Wolf Hunting by Jane Lindskold, Tor, 4/06, $27.95, ISBN 0-765-31288-3
Firekeeper returns for her fifth adventure. She and her wolf companion, Blind Seer, have decided to consult with a mystical jaguar who has the ability to see into the future, although like most magical talents, the results aren't always as expected. The threesome uncovers evidence that someone has been interfering in the lives of the citizens of Liglimon, apparently in a quest to secure some ancient and forbidden magical knowledge. They hope to use the jaguar's talents to reveal the truth, but it may be that those very visions are being altered by another party to mislead them.
The Blackgloom Bounty by Jon F. Baxley, Five Star, 4/06, $25.95, ISBN 1-59414-451-6
Kruzurk Makshade is a magician apprenticed to Merlin who suspects that one of his fellow students is up to no good. In due course, he decides to take action, with the unwilling assistance of a young highlander and the woman he wishes to marry. Although their efforts are successful and the evil magician is destroyed, that's only the beginning of their collective problems. The Arthurian overtones are faint despite the presence of Merlin in what is essentially a light weight historical fantasy adventure with a few good twists and straightforward, sometimes rather colorless prose.
The Tourmaline by Paul Park, Tor, 7/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-31441-X
Paul Park returns to the world, or worlds, of Miranda Popescu, the teenager from an alternate reality first introduced in the excellent A Princess of Roumania. In her home reality, Romania is one of the major powers in Europe and as such a hotbed of intrigue and connivery. Miranda was sent to our world to grow up free of the threat of the family enemies, but now she is separated from her friends whose adventures we follow separately and back home, although not to the welcome she hoped for. Her mother is a prisoner of her archenemy and Miranda has to grow up fast unless she doesn't want to grow up at all. Another fine, out of the ordinary fantasy, and a worthy follow up.
The Dawn Stag by Jules Watson, Overlook, 2006, $24.95, ISBN 1-58567-621-7
The middle volume of the Dalriada trilogy continues the story of Roman occupied Britain. Agricola is the governor now and his plans are to complete the conquest and reorganization of Rome's latest outpost despite the opposition of the local inhabitants. Rhiann is a priestess who presently joins forces with an Irish prince, and when it becomes evident that they cannot oppose Rome by conventional means, she decides to consult the spiritual world and enlist its help. That's just the primary plot among several interwoven ones, including the unexpected romance that occurs between the two primary characters. Watson does a good job of evoking the feel of his ancient land and the desperation of a people who see their way of life on the verge of extinction.
Cadmian's Choice by L.E. Modesitt Jr., Tor, 4/06, $27.95, ISBN 0-765-31528-9
The fifth volume of the Corean Chronicles continues the slow advance toward a confrontation. The world of Corus has been seized upon by inhabitants of another world as their new home. The alectors have been sent to oversee the preparation of the planet, but things have not gone completely as planned, and there is still the unanswered question of the fate and status of the humans who already live on Corus. But there's still another problem to be resolved, because there is another intelligence with a stake in the outcome, a hidden presence that begins to reveal its own power as the series heads for its concluding volume. A little slower paced than the previous books, perhaps, but still generally successful.
The Skewed Throne by Joshua Palmatier, DAW, 1/06, $23.95, ISBN 0-7564-0331-6
When the city of Amenkor was struck by a magical event, the lives of its inhabitants were changed forever. Varis is orphaned and survives on her wits until she is eventually recruited by a member of the royal guard to serve as an assassin, supposedly used only to strike at criminals and traitors. Varis is good at her job because she has a low level psychic ability that allows her to gain special knowledge of people, but it is that talent which eventually raises suspicions that not all of those targeted for death are in fact guilty. Her uncertainty and the nature of her profession put her in danger constantly, and eventually force her to go into hiding herself. There's no indication that this first fantasy novel is part of a series, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a sequel in a few months. The setting is very well done and the plot has a few innovative twists, but it's still a pretty standard adventure story.
Solstice Wood by Patricia A. McKillip, Ace, 2/06, $22.95, ISBN 0-441-01366-X
Patricia McKillip makes one of her rare excursions into contemporary fantasy with this new novel. Sylvia Lynn is saddened by the sudden death of her grandfather and travels home to visit the grandmother who raised her. Sylvia has very mixed emotions about the return because there is a stand of woods there which makes her extremely uneasy. While there, she learns of a very unusual sewing circle, and discovers that her childhood fears about what lives in the forest were not silly after all. The sewing circle functions as a set of wardens to contain the magic, but every system has its weak points. I've never read a bad book by McKillip and don't expect to, and I was particularly happy to see her try something a bit different than her ordinary style. If it was an experiment, it was a very successful one.
Seekers of Dreams edited by Douglas A. Anderson, Cold Spring Press, 2005, $14.00
Non-theme anthologies, or at least ones with very loose common elements, are almost always more satisfying than those in which the individual stories feel like variations of the same plot. Douglas Anderson has accomplished that here with this selection of short fantasies, drawn primarily from classic tales although with a handful of modern stories as well. There were only half a dozen titles that I recognized right away, and several of the stories were completely new to me. He has also included darker fantasies by Bram Stoker, Thomas Ligotti, and H.P. Lovecraft along with more traditional works by A. Merritt, Robert E. Howard, and Peter Beagle. A well balanced selection.
To Serve and Submit by Susan Wright, Roc, 4/06, $14, ISBN 0-451-46068-5
This is the first half of a two part fantasy novel that should appeal to fans of John Norman's Gor novels. Marja was sold into slavery by her family and was trained as a sexual submissive, to be dominated and restrained as part of the act of sex. Although initially frightened, she eventually decides that she enjoys the part, but just as she is making the adjustment, she is suddenly set free. On her own, she falls into the company of a noblewoman in the midst of a perilous journey. The first half of the book is so slow paced that even the kinky sex didn't help, and the second half was only a marginal improvement. It probably has more appeal to fans of erotica than to fantasy readers.
Treasure Forest by Cat Bordhi, Ace, 4/06, $14.00, ISBN 0-441-01369-4
Quite a few first novels showed up in my mailbox this month, of which this is one of the most promising. A brother and sister prevail upon their parents to move to the town where their grandmother recently died. There is a forest near her home which contains mystical forces, as well as a very unusual hermit who has secrets to tell. The siblings believe that the forest's influence is benevolent but their efforts to understand what is happening will require encounters with a variety of unusual characters. There were hints of the same understated magical aura that makes Robert Holdstock's Mythago Woods novels so effective, and the various characters are particularly well drawn. I will be looking forward to the author's next effort.
The Dark Horse by Patricia Simpson, Tor, 11/05, $6.99, ISBN 0-765-35324-5
Patricia Simpson is one of the more interesting fantastic romance writers, not content to produce endless variations of the same story. This time the plot involves a quest to find the fountain of youth. The protagonist is coerced into helping her boss on his quest because she needs his help to finance her brother's medical treatment. Although she's a psychic and a tarot reader, she doesn't need her supernatural powers to guess that her boss has more than a passing interest in her, but her inclinations lie elsewhere. She also suspects the motives of other members of the expedition, justifiably as it turns out. A low key but creditable adventure story with just enough romance to satisfy that audience as well.
We Three Dragons edited by Bill Fawcett, Tor, 11/05, $5.99, ISBN 0-765-35386-5
I haven't seen the usual rush of Christmas themed fantasy anthologies this year. In fact, this is the only one I recall. It contains three long stories that combine dragons with Christmas, and the authors are Jeff Grubb, Ed Greenwood, and James M. Ward, all of whom have been active for Wizards of the Coast in the past. The dragons in all three stories are nasty, although sometimes they display redeeming qualities. Ed Greenwood's contribution, a sort of Christmas Carol variation, is the best of the three. Lightweight but seasonally amusing.
Warsworn by Elizabeth Vaughan, Tor, 4/06, $6.99, ISBN 0-765-35265-6
The sequel to Warprize has Lara, a healer, still a captive of Keir, the handsome warlord to whom she is growing increasingly attached despite their relative position. Their latest enemy is more in her field than his, because a terrible new plague is sweeping through the land and through his army. With Lara and Keir themselves faltering under its effects, a rival warrior decides that this is the perfect opportunity for him to unseat Keir and become warlord in his place. The romantic element is reasonably well handled though not as involving as it was in the previous volume, and while the action is somewhat less, the characters generally are more believable this time around.
Tarra Khash: Hrossak by Brian Lumley, Tor, 4/06, $23.95, ISBN 0-765-31075-9
This is the second volume of the Tales of the Primal Land, a blend of fantasy and Lovecraftian horror in a fairly typical primitive fantasy world. These are episodic adventures of Tarra Khash, who meets and overcomes dangers both natural and supernatural, somewhat in the style of Conan although with considerably more brainpower and less hewing and grunting. I'm not sure if the individual adventures were published separately before being collected. Although Lumley has a good feel for the subject matter, none of the stories are really compelling. Fans of sword and sorcery should enjoy it, but readers looking for more like his powerful Harry Keogh and Vamphyri books are probably going to be disappointed.
The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian by Robert E. Howard, Del Rey, 2005, $29.95, ISBN 0-345-48385-5
The Conquering Sword of Conan by Robert E. Howard, Del Rey, 2005, $15.95, ISBN 0-345-46153-3
Despite the recent high popularity of fantasy fiction, there still has never been a hero to rival Conan. Howard's original stories of this solitary warrior remain the benchmark against which all other heroic fantasy fiction of its type is measured, and it is sometimes surprising to realize how few stories Howard actually wrote about the Cimmerian. It's particularly confusing because so many cross collections have been published that it feels like there's an entirely library of them to choose from. These are two new ones, the first of which includes a goodly selection of stories including one of my favorites, "The Tower of the Elephant", and accompanies them with fragments, drafts, and other associated materials, to say nothing of full color illustrations, some of which are quite striking. The second volume is similarly structured and includes variant versions of some stories, as well as a selection of black and white illustrations. There are actually only five stories in this one, but they're longish and they're all very good.
Myth Hunters by Christopher Golden, Bantam, 1/06, $12.00, ISBN 0-553-38326-4
Christopher Golden's fiction has rarely failed to impress me, and this is no exception. The tension this time surrounds a young man who has surrendered to the pressures to lead an ordinary life, but who is diverted from that path at the last moment when he discovers evidence that an alternate reality has begun to impinge on our world, and may be growing in strength and influence. There is in fact an entire alternate version of Earth, similar to our own, but with enormous differences and many dangers unknown to us. This is more fantasy than horror, but a dark enough fantasy to satisfy readers of either genre, and well written enough to appeal to an even wider audience.
Cry of the Newborn by James Barclay, Gollancz, 2005, £12.99, ISBN 0-575-07620-8
James Barclay's previous novels have been well written but unexceptional sword and sorcery variations. With this, the first novel in the Ascendants of Estorea series, he appears to be attempting something more ambitious. This is a very long opening volume which introduces a large cast of characters in a complex world. Estorea has dominated the surrounding area for some time, but trouble is brewing and a series of reverses suggest that this might be more than a simple revolt. At the same time as the political situation begins to worsen, four children discover that they have magical powers, powers so great that they might present an even greater threat to the world than the possibility of a major war. Not badly written but there were times when I wished the plot would move more quickly, that I was being given more background than I really needed.
Conquest of Armageddon by Jonathan Green, Black Library, 2005, $7.99, ISBN 1-84416-196-X
Bloodstorm by Dan Abnett and Mike Lee, Black Library, 2005, $7.99, ISBN 1-84416-192-7
Dead Ball by Matt Forbeck, Black Library, 2005, $7.99, ISBN 1-84416-201-X
Here's a look at three sides of the Black Library fantasy line, all based on role playing games. The first two are from the opposite ends of the Warhammer spectrum. In the first, a group of space marines travel to a jungle planet searching for some of their missing comrades, and find the enemy awaiting them as well as indigent monsters. The blend of supernatural and military SF usually strains my credulity, but it was relatively unobtrusive this time. Next is the second adventure of an elf possessed by demonic evil, whose only salvation is to travel the world and track down five magical artifacts, which could save him if reunited. I don't care for the character particularly, but his second adventure is much better than his first. Finally we have a novel apparently based on another game, or a subset of one, called Blood Bowl, in which humans and inhumans battle in violent sporting events. I actually enjoyed this the best of the three, for its grim humor and fresh approach. This is the second in the series so far but I have been unable to locate the first so I don't know if it's as good.
Fantasy Encyclopedia by Judy Alen, Kingfisher, 2005, $24.95, ISBN 0-7534-5847-0
If you're looking for a guide to fantasy fiction, don't be misled by the title of this large format hardcover. The literature of fantasy isn't even touched upon here. Rather, this is a limited guide to some of the creatures and artifices of fantasy, more of a guide to myth than anything else. There are chapters on nature spirits, beasts, magic, vampires, ghosts, and others, but the text is short and often superficial, giving way to full color illustrations on every page. In fact, you might be more interested in this as an art book than as a reference guide.
Mirrormask composed by Iain Ballamy, La-La Land Records, 2005. Price varies for this CD.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire composed by Patrick Doyle, Warner Brothers, 2005. Price varies for this CD.
I haven't seen the first of these movies so I didn't have much context for the music. There are some unusual pieces here, particularly the percussion instruments and what I assume is an accordion. They evoke the atmosphere of a carnival or puppet show so clearly that I assume something similar is involved in the film. The depth of the music and the complexity of the orchestration seems too rich for a cheap horror film, so I imagine this is something I should keep an eye out for, although I'd never heard the title until this came. It doesn't always work as a straight listening experience, but there's quite a lot of satisfying music here. I have seen the Harry Potter movie, and I enjoyed the soundtrack in the theater, so it's no surprise that I like it as well alone. The Irish style piece early on is one of my favorites. There's a much more commercial feel, but not in a negative sense, and some of the music is quite subtle. Listening to it made me want to go out and see the movie again.
Flight of the Nighthawks by Raymond E. Feist, Eos, 4/06, $25.95, ISBN 0-06-079278-7
Raymond Feist returns to Midkemia for this first volume in the Darkwar Saga, which takes place shortly after the events that ended with Exile's Return. There are bad omens in the wind, the probability that a race from another level of existence is planning to invade Midkemia using powerful magic and an army of the undead. Most of the story involves one of the sons of Pug, the most powerful wizard in the land, and his two unplanned wards, young men with no craft who find themselves suddenly in a far more complex world than they had imagined. The portions of this novel which deal with them are particularly good, as is most of those which advance the plot. The background development is occasionally uncharacteristically slow. The lengthy discussion of the magical structure outran my patience, for example, and I skimmed until the story got back on track. On balance it's pretty good, as you would expect from Feist, but it's not one of his best.
A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin, Bantam, 2005, $28, ISBN 0-553-80150-3
The long anticipated fourth volume in Martin's high fantasy series begins to draw together the strings of the distinct subplots developed in the previous volumes. Kings have died and there are numerous power struggles evolving in the aftermath. Cersei has put her young son on the throne, plotting to control events herself, but she discovers that there is no one she can trust and her own actions just make matters worse. A female warrior searches for a young girl who went into hiding, and who is now pretending to the daughter of a nobleman who is also plotting to consolidate his position. An unlikely hero is dispatched from the distant north accompanying a magician, a bard, and a woman involuntarily fostering a noble child. Off the coast, the question of succession has led to a council of the powerful, and a battle between religious and secular forces unfolds. You'll probably need to refer to the extensive appendices to keep the large cast of characters straight, or possibly re-read the first three volumes, although I found it surprisingly easy to pick up the various threads even though more than two years have passed since I read the third volume. Martin's characters are so richly described that they feel like people I've met, their situations are compelling and convincing, and their world so real I dreamed about it. The tone is distinctly dark this time and there is a sense of accumulating forces, visible and unseen, moving toward the eventual climax. Read this one and you'll realize why so much contemporary fantasy is forgettable. You'll read no better fantasy this year.
The Wizard Lord by Lawrence Watt-Evans, Tor, 3/06, $26.95, ISBN 0-765-31026-0
Lawrence Watt-Evans' latest fantasy is the first third of a new trilogy. Breaker is the protagonist, a villager who agrees to take over the job as one of eight heroes whose job is to serve as a counter balance to the Wizard Lord, a single magician given more power than all the other wizards in the world. He expects it to be a honorary position, but shortly after assuming his new role, he is apprised of the possibility that the Wizard Lord is actually evil, and that he may be called upon to kill the man. All of this is set in a fairly original fantasy world where there is little commerce among the various villages of the world, and where the ler, magical spirits, exist in everything and everywhere and have a direct impact on everything that happens in the physical world. A little slow developing but quite engaging once it gets into gear.
The Web of Arachnos by Robert Weinberg, CDS, 2005, $6.99, ISBN 1-59315-206-X
The Ocean of Tears by Stewart Wieck, CDS, 2005, $6.99, ISBN 1-59315-029-6
Two new fantasy adventures from a publisher I'm not familiar with, both of which are parts of series apparently inspired by game systems. The first is the opening volume in the City of Heroes series, set in an alternate version of the 1930s where a mystical well has the capacity to convert ordinary mortals into superheroes, or supervillains. It's a comic book story without the pictures, but an amusing one The second is more traditional fantasy, competently written but not as interesting. A shapechanger launches a lengthy and sometimes exciting campaign to get vengeance for a civilization destroyed by its enemies.
Whisper of Waves by Philip Athans, Wizards of the Coasts, 2005, $6.99, ISBN 0-7869-3837-4
Midnight's Mask by Paul S. Kemp, Wizards of the Coast, 2005, $6.99, ISBN 0-7869-3643-6
The Emerald Scepter by Thomas M. Reid, Wizards of the Coast, 2005, $6.99, ISBN 0-7869-3754-8
Guardian: Saviors of Kamizawa by Scott McGough, Wizards of the Coast, 2005, $6.99, ISBN 0-7869-3786-6
It seemed time for another dip into the fantasy worlds of Wizards of the Coast, best known for the Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms shared universes, in which humans and a variety of other mythical creatures co-exist. The first three of these titles are in the latter of those two universes, though each in a separate subordinate series. The Athans novel is the first in the Watercourse trilogy, a fairly entertaining adventure in which three disparate characters each follow their own chosen path to power. The prose is a little spare and the dialogue occasionally flat, but it's not badly done. Kemp adds the third in the Erevis Cale trilogy, the title character of which is a man tormented by questions of right and wrong. It's a considerably more complex story, and a lot closer to mainstream high fantasy both in treatment and quality. Reid's novel is also the third in a trilogy, the Scions of Arrabar, probably the most interesting plot of the three, although the prose is occasionally awkward. Finally we have an entry in another major series, based on the role playing card game Magic: The Gathering, also part of a subseries, the Kamigawa Cycle, which resembles feudal Japan. A single warrior, aided by a princess, seeks to save their world from a devastating war. The setting is sufficiently interesting to make this a better novel than it might otherwise have been, and McGough is one of the better writers in the Wizards arsenal.
Song of Ireland by Juilene Osborne-McKnight, Forge, 5/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-31243-3
I've seen references to at least one other book by this author which takes Irish legends and reshapes or retells them, but this is the first I've actually read. It's set during the Celtic invasion and settlement of that land, and their first encounter with the little people, the basis for leprechauns, a magical other race who lived there quietly until outsiders made that impossible. The story concentrates on both the clashes between the two civilizations and the common elements that they share, and the bad things that happen are generally more tragic than villainous. If you haven't overdosed on Celtic fantasy, you should give this one a try because it's intelligently thought through and packed with interesting characters and situations.
Knife of Dreams by Robert Jordan, Tor, 10/05, $29.95, ISBN 0-312-87307-7
Robert Jordan has yet to write a bad book but I have to admit that I think the Wheel of Time series has overstayed its welcome and needs to be brought to a close. Once again there are signs that the final confrontation between good and evil is at hand, but once again that defining moment is deferred as we skip from one to another of several divergent story lines, each working circuitously toward the presumed conclusion. This is the eleventh book in a series that I believe was supposed to end at ten, and there's enough subplots to support additional volumes. Jordan runs the risk of defining himself as a one track train although I suppose his loyal fans will view things differently.
The Thousandfold Thought by R. Scott Bakker, Overlook, 1/06, $26.95, ISBN 1-58567-705-1
The third and final volume in the Prince of Nothing series has more twists and turns than can be found in most entire series. The war is finally moving toward a conclusion, a war that is a blend of political and religious conflicts. But victory has come at a high price. Sorcery has become a common occurrence. Assassins seek to shift the power structure with clandestine acts of murder. And our hero has begun to have doubts about his own actions and hesitates even as victory seems within his grasp. Large scale events on an even larger stage, complex maneuvers and motivations, and lots of high adventure.
