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 LAST UPDATE 7/29/10 

Red Hoodís Revenge by Jim C. Hines, DAW, 7/10, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7564-0608-0  

Humorous fantasy, even lightly humorous fantasy, has always been a hard sell in the US for some reason.  There was a flurry of it during the 1990s, but other than Piers Anthony and Terry Pratchett, very little of it appears nowadays.  Jim C. Hines is one of the rare exceptions, providing us with several of them recently, perhaps succeeding because thereís always a good adventure story twined around the humor, and the last couple have been more straightforward adventure, playing with concepts and characters from classic fairy tales.  His latest, as if you couldnít tell from the title, is a riff on Little Red Riding Hood. Our heroine is Roudette, the grown up version of Little Red, who works as a professional assassin and dresses in a red hood.  Her latest assignment is to kill the only woman who ever survived her attentions before, the woman known as Sleeping Beauty.  Snow White shows up as well.  Clever and amusing. 7/29/10

Stuff of Legends by Ian Gibson, Ace, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-441-01930-4  

A lot of fantasy takes itself entirely too seriously.  On the other hand, farcical adventures might tickle our funny bones, but they donít necessarily satisfy our desire for a good story.  This new title strikes a good balance between the two, taking various of the devices of fantasy and mixing them well Ė the rugged hero, in this case retired, the avid apprentice, the evil threat Ė and presents them all with a bit of tongue in cheek, but not pushed so far that the story itself suffers.  Our hero is chivied into going on another quest by an ambitious young admirer and Ė well, youíd better read the book to learn the consequences.  A lot of fun and some strong storytelling skills as well. 7/27/10

Ghost Dance by Rebecca Levene, Abaddon, 2010, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-907519-03-1  

Another shared world series from Abaddon, this one fantasy.  Set in a version of our present, the premise is that magic and occult forces do exist.  There are two protagonists, each an occult investigator with initially separate assignments, one to discover who is responsible for the murder of a prominent occult scholar, the other trying to learn the truth about a cult which appears to have the ability to control animals through some unknown mental force. There separate adventures eventually coincide.  Levene writes well and parts of this were quite entertaining, but I didnít find the background as interesting as those of some of this publisherís other shared worlds. 7/24/10

The Kingís Bastard by Rowena Cory Daniells, Solaris, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-907519-01-7 

A largish and satisfying debut fantasy, the first of the Chronicles of King Rolenís Kin.  Parts of the set up are familiar, almost traditional.  The heir to the throne has a twin brother who, though he evinces no interest in ruling, is much more appealing and popular than his sibling. Naturally this leads to considerable ill feeling.  Nor is the sitting king entirely without enemies who would prefer that someone more amenable to their control should occupy the throne.  The world itself is a fairly standard fantasy landscape, although the emergence of strange creatures and a flurry of psychic events suggests that things are not as stable as they appear.  These superhuman talents are useful if the subject is trained, but potentially deadly if they are not. Itís the political machinations that power the plot, and we will discover that the young non-heir is a more formidable person than he first seems.  This one ends with a cliffhanger, so be prepared to wait a good while to find out what happens next. 7/22/10

The Bird of the River by Kage Baker, Tor, 7/10, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2296-8 

The late Kage Baker was one of the few SF writers whose fantasy I found as good as their SF work.  This is the third novel she wrote set in the same universe, this time focusing on two teenaged orphans who sign onto a riverboat in order to support themselves. The set up allows the author to conduct us on a tour of part of her imagined world, as the boat visits various cultures along its journey.  Thereís conflict as well.  Pirates have been systematically attacking shipping recently, and the twosome also gets involved with a passenger on a personal, and mildly grisly quest.  There are two mysteries to be solved and tasks to perform and some of the more interesting characters in fantasy fiction to carry out all these tasks.  Itís the best of the three fantasies by a sizeable margin and one of my favorites so far this year. 7/13/10

Path of the Warrior by Gav Thorpe, Black Library, 2010, $8.99, ISBN 978-1-84416-875-0 

This one is a Warhammer fantasy novel whose protagonist abandons the ways of most of his people to become a warrior rather than a peaceful citizen.  We follow his adventures through training and various combat situations, and get a fleeting look into the characters of some of his peers.  This series is as close to the sword and sorcery of the 1960s as anything gets nowadays, and while Korlandril is no Conan, his exploits are every bit as adventurous if not as inventive.  The limitations of writing in a shared world are probably a contributing factor here.  Thorpe has struck me as an average contributor to the Warhammer universe in the past, but this one was actually quite good and bodes well for his future. 7/12/10

