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

 LAST UPDATE 12/28/10 

The Buntline Special by Mike Resnick, Pyr, 12/10, $16, ISBN 978-1-61614-249-0  

There’s something about weird fantasy and the Old West that seem a perfect match, and it’s surprisingly how few writers have explored those possibilities.  Mike Resnick’s latest falls squarely in that category, set in an alternate 1881 when magic has prevented the European invasion from penetrating beyond the Mississippi River. Wyatt Earp and Thomas Edison are sent to Tombstone to try to develop a method of overwhelming this magic through technology in order to allow the further settlement/exploitation/conquest of North America. Resnick throws in several more familiar names in a kind of occult version of the Gunfight at the OK Corral, except with a zombie gunslinger and other delightful variations.  Great fun.  The most enjoyable book from this author in years. 12/28/10

Seer of Sevenwaters by Juliet Marillier, Roc, 2010, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-451-46355-5  

I believe this is the sixth novel of Sevenwaters, although not really a continuation of the stories from any of its predecessors.  The main character is a young woman about to become formally a druid who encounters a shipwrecked man with amnesia to whom she feels a compelling attraction that will change the course of her life.  She does a reading and discovers she is fated to accompany the man on a dangerous sea voyage, and although she does not fully understand the outcome, she knows that she will have to choose between her vocation as a druid and her growing affection for the injured man. Despite the interludes of adventure, this is a surprisingly low key novel more interested in the characters than in the fantastic situations they face, and as such it provides an interesting diversion from the usual devastating wars and furious internecine political battles rampant elsewhere. 12/23/10

The Bards of Bone Plain by Patricia A. McKillip, Ace, 2010, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-441-01957-1  

There is something about Patricia McKillip’s fantasies that is missing from most of her contemporaries.  I’m not sure what the exact quality is, but perhaps it is that most fantasy novels have generic plots that could have been SF or plain adventure by removing the magical content, while in McKillip’s work, the fantasy is somehow infused into every aspect of the story.  In her newest, we follow the quests of two men, father and son, which inevitably intersect.  The younger is a scholar who plans to write a paper on a story that is believed to be just a legend rather than actual history, although his researchers suggest that it was not as fanciful as he originally had thought it to be.  At the same time his father is a kind of failed historian archaeologist who diffidently pursues investigations around the ancient city to uncover hints of the past. When he and one of his assistants, who happens to be the king’s daughter, uncover a kind of Rosetta Stone, the consequences will affect father and son, and everyone else as well.  Like most of the author’s books, the story is told crisply and to the point, without the padding typical of contemporary fantasy. 12/20/10

Rhialto the Marvleous by Jack Vance, Brilliance Audio, read by Arthur Morey, 2010, $29.99, ISBN 978-1-4418-1473-9 

The fourth and final volume of the Dying Earth series.  Rhialto is the central characters in three interrelated stories.  In the first, and weakest, he thwarts a plot by an evil witch to turn all of the wizards in his group into women.  In the second, and longest, he has to track down a magical artifact that has been abstracted from its place by a fellow wizard who plots to destroy Rhialto’s reputation.  Finally, he and other wizards seek to rescue a fabled hero who is living at the very end of the universe.  Fun as always and Rhialto is an amusing character, but the devices Vance uses begin to repeat this time. Ably read. 12/18/10

Dragons Deal by Robert Asprin and Jody Lynn Nye, Ace, 2010, $15, ISBN 978-0-441-01826-7

I haven’t seen the two previous novels in this humorous fantasy series but the premise is that dragons function like ordinary people in a kind of alternative New Orleans.  The protagonist in this one runs a casino and is enough of a celebrity that he is offered a place of honor in the Mardi Gras festivities. Naturally successful men – and dragons – make powerful enemies, in this case a group that is attempting to run our scaly hero out of business. Throw a murder mystery into the mix and season well with sometimes wry, sometimes obvious humor and you have a generally entertaining if not entirely serious adventure story.  Not enough to make me search too hard for the earlier volumes but I’d certainly read them if they turned up. 12/17/10

The Horns of Ruin by Tim Akers, Pyr, 11/10, $16, ISBN 978-1-61614-246-9  

A slightly offbeat fantasy here, set in a quasi-familiar fantasy world although with some unique and clever aspects.  The protagonist is a young woman, perhaps destined to be the last of the Cult of Morgan, a kind of benevolent but somewhat anachronistic – in the context of its world – group that follows one of many gods, fallen and otherwise.  Where science and technology have attracted the attention of most of her fellow citizens, Eva Forge still honors the traditions of Morgan.  But then someone begins taking steps to eliminate the remaining members of the cult, and perhaps its very memory, and she discovers she is the only possible champion to uncover the mystery and save the day.  Some interesting juxtaposition of science and magic, and an exciting story. 12/12/10

Greyfriar by Clay Griffith & Susan Griffith, Pyr, 11/10, $16, ISBN 978-1-61614-247-6  

This is the first novel in a series that mixes elements of fantasy, horror, and science fiction.  It’s set in the near future, but the near future of a world very different from ours because in the latter half of the 19th Century a plague of vampires overran most of the northern hemisphere and the surviving humans emigrated south because this version of vampires cannot stand hot weather. As the two sides prepare for a war of extermination, a noblewoman from what remains of the British Empire finds hope in the form of Greyfriar, a mysterious guerilla fighter who strikes repeatedly against the vampires as a kind of Scarlet Pimpernel. The story is a mix of swashbuckling and suspense, with the obvious dash of alternate history, and while I approached it with considerable reservations – I don’t usually like mixtures of fantasy and science fiction – I found this quite engaging and look forward to the two further volumes projected. 12/8/10

The Five Fakirs of Faizabad by P.B. Kerr, Orchard, 2010, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-545-12658-8  

The sixth book in this young adult series seemed to me a bit repetitive, although perhaps that’s not necessarily bad with open ended series, providing a predictable and mostly enjoyable escape adventure.  Our two young protagonists are back, and they’re once again pitted against an evil djinn, this time as they pursue a quest to find the first of five ancient magicians who should hold the secret to solving a new problem besetting the world – a plague of bad luck.  The dialogue is a bit clunky at times and the story is obviously aimed at a less sophisticated audience than, say, the Harry Potter books, but it’s still frequently fun.12/7/10