In the Eye of Heaven by David Keck, Tor, 4/06, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-31320-0
A Shadow in Summer by Daniel Abraham, Tor, 3/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-31340-5
Both of these are debut fantasy novels from Tor, but I suspect that they will appeal to somewhat different audience. I had a very uneven reaction to this first fantasy novel by Keck. On the one hand, it made use of a popular fantasy protagonist, the young man out to find his place in the world, and that's still an appealing story if handled well. On the other hand, the world he's searching through is pretty much the same as most other fantasy worlds, and you could probably described it reasonably accurately just by looking at the cover. There are some very entertaining incidents as the plot progresses, but the main plot itself offers very little new or interesting. I was also bothered by the author's tendency to use lots of very short sentences in close proximity, which I found choppy and distracting. Not a bad book, but not a notably good one. The Abraham novel is a very different story, no pun intended. The prose is more entertaining and flows more smoothly, and it is used to tell a much more compelling story. Although this fantasy world bears a lot of similarities to those of other writers, Abraham has some interesting idiosyncrasies in his world that make it seem fresher, and his characters act and interact in a far more complex and realistic manner. It is also surprisingly unmelodramatic given the dramatic events which take place within it. This appears to be the first of a four novel trilogy, so I'll be looking forward to the next.
The Golden Hills of Westria by Diana L. Paxson, Tor, 2/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30889-4
It's been a while since Diana Paxson has added to her chronicles of Westria, but she's back with the eighth volume here. The heir to the throne of Westria is something of a disappointment to his father, but that doesn't make the king any less upset when the boy is kidnapped and sold into slavery. Rescue efforts aren't made any easier by the turmoil outside the borders, most of it caused by an army of religious zealots trying to seize control of the world. One of the best parts of this one is the relationship between the prince and a childhood friend, and of course it doesn't hurt that Paxson has become a progressively better writer almost with every book she has written. A little predictable, as is almost all contemporary high fantasy, but you'll be glad you read it.
Liar's Peak by Robin D. Laws, Black Library, 2005, $7.99, ISBN 1-84416-233-8
The Broken Lance by Nathan Long, Black Library, 2005, $6.99, ISBN 1-84416-243-5
The Warhammer fantasy universe continues to spin off subsets, some of which are quite good sword and sorcery adventures. These two are cases in point. The first is an Angelika Fleischer novel, whose protagonist has the unlikely profession of being a battlefield looter, although sometimes what she finds is not exactly what she was looking for. Finally having saved enough to support herself, she contemplates retiring from the business, but when someone steals her life savings just as a fresh round of fighting is about to start, she has to rethink her priorities. Not quite as good as its predecessors, but the protagonist is a unique and interesting one. The second title is much action oriented, part of the Blackhearts sequence. This one is more traditional, with a group of outcasts organized into a military unit and sent to investigate the strange goings on at one military post. Is it corruption or evil magic? Lighter weight and predictable, but still fun.
The Dragon's Revenge by Irene Radford, DAW, 11/05, $6.99, ISBN 0-7564-0317-0
I don't generally care for novels that blend SF and magic unless they're humorous, as is the case with Christopher Stasheff for example, so I've had intermittent trouble enjoying this series, the Stargods, of which this is the third. Fugitive brothers take refuge on a remote planet where they become revered for their efforts to free the people from domination by a kind of weredragon. Their offworld enemies have followed them as well, so they're caught between multiple enemies. And more are on the way. Radford always writes well and this is no exception, but it's more likely to appeal to fantasy fans than those who prefer SF.
Guardians of the Forest by Graham MacNeill, Black Library, 2005, $7.99, ISBN 1-84416-235-4
Death's City by Sandy Mitchell, Black Library, 2005, $7.99, ISBN 1-84416-240-0
These are both longish fantasy novels set in the Warhammer universe. The first is more Tolkienesque than usual in this series. A knight forges an unusual alliance with an elf to help defend a magical forest from invasion by a hostile force. I've enjoyed some of MacNeill's earlier Warhammer novels, but this one just never caught my attention. The Mitchell title is a sequel to his earlier Death's Messenger. This time the fugitives are pursued by witch hunters and others and take refuge in a major city, hoping to lose themselves among the throng. Naturally it doesn't work. Nicely mysterious at times but not enough to slow the story down.
Mapping the World of Harry Potter edited by Mercedes Lackey, BenBella, 1/06, $14.95, ISBN 1-932100-59-8
This is a collection of essays about the Harry Potter books, obviously, including contributions from Lawrence Watt- Evans, James Gunn, Roberta Gellis, Sarah Zettel, Adam-Troy Castro, and several others, examining various aspects of Rowling's creation. Gunn's commentary on the revival of the schoolboy novel was particularly interesting, and Bruce Bethke's was quite amusing. Some of the essays are at least partly tongue in cheek, but they're all well written. This is probably one of the best of the many books likely to appear on this subject in the near future.
Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder, Luna, 2005, $19.95, ISBN 0-373-80230-7
I think this is the first hardcover in Harlequin's fantasy romance imprint, and it's by an author I've never heard of. If this is any indication of her writing talent, that's a situation that won't last long. The setting is a more or less familiar fantasy world, although we see it from a relatively confined viewpoint. The protagonist has been convicted and sentenced to death, but she is granted a sort of reprieve if she agrees to act as food taster for the local commander, whose enemies would like nothing better than to poison him. She agrees reluctantly, given no real alternative, but since they don't trust her not to escape, she is also administered a poison for which she must receive a daily antidote or die. Doubly trapped, she becomes increasingly involved in court intrigues and political maneuvering, and discovers a hidden talent of her own. Very nicely told with an unusually complex protagonist.
Music to My Sorrow by Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill, Baen, 12/05, $26, ISBN 1-4165-0917-8
The Bedlam's Bard series continues, set in a version of our world where the border between reality and myth has become porous. The protagonist has had problems in the past with mad elves and other enemies and he thinks it's time he had a rest. There wouldn't be much of a story if he was right, though, so now he has to deal with a kind of psychic vampire. This series is much lighter than most of the novels either of these collaborators generally write on their own, but they provide a nice break from the overly long, overly serious fantasy epics that dominate the book shelves lately.
Princess of Wands by John Ringo, Baen, 2005, $25, ISBN 1-4165-1399-X
The urban housewife as warrior against supernatural evil has a long and honored tradition. Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber is the obvious example, and there have been similar books with varying emphases since including Graham Joyce's brooding Dark Sister and Esther Friesner's amusing Hooray for Hellywood. John Ringo, best known for his military SF, tries his hand in his latest novel, pitting suburbia against demons. It falls somewhere between the extremes, with elements of humor, adventure, and mystery all tossed in together. Happily, the mix comes out very well indeed, and this is easily the book I've liked best from this author.
Raven's Quest by Sharon Stewart, Carolrhoda, 2005, $15.95, ISBN 1-57505-894-4
I confess that I was only moderately happy with Watership Down and haven't really enjoyed any of the other animal fantasies since then except occasional Brian Jacques books. This is another, and as you might guess from the title, the protagonist is a raven, driven from his flock by an unjust accusation, forced to redeem his honor by completing a perilous quest. It's aimed at younger readers, who might find it easier to identify with a bird, and it's certainly not badly written. It's just not my cup of tea, I fear.
The Water Sprites by Emily Rodda, Harper, 2005, $8.99, ISBN 0-06-077761-6
Although this is part of a series of short adventures for younger readers, it's the first one I've seen. Jessie is the young recurring character who apparently solves a series of problems in a magical land, in this case locating the missing Moon Stone which has the water sprites so angry that they refuse to return anything that comes floating into their territory. It's a cute story with a fairy tale feel to it, and while few adults are likely to find it rewarding in itself, it's a good story to share with a kid.
Disappearing Nightly by Laura Resnick, Luna, 2005, $13.95, ISBN 0-373-80233-1
Luna is the fantasy imprint of Harlequin and the novels have been, by and large, fantasy romances, although usually with the emphasis on the fantasy rather than the romance. With a few exceptions, their offerings have been quite good and certainly designed to appeal to an audience wider than just romance readers, although that's a pretty good sized audience all by itself. This new addition by Laura Resnick is a contemporary fantasy about an actress who finds herself among a company who are, quite literally, disappearing into thin air. Is she going to be the next, or can she solve the mystery and uncover the magical talent responsible? Seasoned by a good measure of humor, this fantasy mystery is one of the best titles Luna has issued, and a genuine treat for readers of any genre.
Brighid's Quest by P.C. Cast, Luna, 2005, $13.95, ISBN 0-373-80242-0
This new fantasy romance novel has an unusual protagonist. Brighid Dhianna is a young warrior, but she's also a centaur. Brighid is unhappy about the bellicose attitude of her people and has gone to make a new place for herself among humans. When she is maneuvered into returning to her homeland for a visit, she discovers that she is the focus of magical events including the intervention of a goddess and the development of her own magical talents, two factors which could change not only her life but alter the relationship between the human and centaurs tribes forever. Well written and occasionally inventive, but I was never able to develop much fondness or sympathy for the protagonist.
The Vampire Genevieve by Jack Yeovil, Black Library, 2005, $10.99, ISBN 1-84416-244-3
Writing as Jack Yeovil, Kim Newman produced four books set in the Warhammer universe, each featuring his vampire character, Genevieve. All four novels are collected here in one volume. Three are novels and the fourth is a collection of related stories. Genevieve moves through a decadent, post-apocalyptic world. Despite her vampirism, Genevieve is on the side of good most of the time and works with various allies to defeat evil wherever it arises, even if it is within her own mind. This is some of the best fiction written in this game related universe, and this omnibus volume is a great deal for the cover price.
The Singer's Crown by Elaine Isaak, Eos, 10/05, $14.95, ISBN 0-06-078253-6
First novelist Isaak gives a slightly new twist to an old fantasy theme, the usurped throne and efforts to restore the rightful ruler. The catch this time is that the proper heir has been mutilated in such a fashion that he cannot hope to succeed. Or can he? Exiled and working as a bard, he falls in love with a princess of another kingdom which also faces a potential overthrow, and the two of them must find the strength to save both their lands, defeat evil magic, and regain their place in the world. There's more than a touch of romance mixed in with the considerable politicking. The story might have benefited from a little more action and a little less talking, but it's not a major problem and on the whole this is a pleasant and promising debut.
Emerald Eye edited by Frank Ludlow and Roelof Goudriaan, Aeon, 2005, £6.99, ISBN 0-9534784-4-0
In this sampler of modern Irish fantastic fiction, we have everything from SF to fantasy to horror. All eighteen stories have been previously published, several from Albedo One, an Irish fiction magazine. The list of contributors includes Anne McCaffrey, Bob Shaw, and James White, along with a roster of less well known writers, several of whom are quite good. Most of the stories are generic and have no obvious Irish flavor, but it's a pleasant mix and there are no bad stories. Here's a good opportunity to sample some writers whose names aren't well known on this side of the Atlantic.
Memories of Empire by Django Wexler, Medallion, 2005, $14.99, ISBN 1932815147
Django Wexler debuts with an ambitious fantasy novel set in the ruins of an empire. The story alternates among several groups of characters, each caught up in their own quests or troubles, each unaware that they are part of an elaborate game played by superhuman powers. The story is well told for the most part and there are some interesting characters and situations, particularly the introduction of a ghostlike character, and my only real complaint is that at times the dialogue seemed rather artificial. It's a good adventure story with a few twists that will probably catch you by surprise.
Lady Cottington's Pressed Fairy Letters by Brian Froud and Ari Berk, Abrams, 2005, $19.95, ISBN 0-8109-5788-4
Lady Cottington's Pressed Fairy Book by Brian Froud with Terry Jones, Abrams, 2005, $24.95, ISBN 0-8109-5942-9
The first title is a supplement to the second, originally published in 1995, now enhanced with, among other things, a DVD containing an interview and other material. Both books are essentially art books, cast in the form of reproductions of pressed fairies, that is, fairies captured and preserved flat under glass. The pictures are cute and the accompanying text is amusing. The perfect books to set out on a coffee table and snag unsuspecting mundane guests with.
Gilfeather by Glenda Larke, Ace, 11/05, $7.99, ISBN 0-441-01348-1
The second volume in the Isles of Glory trilogy sees our three adventurers a man exiled from his own people, a female warrior, and another capable of casting illusions - continuing their quest to defeat a malevolent sorcerer. Their efforts take an unexpected turn in this middle volume, setting the stage for the final confrontation. Larke is a capable writer who creates lifelike characters and some interesting situations but who rarely ventures away from the standard devices of contemporary fantasy. Her trio of protagonists has potential, however, and the third volume may prove to be the best.
Windfall by Rachel Caine, Roc, 11/05, $7.99, ISBN 0-451-46057-X
The fourth book of the Weather Warden has our protagonist on the skids. Although her physical form has been recreated, she has lost her magical ability to control the weather and there's a major split in the hidden magical forces of the world which might find her caught in the middle. As if that wasn't bad enough, she has a host of mundane problems to deal with as well, not the least of which is her sister who arrives with a new boyfriend at the worst possible time. Caine has created an interesting fantasy background for this series, set in our contemporary world, incorporating both djinns and European magical traditions. Each of her adventures has read smoothly and pleasantly and I look forward to her next.
Flames of Damnation edited by Marc Gascoigne and Christian Dunn, Black Library, 2005, $9.99, ISBN 1-84416-253-2
Daemonifuge: Heretic Saint by Ken Walker, Gordon Rennie, et al, Black Library, 2005, $9.99, ISBN 1-84416-251-6
Both of these volumes are collections of black and white graphic stories set in the Warhammer universe. Warhammer incorporates sword and sorcery and space opera in a rather improbable combination, and both of these titles concentrate more on the latter than the former. The forces of Chaos send armies to conquer the worlds of humanity, opposed by space marines and other forces raised against them. On the other hand, the invaders can call upon the supernatural to aid them. All of the stories in both collections are primarily action or battle scenes. The artwork is considerably better in the second volume, but the writing is about the same in both.
The Horus Heresy Vol III: Visions of Treachery by Alan Merrett, Black Library, 2005, $29.99, ISBN 1-84416-247-8
The Sabbat Worlds Crusade by Dan Abnett, Black Library, 2005, $29.99, ISBN 1-84416-249-4
Both of these are tie-ins to the Warhammer universe. The first is essentially an art book, third in a series collecting full color paintings associated with an interstellar war between good and evil. More than twenty artists are represented here and although the subject matter is often repetitive, the styles vary considerably. The second title is more interesting, a companion volume to Abnett's subset of Warhammer, the Sabbat novels. There is considerably more text in this one, which is written as a kind of history of the conflict, summarizing battles and tactics. There's a good deal of art here as well, including maps and photographs. The art isn't as overwhelming in this case, and fans of the series should find this an interesting reading experience as well as a visual one. The latter is also bound in a heavy, transparent plastic cover unlike anything I've ever seen on a book before.
The Life of Sigmar, Black Library, 12/05, $19.99, ISBN 1-84416-250-8
Here's another tie in to the Warhammer universe, in this case tending toward the barbaric fantasy end of its spectrum. Cast in the form of a non-fiction book, it details the life of the warrior-god Sigmar and the early days of the empire which he founded. There are anecdotes, histories, and a good number of black and white illustrations. Nothing to appeal to those not interested in the Warhammer universe, though.
Remember Me? by Rebecca Lickiss, Five Star, 12/05, $25.95, ISBN 1-59414-313-7
Here's an interesting blend of contemporary fantasy and the quest story, with a strong overlay of humor. The main protagonist is Jared Silvan, whose dying mother extracts his promise to right an old wrong by traveling to a distant city and confronting a man whom he will recognize through magical means. Jared considers it a hopeless mission but he and his wife go anyway, if nothing else as a means to restore some civility to their marriage. What he doesn't realize is that his twin brother isn't dead after all, and that they're long delayed meeting is going to turn his world upside down. A pleasant contemporary fantasy that mixes fairies with A Comedy of Errors.
Shadows in the Starlight by Elaine Cunningham, Tor, 2/06, $23.95, ISBN 0-765-30971-8
Cunningham introduced us to Gwen Gelman, cop turned private investigator, in Shadows in the Darkness, which was a decided step up from her previous fantasy adventures. Gwen works in the Providence area, my own backyard, so I was prejudiced in her favor to start with, and the author lived up to my hopes. This is more a detective story than a fantasy, initially at least, with Gelman investigating a missing persons case that we eventually discover is linked to the mysterious magical heritage in which she has been involved since the previous book. Although comparisons with the Anita Blake series by Laurell Hamilton are inevitable, there really isn't that much similarity. Cunningham is far less melodramatic and where Hamilton often leaves the reader breathless, Cunningham is more likely to leave us thoughtful. Let's hope Gwen is back for many more adventures.
Traitor to the Blood by Barb & J.C. Hendee, Roc, 1/06, $23.95, ISBN 0-451-46066-9
The fourth novel of the Noble Dead sees our two heroes on a quest to discover the fate of one partner's parents, who were left behind when he escaped slavery years before. They both believe that the slave master is their biggest enemy, but in fact they are being pursued by two inhuman creatures far more dangerous and bloodthirsty. A rousing and sometimes creepy fantasy adventure, although I thought it was a bit of a let down from the previous book, with a far less interesting plot. This is one of those books for which the term dark fantasy was definitely intended.
Return to Quag Keep by Andre Norton and Jean Rabe, Tor, 1/06, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-31298-0
About thirty years ago, Andre Norton wrote a novel called Quag Keep based on her exposure to the Dungeons and Dragons role playing game. The novel really didn't seem to me to have anything to do with the game, and was one of her less successful fantasy adventures. I certainly wouldn't have expected there to be a posthumous sequel, but here it is, co-written with fantasy writer Jean Rabe, and the result is another routine quest adventure with the same set of characters. It's not a bad story, but it doesn't read like something Norton would have written, nor does it feel any more like it's based on a role playing game.
Dragon Champion by E.E. Knight, Roc, 12/05, $14, ISBN 0-451-46047-2
Author Knight takes a break from his series about the conquest of Earth by vampires for this slightly more traditional fantasy, the first in the Age of Fire series. The twist here is that the protagonist is a dragon, the only one of his tribe who escaped being enslaved by a band of dwarves, and sets out to discover who is systematically killing off all the dragons in the world. His adventures take place in an otherwise reasonably familiar Tolkienesque world where humans, elves, dwarves, and other races all co-exist, not always peacefully. I was put off slightly by some unpronounceable character names, but the protagonist was sufficient original to hold my attention.
The Dwarves of Whiskey Island by S. Andrew Swann, DAW, 10/05, $6.99, ISBN 0-7564-0315-4
This is the sequel to The Dragons of Cuyahoga, a very enjoyable contemporary fantasy from a few years back. It's set in contemporary Cleveland, but a version in which a portal from another universe has opened allowing dragons, dwarves, and other mystical creatures to venture into our world, although they are confined to the city limits by mystical forces. The protagonist this time is a reporter who is told by a dwarf that there is a conspiracy afoot involving the city council, and masterminded by a dark force. There's always a dark force. Skillfully done light adventure with more than a dash of humor, not quite up to the high standard of its predecessor, but a very close second.
Heretic of Set by J. Steven York, Ace, 11/05, $6.99, ISBN 0-441-01345-7
The second volume in the adventures of Anok of Stygia, part of Ace's new "Age of Conan" series, takes up the story right where the first left off. Anok is still seeking to avenge his father's death, but he has fallen under the influence of a mysterious cult and a priest with sorcerous power. That relationship begins to corrupt him, even though he recognizes what he is losing, so he and his friends set out on a quest to find a means of controlling the dark side of the force I mean the dark power to aid him toward his original goal. Good though unremarkable sword and sorcery adventure, with a third and presumably concluding volume on the way.
Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black, Simon & Schuster, 2005, $24.95, ISBN 0-689-85941-4
This is a companion volume to the Spiderwick books for younger readers, a series of brief articles about various imaginary creatures like elves, dwarves, dragons, and kelpies, with amusing text and sidebars. The chief attraction, however, is the artwork, which is frequently quite good. Aimed at a younger audience but still of interest to us old fogies who haven't lost our imagination.
Every Inch a King by Harry Turtledove, ISFiC, 2005, no price listed. A Del Rey edition is forthcoming.
Graustarkian romances like The Prisoner of Zenda are among my favorites, so this new non-series title by Harry Turtledove is a welcome arrival. It's a story of impersonation, like the Anthony Hope novel or Robert A. Heinlein's Double Star, this time casting an acrobat in the part of a royal prince scheduled to be king. As you might expect, our hero has to fool the locals as well as foreign dignitaries, because if he fails, the consequences for the kingdom of Shqiperi could be disastrous. High adventure with a constant undertone of dry humor. This is a new imprint, but the quality of their opening titles has been quite high.
