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 LAST UPDATE 4/28/09

A Forthcoming Wizard by Jody Lynn Nye, Tor, 2009, $27.95, ISBN 978-0-7653-1434-5 

In the first in this series, a young woman impersonates her brother and becomes apprenticed to a wizard, a position forbidden to young girls under ordinary circumstances. As the second volume opens, she finds herself in a very dangerous and exalted situation.  She is the protector of a book whose contents can be rewritten to actually rewrite the external universe, obviously a source of power that attracts a number of nefarious characters. This interesting opening isnít completely satisfied by the quest story that follows, although the development of the protagonist, Hildi, is much better done than in most coming of age as a wizard books, of which there have been many.  This is not a Harry Potter clone at all, despite some superficial similarities.  Thereís a happy ending, and the suggestion that Hildiís adventures may be over now that sheís accomplished her task and prevented the power from falling into the wrong hands, but I wouldnít be surprised to see her return for further escapades. 4/28/09

Silvertongue by Charlie Fletcher, Hyperion, 2009, $16.99, ISBN 978-142310179-6 

Third and final volume in the Stoneheart trilogy.  Although this is a young adult series, I was particularly drawn to it because of my fondness for gargoyles.  The premise is that in contemporary London, the gargoyles and other statues are alive, and that they are fighting a war.  Two youngsters are caught in the middle since they know whatís going on.  The conflict comes to a climax this time as time itself stops, leaving London within only the two human inhabitants, and the warring factions about to fight their ultimate battle.  Quite suspense, more intense than much fantasy aimed at this age group, and better written than most as well.  Fletcher is one of my favorite young adult fantasy writers, and animated statues and gargoyles are a particular interest of mine, which made this even more enjoyable.  I wish he'd try some SF. 4/27/09

The Revolution Business by Charles Stross, Tor, 4/09, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-7653-1672-1 2157

Stross extends his series about a company that trades secretly across parallel universes to its fifth volume.  In the earlier books, weíve seen the corporate clan split into factions while somehow managing to overcome most of the difficulties facing it, but the situation is getting steadily worse.  Now our heroine finds herself thrust into the role of leader of one of the factions even as civil war threatens their holdings in more than one version of reality. But even her friends are suspect and the intricacies of the plots and counterplots bewilders most of the characters and sometimes the reader as well.  And then things start to get really complicated when the US government begins to speculate about parallel universes itself.  The most ambitious of the series to date, and thankfully Stross manages to keep control of the contending plot elements and wind them all together, extending the life of this series.  4/26/09

Corambis by Sarah Monette, Ace, 4/09, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-441-01596-2  

Felix Harrowgate returns, or in this case leaves, having been exiled because of his past sins.  Accompanied by his one time crooked half brother, he is off to Corambis to seek pardon by the wizards who oversee magical matters.  Unfortunately, Corambis is in the middle of a civil war, and the rebels have resorted to a dark magic power whose consequences they underestimate.  So Felix has an opportunity to at least partially redeem himself by saving the day and averting a disaster.  The strength of this series is really the characters of the two brothers, both of whom display a number of flaws as well as virtues, and thereby seem a lot more realistic than most of the wizards and thieves that abound in fantasy fiction.  The plots are straightforward and donít carry many surprises, but other aspects of the series have been steadily improving and unlike most similar progressions, Iím actually looking forward to the next installment. 4/20/09

Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede, Scholastic, 4/09, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-545-03342-8  

Patricia Wrede, who has written some excellent fantasy for both adult and young adult audiences in the past,  kicks off a new young adult fantasy series with this story of two siblings, one a thirteenth child, the other a seventh son, and their move to a frontier community in an alternate North America.  The family moves because of complaints that the children are bringing bad luck to their neighbors, and indeed it does seem likely that they have a special relationship with magic, which is a part of everyday life in this alternate reality.  The prose felt a bit light for more sophisticated readers but the background and much of the story will reward the tolerance of a more mature audience.  I found the world particularly interesting and wouldnít mind seeing more adult fiction in the same setting. It's also a surprisingly fast reading experience.  I was at the climax almost before I realized it. 4/19/09

Turn Coat by Jim Butcher, Roc, 4/09, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-451-46256-5  

Harry Dresden is back, and this time the tables are turned on his occasional nemesis, Donald Morgan, agent of the council of wizards and definitely not one of Harryís fans.  Morgan believes that Harry has turned bad, but when someone frames Morgan and he becomes a fugitive, accused of treason against the council, he has no hesitation about calling for help to the one person who seems ideally suited to provide it.  Iím not sure how much this is going to change their relationship in the long run, but it ought to.  Harry is successful of course, and uncovers the real villain of the piece, but only after various adventures and nearly losing his own life.  This one seemed a little out of the ordinary for the series, with less humor and a more singleminded plot, but it wonít disappoint his fans.  Some of the clunky bits Iíve noticed in the past are smoothed over as well.  I wonder if the one season television show would have been more successful if theyíd stayed closer to the source material. 4/18/09

Blue Diablo by Ann Aguirre, Roc, 4/09, $6.99, ISBN 9978-0-451-46264-0   

Aguirre, author of a couple of SF novels, switches to paranormal fantasy with her new book, fortunately not specifically an urban one.  Her protagonist is Corine Solomon (and yes, sheís coming back for further adventures) is a psychometrist, that is, she can tell things about events she hasnít witnessed by touching objects.  Thereís also a touch of precognition involved.  This makes it possible for her to find missing persons when other means are useless.  Sheís in Mexico City when an old lover appears and solicits her help in tracking down a mutual friend, who has disappeared in Texas.  But itís not the Texas weíre familiar with.  Here the dead can walk, women can weave powerful black magic spells, the border between the living and the dead is frayed, and looking for the wrong person can get you into a lot of trouble.  A competent, workmanlike novel that reminded me a bit of the Sookie Stackhouse novels of Charlaine Harris, with a somewhat darker undercurrent.4/17/09

