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

 LAST UPDATE  11/14/23

Whispering Wood by Sharon Shinn, Fairwood, 2023, $19.99, ISBN 978-1-958880-13-5

This is the fifth part of the Elemental Blessings series, none of which I have seen. There are five elements in this fantasy world - the four familiar ones and wood as the fifth. Every resident of the country in which the story takes place is associated with one of those elements. There is a fairly elaborate set of blessings connected to each of the five, and passed on to those allied to that particular element. The culture is otherwise a familiar fantasy trope with a ruling family, nobility, and common people, although the affiliations are not divided by social class. There is also a rather large cast of characters for a comparatively short novel. Fortunately provides a listing of them and other matters. This was particularly helpful for me because I had not read the previous books. The crisis in this installment is that something seems to be interfering with the system, causing people to lose faith in the blessings they have formerly enjoyed. Quite readable, but I think I really needed to have read the earlier books first because the setting did not really come to life for me and I occasionally found myself confused. I've enjoyed most of what I have read by the author, however, and I've never had this trouble before/ 11/14/23

Delirium’s Mistress by Tanith Lee, DAW, 1986 

The fourth in the Flat Earth series was a bit of a letdown. Azhrarn, the prince of darkness, has had a longstanding feud with Prince Chuz, lord of madness and delusion, who never struck me as a strongly drawn character. Azhrarn also has a daughter by means of a mortal woman, whom he locked away in hiding throughout her youth to protect her from his enemies, and to suit his own strange preferences. But the actions of both mortals and demons set her free, and Chuz seduces her as part of his plan of vengeance, although it turns out that she is not so easily manipulated as he might have expected. The struggle becomes three day and emotionally complicated, but it is all very low key. Embellished by a great deal of detail, but very slow moving. 10/12/23

Hex Education by Maureen Kilmer, Putnam, 2023, $17, ISBN 978-0-593-42239-7

I used to read quite a lot of the contemporary fantasy that sprung up on the fringes of the romance and cozy mystery genres. Not so much any more. This was the first in a long time, by an author with whom I have no previous experience. The story involves three witches who found that they could not control the powers they were playing in, which resulted in a major fire during their college years. Now they are reunited and their proximity to one another seems to have triggered the same unreliable brand of magic that afflicted them once before. There is a talking cat, spells that cannot be turned off once started, and increasingly fraught complications as it appears that this time their activities might be exposed to the public. The story is deliberately light in tone, but it was a good deal more fun than I expected when I started it. It feels like a summer read to me, but it's okay to cheat and read it in the winter as well. 10/8/243

Blue Canoe by T.M. Wright, PS, 2009 

Wright’s final novel is a surreal fantasy, not horror at all. The protagonist has recently died and has transitioned no a non-corporeal state, but he is oddly suspended between life and death. He has to learn to deal with his new situation while also reminiscing about past issues that went unresolved. Wright’s disinterest in actual story lines is at its most obvious in this rambling, occasionally atmospheric, but mostly just confusing narrative. 10/4/23

A Spider on My Tongue by T.M. Wright, 1995 

This is almost as much a fantasy as a novel of the supernatural. The protagonist converses with ghosts on a regular basis. They are an odd assortment, not certain that they are dead in some cases. The conversations are not very focused and the protagonist is not entirely in touch with the world of the living any more. I reached the end and wondered what it was that the author was trying to tell us, or describe, since it felt more like a rambling stream of consciousness readout rather than a story. 10/4/23

Tamastara by Tanith Lee, DAW, 1984 

A collection of short stories, with India as the setting and inspiration. A bullying father finds his life altered after his son undergoes a magical transformation. A phantom tiger kills a compulsive hunter. A professional killer reveals himself as more complex than expected. Two separate people share a psychic connection. A future celebrity experiments with a new kind of broadcasting technology that leads to his death.  The stories are quite varied, so much so that they do not feel as though there is a common theme, even though they are all set in the same country. 10/2/23

The Gorgon & Other Beastly Tales by Tanith Lee, DAW, 1985

A large collection of her short fiction, including the great title story, which isn’t really fantasy, about a man’s visit to a shunned Greek island. Another story has a shapechanging governess, and is more whimsical than most of Lee’s fiction.  There is a mystical unicorn, a woman too fond of her cats, a young boy whose father came from the sea – quite literally, and a dragon slayer, who might have had some unusual help. The stories are all well written, not all quite to my taste, though the majority are. Lee is one of those authors who seemed to need novel length to bring her visions to life, although occasionally there are shorter gems. 9/25/23

The Yawning Gap by C.V. Vobh, Thuban, 2023

This is a somewhat Tolkienesque fantasy - first in a series - set in a world that has been divided up into lots of little patches. The protagonist is a young man who manages to leave his village in order to explore some of the other parts of his world. He is accompanied by a slowly growing circle of friends and allies, and opposed by an army of brutish Orks, who are being used to try to impose rule over the fragmented world. Naturally they are on a quest to find the tools they need to thwart the villains, who are proving to be difficult to control even by those who command them. The prose isn't bad. The weakest part is the dialogue, which often seems rather perfunctory. Not at all a bad way to spend your time. 9/22/23

