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 LAST UPDATE 12/13/18

A King in Cobwebs by David Keck, Tor, 2018, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-1322-5

I read the first two books in this trilogy more than a decade ago, so I don't remember them particularly well. They are set in a fairly standard fantasy world ravaged by war and the protagonist, Durand Col, is instrumental in helping the downtrodden as well as opposing an external force that is more explicitly evil. In the conclusion, the current king is mentally ill and cruel and the people and the aristocracy are in nearly open revolt. But the chaos that results from this situation provides an opening for the evil to make its bid for supremacy. Col is a thinker as well as a fighter and he has to figure out how to thread a dangerous path if his people are to survive. The prose is quite good and the story, though holding no big surprises, is very enjoyable. I could follow it even with dim memories of the previous books, but you might want to chase them down as well. 12/13/18

Dreamseeker’s Road by Tom Deitz, Avon, 1995

The pathways between worlds have opened again, this time in the days leading up to Halloween. A friend of our recurring heroes finds out about Faerie and unwisely decides to ride with the Wild Hunt. The others have to deal with shapeshifters and other dangers before the chief protagonist, David, meets the ghost of his uncle and gains peace over that event. I think the author was really struggling to find something new to say with this series at this point, and other than a few anecdotes that are new, much of the plot is simply a rehash of earlier themes. It is also growing difficult to keep the growing cast of carbon copy male characters apart. 12/9/18

City of Broken Magic by Mirah Bolender, Tor, 2018, $15.99, ISBN 978-1-250-16927-3

The problem I have with most mainstream fantasy novels is that they constantly return to the same themes and plot elements. Happily, this debut novel avoids that trap, even though it is in some ways a standard fantasy world. At some point magicians created a weapon so powerful that it devours magic, along with just about anything else. It does not respect sides and consumes both sides of a fight and it is virtually unstoppable. Virtually is the key word here. An elite group of specialists has been created to combat the infestations of this now out of control anti-magical infestation, but the work is dangerous and life spans are not very long. The protagonist is one of these and she is all that stands in the way of the destruction of her city. Or so it appears. Despite the potentially melodramatic plot, the narrative is generally low key and the characters seem more like real people than those who battle their way through hordes of barbarian soldiers and rampaging wizards. I'd say this was a very auspicious first novel.11/29/18

The Monster Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson, Tor, 2018, $28.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-8074-6

Sequel to The Traitor Baru Cormorant, in which the female protagonist secretly works within the government of a repressive empire to undercut its authority. She is well respected by those who don't know her actual sympathies and has been promoted to a significantly higher position in this outing. Now she continues her work, trying to provoke a war that will break the back of the empire, but she is also troubled by her inability to understand her own motivations. Her previous experiences have left her scarred and uncertain just when she needs to have all of her wits about her. This is a more than usually complex fantasy world with several more than usually complex characters, both of which are definitely good things. I enjoyed the first book a great deal and I think this one is marginally better, which is often not the case with interior volumes in a series - and yes, that means there is at least one more to come. In a world filled with too many just okay epic fantasies, it is always a pleasure to find one that stands out dramatically. 11/27/18

Relics by Tim Lebbon, Titan, 2017 

The protagonist of this story is a young woman who believes she has found the perfect man, until the day that he mysteriously disappears.  It turns out that he was involved with the sale of magical artifacts and now he is in hiding. Yes, this is the start of a new urban fantasy series. Lebbon always writes well and kept my attention, but I have so overdosed on this form that I find it very difficult to enjoy new ones, no matter how well written, because the plot always seems so familiar. There is a sequel that I will probably read at some point, but I’m in no hurry. 11/25/18

Ghostcountry’s Wrath by Tom Deitz, Avon, 1995 

A Cherokee witch has made himself the enemy of one of our recurring heroes. This leads to the shifting of several people into the Darkening Land, a kind of purgatory congruent to the land of the dead. They meet the spirits of some of the departed, get involved in magical battles, and are eventually pursued by the witch, who takes the form of a giant owl and commands large flocks of zombified birds. Most of the real action takes place late in the novel. At times in this series I have felt that the supernatural beings are acting rather arbitrarily and there are occasional scenes that take too long to play out, but for the most part it’s been an interesting and entertaining series. 11/25/18

Stoneskin’s Revenge by Tom Deitz, Avon, 1991 

The war in Faerie is over, but one of our heroes has inadvertently left open a door between realities. The rest of the characters in the series have the book off.  Our hero is also wanted for the murder of his father and spends time in jail, uses magical charms to shift into the shapes of animals, and befriends some runaways. The villain is Spearfinger, a Native American entity who can fashion simulacrums out of rocks and sand and send them to kill people. Eventually, of course, he sends her back to the spirit world.  11/17/18