The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp by Rick Yancey, Bloomsbury, 2005, $16.95, ISBN 1-58234-693-3
There is nothing obvious on the dustjacket of the book indicating that it is for young adults, and frankly there's not much on the inside either. The novel reads more like a fairy tale than anything else, although with a contemporary setting. Many of my favorite fantasy novels interpose magical elements with the real world, and that's what we have here. The protagonist undertakes a questionable mission, but even he doesn't know at first that the object he is about to steal is actually Excalibur, the mystical sword formerly wielded by King Arthur himself. The author has a tendency to use short sentences that follow the same pattern several times successively, and I found this distracting after a while, and there were a few other stylistic quirks that threw me out of the story periodically. Some very clever plotting, but I can't help wondering if the author wasn't trying to "write down" to his audience.
A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon, Delacorte, 2005, $28, ISBN 0-385-32416-2
When I read the fifth of the Outlander books four years ago, I suspected it would be the last in the series, and four years have passed since without any indication I was wrong. But now the sixth volume is out, nearly a thousand pages long, carrying on the story of a woman who traveled back through time to the 18th Century, found love in England and followed him to the colonies, content to live in her own past so long as it is with him. But the times are unsettled in 1772, with the American Revolution looming on the horizon, and although she knows what is coming, it isn't as easy as you might think to make provisions for the hard times that are coming. Even worse is an artifact from the future that suggests that their family will be wiped out even as that conflict begins. This is basically a very long historical novel that skillfully incorporates the problems of foreknowledge and the inflexibility of time. The series is, collectively and singly, among the very best time travel sequences, and far and away the best time travel romances I've ever read.
The Mark of Ran by Paul Kearney, Bantam, 11/05, $12, ISBN 0-553-38361-2
Paul Kearney wrote one of the more interesting fantasy adventure series a few years back, so it's good news that he has started a new sequence, the Sea Beggars. The setting is a world in which the gods are dead, or at least gone, and a race of supernatural beings that once coexisted with mortals has disappeared as well. But the latter left some traces behind, including mixed blood descendants like our hero. Rol Cortishane is off on a voyage of discovery in this opening volume, which serves primarily to introduce the characters, background, and situations, but Kearney includes enough excitement and adventure to fill an entire trilogy in this volume alone.
Veniss Underground by Jeff Vandermeer, Bantam, 2005, $14, ISBN 0-553-38356-6
Collected in this one volume is a novel, a novella, and three short stories, all set in the almost magical far future city of Veniss, a sort of transformation of the historical Venice, although the author is much more imaginative than to simple copy an existing setting. Although there are several interesting characters moving through these pages, it is the city itself which becomes the main focus for the reader, almost becoming a character in itself. The novel deals with a tormented man's quest to deal with his demons, personal and otherwise, his entrapment, the search for him by his sister, and his eventual rescue by his sister's lover. The blurbs compare the prose to Philip K. Dick but to me it seemed more akin to the best work of Mary Gentle, even though his work is more properly SF than fantasy. The parallels to the story of Orpheus and Eurydice are obvious, but Vandermeer is creating, not imitating.
Chasing Fire by Michelle M. Welch, Bantam, 10/05, $6.50, ISBN 0-553-58823-0
The third novel set in the Five Countries takes up one of the less commonly used though still familiar fantasy devices. The protagonist is a young man who is expected to be self confident and manly, but who prefers intellectual pursuits and peace and quiet. His father tries to mend the situation, and enhance his own political status, by arranging his son's marriage for political purposes. Unfortunately, the young woman chosen is not in her right mind, which distracts attention from the more significant visions of a seer, who knows that armed conflict is brewing. Welch is quite competent at what she does, and I found the characters much more interesting this time than in her previous two novels. Hopefully that progression will continue.
Scion of the Serpent by J. Steven York, Ace, 10/05, $6.99, ISBN 0-441-01336-8
Ace has started publishing novels set in the "Age of Conan" but not involving Robert E. Howard's famous barbarian warrior. This is the opening volume in the second trilogy, this one penned by J. Steven York, featuring Anok, the Heretic of Stygia. Anok's father was murdered under mysterious circumstances and, orphaned, he was forced to live in the streets of Stygia, where he survived by relying on his intelligence and muscles. Now a young man, he makes a deal with a minor god through which he will discover the truth about his father's death . The story is very much in the Howard tradition, a style of sword and sorcery that I've always enjoyed, but which has become very rare in contemporary fantasy. I look forward to accompanying Anok as he completes his quest.
The Decoy Princess by Dawn Cook, Ace, 12/05, $7.99, ISBN 0-441-01355-4
Tess has been raised since childhood believing herself to be a princess, but when she matures, she discovers an unpleasant truth. She isn't really royalty at all. Her ostensible parents were afraid of assassins, so their real daughter has been educated secretly with Tess serving in her place. Now that the secret is out, Tess faces an uncertain future, but is able to improve her lot thanks to some previously unsuspected magical talents and her own wits. This is the opening volume in a new series whose protagonist is pleasantly competent even though she doesn't swing a sword. A notch up from the author's previous fantasy.
The King Imperiled by Deborah Chester, Ace, 12/05, $7.99, ISBN 0-41-01353-8
Deborah Chester has been adding to her unnamed fantasy series for a while, and I think this is the tenth title set in that magical realm. An enlightened kingdom is locked in a war against a barbarian horde with neither side able to gain a clear upper hand. The royal family's efforts are further jeopardized by the princess, who is on the verge of succumbing to the dark side of the force evil magic. Well written, as are the previous volumes, and the interplay among the members of the royal family is sometimes quite engaging. For the most part, however, I thought this slipped below the author's usual standards and seemed to be reworking some of the same plot elements she has used previously.
The Silver Lake by Fiona Patton, DAW, 12/05, $23.95, ISBN 0-7564-0185-2
Fiona Patton's previous work has been set consistently in one fantasy world, but now she introduces us to another, and much more interesting one. The city of Anavatan is the literal birthplace to the gods, several of whom still dwell there and have an active influence on the local inhabitants. This opening volume of the "Warriors of Estavia" series follows the adventures of three young residents who are singled out by one of the gods for special attention. I read this in the middle of a string of fantasy novels and was surprised by how fresh and interesting the story felt even though the individual elements are all ones I've encountered before, sometimes so often that I've overloaded. I look forward to the next.
The Sword of Angels by John Marco, DAW, 9/05, $25.95, ISBN 0-7564-0259-X
The trilogy that began with a demon possessing a suit of armor in The Eyes of God reaches its conclusion in this very long new novel. A mortal has unwisely donned the armor and is now under the influence of a malevolent demon who wishes to rule the world. Now the only hope is to find a magical sword similarly possessed by a supernatural entity, the only weapon which can overcome the armor. The quest to find it occupies most of this book, which is filled with high adventure, but is still at heart a quest for the magic sword story. Competently, sometimes excitingly told, but an old story nevertheless.
Promise of the Witch-King by R.A. Salvatore, Wizards of the Coast, 10/05, $27.95, ISBN 0-7869-3823-0
R.A. Salvatore is one of the two or three best writers dabbling in the Forgotten Realms shared world universe. His fantasy in that series has varied from rather sedate to wildly adventurous, with this new novel, second in the Sellswords sub-series, definitely in the latter category. It's a buddy novel, with two sword wielding heroes venturing into an unknown part of the world where they must battle two separate dangers one an evil spirit who still wishes to meddle in the affairs of the living and the other a knight compelled by an oath he may regret but cannot recant. This is pure sword and sorcery reminiscent at times of Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series.
The Crippled Angel by Sara Douglass, Tor, 1/06, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-30364-7
Although some of Sara Douglass' fantasies strike me as entertaining but unremarkable, the Thomas Neville series has always been notably better than her other work. This is the third installment, in which Neville continues the quest assigned him by an Angel, to find the demons who have escaped from Hell and are masquerading as humans in 14th Century Europe. The final chapters reveal the secret of one of his companions, an enigmatic woman who is far more than she seems, a startling conclusion to a very good historical fantasy trilogy.
The Necessary Beggar by Susan Palwick, Tor, 10/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-31097-X
Susan Palwick's first novel, Flying in Place, made a very great impression on me, and her near silence in the intervening years has seemed a major loss to the field. Now she's back with a new and very different novel, about a family who live in an alternate reality but who are exiled to our world when one of their number commits a terrible crime, and the rest voluntarily accompany him in his punishment. They have no papers, no identity, and little information about our society or customs, and they find it as difficult to adjust as the customs officials who have no idea where they came from. Although the younger generation, understandably, seems less inclined to honor the customs of their home world than do their elders, when a young woman decides to marry, she insists upon finding someone from contemporary America who can fill the role of the Beggar at her wedding. Wry humor, clever satire, superb characterization, and an interesting mythos all add up to the excellent novel readers have long awaited.
Memories of Ice by Steven Erikson, Tor, 11/05, $27.95, ISBN 0-765-31432-0
The third volume in the Malazan Book of the Fallen series is a mix of familiar fantasy devices with a touch of the military. The world is convulsed by war with a new empire threatening to dominate all other peoples. Opposed to them are a variety of regular and irregular military units, all under separate command, with cooperation a tenuous and uncertain commodity. As if that wasn't bad enough, there are hints of a newer, even darker power, one which draws its strength from the land of the unliving, perhaps at the behest of an insane god. I had to take notes to keep all the characters straight in this one, and even then I got confused at times, but the scope is ambitious and most of the time Erikson keeps a strong hand on the reins.
Murkmere by Patricia Elliott, Little, Brown, 2/06, $16.99, ISBN 0-316-01042-1
The Foretelling by Alice Hoffman, Little, Brown, 9/05, $16.99, ISBN 0-316-01018-9
Lord Loss by Darren Shan, Little, Brown, 10/05, $15.99, ISBN 0-316-11499-5
Invasion of the Road Weenies and Other Warped and Creepy Tales by David Lubar, Starscape, 9/05, $16.95, ISBN 0-765-31447-9
Time for another batch of young adult fiction. Quite a varied lot this time. The first title follows the adventures of a young girl who is summoned to serve as companion to the daughter of a local nobleman in a land where birds have unusual mystical attributes. Although she is optimistic about this chance to better her station in life, she is soon caught up in a web of interlocking conspiracies and mysteries. I thoroughly enjoyed this one and never really had the feeling that I was reading something not intended for adult readers. The young female protagonist of Alice Hoffman's novel is a very different character. She is a child of Amazons and has been raised as a warrior, confident in her abilities. As she reaches adolescence, however, she begins to question certain elements of her training. Beautifully written and very convincing. Darren Shan leaves his ongoing series about a young vampire for this new novel, in which a somewhat rebellious teenager decides to strike out on his own for a while, and becomes involved with demonic forces and shapechanging creatures. Kind of fun but sometimes a bit too frenetic for my taste. Last is a collection of weird little stories that involve sometimes traditional monsters mummies and such but which always tweak the idea in an unexpected direction. They are all quite short averaging about six pages each and outside of the title story none of them really stand out, but they achieve their effect collectively, providing a glimpse into the author's delightfully warped world view.
And Don't Forget to Rescue the Princess by Marc Bilgrey, Five Star, 11/05, $25.95, ISBN 1-59414-385-4
Funny fantasy went through a brief period of popularity some time back, but only Piers Anthony and Terry Pratchett survived the collapse, at least on this side of the Atlantic. The comparative rarity of humorous fantasy actually helps the few titles that appear, because even though I recognize that many of the jokes in this first novel are obvious and that others are borrowed from other sources, they still struck me as quite funny this time. So follow the adventures of a down and out actor whose talking cat takes him to an alternate world where magic works and quests are common, but nothing can be taken completely seriously. Light weight, but intentionally so, and very entertaining.
Sleeping Dragons by Cat Collins, Five Star, 11/05, $26.95, ISBN 1-59414-419-2
This fantasy romance is the first in a projected series, set in a magical world where empathic bonding is possible, providing the basis for some of the romantic elements. In the opener, a woman gives in to temptation and takes advantage of an injured man in her care, thus binding herself to him empathically. Drawn into his world, which is an alternate reality where magic works, she is caught up in the middle of a political and military conflict, and also has to deal with the emotions she has awakened in both of them by her rash impulse. The writing was fine but I found it very difficult to like the protagonist, or care what happened to her.
King's Blood by Judith Tarr, Roc, 10/05, $16, ISBN 0-451-46045-6
There is no one writing historical fantasies as consistently interesting as those of Judith Tarr, and this is one of her best. William the Conqueror tolerated magic during his reign, but he is dead now and his successor, Red William, has very different ideas. His decision that magic should be expunged from the kingdom necessarily causes considerable turmoil among those affected, not the least of whom are his younger brother and another young royal, a Scottish princess who has been imprisoned because of her abilities and who is being forced to adopt a more conventional mode of life. 11th Century Europe is thoroughly convincing, as are all of Tarr's historical settings, and the story is a nice break from the usual fantasy melodramas.
Horse Passages by Jennifer Macaire, Medallion, 2005, $9.99, ISBN 1932815090
This is, I think, the first young adult title from this imprint, at least in the SF field. The premise is interesting although hard science fans will probably find it too far fetched. Human colonists discover a herd of horses who have the ability to open portals between worlds so that they can graze on one planet today and another tomorrow, ignoring questions of biological compatibility and other complications. Call it a fantasy then, although the story involves alien raiders, slavers, and other trappings of SF. That said, the story does develop internal consistency and the characters are interesting and differentiated. Teen readers should find it entertaining, as well as adults who are willing to completely suspend their disbelief.
The Hickory Staff by Robert Scott and Jay Gordon, Gollancz, 2005, £14.99, ISBN 0-575-07607-0
The opening volume of the Eldarn Sequence has two men from our world discovering a magical key that brings them into the world of Eldarn, a fairly typical fantasy realm dominated by a nasty evil ruler. His domination of that reality is facilitated by his minions, most of whom are at least as nasty as he is, ranging from malevolent ghosts to the demons to deadly animals, although sometimes the supernatural comes to their aid. Although they become allied with a band of revolutionaries, the novel is less about the politics and more about their adventures as they try to find a way to return to their own world, but also learn to sympathize with the plight of their new friends. Well enough written to be a satisfying reading experience but as with most contemporary fantasy, it follows pretty much the same pattern as the last dozen or so novels to appear.
Threads of Malice by Tamara Siler Jones, Bantam Spectra, 10/05, $6.99, ISBN 0-553-58710-2
I can't find my copy of Ghosts in the Snow, this author's previous novel, so I can't check, but I think this new one is the sequel. The protagonist is a man living in a castle who has the unusual ability of being able to see ghosts, particularly those who have died under cruel or unjust circumstances. When someone begins abducting and killing citizens of the kingdom, he is tormented by their lingering spirits and this time, rather than avenging the dead, he is faced with the task of finding the latest victim while he is still alive. I though the earlier novel showed a lot of potential, and that's beginning to be realized in this new and much better supernatural mystery. Jones is not a familiar name in fantasy, but I don't think it will be long before she is.
The Wizard of London by Mercedes Lackey, DAW, 10/05, $25.95, ISBN 0-7564-0174-7
The Elemental Masters series, of which this is the fourth, has consistently shown off the best of Mercedes Lackey's talents, her ability to mix fantasy and reality in such a way that the reader finds the most implausible things entirely believable. While the entire series has been quite good, this newest addition is easily the best. A young woman shows up at a rather specialized school in England, sent there apparently by her parents who recognized that she has unusual talents that might best be developed under the watchful eye of Isabelle Harton. The newcomer has unusual mental powers, but she also has at least one powerful enemy, someone who wants her dead before she can discover further talents. Isabelle seems to have no choice but to consult with a master of the magical arts, Lord Alderscroft, but could he himself be the guilty party? Topnotch fantasy.
Savage Messiah by Robert Newcomb, Del Rey, 12/05, $26.95, ISBN 0-345-47707-3
Newcomb returns to the world of his first trilogy with this, the opening volume in a second, continuing the history of his imaginary world. A magical artifact has been damaged and is now leaking destructive power into the world, a situation that can only be mended by Tristan, who has problems of his own. His very blood has been cursed, and until he can free himself of that burden, he is in no position to deal with wider problems. So he's off on an adventurous quest to distant lands to find a cure, in a very long and violent opening sequence. The usual fantasy tropes, occasionally showing some interesting twists, but basically the setup for the next two books in the series.
Wolfblade by Jennifer Fallon, Tor, 1/06, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-30992-0
Australian writer Jennifer Fallon has made a strong showing with her first few books published in the US and this opening volume in a new series is likely to lift her stock even higher. The setting is Hythria, which Fallon has used before, but there's a new protagonist, Marla Wolfblade, last surviving member of the ruling family. She is unable to take the throne directly because her people are fiercely patriarchal, but she finds a devious alternate route. She marries the head of a powerful clan and gives birth to a son, who is theoretically entitled to the throne. There are, predictably, powerful interests who would rather not see that happen, and Marla has to keep her son safe long enough to assume power. Convincing characters in a not particularly appealing but certainly well drawn society.
The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, Hyperion, 2005, $17.95, ISBN 078685629-7
The Scarecrow and His Servant by Philip Pullman, Knopf, 2005, $15.95, ISBN 0-375-81531-7
I decided to take a weekend to read some of the latest crop of young adult fantasy novels, and found more variation there than with recent adult fantasy, thematically at least. The first of these is the opening volume in the Olympians series. Perseus Jackson has had a lot of trouble finding a school where he can fit in with the other students, but his latest is the worst yet, because it is there that he discovers that the Greek gods are still very much alive, and that they believe he is responsible for the theft of Zeus' thunderbolt. With a couple of supernatural companions, he sets off on a quest to find the real thief, pursued by various mythological creatures including a Minotaur. Fun stuff, and intelligently written. The Pullman title, aimed at a somewhat younger audience, has a plot that contains many parallels. The hero this time is a scarecrow, suddenly given life, and embarked on a cross country quest of his own, with various adventures, and also while being pursued, this time by a family who have their own reasons for wishing to ensure that the scarecrow returns to his former inanimate state. Witty and amusing, though lacking the complexity of the author's more famous work.
The Water Mirror by Kai Meyer, McElderry, 10/05, $15.95, ISBN 0-689-87787-0
The Phoenix Dance by Dia Calhoun, Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 10/05, $17, ISBN 0-374-35910-5
Falcondance by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, Delacorte, 9/05, $14.95, ISBN 0-385-73194-9
Three more young adult novels, starting with the first in a series by a popular German author, and one of the better books of this kind I've read in a long time, reminiscent in some ways of China Mieville or Mary Gentle. Meyer's setting is a kind of alternate historical Venice where two young children, an orphan and a semi-reformed thief, become involved with the merpeople who live in the canals. The two kids learn of a plot against the queen of the merpeople, and the action gets hot and heavy from then on. Presumably further volumes in this series will appear in English in the future. Dia Calhoun provides a much quieter story, set in a mythical world, where a young girl travels to a famous dance school where she meets friends and otherwise, and comes to terms with her own growing maturity. A little slow from time to time but generally thoughtful and engaging. Finally we have the latest in a fantasy series from an author whose first novel was published when she was a teenager herself. The Kiesha'Ra series is set in a world shared by humans, serpents, and avians, and has some interesting twists in the background, but I've never felt this series worked as well as her earlier vampire fiction. Not bad, but not remarkable enough to recommend.
Silver May Tarnish by Andre Norton and Lyn McConchie, Tor, 12/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30637-9
Not unexpectedly, the Witch World series seems doomed to continue even after its creator has passed on. This latest installment is presumably one of the last "collaborations", and the story is certainly very much in the tradition of the previous volumes. The various survivors of communities devastated by war attempt to claim a new piece of land where they might build a new place, a refuge for those who want to build rather than destroy. They are assisted by a number of animals who are magically linked to the protagonists, and opposed by the usual array of outside enemies and internal conflicts. Fans of the series should find this continuation welcome, but there's little innovation and not much appeal to casual fantasy readers.
Voidfarer by Sean McMullen, Tor, 2/06, $27.95, ISBN 0-765-31437-1
Sean McMullen returns to the Moonworlds for his latest, in which a peaceful fantasy world is menaced by an invasion of villainous magicians from Lupan. The Lupanese arrive in mysterious capsules from the sky, and the early stages of their invasion are somewhat mysterious, attracting the attention of the protagonist, a kind of police captain who becomes a rallying point for the resistance. Good vs evil sorcery, derring do, escapes and battles, all in an unconventional fantasy realm and revealed through the activities of a cast of unique characters. The author's occasionally offbeat inventions and his above average prose make this one of the more distinguished fantasies of the year.