The Hole in the Wall by Lisa Rowe Fraustino, Milkweed, 11/10, $16.95, ISBN 978-1-57131-696-7  

Here’s a quite short but also quite unusual book for younger readers.  The protagonists – kids obviously – are puzzled by strange events in their remote town following the arrival of a mysterious entrepreneur and his entourage.  Naturally they decide to spy on the newcomers and naturally they discover a connection.  The secret is clever and I won't spoil things by explaining it here. This one is quirky, could be construed almost as SF, and is a welcome variation to the standard novels published for this age group.  It is also written with surprisingly sophisticated prose, which publishers normally avoid for this particular age group.  A nice antidote to the storm and fury of most YA fiction. 12/7/10

Echo City by Tim Lebbon, Ballantine, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-553-59322-8  

Tim Lebbon started as an exceptionally good horror writer and seems to have moved solidly into position as an exceptionally good fantasy writer.  This new novel is certainly his best and most interesting to date, set in an isolated city that believes itself to be the entire surviving human race in an empty world.  That conviction is overturned when an outsider appears from the desert perhaps coincidentally as warnings arise of a threat to their collective future.  The novel is full of fascinating characters stretched along a span from good to evil.  The city has a theocratic government and there’s a simmering rebellion, and science and sorcery have begun intermixed.  It’s a kind of fantastic variation of Arthur C. Clarke’s Against the Fall of Night, and it’s an excellent one. 12/4/10

Gilded Latten Bones by Glen Cook, Roc, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-451-46371-5  

My favorite fantasy detective is back.  Garrett has sort of retired from private investigations, but that never works, does it?   When someone hires some pretty incompetent thugs to kidnap the love of Garrett’s life, he reluctantly has to re-enter the fray and find out who is responsible. Then one of his closest friends has similar unwanted visitors and Garrett is not disposed to consider this a coincidence.  And it never is, is it?  Magic and mayhem ensue.  I’ve always liked the tough private eye form – Chandler, Hammett, etc. – but only if it is done right.  Cook does it right, and does it in an interesting fantasy world as well. He has also created in Garrett one of the more enduring characters in contemporary fantasy.   12/2/10

Shotgun Sorceress by Lucy A. Snyder, Del Rey, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-345-51210-9  

The follow up to Spellbent has paranormal fantasy heroine Jessie Shimmers back from Hell and back with her lover, but something new has been added.  She now has supernatural powers of her own, although they aren’t always within her conscious control. Other parts of her life have changed dramatically as well and she finds herself right in the middle of a new conflict that could alter the magical other world forever. There are a lot of critters and crises in this book, which mixes wild fantasy adventure with not particularly tongue in cheek humor.  I’ve long since overdoses on this particular subset of fantasy, but found this one to be a pleasant interlude. 11/28/10

Cugel’s Saga by Jack Vance, Brilliance Audio, 2010, read by Arthur Morey,  $29.99, ISBN 978-1-4418-1467-8 

The third in the Dying Earth series takes up right where the second ended, although Vance seems to have forgotten the details since he implies that Cugel was dispatched there by his nemesis, the laughing magician, when in fact it was his own misspoken spell that transported him to this far land.  Most of the first half of the novel has Cugel aboard a ship trying to get back, and despite his cleverness, his plans never quite seem to work out the way he intended them to and he is frequently outsmarted.  He has more typical adventures as he wends his way back to confront his old enemy, some of which are quite clever, although I have to admit that after a while they begin to feel repetitive. Cugel is a con man and a cad, but one cannot help sympathizing with him when he makes, and loses, fortune after fortune.  Nicely read as well. 11/27/10

Trolls in the Hamptons by Celia Jerome, DAW, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7564-0630-1  

Barbara Metzger kicks off this pseudonymous paranormal fantasy series about Willow Tate, a graphic novelist who creates a character that apparently comes to life, although she is the only one who can actually see him.  Hallucination or magic?  Then she meets a mysterious character who tells her she has managed to tap into a powerful magic that could upset the laws or reality and even threaten the world.  On top of that there’s an evil genius who wants to dominate the human race – don’t they all? – and he has kidnapped an innocent child as part of his nefarious plot. There’s possibly a bit too much shoehorned into this comparatively short novel, but most of it is amusing and I was fond of the protagonist.  I’ve noticed a few of the paranormal fantasy series lately are edging toward the old Unknown style fantasy, which is a definite improvement as far as I’m concerned. 11/25/10

The Clockwork Three by Matthew J. Kirby, Scholastic, 2010, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-545-20337-1  

This young adult fantasy involves three different children each of whom has an encounter with a magical or mysterious object, a lost treasure, an enchanted violin, and an elaborate piece of clockwork. The three separate threads are quickly drawn together as we discover that they are all parts of one greater puzzle and the three characters must learn to trust one another and act in consort if they are to avoid danger.  This was actually a rather clever novel – a first novel to boot – and the plot was quite intricate and cleverly managed. It's also a very quick read.  I would be curious to see what this particular writer would do with adult fantasy since he displays an interesting new viewpoint and considerable wit. 11/24/10

Hell Can Wait by Theodore Judson, Edge, 2010, $14.95, ISBN 978-1-894063-23-4  

What happens when Heaven and Hell get involved in an argument about the fate of the soul of a particular human?  The author suggests one solution – a return of the individual to Earth so that his destiny can be established unequivocally.  The person in question is a Roman soldier who finds himself restored to Earth, but a very alien one since he is dropped into the middle of contemporary America. I enjoy stories of people displaced in time in this and similar fashion, and the device is always useful for satirizing aspects of our civilization from a fresh viewpoint, although the tone of this is actually quite serious despite the whimsical theme.  Very enjoyable. 11/17/10

Chronicles of War, edited anonymously, Gallery, 2010, $19.99, ISBN 978-1-4391-7272-8  

I mention in passing this omnibus edition of four fantasy novels tied to the World of Warcraft game system.  All of these were previously published and include titles by Christie Golden, Aaron Rosenberg, and Jeff Grubb.  They’re pretty much generic sword and sorcery adventures and you don’t need to know a thing about the game in order to follow the stories. They mostly concern wars between humans and orcs, with a few other villains thrown in from time to time, and they’re representative of the type.  But if you haven’t read them previously, this isn’t a bad price for four complete novels. 11/17/10