Honourkeeper by Nick Kyme, Black Library, 2009, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-84416-684-8  

One of the problems that crops up in shared world universes Ė particularly game tie-ins like Warhammer and the various scenarios from Wizards of the Coast Ė is that the narratives often become ingroupish.  You have to have read others in the series or played the games or preferably both before you can become familiar with all the background, literary shortcuts, and assumptions of the series.  I found that to be true of this new Warhammer novel Ė set in the magical sword and sorcery world rather than in the space traveling subset.  In this case, we have an uneasy political situation between dwarves and elves that is transformed when they discover they have a common enemy, barbaric humans.  I generally like the fantasies better than the SF, most of which is military, but this one struck me as just a bit too overly familiar.  I suppose the main audience for this series are people who want just that, but after several dozen iterations, I wanted something new. 4/16/09

Lifelode by Jo Walton, NESFA, 2009, $25, ISBN 978-1-886778-82-5  

My ongoing complaint with most contemporary fantasy is the same as my complaint about most contemporary military SF Ė itís very much the same from one book to the next.  Even the better authors generally donít vary much from the familiar patterns.  Jo Walton tends to break those rules and that would make her work more interesting even if it wasnít so well written.  This relatively short novel is a case in point, set in a world where time flows at different rates in different locations.  Jankin is a scholar who travels to Applekirk in order to study the differences between that location and his home.  There he encounters also a woman whose contact with a goddess has transformed her, and given her the power to transform the world.  The novel generates gripping conflict and tension without the overt violence that dominates so much of fantasy.  This might not appeal to mainstream fantasy readers more interested in derring do, usurped thrones, and evil sorcerers, but it is a rewarding experience for anyone who appreciates good writing. 4/15/09

Irons in the Fire by Juliet E. McKenna, Solaris, 2009, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-84416-601-5  

Opening volume in a new series.  Lescar vaguely resembles pre-consolidation Germany, a collection of duchies who combine and recombine in various combinations without a single central authority, and with the common people constantly being mistreated.  Presumably that will change by the end of the series because a group of dissidents has begun to form a coalition to rebel against the established order, which naturally pits them against the powers that be.  This is a big novel with a substantial cast of characters, and it took a while for me to feel as though I had all the contending parties clear in my head.  Alas, by the time the next book in the series appears, I will no doubt have to do that all over again.  McKenna is one of the better traditional fantasy writers and there is some novelty in the set up for this one.  Nothing ground breaking here, just solid adventure with a strong dose of political intrigue. 4/12/09

Godmother by Carolyn Turgeon, Three Rivers Press, 2009, $13.95, ISBN 978-0-307-40799-3 

Thereís a very clever premise behind this new short but intriguing novel.  The Cinderella story got it slightly wrong.  Ellaís fairy godmother fell in love with the handsome prince herself, and substituted for Ella at the ball.  For this violation of her trust, she has been banished to Earth where, some centuries later, she is working in a book store run by George, somewhat of an introvert.  Then she meets one of the customers, Veronica, who is anything but introverted, a quirky but appealing character.  Lil, the godmother (who keeps her wings hidden) decides that this is her chance to foment a new romance and redeem herself so that she will be forgiven and allowed to return to the land of faery.  Thereís some light humor here, but itís actually handled fairly seriously.  I thought the writing itself was excellent and the story should appeal to quite a variety of readers since there is wit, romance, humor, and an original concept.  This one might be hard to find because Iím not sure where it will be stocked in bookstores, but itís worth tracking down. 4/7/09

Wonderland by Tommy Kovac and Sonny Liew, Disney, 2009, $19.99, ISBN 978-142310451-3 

This hardcover graphic novel focuses on a minor character from Alice in Wonderland, the white rabbitís housemaid, Maryann, who is referred to but never seen as the White Rabbit's housekeeper.  It was originally published as six comic books.  The story is cute and includes a number of characters from the original story, including the Jabberwock, although Alice herself is nearly absent.  The artwork Ė full color Ė is perfectly suited for its subject matter, cartoonish with occasional bursts of wild enthusiasm.  The dialogue is crisp and clever and fits the characters.  Very smartly done, and a story that will appeal to both children and adults, with appearances by many of the characters from the books by Lewis Carroll.  A nice addition to the many supplements to Lewis Carrollís classic work. 4/6/09

Black Heart by Justin Somper, Little, Brown, 2009, $15.99, ISBN 978-0-316-02087-9 

I like evil vampires (as opposed to the dashing and mysterious ones so omnipresent in contemporary fiction) and I like pirates, so a combination of the two has a doubled chance of appealing to me.  This is the fourth in a series of young adult adventures set in a world where pirates have built a kind of loose knit of their own, but where ships full of vampire pirates have caused considerable trouble in the past.  Although they were believed to have been swept from the seas, a new outbreak leads to the formation of an expedition to track them down and eliminate them.  This basic premise actually good have made an interesting adult level adventure series.  This YA version isnít bad either.  Although itís rather less intense than I wanted it to be, this is still among my favorite current YA series.  4/5/09 

Eternal Journey by Alex Archer, Gold Eagle, 2009, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-373-62135-4

