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

 LAST UPDATE  12/30/19

The Boatman's Daughter by Andy Davidson, Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2020, $16, ISBN 97803745348552

I dithered a bit about whether this is fantasy or horror. It's a bit of both. Witchcraft is not easy to pigeonhole. Is it supernatural or just magic? The plot focuses on a young woman whose father died while she was a child. She is friend's with a local witch and her daughter and supports herself by some not particularly legal activities. There are multiple threats arising in the bayous, however, and not all of them originate with humans. The tension increases slowly but steadily as she finds herself placed in an increasingly untenable position. Can the witch's magic provide the solution, or is something else required? Can the protagonist find a path of her own to follow? Is the entire community in danger? All of these questions are answered in an atmosphere rich, southern gothic thriller that reminded me at times of Robert McCammon or Cherie Priest. But Davidson has a distinct voice of his own and it's one you will want to listen to. 12/30/19

The Bard's Blade by Brian D. Anderson, Tor, 2020, $17.99, ISBN 978-1-250-21464-5

If you're in the mood for a well told fantasy along familiar lines, this might be what you're looking for. It's a kind of debut novel - previous works by the author were self published - and it follows the adventures of a couple consisting of a bard and a female warrior. They  live in a sealed land where magic has ensured peace and prosperity - but they still have warriors. It's a good thing because a stranger manages to cross through the magic shield and that means that the barrier against the ancient evil outside is not impermeable after all. So our two protagonists are caught up in a kind of quest for knowledge that leads them into a series of adventures. The book ends with a low key cliffhanger and is obviously the first in a series. No real surprises but certainly readable. 12/29/19

Lady Hotspur bt Tessa Gratton, Tor, 2019, $29.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-9249-7

I was very favorably impressed by this author's previous adult fantasy which, like this one I presume, is a standalone though set in the same world. The earlier book was based on King Lear, but this one appears to be completely original, or at least as original as any fantasy of its type can claim to be. Aremoria has undergone some changes after their ruler is deposed and killed. The previous heir and the new one, both princes after a fashion, obviously have differing views of the wisdom and legality of the change. Surrounding both parties are the knights of Aremoria, an all-female force which is sworn to protect the kingdom, although given the circumstances, it is not always clear which actions support that mission. The title refers to an influential knight whose decision about her loyalties and obligations  will decide the future of the entire kingdom. Although there is some overt adventure, the core of the novel is the interplay among the three main characters and their supporters, with some relatively peripheral commentary about the nature of duty and the difficulty of dealing with conflicting loyalties. Not quite as good as its predecessor but still good enough to keep me up late reading it. 12/21/19

Blood of the Colyn Muir by Paul Edwin Zimmer & Jon DeCles, Ace, 1988 

This was a rather dull story about a nobleman who has to find a magic sword with which to defeat a demon, as well as a fleet of pirate ships. There is also a family curse, dissident vassals, arguments over the succession, ghosts, vampires, and lots of battle scenes. Fortunately it was relatively short for a fantasy epic. Too many characters, too much angst, and a plot that seems to lose its way more than once. 11/15/19

Knight of the Silver Circle by Duncan Hamilton, Tor, $17.99, ISBN 978-1-250-30682-1

Middle volume of a trilogy. The first, Dragonslayer, was a well written and pleasant though only mild variation of the retired hero on an impossible quest story. He was originally reactivated to deal with a dragon, which creatures were believed to be extinct. They aren't after all, but that's not the only danger facing his world. There are untrustworthy humans and other menaces to be dealt with. Fortunately he is not alone in his battle. There is a woman who has discovered that she has magical abilities, although she is not entirely in control of them as yet. There's swordplay and action aplenty along with conniving and outwitting and other complications. This reminded me a bit of Steven Brust's better novels. Will keep an eye out for the third. 11/12/19

The Impossible Contract by K.A. Doore, Tor, 2019, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-9857-4

This is another one of those books that they send for review even though they have not sent the first in the series. The protagonist is a woman in charge of an organization of professional assassins. Her latest contract involves a target who is the focus of forces beyond even her capabilities. I found the story only moderately interesting but the writing is quite good and was enough to overcome my indifference to the plot. This one is probably a victim to my having overdosed on fantasy recently and it was actually good enough that I'll pick up a copy of the first, The Perfect Assassin, and watch for further volumes in the series. 11/7/19

The Monstrous Citadel by Mirah Bolender, Tor, 2019, $18.99, ISBN 978-1-250-16929-7

This is the sequel to City of Broken Magic, which I actively liked. The story this time is a bit more conventional but still very well done. A set of creatures who were designed to defend against enemy magic had become athreat of their own, but this was largely dealt with in the first book. Now our heroes face more mundane enemies, like ambitious politicians, glory seekers, and run of the mill conventional villainy. But there is a new threat looming on the horizon because in another city, a different kind of monstrous defense was created, and if unchecked it could lead to the conquest of its neighbors. This leads to a quest for a magical artifact plot, of which I confess I am long since overdosed, but the author's nicely drawn characters manage to keep the story fresh and interesting throughout. 11/3/19

