The following reviews were written for Science Fiction Chronicle, but most were never used.  They conform to the short format of that magazine. 

Warrener's Beastie by William R. Trotter, Carroll & Graf, 2006, $17.95, ISBN 0-78671-328-3

This very long (almost 700 pages), unusual contemporary fantasy was the first thing I"ve read by Trotter other than a handful of short horror stories.  It follows the lives of several characters including Allen Warrener, a bitter scholar whose hobby is unexplained mysteries, and Karen Hambly, a woman from a poor family who comes to share his interest.  Warrener had a youthful encounter with magical little people while in Scandinavia, the only fantastic element in the first two hundred pages, although there are hints of the existence of the great Orm, a Viking sea serpent.  Trotter's descriptions and the sections where things are actually happening are very well written, but the momentum is frequently interrupted.  The main problem I had with this novel is the way the characters interact.  They continually make important decisions on first meetings or snap judgments.  Warrener and Elsuba fall hopelessly in love within a matter of hours, and he later proposes marriage to another woman only minutes after making love to her for the first time.  Hambly blurts out the details of her traumatic affair moments after sitting down with Warrener even though they met only once, briefly, years before.  Her affair in turn consists of her spur of the moment decision to throw over her academic career and become a rock musician's girlfriend, based on a single brief night together.  Poulsen invites Warrener to his home within minutes of their first meeting, and Warrener accepts immediately. One such instance is plausible; multiple instances screams authorial manipulation and there are many, many more during the course of the novel.  Trotter also uses his fiction as a platform to criticize a number of public figures from the 1960s,  sometimes with pace destroying lectures, other times with gratuitous ad hominem insults. There are also ponderous side trips in which he unconvincingly and inaccurately caricatures the horror film industry and other things he doesn't like.  The characters become even less credible when the plot finally accelerates during the second half; the dialogue turns to endless banter and the sex becomes even more self conscious.  The monster is ultimately revealed to be much more than a sea serpent, so awe inspiring in fact that I could no longer believe in it, and so supernaturally powerful that its eventual defeat is completely implausible.  Trotter, incidentally, is no stranger to SF, apparently.  His brief description of fanzine fandom during the early 1960s is accurate, and one of the characters is named Eiden Poulsen, almost certainly a play on "Poul Anderson".


Belladonna by Anne Bishop, Ace, 3/07, $23.95, ISBN 0-451-46126-6

Anne Bishop returns to the world she introduced in Sebastian, a magical realm menaced by a powerful and evil force known as the Eater of  the World.  The various powers of that land are unable to successfully resist, and a disgraced sorceress who could help has been ostracized and refused any help.  So she uses her mastery of dreams to find allies of her own.  Bishop has progressed from standard but well written fantasy adventure to more thoughtful and original work in her most recent novels, of which this is one of the best.

Un Lun Dun by China Mieville, Del Rey, 3/07, $17.95, ISBN 0-345-49516-7

China Mieville’s latest is essentially a young adult novel, although as you might expect, it’s written for audiences of all ages.  Zanna Resham is a young girl just trying to fit in with her friends, but all of that changes when animals start kowtowing to her and inanimate objects begin to move of their own accord when she’s around.  Her best friend Deeba sticks by her even when others begin to back away and it is ultimately Deeba who will resolve matters as the world of magic intrudes on our own.  Filled with unusual and compelling images, and a skillful mix of suspense and wry humor.

The Alchemist’s Apprentice by Dave Duncan, Ace, 3/07, $14, ISBN 0-441-01479-8

Dave Duncan kicks off a new series with this mystery set in an alternate version of historical Venice.  A young swordsman has been apprenticed to a talented alchemist, but when his master is accused of a crime he did not commit, it is up to the apprentice to find out the real culprit.  There’s nothing particularly new in the plot, but it doesn’t matter.  Duncan is such a consummate story teller that he can make even the most familiar plot elements seem fresh and exciting.  Looking forward to the next in the series.

The Fungal Strain and Other Dreams by W.H. Pugmire, Hippocampus, 2006, $15, ISBN 0-9771734-3-7

Pugmire’s quirky but almost always interesting short stories have appeared mostly in the small press, but fifteen of them are gathered in this volume, which has decidedly Lovecraftian undertones even when the stories don’t seem to exactly fit in the Mythos.  Some of the stories are new to this volume and the reprints are apparently all revisions, some very substantial ones.  I particularly enjoyed “Past the Gate of Deepest Slumber” and “The Strange Dark Folk”.  I believe Hippocampus is Print on Demand, but it’s worth your time to chase this down.

Ilario: The Lion’s Eye by Mary Gentle, Gollancz, 2006, ₤14.99, ISBN 0-575-07660-7

This very long novel is a kind of prequel to the Ash sequence, I believe, set in an alternate version of our own history.  The chief protagonist is an artist who is distinctive in wanting to be a realistic painter, as well as in being a true hermaphrodite.  He survives a series of adventures and threats from sources both natural and supernatural, travels the ancient world, makes friends and enemies, and all in a very entertaining fashion.  Gentle is one of those rare writers who make it look so easy that it’s not always obvious just how much she’s achieving.

The Soul Drinker Omnibus by Ben Counter, Black Library, 2006, $10.99, ISBN 1-84416-416-0

Gotrek & Felix: The Second Omnibus by William King, Black Library, 2006, $10.99, ISBN 1-84416-417-9

I’ve reviewed most if not all of the individual novels collected in these two omnibus, all of which are set in the Warhammer universe.  Counter’s titles are Soul Drinker, The Bleeding Chalice, and Crimson Tears, and are set in the far future.  King’s are sword and sorcery, the titles being Dragonslayer, Beastslayer, and Vampireslayer.  King’s have been out for a while but it seems awfully early to be doing a collected reprint of Counter’s novels.  They’re all typical of their particular form, readable but unexceptional.

The Borderkind by Christopher Golden Bantam, 4/07, $12.00, ISBN 0-553-38327-0

As the title suggests, this is a novel set in the murky border between our reality and the world of the fantastic, which has secretly overlapped on world since the dawn of time.  The protagonist is a lawyer investigation a kidnapping who discovers that his preconceived ideas about reality are no longer valid, particularly if he wants to rescue his loved ones.  Filled with strange and often fascinating characters, enlivened by unusual and inventive plot elements, and finished off with Golden’s characteristic highly readable prose and strong narrative talents.  Second in a lively new series.

Sleeping with the Fishes by MaryJanice Davidson, Jove, 2006, $7.99, ISBN 0-515-14222-0

Davidson has rapidly become my favorite author of light, whimsical fantasy romance novels, partly because she has such a light touch with her prose that the stories flow quickly and easily, partly because she doesn’t confine herself to a single subgenre.  This one, for example, is a mystery involving the discovery of unusual levels of toxicity in the ocean.  A marine biologist enlists the protagonist’s help, which she is happy to provide since she’s a mermaid.  Besides, her own people still living in the ocean have a great deal to lose if the source isn’t found, and eliminated.  Light humor, light romance, but good reading throughout.

Moonshine by Rob Thurman, Roc, 3/07, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-46139-8

The two heroes of Nightlife are back for a fresh adventure in a version of our world where supernatural beings are very real indeed.  Defeating their enemies and saving the world wasn’t good enough to get them arrest, because now they cross paths with the werewolf Mafia, who want them to investigate a potential rival.  But things aren’t what they seem, or even what they seem to seem.  Hijinx and high adventure follow in a quite entertaining fashion.  Much fun.

Death’s Legacy by Sandy Mitchell, Black Library, 2006, $7.99, ISBN 1-84416-392-X

Mark of Chaos by Anthony Reynolds, Black Library, 2006, $7.99, ISBN 1-84416-396-2

Two new adventures from the sword and sorcery end of the Warhammer spectrum.  The first is an original novel about a traveling adventurer who discovers secrets about his family’s background which could have profound effects on his own life, forcing him to forge an alliance with a dubious magician.  The second is also set in the Warhammer universe but is a novelization of a recently released computer game.  In this one, the protagonist is a novice warrior who is given the job of eliminating one of the most infamous leaders of the opposing army.  A standard quest story with some moments of intense action.

Slaine the Exile by Steven Savile, Black Flame, 2006, $7.99, ISBN 1-84416-387-3

Unless I’m mistaken, this is the first title from this publisher that was not a tie-in to a game, movie, or other media item.  It’s also the opening volume in a series about a barbarian warrior, a kind of early Irish Conan.  Slaine is as young warrior with an extraordinary talent who, in his first adventurer, gets his first serious taste of battle in an ancient world where magic is real and monsters even realer.  Not bad, and a potentially interesting development for the publisher as well as the author.

The Freedom of Fantastic Things edited by Scott Connors, Hippocampus, 2006, $20, ISBN 0-9761592-5-2

One of my favorite fantasy writers, and favorite short story writers for that matter, is Clark Ashton Smith, who produced a considerable body of short fiction during his career.  This is, I believe, the first significant book of criticism devoted solely to his work, a selection of essays on various aspects of his writing by contributors including Stefan Dziemianowicz, Dan Clore, James Blish, Fred Chappell, Brian Stableford, and other masters of fantastic criticism.  A bibliography is included.

Mark of Chaos compiled by Matt Ralphs, Black Library, 2006, $29.99, ISBN 1-8441-6419-5

This is the collected concept art from this subset of the Warhammer universe, reproduced in full color throughout.  There are figures and buildings and weapons and armor, along with a sampling of monsters and other races.  Several artists are represented and many of the illustrations are accompanied by informative schematics.  For fans of the series, primarily, although some of the art is of general interest as well.

Draw One in the Dark by Sarah A. Hoyt, Baen, 2006, $25, ISBN 1-4165-2092-9

Sarah Hoyt joins the growing ranks of authors who have chosen to deal with the secret, magical people living among us, in this case a young woman who is also a werepanther.  She lives in relative seclusion, afraid that she might hurt someone while transformed, and also troubled by an obvious crisis of identity.  Then one day she discovers that she is not alone, that an entire host of shapeshifting beings exist in our world, and her own life will never be the same afterwards.  More than competently done, and with a few innovative twists to keep you guessing.

The White Tyger by Paul Park, Tor, 1/07, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-31529-7

Third in the adventures of Miranda Popescu, a prominent young lady in a magical alternate universe where Roumania remains a world power.  She spent some years in our world, hiding from her enemies, but now they know where she is and, in this volume, she is captured by the evil and insane Baroness Ceaucescu, who has her own plans for the future of her country.  We also learn more about Miranda’s mother, who is similarly imprisoned, and several of her friends.  Park has produced with this series a smart and fast moving fantasy adventure that is filled with complex interpersonal and political scheming and prognosticating. 

The Last Dragon by Silvana De Mari, Hyperion, 2006, $16.95, ISBN 078683636-9

The Lost Colony by Eoin Colfer, Hyperion, 2006, $16.95, ISBN 078684956-8

Escape from Carnivale by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, Hyperion, 2006, $9.99, ISBN 078683789-6

We have here a small pile of fantasy for younger readers.  The first is translated from the Italian and involves the last elf in the world, who discovers that he is fated to meet with the last dragon and change the future forever.  It moved way too slowly for me, and some of the dialogue was exceptionally dull, but the story wasn’t bad.  Next is the fifth adventure of Artemis Fowl, a precocious youngster who has started to wear on me, although this was better than the last two.  Demons are an aberrant tribe of fairies who decide to return to the world, even though that would expose the existence of fairies and endanger them all.  Artemis comes to the rescue.  Lastly, and certainly the best of the three, is a short novel set in the universe created by the authors for their two excellent Peter Pan novels.  The setting is Mollusk Island, where Peter ended up at the end of his first adventure.  The local princess is bored and decides to have an adventure, and almost gets more than she can handle.  A delightful sense of humor, a clever setting, and some amusing characters help make this – if not the equal of the two major novels in the series – at least an entertaining sidelight.

By Slanderous Tongues by Mercedes Lackey and Roberta Gellis, Baen, 2/07, $25, ISBN 1-4165-2107-0

Third in this series about elves in England during the years just prior to Elizabeth’s accession to the throne.  The young Elizabeth has a lot of enemies, not just within the court of England but within the court of Faery as well.  Fortunately for her, there are other elements in both camps who wish her well.  Like its predecessors, this is a dense, brooding, and often inventive novel and certainly near the top of the mark for both authors.  I did have a sense that things were moving a bit too slowly at times, but the authors certainly manage to bring that period, or at least their rendition of that period, to life.

Lord of the Silent Kingdom by Glen Cook, Tor, 2/07, $27.95, ISBN 0-765-30685-9

Glen Cook ratches the excitement up several notches in this follow up to The Tyranny of the Night.  Piper Hecht is now ensconced in the army, where he discovers that a fabled sorcerer, believed dead and possibly hostile, is actually alive and inclined to help the battle against the enemy, whose forces are more than slightly assisted by the gods themselves, who resent their diminished role in the affairs of men.  But not everything is at it seems, not in the court, nor even on the battlefield.  Sieges, battles, plots and counterplots, surprise revelations, exciting action sequences, and a likable protagonist.  What more could you ask?

The Serpent and the Rose by Kathleen Bryan, Tor, 3/07, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-31328-6

This first novel appears to be the opening volume in a new series involving the battle between the forces of Order and those of Chaos.  The two protagonists are a newly trained and powerful sorceress and a young knight who also has some magical talent.  The two meet and become aware of the fact that their king is secretly plotting to switch his allegiance to Chaos, and to locate and free a mystical creature associated with the enemy in order to enhance his own power.  Some pretty good action sequences and a nice flair for political intrigues.  The characters struck me as a little bit flat, but hopefully they’ll be further developed as the series progresses.

Last Flight of the Goddess by Ken Scholes, Fairwood, 2006, $25, ISBN 0-9789078-0-9

This novella is a bit of an oddity, a semi-traditional fantasy that mixes an almost melancholy story with some light spoofing of the genre and general humor.  There are dragons and heroics and even a touch of ribaldry.  It’s a cute enough story but rather short for the cover price.

Airs Beneath the Moon by Toby Bishop, Ace, 1/07, $6.99, ISBN 0-441-01462-3

Larkyn is a young woman of humble origins who should never have been bonded to one of the rare flying horses, but when she happens to save the life of a winged colt, the deed is done and the establishment has to accept the situation.  A troubled noblewoman conducts her to an establishment where she can be trained to perform the duties required of such an honored person, but Larkyn has a mind of her own.  You can probably fill in most of the rest of the plot without reading the book.  It’s well enough written but if you’ve already overdosed on these coming of age at training school fantasy novels, you might want to wait and try the author’s second novel.

Blood Bound by Patricia Briggs, Ace, 1/07, $7.99, ISBN 0-441-01473-9

Patricia Briggs has joined the list of fantasy writers who have moved to some middle ground between fantasy and horror, using versions of our contemporary world where vampires and other supernatural creatures exist, but where they are not necessarily evil.  The protagonist is a shapechanger who decides to help a friend with a dangerous mission, a friend who is actually a non-evil vampire, although that isn’t necessarily the case with others of the undead.  The protagonist is a less introspective version of Anita Blake but her world is surprisingly similar.

Unshapely Things by Mark Del Franco, Ace, 2/07, $7.99, ISBN 0-441-01477-1

A first novel and first in a projected contemporary fantasy detective series involving a hero who is also a druid and who sometimes consults for the Boston police.  When someone starts murdering fairies who work as prostitutes, the legitimate authorities are baffled.  Reluctantly they call on the services of a man whose powers they don’t really believe in.  This is a pretty obvious imitation of Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden books.  It’s a fair mystery and a fair fantasy, but not really great at either.  Time will tell if the author grows into the series.

Sword of the Deceiver by Sarah Zettel, Tor, 3/07, $27.95, ISBN 0-765-30422-8

The fourth and apparently final volume in the Isavalta series features another feisty young female protagonist.  Natharie is a member of the royal family of a subjugated people who becomes a kind of glorified hostage in the capital of the conquering nation.  There she becomes a pawn in a struggle among various political factions, as well as the local priesthood.  Although her quick wits and good sense attract the favorable attention of a local prince, even he is powerless to help her, so she decides to help herself.  A touch of romance, more than a touch of magic, and some really devious plotting and maneuvering round out a well above average fantasy.

Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather: The Illustrated Screenplay by Vadim Jean and Terry Pratchett, Gollancz, 2006, ₤20.00, ISBN 0-575-07929-0

The title tells it all.  This large hardcover contains the entire screenplay for the film version of Pratchett’s Discworld novel, profusely illustrated, mostly with full color stills from the movie.  The story, if you haven’t read it, involves an effort by death to fill in for a Santa Claus equivalent in the Discworld, with often hilarious results.  Discworld fans will want to add this to their collections.

Dragonfire Wizard Halcyon Blithe by James M. Ward, Tor, 12/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-31254-9

The fantasy version of Horatio Hornblower returns for a new adventure.  Having survived his first voyage, Blithe becomes second in command on a new ship, just in time to get embroiled in a battle against an enemy vessel. More adventures ensue as he struggles to learn to use his magical talents wisely, including encounters with pirates, a kidnapping, and a remote controlled monster directed by a rival magic worker.  We all know that Blithe is going to survive into the next book in the series, but his adventures are exciting and the sketchy background is adequate to support the action.

The Dream Thief by Shana Abe, Bantam, 2006, $18, ISBN 0-553-80493-6

This is the second in a series of novels about the drakon, a race of shapeshifters living hidden in a remote corner of contemporary Britain.  Through their psychic talents, they know of a magical jewel hidden in Hungary, and one of their number travels there in order to secure it.  On the continent, he meets a mysterious woman who has a similar awareness of the jewel.  The novel blends mysticism, romance, fantasy adventure, and a suspenseful mystery and is even better than its predecessor, The Smoke Thief

Thraxas Under Siege by Martin Scott, Baen, 2006, $24, ISBN 1-4165-2088-0

I believe this is actually the eighth of the Thraxas novels, although Baen has published some of them as combination volumes.  Thraxas is an inhabitant of a fantasy world filled with the usual monsters, magics, and barbarian hordes, but against that background he functions as an amateur – but very effective – private detective.  In his latest, his attempts to solve a murder mystery are further encumbered by his circumstances.  He’s trapped in a city that is currently under siege by a hostile army, but that’s all in a day’s work for him.  He also has to find the secret to saving the city in his spare time.  Some light humor relieves the tension.  The later novels in this series have been more smoothly written and have, so far at least, managed to avoid lapsing into formulaic plots and situations.

Scar Night by Alan Campbell, Bantam, 1/07, $22, ISBN 0-553-38416-1

 Although most new fantasy writers seem content to repeat the plots and settings of more established authors, there are a few who seem determined to do something original.  This debut novel falls into the latter class.  Although some of its plot elements are familiar, there is considerable originality in this story of two angels – one leaning toward good, one toward evil – who live in a fabulous city suspended over an apparently bottomless chasm.  Concealed in the depths are secrets which could transform even the existence of angels, and the twosome are in competition to find them.  I really got carried along in this one and hope to see more from this author, and soon.

Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay, Roc, 2/07, $24.95, ISBN 0-451-46129-0

Guy Gavriel Kay has written several excellent fantasy novels and is one of the few writers working the mainstream of fantasy whose individual works remain fresh and memorable.  Now he turns his hand to contemporary fantasy in this darkish fantastic mystery in which two young people, the son of a famous photographer and a college student, stumble into more than they bargained for when they explore an obscure part of a French cathedral.  Confronted by an enigmatic figure who warns them off, they are nevertheless driven to investigate an ancient secret, a secret which will change them in ways they couldn’t begin to anticipate.

Rebel Fay by Barb & J.C. Hendee, Roc, 12/06, $23.95, ISBN 0-451-46121-5

The fifth book in the Noble Dead series has our hero, who has vampires as ancestors, determined to rescue his mother, who has been taken captive by hostile forces.  To accomplish this, he and his varied group of friends must undertake a dangerous journey through the heart of winter, unaware of the fact that they are being manipulated by forces of which they are unaware.  There are elves in this, but they’re a very different variety from those we’re used to seeing in fantasy fiction.  One of the better straight sword and sorcery fantasy series.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, DAW, 4/07, $24.95, ISBN 0-7564-0407-9

Another debut fantasy novel is on its way to the bookstores.  This one is, inevitably, the opening volume of a trilogy, this time following the career of a young man named Kvothe, who gradually becomes aware of his magical talents, which he begins to use in unconventional ways.  The opening volume is about his childhood in a typical decadent and barbaric city, his quickly acquired maturity, his growing magical abilities, and the steps he takes to protect himself against the dangers that beset him.  Not badly written at all, but I had several attacks of déjà vu before I’d finished reading.

The Sin War by Richard A. Knaak, Pocket Star, 2006, $7.99, ISBN 0-7434-7122-9

The Eye of Charon by Richard A. Knaak, Ace, 2006, $6.99, ISBN 0-441-01445-3

Richard Knaak has been a steady supplier of sword and sorcery adventures, including many tie-ins to other media, for quite a few years now.  Although his work tends to be much of a kind, he is very good at what he does and I’ve almost always found his work entertaining.  Both of these titles are inspired by other work.  The first is set in the world of the computer game Diablo, although there’s little of the game in this quest story in which a man sets out to clear his name, and discovers in the process that he has magical talents.  This was actually the better of these two, despite the familiar story line.  The second is the middle volume in a trilogy set in the world of Robert E. Howard’s Conan, although without the barbarian hero in evidence.  A young soldier serving King Conan in Aquilonia investigates a series of raids on caravans and uncovers a plot to steal the throne.  The plot will undoubtedly be foiled completely in the third volume.

Hell to Pay by Simon R. Green, Ace, 1/07, $6.99, ISBN 0-441-01460-7

John Taylor, private eye, denizen of the Nightside, is back.  The Nightside is a part of London hidden from most of the rest of the world, a place where magic works and the creatures of legend still exist.  He’s still struggling to deal with the information he’s received about his enigmatic and dangerous mother, but he has time to take on a new job, tracking down the missing daughter of a man who may or may not be immortal.  But has she been kidnapped or is she just trying to annoy her family?  And can Taylor find out without putting his own life in jeopardy?  Again.

Sons of the Oak by David Farland, Tor, 11/06, $27.95, ISBN 0-765-30177-6

The Runelords series is back.  Several years have passed since the events in the previous volume and Fallion is now a young man rather than a child.  Fallion is the nexus of unimaginable power, magical abilities that rival the gods themselves.  When the supernatural protector of the world succumbs to old age, a power void emerges in which various entities contend for influence, but all of them know that if their power is to be more than a pretense, they must eliminate or at least control Fallion’s potential.  This is the opening volume in a new cycle of adventures that distinguish themselves somewhat from mainstream fantasy by the unusual structure of the imagined society and its natural laws and inhabitants.  Well written and sufficiently innovative to be memorable.

Childe Morgan by Katherine Kurtz, Ace, 12/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-441-01282-5

The vast majority of Katherine Kurtz’s fiction has been in the Deryni series, of which this is the latest. Although in tone and setting it is very similar to the majority of mainstream fantasy, Kurtz has been writing it since before the genre became so popular, and overpopulated, and her experience is evident.  The world of Gwynedd is a familiar one to her readers, a world in which the psychically enhanced Deryni are valued by some for their abilities and hated by most for their differentness.  Once again there is distrust and conspiracy, and this time even the Deryni are not united in their response, and this time the focus of the problem is just a toddler.  Some new twists in an old story but I confess to wishing that Kurtz would stray into other storylines a bit more often.

Aerie by Mercedes Lackey, DAW, 2006, $25.95, ISBN 0-7564-0391-X

The revelations and plot twists continue in the fourth volume of the Dragon Jousters series.  Our hero has managed to overcome the odds and become a dragon rider, and even learned the secret of how to tame the beasts.  Although proclaimed a hero in his homeland, things are not all as they seem.  He has fallen in love with a foreigner, there is proof that an evil force is undermining the government, and he and a small group of associates created an army in exile.  Now they are attempting to unite their disparate forces while they move to more suitable quarters, but trouble follows them, not only the hidden secrets of an abandoned city but internal conflicts that threaten to break them apart.  This is my favorite of Lackey’s various heroic fantasy series and book four is no disappointment.

Reiffen’s Choice by S.C. Butler, Tor, 2006, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-31477-0

This first fantasy novel, opening book in an inevitable trilogy, at least attempts to address some serious issues.  The protagonist is a child who is heir to the throne of two kingdoms, but who knows through magic that his reign will be brief and essentially unsuccessful.  Then he receives a tempting offer.  He can alter his future and become a long lived and powerful ruler, but only if he is willing to compromise everything which he believes to be good and valuable.  The setting and story telling are plausible but unexceptional, and the strongest asset of the book is the well delineated protagonist and the nature of the choices he is forced to make.  No prize winner but promising.

Once Upon a Spring Morn by Dennis L. McKiernan, Roc, 2006, $23.95, ISBN 0-451-46112-6

Most contemporary heroic fantasy reads like historical fiction with fantasy elements rather than fairy tales or legends.  One of the few writers who can shift back and forth between modes is Dennis McKiernan, whose recent books comprise a seasonal based series of fantasy adventures that do feel more like Hans Christian Anderson than Robert Jordan, even though the plots superficially seem similar.  This one is about temporarily thwarted love, a quest to rescue an imprisoned maiden from a particularly nasty villain, travels through strange lands and even stranger encounters, and a host of other magical elements.  I believe this is the last in the sequence, but it’s also the best of them.

A Taste of Magic by Andre Norton and Jean Rabe, Tor, 11/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-31527-0

Apparently this was the novel Norton was writing on her own at the time of her death, finished by Jean Rabe based on the author’s outline of the remaining chapters.  You can have fun trying to guess where Norton left off and Rabe picked it up.  The plot is unremarkable.  A young woman with magical powers vows revenge against the nobleman who was responsible for the deaths of her friends and family, and in due course gets her way.  Norton was one of the most reliable and prolific fantasy writers, and before that one of my favorite SF writers.  The opening sequences of this novel prove that she hadn’t lost her ability to construct a good story even during her last years.

Vampirates by Justin Somper, Little, Brown, 2006, $15.99, ISBN 0-316-01373-0

I’ve read a surprising number of really good fantasies for younger readers lately, perhaps a spreading effect from the Harry Potter books.  This is one of them, by an author I’d never heard of but one I will watch in the future.  A brother and sister survive a shipwreck, but each is taken aboard a different pirate ship, one of ordinary men, one a ship manned by vampires.  As if that wasn’t strange enough in itself, the story is set in the 26th Century.  The boy’s quest to find his sister is filled with thrills and chills enough for a shelf of books.  It would also make a great movie.

Silver’s Lure by Anne Kelleher, Luna, 12/06, $13.95, ISBN 0-373-80237-4

Divine by Choice by P.C. Cast, Luna, 12/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-373-80251-X

Two new fantasy romance novels from Harlequin’s Luna imprint show how close to mainstream fantasy they’ve moved.  The first is a prequel to an ongoing series by Kelleher set in a magical realm defended by a group of women in the main sequence.  In this one we learn how the magical balance was reached, how the goblins were driven back, and how a stable regime rose from the chaos that preceded it.  And, of course, there’s also time for a little romance.  The second also reflects mainstream fantasy devices and it’s also part of a series.  The protagonist is a woman from our world who in her first adventure was transported into an alternate reality where magic works and legendary creatures exist.  In fact, she married a centaur (don’t ask!) from whom she is now separated when she finds herself returned to our mundane reality.  Can she find a way back to be reunited with her husband, or will she give birth to her child away from him?  And what will the child look like?  You’ll have to read it to find the answers.  The first is slightly better written, but I liked the plot of the latter rather more.

Salon Fantastique edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling Thunder’s Mouth, 2006, $16.95, ISBN 1-56025-833-0

Most of the fantasy anthologies I see are huddled around a single, usually very limiting theme, and a large portion of the stories are relatively lifeless.  That’s not the case with this very impressive selection, drawing upon such diverse talents as Paul Di Filippo, Peter S. Beagle, Lucius Shepard, Gregory Maguire, Jeffrey Ford, and others.  Beagle, Shepard, and David Prill have particularly good stories and best of all, there’s no theme so the authors are free to explore time and space, subject matter and style, to their heart’s content.  I would not be at all surprised to see any of these fifteen original stories on the final ballots for various awards next year.

The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas, Harcourt, 2006, $14, ISBN 0-15-503161-2

Here is a decidedly strange novel.  The protagonist stumbles across a very rare book, a book which supposedly has been cursed.  As she reads its strange, metaphysical text, she develops the ability to move her consciousness into the minds of others, even animals, through means of some alternate reality called the Troposphere.  The rationale for all this isn’t entirely clear, and the book itself wanders a bit, sometimes fascinating, sometimes dull, always mysterious.  The prose is excellent but this isn’t a casual read.

Age of Misrule by Mark Chadbourn, Gollancz, 2006, £9.99, ISBN 0-575-07918-5

Here’s the omnibus edition of the trilogy of the same name, consisting of the three novels World’s End, Darkest Hour, and Always Forever.  Modern Britain is transformed when Celtic magic returns to the world, setting off a battle for control of the land.  A small group of human beings are called together as technology disappears and chaos threatens, and they lead the battle against the forces of evil and disorder.  Actually a pretty good trilogy, and I’m surprised it hasn’t found an American publisher yet.

The Hero Strikes Back by Moira J. Moore, Ace, 9/06, $7.99, ISBN 0-441-01440-2

New writer Moira Moore has a nice sense of balance between suspense and comedy, which she demonstrates well in this, the second in her series about a world where magic workers act in pairs.  Several separate story lines intertwine in this one, including a serial killer who might be targeting one of our heroes, some court intrigues, civil unrest, and the onset of some very unseasonable weather. The novel is a very pleasant break from the ponderous, overly serious pseudo-medieval fantasy that dominates the fantasy genre at present.  Not quite funny fantasy but good natured and frequently amusing.

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner, 2006, Harcourt Odyssey, $6.95, ISBN 0-15-205636-X

The Moon of Gomrath by Alan Garner, 2006, Harcourt Odyssey,$6.95, ISBN 0-15-205630-0

Even though forty years have passed since these two novels of Alderley were first published, they are as fresh and riveting as ever.  Both are ostensibly for younger readers, but they’re of that rare type that have an appeal that transcends age.  In the first and slightly better of the two, a band of immortal knights live in suspended animation in northern England, waiting for the magical call that will announce their next battle with the forces of evil.  But the artifact that is required for the ceremony has gone missing, and two children must find it to save the day.  In the sequel, the twosome run afoul of The Wild Hunt and have a series of nearly as satisfying adventures.  If you’ve never read them, you need to.  If you already have, you probably need to read them again.

Howling Moon by C.T. Adams and Cathy Clamp, Tor, 1/07, $6.99, ISBN 0-765-35402-0

Tempted in the Night by Robin T. Popp, Warner, 1/07, $6.99, ISBN 0-446-61784-9

Dark Need by Lynn Viehl, Signet Eclipse, 6/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-21866-3

Island Heat by Susan Kearney, Tor, 2/07, $6.99, ISBN 0-765-35666-X

Eye of Heaven by Marjorie M. Liu, Leisure, 11/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-8439-5765-4

Twice in a Lifetime by Constance O’Day-Flannery, Tor, 12/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-765-35404-7

The pile of paranormal romances was threatening to tip over, so it was time to make a dent.  Choosing a variety of supernatural, fantastic, and SF, I set off to explore this side street in the genre (which has recently been expanded to four lanes) and found some mild disappointments and some pretty good stories.  The first three are all supernatural and all parts of a series.  Adams and Clamp continue their sequence about shapeshifters, this time with a werepoliceman investigating an attack that left its victim able to transform into a jaguar.  Not up to the previous volumes in quality, but not lagging far behind.  The next two both involve vampires, good and evil.  Popp is a new author to me, although this is the third in the series, but her story of an undead serial killer is well constructed if overly conventional.  Lynn Viehl, whom I believe is SF writer S.L. Viehl, also adds a third to her Darkyn series.  This was the best of the batch, a vampire romance but with quite a few original twists and turns.  Susan Kearney has written a number of SF romances, of which this is another, but this story of a visitor from another planet trying to save his people while falling in love just never took on any life for me and I had to force myself to finish.  Definitely not on a par with earlier books I’ve read by her.  The last two are fantasy, the first involving an organization of people with different psychic powers.  The action involves a woman who has a unique ability to communicate with animals.  I suspect this is the start of a series.  Finally, one of my favorite paranormal romance writers, Constance O’Day-Flannery, writes about a group of women who delve into the metaphysical, with a strange effect on the real world.  A little slow paced at times, but a very clever plot concept. 

Three Days to Never by Tim Powers, Morrow, 2006, $25.95, ISBN 0-380-97653-6

I always have trouble describing a novel by Tim Powers, and this one is not the exception.  At its core, it involves the battle between two groups – one a secret society, the other a somewhat dysfunctional offshoot of the Israeli Mossad – to capture a device invented by Albert Einstein which makes it possible to travel through time.  The action begins with the death of an elderly woman who may be Einstein’s daughter, and the discovery of odd artifacts at her home.  Then a man appears who claims to be from the future, but who might be from an entirely different reality, various agents including a woman who can only see through other people’s eyes, a decapitated head that is still alive, remote viewers and other psychics, and a father and daughter who try to preserve their lives despite everything happening around them.  A real page turner as well as a thoughtful and inventive novel, the kind of thing we’ve come to expect from Powers.

The Eagle by Jack Whyte, Forge, 1/07, $27.95, ISBN 0-312-87007-8

With this title, Whyte brings his Camulod series to a conclusion.  The nine books cover the early career of Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot, and the rest as they attempt to bring order to chaotic early Britain.  It concludes with the formation of the court of Camelot and the regularization of his rule, the early stages of the tensions which will eventually destroy Arthur and his friends.  It has much more the feel of an historical novel than a fantasy and goes into such depth of detail that casual readers might be put off. More thoughtful ones will relish the author’s efforts to bring that distant, and legendary, time to life along with its peoples, its customs, and the attitudes that shaped their world. 

Fugitives of Chaos by John C. Wright, Tor, 11/06, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-31496-7

In Orphans of Chaos, Wright introduced us to a small group of apparent orphans, virtual prisoners in a British school, each of whom possesses an unusually superhuman power, although they have no access to them here.  They are actually kidnap victims whose captors have magical abilities of their own, and each of them has been brought to our world from another reality.  Unfortunately for the abductors, the children are discovering ways to combine their talents and prove that the whole can be more than the sum of its parts.  Wright continues to impress me with his originality and the liveliness of his prose.

The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by Gordon Dahlquist, Bantam, 9/06, $26, ISBN 0-385-34035-4

This was one of the more pleasant discoveries of the year, a fantasy novel that doesn’t fit into the mainstream, is intelligently written, and evokes an entire other reality so well that it seemed entirely plausible.  The protagonist is a young woman who receives a letter from her fiancé breaking off the engagement without explanation.  The setting is an alternate Victorian England filled with larger than life characters, darkly shrouded mysteries, assassins, villains, and heroes.  Determined to learn the truth, she pursues her now ex-fiance and finds herself in a world of intrigue.  It’s a surprisingly sure handed debut novel, filled with twists and turns, secrets revealed, and motives unveiled.  I will definitely be watching for the author’s next book.

Dragon Avenger by E.E. Knight, Roc, 12/06, $14, ISBN 0-451-46109-6

The second book in the Age of Fire.  A handful of authors have attempted to write fantasy from the point of view of dragons, most notably Jo Walton, usually with limited success.  This one is a mixed bag, a good adventure story in which the dragons – near extinction – decide to strike back at the enemies who prey upon them.  The action sequences are well done, but I was never really able to identify with any of the dragons as characters.

Rogue Star by Andy Hoare, Black Library, 2006, $7.99, ISBN 1-84416-375-X

Dominion by Steven Savile, Black Library, 2006, $7.99, ISBN 1-84416-292-3

I took another dip into the Warhammer universe, starting with Andy Hoare’s somewhat predictable but still pleasant space opera, a blend of C.J. Cherryh’s plot elements with standard military SF.  The protagonist is captain of a space trader who perhaps unwisely gives in to desperation and becomes involved in a war on the fringes of imperial space.  It won’t knock your socks off but you won’t demand your money back either.  Savile takes the other half of the Warhammer universe, sword and sorcery, in this case following the career of a nobleman who is also a vampire and who wishes to spread his evil across the land.  A bit uneven in pace occasionally, but good enough that it held my interest to the end.  And at least it had evil as opposed to good vampires.

A Fistful of Data by Stephen Dedman, Roc, 2006, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-46116-9

Back from the Dead by Nick Kyme, Black Library, 2006, $7.99, ISBN 1-84416-376-8

I generally don’t read the Shadowrun novels any more because they are so much alike, but I’ve had such good luck with Dedman’s previous novels that I decided to take a chance.  The setting is a future in which megacorporations rule the world, but in the fringes magic has returned, along with the reappearance of beings once considered myths.  In this unlikely setting, we have the Crypt, a place where some of the outcasts can take shelter and even create a viable organization.  Unfortunately, they attract the attention of one of the conglomerates and the battle for existence is on.  No, it wasn’t as good as Dedman’s original stuff, but it was lively and entertaining, proof that a good writer can improve even the most overworked material.  The second title is a debut novel based on the Necromunda game system, set in an overly urbanized future in which decadence and exploitation are the order of the day.  A fugitive girl’s plight awakens the sympathy of a man who thought he was inured to the emotions of his past and he defends her against a gang of vicious thugs. This one was just okay.

