to Fantasy Reviews  

  of Fantasy Reviews

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

 LAST UPDATE 12/31/16 

Recluce Tales by L.E. Modesitt Jr., Tor, 2016, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-8618-2 

This is a collection of short stories set in the world of the authorís popular Recluce series. A few are reprints but most of them are original to this collection. The world is a battleground between Order and Chaos and the various characters are caught up in the struggle. The stories are sprinkled through the chronology of the eighteen novels in the series and there is also an explanatory essay. The collection is probably a good place to start if you havenít read the series because it provides context for the novels. None of the stories really stand out and most are fairly short. Modesitt is one of the most reliable fantasy writers practicing today and it was interesting to see him working at shorter length for a change. 12/31/16

The Last Days of New Paris by China Mieville, Del Rey, 2016, $25, ISBN 978-0-345-54399-8 

This novella is set in a fantastic alternate Paris that has been caught in some kind of magical pocket universe where the Nazis are perpetually invading and the residents are perpetually resisting them. It is also filled with constant shifts in reality and imagery that becomes quite surreal. The plot, in fact, becomes almost inconsequential. Itís really about art and the world of artists and the impingement on that world by the excesses of war. Some of the imagery is intense and fascinating, but it does tend to be a bit bewildering after a while. 12/29/16

The Seascape Tattoo by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes, Tor, 2016, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-7873-6 

Two old enemies, a warrior and a sorcerer, have to put aside their personal differences when the daughter of their queen is kidnapped by people using an unusual form of magic. They are certain that a rival nation is behind the kidnapping, but without proof overt action is unthinkable. So they will have to go undercover by impersonating a long lost son of the hostile nation but that has its own dangers. The authors deliver a rousing, exciting, and quite satisfying fantasy adventure with some clever twists if not the most inventive new plot. 12/26/16

Department Zero by Paul Crilley, Pyr, 2017, $17, ISBN 978-1-63388-201-0

 Although this is not labeled as the first of a series, I would be very surprised if it was not. Department Zero is a secret organization which deals with intrusions from one reality into another, particularly since many of those realities include monsters. Harry Priest is a recent recruit who has to save the world when a cult of worshippers of Cthulhu enter our world to steal a magical artifact that will allow the ancient gods to rule again. The battle involves travel to various realities including Nazis in Victorian England and a world of floating cities. The action is fast and furious and quite entertaining. 12/24/16

Judgment at Verdant Court by M.C. Planck, Pyr, 2016, $17, ISBN 978-1-63388-229-4

Third in the World of Prime series, which transports a man into a world filled with dark magic. The protagonist is a lot more introspective than most fantasy heroes, and he's not entirely sure whether he's a hero or a villain. One of his friends has been magically changed into a killer, so there is not a lot of things he can be certain about. There is also an ambitious king who is less than fastidious about how he acquires greater power and a group of druids whose aims may be unclear at times but who clearly have their own agenda. The world has had a minor industrial revolution so it's not a carbon copy of other fantasy worlds, and the hero is an engineer, which provides a few minor twists as well, although they are not as obvious as in the earlier volumes. Average or better fantasy adventure. 12/12/16

Reaper's Eye by Richard A. Knaak, Tor, 2016, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-8436-2

The Pathfinder tie-in novels are as close as we get nowadays to old style sword and sorcery. For the most part, the stories by different authors are unrelated and sometimes the links to the game are tenuous. The plots are generally similar and quite straightforward, as is the case here. Some varied adventurers find themselves joining forces to thwart an evil witch who has a nefarious plot involving ancient knowledge. They have to overcome some of the usual array of obstacles to win through. There isn't anything really new here, but the story is tried and true and the author in this case has a good many similar fantasy adventures under his belt, so he knows how to get the most out of a limited plot. Highly entertaining and very fast moving. 12/7/16

Sinbad: Through Time and Space by Chester S. Geier, Armchair, 2016 (originally published in 1949 as The Return of Sinbad)

This is a slight but entertaining fantasy adventure. The hero is Singleton Bade, known as Sinbad, who is snatched out of the present by a roc that can travel through time and which is loyal to a prince of ancient Bagdad. He gets involved in a local political struggle, meets a beautiful young woman, and ultimately decides to stay when given the opportunity to be transported back to his own time. Not particularly memorable but fun. 11/30/16