Wulfrik by C.L. Werner, Black Library, 2010, $8.99, ISBN 978-1-84416-893-4 

Werner is one of the more innovative writers working in the fantasy half of the Warhammer universe, and I never know what to expect from book to book.  Wulfrik is a larger than life hero, and a bit of an antihero as well, cursed by the gods so that even his victories are bittersweet.  Despite the temptation to give in to the evil powers, Wulfrik is basically on the side of good, but even he may not be able to withstand the pressures of the latest plot to seize his soul.  And when his friends are in nearly as much danger as his enemies, it’s difficult for him to find allies in the struggle.  Lots of violent scenes and high adventure in this one, a sort of cross between Moorcock and Howard. 11/14/10

Corvus by Paul Kearney, Solaris, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-908735-77-7 

Much of Paul Kearney’s fantasy, like this one, falls somewhere between high fantasy and sword and sorcery.  In this case we have Corvus, an ambitious and charismatic leader who may not be human but who is definitely competent and determined to rule the world.  He wishes to enlist in his cause one Rictus, a mercenary leader who is tired of battle and wants to retire.  He also has reservations about Corvus, but until and unless things are resolved, there will be no place Rictus can retire to that won’t be caught up in the conflict.  There’s nothing really out of the ordinary here but Kearney does a better job of creating credible characters than do most of his contemporaries and that is particularly evident this time around. 11/13/10

Shadowheart by Tad Williams, DAW, 2010, $27.95, ISBN 978-0-7564-0640-0 

Tad Williams brings the Shadowmarch sequence to a close in this, the fourth volume, which provided my bedside reading for the last few days.  As you will know if you’ve read the previous three, the throne has been stolen and the rightful heirs have been waiting for an opportunity to regain their birthright.  Their efforts are complicated by the awakening of a sleeping god with a malevolent nature and a grudge against humans. The heirs – formerly scattered for their own separate adventures – are converging now for the ultimate reunion. And behind all of this are the plotting of the fairies, who obviously have their own agenda and interest in the outcome of the human struggle for succession.  The plot is a tried and true one, though I’ve grown to dislike stolen thrones and the consequences, but Williams writes well enough to make me swallow my aversion and read on even four a story that spans four very large volumes. 11/12/10

A Tangle in Slops by Jeffrey Barlough, Gresham & Doyle, 2010, $14.95, ISBN 978-0-9787634-2-8 

The latest in the Western Lights series continues in its slightly offbeat style with this new title, which reminded me a bit of The Hound of the Baskervilles written by Thomas Hardy, both for setting and plot.  The protagonist is a young woman whose father was killed by a mysterious creature and who fears that her fate will be the same. Is it the random happenstance of the supernatural or is the beast directed by some nefarious party with designs against the family?  A blend of fantasy, detective story, and supernatural thriller with a distinct style and a welcome aversion to the overdone devices of current fantasy.  There’s an unrelated short story included. 11/10/10

The Essential Defenders Volume Two, Marvel, 2006 

I was never a big fan of the Defenders because I never cared for Doctor Strange, and he leads this group consisting variously of the Hulk, Nighthawk, the Valkyrie, and Sub-Mariner. I’m listing this as fantasy because Strange is pretty much the leader and he uses magic in almost every episode.  The challengers are a pretty impressive lot, ranging from Magneto to the Son of Satan. They team up with Luke Cage after the mandatory misunderstanding causing the good guys to fight among themselves and together defeat the Wrecking Crew.  Some of the stories aren’t really about the Defenders; they’re team ups between members of the group and other superheroes like the Thing. The Valkyrie goes through an identity crisis and the Hulk continues to be confused by everything. Other collaborations include Daredevil, Howard the Duck, and Spider-Man and vanquished villains include Yellowjacket, the Grandmaster, Egghead, the Squadron Sinister, Meteor Man, and the Sons of the Serpent. A good array spoiled for me by the magical elements.  11/10/10

At the Queen’s Command by Michael A. Stackpole, Night Shade, 2010, $14.99, ISBN 978-1-59780-200-0 

Opening volume of the Crown Colonies series, which is a sort of fantasy alternate version of the American Revolution. It’s called Mystria rather than America and the natives aren’t completely analogous to Native Americans, but the resemblance is obviously intentional, although it quickly becomes tenuous.  A nobleman and a military officer become the two main characters in a story that involves forced marriage, sorcery, dragons, and other standard fantasy elements.  Despite its often familiar plot elements, there is more texture than in many other fantasy novels and more sharply drawn characters than in many similar adventure stories..  Stackpole’s writing seemed to improve dramatically with the Age of Discovery series a few years ago and he’s still riding that creative high. 11/9/10

The Wolf Age by James Enge, Pyr, 10/10, $17, ISBN 978-1-61614-243-8  

Morlock Ambrosius returns for his third adventure, this time in a city dominated by werewolves. It’s an odd city, and an unusual setting, a mixture of aristocracy, tribalism, and democracy, with factions plotting against one another, although all of them seem disinclined to like human beings. The balance of power is about to be stirred violently by the appearance of strangers, one of them our hero, the other a more fearsome presence.  This has proven to be a surprising series in that it started off very slow, accelerated with the second volume, and is even better the third time around.  Much of the structure of the story is familiar, but Enge provides enough novelty to keep the reader guessing, and reading. 11/7/10 

Weight of Stone by Laura Anne Gilman, Gallery, 10/10, $24.99, ISBN 978-1-4391-0145-2  

The sequel to Flesh and Fire continues the story set in a world where magic is linked to wine, a clever idea that provides an interesting backdrop.  Some sinister force is undercutting the benevolent effects of good magic and no one understands where it comes from.  The usual assemblage of four disparate characters sets out on a quest to discover the truth and have various adventures of varying novelty along the way. The underlying basis of their society is that magic users cannot govern, and governments cannot use magic, but someone appears to have found a way to contravene those rules and, by doing so, threatens to topple the entire structure of civilization. The episodic adventures vary from good to quite good and the book is a considerable step up from its predecessor.  Gilman, much of whose fantasy has been in the romance genre, seems poised to make an even bigger splash in mainstream fantasy. 11/5/10