Sunshaker’s War by Tom Deitz, Avon, 1990 

Fourth in the David Sullivan series. The war in Faerie has effectively sealed its borders, but David and friends believe they can find a back way in. They hope to rescue their friend from imprisonment in the enemy camp because that would likely lead to a truce between the warring parties. And a truce is necessary because the magical war is affecting the sun in the human world and threatens disaster. The story line is all right but the story is long winded at times with lots of semi-relevant conversations, a few contrived situations that raised my eyebrows, and the wholesome but sometimes corny young people have become tiresome by now. 11/9/18

The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson, Scholastic, 2018, $16.99, ISBN 978-1-338-20996-9

This is an amusing fantasy for younger readers. The protagonist is a twelve year old girl who lives with her grandmother in a magical  house that really does have giant chicken legs so that it can wander the world. The grandmother is one of a handful of people whose job is to help the departed reach the afterlife. The girl is lonely, of course, and when she breaks various magical rules in order to pursue a friendship, the consequences put her grandmother in jeopardy and leave the girl alone and confused about what to do. Some rather inventive adventure follows. Not entirely serious, of course. This could have been better if it had not used present tense narration, which I thought was particularly inappropriate given the story. 11/6/18

Darkthunder’s Way by Tom Deitz, Avon, 1989 

There is war brewing in the land of the sidhe thanks to the violent conclusion of the previous book in the David Sullivan series. The only way to avert a disastrous conflict is for David and his friends to complete a perilous quest in one of the other worlds.  This involves killing a giant snake and transforming into the shape of a bear. The rationale behind the plot is not always clear – they complete their quest successfully but it does not seem to have any significant effect on external events. The relationships among the characters is sometimes awkwardly portrayed. The blend of Irish and Native American magic is interesting but is treated superficially. The series has by now begun to seem repetitive. 11/2/18

Elevation by Stephen King, Scribner, 2018, $19.99, ISBN 978-1-9821-0231-9

A man begins to lose weight without any changes to his body in this light weight novella. At the same time, he is interacting with a lesbian couple, one of whom is overly defensive and not entirely convincingly touchy. He eventually wins their friendship before losing the last of his weight and with it his physical connection to the earth. Not unpleasant, but not up to his usual standards. 11/1/18

Fireshaper’s Doom by Tom Deitz, Avon, 1987

David Sullivan defeated a sidhe in his first outing, but the sidhe is not dead and his sister is on the warpath. The mother of another sidhe who died in the previous book is looking for vengeance and she kidnaps Sullivan into the other world and forces him to become a thief in her service. His friends, accompanied by a sidhe lord trapped in our world, have to battle a powerful sorceress until the gateway between realities is reopened. Sullivan has to help defeat his old enemy and his sister, who are threatening to unleash a wave of evil and death. Much faster moving than the first novel, but less focused and with a great many viewpoint characters. 10/30/18

Furlough from Eternity by David Wright O’Brien, Armchair, 2018 (originally published in 1949)

A readable but unremarkable fantasy that has been done many times by other writers, and almost always more skillfully. A professional gambler is killed by his rivals and taken to Heaven, where he is condemned to Hell for gambling – even though he was perfectly honest, not involved in any criminal activity, never cheated, and treated people well. After this absurdity, he is sent back to Earth in another body for a limited time to prove his worth, which he does by tracking down his killers and bringing them to justice, not by performing good works or anything like that. Remarkably odd philosophy in a rather routine story. 10/29/18

Kai Lung Raises His Voice by Ernest Bramah, Durrant, 2010

There were several uncollected Kai Lung stories when Bramah died, as well as a few that had never been published. This collects them all, most of them quite short and a couple of them rather disappointing. The others are all up to his usual standard, however, set in a China that never was. Most of his protagonists are in one fashion or another seeking wealth, position, or love – in only one case is the protagonist female. Enjoyable enough, but I find Bramah is best in small servings. 10/25/18

The Gryphon King by Tom Deitz, Avon, 1989 

The discovery of an ancient play causes an existential crisis. An evil fairy can evoke the power to create another reality and superimpose it on ours, which would give him power in our world. Aided by an intelligent gryphon, he sets out to complete the necessary ritual. Her is opposed by his half brother who, with a handful of friends, has discovered the truth. He is also in touch with an entity from the world of Faery, who helps him in the final battle. The story starts very slowly – nothing much happens in the first hundred pages – but speeds up after that, although it is a little bit repetitive. Associated with the David Sullivan series. 10/21/18