Triad by Terry McGarry, Tor, 11/05, $27.95, ISBN 0-765-30429-5
The third and final installment of Terry McGarry's debut fantasy trilogy arrives at last. Eiden Myr is sore beset by external enemies and internal weaknesses. The magical barrier is beginning to fail and the end of the people's hope is in sight. The only hope of salvation lies with three individuals, and a mystical quest that will enable them to draw upon a great power. McGarry has a deceptively easy prose style that keeps the plot moving steadily. The large cast of characters are kept under much better control in the concluding volume than they were in the first two, and the ending though not unexpectedly is still effective.
The Courtesan Prince by Lynda Williams, Edge, 10/05, $20.95, ISBN 1-894063-28-9
The opening volume of the Okal Rel trilogy sets up a very complex future in which the human expansion into space was interrupted, then renewed, resulting in two separate star traveling civilizations which have grown so far apart that their conflicting views and interests are almost inevitably leading toward conflict. As war threatens to break out, a group of disparate characters are drawn into an interlocking series of situations which may eventually have a major impact on the future of both societies, although most of the first volume is spent establishing characters, backgrounds, and the major plot situations and does not really resolve anything. Although perhaps a bit slow in getting started, the novel does eventually pull the reader in and left me with enough interest in the outcome to look forward to volume two.
Bridge of Souls by Fiona McIntosh, Eos, 3/06, $14.95, ISBN 0-06-074760-0
The hero of this series just doesn't have any luck, thanks in part to the curse laid upon him in the opening volume. By the third installment, he is close to despair. The woman he loves seems doomed to marry the evil king and reinforce his existing power, and a mutually destructive war threatens to break out at any moment. Despite his past track record of failure, he sets out once more to ride to the rescue in this improbable but exciting fantasy adventure. Few surprises, but more than a few is a lot to ask of modern fantasy.
Julius Levallon/The Bright Messenger by Algernon Blackwood, Stark House, 2005, $19.95, ISBN 0-9749438-7-8
Algernon Blackwood is best known for his short horror fiction, which includes a number of classic stories. His novels have generally been unavailable for many years, and I believe this is the first appearance in soft cover for each of these two related novels, first published in 1916 and 1921 respectively. The first tells the story of the protagonist's friendship with the title character, who remembers a past life in which he was involved in an occult experiment which he now attempts to repeat. The prose in this and the followup is colorful and leisurely, a style generally absent from modern fantasy and horror, but the sense of awe about the power of the supernatural is quite vividly described and the novel remains surprisingly fresh. The sequel involves Levallon's son, who is partly possessed by an elemental spirit as he grows toward maturity, but predictably the authorities interpret his dual existence as mental illness. There's a good deal of social criticism in this one, but the story moves much more slowly, less happens, and the conclusion falls rather flat.
All Eve's Hallow by Dean Wesley Smith, Phobos, 2005, $13.95, ISBN 0-9720026-6-9
Dean Wesley Smith has spent much of his career writing novels set in the universes created by others Star Trek, Men in Black, etc. This new novel, apparently the first in the City Knights series, is in one entirely his own, a kind of alternate version of our own contemporary society except that many of the creatures of legend exist, although they remain hidden from the view of most people. His protagonist is Billie Stein, who finds herself recruited into the City Knights, a mysterious group that knows about the existence of the various threats to normal humanity, and sets out to protect us, and conceal the truth. Some of her adventures are what you would expect from the opening volume in a series of this nature, but she's a refreshingly understandable and likable character and the novel is an entertaining blend of supernatural suspense and light humor. Let's hope Smith expands on this very promising opening.
In Stone's Clasp by Christie Golden, Luna, 2005, $13.95, ISBN 0-373-80229-3
Luna books has recruited a number of established fantasy writers to contribute to their fantastic romance line, and the results have been generally quite good, novels that don't rely entirely on the romantic elements and incorporate solid storytelling. Recently they have started moving towards series, or at least sequels, and this is the follow up to the earlier On Fire's Wings. The female protagonist is seeking a number of elements that together form a source of great magical power, but she is dismayed to find that the man she has long sought for has become embittered and uncooperative. Although readers will know from the outset what's eventually going to happen, Golden provides a lot of interesting scenery and an exciting ride along the way.
Touched by Venom by Janine Cross, Roc, 11/05, $14, ISBN 0-451-46048-0
The protagonist of this first novel, also the first in a new fantasy series, is an interesting and engaging character, more interesting frankly than the story itself. She is outspoken despite her comparatively low status in society, and that eventually gets her family into trouble. With her sister enslaved and her mother driven mad, Zarq takes the latter with her as she searches for her missing sister, and in the process descends into weakness herself, becoming addicted to dragon venom. The venom eventually wakens darker thoughts, including a form of feminism and a determination to overthrow the present social structure, most of which will presumably take more solid form in the volumes to come. This didn't quite work for me, but the strong characterization leads me to hope that the author will become more interesting as she gains experience.
The Narrows by Alexander C. Irvine, Del Rey, 9/05, $13.95, ISBN 0-345-46698-5
Alternate universe stories have become very popular with SF readers, so it's not surprisingly that they are showing up with more frequency in fantasy as well. Irvine's new novel is a case in point, set during World War II in Detroit, but not exactly the Detroit with which we are familiar. Although the Ford factory has been converted to a war footing, it is not tanks that they are manufacturing but golems. This premise is itself an interesting and potentially productive one, but Irvine also uses an unusual viewpoint. We see most of the action through the eyes of an average worker at the factory, his homemaking wife, and occasionally his brother, who works in sales. The dialogue and narration are witty, compact, and have an element of low key but pervasive humor despite the often serious tone of the events being described. This is easily my favorite work by Irvine and will certainly jump his next novel up a few feet on the to-be-read stack.
Once Upon a Time (she said) by Jane Yolen, NESFA, 2005, $26, ISBN 1-886778-61-2
Harrowing the Dragon by Patricia A. McKillip, Ace, 2005, $23.95, ISBN 0448013600
Although fantasy fiction has enjoyed unprecedented popularity during the past few years, it has been almost entirely at novel length. The relative handful of new stories published in original anthologies and elsewhere have not been nearly as memorable, and unlike in horror and science fiction, almost no fantasy writers enjoy a reputation at that length. Perhaps the two best known exceptions are Jane Yolen and Patricia A. McKillip, both of whom write outside the mainstream of contemporary fantasy even at novel length, and both of whom have significant collections of short fiction out this year. Jane Yolen is far more prolific, and this large hardcover from NESFA Press contains more than 80 stories and poems, aimed originally at adult and younger audiences, many drawing at least in part on traditional fairy tales and legends. McKillip has produced a smaller body of short fiction, although she often draws on the same sources.
Winter's Orphans by Elaine Corvidae, Mundania Press, 2005, $13, ISBN 1-59426-124-5
The author has created a very interesting setting for this opening volume in yet another new fantasy trilogy. Niune is a kingdom, ruled by the fairy folk, but subject to considerable internal conflict. That in itself would make the setting very familiar, but added to the mix is the fact that Niune is on the verge of an industrial revolution, which potentially has a great impact on every aspect of life, including the political intrigues at the court. The chief protagonist is a young woman who discovers she has a forbidden magical power in her heritage, and when it wakens she becomes the target for government backed killers. The bulk of the story is rather routine from that point onward, but there is enough novelty to keep this one interesting.
Viriconium by M. John Harrison, Bantam, 10/05, $16, ISBN 0-553-38315-9
Harrison's Viriconium stories were first published between 1971 and the early 1980s, consisting of one collection of short pieces and three complete novels. This omnibus edition appeared in the UK in 1988 but has not been available in the US until now. The novels are The Pastel City, A Storm of Wings, and The Floating Gods. The setting is a far future Earth in which magic and superscience mix, rather uneasily. The technology is mostly in the hands of people who live in underground societies, and who are plotting to seize control of the surface world. Later a race of giant locusts threatens to exterminate the human race, and other dangers include plague, rampant criminals, and malevolent gods. Viriconium is a beautifully realized fantasy world, somewhat reminiscent of Vance's Dying Earth stories, although with a magical touch of their own. They are much more inventive and imaginative than contemporary mainstream fantasy, and deserve much wider attention than I suspect they'll receive.
Dragon America by Mike Resnick, Phobos Books, 2005, $13.95, ISBN 0-9720026-6-9
Mike Resnick's latest is an alternate history novel that feels at times like fantasy, although it's not. The setting is revolutionary America and George Washington, Daniel Boone, and others are engaged in one fashion or another in the struggle for independence, while the British, of course, are determined to suppress it. The difference is that in this version of North America, dragons actual animals rather than magical creatures are found running wild in the forests, adding an unusual bit of background that stirs a mix that is already moving in a surprising new direction. Resnick has a marvelous gift for story telling and creates here an attractive and interesting alternate world filled with interesting and engaging characters.
Night Bird's Reign by Holly Taylor, Medallion, 2005, $14.99, ISBN 1932815538
All of the elements of contemporary high fantasy appear in this new title, a child who appears to be fated to fulfill an ancient prophecy, a land of magic ruled by royalty, a battle for succession to the throne, a Welsh setting and elements of Arthurian legend, a missing sword with magical properties, a quest, assassins, secrets, apparently doomed love, and a very large cast of characters, many with nearly unpronounceable names. Much of the narrative is presented in very short sentences and paragraphs, which helps keep the story moving right along, but which reveals a degree of superficiality that detracts from the overall effect. I rarely had any clear image of the characters or setting, and the very large number of unusual proper names is frequently confusing. The dialogue is choppy and awkward as well. The overall plot is well constructed, but the author has not yet developed the skills necessary to pull readers into her imagined world or involve them with her characters.
Colliding Forces by Constance O'Day-Flannery, Tor, 9/05, $6.99, ISBN 0-765-35102-1
Romance writer O'Day-Flannery returns to the theme of shape shifting which she used in her previous novel, Shifting Love. This time the shapeshifter is a man, and his unusual ability both intrigues and frightens the protagonist, Deborah Stark, a journalist whose latest investigation is directed at the broadcasting conglomerate that employs her. Eventually she discovers that her real enemies are much more mundane, and much more deadly than the mysterious Marcus. The romantic content is strong enough to appeal to that audience, but the author has demonstrated in her previous books that she has a strong narrative style and knows that it is important first and foremost to tell a good story. That's what she has done here as well.
Perilous Realms by Marjorie Burns, University of Toronto Press, 2005, $27.95, ISBN 0-8020-3806-9
Although the flood of new books about Tolkien, inspired by the recent film trilogy, has crested and begun to recede, a few continue to appear. One of the more interesting is this one, which explores the influence of Celtic and Norse influences on the Lord of the Rings. For the most part, Burns avoids descending into incomprehensible academese and her examination of the books should have a popular as well as scholarly audience. The focus of her study includes the associated books by Christopher Tolkien as well, although her main interest is the original trilogy.
Vox by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell, David Fickling, 10/05, $12.95, ISBN 0-385-75081-1
The Edge Chronicles are a British series for younger readers, now being reprinted in the US, presumably to capitalize on the Harry Potter craze, although they are certainly well enough written to stand on their own. This one involves a nefarious plot by an evil man and the way in which his efforts are brought to naught. The stories are filled with a variety of original creatures and characters, and there's a pleasant mix of adventure and humor, and witty enough prose to satisfy parents as well as children. There are lots of very nice black and white illustrations by Riddell, a strong story line with an engaging mystery. I haven't seen much mention of these but they are certainly among the better children's fantasies.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling, Scholastic, 2005, $29.99, ISBN 0-439-78454-9
The sixth Harry Potter book looks to be winding things up for the big finale. Harry and his friends are getting older, and he's starting to get interested in girls, but that's almost a side issue this time. Lord Voldemort and his followers, the Death Eaters, are on the move and security has been tightened everywhere, including Hogwarts, although predictably the enemy manages to bypass it almost at will. This one struck me as less a complete adventure in itself. We learn some of Voldemort's secrets, but there is no direct confrontation with him, and much of the story is low key. As promised, one of the major characters apparently dies at the end of the book, but I have my suspicions and suspect the person in question will be back in time for the final outing. Rowling's fans will like it and her critics will probably hate it.
The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror: 18th Annual Collection edited by Ellen Datlow, Kelly Link, and Gavin J. Grant, St Martins, 8/05, $19.95, ISBN 0-312-34194-6
Reading through the credits list for the latest in this long lived and always outstanding series is both encouraging and discouraging. It's discouraging because the handful drawn from genre sources illustrate the very poor state of short fantasy and horror fiction as a publishing category, despite the popularity of fantasy novels and the recent slight resurgence of horror novels as well. On the other hand, it's encouraging because of the wide variety of places from which the stories are drawn, indicating that the taste for non-realistic fiction is very pervasive and not limited to just those of us conscious of it as a unique field. That said, it also makes for a very good anthology not to mention a very large one because almost none of these stories were familiar to me before picking this up, so it was almost like reading an original anthology, a very good original anthology. There are also the usual summations and overviews and a list of honorary mentions. A major volume by almost any standards.
Black Water by D.J. MacHale, Brilliance Audio, 2005, $29.95, ISBN 1-59737-269-2
The Rivers of Zadaa by D.J. MacHale, Brilliance Audio, 2005, $29.95, ISBN 1-59737-277-0
The fifth and sixth novels in the Pendragon series are both presented here, unabridged, ably read by William Dufris. Bobby Pendragon has been traveling from world to world, battling his arch enemy to save the situation. In the first of these, he has to wrestle with the series' version of Star Trek's Prime Directive. It is against the rules to bring objects from one universe to another. Unfortunately, the only cure for a deadly plague lies in another reality. In the second, he intercedes in a more familiar situation. Saint Dane has two primitive tribes on the verge of war and must negotiate peace to restore the old balance. The teenaged protagonist undergoes some convincing and quite interesting personality changes as a result of his adventures, resulting in one of the more rewarding adventure series for young adults.
Revisiting Narnia edited by Shanna Caughey, BenBella, 10/05, $14.95, ISBN 1-932100-63-6
I've recently re-read the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis, which frankly reinforced my opinion that they are overrated, but I'm obviously in a minority on this issue, and the books have remained popular both here and abroad. With the film version appearing soon, it is inevitable that people would try to take a fresh look at the series, and the editor of this volume has gathered of essays, ranging from popular to scholarly, considering various aspects of Lewis' created world, and the religious philosophy behind it. Among the contributors are Lawrence Watt-Evans, Jacqueline Carey, Mary Zambreno, Sarah Zettel, and many others unfamiliar to me. A few of the essays are relentlessly academic, but most are perfectly accessible to the ordinary reader, and together they provide an extensive and sometimes enlightening backdrop to the series.
Lord of the Silver Bow by David Gemmell, Del Rey, 10/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-345-45835-4
David Gemmell has already produced a large body of very good fantasy fiction, some of it in historical settings, and he turns to the latter again for this new book, the first in a series that retells the story of the Trojan War from a slightly different perspective. Aeneas and Andromache are more important than Helen and Paris, but they are caught up in the tide of events when Helen is carried off and Agamemnon sets out to get her back, and punish those who have offended him. The author has a nice feel for the period, and his talent for creating larger than life characters stands him in good stead for this one. I'm looking forward to the next in the series.
Eldest by Christopher Paolini, Knopf, 8/05, $21.00, ISBN 0-375-82670-X
The first volume in this series, Eragon, is one of the most successful self published books in history, later reprinted in a slightly altered version for its republication. This is volume two, which finds Eragon off on a trip to gain more knowledge of magic, because although his people have won their independence from a repressive empire, their liberty is fragile. While he is gone, fresh problems arise requiring the intervention of another young hero, and the story is split between the two. Impressive as the author's achievement may be, there is really nothing particularly outstanding about either novel in literary terms, although both are certainly quite readable mainstream fantasy.
Children of the Serpent Gate by Sarah Ash, Bantam Spectra, 10/05, $23, ISBN 0-553-38212-8
Book three of the Tears of Artamon reveals that Gavril Nagarian is not dead after all. He might have been better off if he had died. Now he has a new task before him, a rescue mission, because a wizard who possesses magical stones crucial to the future of his people has been taken captive. The protagonist's unusual relationship with a creature who shares his body gives this series quite a different feel from most other fantasy, but the situations in which he finds himself are so familiar that it numbs some of the novelty. Still a good read, but I had hoped for more.
Silverheart by Michael Moorcock and Storm Constantine, Pyr, 9/05, $25, ISBN 1-59102-336-X
Although this fantasy adventure was first published in the UK in 2000, I don't believe it has been available in the US before. It clearly fits into Moorcock's all encompassing multiverse, but the prose reminded me more of Constantine for much of the book. The chief protagonist is a petty thief who is slowly dying because of a curse, which he must lift quickly if he is to live. His efforts are complicated by a local quasi-policeman determined to bring him to justice and his involvement with a woman who seeks to remedy the ills of society at large. More intellectual than most similar novels, certainly much better prose than usual, and some memorable characters to drag us into this collaborative fantasy realm.
Wizards at War by Diane Duane, Harcourt, 1-/05, $17, ISBN 0-15-204772-7
This is the eighth in Duane's series about Nita and Kit, two young wizards who inevitably save the day. Duane's universe is more diverse than most, and her protagonists travel to other planets and number many alien wizards among their friends. The problem this time is that a sinister force has begun to sap the powers of all the wizards in the universe, including Nita and Kit, so they have a very short time to solve the problem before they will be unable to do anything about it. An enjoyable story, but I've always had problems mixing aliens with magic, which made it very difficult to insert myself into the narrative.
Looking for Jake by China Mieville, Del Rey, 8/05, $14.95, ISBN 0-345-44302-0
There are few writers who have made as strong an impression on a genre in as short a period of time as has China Mieville on fantasy. In a genre that is generally conservative about trying anything new, he has produced several very original novels, and this - his first collection demonstrates that his short fiction is just as impressive. There are fourteen stories, including the short novel, The Tain, drawn from a number of sources, most of them rather out of the way, so most readers will find the majority of the book to be new to them. "Details", "Reports of Certain Events in London", the short novel, and the title story are my particular favorites, and the remaining stories are uniformly good as well. Short fantasy fiction is normally rather bland, but that's not the case this time.
Thor's Wedding Day by Bruce Coville, Hacourt, 9/05, $15, ISBN 0-15-201455-1
Shelby and the Shifting Rings by A.M. Veillon, Parity Press, 2005, $9.95, ISBN 0-9762015-5-0
Three Good Deeds by Vivian Vande Velde, Haracourt, 10/05, $16, ISBN 0-15-205382-4
It was a hot day and I didn't feel up to the effort of reading anything really heavy, and I also had this stack of books for younger readers. So I decided to start off with the one most likely to be the best of the lot, and I wasn't disappointed. Bruce Coville takes an actual Viking legend, the only humorous one, and transform it into an amusing story about the theft of Thor's Hammer and his conversion to a bride in order to trick the leader of the giants into giving it back. Fun for all ages. Next came the first novel in a series about an orphan girl who discovers that there is a time machine at the private school she's attending, the springboard for some amusing if not entirely plausible adventures. It's not Harry Potter, but it was sufficiently amusing to hold my attention. The third title is another humorous piece from a reliable source of above average young adult fiction. The protagonist irritates a witch after which he is turned into a goose. The only way he can return to his normal form is to perform three good deeds, which are obviously difficult given his present physical shape. How he does so makes up the balance of the book. Although obviously aimed at quite young readers, the premise and its resolution are cleverly done.
Stolen Voices by Ellen Lee Davidson, Lobster Press, 2005, $12.95, ISBN 189707316-X
May Bird and the Ever After by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Atheneum, 2005, $15.95, ISBN 0-689-86923-5
The Onts by Dan Greenburg, Harcourt, 9/05, $11.95, ISBN 0-15-205457-X
Treachery and Betrayal at Jolly Days by Dan Greenburg, Harcourt, 9/05, $11.95, ISBN 0-15-205463-4
More books for young readers, starting with a dystopian novel in which a teenager discovers she is one of the few children of the privileged elite with no special mental talents, as a result of which she will be condemned to life among the lower classes. That leads to the inevitable discovery that the world is governed by corrupt individuals and the eventual happy, uplifting, if not entirely believable ending. The novel is reasonably well written with the caveat that if you are, like me, a reader who finds present tense narration distracting, you will be very distracted. The second title is a fantasy aimed at a slightly older group. The young protagonist falls through a lake and finds herself in another world, one where the physical nature of reality is different and where an evil presence has unpleasant plans for her. This is the first of a series, and a very promising start. The fantasy world is quite clever and well realized. Finally we have the first two titles in the Secrets of Dripping Fang series. These are for a younger crowd, or for those who remain young at heart, because they don't take themselves at all seriously. The protagonists are twins, and not very appealing ones, who nevertheless get our sympathy when they are adopted by sisters who live near a forest filled with very unusual zombies. Although they escape the menace in the first volume and are reunited with their father at the beginning of the second, things are not as they seem. Cute, well told, and occasionally decidedly peculiar.