Arrowland by Paul Kane, Abaddon, 2010, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-907519-12-3  

Another entry in the Afterblight Chronicles, which involves a post apocalyptic world where magic has been restored.  Robert is the leader of a band of self appointed protectors of the common people, an obvious reference to Robin Hood since he is even known as the Hooded Man, but Robert is troubled by more than just corrupt officials and mendacious survivors.  He has been having dreams of monstrous creatures dominating the world, and he’s not convinced that they are just metaphorical analogies. His story is set in context by other struggles in Russia and Germany but the focus is on Britain, not surprisingly, and his actions to forestall the threat he feels impinges upon those he is sworn to protect.  Not bad at all given the premise. 11/2/10

Nightshade City by Hilary Wagner, Holiday House, 2010, $17.95, ISBN 978-0-8234-2285-2  

I confess that while I have enjoyed a few stories about talking animals – The Wind in the Willows and Watership Down being obvious examples – for the most part I don’t care for them.  That almost led me to pass on this young adult fantasy, which is set within a society of intelligent rats, but fortunately I was in an odd mood and decided to give it a try.  Our protagonist is leader of a band of rebels who oppose a dictatorship recently instituted by the chief villain. There’s not much rattiness to the rats, but in some ways this was quite a charming little story and if you’re not put off by the basic concept, you might find this surprisingly good. 11/2/10

Tracato by Joel Shepherd, Pyr, 10/10, $16, ISBN 978-1-61614-244-5  

Volume three of A Trial of Blood and Steel.  Although the human lands have prospered under the oversight of the magic serrin, the old divisions and feuds have not been laid completely to rest. In some cases, these dichotomies split families and friends from one another. An imminent war poses particularly problems for the protagonist, whose lover is among the host preparing to subjugate her people.  I was lukewarm about the first in this series, considerably more enthusiastic about the second, and my feelings this time fall somewhere in between. The characters are well done and it’s nice to see a novel about war that deals with the effects on the population rather than just the machinations of the people in power. The action seemed a bit diffused however and that detracted from the suspense implied by the events taking place.10/30/10

The Eyes of the Overworld by Jack Vance, Brilliance Audio, 2010, read by Arthur Morey, $29.99, ISBN 978-1-4418-1461-6 

The second volume of the Dying Earth series was also published as a series of short stories, but this one is much more of a continuous narrative about Cugel the Clever, a would be thief who crosses a magician and is sent on a quest to the far side of the world.  There he secures a cusp which will allow its user to peer into the more perfect overworld where everything is much more beautiful than in our own. Cugel’s journey back home pits him against a variety of perils, and though he is not as clever as his name would imply, he manages to overcome a variety of adversities and reach the end of his quest, briefly avenge himself on the magician, only to find himself magically thrust back to that distant land for a new series of adventures chronicled in volume three.  I actually think I liked this better than the first book, and I’m looking forward to the next, Cugel’s Saga. 10/29/10

Memories of Envy by Barb Hendee, Roc, 2010, $15, ISBN 978-0-451-46353-1  

Third in the Vampire Memories series, which straddle horror and urban fantasy.  The protagonist is a comparatively good vampire who feeds without killing her prey and who has taught others of the undead to act similarly.  Her latest project is to convert a beautiful undead woman from the 1920s who revels in her power over ordinary humans and who is not likely to modify her way of life. And it soon becomes a question of who is going to convert whom as the vamp – in more ways than one – entangles them in one of her clever plots.  Well above average for this sort of thing although I prefer Hendee's Noble Blood series by a considerable margin. 10/28/10

Double Cross by Carolyn Crane, Ballantine Spectra, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-553-59262-7  

Second in another urban fantasy series, this one involving a special police group that specializes in paranormal criminals.  This time the menace is a plague of serial killers, each of whom seems to be endowed with unusual powers.  Enter Justine Jones who discovers that even the magically enhanced masters of the city are afraid of this new breed of criminal, and she and her cohorts have to discover what has brought about this change in the balance of power and neutralize it before it is too late.  Competent, occasionally exciting, and about average overall for urban fantasy. Of you've read and enjoyed the first in this series, you'll like this one.  I had expected the popularity of this form to die down, but if it has, the publishers have not yet responded to the change so we probably have lots more urban elves in our collective future.  10/28/10

The Cardinal’s Blades by Pierre Pevel, Pyr, 10/10, $16, ISBN 978-1-61614-245-2  

This is a translation of a French novel by one of their better known fantasy writers, although his name will be new to most English speaking readers.  The setting, unsurprisingly, is France, but a France unlike that of our history.  Cardinal Richelieu is the de facto leader of France and he faces a foe unlike any he has encountered before.  Although magic is a fact of life and dragons can frequently be found as pets, there is an evil cult which has created a different kind of dragon, a menacing, destructive creature with which they hope to establish their rule over France and beyond.  The story has much of the feel of the Alexander Dumas, although a more modern and sophisticated variation, and there are plenty of swashbuckling adventures, battles and pursuits, and secrets revealed before the end.  I would be surprised if we don’t see more of this author’s work in translation in the near future. 10/24/10

The Robert E. Howard Reader edited by Darrell Schweitzer, Borgo, 2010, $14.99, ISBN 978-1-4344-1165-5

Over the years I've come to enjoy the work of Robert E. Howard even more so than I did when I first discovered him in my twenties.  Despite his short career, he turned out a surprising number of excellent stories in a wide variety of genres and even his less skillful stuff is interesting.  This is a collection of essays about his work - and truth in advertising I wrote one of them about his Oriental fiction - which editor Schweitzer has drawn from a variety of sources, both new and old.  The contributors include L. Sprague de Camp, Poul Anderson, and Fritz Leiber, all reprints obviously, with new work by Michael Moorcock, S.T. Joshi, and  the editor himself.  Subjects covered include his style, his fascination with history and the interface between civilization and barbarism, and examinations of some of his most popular characters.  A very nice compendium and the price is quite reasonable. 10/23/10

The Usurper by Rowena Cory Daniells, Solaris, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-907519-07-9   

