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

 LAST UPDATE 9/27/18

Kai Lung’s Golden Hours by Ernest Bramah, Ballantine, 1972 (originally published 1922)

Bramah’s second collection of droll stories about life in an alternate ancient China, not all of which are fantasy otherwise. They generally involve people trying to obtain wealth, sometime successfully, sometimes not. The plots are almost secondary because the real attraction is the artificial prose style, full of flowery phrases and images and with an emphasis on false humility and elaborate adherence to rituals of class and circumstance. This is generally considered the best of the six collections, but they have all seemed much alike to me. 9/27/18

The Wallet of Kai Lung by Ernest Bramah, Doran, 1900 

The first in a series of collections set in a China that never was. Kai Lung is an itinerant story teller, so there is a frame for the otherwise unrelated stories. The longest and best is “The Transmutation of Ling,” who imbibes a potion that turns any severed body part – whiskers, finger nails – into gold. He considers sacrificing a limb to get rich but instead sells future shares to members of a consortium. But one of them is unwilling to wait until Ling dies naturally. Other involve training locusts to perform, social experiments, and the like. They are all told in an artificially elegant and self-deprecating style that is very entertaining and sometimes quite witty. The last two of the nine stories are rather weak but the others are all very good. 9/20/18

Tales from the Inner City by Shaun Tan, Scholastic, 2018, $24.99, ISBN 978-1-338-29840-6

This collection of odd little stories is a hybrid between a graphic novel and regular prose. Each of the stories involves one or more animals, real or fantastic, in generally urban settings, real or fantastic. They are heavily illustrated with full color and black and white art, or perhaps the full color and black and white art is accompanied by unusually lengthy descriptions. Theoretically they are aimed at young adults, but they don't feel that specific. They are more like modern fairy tales with a dose of surrealism. The artwork is sometimes quite striking. A very unusual collection by any standards. Some of the stories I liked - others felt like extended descriptions whose plots were almost incidental. Worth taking a look. 9/19/18

When Voiha Wakes by Joy Chant, Bantam, 1083 

This short novel is related to the author’s previous two books, but only vaguely.  This one is basically a romance, though the lovers are star crossed and destined to part because of the duties they have to their society. She is in line to be the next queen and he is a talented but undistinguished musician. Very little actually happens other than their growing affection despite the disapproval of people around them, and their eventual realization that they cannot remain together. Short and rather minor. 9/11/18

The Grey Mane of Morning by Joy Chant, Bantam, 1980 

I confess I struggled to finish this longish fantasy set in the world of Red Moon and Black Mountain. The peace loving nomads of the plains are provoked to war when the domineering Golden People steal one of their priestesses as a sex slave. The tone is very different from that of the previous book, to which this is a prequel. The author spends a great deal of time on customs, folklore, and other aspects of the culture of the plains people and I just did not find it particularly interesting. Nor did I find their long acceptance of virtual slavery very plausible. Eventually their indignation over a single abduction escalates and a new leader of one of the tribes refuses to pay tribute, precipitating a war with a people who have not faced serious opposition in generations. Some good bits but a lot of padding. 9/6/18

Red Moon and Black Mountain by Joy Chant, Ballantine, 1971 

Three children are magically transported into another world. Separately and together they find themselves part of a prophecy designed to prevent the return of an evil sorcerer to the world. A large proportion of the book is spent describing various cultures in the fantasy world, some of which is quite interesting, but at times it really slows down the story. This was the first of four books, but the last was only published in German. The author had a very short career, although as far as I know she is still alive. There is obvious influence from Tolkien, but this is more like the work of C.S. Lewis and Alan Garner. 8/29/18

Above Ker-Is and Other Stories by Evangeline Walton, Nodens, 2012 

I believe this collects all of the author’s short fiction, which only amounts to ten stories, some of which are only marginally fantasy. Some draw on folklore – werewolves, Russian legends, etc. – while others use poltergeists and witchcraft, although there is only one I would consider a horror story. I have to admit that I found none of these memorable and a couple of them absolutely difficult to read. They were all written during the 1920s and 1930s and only appeared in print decades later, if at all. My favorite was “At the End of the Corridor” in which a revenant returns to murder his unfaithful lover. 8/26/18

Denied by Cathy Clamp, Tor, 2018, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-7724-1

I have long since overdosed on what is rather loosely described as urban fantasy/fantasy romance, but I still read an occasional title, and Cathy Clamp has proven to be one of the more consistently entertaining writers working this particular vein. This is part of a series, although it is a standalone adventure, concerning the Sazi, shapeshifters. The protagonist in this case is a werebear and a political refugee from Eastern Europe now living in the Pacific Northwest with a secret colony of her kind. But several humans have recently been killed in bear attacks and while she knows that she and her family are innocent, she is not so certain about a newcomer, a man with some mystery in his past, even though she finds herself emotionally drawn to him. What she doesn't realize is that the newcomer is actually hot on the trail of a supernatural killer and that is why he is keeping his own council. A somewhat predictable series of adventures follows as both main characters seek to identify and eliminate the bad guy. Not earthbreaking, but engaging. 8/16/18