Orphans of Chaos by John C. Wright, Tor, 11/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-31131-3
John Wright has already made a notable impression in both SF and fantasy, and he returns to fantasy for his latest. The main characters are a group of children at a private school who discover that each has a different superhuman, apparently magical power, and that they have in fact been abducted from different realities and brought together for purposes not initially clear. Their voyage of discovery is an exciting, unusual, and very satisfying ride through the author's imagination, and the results are certainly going to make Wright even more of a hot property. If it wasn't as well written as it is, it would still be a nice antidote to the generic fantasy that lurks behind most new covers lately, and it's a lot more than that as well.
Keepers of the Flame by Neil McIntosh, Black Library, 2005, $7.99, ISBN 1-84416-186-2
Grudge Bearer by Gav Thorpe, Black Library, 2005, $6.99, ISBN 1-84416-197-8
It was too hot to read anything requiring heavy thought the other day, so I settled down with these two Warhammer fantasy novels for a change of pace. The first is the third volume in the chronicles of Stefan Kumansky, a kind of spy series set in a Slavic style fantasy realm. McIntosh is one of the better writers working this particular vein, and I found the novel thoroughly enjoyable. Thorpe's contribution was less of a hit. A dwarf king dies and his son assumes the throne, and promptly sets out to avenge old scores, hence the title. What follows is a series of very brief episodes, essentially short stories, in each of which he gets the better of an enemy. The stories didn't engage me particularly and, even worse, I didn't care for Barundin or any of the other characters.
Songs of Victory by Loren L. Coleman, Ace, 2005, $6.99, ISBN 0-441-01310-4
This is the second in a series of novels set in the land of Conan, although he is not a character. Kern of Cimmeria has proven himself to be a worthy warrior, but even he may not be strong enough to rally his people in defense of their homeland when faced with the overpowering might of their aggressive neighbors. Fast paced action, adventure in the barbarian style, covering no new ground but handling old themes with practiced skill. This series has proven to be much more interesting than Coleman's previous work, primarily tie-in novels.
Thraxas and the Sorcerers by Martin Scott, Baen, 2005, $22.00, ISBN 0-7434-9908-5
The Time of Troubles I by Harry Turtledove, Baen, 2005, $26.00, ISBN 1-4165-0904-6
With fantasy enjoying its greatest popularity ever, it's not surprising that publishers are reprinting some older fiction as well as scores of new novels. Both of these are reprints, the first part of a series of humorous detective fantasies originally published in the UK. Thraxas is recruited to go undercover at a convention of sorcerers this time, and gets thoroughly caught up in magical politics and eventual nasty crimes. The first few volumes in the series were pretty frothy, but I've actually become more fond of the character with the recent volumes, and this is a pretty good one. The Turtledove book collects two early novels, The Stolen Throne and Hammer and Anvil from the mid-1990s, part of the Videssos series, with more presumably to follow. These are the 8th and 9th respectively, and are competent fantasies, but by this late in the series the situations were getting very repetitive.
In the Ruins by Kate Elliott, DAW, 8/05, $25.95, ISBN 0-7564-0192-5
This is the first half of the concluding volume of the Crown of Stars series, to be published in two volumes because, according to the author, there was just too much story to fit into one. There is certainly no shortage of subplots, characters , and unresolved plot elements. The political maneuvering in the previous volumes takes a new turn when the prophesized disaster finally happens, with multiple natural disasters stirring the mix of characters, destabilizing their governments, and killing large chunks of the population. As the people struggle to survive the cataclysm, there are predictably efforts by some ambitious rulers to take advantage of the situation to increase their own authority at the expense of their neighbors, which just makes recovery even more difficult. Elliott has developed as real a fantasy realm as any writer working in the genre, and the very complexity of the story contributes to its verisimilitude. Readers will have to be patient though, because the conclusion is still one volume away.
Midshipwizard Halcyon Blithe by James M. Ward, Tor, 9/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-31253-0
My only previous experience with this author is a handful of multi-path gamebooks with a fantasy theme, so I guess this is properly speaking his first fantasy novel. Although it is really just another story about a young wizard learning his trade, Ward has provided a relatively novel setting. Halcyon Blithe takes a position aboard a military vessel where his talents alternately help and hinder his career advancement before he finally proves his mettle. As the title suggests, this is a kind of magical version of one of C.S. Forester's Hornblower books, but it works quite well and there's a light touch to the prose that is very refreshing. I would be very surprised if this is the last time we see Blithe and his companions.
Bear Daughter by Judith Berman, Ace, 9/05, $15, ISBN 0-441-01322-8
Judith Berman's first fantasy novel is a nice break from mainstream fantasy. The protagonist is a young girl who is the offspring of a human mother and a mystical bear father. Her foster father is the local king, who is not kindly disposed toward her even before he hears that she is potentially a danger to his control of the throne, even though she is more concerned with learning to be human after her first few years as a bear cub. The mystical background is interesting and novel and the prose is polished and rich in imagery. One of the more promising first novels of the past several months.
Faith & Fairies by C.S. Haviland, LegendMaker Scriptoria, 2005, $14.95, ISBN 0-9759355-1-8
As far as I know this is a debut novel, and it's certainly a publisher of whom I have no previous knowledge. That's usually a bad sign, but I was pleasantly surprised because this unusual fantasy is certainly well enough written to have appeared from a better known publisher. It's a bit of a kitchen sink fantasy, incorporating a lot of standard themes including fairies, an enchanted tree, insanity, legendary luck, a dragon, supernatural spirits, and crazed rulers. The blend, leavened by some light humor, works much better than I expected, and while it doesn't really break any new ground, it's a pleasant enough read for fantasy fans.
Strange Itineraries by Tim Powers, Tachyon, 2005, $15.95, ISBN 1-892391-23-6
Tim Powers is not one of our more prolific authors, particularly at shorter length, but he's done quite a few over the course of the last couple of decades, and the average quality level is much higher than that of most of his contemporaries. There are nine of them here, including the very fine early story "The Way Down the Hill", the later "The Better Boy", the longer but excellent "Night Moves", plus three collaborations with James P. Blaylock. Tachyon has added a very deserving volume to its already impressive line of short story collections.
Cast in Shadow by Michelle Sagara, Luna, 2005, $13.95, ISBN 0-373-80236-6
This fantastic mystery romance by Michelle Sagara, who also writes as Michelle West, is apparently the first in a series, and though published by an imprint that specializes in romance, this is one that should appeal to general fantasy fans as well. The protagonist is a young woman who works for the city guard in a typical magical world, and who has been troubled in the past by a series of murders, all involving children as victims. When a new string of similar killings begins, she is teamed up with a handsome but enigmatic aristocrat, with whom she becomes romantically involved while ultimately solving the mystery. I had a lot of fun with this one, and you will too.
Kitty and the Midnight Hour by Carrie Vaughn, Aspect, 11/05, $6.99, ISBN 0-446-61641-9
Romance fiction has already taken most of the bite out of vampires, and now fantasy and romance are doing the same for werewolves. This is just the latest in a small flurry of novels which feature benevolent shapeshifting protagonists, in this case a night shift disc jockey who is actually a werewolf. Unfortunately, there's a werewolf hunter who isn't inclined to believe that shapeshifters can be good guys, and a host of supernatural bad guys to menace them both. Lightweight but kind of fun.
Paths Not Taken by Simon R. Green, Ace, 9/05, $6.99, ISBN 0-441-01319-8
The fifth novel in the Nightside series is somewhat out of the ordinary. John Taylor, a private detective who specializes in a part of London which overlaps between our world and one where magic works, is not on a typical case this time. He has received information which might reveal the true identity of his mother, long absent, who reportedly is not entirely human. The rumors become even more intriguing when he learns that she may be the creator of Nightside, and might be planning to be its destroyer as well. Green makes this kind of story look deceptively easy and he never fails to deliver an entertaining adventure.
Pillar of the Sun by Carl Bowen, White Wolf, 2005, $6.99, ISBN 1-58846-868-2
This is the fourth in a multi-author series, the Exalted, a fairly traditional sword and sorcery, barbarian society fantasy. Like most of that type, it features a larger than life hero who proves, in a manner of speaking, to be more than a match for an entire army of uncivilized invaders, released on a typical fantasy world by an ancient and not very nice force. Competent action and adventure but with little to distinguish it from many others of this type.
Pendragon: The Guide to the Territories of Halla by D.J. MacHale, Aladdin, 2005, $7.99, ISBN 1-4169-0014-4
This is sort of a guide to the Pendragon series by MacHale in which young Bobby Pendragon battles the villain, Saint Dane, through a series of parallel worlds. It really doesn't provide much background, just one page of data about each of the realities visited so far. It is mostly a picture book, with portraits of the main characters and some scenes from the stories. The artwork is good but unremarkable. For those reading the series, this is a mildly interesting companion book but will not be of much help to people looking for information about the series itself.
Navigating the Golden Compass edited by Glenn Yeffeth, BenBella, 2005, $17.95, ISBN 1-932100-52-0
This is a collection of essays about Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, concentrating on religion, science, and demonology. The contributors include Robert Metzger, Sarah Zettel, Michael Chabon, Kay Kenyon, Harry Turtledove, Sean McMullen, and several others and cover quite a range of material, not surprising given the richness of the original text. For the most part they're quite readable and non-academic and should enhance the pleasure of anyone who has enjoyed Pullman's remarkable trilogy.
The Rivers of Zadaa by D.J. MacHale, Simon & Schuster, 7/05, $14.95, ISBN 1-4169-0710-6
The Opal Deception by Eoin Colfer, Hyperion, 2005, $16.95, ISBN 0-7868-85289-5
The Pendragon young adult series by D.J. MacHale moves to hardcover for its sixth volume. The series follows the adventures of young Bobby Pendragon as he travels from one magical world to another. In this one, he must save the primitive world of Zadaa from the evil machinations of the villain, Saint Dane, who is stirring up trouble between two large tribes. He learns a great deal about himself in the process. The character in that series is evolving, but Artemis Fowl, the brilliant young thief whom author Colfer brings back for a fourth caper, is almost completely unchanged. This time he's out to steal a famous painting from a vault, but an old rival has the same target in mind and the outcome, if never in doubt, is at least a bit murky. Read MacHale for a well told story with believable characters, but read Colfer if you just want to have some unlikely but entertaining fun.
No Present Like Time by Steph Swainston, Gollancz, 2005, £9.99, ISBN 0-575-07006-4
New British writer Steph Swainston follows the success of her debut novel, The Year of Our War, with another set in that same world. Jant is a winged messenger serving the throne in a magical world that is subject to invasion by giant insect creatures. Although the latter menace is quiescent for the moment, the situation is far from peaceful, at least as far as he's concerned. A new rival has apparently lessened his value to the king, his wife may be secretly unfaithful, and just when he's trying to deal with those problems, he is made part of a diplomatic mission to a strange and distant land. Swainston is one of the few writers of contemporary fantasy to be willing to step outside the rigid formulas of most of their peers and give us original, innovative, and above all stimulating reading.
Pilgrim by Sara Douglass, Tor, 9/05, $27.95, ISBN 0-312-87375-1
Here at last is the fifth volume of the Wayfarer Redemption, first published in Australia in 1997. It's another quest story, and as usual the hidden secrets are the key to saving the world from a supernatural fate. The author's more recent novels are much better written, but this series is reasonably good as well, although the plot is tired and the characters are generally of little interest. There are elements of the imagined world that are quite well done, indicative of the more thoughtful work that has followed. There's a bit of tragedy here as well as intrigue and adventure, but perhaps a few too many characters, enough that I lost track of who was who a couple of times.
Melusine by Sarah Monette, Ace, 8/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-441-01286-8
Sarah Monette makes a solid debut at novel length with this story of Felix Harrowgate, a young wizard still uncertain of his own powers and troubled by memories of his troubled past. His latest problems throw him into the company of Mildmay, a talented thief and lately successful assassin. Their journey together involves a number of trials and tribulations and is largely episodic, before finally winding its way back to the secret of their mutual baggage from another time. A likeable light adventure story, and the thief is at times a very intriguing character.
The Finest Choice by Jean Rabe, Tor, 9/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30821-5
Jean Rabe returns to the world of the sentient, telepathic horses, created by the gods as a sort of race of shepherds for humanity, which frequently falls short of the nobility of its aspirations. I felt rather diffident about the first in the series, in large part because the animal characters never really engaged me, and was not hopeful for the second, but it turns out to be a much better book. One of the horses has taken particular interest in a young princess whose brother is about to assume the throne, a source of power for which he is ill suited. I particularly liked the characterization of the princess, although the horses still seem flat and unrealistic.
Godslayer by Jacqueline Carey, Tor, 8/05, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-31239-5
The second volume of the Sundering continues the second series by this new fantasy writer. The main character is a man who worships a god generally believed to be evil and cruel, although the situation is actually less clearcut than it seems. As the mortal forces gather in an attempt to destroy the god's influence, an elven woman becomes the focus of a magical power by which the task may be accomplished. When she is captured by agents of the hated god, his followers want to execute her to preserve their lord's dominion, but the god himself is of a different mind, and his merciful actions call into question many of the reader's previous conceptions about his nature. Original enough to be remarkable, and complex enough to be engrossing. I predict that Carey will emerge within a few years as one of the premier fantasy writers.
Singer of Souls by Adam Stemple, Tor, 8/05, $22.95, ISBN 0-765-31170-4
Adam Stemple's first solo novel is a contemporary fantasy set in Scotland. The protagonist is a young musician who has gotten himself into considerable trouble in the US thanks to his unsavory habits. Intent upon reforming himself and turning his life around, he goes to live with his Grandmother in Scotland for a while, but gives in to temptation there as well, indulging in an unknown drug. This time it has very different and possibly permanent consequences, because from that point on he can see and hear things not detectible by most other people, and becomes aware of fairy folk and others who live invisibly in our world. In due course, he becomes involved in their problems, and finally learns to control his own baser impulses. A bit on the light weight side, but more than competently written and showing considerable promise.
Glass Soup by Jonathan Carroll, Tor, 10/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-31179-8
Jonathan Carroll almost always surprises his readers and his new one is no exception. Simon Haden, a not particularly likable egocentrist, has died and gone to the afterlife, but it's an afterlife like none you've ever seen before. Tiny figures materialize and direct his life there, which involves being a tourguide for people, animals, and odder creatures, where the bus driver could be an octopus, and where an encounter with an old nemesis can be repeated over and over until he gets it right. The story moves between Haden's experience and that of two people from our world who have the ability to cross the barrier between the living and the dead, but do so only at great risk to themselves. A highly original, constantly surprising, and beautifully written addition to Carroll's growing shelf of top notch novels.
Pet Peeve by Piers Anthony, Tor, 10/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30408-2
Although the Xanth series seems to have mined most of the ore from its particular literary vein, it still surprises me often enough that I continue to read it. The 29th in the series, alas, is not one of the better installments. The protagonist this time is an outcast goblin involved in a multi-part quest, the most significant part of which is rallying the various citizens of Xanth to resist an invasion of robots from another reality. There are a few good laughs particularly involving the obnoxious bird referred to in the title and occasionally the Amazonian sidekick, Hannah Barbarian, but in the end this is just more of the same, which will probably satisfy Xanth fans but which offers little to entice new readers into the fold.
The Misted Cliffs by Catherine Asaro, Luna, 7/05, $13.95, ISBN 0-373-80226-9
Catherine Asaro returns to her fantastic world of Aronsdale for this new romance, which mixes various devices of that genre and fantasy, with a touch of the gothic. The relative peace is an uneasy one, and evil has not been expunged from the land entirely. The protagonist is a young woman who has been prevailed upon to marry a man whose family has been inclined toward evil for many generations, and whose own father is considerably villainous in his own right. But she sees something good in him and devotes herself to fanning that ember and changing the family's destiny. One of the better fantasy romances in this specialty line, and an interesting change of pace from her Skolian Empire novels.
Child of a Rainless Year by Jane Lindskold, Tor, 5/05, $14.95, ISBN 0-765-31513-0
Jane Lindskold has always been a reliable and competent writer of traditional fantasy novels, but there has been a more contemporary cast to her recent novels, and that combined with her greater experience has begun to turn her into a writer who stands out from the crowd. This new novel is very close to being her best, a blend of contemporary fantasy and mystery. The protagonist is a woman whose mother disappeared when she was very young. Raised by her aunt and uncle and now a teacher, she discovers that she has title to the family home, so she returns to New Mexico to examine the property, and perhaps to find out what really happened to the missing woman. Lindskold unfolds the layers of the mystery systematically and convincingly and has given us one of her most realistic characters, along with a trio of unusual ghosts.
The Hounds of Avalon by Mark Chadbourn, Gollancz, 2005, £10.99, ISBN 0-575-07278-4
The third volume of the Dark Ages series furthers the chaos following the reintroduction of magic into our world in the near future. The ancient gods are back, and they're fighting their old battles anew with humans caught in the middle. Chadbourn superimposes a quest story onto the setting, with the usual combination of mismatched heroes, this time a moody man of action and a less than impressive government clerk, as the focus. There's a mystery to be unraveled, involving ancient legends which might have a bearing on the present, and a host of foes to defeat or at least evade. The clash of magic and modern sensibilities is occasionally jarring but most of the time the author manages to make his world seem real.
The Soul Weaver by Carol Berg, Roc, 2/05, $7.99, ISBN 0-451-46017-0
Daughter of Ancients by Carol Berg, Roc, 9/05, $7.99, ISBN 0-451-46042-1
These are the third and fourth volumes of the Bridge of D'Arnath series, which has the same setting as the author's earlier Avonar novels. The main protagonist is Gerick, a troubled man who is accused of treason by his own people when it becomes obvious that conflict between them and a mysterious lords of Zhev'Na is imminent. He becomes a fugitive in the third volume and has a series of adventures in strange lands, but returns to his homeland in the fourth, just in time to become involved in the investigation of a woman, a princess, who reappeared after being abducted several centuries earlier. Berg does good, strongly plotted sword and sorcery as well as anyone, although I thought the plot advanced a bit too slowly in these two titles.
The Jaguar and the Wolf by Leah R. Cutter, Roc, 2005, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-46026-X
Leah Cutter mixes two very different cultures in her latest fantasy novel. A Viking warrior who has a special relationship with a god, making him virtually invulnerable, gets into hot water at home and is forced to flee from Europe. Eventually his travels take him to the Americas, where he encounters the Aztec Empire, and where he becomes part of an unusual partnership with a woman, a priestess, who has recently been forcibly retired from her position of authority. The story itself is uneven, although the friction between the two cultures is interesting. The background and the evocation of the setting and culture is quite well done, and would have been even better if it had been explored at greater length.
The Never War by D.J. MacHale, Brilliance Audio, 2005, $29.95, ISBN 1-59737253-6
The Reality Bug by D.J. Machale, Brilliance Audio, 2005, $29.95, ISBN 1-50737-261-7
These are unabridged recordings of the third and fourth novels in the Pendragon, young adult fantasy series, both read ably by William Dufris. Bobby Pendragon is a teenaged boy who, along with a friend of two, travels between realities in his efforts to oppose the sinister plots of his enemy, Saint Dane, who tries to foment discord in each world he visits. In the first title above, they're on an alternate version of 1930s Earth, with a backdrop of gangsters and flappers, and in the second he nearly succumbs to a world where all the residents have retreated into virtual reality, shaping their own worlds, an evil that doesn't need Saint Dane. Although these plots are old hat to experienced genre readers, they're intended for an audience less widely read, and they're not at all bad for adult readers either, although young teens are more likely to be caught up in them. I'm still curious as to whether or not there is a young adult audience for audiobooks though.
Smoke and Mirrors by Tanya Huff, DAW, 6/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-7564-0262-X
Tanya Huff continues the enjoyable adventures of private detective Vick Nelson in this new novel, not to be confused with Smoke and Shadows, teaming up one again with her undead romance writer, vampire Henry Fitzroy, who figured prominently in an earlier series of novels. This time they and their friends are involved with the filming of what is supposed to be a documentary about a reputedly haunted house, which most of the crew believes to be a hoax until genuinely puzzling and frightening events seem to prove them wrong. Huff is one of the best writers we have at contemporary fantasy, particularly with a supernatural twist, and her characters are almost always the kind we remember later, even when the plot details have faded away.
Southern Fire by Juliet E. McKenna, Tor, 7/05, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-31411-8
British writer Juliet McKenna poses an interesting problem for her beleaguered fantasy world in this, the first in a new series. The land in question has decided to forgo magic entirely, contrary to the habits of some of the neighboring political entities, and has been fairly happy with the decision. They don't have serious second thoughts until a mysterious and apparently evil power, aided by magic, begins gobbling up one land after another, drawing ever closer. As the threat grows closer, the ruler protagonist must decide how best to defend his people, and whether or not they must compromise their own principles in order to survive. Good enough to make me watch for the sequel.