Valley of Silence by Nora Roberts, Jove, 10/06, $7.99, ISBN 0-515-14167-4

Although I have enjoyed the Nora Roberts books I’ve read – primarily her J.D. Robb novels – I finished this one only because I’d already read the first two in the series.  They’re fantasy romances involving a nicely nasty vampire queen and her minions, and the efforts to destroy her before she is able to extend her rule over the entire world.  I just couldn’t get interested in the characters, villainous or courageous.  The climactic confrontation isn’t bad, however, and if you enjoyed the first two, you won’t be disappointed in the ending.

Valley of the Soul by Tamara Siler Jones, Bantam, 11/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-553-58711-1

This is the third and so far the best adventure of Dubric Byerly, a nobleman in a fantasy realm who specializes in identifying and bringing to justice killers who use magic against their victims.  In this case, he has to locate a dark wizard whose ambitions may present an even greater threat than a few simple deaths.  Mixing fantasy and murder mystery is difficult to do well because magic suggests so many ways to cheat, but Jones has managed to find a kind of middle ground where the two sets of conflicting literary devices can work harmoniously, and she’s developed her series character into one of the more interesting recent creations in fantasy.

Dark Labyrinth by Luis Royo, NBM, 2006, $24.95, ISBN 1-56163-484-0

Popular cover artist Luis Royo presents a new collection of his work, much of which in this volume has never previously appeared.  There is also the hint of a story intermixed with the pictures, which are predominantly semi-clad women.  Sketches appear alongside final work, all of which is dark in color and tone.  This wasn’t at all to my taste, but fans of his work should take a look.

Boneyard Volume 5 by Richard Moore, NBM, 2006, $9.95, ISBN 1-56163-479-4

Dungeon Twilight Volume 2: Armageddon by Joann Sfar, Lewis Trondheim, and Kerascoet, NBM, 2006, 14.95, ISBN 1-56163-477-8

The new installment of the Boneyard saga borrows heavily from horror films, with a chainsaw killer and a pumpkin headed villain both menacing our heroes.  Black and white throughout but I really like Moore’s drawing style.  Martial art and monsters mix together quite well.  The art in the second title is also excellent, and it’s in full color.  Wacky adventures in a kind of Hieronymous Bosch fantasy world.  The dialogue is uninspired but the story has an oddly appealing lack of order.

Road of the Patriarch by R.A. Salvatore, Brilliance Audio, 2006, $38.95, ISBN 1-4233-1540-1

This is the third in the Sellswords series, recorded by David Colacci in unabridged form on 11 CDs, running about 13 hours.  The novel was originally published by Wizards of the Coast.  It’s pretty much what you might expect, a tale of elves, dragons, battles, chases, quests, secrets revealed, and so forth.  The strongest point is the characterization, which Salvatore does very well, particularly his two main characters here, a mercenary and an assassin.  The high adventure sword and sorcery should have some appeal to those not familiar with the background in the Forgotten Realms shared universe, but it will be more popular with those who understand the history and customs developed in those books.

Peter and the Shadow Thieves by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, Hyperion, 2006, $18.99, ISBN 0-7868-3787-X

Move over Harry Potter because there’s a new player in town.  This is the second adventure of Peter – eventually to become Peter Pan.  In his first, he discovered that magical powder falls from the sky, and is fought over by two secretive organizations, one good and one evil.  He’s on his way to London to look up his friend Molly, but his course intersects that of Lord Ombra, a nasty villain who wants the power that comes with the magical substance.  Clever human, high adventure, likable characters, and good writing throughout.  Ostensibly for younger readers, this will – like Harry Potter – inevitably find a much wider and older audience.

Cursor’s Fury by Jim Butcher, Ace, 12/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-441-01434-8

The third volume in Butcher’s high fantasy series is mostly about unlikely alliances and apparent treachery.  Set in a world where the forces of nature take physical form as Furies, an otherwise typical fantasy realm is torn by war and dissension.  Various members of the noble families begin courting former foes, including an inhuman race that could destroy them all.  Butcher always tells a fast paced and in this case intricate story, but he doesn’t bring anything new to the form.  Fans of mainstream fantasy will undoubtedly enjoy this, but don’t expect the kind of innovation that sometimes appeared in  his Harry Dresden books.

In the Company of Ogres by A. Lee Martinez, Tor, 2006, $13.95, ISBN 0-765-31547-5

This is primarily a spoof of military fantasy although many of its jabs are equally valid for military SF.  The protagonist is the captain of Ogre company, a misfit group consisting of Amazons, sirens, goblins, and so forth, each of whom has distinct personal or personality problems.  The captain isn’t all that normal himself, since he has a habit of dying and returning from the dead.  Martinez wisely doesn’t just go for laughs but has a more or less serious story around which the jokes are wrapped. But that doesn’t stop him from tweaking the genre’s clichés at every opportunity.  One of the better of recent funny fantasies.

The Fledging of Az Gabrielson by Jay Amory, Gollancz, 2006, ₤12.99, ISBN 0-575-07878-2

This pseudonymous young adult fantasy makes use of a novel setting, a world in which most people can fly.  The protagonist is a teenager who has no wings, making him somewhat of an outcast.  When an apparent mechanical problem on the world below the floating cities threatens everyone, Az is the logical person to send down to find out what’s going on.  A quest story format for a coming of age tale, not noticeably written down to its target audience and therefore appealing to older readers.  Amory does a very good job of painting his imaginative setting and making it seem real, and a couple of the characters are particularly well individualized.  I’d be curious to know who the real author is, since the jacket indicates he has written forty novels for adults.

This Forsaken Earth by Paul Kearney, Bantam, 12/06, $12, ISBN 0-553-38363-8

Number two in the Sea Beggars series.  A legendary pirate conceals, just barely, the fact that he is more than an ordinary human.  An old enemy returns to menace not only him and his crew but the woman he loves, and he must race across the world to save her.  My fondness for pirate stories may have prejudiced me in favor of this, but I found it thoroughly engaging, exciting, and a compulsively readable adventure, which isn’t true of most contemporary fantasy.  Looking forward to the next in the series.

The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror 2006 edited by Ellen Datlow, Kelly Link, and Gavin J. Grant, St Martins, 2006, 19.95, ISBN 0-312-35614-5

This annual collection, now in its nineteenth volume, is so reliable that it should be necessary only to mention that it’s out to send readers scurrying to buy it.  At nearly 500 pages, it gathers together a wide variety of short fantasy and horror fiction, drawn from the usual and unusual sources, along with summation essays and an extensive list of honorable mentions.  There seem to be an unusually large number of new names this year, but several more established writers are included as well including Elizabeth Hand, Delia Sherman, Bruce Sterling, Jeffrey Ford, Howard Waldrop, and Kim Newman.  Much of the most interesting new fantasy is in short form, and I’ve always thought horror fiction was at its best at that length as well, so this is a welcome addition to the library. 

Eyes of Crow by Jeri Smith-Ready, Luna, 2006, $14.95, ISBN 0-373-80258-7

Shattered Dance by Caitlin Brennan, Luna, 2006, $14.95, ISBN 0-373-80248-X

Both of these are fantasy romances from a subsidiary line of Harlequin books.  The first is, I suspect, a first novel, the brooding story of a young woman who must commune with the various aspects of death itself in order to help her people.  There are some good moments, but the dialogue is so choppy that I had trouble with the flow of the story.  The second title is the third in a loose series by veteran writer Judith Tarr, lurking here under a pseudonym, and although the plot is rather formulaic – a single woman who must act to save her people from evil sorcery and other dangers – the execution is so smooth and skillful that you might well find yourself looking at an old story in a new way. 

Firestorm by Rachel Caine, Roc, 2006, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-46104-5

Book five in the Weather Warden series takes us to the brink of apocalypse.  The wardens watch over old worlds weather, which can be influenced by a group of djinn who are controlled by magical means.  When the djinn decide that it’s time to assert themselves and revolt, a crisis erupts which is worsened by the disappearance of many of the wardens.  This is one of the better series that assumes that our familiar contemporary world is actually hiding magical events and creatures, with an appealing protagonist and in this case in particular, an exciting and well constructed plot.  Some of these series tend to become repetitive but Caine has yet to reach that point.

Philip Pullman: Master Storyteller by Claire Squires, Continuum, 12/06, $60, ISBN 0-8264-2764-2

This is a comprehensive, though perhaps somewhat short critical analysis of the work of Pullman, concentrating primarily on the His Dark Materials trilogy but also looking at other novels, including some early adult oriented fiction.  Unlike most such works, this was is almost completely free of jargon and is completely accessible to the lay reader.  The sections in which the author examines Pullman’s attitudes toward his own work and the creative process are of particular interest.  There’s a full bibliography as well.  The price tag on this is rather steep for the casual reader, but a trade paperback is also available for $14.95.

The Cracked Throne by Joshua Palmatier, DAW, 11/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-7564-0403-7

The sequel to The Skewed Throne stirs the plot enthusiastically.  A young woman raised under difficult circumstances is now the leader of the city of Amenkor, but her position is an uneasy one.  Conditions within the city are dire because of their sudden, unexplained isolation from the rest of the world and the disappearance of everyone they send out to find out what has happened and bring back fresh supplies.  The mystery, we presume, will be solved in the final volume.

The Ice Dragon by George R.R. Martin, Starscape, 10/06, $12.95, ISBN 0-765-31631-8

George Martin takes a break from his massive fantasy series to give us a short, impressive children’s book.  A young girl has a peculiar affinity for an ice dragon, a legendary creature who is viewed by her people as an object of terror.  There is a more immediate problem, however, involving a hostile army that is advancing rapidly in their direction.  When the ice dragon intervenes on her behalf to save her family, she discovers the ability to feel emotion for the first time in her life.  Neatly done.

Spellbinder by Melanie Rawn, Tor, 10/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-31532-8

After almost a decade, Melanie Rawn returns to fantasy with this book, a work which bears little resemblance to her earlier high fantasies.  This one has a contemporary setting and is almost as much a romance as a fantasy.  Like Jim Butcher, Rawn has created a version of a modern city – in this case New York – and populated it with a small number of wizards and other mythical beings.  Her protagonist is a good witch whose awkward attempts to pursue a romance with a police officer become more complicated when a coven of evil witches begins practicing in the city.  I haven’t read Rawn’s earlier work in a long time but this new book seems to me much better and quite enjoyable.

Spirit Gate by Kate Elliott, Tor, 10/06, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-31055-2

Having finally finished her very long Crown of Stars series, Kate Elliott launches a new sequence, Crossroads, with this title.  She has invented quite a different and diverse world for this one, and much of the book is spent introducing us to the culture, characters, and basic conflicts of that world.  The story involves the initial skirmishes in a battle to shape the future of that world and determine the true nature of the mysterious Guardians, who may or may not be watching over their people.

Inda by Sherwood Smith, DAW, 2006, $25.95, ISBN 0-7564-0264-6

There is no indication that this new fantasy novel is the beginning of a series, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the author return to this setting.  The protagonist is the second in line to the throne, who by tradition is destined to lead the military once his brother has ascended to the throne.  To ensure his loyalty, his brother has brutalized him since childhood, and when they are finally called upon to assume their adult roles, there is clearly no strong affection between them.  He faces an additional challenge because he’s been kept out in the sticks, and now that he’s in the capital city, he has to deal with court intrigues and other political maneuverings for which he is ill suited.  The strongly drawn characters are the best part of this one, which has enough twists to distinguish it from the ongoing flood of similar stories.

The Mislaid Magician or Ten Years After by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer, Harcourt, 11/06, $ 17, ISBN 0-15-205548-7

Flora Segunda by Ysabeau S. Wilce, Harcourt, 1/07, $17, ISBN 0-15-205433-2

All Hallows’ Eve by Vivian Vande Velde, Harcourt, 9/06, $17, ISBN 0-15-205576-2

Harcourt’s young adult line has been pretty close to the best for fantasy for some time now, and these three new titles illustrate that point.  The first is the most interesting, the third volume in the series that began with Sorcery and Cecilia, still one of my favorite YA fantasies.  This one is completely epistolary, the letters between the two friends, now married.  The husband of one looks into a mysterious disappearance and discovers a threat to the magical basis of the world.  Better than most adult fantasies I’ve read recently.  The second is an amusing story about a young girl in a house almost as bid as Gormenghast, a place where magic is taken for granted and nothing is as it seems.  Not quite as much appeal to older readers, but very enjoyable if you can let loose the child inside for a while.  Last is one of the more reliable writers in YA fantasy, this time with a collection of vaguely spooky stories, leavened by occasional bits of humor.  No prizewinners, but no duds either.

Hinterland by James Clemens, Roc, 11/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-451-46113-4

Book two of the Godslayer Chronicles held my interest considerably better than the first in the series, but it still began to flag before I reached the end.  A fairly standard fantasy realm is threatened by evil sorcery, exacerbated by the discovery of the skull of an evil god.  Enemies gather on every side, not all with the same purpose in mind but all opposed to our hero and his companions, the Shadowknights.  Will the good guys prevail in the final volume?   I’d bet money on it.  Clemens also writes mainstream thrillers with fantasy elements as James Rollins, and I’ve generally found him to be much more entertaining in that guise.

Kull: Exile of Atlantis by Robert E. Howard, Del Rey, 11/06, $15.95, ISBN 0-345-49017-7

Although Kull was never as popular a hero as Howard’s Conan, his adventures are often very similar.  This is a collection of all the Kull stories, plus fragments and miscellaneous pieces, well illustrated by Justin Sweet, and with some brief commentary and ancillary materials.  Some of the stories are exceptionally good, “The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune”, “The Skull of Silence”, and “The Shadow Kingdom” in particular.  I was surprised to notice how many of these stories first appeared posthumously, and once again reminded that Howard was a uniquely talented writer whose brief career was more influential than that of other writers whose tenure spanned many decades.

The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden by Catherynne M. Valente, Bantam, 11/06, $14, ISBN 0-553-38403-1

I’ve never heard of this author before, although she has several previous books.  This one is a new take on Scheherazade and the Arabian Nights.  A young woman tells a series of fantastic stories to a prince, some of which are exceptionally dark.  The twist is that each of the stories illustrates some aspect of the girl’s life, and she is revealed to us bit by bit.  Quite unlike most other fantasy, well written, and quite complex.  The book reminded me at times of Storm Constantine, but with a slightly different flavor. 

Must Love Dragons by Stephanie Rowe, Warner, 11/06, $6.50, ISBN 0-446-61767-9

The borderline between romance novels and modern fantasy is hair thin and diminishing quickly.  This is a case in point.  The heroine is a shapeshifter, a beautiful young woman who occasionally finds herself taking the form of a dragon, defying the law of conservation of mass and energy.  Her oddity makes a deep romantic relationship somewhat problematic, particularly when the object of her desire is a private detective with a healthy curiosity about things people are trying to keep secret.  And he has a secret of his own.  A nice mix of magic, romance, and light humor.

In the Claws of the Tiger by James Wyatt, Wizards of the Coast, 2006, $6.99, ISBN 0-7869-4015-8

Sword and sorcery lives in this new series of game tie-in novels, set in Eberron.  The protagonist made himself famous years earlier by uncovering a set of ancient ruins beneath a city, but in the process he became alienated from those he loved.  Now, after considerable time has passed, he has returned, only to discover that there was a demon imprisoned in that ruined city and that the monster is on the verge of escaping thanks to his intervention.  Unless he can do something about it.  Lightweight but agreeable fantasy adventure.

Jack of Ravens by Mark Chadbourn, Gollancz, 2006, ₤12.99, ISBN 0-575-07800-6

Most recent time travel fantasies have been romances but Mark Chadbourn’s new series uses the device for very different purposes.  The protagonist visits a number of different eras, trying to return to his home time, fearing that the only way to do so would be to make an almost literal deal with the devil.  The action is a little choppy early on but begins to settle down once the story is in high gear.  Sufficiently different in its approach to differentiate itself from the mainstream of fantasy.

Year’s Best Fantasy 6 edited by David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer, Tachyon, 2006, $14.95, ISBN 1-892391-37-6

I gather from the physical evidence that this series of annuals has switched publishers.  That’s a plus for Tachyon, but I hope it doesn’t mean a drop in the audience for this consistently well selected series.  The stories tend toward the literary side without sacrificing good storytelling values, and are drawn from a variety of sources.  Kelly Link, Connie Willis, Bruce Sterling, Esther Friesner, Neil Gaiman, and others provide an entertainingly diverse mix of serious and humorous, mysterious and straightforward. 

The Coming Storm by Rob Kidd, Disney Press, 2006, $4.99, ISBN 1-4231-0018-2

The Siren Song by Rob Kidd, Disney Press, 2006, $4.99, ISBN 1-4231-0019-0

The Pirate Chase by Rob Kidd, Disney Press, 2006, $4.99, ISBN 1-4231-0020-4

Perhaps because I had just seen the newest Pirates of the Caribbean movie, the arrival of these three adventures of a young Jack Sparrow seemed even more fun than they probably are.  Jack organizes a quest for the magical sword of Cortez in the first, and in the second they are lured from their path by a magical song.  In the third, they discover that the sword is owned by a notorious pirate, so they set out to track them down.  This is all kids’ stuff, but if you can shed a few years for an hour or so, they’re fun, and if not, they’re probably just the right thing for any kids in your vicinity.

The Blood Books Volume Three by Tanya Huff, DAW, 2006, $7.99, ISBN 0-7564-0392-8

I had already read and thoroughly enjoyed all five of Tanya Huff’s adventures of Henry Fitzroy, romance writer, vampire, and sometimes amateur sleuth.   When DAW began this omnibus series, I was glad to see them back in print, but puzzled by the advance announcements of volume 3, given that there were only five.  The mystery is solved.  The last volume, Blood Bank, is a collection of all of the Fitzroy short stories, nine in all, more than I realized existed.  They’re every bit as good as the novels, and it’s great to see them gathered together.

The Gold Falcon by Katharine Kerr, DAW, 2006, $24.95, ISBN 0-7564-0386-3

Katharine Kerr returns to the world of Deverry for what is intended to be the last cycle of novels in that setting.  Kerr writes well and tells a good story, so I have a clearer memory of these than most similar epics, of which there are far too many.  Deverry is menaced by some of its neighbors, and a new series of incidents threatens yet another war.  The main characters are simple folk who are caught up by events.  There’s a fairly large cast of characters introduced here, whose individual stories will presumably play out in the subsequent volumes.  It’s not necessary to have read previous Deverry stories, but it helps understand the history of its people.

Blade of Fortriu by Juliet Marillier, Tor, 10/06, $27.95, ISBN 0-765-30996-3

I’ve found most of Juliet Marillier’s previous novels a bit too slow moving for my taste, but the sequel to The Dark Mirror picks things up a bit and reads much more smoothly.  Having consolidated his rule and raised an army, the king of Fortriu prepares for a military campaign to expel the invaders who have occupied part of his kingdom.  Although he has planned well, there is treachery afoot, and one of his spies discovers that it is a trap that will end with his death and further chaos unless something can be done to warn him.  No surprises but no disappointments either.

