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

 LAST UPDATE  6/25/23

Companions on the Road by Tanith Lee, Bantam, 1979 

The first of these – the title story – follows three men who steal a cursed relic when they participate in the conquest of a city ruled by a sorcerer. Something follows them from the city and two of the men die in their sleep. The third manages to escape the curse after considerable trouble. The second is somewhat similar but in reverse. The priestess in charge of a village shrine pursues a shapeshifter who steals a sacred relic, discovers that he is commanded by a sorcerer, steals the relic back, travels through time, and then defeats the wizard in the climax. Both very good novellas. 6/25/23

Volkhavaar by Tanith Lee, DAW, 1977 

This is a fairly standard fantasy world with a few variations, but the story is much more original. A young woman who is the slave of a village family learns from a witch how to travel outside of her body. She has fallen in love with an actor in a travelling troupe whose leader is actually a powerful sorcerer, Volkhavaar, although he generally calls himself Kernik. Through the use of illusion and mind control, he gains power over the local Duke and soon marries his daughter, but only after substituting a black magic ritual for the usual ceremony. He then kills his wife’s parents. He has detected the slave’s mental presence and cut her off from her body, but the witch restores the connection, after which the slave undercuts Kernik’s powers and forces him to flee the area. She doesn’t end up with the actor, however, although there are hints that she may do so in the future. 6/18/23

East of Midnight by Tanith Lee, Tempo, 1985 (originally published in 1977) 

For younger readers. Although I didn’t care for the story very much – a young man is transported into another world that is a matriarchy – Lee provides some interesting views on gender roles. One world is run by men and one by women, and neither of them is particularly appealing. At the same time, the cruelties are generally regretted by those inflicting them, but they are trapped by the mores of their respective cultures and it is only when the cross fertilization occurs that some movement is made to improve things. 6/7/23

Lycanthia by Tanith Lee, DAW, 1981 

A very unusual and sometimes haunting werewolf novel about a young man who believes he is dying, is very bitter, and finds himself owner of a crumbling chateau in a remote part of Europe. There are a brother and sister living in the woods nearby whom the villagers shun, and they tell him openly that they are shapechangers, although he does not believe them at first.  The three of them bond somehow, perhaps because they are all outsiders, but their union is doomed because the villagers are driven to a mass assault that shatters their lives. This was at the time her best novel, in my opinion. 6/2/23

Shon the Taken by Tanith Lee, Beaver, 1979 

A very minor and quite short traditional fantasy adventure for younger readers. Shon is a young man who is forced to flee his village after he has contact with a group of supposed supernatural creatures. He goes to another village which is not as superstitious and makes new friends. Having acquired some self confidence, he then decides to track down the band of people who caused him so much trouble and put the rumors to an end, which quest he eventually accomplishes. Okay, but not memorable. 5/29/23

The Storm Lord by Tanith Lee, DAW, 1976 

The writing and not the plot is the main attraction here, because the story is rather a familiar one. Political maneuvering results in danger to an infant – who is technically next in line for the throne – who must be hidden by a loyal servant until he is an adult. Then he learns of his heritage and after suitable trials and tribulations, he raises the populace to overthrow the usurpers in a series of standard adventures and battle sequences. The one twist is that he then immediately gives up the throne and rides off into the sunset with the woman he loves. 5/27/23

Death’s Master by Tanith Lee, DAW, 1979 

Second in the Flat earth series. This was more of a focused novel plot, following the career of Zhirem, son of a king, cursed with invulnerability, exiled from the temple where he had been placed because of his behavior with another youth, Simmu, who alternates between genders. Simmu declares war on Death and establishes a city where residents will live forever, thus defeating death. Zhirem finds his way there years later and realizes that it is a decaying society that produces no children, so he throws Simmu into a magic well and the city collapses. Death has its victory. 5/21/23

Night’s Master by Tanith Lee, DAW, 1976 

First in the Flat Earth series. This is really a series of stories told in the form of fairy tales, although characters recur and this is something approaching an organized central plot. The prose is superior to that of most modern fantasy, and I was reminded at times of Jack Vance’s Dying Earth stories.  The closest to a protagonist is Azhrarn, an annoying unpronounceable name, who is the Prince of Demons and rules in the Underearth. He interacts with various humans, generally in ways they don’t like. Very nicely written. 5/12/23

The Castle of Dark by Tanith Lee, 1978 

First of two related books. Lilune is a young girl held prisoner in a magical castle by two hags who have magical powers. Lilune manages to cast a spell of her own and draws Lir, a minstrel, to help her escape. The two do not get along and they are accompanied by an almost palpable evil that Lilune decides is inherent in her being. They part ways and she returns to the castle, but Lir is not entirely convinced and follows her. There he discovers that the evil is in the castle and not in the woman. 5/7/23

Prince on a White Horse by Tanith Lee, 1982 

This is a kind of sequel to The Castle of Dark, and is more obviously for younger readers. A prince has a series of adventures involving a mechanical dragon, a beautiful princess, a puzzling knight, a giant spider, a mad witch, and a mysterious palace before fulfilling his destiny and defeating the evil Nulgrave.  The tone is humorous and the plot linear and actually kind of boring.   In general, I find Lee's adult fiction to be far superior to her YA fiction, and I like YA fiction. 5/7/23

