world where mythological creatures are real. Our hero, Parmenion, goes after him and is able to engineer the defeat of a supposedly invulnerable villain. There is a great deal of story after this climax. Magic turns Philip against Alexander for a while, assassins lurk everywhere, and Philip embarks on a major military campaign. This is the first Gemmell I have actually disliked. The alternate world never seemed real, the characters are not as well drawn, and the structure of the plot is odd and disorienting. 8/22/21

Lion of Macedon by David Gemmell, Del Rey, 1990 

Although there is some fantasy in this – mostly a couple of women foreseeing the future and interfering in the present- it is really an historical novel set in the early days of the life of Philip of Macedon. The protagonist is Parmenion, half Spartan and half Macedonian, who is mistreated in Sparta and eventually helps the city of Thebes to successfully rebel against the Spartans. He then goes to Macedon where he proves equally valuable to Philip and his father, the king, who are surrounded by aggressive enemies. As is always the case with Gemmell, the battle sequences are excellent, and the rest of the novel almost as good. 8/19/21

The Harm Tree by Rose Edwards, Uclan, 2021, $14, ISBN 978-1-912979-00-4

This is a very thoughtful young adult novel set in a fantasy world where a civil war has just been concluded. Although one side was victorious, there is simmering discontent and the conflict has just become more subtle. There are two main protagonists, both young women, who are caught up in the consequent struggle. Each is expected to be manipulated in furtherance of one agenda or another but once they begin to realize what is going on, they act independently and chart a very different course. Strong female characters and an interesting story, though marred for me by the irritating present tense narration. 8/16/21

Fantastic Americana by Josh Rountree, Fairwood, 2021, $17.99, ISBN 978-1-933846-16-3

Twenty-one stories ranging from fantasy to the supernatural to science fiction, although fantasy is the dominant genre. I had previously read about half of those included here. The sources are generally obscure except for Realms of Fantasy magazine and a couple of online sites. Rountree is not easily pigeonholed. His stories range from traditional contemporary fantasy to witchcraft to apocalyptic futures and supercomputers. His themes are very human, regardless of theme and setting, including the value of true love, understanding of oneself, and duty to one's companions. Despite the popularity of fantasy during the past twenty years or more, very few writers have done much with short fantasy fiction rather than novels, and Rountree is definitely one of the exceptions. 8/16/21

Knights of Dark Renown by David Gemmell, Del Rey, 1993 

A standalone adventure set in a world whose protective knights crossed into another reality, with the exception of one who chickened out at the last minute. In their absence, the country has fallen into disunion and the king is controlled by evil and ambitious men. The last remaining knight has to find the courage to cross into the other world, seek out his fellows, and convince them to return to save the day. As always, Gemmell presents us with a cast of interesting characters and interspersed their interactions with duels, monsters, and swordfights. The setting struck me as a bit flat compared to his other fantasy worlds, but the story is a good one. 8/14/21

The Hawk Eternal by David Gemmell, Legend, 1995  

Sequel to Ironhand’s Daughter, although the protagonist of that novel makes only a brief appearance here. The Highlanders (think Scotland) are attacked by the Aenir (think Vikings) for no reason except the love of war and conquest. But the Aenir have bitten off more than they can chew this time as a kind of guerilla war saps their strength and causes internal dissensions. There is a coming of age story mixed in, along with an odd subplot about interplanetary teleportation devices that stopped working, leaving various worlds isolated from one another. 8/11/21

Ironhand’s Daughter by David Gemmell, Legend, 1995 

A thinly disguised revisiting of the Roman occupation of the British Isles. The Highlanders have been defeated by the Outlanders, but the local governor is ambitious and wants to prove his military mettle, even if that means provoking a war where no resistance exists. He imprisons and tortures a young woman who is the last of the Highlander royal line, but she escapes, killing several soldiers in the process and becomes leader of a growing rebellion. The villain’s plans are undercut, however, when she visits the king he serves and threatens to cut off the sunlight by magic if he supports the governor. He agrees to a hands off policy and the governor and his minions are overwhelmed. 8/8/21