Sung in Shadow by Tanith Lee, Tor, 1983 

There is genuine magic in this story, set in an alternate Renaissance Italy, but it is peripheral and presents color to the background rather than playing a major part in the story. The plot is a recapitulation of Romeo and Juliet, in this case Romulan and Iuleta, who come from rival families who are constantly feuding with one another. When the two of them fall in love, it raises the ire of both families, as well as their allies. Witchcraft and political intrigue follow in large dollops, before Iuleta tragically commits suicide, only to be resurrected magically by her lover. This is not one of my favorites by Lee. I always found the base story a bit sappy - it's also one of my least favorite Shakespeare plays and I only like West Side Story because of the music. I do think it goes on a bit too long., I grew weary of the bickering among the families, however true to life it may have been. 9/16/23

Anackire by Tanith Lee, DAW, 1983 

A return to the world of The Birthgrave and its sequels. For the most part it is a story of intrigue and betrayal, politics at imperial courts, an unjust war, and the responsibility of people to honor their commitments. Kesarh is an able king, but ultimately an evil one. He fathers a daughter with his unwilling sister, who kills herself. Priests magically preserve the child, who is unnaturally mature when she is born and – for several years – lost. One of the guards serving Kesarh is actually a nobleman who is using a false identity, and the tension between the two evolves during the course of the story.  9/9/23

 Red As Blood by Tanith Lee, DAW, 1983 

A collection of short stories based loosely on classic fairy tales. A pied paper renders an entire town sterile. A duel between a witch queen and a witch princess ends badly. My favorite in the collection is a variation of Red Riding Hood in which the grandmother turns out to be a werewolf. My least favorite is the only science fiction story – aliens visiting Earth seeking a cure for their racial sterility. The others are all readable and sometimes very good, although I think in general that Lee was much better at novel length than in the short form. One of the stories is actually just a historical adventure tale.  This is probably the weakest of her collections. 9/7/23

Red Rabbit by Alex Grecian, Nightfire, 2023, $28.99, ISBN 978-1-250-87568-9 

I’m not sure whether you would call this fantasy or horror. It’s a bit of both, and it’s set in an alternate Old West in which demons, ghosts, and witches are a part of the natural world. I’ve a soft spot for Old West fantasies – I learned to read with paperback westerns – particularly when they are as well written as this one. There is an infamous witch on the Wanted list and a lot of people are interested in collecting the bounty. One of these is a seasoned bounty hunter who is accompanied by his ward, Rabbit, who is mute, and several other idiosyncratic characters. But there are more dangerous things than witches in this alternate version of Kansas. There are ghosts and evil entities galore. And death and destruction both follow them. Very enjoyable. Richly atmospheric, very character driven, and skillfully unraveled. I got lost in the story several times and stayed up entirely too late to finish it. 9/1/23

Cyrion by Tanith Lee, DAW, 1982 

A series of related stories. Although it is a typical fantasy world and Cyrion is a legendary warrior, he is not a Conan clone. He solves most of the puzzle and problems he faces through cunning, deduction, and the ability to judge a person’s character. He encounters monsters, witches, evil magicians, and other familiar menaces, but if he dispatches them through violence it is usually brief or even off stage. There is a frame story around the individual adventures, which leads to the novella, “Cyrion in Stone,” which is the last in the series. As always, Lee writes with a graceful style that many another writer should envy. 8/24/23

Unsilent Night by Tanith Lee, NESFA, 1981 

A very short hardcover created to coincide with the author’s appearance at a Boskone. There is a selection of poetry, which struck me as inoffensive but minor,  and one of the adventures of Cyrion, which would later be included in her collection of his tales. There is also a story called “Sirriamnis,” who is believed to be Egyptian. She has a tendency to scratch her master when they make love. She is actually a kind of succubus, and a troublemaker, but one of the other slaves poisons her. 8/14/23

Delusion's Master by Tanith Lee, DAW, 1981

The third in the Flat Earth series introduces the third lord of darkness, Chuz, who is the manifestation of madness. Jasrin was a queen who was driven mad by her husband's fondness for their son and caused the boy's death. She has now been divorced and is under house arrest when Chuz visits her. She requests that he drive the king mad, which he does, along with everyone in the castle. But Chuz is ambitious and decides to corrupt the entire city. Azhrarn, lord of death, is no friend of his and thinks he is batting out of his league, so he undercuts the plans laid by Chuz and brings about his defeat. Not up to the first two in the series in quality despite a strong opening. 8/13/23

Kill the Dead by Tanith Lee, DAW, 1980 

A very unusual fantasy novel about a man who travels around a fantasy world dispatching ghosts who have failed to pass on to the afterlife. Some are malevolent, some are lost. He is accompanied for a time by a minstrel seeking inspiration for a song that will make him famous. His disposal of a dead girl’s ghost causes her sister to commit suicide and return as a ghost seeking revenge. These ghosts can manifest themselves physically so exorcising them is a dangerous business. For his pains, he is shunned by most people, but he is compelled by his nature to continue. One of Lee’s best books. 7/2/23