Blood of the Serpent by S.M. Stirling, Titan, 2023

It looks like Titan Books is planning to extend the Conan saga, starting with this one, a direct prequel to "Red Nails." Conan is working as a mercenary when he meets Valeria, sort of his female counterpart. They are in unusual danger because she offended a minor aristocrat who is in quasi-exile, and later attracts the ire of a mysterious priest, who seems to have no reason to dislike her in particular. Conan is drawn to the woman despite her early rebuff, and he soon finds himself facing the same dangers - the details of which I won't spoil here. Nice fantasy adventure and with a good deal of the flavor of the Howard original stories. "Red Nails" is also included. 4/10/23

The Girl, the Gold Watch, and Everything by John D. MacDonald, Gold Medal, 1962

I had very fond memories of this novel of a man who inherits a pocket watch that is capable of stopping time, but it was actually rather disappointing this time. MacDonald did not take advantage of the theme – we don’t even know about its magical powers until halfway through the story – and the characters are comparatively flat and uninteresting. I consider this a major disappointment, not just because MacDonald is normally so good, but because it jarred my memory so dramatically.  I suspect that he was just not comfortable writing humor, which is absent from almost all of his other fiction. 3/31/23

The Cabinet of Dr. Leng by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, Grand Central, 2023

The latest Pendergast novel is mostly about his friend Constance who travels magically back to 1880 - making this a fantasy - in an effort to rescue her sister, who died in a work house. Unfortunately, the sister has been spirited away by the mysterious Dr. Leng, supposedly a doctor but really a serial killer. In the present Pendergast attempts to find a way to bring her back. In the past, she refuses to abandon her quest and puts herself in danger. There are several good scenes in the novel  - which is actually only half of the novel, ending in a cliffhanger. That said, I only marginally enjoyed, probably in part because it was not what I expected and had been looking forward to. The lack of a conclusion is also a negative. 3/8/23

Quest for the White Witch by Tanith Lee, DAW, 1978 

Final volume in a trilogy. Vazkor is a powerful sorcerer who sets out on a quest to find and kill his mother, an equally powerful sorceress. He has various adventures along the way and learns a good deal about himself before the final confrontation. The story is hampered by the breadth of his power – he can cure wounds, control the weather, generated deadly bursts of force, restore youth, etc. This means that he is never really in danger. He is also arrogant and lacks affection, which makes him more of an anti-hero than anything else. Not one of my favorites by this author. 3/3/23

Vazkor, Son of Vazkor by Tanith Lee, DAW, 1978 

Sequel to The Birthgrave. The protagonist is the son of the superhuman female from the first book, although she substituted him for an ordinary infant and he grew up believing himself to be the son of a tribal chief, despite his unusual strength and recuperative powers. He is not a nice person. After various adventures, he discovers his true lineage, becomes outcast from his tribe, is briefly a tortured and then a pampered prisoner in one of the cities, is condemned to death but escapes, and ends the book casting off in a boat in search of new lands. Not nearly as powerful as its predecessor. 3/38/23

The Birthgrave by Tanith Lee, DAW, 1975

A woman wakes up under a volcano with amnesia. She is a survivor of a cruel elder race who once enslaved humanity – although it is not entirely clear that they were not human themselves. She has healing powers and other magical abilities, including being able to recover from being dead and climb out of her grave. She has adventures with villagers, bandits, soldiers, and a chariot race before encountering another of her kind, who is seizing power over one group of cities in order to conquer several others. The world is an unpleasant one and the protagonist is not a particularly nice person, but the story has power in its language and its gradual portrayal of a somewhat atypical fantasy world. I never cared for the ending, which tries to rationalize everything, but the book is still powerful and gripping. 2/19/23

The Dragon Hoard by Tanith Lee, Tempo, 1971 

Tanith Lee’s debut novel was for children. It’s a cute, somewhat silly, quest story drawn from familiar fairy tales. A young prince sets out to steal treasure from a fierce dragon. He gains allies along the way and succeeds despite efforts by a nasty sorceress to sabotage his efforts. The dragon is taking some personal time and does not appear in the story, so our heroes simply gather up the treasure and leave. An evil sorceress tries to interfere.  Fun but slight. 2/14/23

Dead Country by Max Gladstone, Tor, 2023, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-9591-7

I burned out on fantasy novels a while back, so I was surprised to discover this author had written so much during my lapse of interest. I read and enjoyed some of the earlier novels in the Craft series, but I felt as though I was coming to it for the first time. This appears to be the opening volume in the final arc. The protagonist has clearly had more than her share of adventure and danger already and deserves a rest, which obviously is not in the cards. When she meets a young girl on her way home to her father's funeral, she is caught up in yet another struggle against the forces of chaos. Gladstone has created a distinct fantasy world for this series, wirh an underlay of rampant capitalism. He has a deceptively light handed narrative style that leads one easily through sometimes complex situations. I should go back and fill in the books that I missed. 2/1/23

It’s All in Your Mind by Robert Bloch, Curtis, 1971 

This was an expansion of the 1955 short story “The Big Binge.” A cloddish protagonist is exposed to an experimental machine, after which he can literally strip women naked by looking at them. He suppresses the power with alcohol, but that allows him to physically manifest his hallucinations. Further exposure, designed to cure him, just makes things worse. At one point he creates ten duplicates of himself and forms a football team. The comedy is rather forced and sometimes pretty juvenile. 1/6/23