Bloodstone by David Gemmell, 1994  

I thought Genmell tried too hard with this one. It has an artificial intelligence, multiple timelines, godlike powers, mutants, atomic weapons, machineguns vs flintlocks, demons, and a kind of resurrection of the dead. The protagonist is a great warrior who is believed dead but who has just adopted another identity. Then he suffers partial amnesia and is back in the fight against a repressive theocracy that has its own internal divisions, the return of an old enemy from an alternate world, and other dangers. It felt more like a rapid series of vaguely related events than a linear plot working toward a conclusion. Rather disappointing. 8/3/21

The Last Guardian by David Gemmell, Del Rey, 1989  

This is not my favorite series by the author. It seems out of focus and uncontrolled. Jon Shannow has to battle not only the villains of his own time, but the emperor of lost Atlantis who has found a way to send his inhuman legions forward through time to conquer the future. There are some individual sequences that I thought were well done, but the story does not really hold together, and Shannow is a less interesting character than are Gemmell’s other heroic figures. The supporting cast is not as strong as usual either, and time travel and alternate realities almost always make it difficult to stay absorbed in the affairs of the base world. 7/28/21

Wolf in Shadow by David Gemmell, Legend, 1987  

Aka The Jerusalem Man. The first adventure of Jon Shannow, the Jerusalem Man, in a far future Earth which has altered its axis. Magic and chaos reign. An army known as the Hellborn has set out to conquer the world. Shannon is disillusioned and mostly disinterested, but the Hellborn leader has targeted him specifically because of a magical prophecy, and Shannow vows to kill him. The protagonist is a bit difficult to understand at times, but the story is tightly plotted and has multiple viewpoint characters. The magic is mostly off stage, although it is integral to the story. There are lots of dream visitation by the spirits of the dead. Gemmell was one of the best at this type of story. 7/24/21

The Fat Man by Ken Harmon, Dutton, 2010 

This one is an amusing fantasy set at the North Pole of Santa Claus. A dissident elf makes an effort to punish the parents of children who misbehave, convinced that they are responsible. When one of those parents is found murdered, evidence suggests that the elf is responsible, so naturally he has to find out who did it in order to escape from being framed. Written in a light, unadorned style that sometimes feels like a fairy tale and sometimes feels like a tough contemporary PI novel. 7/20/21

Last Sword of Power by David Gemmell, Del Rey, 1988 

The second half of the story of Uther Pendragon, although much of this focuses on his son, Cormac. The chief villain is Wotan, a sorcerous Viking leader who has conquered Gaul and stolen Uther’s soul. His son Cormac overcomes a number of challenges – including being stabbed to death – in order to prevent Wotan from winning. He also rescues the fair maiden, consults with a Merlin analogue, and has various adventures. Although both halves of this story have been well written, I found them much less interesting than the books Gemmell set in worlds of his own imagination. 7/18/21

A Sorcerer of Atlantis by John Shirley, Hippocampus, 2021, $20, ISBN 978-1-61498-332-3 

Two unrelated novellas are partnered here. The title story is an expansion of the previously published “Sword of Atlantis.” It lies somewhere between Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber. Two somewhat unlikely heroes find themselves allied with a female warrior in ancient Atlantis. They have some mild adventures fighting monsters with a light touch in the prose before discovering the existence – and threat – of an ocean going variety who could very well destroy Atlantis entirely. There is a good deal of casual humor that holds at bay the darker implications of the story. The second story, “A Prince in the Kingdom of Ghosts,” did not work as well for me, probably because of my aversion to stories set in dream worlds or the afterlife. The protagonist in this one dies and finds himself in a rather inventive afterlife where he has to struggle against a variety of fantastic creatures. Shirley is always interesting and these are unlike anything else that I’ve read by him. Both are well crafted and despite superficial similarities, they felt very different to me. 7/14/21

Ghost King by David Gemmell, Del Rey, 1988  

First half of the Stones of Power, which is based on Arthurian fantasy. Uther Pendragon is known as Thuro for most of the story. The legal High King is assassinated and a civil war breaks out among the tribes of Britain. A handful of immortals including Culain and Astarte (sometimes known as Circe), manipulate people and battle behind the scenes. Uther gains possession of a magical stone that gives him powers of his own. A lost Roman legion that has been wandering for centuries in a land of mist is brought back into the real world in order to turn the tide of battle. Uther becomes the high king, but not without suffering losses and being changed by his experiences. Gemmell added a trilogy to this "series" later but they are barely related. 7/8/21

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