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

 LAST UPDATE  5/28/20

The Ruby Knight by David Eddings, Del Rey, 1990    

Our heroes have to track down a fabulous gem which is the only way to lift a curse on their queen. They are opposed by the usual cast of villains, including the minions of yet another evil god served by inhuman creatures. The good guys manifest new magical talents whenever the need arises, and the bad guys continue to discuss confidential information in public where there just happens to be one of the heroes eager to listen. Eddings’ novels have steadily grown more contrived and the writing is increasingly lazy. One of the characters reveals a new magic power every time they are faced with some challenge they assume is insurmountable. She can even home on the gem they are seeking, but refrains from mentioning this until quite late in the book. I struggled to get through this one. 5/28/20

The Diamond Throne by David Eddings, Del Rey, 1989  

First volume of the Elenium trilogy. The queen of Elenia has been magically thrown into a coma. An exiled knight returns to prevent an ambitious priest from placing his puppet on the throne in her place. The setting is very similar to that of the Belgariad series and there are several parallels among the characters as well. Alas, there are also replications of the bad things - like magic abilities that we don’t know about until they are needed, fortuitous coincidences to keep the plot moving, and characters so shallow that they are interchangeable and difficult to keep straight. By the end of the book they have discovered a possible cure but have also learned that an evil god has particularly targeted our hero for murder and that a major war is imminent.  5/22/20

The Seeress of Kell by David Eddings, Del Rey, 1989  

Final volume of the Malloreon, which is basically a five volume retelling of the five volume Belgariad by the same author. More journeying and anecdotal adventures, a few more contradictions and instances where the sorcerers forget that they have powers that could have avoided their problems, lots of enigmatic prophecies and rules prohibiting telling them anything useful, and now a new problem – an indication that free will does not exist in this reality, that everything is pre-ordained. I was pretty sick of this world by the time the book ended. The internal contradictions are irritating and some of the sequences are clearly just padding. 5/18/20

The Shimmer by Carsten Stroud, Mira, 2018 

Although this has elements of horror and science fiction, I'm calling it a fantasy because the time travel aspect is pretty much magic. This is a Stephen King inspired novel – there is even an allusion to him – in which a police officer is trying to run down a female serial killer who seems to be quite spry for someone more than a century old. She can somehow make use of the life force released when people die to keep herself young and is also able to travel back and forth through time. Somehow – the rules are never explained – the protagonist is drawn through time with her and he continues his pursuit during the 1950s. The first half is excellent, but I started to lose interest after that because it was so hard to figure out what was going on and what capabilities were possessed by which characters. 5/17/20

Sorceress of Darshiva by David Eddings, Del Rey, 1989 

Fourth in the series. Multiple armies clash, mostly off stage. Demons ravage the world, mostly off stage. The characters dither and argue about what course of action to take, mostly onstage. A brilliant tactician proposes an incredibly stupid military strategy until told that it is “lunacy”. The sorcerers – who can all teleport anywhere in the world – spend months traveling by land and sea while constantly bewailing the fact that time is short. Various prophets deliver completely unhelpful messages. Conversations are repeated among characters who can barely be told apart because they have so little personality. 5/14/20

Severed Wings by Steven-Elliot Altman, Wordfire, 2020 

The protagonist of this comparatively short fantasy novel has retreated into self pity after an accident torpedoes his hope of an acting career. Although somewhat reclusive, he becomes interested in a couple who have recently moved into his building. They entertain strange guests who appear to have been changed somehow after their visits. Once he has convinced himself that they have magical powers, the logical next conclusion is that they might be able to restore him physically so that he can resume his foreshortened career. But there is a price for everything, and he might not be willing to pay this one, no matter how desperate he is. Very nicely written with a simple, straightforward plot that is actually more complex by implication than it seems. 5/10/20

Demon Lord of Karanda by David Eddings, Del Rey, 1988 

Middle volume of a five book sequence. As you might expect, the story moves ponderously. Our heroes were captured by the Malloreans at the end of the last book. They more or less make friends with the Mallorean emperor, who reluctantly gives up his foreign war to return to his homeland. Not only are his vassals restive but a mystery man has summoned a horde of demons and even the immortal sorcerers are worried about the consequences. There are several new elements that don’t fit into the established mythos, and a bit of repetition. The chief protagonist’s personality is incredibly naïve considering that he has ruled a kingdom for a decade, fathered a child, and killed a god.  5/9/20

Rainbow Brigade by J.A. Pitts, Wordfire, 2020 

This is the first urban fantasy I’ve read in well over a year, although the definition of urban fantasy seems to have expanded to encompass just about all contemporary fantasy. It’s part of the Sarah Beauhall series. The city of Bellingham is suffering from a wave of suicides whose cause is paranormal. Her investigation involves many of the familiar elements of fantasy – she is after all a dragon slayer. This time, however, she has to deal with elves, a rampaging giant, She also has to deal with some troublesome romantic entanglements of her own. The plot is straightforward and involves what I think of as second level revelations – that is, they may not be exactly what you expected but they’re in the ballpark. There are no “I didn’t see that coming” moments. But as was the case with earlier books I’ve read by this author, I was entertained throughout. 5/7/20