Things seem pretty dark for the children of a dead king whose throne has been stolen.  One brother is theoretically the new king although he is forced by circumstances to remain in hiding, another is frustrated by his inability to affect matters shaping the future of his world, and their sister has been reduced to the effective status of a slave in the royal palace, in danger of immediate execution if anyone discovers her true identity.  The machinations and manipulations continue and redouble and there is finally a change of momentum in the direction of our protagonists and while many of the issues raised in the first two books get resolved, there’s more than a hint that there are still momentous things to come.  Solid conventional fantasy adventure. 10/21/10

The Dying Earth by Jack Vance, Brilliance Audio, 2010

I decided to try an MP3 audiobook because they’re much less expensive, but they’re far less convenient as well.  They won’t play in my car radio and my MP3 player won’t allow me to stop in mid-track and restart, and the tracks are 30-45 minutes long instead of the usual three, so if I get interrupted, I have to re-listen to a lot before resuming.  This was one of Vance’s first books, and still his best known, a collection of interrelated fantasies that have a distinctive flavor of their own, set in a dying Earth where magic has returned.  These are stories of magicians – who can only carry a limited number of spells in their mind at any one time – and thieves and artificially created maidens and adventurers, and they have a kind of fairy tale aura that is almost unique in fantasy.  It had been almost fifty years since I read this, but it hasn't aged at all and is as accessible and marvelous as ever. I particularly like the segment set in a city whose inhabitants are split into two factions who literally can’t perceive one another.  10/15/10

The House on Durrow Street by Galen Beckett, Ballantine Spectra, 2010, $16, ISBN 978-0-553-80759-2 

The first in this series, The Magicians and Mrs. Quent, struck me as an obvious imitation of Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.  That similarity is less prevalent in this sequel, in which Ivy Quent wants nothing more than to fade back into obscurity and live a normal life.  Such is not to be obviously or there wouldn’t be much of a story. Instead she is drawn to a mysterious house which may contain a nexus of supernatural power that could be put to use to alter the power structure of her society, if a group of nefarious magicians can obtain control.  And there’s an even greater menace hovering in the wings.  The novel is a kind of blend of traditional fantasy and Jane Austen’s novels of manners, with great attention paid to the machinations of the social upper crust as well as those of the villains in the piece.  Fully the equal of its predecessor and possibly a little better, although the pace might seem a bit too deliberate for those who prefer contemporary urban fantasy adventure. 10/12/10

Side Jobs by Jim Butcher, Roc, 2010, 11/10, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-451-46365-X  

In addition to the various novels in the Dresden Files series, Jim Butcher has also written several shorter adventures, collected in this volume.  Harry Dresden solves mysteries, avoids retribution, and uses magic and common sense to overcome obstacles.  Some of the stories here are very hard to find – one appeared only on his website – and one of them is original to this collection.  The ones that I had already read had all stuck in my memory and the ones new to me were similarly likeable. Personal favorites are “Day Off” and “The Warrior.”  I actually think I prefer the short stories to the novels.  They’re much more tightly written and the humorous aspects work a lot better if they’re not drawn out so much. 10/12/10

No Such Thing As Dragons by Philip Reeve, Scholastic, 9/10, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-545-22224-2  

Reeve’s latest children’s fantasy involves an abused child who becomes an apprentice dragon slayer, even though he frankly doesn’t believe that dragons are real.  At least it’s an escape from his horrible father. Of course they turn out to be real, and scary, and our young hero finds out much about himself as well as the world at large when he is called upon to help slay a monster.  Kind of fun but without those hard to describe qualities that make a children’s fantasy appeal to adult readers.  I've liked other books by this author a good deal better. 10/8/10

Tome of the Undergates by Sam Sykes, Pyr, 9/10, $17, ISBN 978-1-61614-242-1  

A first novel set in a typical fantasy world with a mildly atypical cast of characters.  Lenk and his associates are, essentially, thugs – hired swords with few scruples.  As disagreeable as they are to the reader, they are equally disgusted with one another for various reasons and their alliance is one of inconvenience.  The band are hired to retrieve a magical book which has been stolen by denizens of the ocean who want to establish mastery of the world and who can marshal an array of fishy monsters to oppose our anti-heroes, who slaughter them with almost careless abandon.  Overall it’s an interesting adventure story that sidesteps some of the obvious clichés and embraces others, and there’s certainly very little slow moving prose.  I wouldn’t tag him this as a brilliant debut but it does suggest that Sykes is a writer to watch as he develops because there are signs of significant potential. 10/6/10

The Half-Made World by Felix Gilman, Tor, 9/10, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2552-5  

Relative newcomer Felix Gilman has an interesting setting for his new epic fantasy.  The world is still not completely formed and the frontier – a kind of Wild West – is a tumultuous place, a sometimes battlefield from the two main contending forces from the more settled part of the world. A psychologist seeks to restore the mind of a prominent man who may hold the key to a dark secret, while various forces gather around him for purposes of their own.  The writing is an absolute pleasure and the plot is good as well.  I also found the protagonist to be an unusually interesting fantasy hero.  I liked Gilman’s two earlier novels well enough, but this one is much better than either of them. 10/5/10

Twelve by Jasper Kent, Pyr, 9/10, $17, ISBN 978-1-61614-241-4  

I suppose you could read this one as either fantasy or horror depending on your tastes. It’s set in Russia during the Napoleonic Wars and is told largely from the point of view of a Russian military officer who considers himself too modern and educated to believe in primitive legends.  In the face of the invading French army, the Russians recruit twelve mysterious men who operate independently and who have an uncanny ability to defeat the enemy.  But our hero remembers legends from his childhood, of supernatural creatures something like vampires and he begins to have second thoughts, wondering if the cure may have been worse than the disease. I generally don’t care for horror novels set earlier than the mid-Victorian age but this is one of those occasional exceptions that keep me reading them.  I do hope however that there will be some copy editing between the advance copy and the final book because I saw dropped letters, names in lower case, and other typesetting errors. 10/2/10