Brilliance of the Moon by Lian Hearn, Riverhead, 2005, $14, ISBN 1-59448086-9
The third and apparently final volume in the Otori series, set in a magical alternate medieval Japan, shows us the next stage in the expansion of the power of Otori and his partner as they attempt to fulfill a prophecy and create a vast and benevolent empire in the midst of their enemies. Their activities have already brought them tot he attention of powerful rivals including warlords and noblemen, but they are cheered by their belief in the prophecy. Hearn has done an excellent job of bringing his mythical world to life, and his characters and their interpersonal conflicts are believable and for the most part quite interesting, though occasionally glossed over so that I had the feeling I had missed something. In general though, this was quite rewarding.
Curse the Dark by Laura Anne Gilman, Luna, 7/05, $13.95, ISBN 0-373-80227-7
The sequel to Staying Dead is another romantic thriller about Wren Valere, a private detective who specializes in the supernatural, and who is romantically involved with her partner, although that relationship is not always a smooth one. This time the mystery involves an updated variation of the fantasy quest story, taking them off to Europe to search for a magical artifact, their progress impeded by the usual villains and misadventures. Gilman adds touches of quirky humor to the mix, which lightens the tone and makes the characters more believable and engaging. If you enjoy Charlaine Harris and the Anita Blake stories by Laurell Hamilton, you should like this series as well.
Whispering Nickel Idols by Glen Cook, Roc, 5/05, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-45974-1
Garrett, private detective, returns after too long an absence for his eleventh book length adventure. As usual, his life is complicated by more than one problem at a time. For one thing, this very unusual young girl has popped into his life, a mystery all by herself. Unfortunately, he doesn't have time to pursue that matter because one of the local crimelords has been struck by magically induced sleep, and his empire is currently in the hands of his not too stable daughter, who may herself be responsible. Garrett's investigations are complicated by the usual resistance by those who don't want the secret revealed, but also by the unwanted amorous attentions of the very dangerous heir apparent. Cook makes this blending of fantasy with hardboiled detective story seem easy, which it isn't, and manages to balance the requirements of both genres superbly.
The Tower of Ravens by Kate Forsyth, Roc, 6/05, $7.99, ISBN 0-451-46032-4
Although this is the first in a new series, Rhiannon's Ride, it is set in the same world as the author's previous six volume Eileanan sequence. There's a new heroine, a half human girl who has to flee her own people on a winged horse because of her human blood, and must now find a life for herself among a people she has never known. She takes shelter with an apprentice wizard who isn't that certain of his own future, and both of them are thrown in the path of a nefarious magical plot. Most of the book is spent developing the characters and situation, both of which are ably handled, and presumably the story will start to move more quickly with the next title. Better than average fantasy fare.
The Lost City of Faar by D.J. MacHale, read by William Dufris, Brilliance Audio, 2005, $29.95, ISBN 1-59737-245-5
This is the unabridged recording of the second of the Pendragon series, the sixth title of which is appearing in hardcover later this year. The teenaged protagonist of this young adult series is able to magically travel from one universe to another, in each of which he has an adventure. In this case, he's on a world covered completely by water, a world troubled by criminal attacks, but also one where a legendary lost city exists. A bit on the youngish side for most adult readers, but not terribly so, and one of the better series for younger readers in recent years.
Academ's Fury by Jim Butcher, Ace, 7/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-441-01283-3
Jim Butcher continues the Codex Alera series with this new novel, which further develops his cleverly constructed world in which primal forces of nature, furies, can actually manifest themselves in physical form. Tavi, the teenaged hero of the first volume, has become a young man and is quietly in training to be a spy in service to the throne. Unfortunately, that assumes that the government of Alera will continue as it has in the past, which is in rather serious question. An attack by a foreign power has already destabilized things enough that there is threat of a civil war, but potentially even worse is the awakening of an evil supernatural power, a power whose resurrection may be in part Tavi's own fault. Plenty of plot development but no resolutions, of course, until at least one more volume appears.
Ingledove by Marly Youmans, Farrar Strauss & Giroux, 2005, $16, ISBN 0-374-33599-0
This young adult novel is apparently the second one by this author to mix the legend of Atlantis with Cherokee mythology. In this one, two teenagers from our world cross into the land of Atlantis, whose culture has been influenced by native American lore. A seductive, magical woman lures the brother into danger and the sister must find strength within herself to act to save him. A moderately interesting story but the background was actually more interesting than the plot.
Everran's Bane by Sylvia Kelso, Five Star, 2005, $25.95, ISBN 1-59414-353-6
Malevolent dragons have figured significantly in quite a few recent fantasy novels, including this first effort. The kingdom of Everran is currently beset by one such, a creature which appears to be invulnerable to the usual weapons. There is considerable mystery about the creature as well. Why did it show up now and why is it bothering Everran but not the neighboring kingdoms? To discover the answers, the king and a musician set out on a journey of discovery, a quest without a clear focus, and eventually learn the truth.. The plot is straightforward and well thought out but many of the scenes seemed like sketches of longer versions, and I felt as though I was skipping ahead some times even though I wasn't.
Dragon Blade by Andre Norton and Sasha Miller, Tor, 8/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-30747-2
The fourth installment of the Book of the Rowan takes place shortly after the defeat of the evil menace that was confronting the world. Things are never that easy in magical worlds, and there is already a fresh danger on the horizon, a mystical dragon that can only be dispatched by use of a particular magical sword, and the sword is, of course, not presently at hand. A rather routine though not badly written quest story follows, as the sword is sought for and the seekers overcome a number of obstacles put in their way. Light weight but enjoyable.
The White Wolf's Son by Michael Moorcock, Warner, 6/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-446-57702-2
Elric returns for another adventure in the multiverse in the latest novel from Michael Moorcock. His granddaughter, Oonagh Von Bek, has been chased into a hidden underground world by two dastardly characters, an opening onto the myriad worlds of the multiverse. Elric and Oona are off on a rescue and discovery mission, tracking down rumors of Elric's son and tracking the villains to a mystical land where a plot against the manifold realities is being hatched. The scale of things is much grander than in Elric's earlier adventures, and the writing is generally more polished and sometimes quite strikingly good. I do, however, confess to missing the simpler and more straightforward adventures, largely because Moorcock did them so much better than almost everyone else. Don't let that dissuade you from reading this one, though, one of the more original fantasies of the year.
Death's Messenger by Sandy Mitchell, Black Library, 2005, $7.99, ISBN 1-84416-093-9
Witch Finder by C.L. Werner, Black Library, 2005, $6.99, ISBN 1-84416-161-7
These two Warhammer books are among the better examples of game tie-in novels, at least partly because there's really no obvious connection with a game. The first, and slightly better written, involves a young man unjustly accused of a form of heresy, after which he must flee his native village for a series of rather well done adventures. It ran a bit long but was in general quite good. The second is the sequel to Witch Hunter, a darker subset of the series in which two professional hunters of witches, vampires, and such find themselves being hunted for a change, and just as they walk into a community hosting another menace. It reminded me at times of Robert E. Howard's Solomon Kane stories, and that's definitely meant as a compliment.
Fantasy Fiction: An Introduction by Lucie Armitt, Continuum, 2005, no price listed, ISBN 0-8264-1685-3
This is part of a series of guides to genres, intelligently but awkwardly written and by someone who apparently doesn't really know the genre, since all of the titles covered are either mainstream classics or books by Tolkien, Rowling, and Orwell. The author includes SF as a subcategory of fantasy, but gives it very short shrift, and horror fiction is even less represented. It concentrates primarily on fantasy from an academic viewpoint, but really doesn't bring any unity to the treatment, which is instead a series of unrelated and sometimes pedantic essays. I can't imagine what the target audience for this might be. It's too derivative for academics and too uninformed for readers.
House of Storms by Ian R. MacLeod, Ace, 5/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-441-01280-9
Ian MacLeod returns to the world of The Light Ages for this new, untraditional fantasy set in an alternate Europe where magic and early technology co-exist. The protagonist this time is a woman whose son has been afflicted by a series and apparently incurable illness which seems destined to ruin his life. She takes the boy to a remote part of England where she hopes that the cleaner air and healthier environment will help, but she is actually plotting a more ambitious plan of attack. She hopes to cure him by magical means, enlisting the aid of a secretive group of people, but her plans are about to take a surprising new direction thanks to her son's romantic inclinations. Although the story itself is quite good, it is the marvelous realized background that made the strongest impression on me. MacLeod has an exceptional talent at making his imagined world seem real and logical without making it simply a carbon copy of some historical period.
Mystic Quest by Tracy & Laura Hickman, Warner, 2005, $24.95, ISBN 0-446-53106-5
The Bronze Canticles continue with volume two, in which various characters discover that their good intentions have had some unexpected and undesirable consequences. One has raised an army of dead in order to defeat an enemy, but now the animated corpses have no purpose and wander about aimlessly. Another is faced with a rival even more ambitious and determined than himself. A third is trying to find a way to free humans from the domination of a race of dragons. The three world are linked through dreams and three of their residents are about to embark on what appear to be three entirely separate quests, but all three of which have a common chord. No surprises but lots of excitement and action.
Shadowfall by James Clemens, Roc, 7/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-451-45994-6
James Clemens has written some exciting borderline SF thrillers under another name, several of which I've enjoyed, but his previous fantasy has all seemed rather routine. This is the first book in a new series, the Godslayer Chronicles, and as the title suggests, it is set in a magical world where even the gods are mortal. When a disabled man is the only witness to the murder of one of the gods, he finds himself blessed with the gift of a cure but cursed with suspicion by everyone else that he committed the murder in order to benefit himself. Circumstances force him to become a fugitive among fugitives, battling human and superhuman foes, in the beginning of a quest which, presumably, will end with the truth revealed. The novel has its good moments and gathers some momentum, but it remains to be seen whether it will be sustained in the next volume.
Elantris by Brandon Sanderson, Tor, 5/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-31177-1
The homogeneity of much modern fantasy is unfortunate because sometimes very good novels seem to blend in with the many merely adequate ones with similar plots. Sometimes, however, an author manages to blend the familiar with enough novelty to create a genuinely interesting setting as well as a good story. That's the case with this first novel, set in a world where at one time an entire population possessed magical powers with which they helped others and created a pleasant world. Unfortunately, some mysterious event deprived them of their magic, and years later a number of characters are caught up in a mix of quest, mystery story, and high adventure. Pretty good reading, and it is even a complete story, not part of a series.
Pay the Piper by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple, Starscape, 7/05, $16.95, ISBN 0-765-31158-5
The Widow and the Ring by John Dickinson, David Fickling, 6/05, $18.95, ISBN 0-385-75084-6
The Light of the Oracle by Victoria Hanley, David Fickling, 5/05, $15.95, ISBN 0-385-75086-2
Here we have a selection of books for younger readers, starting with a rock and roll fairy tale based very loosely on the story of the Pied Piper. It's a contemporary fantasy involving fairies and a curse, and it's a lot of fun, particularly because the protagonist is so engaging. More novels in the same series are planned, presumably transforming other classic fairy tales into a new setting. Yolen is one of the few writers for younger readers whose work is consistently of interest to adult audiences. Next is a sequel to The Cup of the World, a more conventional medieval style fantasy with a battle for the throne, an evil spirit manipulating things behind the scenes, and two likeable if somewhat predictable teenaged characters, the daughter of a witch and the son of a king. Nothing world shaking here but solidly told. Last but not least is another fantasy, a sort of sidequel to the author's previous two fantasies, in which another feisty young female character with unusual talents finds her destiny and the love of her life, while unraveling a mystery and defeating an evil force. All three titles are among the best young adult books I've read during the past few months.
Od Magic by Patricia A. McKillip, Ace, 6/05, $22.95, ISBN 0-441-01248-5
Patricia McKillip has the enviable talent of taking familiar fantasy themes and tweaking them just enough to make them seem original. That's the case again in this new novel, whose protagonist has a magical green thumb, a talent for growing things and for using those plants to achieve other goals. When a powerful wizard hires him as gardener for a school of magic, it seems no more than a sensible conclusion based on his skills, but she has another purpose, for she knows his unique talent will be crucial in a battle between wizardry and the repressive government. Surprisingly and effectively low key despite the melodramatic implications of the plot.
Sanctuary by Mercedes Lackey, DAW, 5/05, $25.95, ISBN 0-7564-0246-8
The third volume of the Dragon Jousters series brings fresh crises, greater dangers, but greater possibilities as well. Kiron and his dragon companion escaped from the frying pan and now find themselves in the fire. His new home was not as welcoming as he believed, for the true rulers have kept their identities concealed. The struggle for ultimate power is about to start, and once again he finds himself right in the middle of things. His string of successes isn't completely convincing but you're not likely to notice given the rapid pace of the story. Lackey does high adventure as well as anyone in the field, and this series is one of her better efforts.
The Wandering Jew's Daughter by Paul Feval, Black Coat, 2005, $20.95, ISBN 1-932983-30-9
Black Coat Press has published a number of French fiction, much of it in English for the first time, of which this one, adapted and with an introduction and notes by Brian Stableford, is the latest. The novel, originally published as a serial, features very short chapters and very condensed scenes and plot turns. The story of the Wandering Jew was a popular one in Europe and Feval adopted it here, adding a second wanderer, a daughter, caught up in her father's curse. There is a subterranean city, a few mysteries to solve, a vision, lots of game playing, some deaths, and other developments. I found this less interesting than the previous Feval book from Black Coat, a vampire story, although the glimpses of early 19th Century society in France are often interesting. I found it much more interesting for its historical insights than for its story.
Blood and Memory by Fiona McIntosh, Eos, 8/05, $14.95, ISBN 0-06-074758-7
The middle volumes of trilogies are notoriously difficult to enjoy as they lack the novelty of the first and the resolutions of the last. McIntosh partially solves that problem by introducing a new quest for her protagonist and concentrating on that mission for the bulk of the novel. Wyl Thirsk is still determined to end the reign of a cruel king, but magically ensconced in the body of another man, he instead travels to a distant land to uncover magical secrets and discover his own role in things. Mostly familiar stuff but the problems involving his entrapment in a body other than his own lends some innovative twists.
For Camelot's Honor by Sarah Zettel, Luna, 4/05, $13.95, ISBN 0-373-80218-8
Guardian of Honor by Robin D. Owens, Luna, 2005, $13.95, ISBN 0-373-80215-3
Luna Books is Harlequin's imprint for its fantasy romance line which, so far at least, has mixed romance novels by writers known primarily for their fantasy and science fiction, and fantasy novels by writers known primarily for their romance fiction or newer writers. Here we have one of each. The first is Zettel's follow up to In Camelot's Shadow, both of which have been set against the backdrop of King Arthur and Camelot. In this case, the protagonist is a woman who discovers she has been personally targeted by Morgaine the sorceress, who is intent upon destroying Arthur and subjugating all of Britain. She rises to the occasional and finds love in the process. The second title makes use of a reliable fantasy device, the person wrenched from our world and thrown into an alternate reality where magic works and where she is fated to affect the outcome of great and violent events. It's not as polished as Zettel's book, but is certainly readable and features an appealing central character. So far this line hasn't taken any real chances, but has been quite good at choosing competently written works.
The Wizard of Washington Square by Jane Yolen, Starscape, 2005, $5.99, ISBN 0-765-35016-5
Although this one is definitely for children, it's an amusing fantasy that isn't entirely without interest to adult readers. Two children encounter an amusingly inept wizard who inadvertently turns their dog into a statue, which is subsequently made off with by a nasty antiques dealer. Rescue is required and eventually accomplished. Short and slight but mild fun. Originally published in 1969.
A Princess of Roumania by Paul Park, Tor, 7/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-31096-1
Paul Park turns to fantasy for his latest novel, which makes use of an old and honored plot device. The chief protagonist is Miranda Popescu, a young girl who has been sent to our reality to escape her enemies in an alternate world where Roumania is one of the leading nations of Europe, where magic works, and where intrigues against Miranda and her family include assassination. Miranda and two friends decide to travel to her own universe and take up the battle, and what ensues is an engrossing, suspenseful adventure story filled with colorful, unforgettable characters. I usually have misgivings when a writer I enjoy turns from SF to fantasy because the latter genre has grown increasingly clichι driven in recent years, but I make an exception when the results are this good.
A Rumor of Gems by Ellen Steiber, Tor, 6/05, $25.95, ISBN 0-312-85879-5
The setting for this unusual fantasy novel is our modern world, sort of. The action takes place primarily in the town of Arcato, located in some unspecified part of the globe, a city magic is accepted as real. There's a crisis going on because mysterious, magically endowed jewels are appearing, and there has also been an influx of other arcane events and entities. The story follows the effect on several characters who have very differing reactions to the crisis. The setting didn't always work for me, but I liked most of the other aspects of the novel, and it is certainly refreshing to see a writer avoid the dominant clichιs of the genre and try something new.
Talyn by Holly Lisle, Tor, 8/05, $26.95, ISBN 0-765-30993-9
Holly Lisle consistently writes well told fantasy adventures that don't take themselves overly seriously, with straightforward but interesting plots, believable characters, and plenty of action. This is typical of her work, although it has more surprising plot turns than usual. The protagonist is a soldier involved in a long standing and largely pointless war between two major powers. When a third nation intervenes, effectively forcing an armistice, Talyn leaves the military, becomes romantically involved with one of the foreign diplomats, and eventually begins to question the motives behind the supposed peace mission. A nicely contrived three sided conflict, with divided loyalties, a mystery or two, action both overt and covert, and a nicely complex and sometimes self contradictory character to focus on. This is probably Lisle's best novel to date, and bodes well for her next.
Harshini by Jennifer Fallon, Tor, 7/05, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-30988-2
The final volume of the Hythrun Chronicles shapes up in very traditional form. The various good guys have been scattered to the winds, their plans foiled, the villains apparently triumphant and unassailable. The last organized resistance to the invasion is powerless to act effectively against the aggressors so they turn to Damin Wolfblade and his army in a neighboring region, hoping to cooperatively restore the old regime, but political and military problems there make it unlikely that the alliance can be formed any time soon. Is the only remaining chance the unpredictable powers of a young woman with a mysterious destiny? Although this is the concluding volume, there are enough unanswered questions to suggest Fallon may return to this world in the future.
The Divided Crown by Isabel Glass, Tor, 7/05, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-30746-4
Here's an entertaining, low key fantasy of political intrigue and secret magic, sequel to Daughter of Exile. The new king is a young man effectively under the control of his advisers, target of various factions who want to influence the crown or, in some cases, replace him with someone else. His two potentially powerful rivals, Lady Angarred and her magically endowed husband, discover that their presence at court is no longer welcomed, effectively isolating the king from their help, but they perceive that darker magic is at work and decide to investigate the source. No surprises but no disappointments either.
The Tyranny of the Night by Glen Cook, Tor, 6/05, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-30684-0
After much too long an absence, Glen Cook returns with the opening volume in a new fantasy series, the Instrumentalities of the Night. The world of humanity is a claustrophobic one, surrounded by dead wastes of ice, where imps, demons, and other creatures plot the downfall of human civilization. Foolish as ever, disagreements splinter the beleaguered humans even further, with two rival religions rising, utterly opposed to one another, and threatening a disastrous war. The chief protagonist is a man who begins to doubt his own beliefs when he is set to spy on the enemy. Although the central plot is very straightforward, Cook's imagined world which sometimes edges toward horror - is different enough to give the novel a very distinct tone and whet this reader's appetite for the ensuing volumes.
Lord of the Libraries by Mel Odom, Tor, 7/05, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-30724-3
How can I not like a series whose main characters are librarians. This is Odom's third novel about Edgewick Lamplighter and Juhg, two librarians in a typical fantasy world whose primary task is to prevent various volumes of arcane lore from falling into the hands of ambitious, unscrupulous people who would use them to increase their political power. They have been largely successful in the previous two volumes, but this time things are outside their control because they hear rumors of the existence of another library, one which is not under their guardianship, and whose contents could change the world, and not for the better. Odom seems to have had a lot of fun with this one. If you pay attention, you'll notice parallels to Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and other sources.
The Dark Mirror by Juliet Marillier, Tor, 5/05, $27.95, ISBN 0-765-30995-5
In this opening volume of a new series, the Bridei Chronicles, we are introduced to a young man raised against a backdrop of Druidic magic. It appears that Bridei has some special destiny, about which he is kept in relative ignorance. The plan is to raise him in seclusion, but plans go awry when a foundling child, a girl, turns up and Bridei is immediately drawn to her. The two of them grow up together and, not surprisingly, their friendship begins to turn to more than that. Difficulties arise from the onset because the child is believed to have been left by fairies, and gifts from the fairies usually have unfortunately side effects. As the opening book ends, the question of her nature is still open. Will she affect Bridei's destiny and, if so, will it be for the better or worse. There's also a war going on to keep the action moving although I still found the pace rather ponderous at times. I liked this better than Marillier's earlier novels, but I still think she needs to plot things more tightly and economically.