No Sleep Till Doomsday by Laurence MacNaughton, Pyr, 2018, $18, ISBN 978-1-63388-496-0

In her third adventure, Dru Jasper has to save the world from a magical fate once again. An evil sorceress has an amulet which is powerful enough to precipitate the final apocalypse. She is assisted by her boyfriend, who is part demon himself, although she does not completely trust him. Her quest to save the world - as she has before - is complicated this time by a host of obstacles including a ghost town, more demons, and a gang of shapeshifters. The tone is fairly light hearted, given the subject matter, and it seems to me there was more humor in the first two books. I liked this quite a bit, probably better than its predecessors, and read it straight through into the wee hours of morning. 10/19/18

Kai Lung Beneath the Mulberry Tree by Ernest Bramah, Arno, 1978 (originally published in 1940) 

This volume in the series contains a rather dull anecdotal novella followed by a few short stories, none of which are particularly notable. The novelty of the odd prose style has worn off by now, and the stories themselves are actually quite unimaginative and sometimes meander awkwardly without ever having a climax. There is one grab bag collection left to go, assorted pieces that had not been collected in the earlier books, so I suspect this trend will continue. Best read in small doses. 10/17/18

Where She Fell by Kaitlin Ward, Point, 2018, $17.99, ISBN 978-1-338-23007-9

Amber & Dusk by Lyra Selene, Scholastic, 2018, $18.99, ISBN 978-1-338-21003-3

Two very different young adult fantasies here.  The first is less conventional and more interesting. A young woman exploring a swamp is trapped when the ground opens up beneath her feet and she finds herself in an underground world of caves and creatures never seen on the surface. There are people as well, and she learns a great deal about their society and a great deal more about herself as she has a series of adventures. This was potentially quite good but the present tense narration drains all of the suspense out of it and draws constant attention to the fact that this is a story, which is generally fatal in fiction. The second title is a bit overly familiar. The protagonist has an ability to create illusions which her people consider a curse rather than a talent. She leaves for the big city where she too learns to know herself and her society better than ever before, with court intrigues, physical dangers, and the challenge of controlling and using her magic in constructive ways. The story is pleasant on the whole, if rather predictable. 10/13/18

Windmaster’s Bane by Tom Deitz, Avon, 1986 

First in the David Sullivan series in which a teenager from Georgia who happens to have second sight gets in trouble with one of the Sidhe, Ailill Windmaster, who nurses a grudge since David prevailed in a test of knowledge. David must master his own skills and prove his worth to the fairies or his family and friends will all be placed in jeopardy. Several supporting characters help Sullivan, along with some help from the other world.  A little clumsy in the opening chapters, but it gets better as it goes along. 10/10/18

Black City Dragon by Richard A. Knaak, Pyr, 2018, $18, ISBN 978-1-63388-494-6

Third in this series about Nick Medea, whose job is to protect the world from  predators from the world of fairies. He tries hard, but more and more of his opponents are slipping past. Many of the interlopers are interacting with Chicago's gangster culture, which doesn't make the job any easier. There are growing indications that his ancient enemy is active once more, and the key to finding a counter action may reside in the past lives of his reincarnated girlfriend. There is a lot going on in this series and it took a while before I was comfortable with the setting and characters again, but it is certainly not dull and it proves that urban fantasy can be more than just romance novels with witchcraft. There is a bonus short story included. 10/8/18

The Return of Kai Lung by Ernest Bramah, Sheridan, 1937 

Although this uses many of the characters from the Kai Lung stories, he does not appear at all and this was originally titled The Moon of Much Gladness. It involves a mandarin whose authority is undercut when his pigtail is cut off and stolen. A young woman becomes a detective and later an undercover agent in a rebel movement. The plot is threadbare and the elaborate dialogue becomes cumbersome and even annoying at this length. 10/6/18

Kai Lung Unrolls His Mat by Ernest Bramah, Ballantine, 1974 (originally published in 1927) 

The third Kai Lung collection has a more extensive frame story, but the individual tales are still independent. Some of them are very similar to earlier tales, although two of them are quite good. The artificial prose style begins to wear after a while and I interrupted this volume to read something else more than once. There are more magical events this time although the fantastic is not very prominent, usually consisting of  interventions in the lives of mortals by inhabitants of the Upper Air. The frame story, however, is rather boring. 10/1/18

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