Salute the Dark by Adrian Tchaikowsky, Pyr, 9/10, $16, ISBN 978-1-61614-239-1  

The war is finally starting in the fourth volume in this series, which completes a cycle but which is obviously not the last book the author plans to set in this world where magic and technology overlap. The emperor plans to have a sorcerer use a magical artifact to make him immortal, but it’s not clear who is really the master because the sorcerer has plans of his own.  Our hero is torn between his various loyalties as it grows more apparent that the emperor has succumbed to the dark side of the force and he must make momentous decisions of his own.   The story is not an unfamiliar one but the setting is cleverly done and has been the strongest element in the novels to date, although this latest is also filled with enough adventure, plots, and derring do to satisfy even the most jaded fantasy fan. 9/28/10

A Cup of Normal by Devon Monk, Fairwood, 9/10, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-9820730-9-4  

Devon Monk was writing short fiction before her recent urban fantasy series, and I remembered a couple of the stories included here as soon as I saw the titles, both from Realms of Fantasy magazine.  Her themes and subject matter are pretty varied – everything from vampire romance to ogres and pixies.  There’s a light sense of humor even in the grimmer of the stories, and especially in the less intense ones.  Favorites here include “Fishing the Edge of the World,” “Singing Down the Sun,” and “Falling with Wings”.   Three of the stories are original to this collection.  I often think that I enjoy short fantasy fiction more than the doorstop sized novels and this is a good example of why. Sometimes I'm in the mood for breath taking events, violent action, or complex plots.  At other times, I want something with a narrower focus, more controlled writing, and events to which I can relate directly.  This collection is perfectly suited for the latter mood.  9/28/10

Lady Lazarus by Michele Lang, Tor, 2010, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2317-0  

Magic versus Nazis.  How could you go wrong with that?  Michele Lang sets her story during the early days of World War II.  A good witch living in Hungary has a prescient vision of the Nazi domination of Europe and realizes that she must act to prevent a powerful magical artifact from falling into their hands.  The Nazis already have werewolves, demons, and other supernatural creatures doing their bidding so the odds are stacked against her and the best hope for success rests in summoning a kind of angel to help defend her family.  But her feelings for the angel transcend the simple attraction of magic.  I could have done without the romantic elements, actually, which seemed more of a distraction than an enhancement, but otherwise this was a very well done – though at times depressing – fantasy adventure.  Terrible cover though. 9/27/10

Game of Cages by Harry Connolly, Del Rey, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-345-50890-4

The second novel of the Twenty Palaces, set in an alternate world where magic works.  Our hero is the one time chauffeur to a powerful sorcerer who was forced to stand in for him after an accident in the first book in the series, and who is about to have an even more dangerous adventure thrust upon him.  A group of evil sorcerers – there’s always a group of evil sorcerers – is vying for possession of a murderous creature so powerful that its very existence threatens the world.  The good sorcerers decide that they have to interfere, and Ray, the protagonist, expects to watch from the sidelines.  Unfortunately, when the creature escapes its captors, there is no safe place to watch from a distance any more.  I had fun with this one, which I liked even better than its predecessor.  The similarities to the Dresden Files, which I’ve seen mentioned in several places, are mostly superficial. 9/26/10

Plain Kate by Erin Bow, Arthur Levene, 2010, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-545-16664-5

Plain Kate is a young girl whose village has had a string of bad luck and fallen on hard times.  She has recently lost her father but also has minimal magical powers, which could be a disadvantage since there is a violent resentment of anyone betraying such abilities. Some of the troubles are clearly not natural and it looks like Kate might become the scapegoat when she meets a man who promises to deliver her from the danger in exchange for her shadow.  It seems like a good idea at the time, but deals with the devil – in whatever guise – rarely work out as they are expected.  A better than average story for younger readers, and sometimes us older readers really appreciate the comparative simplicity of a story told in this fashion. 9/26/10

Temple of the Servant by C.L. Werner, Black Library, 2010, $8.99, ISBN 978-1-84416-873-6

Zombieslayer by Nathan Long, Black Library, 2010, $8.99, ISBN 978-1-84416-881-1 

Two new novels in the sword and sorcery section of the Warhammer universe. C.L.Werner continues his spinoff from the Gotrek and Felix series in this tale of a professional assassin whose latest assignment turns out to be more dangerous, and complicated, than expected. To reach his quarry, our antihero must travel across a thick and treacherous jungle, dodge a few people who want him dead, and reach a distant land. Although I’ve enjoyed some of Werner’s previous books, this one didn’t do a lot for me.  There was a little too much fighting and action and too little story or character development to generate any interest in the outcome.  Your mileage may vary. Nathan Long continues the adventures of the original pair of heroes by secluding them in a fastness beset by hordes of the walking undead, in a bow to the current popularity of zombies. For some reason I really enjoy siege novels – have to re-read The Bronze God of Rhodes by de Camp some time soon – and this one  held my interest despite occasional repetitiveness. 9/23/10

Coronets and Steel by Sherwood Smith, DAW, 9/10, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-7564-0642-4  

Sherwood Smith conjures up a kind of Graustarkian adventure story for us.  The protagonist is a young woman who is trying unsuccessfully to trace her family history because she has a sense that something is expected of her, something she cannot begin to imagine.  Rather than answers, her trip to Europe brings her ghosts and a drugged abduction to a mythical country.  There we are treated to some classic high adventure as she discovers a most remarkable truth.  There’s magic in this one but it could almost have been written as a straight adventure story, and its protagonist – ballet dancer, scholar, and fencer – is one of Smith’s livelier creations.  I enjoyed this one thoroughly.  It's in the tradition of The Prisoner of Zenda as much as it's a fantasy, and while some of the plot turns are familiar ones, they're also very entertaining ones.  9/20/10

A Star Shall Fall by Marie Brennan, Tor, 2010, $15.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2536-5

In a slightly altered Victorian London, the rivalry between magic and science has reached a crisis.  The fae population is dismayed to find that their influence and power is steadily receding and that magic might even vanish entirely from the world.  But there’s an outside force which is about to illustrate to both schools of thought that they need to work together to avert a disaster. The great fire of 1666 was not a natural event but the work of a fire elemental in the form of a dragon, a creature which was banished magically to a comet.  But the comet is about to return and the elemental will no doubt return to its work of destruction. Only an alliance between science and magic, despite the complications involved, will save the day.  An intelligent, well constructed, and consistently logical historical fantasy told with great skill.  One of the better fantasies of the year. 9/20/10