According to Crow by E. Sedia, Five Star, 5/05, $25.95, ISBN 1-59414-308-0
A novel of racial prejudice in a typical fantasy world. The war is over but Josiah, apparently an orphan, is still hated because he grows up among a people whom he does not physically resemble. Old enough to set out on his own, he and a rare friend set off to uncover the secrets of his past and his family. He discovers that the world is about to erupt in a fresh round of war, and becomes very confused about where his loyalties should lie. Competently done but unexceptional, not bad at all for a first novel.
Demonsouled by Jonathan Moeller, Five Star, 5/05, $25.95, ISBN 1-59414-278-5
Here's a fantasy adventure with plenty of thrills and chills. After a gap of many years, a hardy warrior and his companions return to their homeland. One of them discovers that his sister has been kidnapped and that his brother is plotting an ill advised rebellion against a less than sterling local ruler. Throw in some malevolent magic including a small army of reanimated corpses, a secretive plot, lots of derring do, a sinister mystery, and a magical assault that threatens to turn our hero into an instrument of evil. Exciting, occasionally surprising, with readable prose and a diverse set of characters. What more could you ask?
Lords of Grass and Thunder by Curt Benjamin, DAW, 4/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-7564-0197-6
Although this novel is not marked as part of the Seven Brothers series, it is essentially a continuation of that story. The heir apparent to the rule of a Mongol like clan returns to his home to learn that his parents have been killed by a magical creature and that he is theoretically head of the clan, although his uncle becomes a kind of steward. Although the uncle seems happy enough to give up his prerogatives when the time comes, there are others within the clan who would prefer to see the line of succession changed completely, and some of them are willing to kill the existing clan leader if that's what it takes to get their way. Standard plot but with some very inventive and original background material and a rather different flavor than most similar stories.
Gossamyr by Michelle Hauf, Luna Books, 2005, $13.95, ISBN 0-373-80220-X
Gossamyr is half human, half fairy, who has lived all of her life in the realm of magic. When the evil Red Lady begins preying upon her friends, draining their life force, Gossamyr decides to travel to the world of mortals to confront her enemy, who is a kind of succubus living in Paris. Her efforts are complicated by the fact that she doesn't understand how our world works, and by her growing emotional involvement with her companion. This is part of a line of fantasy romances, and the author is more normally identified with romance than fantasy, although she does a creditable job in this case of creating a character whose background is completely unlike that of normal humanity. The romance is low key and the story sufficiently generic to appeal to a broad spectrum of readers.
Godplayers by Damien Broderick, Thunder's Mouth Press, 5/05, $14.95, ISBN 1-56025-670-2
Damien Broderick is at his best in this light hearted adventure story of parallel worlds and sinister plots. The protagonist believes that his aunt has gone dotty because she claims that corpses keep appearing and disappearing in the bathroom of her apartment, but his skepticism vanishes when he witnesses a similar occurrence himself. That leads him to the discovery that this is just one of many alternative universes, and that travel from one to another is possible if you know how to do it. He is subsequently embarked on a journey through space, becomes a pawn in a complicated game that involves the lives of entire worlds, finds himself some romantic interest, and generally entertains us with his headlong adventures. Full of a wild sense of wonder that is missing from a lot of contemporary SF.
Storms of Destiny by A.C. Crispin, Eos, 8/05, $7.99, ISBN 0-380-78284-7
I don't recall seeing A.C. Crispin's name on a book for a while, but the wait appears to be over as this is the first in the Exiles of Boq-Urain series. It's another standard fantasy adventure with a diverse group of heroes thrown together on a quest, in this case to find a way to stop a powerful invasion force. This time the bad guy isn't just an ambitious ruler or a power crazed sorcerer but an actual god, who has destroyed entire worlds in the past and who may be unstoppable. As usual with first volumes, the difficulties for the protagonists accumulate swiftly and their prospects for survival, let alone victory, seem pretty dim, but I suspect they'll come through in the end. If you don't mind yet another quest-against-insuperable-odds stories, this might be a series to watch for.
The Unhandsome Prince by John Moore, Ace, 5/05, $6.99, ISBN 0-441-01287-6
Although this isn't the first story to play games with what happens after the frog is transformed back into a prince, it's a pretty amusing one. Caroline and her friends combed the swamp for months learning that a prince had been transformed and set loose. Only Caroline perseveres with the task of kissing frogs, but her efforts succeed at last and she frees him from the spell. Unfortunately, it doesn't work out quite as she intended. For one thing, he's not much better looking as a human than he was as a frog, and he's more than slightly nerdish as well. Likewise, the prince isn't in love with Caroline, and rather resents her mercenary attitude. He's stuck with her, however, because she's the one who set him free, and the alternative is a reversion to froghood. Add in a handful of people with a vested interest in the outcome and you have a low key but often genuinely funny story of court intrigues and true love, sort of.
Freedom's Apprentice by Naomi Kritzer, Spectra, 5/05, $6.99, ISBN 0-553-58674-2
I really enjoyed the first in this series, Freedom's Gate, but I found volume 2 less satisfying. The female protagonist was a spy whose loyalties changed in the opening volume, and the tensions in her personality were quite well done. This time she has no doubts about her purpose, which is to gain sufficient power that she can help free a group of slaves from the control of her former patron. To do so, she becomes a sorceress' apprentice, but that relationship never came to life for me, nor did the character of her sister, who becomes a major player as well. Hopefully Kritzer is saving up the good stuff for the final volume because this one was pretty flat.
The Complete Tales from the Ten-Tailed Cat edited by Marc Gascoigne and Christian Dunn, Black Library, 2005, $9.99, ISBN 1-84416-145-5
Bloodquest by Gordon Rennie and Colin MacNeil, Black Library, 2005, $9.99, ISBN 1-84416-146-3
Both of these graphic novels are set in the Warhammer universe. The first is a collection of short pieces, all centered around the tavern mentioned in the title, which is one of those places where people gather to exchange tall tales. The stories vary in quality but are generally entertaining. The second is a series by writer Rennie and artist MacNeil, also complete in one volume. The setting is outer space with a dishonored military officer involved in a quest across the universe to retrieve his honor. Both books are in black and white but are much longer than most other graphic novels I've seen.
Alector's Choice by L.E. Modesitt Jr., Tor, 6/05, $27.95, ISBN 0-765-31387-1
The fourth book of the Corean Chronicles leaps backward a thousand years to begin a sequence set back when the mass migration to Corus has yet to happen. The story alternates between two major protagonists, both involved in the military struggle over that world. Although the novel is fantasy, it has many elements common to SF, as the characters engage in a massive terraforming project to make the environment suitable for its new inhabitants. But the human population already in place may yet make an effective objection to their plans.
The Hidden Family by Charles Stross, Tor, 6/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-765-31347-2
The sequel to The Family Trade is not quite as innovative, but it's no less interesting. Miriam Fletcher has discovered the existence of alternate worlds, in some of which magic works. She also discovers that she has quasi-relatives living in these other realities, to whom she feels a degree of loyalty. She also notices that they employ what appears to her to be a relatively primitive form of commercial skill, and she is determined to import ideas and techniques from our world to improve their lot. Unfortunately for her, and fortunately for the reader, things don't go quite as smoothly as she planned. Very entertaining light entertainment from a writer who has suddenly burst upon the scene with a small flood of exceptionally good novels and short stories, one of the best new writers of the past half dozen years.
Guardian of the Freedom by Irene Radford, DAW, 4/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-7564-0178-X
The fifth book in the Merlin's Descendants series moves forward to the years just before the American colonies rebelled against British rule. Drake Kirkwood is the leader of a band of magically empowered people who are sworn to protect the British empire, but they have fallen upon hard times. Kirkwood himself is ill and hardly in a position to lead the group and his closest ally is abroad, forcing him to rely on a cousin who may have let his personal agenda interfere with his duty to the crown. As with the previous volumes, Radford colorfully evokes an historical period and superimposes a magical overlay with a complicated story of interpersonal conflicts. Another fine novel from one of our better fantasy writers.
The Fair Folk edited by Marvin Kaye, SF Book Club, 2005, $13.99, ISBN 1-58288-150-2
In recent years the SF Book Club has experimented with creating its own original anthologies, of which this is the latest. Marvin Kaye has gathered together six quite varied stories about elves, from Tanith Lee, Jane Yolen, Midori Snyder, Megan Lindholm, Kim Newman, Patricia McKillip, and Craig Shaw Gardner. The tone ranges from almost farcical humor to much more serious matters, with both historical and contemporary settings. The collaboration between Yolen and Snyder and the story by Kim Newman were the two I liked best, but the others are also worth your time. I find most short contemporary fantasy fiction to be rather slight, but not this time.
The Prodigal Troll by Charles Coleman Finlay, Pyr, 2005, $25, ISBN 1-59102-313-0
Charles Coleman Finlay's first fantasy novel is an interesting variation of the changeling story. In order to save his infant son from the ravages of an invader, a king sends him into exile. The mission goes awry, however, and the boy is left alone until he is discovered by a troll. Raised among the trolls, he eventually returns to human society, but has great difficulty adjusting because of the way in which he was brought up. Humor and serious sequences mix fairly nicely in this one. Finlay doesn't write like a first time novelist. I don't think it will be long before his name is much better known than it is at present.
Tales of the Shadowmen: The Modern Babylon edited by J.M. & Randy Officier, Black Coat Press, 2005, $22.95, ISBN 1-932983-36-8
I'm very fond of anachronistic or nostalgic pairings so this anthology, apparently the first in a projected series, is right up my line. Famous fictional and historical characters clash in unusual settings, like Maigret vs the Frankenstein monster, Allan Quatermain versus Dracula, or Arsene Lupin against the Phantom of the Opera. The contributors include Brian Stableford, Robert Sheckley, and Terrance Dicks along with a number of newer or lesser known writers. Most are well written, and some of the juxtapositions are very amusing. A book that puts some of the fun back in reading.
The City of Towers by Keith Baker, Wizards of the Coast, 2/05, $6.99, ISBN 0-7869-3584-7
Return of the Exile by Mary H. Herbert, Wizards of the Coast, 2/05, $6.99, ISBN 0-7869-3628-2
The Rite by Richard Lee Byers, Wizards of the Coast, 1/05, $6.99, ISBN 0-7869-3581-2
The latest batch from Wizards of the Coast has some interesting titles. The City of Towers is a first novel and the first in a series, set in a landscape similar but not identical to that of the Dragonlance or Forgotten Realms series. Although the writing is a little awkward at times, the world building is better than average and Baker did a good job of making me actually see the world his characters were playing in. The story involves a group of soldiers who move to a new city, weary of war but resigned to the fact that it pays well, and who have a series of adventures as they discover the mystery of their new home. Next up is the final volume in the Linsha trilogy, which features a fairly engaging female protagonist who has been spirited off to an enemy country as the intended bride of one of their leaders, but who enlists the aid of some of his countrymen in an engaging if not spectacular adventure. The third title is the middle volume of the Year of Rogue Dragons trilogy, in which a contagious madness drives that turns the creatures into raging killers, which keeps the hero and his fellow dragon hunters busy. Competently written but standard fantasy adventure.
Blood of Wolves by Loren L. Coleman, Ace, 5/05, $6.99, ISBN 0-441-01292-2
It appears that this is the first in a series of novels set in the Hyborian Age of Conan, but not involving Robert E. Howard's famous character. The protagonist of this one resembles only slightly a young Conan. He's a warrior charged with protecting one of the smaller Cimmerian communities, which have been subject recently to raids by a band of marauders commanded by Grimnir, a mighty warrior. Kern accepts his duty in principle, but he is not convinced that he is a powerful enough warrior to defeat his enemy. Barbarian settings, sword play, a touch of sorcery, but without the high imagination and exciting prose of the original.
Heartwood by Barbara Campbell, DAW, 5/05, $6.99, ISBN 0-7564-0290-5
Some of the better fantasy draws heavily upon traditional legends, and some of the best fantasy creates new legends of its own. In this first fantasy novel, the setting is among a people who worship two deities, the Oak-Lord and the Holly-Lord. The protagonist is a hunter by trade, a ceremonial as well as practical post, but he is not happy when his younger brother becomes an apprentice to a religious order. Then his brother disappears, the Oak-Lord is made captive, and the Holly-Lord is trapped on the physical realm. It is up to the hunter then to rescue his brother, and restore the balance of power. Portions of the novel are very well written, but the dialogue sometimes feels artificial. Campbell seems to have considerable potential, and her first effort, while not a blockbuster, is certain to raise some eyebrows.
Mystic and Rider by Sharon Shinn, Ace, 3/05, $23.95, ISBN 0-441-01246-9
Sharon Shinn's latest fantasy novel is set in another world where magic is looked upon with distrust by the majority of the population, and where those capable of using it are shunned, feared, and hated. The new king has married a woman who has that ability and when he subsequently decrees that the practice of magic will now be tolerated, his subjects are understandably concerned that he might have fallen under her influence and may have acted against his better judgment. Concerned about the possibility of civil war, the king sends a small group of investigators out to gauge the temper of the countryside, where they discover things are even worse than the king feared. Strong characters and intelligent prose elevate an otherwise pedestrian plot.
Odysseus on the Rhine by Edward S. Louis, Five Star, 4/05, $25.95, ISBN 1-59414-281-5
Penelope has died and Odysseus grows increasingly restive, uncertain about the direction of his life. At just the right moment, an old friend shows up to entice him on another adventure. Gathering together a number of his old shipmates, he sets off on another voyage of adventure, this one up the Rhine into Europe, where he finds the new city founded by the survivors of the fall of Troy. Quite polished for a first novel, and a suitable continuation of the story of one of the greatest heroes of all literature.
The White Mare by Jules Watson, Overlook, 2005, $24.95, ISBN 1-58567-620-9
Another fantasy debut, and another opening volume in the inevitable trilogy. This time the setting is historical, 79 A.D. in the British Isles, where the Scots hope to hold out against the Roman conquest. The story focuses on an unlikely alliance between a priestess of royal blood and an exiled prince, and their complicated relationship against the backdrop of military conquest and Druidic magic. Although there are few surprises in this one, Watson's prose is quite readable and she does a very good job of bringing her historical setting to life. Time will tell whether she develops an individual style or will remain content to mimic similar novels.
The Greenstone Grail by Amanda Hemingway, Del Rey, 3/05, $16.95, ISBN 0-345-46078-2
Here's one of those occasional young adult fantasies that should find a welcoming audience among adults. Nathan Ward has been troubled throughout his childhood by disturbingly realistic dreams and visions, but he becomes even more anxious when some of those visions begin to manifest themselves in reality. One of those images is of a chalice, which he subsequently learns is not native to the Earth but comes from another world, with a less welcoming climate and authentic magic. To solve the mystery, he must explore both in his own dreams and in physical form. Ward and his friend Hazel are quite well drawn and the mystery unfolds very dramatically and suspensefully.
Three Hands for Scorpio by Andre Norton, Tor, 4/05, $23.95, ISBN 0-765-30464-3
Andre Norton's first solo novel in years is not set in any of her ongoing series, although it feels a lot like the Witch World novels. The protagonists are three sisters, the daughters of a border lord, who are kidnapped as part of a devious plot to change the balance of power in a magical land consisting of various small autonomous regions. The sisters are supposed to die but they use their wits to avoid the fate planned for them, and use their telepathic abilities to discover the truth about an even greater plot that could have consequences on a much grander scale. The viewpoint moves from one sister to another during their understated but exciting adventures. I still miss Norton's SF adventures, which I always liked better than her fantasy, but this one was different enough to hold my interest.
The Crimson Sword by Eldon Thompson, Eos, 5/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-06-074150-3
Yet another opening volume of a fantasy trilogy by another new writer. The Legend of Asahiel starts with the assassination of the king and the revelation of an associated secret, after which the protagonist is sent on a quest to recover a magic sword. His efforts would have been complicated enough already, but add an awakened demonic queen and her minions to the mix and the result is a fast paced adventure story that uses so many standard fantasy ploys that I was convinced more than once that I had already read the novel, and in one sense I had indeed, because though competently done, the book has nothing really new to say. The fantasy formula needs some new ideas more than it needs new writers just now.
Mists of Everness by John Wright, Tor, 3/05, $25.95, ISBN 0-765-31333-2
With the first novel in this series, The Last Guardian of Everness, John Wright proved that a skilled writer can take a familiar idea for a novel, turn it slightly askew, and give it fresh life. The sequel carries on with the career of Gaven Waylock, who serves as a kind of mystical guardian over the gates of dream. In an other worldly realm, the forces of darkness are plotting against us, and now the threat has become imminent. Gaven gathers his small corps of allies together to meet the challenge and the story unfolds as a mix of contemporary settings, magical creations, and Arthurian legends, all supported by a handful of intriguing characters. Wright is one of the few writers whose fantasy I like more than his science fiction, but he's a new enough talent that such judgments are undoubtedly premature.
The Hunter's Moon by O.R. Melling, Amulet Books, 4/05, $16.95, ISBN 0-8109-5857-0
While reading this young adult novel, I could not help comparing it to Ringstones by Sarban. Melling's novel is intended for young adults while Sarban was not, but the stories are very similar in their situation, although very different in tone and prose. In this, the first title in a series, a young American girl is visiting her Irish cousin when the latter is abducted by fairies, after their ruler decides to take a human bride. The American then roams the countryside seeking allies to help her rescue her cousin, in a novel that is particularly good at evoking the countryside. That's probably what connects it to the Sarban novel for me, a much more subtle variation of the same theme. Melling is a fine writer whom I have enjoyed in the past as I did with this current volume, and I'm curious about the direction the sequels will choose to explore.
Shadows of Myth by Rachel Lee, Luna, 2005, $16.95, ISBN 0-373-80212-9
The overlap between high fantasy and romance novels has grown much larger during the past few years, as evidenced this imprint, which specializes in that form, and which has published novels by noted fantasy writers as well as romance authors. Rachel Lee is one of the latter, but although there are romantic elements in this novel, it could have appeared as a generic fantasy with no difficulty. The story focuses on Archer Blackcloak and his small group of companions, who are pitted against a mysterious and elusive group of assassins who have a sinister agenda and a taste for violence. The characters are satisfyingly diverse, their interactions complex and interesting, and their battle against the Ilduin Bane, the assassins, is reasonably entertaining. Fans of either form should find this interesting, but I don't think that either will consider it outstanding.
A Secret Atlas by Michael Stackpole, Bantam Spectra, 3/05, $15, ISBN 0-553-38237-3
I'll say right at the outset that this is the best novel Michael Stackpole has written to date, and one of the better fantasy adventures I've read in recent months. There are actually two stories. The first involves two brothers, professional mapmakers, who have to actually visit the distant, unknown lands they are mapping in order to be sure that they get things right. They have a series of rousing adventures on their current mission that makes up a pretty good book on its own. But there's a second half to the story. Their sister remains behind to look after family affairs, but the situation is far from peaceful and she has to exert all of her efforts to protect their interests. Her story is only slightly less involving, and her character is the most interesting in the novel. I'd call this a major step forward for an always reliable but only intermittently impressive fantasy writer.
Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson, Tor, 2/05, $14.95, ISBN 0-765-31429-0
This new novel in the Malazan Book of the Fallen series seemed to me a considerable improvement over its predecessor. The plot is generally well conceived and executed, and certainly has a panoramic sweep. Set in a reasonably original fantasy world, it involves a wave of fanaticism, and a substantial part of the book could be described as military fantasy. The more interesting story takes place behind the scenes, with political maneuvering of the subtle and not so subtle varieties. The dialogue is generally crisp and the characterizations are competently done. At times the story seemed to be wandering from the main plot, but sometimes the side issues were intriguing enough to justify the diversion. Erikson is not one of the leading voices in modern fantasy, but he seems to have considerable potential and may yet develop into a figure of greater stature.
Bran Mak Morn: The Last King by Robert E. Howard, Del Rey, 5/05, $15.95, ISBN 0-345-46154-1
There is obviously a Robert E. Howard revival going on of late, since I've received at least eight new collections in the past year. This one brings together all of the Bran Mak Morn stories and poems, plus new material including variant drafts of some titles, some material brand new in the book, a chronology, and other related information. The title character was the last ruler of the Pictish people, who lived in the British Isles until they were overrun by various invading forces. "Worms of the Earth" and "The Dark Man" are the two best stories, most of which are historical adventures with fantastic overtones. Bran is a less well developed character than Conan but in some ways much more interesting, because of the subtlety of Howard's depiction.