The Finest Challenge by Jean Rabe, Tor, 9/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30822-3

Jean Rabe has written several entertaining fantasy adventures, of which her latest is this series, involving a race of intelligent, telepathic horses who are sent to the world to help selected humans in order to serve the forces of good.  In this third volume two siblings are caught up in the struggle to prevent a devastating war.  I was somewhat put off by the idea that humans can’t handle their own destiny without assistance – although current events seem to justify that contention – and that threw me out of the story from time to time.  Your reaction may vary.

Dark Moon Defender by Sharon Shinn, Ace, 10/06, $23.95, ISBN 0-441-01430-5

The third novel of the Twelve Houses further explores Shinn’s fantasy world of mystics and riders.  A young man befriends a woman from a religious order, a group who frown on the practice of magic and who would not be happy to learn that one of their order has such abilities.  But there is a darker plot afoot.  One of her superiors is exploiting her talents in order to strike at others of her kind.  Although Shinn’s novels often appear to be simply variations of standard plots, she takes much greater pains with the human interactions in her story and much of what is important in the plot is subtle rather than the clash of arms or the results of an arcane spell.  Her work is among the best contemporary fantasy.

The Floating Island by Elizabeth Haydon, Starscape, 2006, $17.95, ISBN 0-765-30867-3

Although I’ve enjoyed Elizabeth Haydon’s previous fantasy novels, none of them have made much of a lasting impression.  That changes with this one, which just happens to be aimed at young adults.  It’s the episodic adventures of a young man who decides to travel around his magical world, usually by sea, and visit the strange and unknown lands he has only heard about.  It’s not quite quirky enough to attract the Harry Potter crowd, but it’s better than most young adult fantasies and as good as many designed for older readers.

Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett, Harper, 9/06, $16.99, ISBN 0-06-089032-0

Terry Pratchett is up to his usual hi-jinx in the latest Discworld novel, but this one seems to lack the wallop of most of the earlier ones, and I barely cracked a smile while I was reading it.  The idea is amusing.  A trainee sorceress inadvertently wakes up the spirit of winter prematurely, causing a predictable crisis, but manages to put things right in the end.  It’s nice to return to a familiar setting, but I’m beginning to think it’s time for Pratchett to move on to something new.

Bloodring by Faith Hunter, Roc, 11/06, $14, ISBN 0-451-46108-8

The apocalypse has come and gone and life goes on.  That’s the premise of this, which I suspect is the first in a series, by an author who sounds like she’s using a pseudonym although she has her own website.  The arrival of the angels triggered a war between good and evil and magic returns to the world, but otherwise things haven’t changed that much.  A woman who is secretly a powerful magician gets mixed up with a policeman who thinks she’s a kidnapper, and they are soon both up to their necks in trouble.   Some fine imagery and a few original twists mark this as possibly a harbinger of better things to come from this author.

Divine by Mistake by P.C. Cast, Luna, 2006, $6.99, ISBN 0-373-80247-1

This romance author has had some interesting books in the past, but her new one is a definite step up.  The protagonist is a contemporary woman who finds a magical artifact which transports her into an alternate reality where she is revered as a goddess.  Sounds good, but there’s a catch.  There’s always a catch.  Amusing hijinx follow the discovery that she’s expected to marry a centaur.  I’m tempted to characterize it as sexy horse play.

Dragon’s Teeth by James A. Hetley, Ace, 11/06, $14, ISBN 0-441-01431-3

Hetley’s follow-up to Dragon’s Eye is a kind of Romeo and Juliet story set in a small town in Maine.  The two families in question each conceal a secret.  The members of one are shapeshifters and the others are witches.  Although the two families have lived peacefully if not harmoniously, a mysterious woman appears whose activities threaten to upset things.  A young woman from the witch family is finishing her college career and uncertain about her future, and a young shapeshifting male has some secrets of his own.  Throw in some mysterious deaths and you have the makings of a many layered contemporary fantasy with a strong plot and some appealing characters.

Angel with Attitude by Michelle Rowen, Warner, 2006, $6.50, ISBN 0-446-61699-0

For a long time, the romance novels with fantasy themes that I read were generally unsophisticated, uninspired, and lacking in humor.  That has all changed in the past few years.  There are increasing numbers of well written novels that just happen to have romantic themes, and humor has become much more common.  That’s the case in this one, in which an angel gets kicked out of Heaven, although she’s not really a bad person, and is exiled on Earth, where she is pursued by an amorous demon, who is also really not a bad person. Complications ensue.  Very amusing complications.

Reaper of Souls by Dan Abnett and Mike Lee, Black Library, 2006, $7.99, ISBN 1-84416-193-5

Another Warhammer novel, this one the third in a subset about Malus Darkblade, a formidable elf with a somewhat tarnished reputation.  Malus was following a treasure map that turned out to be a lure into a trap, and now he’s partially possessed by a demon who forces him to perform certain tasks.  In this case, he is told to steal a magical dagger, which unfortunately is guarded by a competent and well armed steward.  Almost all of the sword and sorcery subgenre of fantasy is published as game tie-ins nowadays, but the majority of the good novels have been in the Warhammer series these past two years.  This isn’t one of their best, but it’s still better than most of the competition.

The God in the Moon by Richard A. Knaak, Ace, 2006, $6.99, ISBN 0-441-01422-4

This is the first in another trilogy set in the world of Robert E. Howard’s Conan, this one involving Aquilonia during the period when Conan was the local ruler.  The protagonist is the son of a prominent family who upsets his relatives by abandoning the safe lifestyle prescribed for him by joining the army.  He distinguishes himself in battle against the Picts, but by doing so stirs up an even greater danger, which will presumably be resolved in book three.  Knaak has written a good number of entertaining fantasy adventures but I found this one disappointingly thin and derivative.  Possibly the series will improve as he gets warmed up.

Warrior and Witch by Marie Brennan, Warner, 10/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-446-61697-4

The sequel to Doppelganger further explores the magical world of new writer Brennan.  The protagonist has merged the powers of a witch and a doppelganger, making her something new under the sun.  Predictably, some want her destroyed as an abomination while others are interested in seeing how her powers will develop.  Her existence leads to a schism among the witches and the opening moves in what appears to be a magical war.  I found it a little difficult to get into this one early on, but once I had passed that point, it was a fast and furious read to the end.

Weatherwitch by Cecilia Dart-Thornton, Tor, 11/06, $27.95, ISBN 0-765-31207-7

The third volume in the Crowthistle Chronicles is a coming of age story.  The young protagonist was orphaned early in life, and though she is heir to magic, she has lived a relatively mundane life ever since.  Now she is torn between loyalty to the people who raised her and the need to discover who she is and how she fits with her mother’s people, whoever they might be.  I found my attention wandering a bit this time, although I enjoyed the first two in the series.  The protagonist’s journey doesn’t seem to move fast enough to keep the story going.

Rifkind’s Challenge by Lynn Abbey, Tor, 8/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-31346-4

Lynn Abbey brings back one of her more popular characters, Rifkind the warrior sorceress, for a third adventure, this one set years after the first two.  Rifkind retired from her lively life to raise a son and had no plans to return to the service of her people in her former capacity.  But events sometimes pre-empt our best intentions.  A finely told adventure story follows, although in some ways I wish the author had spent more time demonstrating the difference between the younger and older versions of her character than she actually did.

The Prophecy by Hilari Bell, Eos, 2006, $15.99, ISBN 0-06-059943-0

Morgain’s Revenge by Laura Anne Gilman, Harper, 2006, $10.99, ISBN 0-06-077282-6

 Young adult fantasy is thriving along with adult books.  Hilari Bell has written several, most of them quite good, and this is another, although like most of her work it rarely explores outside established limits.  The young prince protagonist is a book worm and most of the people at court, including his father, have a low opinion of him until his reading leads to the discovery of a method to kill a rampaging dragon.  The theme – presumably that reading is a valuable occupation – is somewhat dampened by his subsequent quest to find the ingredients with which to fulfill the prophecy.  This is the first young adult book I’ve read by Laura Anne Gilman, second in a series set during the age of King Arthur.  Morgain plots against Arthur by kidnapping a servant girl who has undeveloped magical powers.  Nicely written but a little too much of a replay for me.

Furry Fantastic edited by Jean Rabe and Brian M. Thomsen, DAW, 2006, $7.99, ISBN 0-7564-0381-2

We’ve had a virtual avalanche of anthologies of fantasy stories about dogs and cats, and the first half of this one is more of the same.  The second half is similar in theme, but includes a variety of other furry creatures.  The overwhelming tone of the book is light humor and at times rather more cuteness than I found entertaining.  The contributors include Michael Stackpole, Jody Lynn Nye, David Bischoff, and others, but none of the stories was individually outstanding.

Dance of the Gods by Nora Roberts, Jove, 10/06, $7.99, ISBN 0-515-14166-6

The middle volume of the Circle trilogy has our six allies finally girding themselves for a battle with the armies led by the vampire Lilith.  But before they can close with their enemy, they must face a new challenge in ancient Ireland.  Although I have enjoyed most of what I’ve read by Roberts, particularly her series as J.D. Robb, I have to say this is not among my favorites of her work.  The setting and the people never came to life for me – or unlife in one case – and I finished with only a casual interest in whether or not they triumph in the final volume.

The Tainted by Glenda Larke, Ace, 2006, $7.99, ISBN 0-441-01419-6

The protagonist of this novel, third in the Isles of Glory series, is unique in that he lived most of his life as a bird and is still trying to adjust to being human.  Released from his own curse, he discovers that the woman he loves has succumbed to dark magic and is in danger of losing her own soul.  He thinks he has a way to save her, but if he does so, his actions might change the entire world.  Standard fantasy fare enlivened by the unusual circumstances of the main character.

Knight Tenebrae by Julianne Lee, Ace, 9/06, $7.99, ISBN 0-441-01439-9

This author’s previous fantasy novels have appeared as by J. Ardian Lee.  Her newest is a kind of time travel romance.  A contemporary fighter plane is carried back through time to ancient Ireland, brought there by an evil creature who plots against the human race.  The pilot and his passenger, a female reporter, survive the transition and find themselves in an unfamiliar and dangerous environment, with threats from both human and inhuman sources.  Something of a twist on time travel romance novels since both halves go through the transition, and a pretty good one.

Witchling by Yasmine Galenorn, Berkley, 10/06, $7.00, ISBN 0-425-21254-8

The author of the frequently amusing Chintz & China series tries a new duo in this, which is probably the first in a new series although it doesn’t mention it.  The three main characters are sisters, one a witch, one a shape shifter, and the other a vampire, but all three are on the side of good, fighting evil supernatural creatures that lurk in the corners of our world.  In their debut, they solve a murder mystery involving denizens of the otherworld while simultaneously preventing a malevolent creature from another reality from invading and conquering the Earth.  There have been an awful lot of similar series starting lately, and this one bears more than a passing resemblance to the late television show, Charmed, but Galenorn has a light and welcome touch.

Liber Necris: The Book of Death in the Old World, Black Library, 2006, $29.99, ISBN 1-84416-338-5

This is a large format, profusely illustrated tie-in to the Warhammer gaming system and, presumably, the associated novels.  It is a kind of history of vampires and zombies in that fantasy realm.  The artwork is generally well done but without anything really outstanding.  The text is entertaining at times but has minimal story value.  For hardcore fans of the game system.

Flight Volume 3 edited by Kazu Kibuishi, Ballantine, 2006, $24.95, ISBN 0-345-49039-8

Graphic anthologies are still comparatively rare, but they’re catching on.  This is the current volume in a series that gathers short, full color strips by a variety of artists and writers, most of whose name are unfamiliar to me but probably not to ardent fans of the genre.  There are 350 pages of their work here, in a variety of styles, leaning heavily toward humor, and some of the individual strips are excellent.  Included is work by Yoko Tanaka, Bill Plympton, Neil Babra, and many others.

The Toyminator by Robert Rankin, Gollancz, 2006, £12.99, ISBN 0-575-07010-2

The British reading public seems to have a much larger appetite for humor, at least in fantastic fiction, than does its American counterpart.  Although some of Robert Rankin's wildly funny work has appeared in this country, it has been largely ignored within the genre.  His latest is set in Toy Town, which is of course where toys live, and tells of a series of odd events that may be leading up to an Armageddon of playthings.  Eddie Bear, a private detective, decides what or who is behind a series of toy murders.  This is the very amusing and even funnier sequel to The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse, which you should also track down and read.

Voices by Ursula K. Le Guin, Harcourt, 9/06, $17, ISBN 0-15-205678-5

Once again we have proof that it is possible to write a book oriented toward young adults that is literate, thoughtful, and has as much to say to adult readers as it does for its target audience.  The setting is a small town which has recently been conquered by a more barbaric people who, unfortunately, view reading and writing as troublesome at best and outlaw both activities.  The chief protagonist is a young woman who begins to resent the decree even more strongly when a poet and his wife come into her life and transform her view of the world.  Very similar in tone but even better than the author's earlier Gifts.

Soldier of Sidon by Gene Wolfe, Tor, 10/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-31664-1

Latro is back, that wandering soldier of ancient times whose curse is to wake up each day with no memory of what went before.  Wolfe introduced the character in Soldier of the Mist, to which  this is the second sequel.  The setting is, mostly, ancient Egypt this time, and we see the wonders of the Nile through the blank slate of Latro's eyes.  There is a plot of sorts, but the real attraction of this series is a combination of Wolfe's beautiful prose style and the exotic and sometimes mystical settings he creates for us to experience, if only remotely.  The gap between Wolfe novels is always too long, but they're always worth the wait.

Cast in Courtlight by Michelle Sagara, Luna, 8/06, $14.95, ISBN 0-373-80244-7

Michelle Sagara (aka Michelle West) continues her romantic fantasy series with this story of court intrigue and treachery.  Kaylin solved a puzzling mystery in her first adventure, Cast in Shadow, for which she is duly recognized by the aristocracy.  When the heir to the throne falls ill, she is summoned to court to help heal him, but as you might expect there are some factions who would prefer that she fail and that someone else be the next in the line of succession.  Kaylin is an interesting and likeable character who cleverly avoids the plots set against her, finding time for a little romance along the way.

Morrigan's Cross by Nora Roberts, Jove, 9/06, $7.99, ISBN 0-515-14165-8

I've enjoyed quite a bit of Nora Roberts work, particularly her J.D. Robb SF mystery series, but this first volume in a new trilogy just never caught my interest.  It's an historical novel set in the 12th Century and involves the rise of an army of vampires led by Lilith, queen of the undead.  When one of a pair of twin brothers is converted to vampirism, his brother is not surprisingly pissed off.  Throw in a benevolent goddess and a few other characters and you have a book that is essentially fantasy despite the vampire theme, but which seems so concerned with setting up the plot for the next two books that it never comes together itself.

Tainted Blood by Nathan Long, Black Library, 2006, $7.99, ISBN 1-84416-371-7

Day of the Daemon by Aaron Rosenberg, Black Library, 2006, $7.99, ISBN 1-84416-366-0

Both of these are sword and sorcery adventures set in the Warhammer universe.  The first is part of the Blackhearts subseries about a band of rogues, in this case forced into service as bodyguards to a man who has a lot of enemies.  Unfortunately, they also have a spy among their own number.  The second is an even more conventional tale of a pair of treasure hunters who visit a remote village and discover that some of the local people have not learned by their experience as victims of the war between Order and Chaos.  They are trying to invoke a powerful demon, even though its advent may destroy them all.  Both are pure adventure stories with no literary ambitions but a good blend of action and mystery.

Aftershock by Jean Rabe and John Helfers, Roc, 2006, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-46101-0

I have a recurring problem with novels which mix futuristic themes with magic, whether it be Warhammer or, in this case, Shadowrun.  I have trouble reconciling the two that makes it difficult to believe in what's happening.  Both series have a second problem, in that the majority of the stories published have used a very small number of plot variations.  That's partly the case with this new title, although it is greatly redeemed by the cast of amusing characters and some nice twists on the plot of the heist that went wrong.  When a troll and his friends steal some experimental plants from a biotechnology company, they discover that all is not as it seems and that they're in big trouble.  If you're going to sample this series, Aftershocks is a good introduction.

Warrior by Jennifer Fallon, Tor, 9/06, $25.95,  ISBN0-765-30990-4

Fallon continues her chronicles of the vicissitudes of the Wolfblade family in this second in a new series.  Marla Wolfblade is deftly treading a path through the politics and personal conflicts of Hythria, but powerful people inevitably make enemies and she's not the exception.  Even worse, the danger to her young son might be more immediate than any threat to her person.  Another well constructed story of high adventure and low intrigue from one of the brighter new talents in contemporary fantasy.

Stork Naked by Piers Anthony, Tor, 10/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30409-0

I confess that I've felt overdosed on Xanth for at least the last ten books in the series, although this, the thirtieth, seems to have picked up a little of the lost charm of its immediate predecessors.  Surprise Golem is expecting a baby and in Xanth, as you might expect, babies really are brought by storks.  Except that for some reason her baby doesn't show up.  When she realizes that her child has been kidnapped to another reality by a rebellious stork, Surprise refuses to take such treatment lightly and sets out to track them down.  Some genuinely funny sequences and a change of setting help restore some life to this aging franchise.

Hounding the Moon by P.R. Frost, DAW, 9/06, $23.95, ISBN 0-7564-0389-8

This is the first novel in the Tess Noncoire series and also the first book to appear under this byline of Phyllis Ann Karr/Irene Radford.  Tess is a fantasy writer who is also trained to fight demons who hope to enter our world from their own.  Each of her kind is paired with an imp, and hers is a particularly colorful one who provides a good deal of comic relief.  In her debut adventure, she's trying to track down a kind of hellhound while simultaneously keeping her secret from an inquisitive academic who seems to know more about her than he should.  An enjoyable set up and delivery of particular interest to fans of the Anita Blake and similar series. 

To Ride a Rathorn by P.C. Hodgell, Meisha Merlin, 2006, $26.95, ISBN 1-59222-102-5

Fans of Hodgell's God Stalk series have waited a while for this, the fourth volume in the series, but it's finally on the horizon.  Jame is on the run again, pursued by an angry creature seeking vengeance, and her new surroundings – family and a royal court – don't seem to be any less dangerous, though perhaps more subtle.  Hodgell turns up the steam for this  volume as events begin to boil toward an open eruption.  Can Jame learn to master the fine art of intrigue?  Can she stay alive long enough to make the attempt?  And why is a strange woman appearing in her dreams?  You won't know unless you read her latest adventure.

House of Chains by Steven Erikson, Tor, 8/06, $27.95, ISBN 0-765-31004-X

The fourth installment of the Malazan Book of the Fallen doubles back on the series a bit.  Two sisters find themselves playing key parts in the battle between loyalists and rebels, and unfortunately not on the same side.  Neither side is having an easy time of it, because of internal politics, personal rivalries, and battlefield reversals.  Erikson's work is very rich in detail and concentrates more on the psychological pressures facing his characters than do most otherwise similar fantasies.  It's a long novel, over six hundred pages, and at times an almost dauntingly complex one, but the author leads us through the difficult parts and never loses his readers along the way.