I missed the last few in the Rogue Angel series, a menís adventure title written under a house pseudonym which features a Tomb Raider clone, Annja Creed, an archaeologist who comes equipped with a magic sword.  This new title (written by Jean Rabe, the fourth to use this house pseudonym) sends her to Australia where she is participating in a television series when her cameraman goes missing, leaving only bloodstains behind. Shortly thereafter, thugs attempt to kill her and she concludes that the something about the artifacts connected to the show must have revealed information that has put her name at the top of someoneís hit list.  The usual mindless action follows, but itís all good fun, and a great antidote to a surfeit of more serious fiction.  4/5/09

The Mystery of Grace by Charles De Lint, Tor, 2009, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-7653-1756-8 

I think the writer Iíve most been reminded of reading the last several books by Charles de Lint is Robert Nathan, author of Portrait of Jennie and several other novels in which the fantastic creeps into our world, or vice versa.  His latest is, after a fashion, a ghost story.  Grace is working as a mechanic somewhere in the southwest when she meets and falls in love with John Burns.  Itís a romance that doesnít cloy like many another, and this is largely the story of their relationship.  But thereís another factor as well, because the world of the living and the world of the dead are not as well delineated as in our world, and there are lessons to be learned by the two protagonists that will transcend mortal life.  I wonít be more specific than that because this is a novel which you donít want to know too much about in advance.  Just travel along and let the author unravel his story, and gather you in.  Itís been too long Ė three years Ė since the last adult novel by de Lint, but the wait was worth it. 4/3/09

A Magic of Nightfall by S.L. Farrell, DAW, 3/09, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-7564-0539-7

Stephen Leigh continues his new career as a fantasy writer with this sequel to A Magic of Twilight.  The setting is a familiar but quite complex fantasy world, an empire dominated by a religion that has, as you might expect in a more realistic manner than is common in contemporary fantasy, splintered into a number of factions with different priorities and internal jealousies.  Unfortunately, the current secular ruler is still a child, and apparently a sickly one at that, which leads to constant maneuvering and sometimes virtual combat among these factions as well as the secular ones for influence in the government, and perhaps even in the choice of who will next sit on the throne.  This is actually a pretty good series although I found the naming conventions used for the characters mildly irritating.  Although this is a series, it covers several generations and the individual books stand well as singletons as well. 4/1/09 

Enchanters by David Bryan Russell, Freya, 2006 

This sometimes interesting episodic fantasy is not really my cup of tea.  A vacation in Scandinavia introduces a youth to a magical world that exists just beyond the limits of human perception, essentially one inhabited by the fairies and other creatures of legend.  The magical creatures are sometimes amusing but they generally seem entirely too human.  The chief villain never really engaged my dislike and the protagonist was only marginally appealing.  I think the main problem I had was that there was just too much magic and not enough of the real world.  That said, some of the individual episodes were very entertaining.  I suspect this would have done better in a shorter, more condensed form, at least for this reader. 4/1/09

Midwinter by Matthew Sturges, Pyr, 3/09, $15.98, ISBN 978-1-59102-734-8  

Iím not conversant enough with the current comic book scene to recognize this authorís name, but apparently heís highly regarded in that field.  This is presumably a first novel, a fantasy set in a world where winter only comes once a century.  Mauritaine, the chief protagonist, is a prisoner who is granted a chance to gain his freedom, but only if he undertakes a quest which appears to be a suicide mission.  He sets off anyway with the usual odd assortment of companions and with an old enemy determined to pursue an old vendetta despite the virtual death sentence.  And of course thereís a foreign enemy who is plotting to take advantage of certain new developments in order to conquer their neighbor.  The writing is perfectly fine and the story moves quickly enough, but once again we have the usual jigsaw puzzle of fantasy quest adventure reassembled in a slightly different but still very recognizable form.   If you donít mind that familiarity, this is a quite entertaining example.  If youíre looking for something new and different, this isnít what youíre looking for. 3/31/09

Deadly Desire by Keri Arthur, Bantam, 3/09, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-553-59115-6  

Australian writer Keri Arthur has become one of my favorite writers of dark urban fantasy romances and Riley Jenson is one of the more interesting protagonists.  This is her seventh outing, and her old troublesome boyfriend the bounty hunter is back again.  Riley finds herself torn between two lovers Ė not quite literally although that potential exists Ė one vampire and one werewolf.  This was a little too much like Anita Blake for me and I started to get restless in this one, although the evil villain with her army of undead creatures is a pretty interesting opponent.  It was okay and it certainly was a quick read but I donít think this held up well against the earlier volumes in the series. 3/29/09

Living with Ghosts by Kari Sperring, DAW, 3/09, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7564-0542-7  

Unless this is a pseudonym, itís one of the more interesting recent first novels in the fantasy field.  On the surface, it appears to be a standard story of political intrigue in a world where magic works, but there are some original touches that mark this as somewhat special.  For one thing, the city is protected because of a pact with supernatural forces and is home to a number of ghosts as well as its living population.  Alas for the city but not for the reader, a few people have decided to violate the pact, and that makes the future unknowable for all concerned.  The consequences are varied and interesting as the dead become restive and the living become increasingly confused and frantic.  Sperring is talented enough to become one of the more intriguing new writers in the genre if future novels prove to be as inventive as this one. 3/28/09

Deeper by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams, Chicken House, 3/09, $18.99, ISBN 978-0-439-87178-5

The follow up to Tunnels, which I liked, has our young, archaeologically inclined hero descending into the underworld again.  If youíve read the first, youíll know that they find a subterranean colony, ruled none too benevolently by an aristocratic group known as the Styx.  This time we discover that the Styx have hatched a plot against the surface world, and itís up to our young heroes to stop them.  The authors have created a multi-layered and interesting society, although they leave a lot of questions unanswered, and the story is exciting and engrossing.  I expect this will do at least as well as its predecessor, which is apparently being developed as a movie.  I think it will fall short of the kind of popularity that Harry Potter generated primarily because its characters really arenít all that interesting as individuals, and most of the conflict is external.  Itís a good adventure story though, and theyíre always welcome. 3/27/09