Ingulf the Mad by Paul Edwin Zimmer, Ace, 1989    

This is a truly awful book filled with too many characters, contrived dialect, and a monotonous series of events. Ingulf wounds an enchanted shape changing seal woman who casts a spell to make him love her. When she disappears, he decides to earn her love by singlehandedly freeing a slave population from the werewolves that rule over them. Things do not go as planned and he spends a lot of time as a prisoner. She eventually comes to his aid, although he never knows it, and the book ends with him still obsessed. Painful to read. 10/31/19

A Gathering of Heroes by Paul Edwin Zimmer, Ace, 1987

Third in the Dark Border series. The benevolent gods have determined that if the dark things - demons, goblins, etc. - successfully seize a fortress raised by the elves, the future of the world is in jeopardy. They gather a company of human heroes and send them to help defend the fortress. The story is almost one continuous battle scene with so many characters that it's impossible to care who lives or who dies. The text is constantly interrupted with lengthy spells which are neither poetic nor informative and add nothing to the story. The villains hold their most powerful allies - dragons - in reserve until they have lost significant troops rather than use them to drive the defenders from the walls. The series declined rapidly and markedly from book to book, and there is one more to go. 10/29/19

King Chondos' Ride by Paul Edwin Zimmer, Playboy, 1983

Second in a series. The true ruler of the human world has been replaced by his brother, who can cast magical illusions and who has been corrupted by the dark things, an alliance of evil creatures. The real king is a prisoner of the dark things, although he escapes toward the end of this book. Most of the rather long story consists of detail accounts of strategic plans for battles, followed by the battles themselves, and I ended up reading this in chunks over the course of several days because it was rather boring. 10/24/19

The Lost Prince by Paul Edwin Zimmer, Playboy, 1982 

First in the Dark Border series. Humans have taken control of a world formerly dominated by the dark things, but they have been squabbling among themselves and this encourages the dark things to plan a conquest. They kidnap one of two princes, convert him, and then use magic to allow him to impersonate his brother on the day of his coronation. Chondos escapes at the end of the first book, but Jodos is using his authority to further fragment the humans and set them to killing one another, thereby undercutting their ability to defend themselves. Turgid, unoriginal, and with far too many characters, some of whom are also referred to at times by their titles. I had to take notes to keep them straight. 10/22/19

The Archimageís Fourth Daughter by Lyndon Hardy, Bartizan, 2017 

A long, boring continuation of the interesting fantasy series from the 1980s. The daughter of the Archimage goes through a portal to contemporary Los Angeles where she thwarts a plan by inhuman creatures to seize control of the world. The story doesnít know whether it is humor or serious, has too many characters, and ignores all of the elements that made the first three books so appealing. I doubt very much that this was written until quite recently, and itís not surprising that it was apparently self published. Some of the scenes of her adjustment to our world are entertaining but only casually. 10/17/19

Riddle of the Seven Realms by Lyndon Hardy, Del Rey, 1988  

This is another clever fantasy adventure based on a series of invented statements of logic. In this one four people visit a variety of alternate realities, each having its own set of natural laws, after a demon prince sends an emissary to recruit assistance against a more aggressive rival. Although they have some minor adventures along the way, the story is really an exploration of the consequences of the different systems of logic and natural law. Alas, the author did not publish another title until almost thirty years later. 10/13/19

Secret of the Sixth Magic by Lyndon Hardy, Del Rey, 1984 

Someone is changing the laws of magic so that all of the skilled practitioners find themselves suddenly powerless. A failed apprentice eventually figures out that the villain has access to another universe and another set of physical laws, and is using those laws to neutralize the underpinnings of magic in their world. He manages to acquire the same knowledge and eventually forces and wins a magical duel that allows him to restore the old order, more or less. Lots of fun and a very interesting way of constructing magical systems based on absolute laws. 10/10/19

Master of the Five Magics by Lyndon Hardy, Del Rey, 1980 

I really enjoyed this when it first appeared and it holds up well the second time through. The author had created rules for each of the five branches of magic. Our hero has to master them all on his quest to win the hand of his queen, but the path does not lead where he intended. He becomes the first archimage in living memory, capable of performing all five systems, but the queen marries someone else. Neverthless, itís a happy ending, and a very fine adventure story. The magic system is more interesting than the plot. 10/5/19

The Sundering Flood by William Morris, Ballantine, 1895  

Two lovers are separated by a river, the Sundering Flood, which divides their land. The male half of the pair comes to manhood, kills a villain and some wolves, and then joins an army. The female half disappears somewhere along the way but they are reunited for the last few adventures. Thereís a magical sword and some dwarves and a bit of wizardry late in the story. Not as bloated as some of his other work, and with a few fairly rousing adventures, but still much too long. 10/3/19