John Ottinger (guest)

JOHN OTTINGER III, a guest contributor to FanLit, runs the Science Fiction / Fantasy blog Grasping for the Wind. His reviews, interviews, and articles have appeared in Publisher’s Weekly, The Fix, Sacramento Book Review, Flashing Swords, Stephen Hunt’s SFCrowsnest, Thaumatrope, and at

Unclean: Excellent sword and sorcery romp

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Unclean by Richard Lee Byers

What happens when a young bard returns home to find the lover he left gone? What would you do if you saw your entire regiment slaughtered by the undead? If an undead lich made a grab for control of your country, even if that country is the notoriously self-serving Thay?

It is these questions that Richard Lee Byers’ attempts to answer in Unclean: The Haunted Lands. Byers continues to show his writing prowess in the shared world arena by tackling a difficult topic in the Forgotten Realms world: the undead. Traditionally seen as evil through and through, represented usually as vampires, zombies, skeletons, ghosts, and ghouls, Byers has developed their characters, added some new creatures, and moved beyond the hack/slash utility of the traditional monsters.

... Read More

The Gossamer Plain: Not much happens

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The Gossamer Plain by Thomas M. Reid

What happens when the alu-fiend Aliisza gets a conscience? Will she turn to good? Will the justice of Tyr change a creature half-human, half-demon? Interesting questions, especially when you consider that demons are, by their nature, wholly evil. Such a plot allows for discussions on the nature of good and evil, and how choices affect our lives.

Thomas M. Reid, best selling author of Insurrection, returns to the character he created for that story in The Empyrean Odyssey. The first novel, The Gossamer Plain, follows Aliisza and her cambion lover Kaanyr Vhok on two separate journeys. Kaanyr’s takes him through the plane of Fire, assisted by a half dragon and a priest of Bane. Aliisza, meanwhile, must go on a journey through her soul as... Read More

The Howling Delve: Worth the wait

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The Howling Delve by Jaleigh Johnson

In The Howling Delve, Jaleigh Johnson, unlike Erik Scott De Bie in Depths of Madness, does not rely entirely on the dungeon as the setting. Set in Amn in the Year of Lightning Storms, The Howling Delve’s plot revolves around two protagonists: a nobleman’s son who seeks revenge for the overthrow of his family, and a fire elementalist who once lived on the streets of Amn and who seeks something unknown even to her.

Although this is Jaleigh Johnson’s first novel, she has previously published short stories. One can be found in Sails and Sorcery: Nautical Tales of Fantasy published by Fantasist Enterprises. Another appeared in Realms of the Dragons II from Read More

The City of Splendors: Not WOTC’s usual fare

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The City of Splendors by Ed Greenwood & Elaine Cunningham

The City of Splendors is very different from Wizards of the Coast's usual fare. In fact, it's even unusual for The Forgotten Realms, and that's saying something.

The story almost seems to have no main character, no central conflict, and no central motivation. It revolves around many characters who live their lives in Waterdeep, also known as the City of Splendors due to its astonishing beauty and variety. The interconnectedness of the central characters and the way that they interact with each other and the city that surrounds them (both the actual city and its citizens) is so cleverly written that the reader is never sure just what might happen next.

As with any sword and sorcery novel, there is the usual blood-letting, ... Read More

The Orc King: Welcome return to the Drizzt legend

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The Orc King by R.A. Salvatore

Picking up where The Two Swords left off, The Orc King continues the adventures of Drizzt Do’Urden and the Companions of the Hall. King Obould Many-arrows seeks to create a kingdom of orcs, at peace with its neighbors, a thing unheard of in Faerun. Tosun Armgo continues to seek to be a new Drizzt, a dark elf of good character while fighting off the advances of Khaizid’hea the evil sentient sword. And Wulfgar, recently widowed, sets out to find his lost daughter Colson.