King of the Murgos by David Eddings, Del Rey, 1988  

Second in the series, and with several internal contradictions, plus new powers for our heroes when they need them. Since they can teleport thousands of miles, one wonders why they bother to walk and ride all the way. In any case they make friends with the king of the title, whose country was formerly an enemy, and end up getting captured by new enemy at the cliffhanger climax. There is actually virtually no progress of the plot. They just spend four hundred pages traveling, fighting dragons and ghouls, observing court intrigues, and making wisecracks to one another. A place holder rather than a story. 5/4/20

Unbecoming by Leslie Wheeler, Aqueduct, 2020, $18, ISBN 978-1-61976-167-4  

This is an unusual debut fantasy set in a world of academic which feels a lot like another reality. The protagonist is used to working with metaphors as part of the college’s curriculum, but she and her problems are metaphors in their own right. There is conflict in her world – academia is notorious for its infighting – but there is magic as well. Traditional fantasy readers may feel somewhat out of place here because we’re not talking about evil wizards in the usual sense, although there is a kind of witchcraft. The novel reads more like what is often called “magic realism” and its pace is slow and measured. It rewards attention, but don’t expect a dragon to pop up for the climax. This reminded me a bit of Fritz Leiber’s Conjure Wife. 5/2/20

Guardians of the West by David Eddings, Del Rey, 1987 

First volume of the Malloreon, sequel to the Belgariad.  It takes almost two hundred pages before anything really happens. Eddings has to bring us up to date on all of the major characters and how their lives have changed over the course of ten years, and then shows us how the political situation has changed in each of almost a dozen kingdoms.  There are hints of trouble to come – a mysterious name, a concealed passage in the prophecies, a psychic attempt to kill the hero’s baby son, an offstage assassination, rumors of a rebellion in one of the allied kingdoms. But it all moves very ponderously and the long novel feels even longer than it is. Presumably this was just meant to set the stage for events which will be unleashed in volume two. 4/25/20

Enchanters End Game by David Eddings, Del Rey, 1984   

Final volume of the Belgariad. There are two main story lines in this one. Garion and the Gandalf figure travel to a distant land to confront the evil god. Garion's wife to be leads an army against the more or less evil kingdoms who are planning an invasion, although they are split into factions. The stories converge for a climax that cheats enormously. All through the five books, we have been told that no mortal can resist the direct will of a god. And in the climax, two separate mortals do exactly that, which is how they win the battle. The series started reasonably well and just went steadily downhill. 4/18/20

Castle of Wizardry by David Eddings, Del Rey, 1984

Fourth volume of the Belgariad. The Orb has been recovered from the evil empire and our adventurers recover at a friendly castle. After some brief adventure, Garion is crowned king and gets engaged. A lengthy comedy of manners follows – and Eddings was not very good at creating characters on more than a superficial level, so this section is awkward, boring, and unrealistic. Then they are off again to confront Torak, the evil god, in a distant land, which presumably will happen in the final volume. There are several internal contradictions in this one. Eddings ignores things he has established as fact when a contradictory position is easier. Talking animals is against nature and has never been done – except that birds have been talking since book two in the series. Mistakes are undercutting what could have been an unremarkable but entertaining series.  4/14/20

Magician’s Gambit by David Eddings, Del Rey, 1983    

Third in a series of five. This completes the grand tour of all the nations in the world as Belgarath and company finally track down the Orb, an artifact that could revive the evil comatose god Torak. A couple of the chief villains get killed along the way and the composition of the fellowship changes somewhat. It is very frustrating that the elders keep reprimanding young Garion for not knowing something, but the same people inevitably refuse to answer his questions even when it would be to their mutual benefit. This is a rather awkward authorial device to withhold information from the reader. 4/11/20

Queen of Sorcery by David Eddings, Del Rey, 1982

Second volume of the Belgariad. Most of this is just the heroes traveling across country and having minor adventures. Some of the tension between the young protagonist and his sorceress guardian results from an artlessly contrived situation – she refuses to tell him things that are essential to his well being because he is “not ready.”  Clearly he is, since his uncontrolled power has already killed a man. The parallels with Tolkien continue as the ancient sorcerer goes off on a side quest of his own, in the tradition of Gandalf. Certainly entertaining, but it does not stand on its own.

Servant of the Crown by Duncan Hamilton, Tor, 2020, $17.99,  ISBN 978-1-250-3-685-2

Third and final volume of a trilogy set in a familiar fantasy setting, with a contested throne, a reluctant hero, and recently revived dragons. There really aren't any surprises but the story is solid and well told. Just once I'd like to see things resolved through reason and negotiation rather than a violent confrontation, but primitive warfare and personal combat are requirements of the genre and Hamilton does an entertaining job of serving them up. The closing chapters feel more like military fiction than fantasy at times.  The villain is suitably villainous and the dragons act like dragons. I was indifferent to the heroes. I believe at least some of his other books are set in the same universe but have not seen them.

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