Path of the Sun by Violette Malan, DAW, 2010, $15, ISBN 978-0-7564-0638-7

Since I have always been an enormous fan of the Fafhrd & Gray Mouser stories, I keep watch for anything along similar lines.  Although I’ve never managed to find anything to equal them – and probably never will – there have been a few series that come close enough to make me watch for new titles.  This is one of them, fourth in the adventures of Dhulyn and Parno, a man and woman who have adventures in a typical sword and sorcery world.  They’re mercenaries rather than thieves and their recent assignment as escort to a princess is also a cover for a secret mission to discover what happened to some of their brethren who disappeared mysteriously.  They quickly learn that there are rumors of ritual murders in the city and their former charge becomes one of the victims, precipitating a journey into unknown lands in search of information, the killers, and possibly their own deaths.  Lots of fun in this one, in a series which I have found to be consistently entertaining so far. 9/15/10

Native Star by M.K. Hobson, Ballantine Spectra, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-553-59265-8  

I was taught to read using paperback westerns, so I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for western novels.  This one is a blend of that and fantasy, an alternate version of our history where magic is part of everyday life.  A young witch – our protagonist – finds that she cannot compete with mail order charms and amulets and that her business is drying up. Then she acquires a powerful and important artifact which makes her the target of a group of evilly inclined magicians, and the uncertain ally of an obnoxious Easterner who accompanies her on a wild chase across a steampunk version of early America.  Romance fans will recognize the formula but this first novel should appeal to a much wider variety of readers.  Very enjoyable even if somewhat predictable. 9/14/10

Swords and Deviltry by Fritz Leiber, read by Jonathan Davis, Brilliance Audio, 2010, $24.99, ISBN 978-1-4418-4449-1

Finished the last disc of this seven CD audiobook last night.  This is chronologically the first in the Fafhrd & Gray Mouser series, though not the first written stories, and includes the "origin" stories of the two men.  Fafhrd is a northern barbarian who wanted to discover civilization and eventually does so, to his disgust.  The Mouser was a wizard's apprentice until an evil nobleman killed his master.  Their stories are "The Snow Women" and "The Unholy Grail".  Both flee to Lankhmar accompanied by the women they love. The best installment is the final one, "Ill Met in Lankhmar," which describes their meeting, their battle with the Thieves' Guild, the murder of their two lovers and their quickly applied revenge on the sorcerer responsible.  I hadn't read these since the 1970s and was very pleased to see how well they hold up.  They're still better than most of the fantasy published today.  9/13/10

An Artificial Night by Seanan McGuire, DAW, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7564-0626-4  

October Daye, changeling detective, has her third adventure.  This time someone is kidnapping human and fairy children, for reasons unknown. Using a magical guide, she travels into a fantastic world full of magical menaces in order to rescue the children, battling the villains and racing against the clock to return them before it is too late.  Unlike most paranormal series, this one is clearly fantasy rather than horror, although some of the villains are pretty nasty.  Daye is an interesting variation on the familiar young female protagonist, and her adventures have more substance and plot complexity than do most other series of this general type.  I thought this one was perhaps slightly too long, but it wasn’t a serious flaw. 9/12/10

The Exile by Diana Gabaldon, graphic novel illustrated by Hoang Nguyen, Del Rey, 2010, $25, ISBN 978-0-345-50538-5  

Diana Gabaldon has arguably created the best – certainly the longest – time travel romance novels of all time.  This is a graphic novel presenting a new twist to the story, told from the viewpoint of one of the characters, Jamie, whose story apparently has not been told in full. The time travel is really not important to this one, which is about Jamie’s duel of wits – and otherwise – with a British officer who wants the Scotsman’s head. It’s longish and full color and probably of more interest to devoted fans of the Outlander series.  Since I’m only a lukewarm fan, I had a similar response to this one.  The artwork is quite nice though and perfectly suited for the story. 9/12/10

The Questing Road by Lyn McConchie, Tor, 2010, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2211-1  

While this is a quite entertaining fantasy, I raised an eyebrow at the publisher’s labeling this a “totally original fantasy”.  It’s a quest story, as you might guess from the title.  The bad guys have abducted an innocent and the good guys have to travel through various landscapes – separated by magical gateways – to effect a rescue before their quarry is used in a ceremony that will raise an army of invincible supernatural creatures.  A bit episodic, by its very nature, but some of the episodes are quite well done and I liked the characters better than most of their type.  As is the case with the majority of writers. McConchie is better when writing in worlds of her own creation than when collaborating in those of other writers. 9/10/10

Angel Interrupted by Chaz McGee, Berkley, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-23314-6 

Second in the Dead Detective series.  A policeman who died during a drug bust has come back as a ghost to redeem himself by solving new crimes. He becomes the spectral partner of Maggie Gunn, a living officer, who in this case is investigating the murder of a nurse and the apparent abduction of a child, two cases which we suspect from the outset are somehow related. One would think that a ghost would make it very easy to find out what’s going on behind the scenes, but it’s not as easy as it appears and the working out of the solution is pretty well done.  This is hardly a new idea but McGee does a good job with it. 9/8/10

Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal, Tor, 2010, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2556-3

This debut fantasy novel is actually a kind of Regency romance, although it’s set in an alternate version of our own history in which magic – known as glamour – is part of everyday life.  The protagonist is very skilled at this gentle magic, but it is her sister who is the beauty of the family and who is generally the center of attention. As usual, the intellectual takes a back seat to the physical until a crisis develops. Comparisons to Susanna Clarke and Jane Austen are inevitable because we know that when our heroine takes up the gauntlet of the family honor, she’s going to prove something to herself as well as to others, and find true love in the process, all in a drama of manners and decorum - most of the time.  Having just read some military SF, I was ripe for a restrained, very different type of story and that’s what this is, despite some moments of excitement along the way.  The romance is not intrusive, in fact, the various elements of the story are nicely balanced. Fans of Clarke should enjoy this thoroughly. 9/5/10

The Uncrowned King by Rowena Cory Daniells, Solaris, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-907519-05-5  