And Donít Forget to Rescue the Other Princess by Marc Bilgrey, Five Star, 3/09, $25.95, ISBN 978-1-59414-744-9  

This is the sequel to, believe it or not, And Donít Forget to Rescue the Princess, which superficially has a pretty similar plot.  Yes, theyíre both humorous fantasy quest adventures in which a somewhat reluctant hero is coerced into riding to rescue a kidnapped and imperiled princess.  His name is Al Breen and heís an unemployed actor from our world who keeps getting drafted into service by magicians.  Some of the jokes are pretty obvious and the talking sword gets old very fast, but for the most part itís a likable, light fantasy adventure with liberal doses of the absurd.  The dialogue was my only stumbling block.  It comes off as staccato and artificial much of the time, good for delivering quick one liners but tiring after a while.  It goes pretty quickly though. 3/27/09

The Alchemistís Pursuit by Dave Duncan, Ace, 3/09, $15, ISBN 978-0-441-01678-5  

Nostradamus and his apprentice side kick are back, this time to unravel another mystery in ancient Venice.  The apprentice, Alfeo, has a girlfriend who works as a courtesan.  When one of her friends is murdered, she prevails among Alfeo to intercede with the alchemist to find out who is responsible.  The investigation reveals that it is not an isolated incident, that someone appears to be systematically eliminating all of the city stateís courtesans.  But the villains werenít anticipating the intercession of a man with magical talents.  This is the third in a very entertaining series by one of my absolute favorite fantasy writers.  It is also one of the few successful blends of fantasy and the detective story, no mean feat in itself.  Try it; youíll like it. 3/25/09

Deader Still by Anton Strout, Ace, 3/09, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-441-01691-4  

Simon Canderous returns for his second adventure in this urban fantasy novel.  Canderous makes use of psychometry Ė the ability to discern knowledge about an objectís past by touching it Ė to help a special police agency battle supernatural and paranormal foes.  The problem this time appears to be a particularly vicious vampire, although the author provides some interesting twists before resolving things.  There are also a familiar array of subplots Ė an old girlfriend, problems with the new one, financial difficulties, etc.  This is one of the few series in this vein with a male protagonist, but I didnít have much luck identifying with him.  I thought his first adventure, Dead to Me, showed promise, as does this one, but Canderous still hasnít separated himself from the large, and growing, pack of competitors. 3/18/09 

Deathwish by Rob Thurman, Roc, 3/09, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-451-46262-6 

Hereís another series that could be listed in horror or fantasy, depending on your preferences.  Itís the fourth adventure of the Leandros brothers, who have opened a private detective agency that specializes in cases involving the paranormal.  In fact, their prospective new client in this installment is a vampire who is concerned that he is under surveillance by parties unknown.  Before the brothers can properly launch their investigation, their would-be client is dead, leaving them with unanswered questions and bad tempers. As if that wasnít enough of a problem, they have family problems as well, and their family is neither loving nor human.  Enjoyable, but this one didnít impress me as much as the earlier books in the series.  Even the exciting climax left me a bit flat.   Perhaps Iíve read too much in this vein lately, but itís hard to find much fantasy/horror that isnít. 3/18/09

Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente, Bantam, 3/09, $14, ISBN 978-0-553-38576-2

After reading two collections of this authorís richly textured, finely imagined short stories, I was curious to see what her first novel would be like.  It shares many of the same attributes of her short fiction, including a rather difficult to describe style that takes a bit of time to adjust to.  The premise this time is that there is a mythical city connected to our world some way, only reachable by people who really need to get there and who believe that thereís a there to get to.  The story follows the experiences of several visitors to that city, each with a different story, but each of them is dealing with a recent loss or tragedy that has scarred their souls.  Thereís more than a slight feeling of the surreal in the story, and the city of Palimpsest is more suggested than described.  I was left with the feeling that I hadnít grasped everything that Iíd just read, that perhaps I wasnít meant to, or that maybe I need to re-read this one after the first experience has settled down.  Not like any other fantasy I can think of, and interesting for that fact alone.  The quality of the writing is almost an extra. 3/13/09

Spell Games by T.A. Pratt, Bantam, 3/09, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-553-591369-1  

Marla Mason returns for her fourth adventure.  Mason, you may know, is the chief magician for the mythical city of Felport, which exists in a relatively low key fantasy world.  Her previous challenges have included insane sorcerers and death personified, but this time her problems seem relatively tame.  For one thing, her somewhat disreputable brother appears to be running a confidence game in the city, a revelation which could tarnish her own reputation as well.  For another, thereís another troublesome sorcerer, this one specializing in magic that affects vegetables.  Sounds pretty tame, doesnít it?  Well, guess again, because he could imperil the entire city.  Iíve liked this series right from the outset.  The characters are crisply described and individualized, the writing is excellent, and Pratt has a good sense for balancing humorous and serious elements.  If you like good humored adventure that is obviously going to have a happy, more or less, ending, then add this series to your shopping list. 3/11/09