Nights of Villjamur by Mark Charan Newton, Spectra, $26, ISBN 978-0-345-52084-5 

Iím fond of fantasy or science fiction novels which also include a good murder mystery, and thatís the situation here with this first novel, also first in a series.  Villjamur is the capital of a fantastic empire people by humans and other peoples, all of whom face the possibility of a new and imminent ice age.  With that backdrop, we have a murder mystery that involves many layers of court intrigue, the interactions among the various types of being in the city, and a crisis involving a horde of refugees. This reminded me at times of China Mievilleís Perdido Street Station or Mary Gentleís Rats and Gargoyles, and it bodes well for the author to be placed in that company. Like most of the best fantasy, the novel is about the characters and how they react in various stressful situations, but there are also some clever plot tricks to keep us from becoming too complacent.  Looking forward to volume two. 7/9/10

The Last Hunt by Bruce Coville, Scholastic, 2010, $18.99, ISBN 978-0-545-12807-0 

The fourth of the Unicorn Chronicles has the world in crisis.  A rent in reality has allowed a horde of malevolent hunters to enter with the avowed purpose of hunting down and killing all of the surviving unicorns. As unicornic Ragnarok approaches, a young girl sets out on a perilous visit to a dragon to negotiate a deal that might save the day. Of course we know that sheís going to succeed, but itís the journey rather than the arrival that are important and entertaining, and Coville continues to elaborate upon his intriguing setting while guiding us on her mission.  This is apparently the concluding volume, which is a shame in a way because this series has been the authorís most memorable and substantial work, but on the other hand, maybe his next project will be even better. 7/8/10

Tongues of Serpents by Naomi Novik, Del Rey, 2010, $25, ISBN 978-0-345-49689-8 

Temeraire is back.  As much as I like the series, I hope the author isnít going to be trapped into a one note career.  Our heroes - human and dragon - have been court martialed and sent to the prison colony in Australia because of their advocacy of freedom for the intelligent dragons.  There they meet a predictably unlikable cast of characters and get involved in further intrigue, including the overthrow of the rule of William Bligh, the much maligned captain of the Bounty, the kidnapping of a dragon egg, the machinations of a cruel and malevolent officer, and the discovery that the battle against Napoleon extends to even this far region of the world.  I liked this one quite a bit but open ended series necessarily leave some loose ends. 7/7/10

Wolven by Di Toft, Chicken House, 2010, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-545-17109-0 

I know this is aimed at younger readers, but it was just too silly at times for me to enjoy it.  Nat is a youngster who finds a ďdogĒ that turns out to be a creature that can shapeshift into human form, as in Robert Stallmanís Orphan series some years back.  Nat figures it out soon enough and decides to keep it secret, but the evil nasty government knows about the existence of the wolven and wants to capture some to experiment with.  Stale jokes, even staler clichťs, and nothing to make me interested in the outcome of the story. 7/3/10

Speak to the Devil by Dave Duncan, Tor, 2010, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2347-7  

Dave Duncan has long been one of my favorite fantasy authors, one of the few whose fantastic worlds almost always seem fresh and interesting.  His latest is set in the mythical land of Jorgary where magic is known but considered evil. The protagonist is Anton, a young man who finds himself drawn into adventure when he is recruited to travel to a distant fortress.  There he is to take command and discover who was responsible for the murder of two local nobleman, apparently killed by witchcraft. Antonís selection is a devious one because the man responsible suspects that the young man has supernatural talents of his own that might make him better able to withstand any such attack on his person. So heís off to find his fate, and the fun starts right away.  An excellent story, and there's more to come. 7/2/10

The Last Airbender by David Roman & Alison Wilgus, art by Joon Choi, Del Rey, 2010, $8.99, ISBN 978-0-345-51855-2

Zukoís Story by David Roman & Alison Wilgus, art by Nina Matsumoto, Del Rey, 2010, $10.99, ISBN 978-0-345-51854-5

Avatar: The Last Airbender by Michael Dante Dimartino and Brian Konietzo, Del Rey, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-345-51852-1 