Sorcerer's Moon by Julian May, Ace, 8/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-441-01383-X

King Conrig is not having the best of times as the third book in this series opens.  He had planned to consolidation his hold on power and the continuation of his realm through an arranged marriage for his son, the prince and heir.  Unfortunately, Prince Orrion has other ideas and would far rather marry his childhood sweetheart.  Elsewhere, some of his vanquished enemies decide not to remain vanquished and plot a resumption of war, and the king's own use of questionable tactics and allies has helped contribute to an erosion of his own mental faculties.  With so many things going wrong, it's not surprising that a crisis erupts.  The best installment so far in this sequence.

Dzur by Steven Brust, Tor, 8/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30148-2

Vlad Taltos is back for another light, almost breezy adventure.  He has long since given up his career and is now more or less a fugitive.  When he visits a land from his past, he discovers that you can't go home again, that the power structure has changed almost recognizably, and the help he sought is not readily available.  On the plus side, it's been so long that the old animosities have cooled a bit as well, although he still has more enemies than friends.  Throw in a seriously warped magical weapon and a meddling deity and you have all the fixings for one of Brust's patented high fantasy adventures and a welcome treat for his fans.

Druid's Sword by Sara Douglass, Tor, 2006, $27.95, ISBN 0-765-30543-7

My reactions to the fantasy novels of Sara Douglass has varied considerably, but the Troy Game sequence is among those I actively enjoy.  The fourth volume is almost contemporary, set during World War II.  Through reincarnation and other means, a group of people from ancient times has survived into the modern world in order to continue a complex web of rivalries and intrigues that originate in the distant past.  Now the game is finally reaching its conclusion as the Nazis threaten England and the effect of their secretive struggle on the outside world is unpredictable.  A well structured series brought to a rousing and exciting conclusion.

Shriek: An Afterword by Jeff VanderMeer, Tor, 8/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-31465-7

It almost seems like a waste of time to mention the plot of Jeff VanderMeer's latest story of Ambergris.  For many readers, what actually happens is subordinate to the way it happens and how the story is told.  VanderMeer's prose is a delight to read, and the cumulative description of  his imagined world has turned it into a place that seems more real than fictional.   The story?  Well, it involves a commercial struggle between two publishing houses and the possibility that one of the underclasses may have possession of a dangerous biological discovery that could be used as a weapon of social destruction.  But if you've read any of VanderMeer's other fiction, you'll know that he doesn't always follow the route the reader expects to get to his destination.

Crystal Doors by Rebecca Moesta and Kevin J. Anderson, Little, Brown, 2006, $15.99, ISBN 0-316-01055-3

Serpent Gift by Lene Kaaberbol, Henry Holt, 2006, $18.95, ISBN 0-8050-7770-7

Fantasy fiction continues to be a considerable chunk of the new young adult offerings.  The first of these is by a husband and wife team who did a string of young adult Star Wars novels a few years back, but who try something very different here.  Teenagers visit a magical other world for a series of low key adventures.  They might be a bit too low key for some readers though, concentrating more on revealing the nature and wonders of the fantasy world.  As the first in the series, that's a familiar problem.  The second title is the third in a series of which I've seen neither of the previous volumes, so I had some difficulty getting into the story, in which a father comes looking for the daughter he has never known, upsetting the lives of the girl and everyone around her.  Pretty well written, but I strongly recommend you hunt down the earlier volumes before trying this one.

Forbidden Cargo by Rebecca K. Rowe, Edge, 2006, $14.95, ISBN 1-894063-16-3

Rowe's first novel is a complex future with dystopian overtones that mixes two very common plot devices, the marvelous invention and the dangers of xenophobia.  On the one hand, an entrepreneur and inventor has developed a method of organizing human knowledge in such a way that scientists and others can access it more readily and more productively.  On the other hand we have the Imagofas, a genetically engineered species currently located in the Martian colonies.  The Imagofas soon become the football in a dangerous game of politics and public opinion molding, with some holding them to be a form of blasphemy and others as a bright hope for the future of humanity.  A well seasoned blend of capture and escape and serious speculation and a very promising first effort.

Offspring by Liam Jackson, Thomas Dunne, 10/06, $23.95, ISBN 0-312-35570-X

The publicity info for this first novel compares it to Stephen King's The Stand, among other things, but the comparison seems invalid to me.  A war among the fallen angels has spilled over onto the Earth.  Lucifer himself has recognized that he will not triumph, that the outcome may be beyond even his power to control.  On Earth are the offspring, the product of humans mating with angels – a concept I found a bit hard to get around – and it is these individuals alone who may be able to defeat an unholy alliance between the fallen angels and a horde of demons.  A little too heavy in the angst category for me, but the writing was impressive enough to make me hopeful about the author's next book.

The Yowler Foulup by David Lee Stone, Hyperion, 2006, $16.99, ISBN 0-7868-5597-5

Honey Bea by Kim L. Siegelson, Hyperion, 2006, $15.99, ISBN 0-7868-0853-5

Two clever but very different young adult novels here.  First is the middle volume in the Illmoor Chronicles, about a kingdom whose defenders are rather unusual.  But then again, the dangers that threaten it are pretty strange as well.  A thief, a half breed vampire, and other oddballs save the day once again in this lightly humorous adventure.  The second title is more serious in tone and restrained in its treatment.  The young protagonist  is a slave girl in the American South who develops the ability to communicate with insects, plants, and perhaps the spirits of the dead, and who slowly wakens to her power even as she attracts the not entirely welcome attention of her master.  I actively enjoyed this one.

Greywalker by Kat Richardson, Roc, 10/06, $14, ISBN 0-451-46107-X

Harper Blaine is technically dead, although doctors manage to bring her back to life.  But, as you might expect, she has been changed by the experience.  And not just psychologically.  Harper has given her the ability to see creatures that are invisible to the rest of us, to look into a shadowy world that impinges on our own, and many of whose inhabitants are very dangerous.  In some ways this reminded me of Nancy Collins' Sunglasses After Dark, which made a considerable stir when it first appeared.  Although this one's well written, the protagonist wasn't as real to me as I would have preferred.  To a certain extent I had the same trouble with the first couple Anita Blake books, and I became very fond of that series as the author expanded on her mbasic premise, so I have hopes for this one as well.

Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik, Del Rey, 2006, $7.50, ISBN 0-345-48129-1

Black Powder War by Naomi Novik, Del Rey, 2006, $7.50, ISBN 0-345-48130-5

Naomi Novik started her career with His Majesty's Dragon (UK title Temeraire), an alternate world historical fantasy in which a dragon's egg intended for Napoleon ends up in the possession of a British officer who bonds with the young dragon and has a series of adventures in a variant version of the Napoleonic Wars.  The story continues in these two new volumes, although the setting changes considerably.  The dragon's egg was sent by the Chinese, who want it back, and our hero and his scaly companion travel to Asia, although the outcome is not what either of them expected.  The third volume brings them back to Europe, this time to prevent more of the eggs – and their subsequent dragons – from falling into the hands of the belligerent French.  Unusually compelling high adventure in the first of these, a nicely described relationship between man and beast, interesting international politics and well realized backdrops, and the third, though a bit below her usual standard, is quite readable.  Novik is certainly one of the more important new fantasy writers to emerge in recent years.

Jade Dragon by James Swallow, Black Flame, 2006, $7.99, ISBN 1-84416-378-4

Cardinal Crimson by Will McDermott, Black Library, 2006, $7.99, ISBN 1-84416-372-5

Warrior Coven by C.S. Goto, Black Library, 2006, $7.99, ISBN 1-84416-365-2

Although this publisher specializes in Warhammer novels, they have several other series in process, most also based on movies or role playing games.  The first of these is a Dark Future novel, based on a game system I believe, but in effect a dystopian future which blends cyberpunk with crime fiction, in this case the adventures of a man who inherits his brother's job in a futuristic Hong Kong and discovers that his brother had secrets.  Second is a Necromunda novel, also from a game apparently, and set in a similar urban future dominated by immoral corporations and organized crime.  The protagonist is a bounty hunter who incurs a debt to a crimelord and  agrees to perform a service for him, a service that proves to be more dangerous and complicated than it initially appeared.  Like the Warhammer novels, both of these are sufficiently removed from the game to function as independent novels, and both are reasonably well written.  Swallow has a slight edge in prose, but I liked McDermott's story better.  The final title is a Warhammer book, second in a subset with a futuristic setting.  An order of religiously devout soldiers is cast into turmoil when one of their number discovers that his superiors have made a deal with an alien race, perhaps without having confirmed which side they have taken in an interstellar war.  This one was a bit too dark and dire for my taste but it's reasonably well written.

Jennifer Scales and the Messenger of Light by MaryJanice Davison and Anthony Alongi, Berkley Jam, 2006, $9.99, ISBN 0-425-21011-1

I've never seen the earlier volume, but this appears to be the second in a young adult series about a teenager who is also secretly a weredragon.  She and her family of shapeshifters conceal their secrets from normal humans, but they have enemies, another secret group known as Beaststalkers.  The protagonist is a crossbreed and she sees the conflict between the two groups mirrored in the internal feuding within her own family.  The light humor works rather well and the story is lighthearted enough to work despite its various implausibilities.

Armageddon's Children by Terry Brooks, Del Rey, 9/06, $26.95, ISBN 0-345-48408-8

I've never been a fan of the Shannara series, but I thought that the Knights of the Wyrd books by Brooks were actually quite good.  This is the first in a loosely related series, set in the not too distant future when our current civilization collapses, thanks in part to the forces of the supernatural.  Now demons are free to interfere in the affairs of the survivors and the dangers facing the human race are very different in nature.  Logan Tom is one of the survivors who has a purpose, combating evil, and his first mission is to protect those who might have strong enough benevolent magic to provide a defense against the dark forces.  The set up and the story itself are both quite good.  If you've avoided Brooks in the past, this might be the time to rethink your reading strategy.

Sorcery in Shad by  Brian Lumley, Tor, 9/06, $23.95, ISBN 0-765-31077-5

Tor continues its reprinting of the Tales of the Primal Lands series, originally published in the UK by Headline books during the early 1990s.  These are among Lumley's more traditional fantasies, although even back then he had a few twists all his own.  This is the final adventure of his heroic traveler who battles villainous magic and magical villains, and who becomes the love object of a lamia.  More sword and sorcery than high fantasy, with occasional touches of humor.

Soarer's Choice by L.E. Modesitt Jr., Tor, 11/06, $27.95, ISBN 0-765-31647-1

The sixth book in the Corean Chronicles seems to be bringing things toward the end, which is probably a good idea.  Although I actively enjoyed the first three, the  second  loose trilogy hasn't made as good an impression, probably in part because so many of the characters are less than likeable.  Mykel and Dainyl are back, still trying to find a relatively nondestructive way for the evacuation of Corus and its abandonment to the human population and some of the less savory members of the dominant culture.  Well written as always but it never really drew me into the story.

The Dawn Star by Catherine Asaro, Luna, 7/06, $14.95, ISBN 0-373-80238-2

Bring It On by Laura Anne Gilman, Luna, 7/06, $14.95, ISBN 0-373-80240-4

These two romance novels are each the third in their respective series.  Asaro has adopted a pretty standard fantasy world, and the newly founded kingdom of Aronsdale as her setting.  Things aren't going as well as the heroine and her husband, the ruler, might have wished.  There are enemies all about, enemies whom she might defeat if she made full use of her awakening, and dangerous, magical powers.  But if she does so, will she unleash something even worse?  Not badly written but my attention wandered quite a bit because I could almost always tell what was going to happen next.  Not so with Gilman's quasi-contemporary fantasy about the Retrievers, two partners who hire themselves out to re-acquire missing objects.  Their relationship has turned a bit steamy, but they still don't entirely trust one another, and a past connection is about to threaten their love affair, if not their lives.  Very enjoyable.

The Witch of Agnesi by Robert Spiller, Medallion, $9.99, ISBN 1-932815-72-4

Stones of Abraxas by K. Osborn Sullivan, Medallion, $9.99, ISBN 1-932815-76-7

Both of these are fantasies for young adults and both follow well traveled paths.  The first and more interesting is set in the contemporary world and is a reasonably suspenseful mystery.  Murders and disappearances complicate a school competition, and one of the teachers uncovers several unusual characters as well as a coven of teenaged witches.  The second is even more conventional.  Two teenagers are magically transported to another reality where they must battle a wizard with bad intentions.  I've never encountered either author before.  Spiller's prose is more readable, and he also offers a more engaging story and set of protagonists.

Winds of Change by Jason Brannon, Nocturne, 2006, $15.99, ISBN 0-9776560-1-2

The three novelettes in this collection are very imaginative, but the writing really isn't equal to the task at hand.  In one a group of musicians are under siege by creatures who can't attack them so long as they continue to play, and in another a second group of people are trapped in a hardware store by a mysterious force that transforms anyone who stays outside.  The third involves the invocation of voodoo magic through graffiti.  The dialogue in particular is frequently awkward but the narratives are well conceived.

Sojourn by Jana G. Oliver, Dragon Moon Press, 2006, $19.95, ISBN 1-896944-30-2

The previous books I've read by this author have been competent but unexceptional traditional fantasies.  This new one is considerably different and considerably more impressive.  The fact that it's set in Victorian England probably prejudices me in its favor as well.  The story is about a time travel agent sent to find out why a time tourist has not returned as scheduled.  She is almost immediately beleaguered as someone murders her partner and she learns that some of the residents of 19th Century London aren't entirely human.  And Jack the Ripper is about to start his notorious campaign as well.  The book does a good job of evoking the period and the plot is very suspenseful.

The Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner, Bantam, 8/06, $14.00, ISBN 0-553-38268-6

Ellen Kushner makes us wait a long time between  novels, but the novels are always worth waiting for.  Her newest is about a young woman who receives an unexpected invitation from her uncle, the Mad Duke, for a prolonged stay at his house in the city.  With some reservations, she quits the country to learn city ways, but her uncle has a unique agenda.  Instead of confining her to the usual genteel training afforded women, he decides that she should become an expert with the sword.  The consequences are more interesting than even he expected.  Filled with quiet but effective humor, beautifully written, and almost certainly one of the finest new fantasies you're likely to find this year.

Children of Chaos by Dave Duncan, Tor, 6/06, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-31483-5

This is the first half of a two volume novel, a growing trend in genre fiction of late.  The setting is a fantastic world shaped like a dodecahedron, believe it or not.  When the barbarian hordes from one facet come around the corner and conquer a peaceful land, they take the children of the royal family as hostages and scatter them about.  Years pass and the children are adults, but when the time comes for them to consider striking out for the freedom of their people, altered priorities and practical problems seem to make success unlikely.  Duncan always provides your money's worth and this is no exception, but I didn't think it was up to the level of the last few King's Blades books.

Smoke and Ashes by Tanya Huff, DAW, 6/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-7564-0347-2

This spinoff series featuring Tony Foster seems to be getting better with each volume.  Tony has been promoted to assistant film director, but his latest project may not be good for his health.  There are demons plotting to seize a foothold in our world, and one of the stunt women is in thrall to a powerful supernatural entity.  So naturally Tony calls on his vampire friend Henry Fitzroy to help deal with the problem.  I much prefer contemporary settings to high fantasy, if for no other reason than the wider variation in plots, but Huff is equally adept whether she uses a  realistic or fictional world.  And it's always nice to see Henry Fitzroy make even a brief appearance.

When Darkness Falls by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory, Tor, 7/06, $27.95, ISBN 0-765-30221-2

The Obsidian trilogy comes to a conclusion with this complex, reasonably fast paced story of the final confrontation between the forces of good and evil.  Treachery has led the Mage Council to believe that the protagonist and his allies are implacable enemies.  The situation is exacerbated by a terrible plague which strikes despite every magical guard brought against it.  Secrets uncovered, alliances shifting, battles waged, and the inevitable conclusion.  Most of what unfolds is pretty obvious, but the steps we take to get to the conclusion are worth the time.  A little more somber than most of Lackey's other novels, perhaps showing the influence of her co-author.

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, Bantam, 7/06, $23, ISBN 0-553-80467-6

Here's one of the more satisfying first fantasies I've read in a while.  The author mixes elements of Robin Hood and Zorro into this exciting story of a band of thieves in a magical city, led by Locke Lamora.  When the thieves uncover a plot against the leadership of the city, they find themselves in an interesting position, because the conspiracy implies a much worse future for the thieves and the people around them than does the present administration.  I had a lot of fun with this, which I read on the first really warm day of the spring, which might have helped fuel my enthusiasm.

The Mirror Prince by Violette Malan, DAW, 7/06, $15, ISBN 0-7564-0339-1

Here's another first fantasy from DAW, this one a variation of the amnesiac expatriate plot.  Max Ravenhill was exiled from the land of Faerie for his own protection, and stripped of his memories so that he would believe himself to be human.  Unfortunately, his enemies track him down and the woman sent to protect him concludes that the best tactic is to tell him the truth.  Armed with his new knowledge, he is better able to face the Basilisk Prince and recover his own place.  Not a bad book at all, and I liked the characterization of Cassandra, but not sufficiently out of the ordinary to make me sit up and take notice.

Bad Prince Charlie by John Moore, Ace, 5/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-441-01396-1

John Moore's gift for humorous satire shines again in this mix of contemporary politics and Shakespearean situations.  The small country of Damask is nearly bankrupt and its king has died without an obvious successor.  Some of its citizens decide that they would be better off if they were conquered and absorbed into a rival kingdom – shades of The Mouse That Roared.  To do so, they plan to install Bad Prince Charlie on the throne, sure that by doing so they will piss off their neighbors.  But you and I both know that plots like this never go as they were intended.

The Amber Wizard by David Forbes, Eos, 4/06, $7.99, ISBN 0-06-082011-4

The first book of the Osserian Saga draws on the usual fantasy tropes.  There's a new king on the throne, but his grasp of it isn't entirely secure.  He has an older son who, it turns out, might be a wizard of extraordinary power.  At least so says the mysterious stranger who shows up at court.  And then there's an ancient, evil entity who wants to rule the land and root out all the nice things in life.  Forbes doesn't write badly, but I wish he'd avoided such a clichéd plot.

Princess at Sea by Dawn Cook, Ace, 7/06, $7.99, ISBN 0-441-01424-0

Dawn Cook proves that it is still possible to write a clever book in a standard fantasy setting, without simply repeating the plot of the last dozen or two to appear.  We found out in the first in this series, The Decoy Princess, that Tess wasn't a princess after all, just a stand-in.  Now she's serving as companion to the newly married queen during an extended sea voyage, but she may have to do double duty because there are pirates in the neighborhood, and the not too happily married royals are too preoccupied to be concerned with the situation.  Cook's best book to date.