Sequel to The King’s Bastard.  In volume one we explored the rivalry between two brothers in a beleaguered kingdom, one next in line for the throne and suspicious, the other uninterested in the crown but possibly more deserving.  Their story continues but we spend considerable time with their other siblings this time, one haunted by strange dreams, one disturbed by the tensions within her family, to say nothing of the possibility that the country is itself in danger.  Far too many fantasy novels of this kind turn their characters into playing pieces in an elaborate game with little time spent on showing us that they are individual people as well.  Daniells doesn’t make that mistake and her lifelike characters lift the story above much of its competition. 9/1/10

Black Swan Rising by Lee Carroll, Tor, 8/10, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2597-6  

Back before the flood of often cookie cutter urban fantasy novels, my favorite fantasies were generally those with contemporary settings – Jonathan Carroll, Emma Bull, etc.  Unfortunately I’ve read so many of this new fad that I sometimes have trouble distinguishing the good ones from the mediocre ones.  This time I had no trouble.  The author is actually a collaborative team one half of which, Carol Goodman, has written some well received mysteries – which I have not seen, but which apparently incorporate some hints of the supernatural as well.  This is the first in an inevitable series but one of the more promising ones, a riff on Pandora’s Box.  The protagonist opens an antique jewelry box and releases an evil force into the modern world, a force with which her family has been bound for generations. Before long she has encountered an enigmatic vampire and some devious and possibly hostile fairies as she seeks to reverse the damage she may inadvertently have caused.  I would probably have liked this even better a few years ago, but it still stands out as one of the most promising contenders in the urban fantasy horse race. 8/30/10

The Ragged Man by Tom Lloyd, Pyr, 8/10, $16, ISBN 978-1-61614-206-3

Fourth in the Twilight Reign series. The war has taken its toll and it appears that the good guys are in disarray.  But then it always seems that way in epic fantasy series.  Anyway, King Emin has been aware for some time that they are levels within levels and that there is only a slim and devious route to victory. I think this is the longest book in the series, filled to the brim with clashing armies and personal battles. I was of two minds about this one.  On the one hand, the characters are not really developed further from the previous book, which was a noticeable step forward from the first two in style as well as plot.  On the other hand, this time the author has to resolve a number of physical conflicts, which he does in rousing fashion, and despite the length of the novel, it seems to go by quite quickly because so much is happening.  One more book is planned to bring the story to its conclusion. 8/29/10

A Wild Light by Marjorie M. Liu, Ace, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-441-01901-4  

Marjorie M. Liu is one of the few writers who works the full breadth of paranormal fantasy, everything from romance to horror to adventure.  This one, third in the Hunter Kiss series, is closer to the horror end and features a female demon hunter who finds herself in an unenviable predicament.  Her grandfather has been murdered and she might be the guilty party because she is suffering from a blackout.  Has she finally been suborned by the demonic forces she opposes in defense of humanity, or has she just gone bonkers?  We sort of know the answer right from the start, but it’s still an exciting ride to the revelation.  Liu reminds me at times of the Anita Blake series before it succumbed to the lure of erotica.  Try it; you’ll like it. 8/25/10

Imager’s Intrigue by L.E. Modesitt Jr., Tor, 7/10, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2562-4  

Most of this author’s fantasy novels fall into the category that I shouldn’t particularly like, but paradoxically most of them have been quite good, and the more recent ones are actually often better than the earlier ones.  This new series – the present title is volume three – is the best he has written.  Imagers are people who can shape physical matter with their minds, a kind of magical version of psychokinesis.  They live in a world that somewhat resembles Victorian England, though there are considerable areas of divergence, and it’s one of the more interesting settings Modesitt has given us.  He also seems to have decided to spend more time developing the characters than usual, and that has proven to be a plus as well.  In this installment, our psi powered hero has finished his training and is master of his powers, but trouble from his past looms over his life and his family. That leads to a complicated working out of malice and revenge that is both plausible and enthralling.  One of his very best books. 8/20/10

Death by Diamonds by Annette Blair, Berkley, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-23313-9

Although packaged as a murder mystery, which technically is the case, this is really a fantasy about a woman who runs an antique store and who has the gift of psychometry, that is, she can sense remote and past events by touching artifacts involved with emotion laden scenes. The latest case – this is a series – involves a dress worn by an actress who died under mysterious circumstances.  The problem with this sort of thing is that the power must necessarily be capricious to prevent the solution from being too easy, but the very existence of that power means that the solution can be – even if it is not – completely arbitrary.  Blair does a reasonable job of balancing the two conflicting vectors, but the plot devices inherent in the set up distracted me. 8/16/10

City of Ghosts by Stacia Kane, Del Rey, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-345-51559-9  

Unholy Magic by Stacia Kane, Del Rey, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-345-51558-2  

Latest two in the Chess Putnam series, pitting her against evil ghosts and unscrupulous psychics.  She has multiple problems as she attempts to save people from the ministrations of fraudulent supernatural phenomena and protect them from real ones, watch over a band of downtrodden prostitutes, interact with a celebrity who may be the target of a supernatural attack, recover from an assault on herself, and deal with the other complexities in her life. The most interesting plot involves the murder of several prostitutes, arranged to look like the work of a vengeful ghost, but actually perpetrated by a maniac whose existence threatens our protagonist as well.  Solid story, perhaps a little bit busy at times, but basically sound and entertaining.

This particular series started off feeling like horror fiction but it’s now pretty clearly fantasy.  Chess is a kind of investigator of the paranormal except that she’s under a magical compulsion not to reveal details of what she’s looking into.  That poses a problem when an influential thug puts pressure on her to reveal all, and the all is in itself pretty dangerous.  Magic adventure in a mystical city that bears passing resemblance to our world.  After an indifferent start, this series seems to be moving upward in quality quite quickly.  8/3/10

Discord’s Apple by Carrie Vaughn, Tor, 7/10, $23.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2554-9  

The author of the Kitty series, about a female werewolf who has various adventures mixing humor and the supernatural, has turned to more traditional fantasy for this new title.  Evie Walker visits her father on his death bed and discovers that his old house contains a few surprises.  It is the repository for a number of magical items which he has watched over in case the world should ever have need for them again. Alas, and naturally, word of the treasure trove has leaked out and various people – most of them with less than honorable motives – are determined to gain possession of one or more of the objects. Evie discovers that it is up to her now to prevent the exploitation of these items, whose power is so great that their release could cause a disaster of apocalyptic proportions.  Good fun throughout this one. 8/1/10