The Scepter's Return by Dan Chernenko, Roc, 3/05, $15.95, ISBN 0-451-46014-6
Book 3 of the Scepter of Mercy series continues in the same vein as its predecessors. Despite the all too familiar plot, I've been enjoying these. The main story involves the efforts by to kings, now allied, to recover a magical artifact which will allow them to protect both their peoples from the evil intentions of the Banished One, a more than human figure supposedly locked in an endless sleep. The artifact is held within a hostile kingdom, but the situation there is chaotic enough that an attempt to seize it may succeed. Unfortunately, their plan is contingent upon the Banished One remaining unaware of their intentions, which turns out not to be the case. A well conceived and executed adventure story with no pretensions and few distractions. Dan Chernenko is the penname of Harry Turtledove.
Sekenre: The Book of the Sorcerer by Darrell Schweitzer, Wildside, 2005, $17.95, ISBN 0-8095-1078-2
When he was not editing Weird Tales magazine, Darrell Schweitzer had managed to write some of the more interesting sword and sorcery style fantasy fiction being published these past few years, several of which are collected in this volume, which gathers the various stories about Sekenre. Sekenre is probably Schweitzer's most interesting character, a combination of a child and a powerful sorcerer who has almost ceased to be a human being. His various encounters with other characters invariably leave them changed but he himself is an evolving personality. Or perhaps personalities. The quality is very consistent so it's hard to single out individual stories, but I'd pick "On the Last Night of the Festival of the Dead" and "The Lantern of the Supreme Moment" as the two I enjoyed the most.
Saint Vidicon to the Rescue by Christopher Stasheff, Ace, 4/05, $6.99, ISBN 0-441-01271-X
Christopher Stasheff rarely sets his work in the contemporary world, but if this is any indication of what he might do with that setting, he ought to do it more often. A computer specialist is called in by a corporation to solve a puzzling problem. Chunks of religious text are popping up on their computers, with no apparently point of origin. He discovers that they are manifestations of Saint Vidicon, whose role is to protect people who have run afoul of Murphy's Law, and who has become resident inside the computer network. Saint Vidicon recruits him to become his instrument in the physical world. The tone is decidedly unserious, of course, but there are some genuinely moving moments in this romantic comedy, which might make a very good movie. The tone is light but not superficial, and this is one of Stasheff's more memorable books.
Down Time by Lynn Abbey, Ace, 4/05, $6.99, ISBN 0-441-01270-1
The fourth in the Emma Merrigan series varies the formula a bit. Emma, like her mother, has the ability to travel through time, and the job of solving mysteries in the past in order to prevent curses from affecting families through subsequent generations. This time she's on a vacation with her mother, trying to reconcile their differences on a cruise, but it turns out to be a working vacation because one of their fellow passengers is in fact suffering the effects of a curse. Abbey explores some unusual territory in this series, and she has managed to create in Emma Merrigan an unusually well differentiated character. If she can continue to keep the concept fresh, there are probably at least a few more good adventures in store for Emma.
The Hidden Queen by Alma Alexander, Eos, 4/05, $6.99, ISBN 0-06-076570-4
I have been inundated with fantasy novels these past couple of weeks, most of them parts of a series, most of them mainstream fantasy in such a similar mode that they begin to blur together almost as soon as I finish their final chapters. This was the only one that involved, after a fashion, a usurped throne, but otherwise it is very much a standard fantasy novel, although with a more convincing than usual heroine. Anghara is only nine years old when her father, the king, dies in battle, and she is no match for her illegitimate half brother when he seizes power. But the story doesn't end there, because she survives, develops an extraordinary magical talent, and vows one day to regain her birthright. This is not a trilogy, but it's the first half of the story, so you might want to wait until Changer of Days appears and read it all as one continuous story.
The Merchant of Death by D.J. MacHale, read by William Dufris, Brilliance Audio, 2005, $23.95, ISBN 1-59737-237-4
This is the audio version of the opening volume of the young adult Pendragon series in which a young boy travels to an alternate world where magic works for an entertaining if somewhat overly familiar series of adventures. The young hero is destined to save the world, but there is always the possibility that he might fail. Ably read, but I wonder if there is much of a market for audiobooks among teen readers, since I don't think a significant number of adults will find this sufficiently interesting to invest twelve hours of listening time.
The Crown Rose by Fiona Avery, Pyr, 5/05, $25, ISBN 1-59102-312-2
Here we have an unusual first novel, an historical fantasy set during the reign of King Louis IX of France in the 13th Century. The story focuses primarily on the king's sister, Isabella, and her relationship with a mysterious man who appears and reappears on several occasions during critical periods of her life. The primary fantasy is almost unspoken. The man comes from the Mideast and has apparently lived for centuries, ever since the time of Christ, in fact. More than this I cannot say without spoiling things, although the surprise is really not much of one. The novel reads quite well and Avery seems to have a strong grasp of the feeling of that historical period. A low key but intriguing debut.
Ironcrown Moon by Julian May, Ace, 4/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-441-01244-2
The second novel in the Boreal Moon series turns the heat up. King Conrig has consolidated his hold not only on his own country but on some of his neighbors, despite their violent objections. Unfortunately, he is faced with what appears to be several threatened reversals. The woman he believed dead has resurfaced with her son, who might have a right to the throne, his enemies are regrouping, and one of them has apparently stolen a cache of magical artifacts. Conrig chooses a long time associate to retrieve them, but that individual is having his own reservations about his ruler's plans to subjugate the world. May always tells a good story and this one is no exception.
Ill Met by Moonlight by Mercedes Lackey and Roberta Gellis, Baen, 3/05, $25, ISBN 0-7434-9880-9
The sequel to This Scepter'd Isle takes up right where the first left off. Elizabeth is still a child, destined to become the queen of England, but opposed by a supernatural force determined to kill her before that happens. This time her protectors are not just friendly fellow humans but a likeable, quirky elf character, Pasgen Silverhair. The authors do an excellent job of evoking the historical period, and the characters are generally well drawn and interesting. The plot seemed to ramble a bit this time and the novel could have been considerably shorter without any significant loss of content, but on the other hand, some of the added material is interesting in its own right.
Rise of a Hero by Hilari Bell, Hyperion, 5/05, $16.95, ISBN 0-689-85415-3
The second volume of the Farsala trilogy has our three heroes going their separate ways. The war between Farsala and Hrum is underway and although the leaders and people of Farsala were blithely unaware of their vulnerability, the teens suspected the truth and were proactive. Now one of them has uncovered important intelligence about the enemy after spying in their territory, but the information will do no good if it cannot be carried back to the people who need to know about it. Bell writes clearly and intelligently and doesn't condescend to her readers. It might be a little bit lightweight for an adult audience, but it should play well to teenagers and precocious pre-teens.
The Rose of the World by Jude Fisher, DAW, 2/05, $23.95, ISBN 0-7564-0187-9
The third in the Fool's Gold series has the situation growing more chaotic. The wizard Rahe hoped to use his control of certain magical creatures to rule the world, but his grip has loosened and one of them is free, in the form of a woman, although she has lost all of her memories. Her enormous powers make her dangerous even when she does not intend harm, and her continued wakefulness is causing a reflected unrest elsewhere. As Rahe seeks to recapture her, the situation begins to move rapidly toward a climax. Pretty good world building, and a generally exciting story, although Rahe isn't a particularly impressive villain.
The Last of the Sky Pirates by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell, David Fickling, 7/05, $12.95, ISBN 0-385-75078-1
I'm not sure why it should be the case, but much of the best and most interesting fantasy in the past few years has been written for younger audiences, as witness Harry Potter, Lemony Snicket, Diana Wynne Jones, and a few others. Another fine example is the Edge Chronicles, which also boast the best interior illustrations, particularly in this, the fifth volume in the series. The protagonist is Rook Barkwater, young resident of the largest city in the Edgeworld. Rook chafes at the limitations of his personal world and finally finds a way to leave the city and explore the lands beyond, and from that point on the story is almost irrelevant. The authors take us on another tour of marvels, with multiple oddball characters and creatures, high adventure, a touch of mystery, more than a hint of humor, and some very good storytelling. Shed a few years and take a few hours for one of the better reading experiences of recent years.
The Magic Nation Thing by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, Delacorte, 8/05, $15.95, ISBN 0-385-73085-3
I've enjoyed several of Snyder's earlier young adult fantasies, and this one is no exception, although it's aimed at a slightly younger group than the previous ones and might not hold most adult readers' attention. The protagonist is an eleven year old girl, descended from a line of witches although she doesn't like to acknowledge that fact. Her mother runs a detective agency and is proud of her witch heritage, although she doesn't understand how powerful young Abby's talents are. Abby has psychometry, the ability to hold an object associated with a person and ascertain knowledge about that individual. When Abby uncovers clues to one of her mother's cases, she is forced to come to terms with her own special talents. Light weight but amusing, and Abby is an interesting and likeable character.
Elphame's Choice by P.C. Cast, Luna, 12/04, $13.95, ISBN 0-373-80213-7
The Compass Rose by Gail Dayton, Luna, 3/05, $13.95, ISBN 0-373-80215-3
Fantasy romance novels have become so popular that Harlequin books has spun off this imprint specifically for that sub-genre. These are both by authors new to me, although Cast has had at least three previous fantasy romances. Hers is a relatively low key story about a woman chosen in infancy by a goddess, a distinction that has marked her throughout her life, preventing her from becoming close to the people around her. Although set in an imaginary world, the story has very strong connections to Irish folklore. I found it a bit slow going at times, though not badly written otherwise. The second title is, I believe, a first novel, and is more like traditional sword and sorcery. The female protagonist has been given extraordinary powers by the gods with which to fight the enemies of her people, but they are so dangerous that even her friends are put off, which makes it much more difficult to find her true love. But she does.
Empire's Daughter by Simon Brown, DAW, 3/05, $6.99, ISBN 0-7564-0283-2
Simon Brown's debut trilogy was a competent, mainstream fantasy adventure. His follow up is another sequence, of which this is the first, the Chronicles of Kydan, set in a vast empire in another magical world, this one where the performance of magic requires the sacrifice of some appropriately dear object. The protagonist is the one member of the royal family who is unable to make this magic work, and when he offends a duchess who is also the most powerful living practitioner, the lives of himself and his loved ones is put at risk. To minimize the threat, he agrees to undertake a dangerous mission in a foreign country, although he discovers that danger is not confined to his homeland. Well done, but with few surprises.
Warprize by Elizabeth Vaughn, Tor, 6/05, $6.99, ISBN 0-765-35264-4
Tor has already branched out into supernatural romances, and now they're starting up with fantasy romances as well. The setting is a more primitive culture than is usual in these, one in which women are traded as chattel for political advantage. The protagonist is daughter of a local king who manages to convince him to let her train as a healer, just before he is killed and the kingdom falls under siege. She uses her powers for both sides, which impresses their enemy so much that their leader offers to halt hostilities if she will come to him as his prize. Unfortunately, her father's successor is treacherous, and the future of all concerned is thrown in doubt. This one was just too predictable for my taste, although not badly written otherwise.
Fool's Tavern by Ned Resnikoff, Ibooks, 7/04, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-9295-1
Not only does this publisher not send me copies but I almost never see their titles in bookstores. Turned up a couple of them at Boskone this year and thought I would at least mention some of their non-reprint work. This one is a fantasy written by a fourteen year old writer that, I must admit, feels like the work of a more experienced hand. It's a quest story, pitting a band of heroes against werewolves and a malevolent deity, but it's handled in a light, occasionally genuinely comical fashion. More than just an amusing oddity because of the age of its writer, but still not major enough to be of more than passing interest.
Dragon Precinct by Keith R.A. DeCandido, Pocket Star, 8/04, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-6770-1
This is one of those books I never saw when it first appeared, never even knew existed until I stumbled over it at a convention. The author has taken the familiar mystery formula and transposed it onto a fantasy world filled with magic, elves, and so forth. That's a very difficult blend to carry off well, and only Randall Garrett, Glen Cook, and a couple of others have done so successfully. Add Keith DeCandido to the list though, because this one is a lightly written, but thoroughly intriguing story of multiple murders, hidden evidence, red herrings, and earnest but puzzled detectives who finally solve the problem. Considerable fun and, although there is nothing indicating that this is the first in a series, I would not be surprised to see a sequel somewhere along the way.
Tolkien on Film: Essays on Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings edited by Janet Brennan Croft, Mythopoeic Press, 2004, $19.95, ISBN1-887726-09-8
The title pretty much tells you what this one is about. Editor Croft has collected a number of essays by writers mostly unfamiliar to me about the translation of Tolkien's fantasy epic to the screen. Several of the essays adopt a satiric or humorous tone, and the prevailing attitude is not favorable, although there is some concession to the problems inherent in such a project. For the most part quite well written and not in the stultifying academic prose style I had been expecting.
Suspense and Sensibility by Carrie Bebris, Forge, 2/05, $22.95, ISBN 0-765-30509-7
The sequel to Pride and Prescience brings back the Darcys for another puzzling mystery involving the supernatural, once again set in the time of Jane Austen. They're acting as matchmakers this time, trying to get a niece married suitably, and they find just the right man for her. Unfortunately, he undergoes a sudden change of personality, which they eventually trace back to an encounter with a mysterious mirror. Sounds like a conventional mystery, but it's not. The mirror is definitely not the kind you can buy at your local furniture store. The protagonists are a charming couple the comparison to the Mr. And Mrs. North mysteries by Frances and Richard Lockridge is not misplaced and the mystery itself is a nice blend of the natural and the supernatural. Looking forward to more in this series.
Dead Beat by Jim Butcher, Roc, 5/05, $23.95, ISBN 0-451-46027-8
The latest book in the Dresden Files series is starting out in hardcover, obviously a sign that the series has been doing well. As well it might. Harry Dresden's first six adventures have all been quite entertaining, and the new one still seems surprisingly fresh for a series that has become relatively mature. The scene is Chicago, familiar on the surface, but a place where magic and the supernatural exist behind the scenes. When one of Harry's friends is blackmailed by a vampire seeking arcane knowledge and power, Harry undertakes the task of finding a magical artifact in order to buy the vampire's silence. Little does he know what he is letting himself in for. There are quite a few of these series in which the supernatural is an accepted part of modern life, and most of them are quite good. None of them, however, are better than the Dresden Files.
The Curse of the Gloamglozer by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell, David Fickling Books, 2/05, $12.95, ISBN 0-385-75076-5
I believe this is the fourth volume of the Edge, a fantasy series for young readers originally published in the United Kingdom. This one, previously published in 2001, is about a young apprentice whose masters give him a series of ever more arduous and dangerous tasks, which prepares him for his eventual confrontations with some nasty monsters and villains who seek to harm him and his friends. The novels in this series are all nicely told and ably illustrated. They're a little bit fairy tale like, so adult readers might not be pulled into them as easily as younger readers, but the stories are clever and the characters likeable and most should have fun with them.
The Hallowed Hunt by Lois McMaster Bujold, Eos, 6/05, $24.95, ISBN 0-06-057462-3
The third volume in Bujold's new fantasy series is destined to be just as popular as the first two. It opens as a kind of murder mystery. An aristocratic woman with neither money nor influence is found in the bedchamber of one of the princes of the realm with his dead body and that of a jaguar, as well as evidence that evil magic was being performed. Although she is arrested for his murder, the circumstances are peculiar and the man sent to convey her to the capital for trial believes almost from the outset that she is innocent, although he also believes that court politics are such that she might be sacrificed for political purposes. There are other complications as well. The spirit of the dead jaguar has entered the woman, and the protagonist also possesses an animal spirit, lodged in him since a forbidden ritual went wrong when he was only a child. Something is urging him to kill the woman, something he initially believes is his inner wolf, but that's not the case at all. There are other powers at work. Her usual strong characterization, a plot that keeps the reader guessing, and strong narrative skills make this another winner in a long string of winners from this author.
Fairy Brewhaha at the Lucky Nickel Saloon by Ken Rand, Five Star Books, 3/05, $25.95, ISBN 1-59414-279-3
Humorous fantasy has not had an easy time of it in the US for the past few years unless the names Pratchett or Anthony were attached, but this first novel makes a stab at it. A band of fairies with crime on their minds visits the tavern in the title in order to have a few drinks before setting off to rob a nearby circus, but things go wrong from the outset, and the diverse and oddball characters who patronize the saloon find themselves ducking for their lives as the fairies set about expressing their displeasure when the bartended can't provide their choice of booze. General chaos follows, including frequently funny bits and some that are just silly. I had a pleasant enough time reading this one, but I don't think I'll remember a single one of the jokes a week from now.
When the Beast Ravens by E. Rose Sabin, Tor, 1/05, $23.95, ISBN 0-765-30858-4
The third adventure at a school for sorcery has Gray Becq, a student, returning from his involuntary exile in the first book in the series, an exile which saved his life but disrupted his plans and friendships. Now he's getting back into the groove, even getting a little bit of romance, but odd accidents keep happening in his vicinity, too many to be coincidence, and there is growing suspicion that he is at least indirectly responsible, that something magical came back with him. There's an exciting finish, when he defeats the demonic force threatening to ruin his life, and his relationship with Rehanne, another student, is quite well done. This series is transparently designed to resemble the Harry Potter books, although on a smaller scale, and they should certainly appeal to readers who enjoy Rowling's work.
Fall of a Kingdom by Hilari Bell, Simon Pulse, 1/05, $5.99, ISBN 0-689-85414-5
This young adult fantasy apparently had a hardcover edition back in 2003 but I never saw it. The land of Farsala is a typical other world with magic, and it has long proven itself to be invulnerable to the attacks of its enemies. When a new power rises, the population remains smug, convinced of its power, and of course the reader knows that the three young people who suspect that the times they are a-changing are right, although I imagine everything will be put right in volume three. The opener sets the scene, starts the plot moving, and introduces the main characters. Bell doesn't condescend to a perceived audience and tells an intricate story with a believable background, and it's good enough to appeal to mature readers as well as those it is marketed toward.
The Book of Flying by Keith Miller, Riverhead, 1/05, $14, ISBN 1-59448-066-4
Here's a first fantasy novel that doesn't fall into the usual patterns. The protagonist is a young librarian who goes on a journey that is part coming of age story, part quest, and part a sort of Canterbury Tales. He meets a variety of unusual characters, many of whom tell him stories, and some of whom are not human. What he hears eventually changes his life. The subplots are out of the ordinary, the prose is quite pleasant, and the low key adventures are a welcome break from the storm and fury of most contemporary fantasy. This one is more of a fairy tale for adults.
Apocalypse Now, Voyager by Jay Russell, Earthling Publications, 12/04, $14, ISBN 0-9744203-8-7
A few years back, I read the first two adventures of Marty Burns, an actor turned detective in a version of California where dark magic and supernatural menace lurk in every shadow. I enjoyed them very much and was very disappointed when they stopped appearing, but now he's back in this short novel, hopefully harbinger of more to come. This one is a bit of a kitchen sink story, with a cast of very strange characters and a plot that jumps from one wonder to another. Let Russell take you along on this wild ride, and hope he plans another.
Seal Island by Kate Brallier, Tor, 3/05, $6.99, ISBN 0-765-34892-6
As you might expect, when Tor opens a romance line, they do so in good form, and their paranormal romances have been of exceptionally high quality so far. This one is a first novel, with a fairly typical opening. The protagonist is a young woman from the big city who moves to a small town, hoping to get her life in order, and who promptly finds herself torn between two attractive men. The fantastic element which involves the magical creatures who live in the sea creeps in only very slowly, but is quite well handled, and the story itself though a familiar one is convincingly told.
Hanging Out with the Dream King, interviews by Joseph McQuabe, Fantagraphics, 2004, $17.95, ISBN 1-56097-617-9
This is a collection of lengthy interviews with Neil Gaiman and, separately, several people who have collaborated on projects with him, including Terry Pratchett, Gene Wolfe, Alice Cooper, Dave McKean, and Charles Vess. It's a very substantial book with photographs and illustrations, some of them in color, and the interviews themselves are detailed, extensive, and enlightening. Sometimes they seem to wander from the main point a bit, but sometimes the side trips are as interesting as the main road. Gaiman fans should find this fascinating. are perfect for the mood of the poem, dark and vaguely threatening.
The Horus Heresy Volume II: Visions of Darkness by Alan Merrett, Black Library, 2004, $29.99, ISBN 1-84416-118-8
The text in this large format paperbound artbook explains some of the background of what I think is a role playing card game. It's of mild interest, but the artwork is much more significant, mostly full color paintings and lots of them, presumably many taken from the cards and drawn by a large cast of artists. The subject matter is primarily figures who generally look like a cross between a barbarian hero, an orc, and a space marine. They are armed, armored, and often in the midst of a battle. Although some of the individual paintings are impressive, as a whole the book tends to be a bit repetitious.