R.A. Salvatore has been writing in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting for 20 years, he brought shared world fiction into the mainstream of genre fiction, his novels are sold all over the world, and Drizzt is almost as recognizable a character as Gollum or Captain Kirk.

But for all his accomplishments, it seems that Salv... Read More

Crown of Stars: Stunning in scale and complexity

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CROWN OF STARS by Kate Elliott

CROWN OF STARS is well-thought out and obviously well-planned. It’s epic in scope and it’s got a lot of texture. There are many complex characters who we follow in parallel, as in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. Some of them are very likeable, and there are some really excellent villains (e.g., Hugh). Kate Elliott's creatures are imaginative and enjoyable, and I especially liked the way they interact with the humans. Ms. Elliott uses a lot of description and intricate world-building and therefore her plot moves very slowly (again, similar to WOT).

The writing was inconsistent throughout the series. Sometimes it seems brilliant, but at other times I'd think “why did she tell me that?” or “this could ... Read More

The Restorer: Christian fantasy

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The Restorer by Sharon Hinck

When reading fantasy books, I generally apply two arbitrary criteria that I have found useful in determining books I like. The first is I look for the willingness of the author to kill important characters — not secondary or briefly mentioned characters. I've always felt that to do so was brave and showed a willingness to push the story's limits rather than following a predictable course. The second is actually from Aristotle’s Poetics. Summarized, Aristotle says the primary character must be believable. In essence, the character must be more human than superhuman. No one wants to read about the perfect man doing great things (i.e. early Superman). No, the reader prefers the character to suffer and overcome those sufferings (whether external or internal), thus creating a true hero (i.e. Batman or Spider-man).

The Re... Read More

Bad-Ass Faeries: Pretty good collection, despite the title

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Bad-Ass Faeries by Danielle Ackley-McPhail

Although I disapprove of the title, I still found Bad-Ass Faeries edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail, to be a pretty good collection of stories. At least, that’s true if you discount the one or two stories that really boiled down to faerie porn. Which, ironically, is part of the humor in the story by Den C. Wilson, "Heart of Vengeance" (Well, elf porn, anyway). All, in all though, the collection is pretty good. It is targeted in its concept, but broad in its application. There are science fiction stories, high fantasy stories, westerns, and even a couple of noir mysteries. And yet all center on the faerie race, at least as a starting point.

Divided into five sections, these nineteen stories are short, roughly six to ten pages in length, but without the text being too small to read. The illustrations ap... Read More

Goblin Quest: Light-hearted irony

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Goblin Quest by Jim C. Hines

Joining the ranks of comic fantasy authors like Terry Pratchett, Robert Asprin, Esther Freisner, and Piers Anthony is relative newcomer Jim C. Hines. His dungeon delving novel, Goblin Quest, brings a jovial and ironic spirit to the ranks of fantasy fiction.

Jig, a young, scrawny, and near-sighted goblin is content to work with muck. It keeps him out of the way of the rougher, tougher goblins, all brave warriors willing to die to protect the lair. But through unfortunate happenstance, Jig finds himself the prisoner ... Read More

Shadow in the Deep: Characters killed off

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Shadow in the Deep by L.B. Graham

The third book by L.B. Graham, a Christian and Covenant Seminary grad, is probably one of the most wonderful books I have ever read. Shadow in the Deep picks up where Bringer of Storms left off after the destruction of Col Marena by Malek's followers. The prophet Valzaan is dead, and Benjiah must take his place. Aljeron must lead the people of Werthanin to safety across the sea to Cimaris Rul while the Bringer of Storms continues to use his powers to manifest rain across over Kirthanin.

But this is not what makes this book particularly wonderful. It is a book that has little new happening and more provides a preparation for the next book in the series. It truly is a middle book in a larger series — a good book, but not as exciting as the first or last book. Due to its place in the series, there are ve... Read More

Dragon Outcast: Action and adventure

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Dragon Outcast by E.E. Knight

As always, E.E. Knight brings us an action/adventure story filled with everybody's favorite fantasy creature: dragons.