The Oracle's Queen by Lynn Flewelling, Bantam, 7/06, $7.50, ISBN 0-553-58345-8

Freedom's Sisters by Naomi Kritzer, Bantam, 8/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-553-58675-6

These two novels from the same publisher have a great deal in common.  For one thing, they are both the third in a fantasy series involving a strong female protagonist.  For another, they both question to some extent the role female characters usually portray in high fantasy.  Flewelling's heroine was disguised as a boy for most of the first two books in the series, an artifice designed to protect her from the man who stole her throne.  Now that magical spell has been cancelled, but can a woman of such obvious youth inspire her people and gain their loyalty?  Kritzer presents a more complex problem.  Lauria has undergone dramatic changes in the course of the series as well, and her loyalties have been altered irrevocably.  But she made powerful enemies in the process, and now they have her within their power.  If you only have the time to read one, I'd suggest Flewelling's book, which has a slightly more upbeat plot and a character I had more sympathy for.  But you won't go wrong with either of these.

Rogue Angel: Destiny by Alex Archer, Gold Eagle, 8/06, $6.50, ISBN 0-373-62119-1

Here's the opening volume of a new men's adventure series, presumably a house pseudonym although this one appears to have been written by Mel Odom.  The publisher compares the book The Da Vinci Code and there is in fact a secretive order of militant monks, but the novel's premise reminded me much more of the recent, short lived television series, Witchblade, with a touch of Highlander thrown in.  The protagonist is a beautiful archaeologist slash television celebrity who is in France researching a legendary monster when she finds herself pursued by a band of ruthless criminals.  An earthquake drops her into the monster's den where she finds a fragment of the sword of Joan of Arc.  Rescued by one of a pair of quasi-immortals, she is mystically linked to the sword, which flashes in and out of existence, depending on her need of it.  Action and adventure are the key here, although some of the interplay among the protagonist and the two immortals, who hate each other, is amusing as well.  It will be interesting to see if the series will hold this quality level in subsequent volumes.

The Wyrdest Link: Terry Pratchett's Second Discworld Quizbook by David Langford, Gollancz, 2006, £7.99, ISBN 0-575-07704-2

David Langford presents a treat for fans of Terry Pratchett's wildly popular Discword series, a collection of brief quizzes about details from the various books, with answers of course provided at the back of the book.  The quizzes are in varied forms – fill in the blanks, straight question and answer, selecting the term that doesn't fit – and the answers are drawn from the entire range of novels.  This was previously published in 2002.

The Orchard of Dreams by Tim Waggoner, Five Star, 7/06, $25.95, ISBN 1-59414-445-1

The first volume of the Godfire series is somewhat reminiscent of Night of Madness by Lawrence Watt-Evans, in that every citizen of Athymar wakes up one morning to discover that they now have magical powers, although in this case they vary wildly from one individual to the next.  Amidst the chaos, the throne appoints a commission to investigate the causes and possible resolution of the problems that are tearing the kingdom apart, unaware of the fact that it is fall out from a war among the gods themselvds.  A good story but I kept waiting for it to accelerate.  Perhaps in the next volume.

Conflagration by Mick Farren, Tor, 6/06, $27.95, ISBN 0-765-31363-4

One of Mick Farren's greatest strengths is his ability to take an apparently familiar story and give it a twist so unusual that it feels like something entirely new.  That's the case with this series begun with Kindling and continuing in the present volume.  The setting is an alternate colonial America where magic works and where the war between the new world and the old involves more than conventional weapons and takes place on more than one level of existence.  There are times when this one almost feels like a horror novel, but there are no times at all when I wasn't firmly drawn into the fantasy world.  Will be waiting impatiently for volume three.

Trollbridge by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple, Starscape, 7/06, $16.95, ISBN 0-765-31426-6

It should come as no surprise that the best of a recent large pile of young adult fantasies I've read should be by Jane Yolen, on this occasion collaborating with her son.  It's the follow up to Pay the Piper, and I think this one is even better than its predecessor, a nice blend of contemporary fantasy, adventure, and humor.  A teenaged girl and members of a young rock band find themselves transported into an alternate world where a sentient fox and a nasty looking troll are engaged in a battle of wits, and  more than wits.  A series of very amusing adventures follows, and the young girl in particular is a refreshing and engaging character.

Day of the Scarab by Catherine Fisher, Greenwillow, 6/06, $16.99, ISBN 0-06-057163-2

The third book in the young adult Oracle Prophecies trilogy is well written enough but replete with the standard fantasy themes, the usurped throne, the protagonist in hiding and in the process of gathering a band of faithful companions.  Fisher, whose earlier work I've enjoyed as well, does as much as can be done with such a familiar plot, and some of the side adventures and background details are interesting.  Not much new to talk about with this one though.

The Blood Knight by Greg Keyes, Del Rey, 7/06, $25.95, ISBN 0-345-44068-4

Greg Keyes continues the Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone series with this third volume.  Although I've always enjoyed his prose, this particular series is so dominated with clichés that I found my interest flagging.  There's a usurped throne, evil sorcery, the rightful heir organizing a band of rebels to take back power, and the usual adventures along the way.  The series started off well but seems to be marking time now, a situation which will hopefully be remedied in the fourth and concluding volume.

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson, Tor, 7/06, $27.95, ISBN 0-765-31178-X

For a change, here's an epic fantasy – opening volume of a trilogy, of course – that tries to do something different.  The premise here is that the bad guy one, so the setting is Sanderson's version of Mordor, where even the hope of freedom has died.  But then one day a talented thief discovers that he has a previously unsuspected talent, and begins to draw others to him.  Perhaps relief is finally in sight, only a couple of volumes away?  A sometimes very grim story in a very grim world,  but written adroitly enough that you'll be drawn into it anyway.  Demonstrates the potential to be one of the better writers of this particular subset of fantasy.

The Coming of Dragons by A.J. Lake, Bloomsbury, 2006, $16.95, ISBN 1-58234-965-7

Green Jasper by K.M. Grant, Bloomsbury, 2006, $16.95, ISBN 0-8027-8073-3

Young adult fantasy seems to be growing in popularity, reflecting what older readers are buying, and unfortunately in large part reflecting the same lack of originality.  Lake's book is the first in a series in which two youngsters encounter an evil dragon, escape, but discover that it is now menacing their people.  Despite the ho-hum plot, the book is actually quite well written, and if you haven't already overdosed on this particular story, you'll find this as engrossing as many adult fantasy novels.  The second title is only marginally fantasy, more properly an historical set after the crusades.  The king of England is missing and a youngster with a possibly magical horse must save the throne from usurpation.  Also well written, but of less interest to fantasy readers.

The Lightstone by David Zindell, Tor, 6/06, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-31129-1

It's been a few years since I last read anything by David Zindell and it's nice to see his name on the spine of a book again, even if it is on the first book in yet another fantasy epic.  An evil force – there's always an evil force – is out to conquer the world, but there is a magical artifact which could give humans the ability to defy their enemies.  The trick is to find it, and that's what a minor prince and his companion set out to do.  Although this is a standard quest adventure story, Zindell writes with a pleasant, fluid style that will likely fool you into believing it's all fresh and new.   And there are plenty of battles, dangers, and escapes to keep the plot moving at a breakneck pace.

The Virtu by Sarah Monette, Ace, 7/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-441-01404-6

In case you haven't read your usual three or four quest novels this week, here's another one for you.  Two unlikely characters team up for this one.  One is a wizard who has lost his power, the other a thief whose health has been affected by a curse.  Their goal is to find a way to restore the power of a magical artifact that formerly protected their city, and which was destroyed by the same evil sorcerer who stole the former's magic.  The story is quite solid despite its predictable plot, evidence that the author is capable of writing a much better novel if she decides to break away from the current fantasy formulas.

Infernal Devices by Philip Reeve, Eos, 5/06, $16.99, ISBN 0-06-082636-3

This is the third volume in a very much above average young adult series, the Hungry City Chronicles.  The setting is a future in which cities have become mobile and travel about the countryside, sort of a cross between James Blish's Cities in Flight and Philip Jose Farmer's The Green Odyssey.  The protagonists of the first two are adults now, but their teenaged daughter Wren lands herself in trouble when she is kidnapped, forcing them to engage in a dangerous rescue mission in which they once again confront their old enemies.  Don't let the young adult label fool you.  This one is for everyone.

Blood and Iron by Elizabeth Bear, Roc, 6/06, $14, ISBN 0-451-46092-8

Although I enjoyed Bear's previous novels, all SF, I found this venture into fantasy less satisfying.  Human magicians and the rules of Faerie have been engaged in a secret war for generations.  One of the Faerie Queen's tactics is to use an ensorcelled woman, the protagonist, to kidnap human children.  She is also tasked with finding Merlins, the generic term for people so adept in magic that they are essentially magical beings themselves.  Eventually she finds herself caught in the middle of a struggle whose meaning is no longer clear to her.  Competently written but I never really felt as though I was inside the head of the main character.

Drops of Corruption by Jason M. Hardy, Roc, 5/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-46083-9

I have skipped most of the recent Shadowrun novels because they all seemed to be using the same plot, but I must have been in a better mood or perhaps this one really does have some interesting twists.  The setting, if you're unfamiliar with the series, is a future America which has seen the reawakening of genuine magic, so that technology and the arcane are intermixed.  Most of the novels, including this one, involve the ongoing battles between and among the various megacorporations and organized crime cartels.  The protagonist is a reasonably complex man, a magician who finds himself working for a criminal organization and decides eventually to sever his ties.  Resignations are not welcome, however, on the brink of a major gang war.  Nothing to get excited about, but a nice, solid adventure.

Kitty Goes to Washington by Carrie Vaughn, Warner, 7/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-446-61642-7

Series set in a world much like our own but with supernatural elements accepted as a matter of course have been proliferating since the Anita Blake books.  This, the second in a series, features a woman who is both a radio talk host and a werewolf.  She's considerably less than happy when her testimony before Congress results in her elevation to celebrity status, with the concomitant loss of privacy.  Her enemies this time include the undead and other werebeings, but possibly the most menacing of them all is a politician with an agenda.  The tension is frequently  relieved by humor including VLAD, the Vampire League Against Discrimination.  Good natured, good fun, good reading.

Hags, Sirens, and Other Bad Girls of Fantasy edited by Denise Little, DAW, 7/06, $7.99, ISBN 0-7564-0369-3

Theme anthologies often seem monotonous if read in one sitting, but sometimes the theme is broad enough to avoid that difficulty.  That's the case with this one, since the uniting theme is simply women who are less than benevolent.  There's quite a variety in these stories, from writers like C.S. Friedman, Rosemary Edghill, Laura Resnick, and Jane Toombs, along with quite a few newcomers to the field.  Edghill's story worked best for me and none of the others really stand out, but I wasn't tempted to skip over any of them.

Inheritance by Steven Savile, Black Library, 2006, $7.99, ISBN 1-84416-291-5

Faith & Fire by James Swallow, Black Library, 2006, $7.99, ISBN 1-84416-289-3

Here are two books set in the Warhammer universe which are so unlike, it's hard to believe they're both inspired by the same game system.  The first opens a three book sequence set in Sylvania, a mythical land whose rulers are actually a powerful family of evil vampires.  Naturally the good people of Sylvania want someone to help free them of the scourge, which will presumably take two more books to accomplish.  The second is a story of interstellar space travel.  A band of female warriors is in charge of a dangerous criminal psychic, but he escapes, and a team is selected to track him down and return him to custody.  In the Warhammer universe, demons intercede in interplanetary wars, so it's difficult to decide whether to call this SF or fantasy.  Both books are competently written, even slightly above average for this line.  I normally prefer their futuristic stories, but I'll give the nod to the vampire story from this pair.

The First Betrayal by Patricia Bray, Bantam, 6/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-553-588767

Although it doesn't say so, I'd venture to guess that this is the opening volume in a new series.  The protagonist is suffering from partial amnesia, but that doesn't stop Josan – who has led a very varied lifestyle – from  stirring from his  quiet lifestyle when a chance encounter with a noblewoman starts a new chain of events  in his life.  He sets out to discover the secrets of his past, and his subsequent adventures, though sometimes predictable, are nevertheless well told.  Bray's first few novels were competently written, but this is the first to suggest she may have the potential to produce more significant work.

Silver Bough by Lisa Tuttle, Bantam,4/06, $22, ISBN 0-553-38297-7

Lisa Tuttle has been writing off beat stories and novels that skirt the borders of horror and fantasy and sometimes even science fiction for some time now.  Her latest is one of her most thoughtful efforts, the story of three very disparate women whose lives are all going to be changed.  They are trapped in a small Scottish town when an earthquake cuts off the only land route, and the isolation will allow an ancient magic to manifest itself.  One of the women is an ambivalent college student searching for family history, another is an ex-patriate working as a librarian, and the third is a local widow.  Their intertangled experiences make up the core of a low key but very impressive novel.

Fall of Knight by Peter David, Ace, 6/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-441-01402-X

Once more Peter David continues the adventures of Arthur Penn, actually King Arthur, who has magically survived into the present along with a number of his companions.  Penn was President of the US earlier, but now he has returned to private life, or at least as private as it can be considering that there's an entire new religion forming around his exploits.   These cultists are particularly interested in the Holy Grail, of course, and they're not waiting around to solve the Da Vince Code and find it.  So Penn compromises and decides to bottle water from the Grail and sell it commercially.  But nothing is ever that easy.  Some clever humor and a light literary touch.

Kushiel's Scion by Jacqueline Carey, Warner, 6/06, $26.95, ISBN 0-446-50002-X

With its fourth volume, this series changes publishers.  Imriel is the child of traitors, but he has the protection of two of the most revered people in the realm, because they recognize that he is innocent of his mother's great evil.  Technically, he is in the line of royal succession, which would have made him enemies even under the best of circumstances, which these are not.  Against that backdrop, Carey has created a believable character, torn by conflicting loyalties and confused about his own role in the world.  Some of that gets clarified when he discovers that old wrongs don't die easily and that his mother's legacy may yet cause him grief.  I found this a bit long for the plot, but it's quite well written, probably her best effort to date.

The Greener Shore by Morgan Llywelyn, Del Rey, 5/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-345-47766-9

This is the sequel to the author's earlier Druids, which I read so long ago that I cannot remember it in any detail.  The basic plot is no surprise.  The incursions by the Romans into the world of the Druids has proven that they are incapable of defending their homeland, so a number of them and their followers go into voluntary exile in search of a new place to live.  The traumatic defeat has caused one of their leaders to doubt the efficacy of his faith, but paradoxically it has strengthened the resolve of his wife, who becomes the dominant force in their new home.  Mostly an historical novel with magical overtones, but a convincing one.

The Warrior Heir by Cinda Williams Chima, Hyperion, 4/06, $16.99, ISBN 0-7868-3916-3

Teenager Jack believes that he is seriously ill, for which reason he takes mysterious medication every day.  But one day he fails to follow through, and instead of getting sick, he begins to feel stronger and better than ever, realizing eventually that the medicine is designed to conceal even from him that he has more than human powers.  Jack is a quasi human being, one of a number living secretly within the human race, but a separate species that uses magic and has a kind of feudal system that involves individual combat and battles to the death as part of their ongoing political feuding.  This is a young adult novel but better written than average, with a mostly familiar contemporary setting and well drawn characters, although I had some trouble finding the Werelind society completely believable.

Undead and Unpopular by MaryJanice Davidson, Berkley, 6/06, $22.95, ISBN 0-425-21029-4

Davidson continues her humorous romantic series about a reluctant modern day vampire queen in this new title, the first to appear in hardcover, I believe.  Betsy has decided to go on the wagon – no more blood -  which promises to have implications on her forthcoming wedding, since she's marrying the king of the vampires.  As usual, there are a number of other undead who don't think Betsy is quite the appropriate choice for their queen, and some of them are willing to go to great lengths to derail the marriage plans.  Unlike most series of vampire romances, this one is genuinely funny, quite original, and very well written.  I still like my vampires evil, but I'm willing to make an exception when they're as engaging as is Betsy Taylor.

Can't Catch Me and Other Twice Told Tales by Michael Cadnum, Tachyon, 2006, $14.95, ISBN 1892391-33-3

Some years back,  Michael Cadnum wrote several literate, intelligent horror novels, but I haven't seen his name for the past ten years, apparently because he switched to young adult fiction and poetry.  This is a collection of eighteen short stories, each of them a retelling of a classic fairy tale, some of them published in young adult markets, some not, and all appropriate for either age group.  Cadnum is not the first to fracture a fairy tale, keep its core story but use it for another purpose entirely, but he does a consistently better job than most others I've read.  Four of the stories are original to this collection, and although they all tend to be rather short, they all have a very sharp bite.  The Cinderella variant is probably my favorite.

The Nymphos of Rocky Flats by Mario Acevedo, Rayo, 2006, $13.95, ISBN 0-06-083326-2

Felix Gomez came back from a tour in Iraq with a little something extra.  He left as a perfectly ordinary man but he came back as a vampire, with the usual powers and vulnerabilities.  Shortly after returning, he is enlisted to investigate a sudden outbreak of nymphomania, which turns out to have a connection to an international espionage ring, meanwhile dodging a pack of vampire hunters who aren't willing to accept the possibility that he might have good intentions, even if he is undead.  A sexy, comic vampire novel, and a notable first novel as well.  A modern day Thorne Smith.

13 Phantasms by James P. Blaylock, Subterranean, 2005, $14, ISBN 1-59606-045-X

As you might expect, this limited edition chapbook of Blaylock's famous story is attractively packaged, number, and signed by the author.  The story itself manages to be sentimental without resorting to treacle.  The protagonist finds cartons of Astounding SF magazine in an attic, responds on a whim to a decades old advertisement, receives an answer, and in due course finds a way to transport himself back to an earlier and – for him at least – more amenable age.  Well illustrated by J.K. Potter and with an introductory essay by Blaylock, this is a handsome treat for readers and collectors alike.

Daughter of the Desert by Noel-Anne Brennan, Ace, 4/06, $7.99, ISBN 0-441-01394-5

Two people on two very different quests find their paths converging in this fantasy novel.  One is a royal prince who is bored by court life and sets out to find adventure in unknown lands, and who gets rather more than he bargained for.  The other is a woman who catches hints of a mysterious secret, and which causes her to set out on a  perilous quest across a desert in search of a city that may or may not be real.  Brennan's third fantasy novel is not exciting original but her characters are appealing and she does a good job in creating her desert world setting.

Winds of the Wild Sea by Jeff Mariotte, Ace, 2006, $6.99, ISBN 0-441-01386-4

The second in Mariotte's series set in the world of Robert E. Howard's Conan steps up the pace.  His hero, Kral, is determined to do whatever he can to free his people of rule by the armies Conan commands.  He is particularly upset when valued artifacts of his people are stolen and a variety of obstacles stand in the way of his recovering them.  But that's what heroes do, although the conclusion of his adventure will have to wait for one more book.  Standard, competently written sword and sorcery adventure.

Troll Mill by Katherine Langlish, Eos, 2006, $15.99, ISBN 0-06-058307-X

Norse fantasy is not really one of my favorite forms, but this young adult author has managed to produce two, this one and its prequel, Troll Fell, which overcame my prejudices.  A young boy became orphaned and survived an abusive uncle and an encounter with trolls in the original.  Now he has a new and happier home, but the trolls aren't done with him yet, and there are also those mysteriously sea people who keep calling to the locals.  A surprisingly moving young adult adventure.