Three manga books tied into the release of M. Night Shyamalanís latest film, The Last Airbender, which I believe is going to be live action.  Itís set in a fantasy world where four separate realms existed in harmony until recently. With war threatening to break out, our two young heroes go looking for the Avatar, aka the Last Airbender, a legendary figure who can master all the elements and restore peace.  The prequel involves another quest to find the Avatar, in this case by an outcast.  The third involves another Avatar adventure and it is the only one in full color throughout.  The art work is typical of manga, which I generally find monotonous, but the Joon Choi book was notably better than the others.  The series was originally a television show, which I have never seen.  I didnít see anything particularly outstanding in these, but they seem to be competent examples of manga. 6/29/10

Shadowís Son by Jon Sprunk, Pyr, 6/10, $16, ISBN 978-1-61614-201-8

This first novel incorporates a familiar mixture of fantasy tropes.  The protagonist is a professional assassin in Ophir, a large and diverse city in a fantasy realm. As I expected from the outset, his latest job proves to be more dangerous and complicated than it first appears and our anti-hero protagonist finds himself caught up in events which control him rather than the converse. Thereís a conspiracy against the throne, and the assassin has a strong ethical sense that drives him to act even when he has the chance to withdraw and let events take their own course.  Pleasantly enough written if lacking in anything particularly distinctive. 6/27/10

God of War by Matthew Stover and Robert E. Vardeman, Del Rey, 2010, $15, ISBN 978-0-345-50867-6  

Iím usually reluctant to read novels based on computer games Ė particularly fantasy role games Ė because they tend to be so much alike on one hand, and so restrictive to the creativity of the author on the other.  This one is based on a game Iíve never seen so I donít know how closely it hews to its original material, but since the game is based in part on Greek mythology, the novel is necessarily more generic. The protagonist is in servitude to Olympos but he is offered his freedom if he accomplishes one great task.  Unfortunately that task is to kill Ares, the god of war, which seems impossible on the face of it. To do so, he must first undertake a quest to recover a magical artifact that can overcome Aresí powers.  Parts of this read well, but parts also seemed Ė unsurprisingly Ė like the narration of scenes from a video game.  Game players might find it interesting, and occasional readers who havenít played, but its appeal seems to me quite limited. 6/26/10

Kraken by China Mieville, Del Rey, 2010, $26, ISBN 978-0-345-49749-2

I had already decided that China Mieville was one of the half dozen best fantasy writers practicing today before I read his latest, which would have clinched it if that had been necessary.  It's set in contemporary London, sort of, a London filled with a variety of magically empowered creatures and cults, from the squid worshippers to the Chaos Nazis.  There's a villain who is only a tattoo on another man's body, another character who exists only in statues and other replicas of living beings, and others equally bizarre.  Someone has stolen a stuffed giant squid and its glass container from a museum and the various contending parties all have reasons to either want the squid themselves or to deny it to others.  And everyone senses that the end of things is approaching and that it is connected to the theft, although no one knows why.  A museum curator gets caught up in all of this and we follow him on a wild series of adventures before the mysteries are revealed.  This is easily the best fantasy I've read this year and I would be surprised if anything passes it by in the near future.  6/23/10

The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman, Dutton, 6/10, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-525-93131-5

The publicity material with this, the first in a trilogy, suggests parallels with Philip Pullman, which isnít entirely unreasonable although I think Pullman still has the edge.  The young protagonist escapes from a cruel training school in a world that somewhat resembles our own, although at times it is almost unrecognizable. He is being trained for a violent conflict of which we know relatively little and which has yet to begin when he stumbles upon a secret that results in his making his escape from the institution into a world about which he knows little.  His subsequent discoveries are therefore as strange to him as they are to the reader. Unfortunately, his former masters are not willing to relinquish their prize pupil and his escape turns into a prolonged and complex chase. While it is a promising start to what will probably be a fine series, Iím not willing to compare it to Tolkien as are the publicists.  Among other things, I found the dialogue to be choppy on many occasions and at other times I felt a need for a physical description of the setting that was not provided. The story is a good one though and most readers will probably not be similarly bothered. 6/22/10

The Palace of Impossible Dreams by Jennifer Fallon, Tor, 6/10, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-1684-4  

Third in the Tide Lords series.  Immortals, who have been absent from the world for generations, have returned and have decided to assert their authority.  Mortals object, but their adversaries have considerable power. The story alternates between a woman beset by magical and mundane enemies, who believes her husband is dead, and that very same husband, very much alive, who has another set of adventures on his own.  The plots and counterplots become much more complex this time around in what, while not my favorite of the authorís series, is certainly one of her more ambitious efforts and I like Fallon better than most writers working this particular type of story.  There are several well drawn characters, the action is convincing and exciting if not breathtaking, and thereís a fine touch at portraying wheels within wheels in political scheming.  One of the better fantasies of the year. 6/18/10