Duke Elric by Michael Moorcock, Del Rey, 3/09, $15, ISBN 978-0-345-49865-6  

The fourth volume in a new issue of the Elric series by Michael Moorcock, one of the best known sword and sorcery heroes of all time.  This one consists primarily of two short novels, Sailor on the Seas of Fate and the title story, plus some associated non-fiction.  Sailor involves Elricís abandonment of his throne to travel on a voyage of adventure around his world, and eventually to other ones.  This was originally published in 1976 and is an early look at the multiverse which would become more prevalent in Moorcockís subsequent fiction.   Iíve always liked this series immensely and welcome this new edition, although this isnít quite as good as the previous three collections.  It would be nice to hook a whole new generation on intelligent, witty sword and sorcery.  3/7/09

The Twilight Herald by Tom Lloyd, Pyr, 3/09, $15.98, ISBN 978-1-59102-733-1 

The sequel to The Stormcaller has young Isak elevated to the nobility in a world torn by political intrigues, plots and counterplots, raging battles, and sinister characters.  Isak still hasnít quite adjusted to his new status, but there isnít time to reflect on the situation.  He survives an assassination attempt but faces the prospects of both war against an external force and rebellion from within.  A city besieged by unusual weather and an influx of refugees may prove instrumental in determining the fate of Isak and his world.  Something wicked that way comes, and chaos and disorder threaten as the second book ramps up the action even further than the first.  This has proven to be a very fast paced, violent, and increasingly complex story.  Lloyd writes well, and has found a niche somewhere between high fantasy and sword and sorcery.  My only cavil is that there is so much concentration on moving the plot forward that some elements Ė the characters and setting Ė seem to get short changed at times. I'd have cared more about Isak's plight if I'd cared more about Isak. 3/2/09

Act of Will by A.J. Hartley, Tor, 3/09, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-7653-2124-4

A.J. Hartley makes his first, I believe, excursion into fantasy with this story set in a world that is almost Edwardian England.  The protagonist is Will Hawthorne, also the ďauthorĒ of the story, which details his adventures among a company of nicely drawn characters who are charged with investigating stories about supernaturally empowered horsemen in a distant part of the world.  Hawthorne, who is roughly patterned after William Shakespeare, is skeptical of the existence of magic or the supernatural, but heís about to become enlightened.  The prose is a joy to read and the story is well above average, with a fantasy world that is both familiar and unfamiliar.  I would not be at all surprised if Will Hawthorne returns for another adventure in the near future. 3/1/09

The Essential Thor Volume 2, Marvel, 2005 

Thor was not one of my favorite Marvel characters in large part because so many of is adventures involved Loki, who I thought was a pretty wimpy villain, and Odin, who was so inconsistent that he never solidified into an actual character.  The pattern is followed in this collection of stories from the mid to late 1960s, interspersed with shorter tales of life in Asgard. Thorís secret identity on Earth is Don Blake, a lame physician whose cane becomes Thorís hammer when he transforms.  His major foes other than Loki in this series include the Absorbing Man, who can become whatever he touches, and the not villainous but easily annoyed Hercules, and an even grouchier Pluto, who both come from a different pantheon. The low point is the conflict with the Destroyer, a very badly written and internally inconsistent story sequence. There are also some alien invaders lusting after Earth again and a kind of super-werewolf.  These are mostly ho-hum. 3/1/09

Imager by L.E. Modesitt Jr., Tor, 3/09, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-7653-2034-6  

L.E. Modesitt launches a new fantasy series with this one, the Imager Portfolio, which is in some ways an adult version of Harry Potter.  The young protagonist is learning to work as a kind of minor businessman when he discovers that he possesses a rare magical power Ė the ability to project a view of an object or scene and transform illusion into reality.  Itís a great and potentially dangerous power, so he is whisked off to the predictable training establishment where he is to learn how to control his power and use it productively.  Naturally it isnít long before he makes an equally dangerous enemy, and thereís a wise old mentor to help him a bit, although he eventually escapes his difficulties through his own doing.  Although this is a series, the novel stands well by itself, a welcome change.  It is often difficult when reading later volumes to remember which of several open series a new book fits into.  Modesitt is a reliable writer whose novels rarely break any new ground, but which are almost invariably entertaining and well structured.  I also enjoyed the magic system in this one.  A little novelty goes a long way in current fantasy.  Potentially one of his best series.  2/22/09

A Templarís Apprentice by Kat Black, Scholastic, 2009, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-545-05654-0  

First in the Book of Tormod young adult series.  This is an historical fantasy whose protagonist is a thirteen year old boy with psychic powers, including the ability to heal.  He lives an undistinguished life until a Knight Templar asks him to carry a message to a local abbott, a service which embroils them both in dangerous political troubles.  The minions of the king of France are hot on their trail, pursuing them through 14th Century Scotland.  Itís a coming of age story, obviously, and much of it consists of a chase.  The characterization is a bit flat and I never really got a significant peak into the minds of any of the characters.  Competently written but perhaps a bit too low key for its target audience. 2/20/09 

At Graveís End by Jeaniene Frost, Avon, 2009, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-158307-0  

Third in the Catherine Crawford series.  This is another urban fantasy, whose protagonist is only half vampire.  With her enhanced physical abilities, she dedicates her life to protecting human being from the things that go bump in the dark.  To do this, she has to manage two separate identities in order to have a private life, but unfortunately secrets of that nature are inevitably hard to keep. When the secret gets out, her enemies are after her, but as if that wasnít bad enough, her vampire lover Bones also has skeletons in his closet.  Various forms of violence laced with light romance ensue.  This one has a rather more serious and less romantic tone than the first two in the series, and thereís less humor as well.  Some of this is an improvement, but the one note tone is a little wearing after a while.  Above average of its type, but it has its ups and downs. 2/20/09