The Four Forges by Jenna Rhodes, DAW, 5/06, $23.95, ISBN 0-7564-0274-3

This is apparently the latest incarnation of R.A.V. Salsitz, who has written fantasy under a variety of names including Emily Drake and Rhondi Vilott.  It's also the first in the Elven Ways series, and that sent warning signals up right away.  Despite my trepidation, the novel was actually quite readable, set in a typical fantasy realm recovering from a series of devastating magical wars.  Naturally a fresh round of violence is starting up, which we see from a variety of viewpoints.  Competent but predictable, and maybe predictable is what fantasy readers want nowadays.

Mystic Empire by Tracy & Laura Hickman, Warner, 4/06, $25.95, ISBN 0-446-53107-3

Volume three in the Bronze Canticles is a quest story.  The characters in the previous volumes are now all dead and the nation they founded is well established but facing a new round of problems.  Factionalism, personal ambitions, and old animosities are all degrading the integrity of the government and threatening chaos.  A group of concerned citizens decides that it is necessary to track down the last living descendant of the original leader of their people, but where can he be found?  And as if they didn't already have enough problems on their plate, the border between realities is deteriorating as well, threatening to set loose a horde of monsters.  I liked this more than most, and definitely more than the first two in the series. 

Firebird by R. Garcia y Robertson, Tor, 5/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-31356-1

This isn't the first fantasy novel I've read based on the legend of the Firebird, but it's the best.  A young girl lives in the haunted woodlands of Eastern Europe, orphaned and uncertain of her future until her life is changed by the arrival of a knight, a man determined to protect the egg of the fabled firebird from his enemies, whether they be mortal or not.  The two find themselves thrown together on their mystical quest, and survive a series of rousing, exciting, and inventive adventures.  I sometimes find this author's work to be rather slow moving, but that's not the case this time.

Thunderbird Falls by C.E. Murphy, Luna, 5/06, $14.95, ISBN 0-373-80235-8

Rhiana by Michelle Hauf, Luna, 5/06, $13.95, ISBN 0-373-80234-X

Luna is the imprint for fantasy novels from this romance publisher, and I'd have to say they've assembled a pretty good line with a nice balance of fantasy writers trying romance and romance writers trying fantasy.  These are, presumably, two of the latter.  Murphy is new to me even though this is a sequel to an earlier book, Urban Shaman, which I'll be looking for.  Her protagonist is a female police officer who also has magical powers, and who this time finds herself pitted against some demons who have decided to invade Seattle.  Quite thoroughly enjoyable even for non-romance readers.  This is the third book I've read by Hauf, who has to date used a more mainstream fantasy setting, a magical world of her own creation.  The young female protagonist of this one also has magical talents, but when dragons menace the people of her community, the local lord prohibits her from using them.  A reasonably well constructed romance and adventure follows before the mystery is solved, but while the book is well written otherwise, it just never really drew me into the story.

Children of Magic edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Kerrie Hughes, DAW, 6/06, $7.99, ISBN 0-7564-0361-8

Novel Ideas: Fantasy edited by Brian M. Thomsen, DAW, 3/06, $7.50, ISBN 0-7564-0309-X

Although most contemporary fantasy has been novel length, there is an increasing number of short story collections in that genre as well.  These two demonstrate different aspects of short fantasy fiction.  The first one is all original and has a general theme, one in which a magic practitioner has to deal with the expected animosity of those who fear, distrust, or are jealous of their powers.  The contributors include Alan Dean Foster, Sarah Hoyt, Jean Rabe, Louise Marley, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, and others.  The stories are solid and worthwhile but none of them really stand out.  The second collection is all reprints, reprints of stories which were later expanded into novels.  There's the first of Gordon R. Dickson's were-dragon tales, a superior vampire story by Suzy McKee Charnas, and the original version of Katherine Kurtz's St. Patrick's Gargoyle, Robert Silverberg's To the Land of the Living, and several others.  In a couple of cases, the short version is actually better than the expanded one.

Rival's Son by Simon Brown, DAW, 3/06, $7.50, ISBN 0-7564-0338-3

The fantasy version of nuclear overkill takes place in the second volume of the Chronicles of Kydan.  The Empress was so determined to defeat the enemies of her people that she unleashed powerful magic that she didn't completely understand.  Although she accomplished her main purpose, she has altered the nature of magic forever.  Where once it was a rare commodity available only to the royal family, now it is accessible to others, and the potential for harm is immense.  There are some interesting twists in this one despite the familiar setting.

Resurrection by Paul S. Kemp, Wizards of the Coast, 2/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-7869-3981-7

Realms of the Elves edited by Philip Athans, Wizards of the Coast, 2/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-7869-3980-0

I rarely see titles from this publisher unless I sift through their dedicated section in the local bookstores and find unfamiliar additions.  Most of their books are produced by a group of authors who work almost exclusively for the one publisher, interspersed with occasional outsiders or writers who have moved on to other imprints.  The first of these is set in a series conceived by R.A. Salvatore, who has grown beyond his roots here.  Despite a few rough spots, it's a pretty good sword and sorcery adventure involving the quest by two different parties to find the Spider Queen, each for different purposes.  The second title is a collection set in the same world, and includes stories by Ed Greenwood, R.A. Salvatore, Richard Lee Byers, and others, several of whom are known outside the Wizards bookline.  Many of the stories are more smoothly written than the Kemp novel, but the plots themselves are less interesting.  I find that sword and sorcery rarely works for me at less than novella length, and these were not exceptions.

Touch the Dark by Karen Chance, Roc, 6/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-46093-6

I've pretty much abandoned hope that vampires will be restored to their traditional position in literature, repulsive, deadly, evil creatures.  Nowadays they have become romantic images or tormented souls or merely misunderstood.  There's a little of both kinds in this first novel, somewhat reminiscent of Laurell Hamilton, with a woman who can speak to the dead caught between various vampire powers, some quite nasty, others more sociable and socially acceptable.  Chance turns out a pretty good dark fantasy, and I'd be very surprised if there wasn't at least one sequel in the workds.

Moon of the Spider by Richard A. Knaak, Pocket Star, 1/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-7132-6

Cycle of Hatred by Keith R.A. DeCandido, Pocket Star, 1/06, $7.99, ISBN 0-7434-7136-9

Fantasy novels based on computer games have been a steady if not spectacular part of the fantasy market for some time now.  These two are based on a pair of major game sequences, the first from Diablo and the second from Warcraft.  Knaak, who is one of the more consistently satisfactory writers of sword and sorcery adventure, keeps much of the feel of the game in this story of an ancient tomb which is the repository for great magical power, but also a deadly supernatural menace.  An ambitious man searches for its secrets while another is equally determined to prevent him from releasing a new menace into the world.  DeCandido has a tougher job keeping to the flavor of the original because the game itself is pretty generic fantasy.  He provides a fast paced story of the uneasy peace between humans and orcs, each side prodded toward violence by someone with a private agenda. 

The Magical Worlds of Philip Pullman by David Colbert, Berkley, 2006, $14, ISBN 0-425-20790-0

Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy is rich in mythological reference and levels of meaning, so a book explaining all of this is quite welcome.  This one comes with an endorsement from Pullman himself, so we can assume that Colbert got it right.  The physical layout of the book is sometimes distracting – using varying column lengths and a kind of modified sidebar arrangement – but the text itself is enlightening and smoothly written.  Odds are you'll discover more than a few things you missed when you read the originals.

The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier, Pantheon, 2006, $22.95, ISBN 0-375-42369-9

I believe this is the author's fifth novel but first fantasy, and it's an impressive one, avoiding genre clichés and presenting a thoroughly original situation and story.  Two stories actually.  The first involves a female scientist temporarily stranded at an Antarctic research station by bad weather.  The second is set in an afterlife, but not any one particularly recognizable.  It's a kind of distorted mirror of our own reality, with newspapers, love affairs, wealth and poverty.  Eventually the two separate story lines converge, of course, and the results are not what you might expect.  Excellent prose styling and well drawn characters further distinguish this from other contemporary fantasy.

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie, Gollancz, 5/06, £16.99, ISBN 0-575-07785-9

Yet another fantasy writer debuts with the first volume in a series, this one known as the First Law.  There's a pronounced tone of cynicism in this one, which gives it a bit of a different feel, although it is otherwise pretty much from the same mold as all the other similar novels.  There's an invasion force building outside the borders, the citizens are increasingly rebellious, and the investigation of a magician who may or may not be a crook is quickly submerged in the larger net of plots and subplots.  The author shows considerable talent, but the material offers little novelty.

Harald by David D. Friedman, Baen, 4/06, $24, ISBN 1-4165-2056-2

David Friedman, well known in the Society for Creative Anachronisms, puts his expertise on medieval societies to use in this, his first fantasy novel.  Harald Haraldsson is the leader of the military forces of a small realm which is unfortunate in its closeness to a larger and more aggressive empire.  Although they have managed to repel invaders in the past, they discover that their neighbors don't learn by experience and are preparing yet another war.  What follows is, generally speaking, a fairly predictable battle of wits and arms, but Friedman manages to provide some fresh life by keeping things moving quickly and occasionally with clever turns. More military than fantasy, and more interesting as a mental exercise than as a work of fiction.

Wolf Who Rules by Wen Spencer, Baen, 4/06, $25, ISBN 1-4165-2055-4

Tinker is back for a new adventure.  Her prowling ground is Pittsburgh, but not the one whose team just won the Superbowl.  This Pittsburgh is adjacent to a magical realm whose secrets are hidden from the city dwellers.  Spencer does urban fantasy as well as most and Tinker is an appealing character, though despite the blurbs, she is no rival to Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  She and her friend Pony do have some interesting adventures though, and you won't waste your time making their acquaintance.

The Crooked Letter by Sean Williams, Pyr, 4/06, $25, ISBN 1-59102-438-2

Sean Williams is a name I normally associate with space opera, but this one, previously published in Australia in 2004, is a fantasy.  While traveling in Europe, one of a pair of twins is killed, but death doesn't separate them entirely.  Even though one has moved on to a kind of afterlife, the brothers are still in contact with each other.  They have discovered a truth hidden from the rest of humanity, that there are three different planes of existence, but the distinctions among them are not as clearcut as they appear.  A nice change of pace for the author and an unusual setting and plot that are mutually interesting.

Thraxas at War by Martin Scott, Baen, 2006, $24, ISBN 1-4165-2050-3

If I haven't lost count, this is the seventh book length adventure of Thraxas, a series which mixes traditional sword and sorcery adventure themes with light humor.  In this one, the orcs have begun to reorganize following their last defeat, coalescing around an effective new leader who plans to lead them against a city that stands against them.  Thraxas, a kind of magical private detective, finds himself right in the middle of things. Amusing at times but nothing out of the ordinary.  Previously published in the UK in 2003.

The Sword of Straw by Amanda Hemingway, Del Rey, 3/06, $12.95, ISBN 0-345-46080-4

This is volume two in the Sangreal trilogy, another attempt to mine the same vein of ore that J.K. Rowling uncovered.  Nathan is a teenager with a unique ability to visit other realities, transported to them physically through the act of dreaming.  His second adventure finds him in a typical fantasy world where the royal family is afflicted by a cursed sword.  The magic of the sword is demonic and anyone who wields the sword is in danger of losing his soul to it.  Nathan takes the risk and, naturally, saves the day, as well as making friends with the princess.  Smartly told but still just another retelling of a much too familiar story.

Under Camelot's Banner by Sarah Zettel, Luna, 4/06, $13.95, ISBN 0-373-80231-5

The third in Zettel's series of romances set in or on the fringes of Camelot is easily the best of the set.  In a neighboring kingdom, there is treachery afoot, and the older system of Lynet Carnbear is taken as a hostage.  The only way to secure her release is by bringing home the only surviving member of the royal family, Guinevere, who  unfortunately is very busy sitting alongside King Arthur in Camelot.  So Lynet is off to court to see if she can convince the queen to help her, finds romance along the way, and I'll bet you can guess whether or not she succeeds in her quest.  Lightweight, but very entertaining light fantasy and the romantic elements are not overwhelming as they are in some similar novels.

The Complete Chronicles of Conan by Robert E. Howard, Gollancz, 1/06, £18.99, ISBN 0-575-07766-2

I'm surprised no one has thought to do this before, assemble a complete collection of all of the Conan stories written by Howard, though not the posthumous collaborations.  Nearly 900 pages long, it also includes drafts and fragments and poetry, plus some commentary, and very nice full color illustrations by Les Edwards.  The best part is the fiction itself, including such classic tales as "The Tower of the Elephant", "The Hour of the Dragon", and "Black Colossus".  Even after all these years, Howard is still the standard against which all sword and sorcery fiction must be measured, and almost invariably found wanting.

The Clan Corporate by Charles Stross, Tor, 5/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30930-0

The third adventure of the Merchant Princes finds Miriam in more trouble than ever.  She rebelled at the idea of becoming a baby machine to provide her family with more members capable of moving from one parallel world to another, and has taken refuge in another reality.  Not content to remain in hiding, she takes risk and is eventually on the run again.  I thought this one was going to wind up the series, but based on the ending, we'll be seeing more of Miriam, presumably soon.  I'm fond of the parallel world device, when it's done well, and Stross has yet to fail at anything he has attempted. 

Ptolemy's Gate by Jonathan Stroud, Hyperion, 2006, $17.95, ISBN 0-7868-1861-1

Seeker by William Nicholson, Harcourt, 5/06, $17.00, ISBN 0-15-205768-4

Both of these are conventional fantasy adventures, aimed at teen readers.  Stroud's is the third and final book in the impressive Bartimaeus Trilogy, set in an alternate London where the government relies in part on the use of Djinn to defend the country.  A series of mishaps and entanglements abroad and at home have put quite a strain on the system, and the Djinn, Bartimaeus, has been pushed to his limits.  A teenager realizes the truth, but will anyone accept the need for restraint before it's too late?  Quite sophisticated storytelling and more maturity than in most similar books aimed at this audience.  The Nicholson book launches another series, the Noble Warriors, which takes place in a typical fantasy realm.  Three young people, one of them a semi-reformed thief, decide to join the ranks of the Noble Warriors, who are the main defense of the people of Anacrea.  But the warriors are about to be put to a crucial test because their enemies have grown powerful and clever.  Well written but a bit overly familiar for my taste.

The Empire of Ice Cream by Jeffrey Ford, Golden Gryphon, 4/06, $24.95, ISBN 1-930846-39-8

Jeffrey Ford has consistently been one of the most interesting fantasy writers of the past few years, partly because he is so adept at pulling the reader into his imaginary worlds, but also in large part due to his consistently original subject matter.  This is a collection of fourteen recent stories, about half of which I hadn't encountered before, but not because they weren't worth reading.  The best is the title story, which won the Nebula, but several of the others are of nearly comparable quality, particularly "The Green Word", "Jupiter's Skull", and "The Trentino Kid".  One of the stories is original to the collection.  If you haven't read Ford before, or if you think fantasy is all pretty much alike, you owe it to yourself to give him a try.

Proven Guilty by Jim Butcher, Roc, 3/06, $23.95, ISBN 0-451-46085-5

Harry Dresden, a wizard of Chicago, is back for his eighth adventure.  As fans of the series will know, Dresden prefers not to associate himself with the other wizards in the Windy City, but now that they have suffered losses due to their conflict with the vampires, they prevail upon him to take up some of the slack.  His efforts to look into the possibility that there is a new evil threat in the city are hampered by the appearance of a young girl who wants him to help her boyfriend, who has police trouble, but who seems to have extraordinary powers of her own as well.  An assured blend of fantasy and contemporary settings and a nice chance to visit again with old friends, but it might be nice if Butcher varied his formula a bit.

The Vampire's Curse by Dan Greenburg, Harcourt, 3/06, $11.95, ISBN 0-15-205469-3

Fall of the House of Mandible by Dan Greenburg, Harcourt, 6/06, $11.95, ISBN 0-15-205475-8

This series for younger readers continues its mix of humor and the gruesome.  The twins' father has returned after a long absence, but he's a zombie, so they set off to find a magician who might be able to bring him back to life.  Sounds like a bad idea to me, and of course it is.  The restoration works, but only partly.  He's not a zombie anymore.  He's a vampire.  And then things start to get worse.  The second title continues the story, with their father still sucking blood.  When one of the twins is kidnapped, it's necessary to rescue her, but as always, what gets planned and what actually happens bear little resemblance to each other.  Younger readers might not like this series, but I certainly do.  The humor is dark and effective and the story actually becomes engrossing despite the farcical elements. 

Karavans by Jennifer Roberson, DAW, 4/06, $$25.95, ISBN 0-7564-0172-0

It has been far too long since the last novel by Jennifer  Roberson, but she makes up for some of that by providing one of the more interesting new fantasies, and one with a darker tone than her previous work.  Sancorra has been conquered by its enemies, who seem to almost randomly strike at settled regions, forcing the local inhabitants to flee, as part of their method of suppressing rebellious thoughts.  Some of these refugees join a caravan, or karavan, but their quest for a new home is complicated by another enemy, a magical forest which is home to demons and which moves of its own volition.  A very strong plot and lots of action, but not at the expense of carefully rendered characters.

Bridge of Dreams by Chaz Brenchley, Ace, 5/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-441-01324-4

I enjoyed the Outremer series by Brenchley a while back, so I was happy to see this new one, which at times reminded me a bit of Clark Ashton Smith.  The city of Sund lost its independence because its enemies feared that it would be able to develop a magical defense system that would make it impregnable.  For years magic has been forbidden within the city, but now a few young people are beginning to develop talents of their own, and they realize that only by nurturing them can their people ever again be free.  Lots of nice background color though occasionally a bit slow. 

It's Only Temporary by Eric Shapiro, Permuted Press, 2005, $8.99, ISBN 0-9765559-3-X

This novella is from an imprint new to me and has an ambitious goal, to portray the psychological and physical collapse of society when Earth discovers it is on the brink of unavoidable destruction.  At times it seems right on, but unfortunately the writing really isn't adequate to the task.  The dialogue doesn't ring true and some of the encounters just don't ring true.  Larry Niven did it so well in "Inconstant Moon" that surpassing it seems an impossible task.

Fell Cargo by Dan Abnett, Black Library, 2006, $7.99, ISBN 1-84416-301-6

Although this is a Warhammer novel, it sometimes resembles Pirates of the Caribbean.  A good pirate captain and his crew embark on the search for a rival ship whose crew are all zombies, compelled to do so in order to escape a similar fate.  In the process, they encounter and overcome a number of other dangers including sea monsters.  Abnett has written more ambitious novels than this, but I don't remember any others that were as much fun to read.  Maybe it's because I like pirates.