Illidan by William King, Del Rey, 2016, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-399-17757-6 

This is a Warcraft tie-in novel so itís filled with elves, orcs, and other online gaming elements. A sorcerer who was falsely accused of helping the demonic enemies of his people Ė he was actually sabotaging them from within Ė but they are forced to reconsider when the demons return again and only the sorcerer can pull together a diverse army that has any chance at all of stopping them. But not everyone thinks he was wronged and some of them are determined to kill him to prevent him from betraying them a second time. Standard fantasy fare with nothing new to say, though reasonably well told. 11/24/16

The Clown Service by Guy Adams, Del Rey, 2013, $16.95, ISBN 978-0091953157

I enjoyed the second novel in this series, so I picked up the first book. The title refers to an organization that deals with magical and supernatural threats. In this debut, a newly recruited member of the group is on the firing line when a foreign enemy threatens to raise the dead as an army to destroy London. Much running around follows. There is a nice light touch to the series that mixes fun with suspense. Iím hoping the long gap between the first two books does not indicate a long wait until the next. 11/21/16

And Death Shall Have No Dominion edited by Linda Shea & S.T. Joshi, McFarland, 2016, Hippocampus, $20, ISBN 978-1-61498-179-4

The late Michael Shea was an exceptionally popular fantasy writer despite a relatively small volume of work. He won two World Fantasy Awards and was known for his supernatural fiction as well as his more tradition fantasy. This is a collection of his prose and poetry, including a very fine novelette never previously published, as well as some of the best of his short fiction. There are also tributes to him by other writers and a collection of black and white illustrations of some of his work. Reading this convinced me that I need to take time to reread his previously published books. I was particularly fond of Nifft the Lean. I think it likely that Shea will be rediscovered from time to time for generations to come. 11/16/17

The Rain-Soaked Bride by Guy Adams, Del Rey, 2016, $16.95, ISBN 978-0091953171   

Second in a series about a kind of James Bond fighting supernatural menaces in London. The title refers to a kind of specter who sends a message to the victimís cell phone, then appears in time to cause an accidental death. There is lots of action somewhat in the mode of the Avengers TV show, occasional humor, some clever inventiveness, and a rousing good story. As soon as I finished this I ordered its predecessor, The Clown Service. I suppose technically this is urban fantasy, but it has a very different feel. 11/4/16

The Gates of Hell by Michael Livingston, Tor, 2016, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-8033-3   

Although there are some fantastic elements, this is really an historical adventure story set shortly after the collapse of Cleopatraís Egyptian empire. One of her daughters has survived to continue her vendetta against Rome, which is now ruled by Augustus Caesar. The daughter is married to another local leader who also possesses a magical artifact, and the Roman ruler wants his assistance in his war to subdue northern Spain. Loyalties are tested to the breaking point and there is lots of treachery, intrigue, and conspiracies as the story progresses. I reread the Tros novels not that long ago and this particular period of history has also interested me so I was doubly interested in the story. Itís not quite Mary Renault, but itís very good whether you read it as fantasy or as historical adventure. 11/2/16

Christmas Magic edited by David Hartwell, Tor, 2016, $18.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-1580-9

This is a reprint of a 1994 anthology which I was surprised to discover I had never seen. As the title suggests, the stories have a common Christmas theme, and they are a mix of new and reprinted stories. There are a lot of my favorite writers here Ė Mildred Clingerman, Harlan Ellison, David R. Bunch, David Morrell, and others. I suspect that nearly five hundred pages of Christmas themes will be a bit much for most readers, although the authors vary in their approach quite dramatically. This is probably best read in dribs and drabs, but it is in any case a superior anthology of quite good stories. 11/1/16

Congress of Secrets by Stephanie Burgis, Pyr, 2016, $17, ISBN 978-1-63388-199-0 

The setting for this historical fantasy novel is early 19th Century Vienna, but itís a Vienna where magic and alchemy are real.  The protagonist is a British delegate to a meeting designed to draw the borders of the European powers, but she is actually of Austrian ancestry and is concealing her true identity. Her real reason for attending is to free her father from the attentions of the local secret police, but to do so may require her to dabble in dangerous magic. Unexpectedly she runs into someone from her past, now working as a confidence man, and their veiled identities may have to cooperate to succeed because both could face disaster if they fail. This authorís previous novel, Masks and Shadows, was quite good. This was is even better. 10/24/16