Finders Keepers by Marilyn Kaye, Kingfisher, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7534-1953-3  

The Gifted series shifts about between science fiction and fantasy depending upon whether you believe the teenaged heroes have psi powers or psychic powers, and how they work.  This one is closer to fantasy.  The protagonist begins hearing voices which might or might not be from living people.  There is some body switching and various other problems before everything is cleared up.  I didnít care for this as much as the earlier ones in the series, probably in large part because the tone felt so different to me, and I didnít particularly like the protagonist either. 6/17/10

Black Blade Blues by J.A. Pitts, Tor, 2010, $15.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2793-2  

A modern day blacksmith is repairing a sword needed as a movie prop when one of the company shows up at her forge insisting that heís a real dwarf and that he has come to contribute to the working out of her personal fate. He also tells her that weredragons are secretly running human affairs for their own reasons and suggests that she use the sword Ė which he claims is magical Ė to kill one of them.  All of this would suggest to me that the dwarf is crazy and thatís pretty much her action until the secret masters show their hand and she realizes that heís telling the truth. This is more of an action adventure political thriller than an urban fantasy, although itís obviously being marketed as the latter, first in yet another new series.  Although enjoyable enough, I didnít see any reason why someone would pay the cover price for a trade paperback when there are piles of less expensive and just as good books in a similar vein available as mass market. 6/16/10

Banners in the Wind by Juliet E. McKenna, Solaris, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-906735-75-3

Third in the Lescari Revolution series.  The aristocracy of a familiar fantasy world setting has been engaged in war from some time, with most of the population suffering to one degree or another.  Among the majority are a few who hope to use the current round of conflict to overthrow the establishment and create a new and more equitable order, but as we all know, the outcomes of such things are rarely predictable and in fact it is often the worst of the factions that gets the upper hand. McKenna shows us all this through the eyes of various characters Ė in fact Iíd have to say that there are actually too many characters Ė with story lines that vary from humdrum to enthralling.  I actually took a couple days break halfway through and had some trouble picking up the various story threads.  This was not quite up to the quality of the previous volume in the series, but itís not a serious enough lapse to dissuade anyone from reading it. 6/15/10

Hunted by the Others by Jess Haines, Zebra, 2010, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-4201-1187-3  

First in yet another urban fantasy series, this one about a female private detective in a version of our world where magic, vampires, and so forth are part of everyday life.  Her latest job is to find a way to recover an artifact in the possession of a powerful vampire and provide it to her client, a wizard. She is assisted in her efforts by a werewolf boyfriend and hampered by an organization that is trying to eliminate the differently enabled supernatural community. And naturally she gets caught in the middle of more than she bargained for.  Mild sarcasm aside, this is as well written as most in this subgenre, and if youíre looking for another entertaining variation on the same themes you should find Shiarra Waynestís debut adventure fills the bill. 6/14/10

The Age of Zeus by James Lovegrove, Solaris, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-906735-69-2                  

James Lovegrove has written some very good serious science fiction.  He has also written some wild fantasy including this one, which sort of follows The Age of Ra.  The Greek gods have returned to contemporary Earth and declared their hegemony, enforcing peace but also using their monsters and their powers to create what is essentially a divine tyranny.  A handful of humans with superweaponry set out to defeat the gods and their critters which they do after a series of violent encounters.  None of this should be taken too seriously; itís a kind of blend of military SF and fantasy adventure and despite a few subplots, thereís not a lot of time spent developing the characters.  It has more the feel of a computer game than a novel at times, but itís fun. 6/12/10

Mind Games by Carolyn Crane, Ballantine Spectra, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-553-59261-0  

Yes, this is the first in yet another urban fantasy series, although there are some interesting new quirks.  The protagonist is a woman who can project her fears into criminals, forcing them to reform.  Iím not sure I buy that, or consider it an ethical way of fighting crime in some circumstances, but thatís the premise. Truthfully, however, if I had had another book with me at the time Ė I was waiting while my car was serviced Ė I would not have gotten past the first chapter.  Itís written in the present tense, which is almost fatal at book length, but itís particularly out of place in this one because it ruins any possible build of suspense.  Itís a double edged tool in the hands of an experienced writer, but almost always a disaster in a first novel, particularly one of this type. 6/11/10