The Breath of the Sun by Rachel Fellman, Aqueduct, 2018, $19, ISBN 978-1-61976-138-4

Two women climb a sacred mountain. When they descend, one proudly announces her accomplishment while the other retreats from the world for a period of years. Eventually she tells her story, the bulk of the book, which contains a quite different version of their experiences, and explains in great detail the relationship between the two of them. Through her reminiscences, we also learn much about the society she lives in and her difficulties in accepting beliefs that she finds unsustainable. This is an unusual book that does not rely on melodrama for its tension, but its concentration on more abstract issues may not appeal to all readers. 8/12/18

The Black Tides of Heaven by Jy Yang, Tor, 2017 

Two siblings growing up in a fairly typical fantasy world discover that there is a darker side to the aristocracy than they had realized. One sibling continues to side with their mother and the status quo while the other grows increasingly sympathetic to a growing rebellion. The best part of this short novel for me was bits and pieces of the setting. The characters are reasonably well drawn, but the plot was very familiar. The prose is quite good, although it took a while to draw me into the imagined world. This is part of a loosely constructed series.  8/8/18

The Red Threads of Fortune by Jy Yang, Tor, 2017 

Second in a series. The protagonist is trying to find a way to deal with the grief over the loss of her daughter. One way of sublimating it is to hunt dangerous creatures in the wilder parts of the world, using dinosaurs as allies. But her latest target is not like the others, and when she meets a mysterious figure engaged on the same hunt, she begins to discover that events may be spiraling out of control. Quite enjoyable, particularly the hunting sequences. 8/8/18

Gateway to Elsewhere by Murray Leinster, Ace, 1954 

This was the only real fantasy novel by Leinster. The protagonist finds a way into a parallel world where djinn are real and are engaged in a war against humans. Our hero plumbs the secrets of that world, defeats the djinn and becomes their king, then marries the queen of the humans, who has been masquerading as a slave girl. Most of it is light humor and some of it is rather silly, but I was generally amused. Although it did not appear in Unknown Worlds, this is the kind of fantasy that is usually associated with that magazine. 7/20/18

Alternate Routes by Tim Powers, Baen, 2018

As usual, this new Tim Powers novel is full of unusual ideas. The existence of freeways has caused a kind of supernatural current that allows “ghosts” to enter our world, among other manifestations. A secret government agency is aware of this and uses extra legal procedures to make sure outsiders don’t learn the truth. The protagonist is an ex-police officer who overheard something he should not have and who is now a wanted fugitive. Another agent has somewhat reluctantly found herself helping him, which makes her a fugitive as well. The wild adventures ensue from this set up. I was occasionally a bit bewildered because the story is not very explicit about how things work, but otherwise carried along merrily through a very odd alternate version of our world. 7/17/18

Mystic Dragon by Jason Denzel, Tor, 2018, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-8199-6

Sequel to Mystic from a couple years back. A commoner who has been granted access to magical secrets may be the last hope of the world when it is faced with an invasion from a kind of fairylike other world. Her privilege has never been popular with more traditional parts of her society, but she has persevered. As a wave of deaths and disappearances spreads, the protagonist and her fellow mystics find it increasingly difficult to forge any kind of defense. Solid prose and a somewhat different fantasy setting, although the plot is both familiar and for the most part predictable. I did rather like the protagonist but some of the other significant characters felt flat. 7/15/18

Shy Leopardess by Leslie Barringer, Newcastle, 1977 (originally published in 1948) 

This follows the second novel in the series after a twenty-year gap. It is mostly the story of Yolande, a young girl whose father is murdered so that she can be forced to marry Balthasar, her estate thereby falling under the control of another family. Balthasar is a cruel villain, however and Yolande has several friends who eventually enable her to escape her fate. A bit long winded at times, but the court intrigues are well structured and Balthasar is a better than average bad guy. None of the three novels in the series were commercial successes, perhaps because there was no real audience for non-fantastic alternate history.7/8/18

Joris of the Rock by Leslie Barringer, Newcastle, 1976 (originally published in 1928 )

Sequel, sort of, to Gerfalcon.  There are various adventures as the factions within Neustria compete for power under a weak king. Joris is a notorious bandit leader who is in love with a reputed witch. He has also unknowingly fathered a son by rape. The boy becomes the page of Raoul, hero of the first book, unaware of his parentage. The king dies and there is a civil war, after which Joris is a hunted man who is eventually killed by his own son. The story wanders quite a bit this time and has multiple protagonists so it feels very diffused. 7/4/18