Warlock Holmes by G.S, Denning, Titan, 2016, $14.95, ISBN 978-1783299713 

This is a spoof in which Holmes is a bumbler who fortunately has some affinity for magic. He has the ghost of Dr. Moriarty partially possessing him and fortunately a loyal Dr. Watson to help him through the rough spots. The novel probably would have entertained me more if the tone had been a little more serious, but instead itís  a broad comedy in which he solves various mysterious in rather unorthodox ways. Some of the laughs are enjoyable, but the whole package feels slight and slightly off target. 10/18/16

Perdido Street Station by China Mieville, Del Rey, 2000 

Re-reading this novel after sixteen years was like visiting an old friend. The city of New Crobuzon is as detailed and fascinating as any setting in science fiction of fantasy, peopled with a wide variety of creatures and eccentrics. When a humanoid bird asks a scientist to help him restore the power to fly after the loss of his wings, it precipitates a series of acts that sets loose several flying predators who drain the minds of their prey. Thereís a crimelord who has reshaped his body into something unique, a quirky reporter, a sentient cleaning machine, an insectlike human artist, and many others. This is one of those novels where when youíre done, you have the lingering impression that you missed some important details and ought to go back and read it again because there is just so much content. 20/25/26

Shy Knives by Sam Sykes, Tor, 2016, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-8435-6   

A Pathfinder tie-in novel. The protagonist is a former member of the thievesí guild who betrayed her associates and stole their money. She decides to hide in a remote city for a while, and there she gets caught up in a mildly complex murder mystery. The city also faces invasion by a tribe of centaurs as well as some internal problems designed to keep the plot boiling. Thereís nothing particularly new here but the story is lively, the writing is more than competent, and there are moments of light humor that keep things light and entertaining. I think I liked this better than the authorís more serious fantasies. 10/13/16

The Apothecaryís Curse by Barbara Barnett, Pyr, 2016, $17, ISBN 978-1-63388-233-1 

A doctor and an apothecary stumble upon a formula that makes them both immortal. Many years later, a drug company finds some interesting data while poring through old medical records that lead them to suspect part of the truth. Unfortunately, that makes our two protagonists desirable physical property to be exploited. A more complicated series of interpersonal relationships is superimposed on that underlying concept, and the story takes off from there. I had a little bit of difficulty getting into the story during the early chapters, but eventually found myself caught up and read compulsively until the end. 10/4/16

Where the Time Goes by Jeffrey E. Barlough, Gresham & Doyle, 2016, $14.95, ISBN 978-0-9787634-5-9  

Coincidentally, I was wondering if there would ever be another volume in this series the day before my copy arrived. The setting is a kind of understated fantasy world that reminds me of early 19th Century British country settings. The story this time involves a cave that is rumored to have been home to a monster, although there has been no sign of it for a very long time. But now something sinister is happening in its vicinity. Animals have been disappearing from local farms and evidence points toward the cave. Is it really a monster or are poachers making use of the legend to mask their activities? The answer is quite a surprise. I didnít care for the ending this time but the journey itself was as always a delight. 10/3/16

Treacheryís Tools by L.E. Modesitt Jr., Tor, 2016, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-8540-6 

The tenth book in the Imager series, which is my favorite of this authorís ongoing sequences, although I think the possibilities of this one have been pretty well exhausted. The protagonist of Madness in Solidar has enjoyed more than a decade of peace and prosperity. Unfortunately, societal changes have led to new tensions, particularly between the old aristocracy and the rising merchant class. Combined with some external problems, this has led to a point where some are calling for a change in the way the government works. That may or may not be related to the murders of some of the students at the Imager Collegium and when the protagonist looks into the crimes, he discovers that something far more momentous and potentially devastating looms on the horizon. All of the authorís books are well constructed and narrated and this one is no exception.  Fans of the series will be pleased and it is enough of a standalone novel that newcomers will not be bewildered. 10/2/16