The Office of Shadow by Matthew Sturges, Pyr, 6/10, $16, ISBN 978-1-61614-202-5  

The follow up to Midwinter has an uneasy peace prevailing in the land of Faerie, where warring factions threaten to resume hostilities. The office mentioned in the title is a secret group among the Seelie who conduct espionage and sabotage among the enemy, hoping to prevent them from launching a fresh round of attacks.  Under the leadership of a mildly atypical fantasy hero, agents engage in dangerous missions into the lands ruled by the enemy, Queen Mab. They also engage in clandestine activities within their own lands to ensure a unified resistance if the attack should finally come.  Thereís an odd and often interesting flavor to this one, which feels almost like a cold war thriller from the 1990s, and itís much better than the first in the series, which was much more conventional fantasy adventure.  6/3/10

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor, DAW, 2010, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-7564-0617-2  

This is the first book for adults by this author, who draws heavily on African heritage for the background.  Itís set in a future when that continent has been dramatically changed from its present state, although only in some ways.  The initial conflict is between two tribes, one of whom is bent on exterminating the other.  One of the refugees from the conflict gives birth to an unusual child who becomes the focus of the story as she grows up as an outcast even among her own people because of her unusual purpose and because she is the child of a rape. This is not so much dystopian SF as fantasy, however, because the girl begins to develop a variety of magical powers including shapeshifting and the ability to visit other realities.  Through the use of her powers, she discovers a terrible danger facing her and others.  This is an unusual mixture of traditional fantasy devices and others drawn from a very different culture.  The protagonist is the center of so many magical powers that I had some difficulty identifying with her but otherwise I found the novel completely enthralling, and itís of a type that I often find tedious. 5/31/10

Engines of the Apocalypse by Mike Wild, Abaddon, 2010, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-906735-79-1

Cold Warriors by Rebecca Levene, Abaddon, 2010, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-906735-83-8 

Iíve been aware of the existence of this publisher for a while, but I believe these are the first two titles Iíve actually seen.  I believe most of their books are set in shared universes although the Levene title seems to be the first in a new series.  The first is part of the Twilight of Kerberos series and also a Kali Hooper adventure.  Hooper is sent on a quest through a magical land Ė against her will Ė after she is accused of being responsible for a magical eruption and the cessation of other forms of magic.  Thereís an evil mastermind Ė the Pale Lord Ė and the usual trappings found in this sort of story.  Although this has the feel of a generic tie-in novel, it wasnít bad at all.  The world of the second title is more like our own, although there is magic and supernatural in abundance.  Itís also a quest story, this time a search for magical artifacts of great power which may be hidden somewhere deep inside Russia.  The dialogue bothered me occasionally in this one but the story is exciting enough. Nothing spectacular in either one but Iíll watch for more titles from this imprint in the future. 5/29/10

Well of Sorrows by Benjamin Tate, DAW, 2010, $16, ISBN 978-0-7564-0602-8  

Like most fantasy worlds, the setting for this first novel is torn by violent conflict, in this case not only among humans, but between humans and dark spirits who live in the wild and plot to exterminate the troublesome population.  Our hero is a migrant who is forced by circumstances into an area that is generally avoided and there he undergoes a kind of transformation, acquiring powers that will make him a key figure in the struggle to come. There were some sections of this novel that seemed more like a sketch of a more complex story, although itís already well over six hundred pages.  Itís a workmanlike if somewhat generic fantasy adventure, with hints of the quest story as well, but it lacks some of the texture that makes some books of this type memorable. 5/27/10

The White Road by Lynn Flewelling, Ballantine Spectra, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-553-59009-8  

Alec and Seregil, master spies of a sort in a relatively typical fantasy world, have a new problem in their fifth adventure.  They are now accompanied by an artificially created living creature whose provenance and nature pose considerable mysteries. Their adventures separate them for a while, although obviously theyíre going to be reunited eventually.  The creature possesses mysterious and potentially dangerous powers, which prove to be of importance later when our heroes discover that old enemies have returned despite their escape from the neighboring land where they were almost killed in the last book in the series.  Flewellingís first few fantasies were competent but unexceptional; her later ones have become progressively more interesting and this series in particular is one of the better ones in the Fritz Leiber vein.  I hope to visit with this twosome again some time soon. 5/26/10

Ivyís Ever After by Dawn Lairamore, Holiday House, 2010, $16.95, ISBN 978-0-8234-2261-6 