Whisper of Waves by Philip Athans, Wizards of the Coast, 2005, $6.99, ISBN 0-7869-3837-4

Sanctuary by Paul B. Thompson and Tonya C. Cook, Wizards of the Coast, 2005, $6.99, ISBN 0-7869-3817-X

The Orb of Xoriat by Edward Bolme, Wizards of the Coast, 2005, $6.99, ISBN 0-7869-3819-6

Time for another sampling of some of the ongoing, game related series from Wizards of the Coast.  First up is the Forgotten Realms, with Philip Athans describing the careers of three very ambitious characters from very different backgrounds, artisan, politician, and sorcerer, and how their lives are transformed and interconnected.  Somewhat more ambitious than most other novels in this setting, and generally successfully done.  Thompson and Cook have done quite a few Dragonlance novels, and their newest is as smoothly written as ever, but I think I've overdosed on this particular story line, in which displaced elves attempt to carve out a new homeland for themselves.  A trifle too lightweight for my taste.  Finally we have the newer Eberron series, with a nice potboiler about a magical portal opening between worlds and menacing the peaceful one with evil intruders from the other.  Not badly done, but again a shade too familiar to really make a lasting impression.

Shadow Touch by Marjorie M. Liu, Love Spell, 1/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-505-52630-1

Mixing magic and murder mystery is a delicate job because the temptation to cheat and have magical solutions can turn a good book into a bad one.  New writer Liu manages to stay on the right side of balancing act with this one, in which a seasoned detective teams up with a woman who has magical healing powers on his latest case.  Several characters have paranormal powers, in fact, including shapeshifting and telepathy.  This is a romance novel, so you won't be surprised when the feelings between the two main characters turn in that direction, but those elements are handled without slipping into the excesses that intrude into many novels in that genre.

Ghost of the Wall by Jeff Mariotte, Ace, 2/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-441-01379-1

Here's volume one in another subset of Ace's new Age of Conan series, sword and sorcery adventures set in the world of Robert  E. Howard's Conan.  This subset is called Marauders and opens with treachery among the barbarians.  A young warrior and the daughter of a visiting king join forces when a cowardly attack leaves a tribe without its treasured artifacts, which provide the objects for the quest to come.  Mariotte has written several Angel tie-in novels in the past, so this is quite a change of pace for him.  Pretty well done but relatively predictable.

Obliteration by Robert Asprin and Eric Del Carlo, Ace, 1/06, $7.99, ISBN 0-441-01347-3

The second in the Wartorn fantasy series has Raven, the perky young wizard, returning in a new body following the unfortunate demise of her old one.  Now she's in the body of a courtesan, a neat way to continue her mission to affect the outcome in the battle between the invading Felk and those who desire to resist their rule.  I'm always taken by surprise when an Asprin novel turns out to be serious rather than funny, but he and his collaborator have put together an entertaining world and populated it with larger than life characters. 

Ardneh's Sword by Fred Saberhagen, Tor, 5.06, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-31210-7

After a lengthy absence, Saberhagen returns to his Empire of the East series, jumping forward into the next millennium.  The old war has been over so long that most people believe that the legends are just stories and that they never really happened.  Chance Rolfson is a young man who believes otherwise, because his dreams are troubled by visions that not only validate the old stories but imply that a new time of crisis is at hand.  His uncertainties about all this drive him to join an expedition that is searching for archaeological evidence of the days of legend, and Chance believes that his visions may hold the key to finding  a hidden storehouse of ancient technology that could prove to be of more than intellectual interest.  You can read this as either SF or fantasy, but you should enjoy it regardless of the label.

Heir of Autumn by Giles Carwyn and Todd Fahnestock, Eos, 2/06, $25.95, ISBN 0-06-082975-9

Two new names combine for this, presumably the first of another fantasy series.  Ohndarien is the only outpost of freedom in a typical primitive fantasy world, but it's future is cast into doubt when one of the people mystically endowed with the role of leader is framed for a crime he didn't commit.  With their confidence undermined, the people of Ohndarien fall prey to their enemies, but the unjustly accused man has escaped capture and now – with the assistance of the usual assorted group of unlikely characters – is about to take action to clear his name, restore the authority of his office, and bring peace and prosperity back to the populace.  It's not at all badly written, but it's more of the same and there seems to have been a particularly large crop of quasi-medieval fantasies this past month or two.

Crown of Stars by Kate Elliott, DAW, 2/06, $25.50, ISBN 0-7564-0326-X

Kate Elliott has been working on her Crown of Stars series for a good many years, but she finally brings it to a close, at least for now, with this volume.  In the previous title, the world was devastated by a mystical catastrophe, but things are settling down now and it looks like the survivors may be able to build a new and better world.  But there wouldn't be much plot if it was going to be that easy.  Although the protagonist has assumed his rightful place on the throne, there are, predictably, interests who would prefer to see a different ruler, or perhaps no ruler at all.  Elliott does this sort of thing with what appears to be remarkable ease, juggling large numbers of characters and diverging plot lines at times, bringing everything back together when she's ready.  The climax is conclusive, but not so conclusive that there couldn't be another sequence of books if she decides to return to this setting.

The Fortress of Glass by David Drake, Tor, 4/06, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-31259-X

Here's the opening volume of the Crown of the Isles, which is itself a continuation of the Lord of the Isles series, recently concluded.  Garric has assumed the high throne, but it is not clear that all of the individual islands in the world will acknowledge his rule.  To press the issue, he sends friends and family members on state visits to secure the allegiance of the noble class, but some of the lesser kings are determined to resist, even if that means using force of arms to protect their own prerogatives.  As war threatens to break out in several places, the world's magicians discover that magic has become more potent and hence more dangerous, that they can perform wonders that used to be impossible.  And to add to the mix, there is one enigmatic power who may pose more of a threat than all the rebels combined.  Good, standard sword and sorcery adventure, with more sorcery than usual.

The Well of Tears by Cecilia Dart-Thornton, Tor, 2/06, $27.95, ISBN 0-765-31206-9

Book two of the Crowthistle Chronicles tells the story of Jewel, a pampered young woman whose life changes when her parents are killed and she is set adrift in the world, troubled by the knowledge that she is a descendant of a powerful sorcerer whose very name stands for evil.  That legacy means that she has a subtle magical power of her own, and for that reason the king is determined to find her and turn that power to his personal use.  While in hiding, she falls in love with a young man who joins her on her quest to find freedom and happiness and escape the family  curse.  I have not seen it but the book will apparently be accompanied by a preview disk to a fantasy role playing computer game based on the author's created world.

Full Moon Rising by Keri Arthur, Bantam, 1/06, $15, ISBN 0-553-80458-8

Australian writer Arthur debuts in this country with another novel in the Anita Blake mold, set in an Australia where vampires and werewolves are acknowledged as citizens, although there are special laws in place to protect ordinary humans from their depredations.  The two protagonists, brother and sister, are rare hybrids of the two supernatural species, both of whom work for the government.  When her brother goes missing while on a dangerous assignment, the female sibling sets out to rescue him, despite certain peculiarities of her own condition.  The novel is a nice blend of supernatural mystery and fantastic romance, and I wouldn't be surprised at all to discover that this is just the first of a series of novels.

Widdershins by Charles De  Lint, Tor, 5/06,  $27.95, ISBN 0-765-31285-9

Charles De Lint has made his fictional town of Newford into a template for some of his best fiction, both novel length and short stories.  This latest also brings back one of  his more popular characters, Jilly Coppercorn, for another adventure in the places where our world overlaps with another filled with magic and fairies and dangers quite different than the ones the rest of us face.  This time she's caught between two different cultures and she and one of her friends are severely tested before winning through.  The story has an undercurrent of good feeling that cuts through even the most unpleasant events, but even though the reader is likely to understand throughout that everything will come out all right in the end, it isn't likely to interfere with the thoroughly enjoying journey that takes us there.

Elemental edited by Steven Savile and Alethea Kontis, Tor, 5/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-31562-9

This is the latest charity driven anthology, the profits of which are to be donated to relief efforts for the tsunami of 2004.  There are twenty two original stories and some non-fiction, among half SF and half a mix of fantasy and some mild horror.  The contributors make an impressive list with Larry Niven, Jacqueline Carey, David Gerrold, Esther Friesner, Brian Aldiss, Joe Haldeman, and several others, including a new Dune short story by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson.  Some of the better contributions come from Sharon Shinn, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, and Tim Lebbon.  There is no common theme or subject matter and the tone ranges from suspenseful to humorous.  I still prefer general anthologies like this to those gathered around a single theme, finding them more readable even when the quality isn't as good as it is in this particular case. 

Dusk by Tim Lebbon, Bantam, 1/06, $12.00, ISBN 0-553-38364-7

Tim Lebbon has been, until now anyway, known chiefly for his innovative and moody horror fiction.  This new title, on the other hand, is an heroic fantasy, in much the same fashion as most other writers in the genre, although with a darker and sometimes more literary twist.  The setting is a fractured, primitive world from which magic has been missing for hundreds of years.  The Mages have fled to another reality but like Cthulhu and his minions, they are biding their time, hoping for a return.  When Rafe Baburn is born, they realize that their time may be at hand, because Rafe is the conduit through which the supernatural may return and their powers may be restored.  There's no indication on the copy I received, but I imagine this is just the first of several books in the series.  It doesn't present anything you won't find elsewhere in high fantasy, but it's more intelligently and entertainingly presented than in most of the competition.

Resenting the Hero by Moira J. Moore, Ace, 3/06, $7.50, ISBN 0-441-01388-0

Since romance publishers have been releasing a lot of fantasy novels, it's only fair that fantasy publishers produce a few romances.  Moira Moore's first novel falls into both categories, and is sufficient diverse to entertain both groups of fans.  In her fantasy world, one traditional form of protection is to bond two people together, known as Source and Shield, one male and one female, who together are supposed to be stronger than they would be separately.  The young female protagonist has recently received her partner, but she is dismayed by his personality.  Although he's brave enough and certainly good looking, he lacks seriousness and has a propensity for bawdiness and bragging that she finds reprehensible.  But when a crisis arises, she discovers there is more to him than there seems.  Lightweight but alternately amusing and exciting.

Nightlife by Rob Thurman, Roc, 3/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-46075-8

Moon Called by Patricia Briggs, Ace, 2/06, $7.99, ISBN 0-441-01381-3

The success of the Anita Blake books inevitably led to imitations, some good and some not so good.  Neither of these is a direct imitation – and for that matter the Blake books were not entirely unique either – but both play a variation of that same theme.  Thurman's is a first novel, set in an alternate New York City in which a troll lives under the Brooklyn Bridge and various other creatures of legend, some of them pretty scary,  abide elsewhere in the city.  Two brothers who were sired by a more than human and rather villainous character have been hiding from their father for some time, but he continues to pursue them because he has a sinister use for one of his sons.  Thurman's novel bears a strong resemblance at times to Simon R. Green's Nightside series and is quite well done on the whole.  Patricia Briggs has been around for a while, and has produced several creditable traditional fantasy novels.  This new title, which I'm pretty sure is the first in a new series, is set in the contemporary world, and is the best I've read by her.  Mercedes Thompson works as a mechanic but she has a secret life.  Not only are her neighbors and clients likely to be werewolves or vampires, but she is herself a shapechanger, and a dangerous one when aroused.  When she hires a new employee, a werewolf who seems to have grown up in ignorance of the wider shapeshifting community, she makes a lot of new enemies.  Fortunately, she's not one to run away from a fight.  Lighter in tone than the Thurman, and more assuredly written.

Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth by Simon R. Green, Ace, 3/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-441-01387-2

Simon Green returns to the Nightside for his latest.  Detective John Taylor discovered a while back that his missing mother has somewhat more than human powers, and that she is not exactly allied with the forces of good.  In fact, she now presents a danger not only to the magical world of Nightside, a hidden part of London, but to the outside world as well.  Green's Nightside seems like a genuine place, unlike the creation of similar fantasy writers who superimpose magic on a portion of our own world.  The later books in this series have seemed a bit darker than the earlier ones and I don't feel the same sense of cheerful excitement than I did at the start, but I'm still entertained by each subsequent book.

Doppelganger by Marie Brennan, Warner, 4/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-446-61698-2

For her first novel, Marie Brennan has created an interesting fantasy world variation.  In her creation, anyone born with the power to perform witchcraft is also born with a doppelganger, an exact double without magic somewhere else in the world.  In order to become master of her power, a witch must kill her duplicate, and in this case Miryo is determined to hunt down Mirage and do exactly that.  The back story becomes somewhere unnecessarily complex at times, requiring a nine page glossary that I had to consult a time or two to keep things straight, but the prose was slick and entertaining and avoided a lot of the clichés I thought I saw coming.

The Thirteenth House by Sharon Shinn, Ace, 3/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-441-01368-6

The second novel of the Twelve Houses has Kirra, a young woman who can change her appearance, discovering that her sister has become heir presumptive to the throne of their homeland.  When the sister announces her reluctance to travel, even on state business, Kirra adopts her appearance and fills in, but what was supposed to be a casual impersonation actually leads to a series of adventures and eventually a torrid affair with King Romar, behind the back of his queen.  Plots and counterplots, revelations and secrets, romance and high adventure

Freeglader by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell, David Fickling, 2006,  $12.95, ISBN 0-385-75082-X

This is the seventh volume in the Edge Chronicles, a series for young adults originally published in England.  Each volume has numerous black and white illustrations, although I think the ones in this title are the best I've seen so far.  The story involves the aftermath of the destruction of a community formerly shared by a variety of peoples.  They collectively decide that they need to move to a new land and re-establish themselves, but that requires a dangerous migration and a strong leader.  Rook Barkwater, a librarian knight, is chosen for the latter role.  Hindering their efforts are the legions of goblins, their relentless enemies, as well as the difficulties inherent in the Free Glades.  A clever story and better written than many adult fantasies.

Dragon's Tongue by Laura J. Underwood, Meisha Merlin, 4/06, $29.95, ISBN 1-59222-027-4

Bards have a tendency to find themselves in the middle of things in modern fantasy, probably because they provide an outsider as viewpoint character.  That's the case with this, the first in a series about a bard who hopes to learn magic, but who falls into a trap when he attracts the attention of an evil and ambitious sorcerer.  The bard is soon in predictable trouble, unjustly accused of smuggling a demon into a secured city and threatened with prison.  Escaping doesn't improve matters, because he's almost immediately captured by the sorcerer, who has a new and even more dangerous reason for desiring the bard's assistance.  Better than average light fantasy adventure with a more likable than usual protagonist.

Hammer of the Earth by Susan Krinard, Luna, 2/06, $13.95, ISBN 0-373-80224-2

Sorceress of Faith by Robin D. Owens, Luna, 2/06, $13.95, ISBN 0-373-80221-8

Shadows of Prophecy by Rachel Lee, Luna, 1/06, $13.95, ISBN 0-373-80219-6

The titles above are all from the fantasy romance imprint of Harlequin books, and all three are the second volumes in ongoing series.  Susan Krinard is the best of the three, with this follow up to Shield of the Sky.  A woman with a shapeshifting panther as her companion leads the resistance against two associated forces, an evil empire of humans and an incarnate god with evil motives.   Robin Owens is as good a writer but I didn't find this sequel to Guardians of Honor as interesting as its predecessor, probably because it repeated much of the same ground.  Marian Harata is a graduate student in our world who is drawn into an alternate reality where her help is enlisted in battling a magical evil force.  Rachel Lee writes competently enough, but her follow up to Shadows of Myth just never came alive for me.  Several characters from the first book travel to a neighboring land to combat a new threat.  It's nice to see that romance publishers are beginning to publish serious fantasy rather than romances with a mildly  fantastic overlay.

Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox, Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 3/06, $19.00, ISBN 0-374-31853-0

This is the first half of a two part novel which singly or in combination was previously published as The Rainbow Opera, probably in New Zealand.  The setting is another world with some resemblance to our own, but which has access to another plane of existence where dreams are concrete objects which can be put to use by explorers with the talent to harness them.  A teenaged girl becomes involved with mysterious events related to the dream world because her father is a professional dream hunter with the ability to manifest dreams as tangible objects.  Although this novel is targeted for young adults, it is sufficiently well written and original to be of interest to more experienced readers as well.

K-Machines by Damien Broderick, Thunder's Mouth Press, 4/06, $14.95, ISBN 1-56025-805-5

The sequel to Godplayers takes our hero on another trip through alternate realities, in some of which the gods  themselves take a hand.  In the opener, we were introduced to the protagonist, Seebeck, who discovers that he is part of a family that extends through worlds and that they are all involved in a competition that encompasses both science and magic.  Broderick reveals the next layer of truth about what is going on, both to the reader and to the main character.  Similar novels sometimes err in making the rules so uncertain that the reader feels as though the rug is going to be pulled out from underfoot at any moment, but  Broderick manages to keep things under control and doesn't throw the reader out of the story.

A Host of Dragons by Alan F. Troop, Roc, 1/06, $7.99, ISBN 0-451-46061-8

The fourth chronicle of the DelaSangre family may have brought the sequence to a close.  Peter DelaSangre conceals a secret; he is a weredragon, a trait which has been carried by his family for generations.  Although he has avoided discovery for many years, there are signs that someone has penetrated his defenses.  A mysterious corporation seems intent on wiping out his personal fortune, his private papers have been gone through illegally, and his daughter has been kidnapped.  His estrangement from his wife continues as well, and it appears that fate has conspired to finally bring the family history to an end.

His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik, Del Rey, 4/06, $7.50, ISBN 0-345-48128-3

Temeraire by Naomi Novik, Harper UK, 1/06, £12.99, ISBN 0-00-721909-1

Both titles above refer to the same book, a first novel and the first in a projected series.  The premise is that during the Napoleonic wars, an English sea captain captures a French ship and finds a viable dragon's egg.  When the dragon hatches and bonds with the protagonist, its ability to fly provides the English with a new and interesting alternative weapon for the conflict.  The plot develops quickly at first, then begins to slow, probably in anticipation of future volumes in the series.  Novik has a good feel for language and her characters and the premise is sufficiently different to set it apart from most other recent fantasy.  Should be a very popular series.

The Shining City by Kate Forsyth, Roc, 4/06, $7.99, ISBN 0-451-46080-4

Forsyth continues the story that began in Rhiannon's Ride last year, with Rhiannon now becoming a prisoner, accused of murder and treason, tormented by the angry spirit of a dead queen.  The plot develops as her lover, Lewen, falls under the influence of dark magic and a prophetess, Olwynne, begins to understand the visions she has been experiencing.  Although the plot is laid out quite well, I thought this volume was far too long for its subject matter.  Nor did I find the characters interesting enough that I wanted to spend that much time with them when nothing was actively happening.  The opening volume was much better and hopefully the pace will pick up for the next in the series.

Cartomancy by Michael A. Stackpole, Bantam Spectra, 2/06, $15.00, ISBN 0-553-38238-1

Stackpole brings back his mapmaking heroes from A Secret Atlas in this new adventure, sending them separately into a variety of worlds as they seek the help of ancient heroes to protect their home reality from invasion.  Stackpole has been chiefly noted in the past for his fast paced plots, and that talent is in evidence here, but this series has also demonstrated  his developing skill with characters.  Captures and escapes, a mutable form of reality subject to human will, and a few plot twists to keep the reader guessing help make this the best series of books from Stackpole to date.


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