Mortal Coils by Eric Nylund, Tor, 2/09, $14.95, ISBN 978-0-7653-1797-1

Eric Nylund opened his career with some very interesting SF novels, then diverted into tie-ins for a while.  Now he tries his hand at fantasy with this, the first in a series about two teenagers who believe they are orphans.  Imagine how they feel when they discover that theyíre actually the children of Lucifer and a goddess, and that there is a kind of cosmic custody battle going on.  To resolve the problem, gods and angels devise a series of tests and problems to determine the fate of Eliot and Fiona, and perhaps affect the world at large by the resolution.  I was reminded of Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, except with most of the humor expunged.  My attention wandered a bit in the opening chapters because the premise didnít really grab me, but it wasnít long before I was sucked in and I was almost completely surprised when I came to the endÖwhich isnít really the end since thereís more to come.  Despite the perhaps too slow start, thereís a lot of promise in this and I have good feelings about the sequels. 2/16/09

The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry, Penguin Press, 2009, $25.95, ISBN 978-1-59420-211-76 

Itís going to be very difficult to do any justice to the plot of this novel simply because it is so unique and intricate that the plot might seem vague at best.  The protagonist is the clerk to a legendary detective Ė whom he has never met Ė in an urban world that feels a lot like ours, but only seen through the eyes of G.K. Chesterton, Thomas Ligotti, and a few others.  He has become obsessed with a local woman to whom he has never spoken when he receives word that he has been promoted to detective, to take the place of the man he served for many years.  Convinced that some mistake has been made, he decides to appeal to his superior for reinstatement to his own position, only to find the man has been murdered in his office.  Things develop unpredictably from there in a story that tests the limits of both fantasy and the detective story.  I assume this is a first novel, but I sincerely hope it is far from the last.2/15/09

Deathís Daughter by Amber Benson, Ace, 2/09, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-441-01694-5

The one time Buffy star has her first solo novel, also designed to be the first in a series about Calliope Reaper-Jones.  Calliope is the daughter of the man who runs Death in this unusual urban fantasy setup.  Rather than go into the family business, she aspires to a career in the fashion industry, although her initial efforts are less than successful.  Then her father and one of her sisters disappear under mysterious circumstances and she is forced to address her family problems and solve a mystery. Unlike most celebrity novels, this one is not related to any of her acting roles and is actually a clever and well told story.  Itís not clear to me what direction the series might take after the self contained opening, but Iíll be watching to see.  Itís also a step outside the current paranormal fantasy rut but with enough elements in common to please fans of that form as well. 2/14/09

Undone by Rachel Caine, Roc, 2/09, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-451-46261-9  

Rachel Caineís Weather Warden series is one of my favorites, chronicling the adventures of a secret cabal of magic users who have influence on the weather and who secretly protect the world from evil djinn and other dangers.  This is the first in a subset of that series, the Outcast Season, and the chief protagonist in the opener is a djinn who annoyed her superiors and found herself trapped in a mortal body, bound to help the wardens in their tasks.  Cassiel has a good deal of trouble adapting to mortal existence, and some of her story is quite funny.  Other parts are high adventure as she gets involved with two wardens, brothers, one of whom she finds oddly attractive in a manner unfamiliar to her djinn origins.  Her presence proves to be beneficial for all concerned, because the Rocha brothers have a powerful, secret enemy and it is only because of her involvement that they manage to survive.  Iím curious to see where this new series is going because the opener was a lot of fun. 2/11/09

Lamentation by Ken Scholes, Tor, 2/09, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-7653-2127-5  

This fantasy novel opens with the magical version of a nuclear war.  An entire city is destroyed, sending tremors of fear throughout the world since it is not immediately clear who was involved and who is next.  There is only one survivor, a young boy whose life is forever changed in that moment.  Seen primarily through the eyes of Rudolfo, a clever, charming, but serious minded nobleman, the crisis develops as uncertainty and panic threaten to do as much damage as the weapon itself.  This is the first in a five volume series so obviously it spends most of its time introducing characters and setting the groundwork for what is yet to come.  Itís very well written and even though the plot sounds like nothing out of the ordinary, itís handled in a different fashion than is most high fantasy and feels almost like a science fiction novel.  Magic is, after all, indistinguishable from science under the right circumstances.  This is one Iíd recommend, but with the caveat that you may have to wait a couple of years before the story is finally concluded.  But weíve been waiting a lot longer than that for George R.R. Martinís series. 2/10/09

Flight into Darkness by Sarah Ash, Bantam, 2/09, $24, ISBN 978-0-553-80250-8 

Sarah Ash writes fantasy that often falls just outside the limits of the familiar, so that we may think what we know what one of her novels is going to be about, only to have it develop in unusual directions once weíre underway.  Her latest Ė second in a series Ė features a protagonist who once upset the magical balance between the world of the living and the world of the dead, and who now strives to undo what he has wrought.  The breach has made it possible for demonic forces to cross over into the world of the living, and they are frequently deceptive, convincing people they are benevolent, which makes it difficult to gather allies in his quest.  Thereís an innovative magic system that sometimes resembles modern technology, and a few twists to the normal fantasy realm setup that makes the background feel fresher than usual, even though itís the same setting Ash employed in her previous trilogy.  A bit more complex than most similar works, but worth the extra effort to keep everything straight in your head. 2/5/09

The God Stalker Chronicles by P.G. Hodgell, Baen, 2009, $24, ISBN 978-1-4165-5576-6

 This is an omnibus of two related fantasy novels, God Stalk and Dark of the Moon, both originally published back in the 1980s.  I re-read them both, and the third in the series, just a few years ago to refresh my memory and discovered that they held up extremely well, particularly given how many novels in the same vein have appeared since.  The protagonist is a young female thief, an apprentice early on, whose city eventually is menaced by foreign invaders.  She also has a destiny and a missing brother, so we have a mix of quest and coming of age.  The distinguishing elements in this series, however, are the depth of the main characters and the evocation of the setting, both of which are far superior to most similar novels.  The plot summary is going to make this sound like just another one of those, I realize, but it really isnít, or if it is, itís one of the best of them. 1/30/09