One thing I have especially enjoyed about The Age of Fire is that you can pick up any of the novels and completely enjoy it as a stand-alone novel. Each of the books begins at the exact same time and location, yet each follows a different dragon. In Dragon Outcast, we learn the story of the Copper, Auron and Wistala’s sibling who was denied the egg shelf. In the previous two books the Copper was given a villainous cast, as it was he who led the Dragonblade and the Dwarves to his family’s cave. But now we learn that all is not as it seems, and that the Copper’s motivations were purer than we thought. And most especially, we learn the fate of the ... Read More

The Awakened Mage: Much darker

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The Awakened Mage by Karen Miller

One theme drives the plot of Karen Miller’s The Awakened Mage, sequel to The Innocent Mage: friendship. That friendship is exemplified in the sometimes tenuous, but always interesting friendship between Gar and Asher. In the first novel, the two formed an unlikely pair. Gar is a magickless prince, unable to serve as King of Lur, since the King is also the WeatherWorker and maintainer of Barl’s Wall, the only thing keeping the evil of Morg at bay. And there is Asher, the intelligent and wily fisherman, who only seeks to serve the kingdom and his friend.

The story of The Awakened Mage (also called Innocence Lost) picks up where its predecessor left off, not wasting text space on retelling the story, as it is assumed the reader alread... Read More

Goblin Hero: Unique brand of humor

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Goblin Hero by Jim C. Hines

Jig Dragonslayer has a new quest in Goblin Hero. This time, an ogre has come looking for his help. This is, of course, the last thing the diminutive Jig wants. Nonetheless, spurred on by his god, Tymalous Shadowstar, Jig finds he must accept the ogre’s request. But fighting pixies is not Jig’s idea of a good time, and in this sequel to Goblin Quest Jig must once again rely on his pusillanimous goblin brain to save everyone (including hobgoblins!) from the pixie invasion into the cavern complex the goblins, hobgoblins, and ogres call home.

Jim C. Hines uses his unique brand of humor to tell this funny adventure tale. Jig is his old self: a reluctant but effective hero. Yet Hines has also branched out and given the reader some new characters to enjoy. There is Grell, the ancient goblin nursery maid; Braf, t... Read More

Beyond the Summerland: A magnificent work

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Beyond the Summerland by L.B. Graham

Beyond the Summerland is a magnificent work — an adventure story that is compelling, fast-paced, and full of deep and rich characters. Deep in scope, filled with intimate duels and the clash of armies, it is a work that still maintains a sense of what man is and how his choices lead either to ruin or rejoicing. The race to an exciting and surprising conclusion will leave you hungering for more.

The story is seen primarily through the eyes of Joraiem, a young nobleman of the Novaana, who must journey to the town of Sulare to train and learn with fellow nobles the arts of battle, history, and leadership. But unbeknownst to him, Joraiem has been chosen by the Allfather to become something greater. With a love triangle, shipwreck, and battle with evil races bent on destroying those with faith in Allfather on all sides, Joraiem ... Read More

Thud: If you’re not a Discword fan, you will be now

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Thud! by Terry Pratchett

Finally the origins of Koom Valley are explained. Commander Vimes of the City Watch, and Duke of Ankh-Morpork, is desperatly trying to solve the mystery of one dead dwarf. And who is Mr. Shine? What does he have to do with the death of Grag Hamcrusher? And what, oh what, is he to do about the vampire in the watch? Commader Vimes solves the crime in his usual no-nonsense, magic-is-not-part-of-crime-solving, politics-is-for-politicians-not-coppers way.

Terry Pratchett has once again created a hilarious story with twists and turns and answers no one would have dreamed. If you are not a Dsicworld fan, you will become one once you read this book.

FanLit thanks John Ottinger III from Grasping ... Read More

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