A pleasant but light variation of a childrenís fairy tale.  Princess Ivy does not want to pursue the diffident role her rank usually demands, locked in a tower until rescued from a dragon by a prince.  When a prince arrives, heís less than admirable and she ends up forming an alliance with the dragon against him.  This is for kids so thereís light humor mixed with the adventure, but there are some serious undertones as well and while this is not destined to become a childrenís classic or become the next Harry Potter, itís a nicely constructed and told story that snubs its nose at convention a little. 5/25/10

A Legacy of Daemons by Camille Bacon-Smith, DAW, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7564-0603-5  

Camille Bacon-Smith was ahead of the curve when the first two in this urbanish fantasyish series appeared in the late 1990s, and now sheís back with the private detective agency whose operatives are actually demons, or at least half demons, in disguise. They have quite a challenge this time, one that could involve the destruction of humanity if they arenít successful.  Theyíre hired by another demon, which is remarkable enough in itself, but then what appears to be a straightforward assignment turns complicated when a group of sorcery inclined humans take a hand.  They also have to resolve things without blowing their cover and revealing their true nature to the authorities. This oneís an excellent occult adventure novel which falls into the urban fantasy category mostly because thatís how itís inevitably going to be marketed, but itís better than most that appear under that label.  DAW reprinted the first two in a combined volume a while back, and theyíre also worth looking up. 5/24/10

Revenant by Phaedra Weldon, Ace, 2010, $15, ISBN 978-0-441-01865-9  

Fourth in a series that flirts with fantasy and horror, straddling both so thoroughly that Iím still ambivalent about what to call this.  Zoe Martinique has psychic abilities, including a talent for leaving her body and visiting the astral plane.  In that realm exist the revenants, sort of angry ghosts, but something is preying upon the revenants and Zoe is pretty sure she knows what or who it is.  And as much as she dislikes the revenants themselves, she dislikes their enemy even more, particularly when the consequences could be devastating for living and unloving alike. One of the more interesting of the dark urban fantasy series, and one of the better written.  This is probably the best in the series, but Iíd start earlier if youíre planning to read them since you really need to know more about the character. 5/20/10

From Hell with Love by Simon R. Green, Ace, 2010, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-451-46332-6 

I should have liked this, the fourth in the Drood series, more than I did, which is not to say I didnít like it at all, but just that I felt a bit let down.  The Droods are a secretive group that has been protecting humanity from supernatural dangers for generations.  Now they have a more personal problem because the leader of their group was murdered and probably by one of their own number.  Our hero is one of the two chief suspects, and his girlfriend is the other, which puts him in an unenviable position.  Iím not sure why this one didnít work for me.  It was kind of slow in a few spots but action packed in others.  I think it was mostly that unlike Greenís other series, this one has never really come to life for me, at least not consistently, and I felt no real urgency to know what was going to happen next. I'll still read the next in the series though.  Even lesser Green is among the better fantasy published each year. 5/17/10

A Cast-Off Coven by Juliet Blackwell, Onyx, 2010, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-451-23049-2 

Second in the Lily Ivory series about a contemporary witch who solves murders.  Sheís actually a psychometrist; she can gain information from touching old clothing and personal items, and she runs a used clothing store.   When something weird starts disturbing college students, she is asked to look into the matter. Surprise!  A dead body turns up as well as psychic hints that something nasty is in the works.  As per formula, Lily also has a troubled love affair Ė her boyfriend doesnít like magic Ė and at least heís not a police detective, which is the usual arrangement.  The fantasy element is actually more than incidental to the plot this time and while itís not a particularly clever murder puzzle, thereís a pretty good story.  Paranormal mysteries seem to be on the increase along with paranormal everything else and Blackwell is riding the first wave. 5/9/10

The Desert Spear by Peter V. Brett, Del Rey, 2010, $26, ISBN 978-0-345-50381-7

I had a little bit of trouble picking up the story in this one since I've never seen the first in the series, The Warded Man. It's a kind of blend of two fantasy devices.  Civilization has collapsed into barbarism compounded by the rise of the demons, supernatural creatures which prey on humans.  In the first volume, the backgrounds of the characters were established, so there's not a lot of that here and it took me a while to figure out how the various conflicts were structured.  Anyway, two separate leaders arise in two different post collapse cultures, each with his own distinct ideas about how the demonic menace should be handled.  Formerly friends, their differences turn them into increasingly acrimonious rivals.  There's a good deal of action and violence in this one and not much standing around and talking, which is a nice break from most of the recent fantasy novels I've read. Brett tells an exciting story and his set up is sufficiently novel to be interesting in its own right, although I'm not sure how long it can sustain a series.  5/5/10

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