Wings of Wrath by C.S. Friedman, DAW, 2/09, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-7564-0535-9 

This is the followup to Feast of Souls, which introduced a world in which the use of magic consumes a portion of a human beingís life energy, so those practicing magic either die young or find ďconsortsĒ whose spirit they expend, replacing them as needed with a fresh supply.  The mechanics of magic make it almost impossible for a woman to survive long enough to reach the level of Magister, but in book two in the series a peasant woman accomplishes that very thing.  Unfortunately, she poses a threat to the established order and the Magisters try to kill her, forcing her to flee to a remote area where their powers are limited.  Her plight gets intertwined with that of several other characters, including another woman wronged by the Magisters who may have finally found a way to get her revenge. Exciting and nicely paced as with all of Friedmanís novels, but like most middle volumes in trilogies, weíre left hanging at the end.  Hopefully the final volume isnít too far in the future. 1/28/09

Bone Crossed by Patricia Briggs, Ace, 2009, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-441-01676-1 

Patricia Briggs has been writing above average fantasy adventure in a traditional mode for a while, but she seems more at ease with contemporary urban fantasy.  This new installment in the Mercy Thompson series continues to expand on the character of its protagonist Ė a mechanic by profession who is also a shapeshifter and who is romantically involved with a werewolf.  This latter relationship provides some protection, which she needs because she has annoyed a powerful local vampire who feels constrained against attacking her enemy directly, but there are other ways to get revenge.  This is one of those more squarely in the fantasy than horror camps because all of the various supernatural creatures are accepted as a part of everyday life, so itís really not our world even though it is otherwise much the same.  When the crash comes for this subgenre, which will inevitably happen, I hope this is one of the series that survives. 1/26/09

Unfallen Dead by Mark Del Franco, Ace, 2/09, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-441-01689-1

 Third in the Connor Grey series, one of the many new urban fantasies, and one of the few not featuring a feisty female as chief protagonist.  Grey used to have magical powers of his own, but now that they are lost to him, he functions instead as a supernatural consultant to the Boston Police Department, called in for those cases which clearly canít be handled by traditional methods.  The job might sound low key but Grey has been involved in events that could have altered the future of our world and that of Faerie, and heís a person of interest for various powers, magical and mundane.  When a homeless man is found dead and the manner of his death suggests a ritual killing, a seemingly isolated crime turns out to have even greater implications, interesting the rulers of Faerie as well as the local police force.  Grey finds himself traveling a perilous path between forces which could destroy him.  Nicely done, if not groundbreaking. 1/21/09

The Fetch by Laura Whitcomb, Houghton Mifflin, 2/09, $17, ISBN 978-0-618-89131-3

 Although this is a young adult novel, you probably wouldnít notice that if you didnít read the blurbs.  Calder is a fetch, that is, heís an agent of death whose job is to escort the spirits of the recently departed on their journey to the afterlife.  The trouble is that Calder is new to the job and vulnerable to temptation.  When he falls in love with a mortal girl, his emotions override his sense of duty and the order of things is changed.  In addition to the interesting plot Ė a kind of serious version of Terry Pratchettís Mort Ė the setting is also noteworthy because this all takes place during the Russian Revolution, an historic period that the author describes quite convincingly.  A young adult novel that isnít about fairy tale princesses, dark sorcerers, or modern day witchcraft is almost by definition of interest nowadays, but a well written one is even better. 1/20/09

Bones of the Dragon by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman, Tor, 2009, $24.95, ISBN 978-07653-1973-9

Bones of the Dragon by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman, Macmillan Audio, 2009, $59.95, ISBN 978-1-4272-0431-8 

   In one of those coincidences you canít get away with in fiction, I was reading the final chapter of this novel when the audiobook arrived in the mail.  This is a quest story in a quasi-Norse fantasy world, and itís also Ė surprise Ė the first in a new series.  The old gods are under siege by the new ones and humans, as usual, are caught in the middle as well as becoming pawns.  But they are pawns with minds of their own.  The balance of power could be shifted by whichever side controls five magical dragons, and that, naturally, is the central plot of the story, which follows the adventures of its protagonist as he battles a variety of dangers, not the least of which are duplicitous humans.  Itís not a bad story but at times my feeling of dťjŗ vu was almost overpowering and I felt as though I could skip every second chapter without materially affecting my understanding of the story.  Thereís still obviously a market for these, particularly for readers who havenít been reading similar novels for years, but for those of us with longer memories it feels like a retread, no matter how skillfully done. 1/19/09

In Shade and Shadow by Barb & J.C. Hendee, Roc, 1/09, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-451-46250-3

 One of my favorite fantasy series of recent years is the Noble Dead sequence, of which this is the seventh volume.  The setting is a fantasy world, a bit more developed than that of the Conan series although this is clearly closer to sword and sorcery than to high fantasy.  The world also has vampires, the Noble Dead, and the recurring character in the series has their blood in her veins.  But this new installment is more about one of their companions, who has carried off some ancient documents connected to the vampires, which he submits for study by a learned order.  Unfortunately, someone starts killing the scholars and stealing pages from the manuscript.  Is it the Noble Dead, secretly reclaiming their property, or is there some other, more hidden motive?  Itís a bit of a change of pace for the series, but a well conceived one that contributes to our understanding of the world at large, while providing an engrossing mystery to command our more immediate attention. 1/10/09

The Valley of Shadows by Brian Cullen, Tor, 1/09, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-7653-1474-1

New writer Cullen continues the story begun in Seekers of the Chalice, which is based on Celtic legends.  Briciu has stolen the magical chalice which is important to the future of the land.  A company of heroes pursues him into dangerous territory where the minions of an evil wizard Ė thereís always an evil wizard Ė including vampires and other nasties oppose their progress.  Heís also planning to expand his area of control, so naturally he doesnít want the good guys to have any magical powers at their disposal.  Thereís another book in the series coming, so things donít really get resolved this time either.  The story is well enough written, but I had a very strong sense of dťjŗ vu much of the time I was reading it.  It may just be that Iíve read too many fantasies based on Celtic mythology. 1/7/09

Mean Streets, edited anonymously, Roc, 1/09, $15, ISBN 978-0-451-46249-7  

Iím surprised it took as long as it did for someone to put together an anthology like this one.  Four contemporary fantasy authors each contribute a novelette about their recurring detectives in four urban adventures.  Probably best known is Jim Butcherís Harry Dresden, a wizard based in Chicago who once again gets drawn into a mystery that involves magic.  As usual, someone doesnít want him to solve the case and is willing to take drastic steps to make sure he doesnít.  And as usual, their efforts fail.  Nearly as popular is Simon R. Greenís John Taylor from the Nightside series.  This is one of Taylorís darker adventures as he tries to help a woman recover a mysteriously elusive memory.  Newcomer Kat Richardson features Harper Blaine, a greywalker, whose latest adventure involves the restless dead and an old secret fiercely held.  Finally we have a tale from Thomas Sniegoski, whose hero is a fallen angel pursuing a new earthly career as a private eye.  He has to solve a murder mystery in this one.  I enjoyed all four of these a great deal.  If I had to pick a favorite it would be the Kat Richardson, but she only wins by a nose. 1/6/09

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman, Viking, 1/09, $19.99, ISBN 978-0-670-06227-0

The publisher is billing this as the first half of a duology, which means itís really just one very long novel that theyíre publishing in two parts.  It is also very consciously a young adult fantasy, although I hasten to add that itís not really ďwritten downĒ in any pejorative sense.  It is also, unfortunately, another rearrangement of familiar plot pieces, a distinction which the blurbs declare an asset, which I suppose it is for people looking for the same old same old.  There is an underlying mystery, court intrigues, dragons who bond with certain humans, chases, battles, escapes and captures.  Much of it is quite exciting and I did get swept up in the story deeply enough that I was rather startled to come to the end, as opposed to the conclusion.  Iíll be watching for the second half but it wonít get jumped to the top of the pile when it arrives. 1/5/09

Just Another Judgement Day by Simon R. Green, Ace, 1/09, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-441-01674-7

Simon R. Green takes us back to the Nightside, the hidden part of London where magic works, for the ninth adventure of John Taylor, private investigator.  This time the tension encompasses much more than just the life of John Taylor.  Thereís a new player in town, a magical entity known as the Walking Man, whose purpose is to punish the sinful.  But who among us is without sin, as they say, and the Walking Man is both thorough and relentless in cleaning up what he interprets as evil.  So naturally Taylor lets himself get hired to do something about the perhaps well meaning but certainly dangerous newcomer.  And by doing so, Taylor might well have moved his name to the top of the list of those to be eliminated.  The Nightside is perhaps my favorite of all of these invented magical neighborhoods that have spawned in one series or another, and Taylor is fast becoming one of my favorite private eyes. 1/4/09

Gears of the City by Felix Gilman, Bantam, 1/09, $24, ISBN 978-0-553-80677-9

This is the second half of the adventure which began with the authorís first novel, Thunderer, published in late 2008.  In the first half, Arjun came to the decaying city of Ararat just as a serious of magical transformations altered the very nature of that place.  He is enlisted into a quest but the setting, character, and story development was so original that it didnít feel like a normal fantasy quest adventure.  The sequel/second half is equally rewarding.  Arjun has made some powerful and unorthodox enemies, but heís rescued by two women, sisters, who enlist his aid in finding their third sibling, another sister whom they believe has been taken prisoner by another mysterious person.  The author takes conventional plot elements and makes them unconventional.  That includes the ending, which was not at all what I expected.  Itís the very pleasant surprises like this that compel me to keep reading books that appear to be unimaginative and imitative high fantasy. 1/3/09

Escape from Hell by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, Tor, 2/09, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-7653-1632-3 

 Back in the 1970s, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle collaborated on Inferno, a fantasy set in Danteís Hell which enabled them to poke fun at a number of people and institutions, including professional science fiction writers.  Although I enjoyed the novel at the time, it had the feel of an ingroup joke and I never thought it rivaled their other collaborative work.  Now, almost thirty years later, they have written a sequel and, to my surprise, I thought it was much better than the original.  SF writer Allen Carpenter escaped from Hell, but he feels sympathetic toward all those he left behind, so he returns to try to engineer a mass escape, with Sylvia Plath (poet and suicide), as his chief co-conspirator.  There they encounter a wide variety of people, including C.S. Lewis, T.S. Eliot, Bertrand Russell, Oscar Wilde, Hugh Hefner, Lester Del Rey, Albert Camus, Carl Sagan, William Ruckelshaus, Lyndon Johnson, Adolf Hitler, and many others.  Obviously much of the novel consists of anecdotal encounters, and some elements will annoy or please readers depending upon their pre-existing attitudes about the celebrities in question.  Itís a lot of fun and youíll be entertained even while youíre grinding your teeth together. 1/1/09

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