Beth Johnson Sonderby (guest)

BETH JOHNSON, one of our guest reviewers, discovered fantasy books at age nine, when a love of horses spurred her to pick up Bruce Coville’s Into the Land of the Unicorns. Beth lives in Sweden with her husband. She writes short stories and has been working on a novel.

Bloodlines: Remarkably enjoyable spinoff

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Bloodlines by Richelle Mead

When I first picked Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy off the shelf back in March, I kind of figured it wasn’t going to go well. I’m not exactly the biggest vampire fan in the world. Imagine my surprise when five months later I find myself reading the start of the spinoff series, Bloodlines. VAMPIRE ACADEMY was full of action and romance and was a blast to read, which meant Bloodlines had a lot to live up to.

In Bloodlines, we see the return of a number of VAMPIRE ACADEMY characters and the introduction of quite a few new characters as well. The setting is a human school, where Moroi royalty Jill is being sent to protect her from the machinations of the Moroi at court. A lot of things could go wrong with these circumstan... Read More

Enchanted Ivy: Delivers on all accounts

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Enchanted Ivy by Sara Beth Durst

One problem I often have with contemporary fantasy is its tendency to ignore the magic of the world around us in its longing for something Other. Enchanted Ivy avoids this problem by striking a nice balance. There’s certainly a great deal of otherworldly magic, as evidenced by the dragons and faeries and talking gargoyles and cute were-tiger boys. Yet I got a real sense that all this magic was inspired by the feelings the campus of Princeton genuinely evoked in Durst. I can actually picture the author looking at the great old buildings and the gargoyles and imagining they could come to life at any second. Otherworldly magic inspired by a place that is, to the author, already magical. So to speak.

Although Enchanted Ivy’s cast of characters don’t entirely jump off the page, they’r... Read More

The Witches’ Kitchen: Will appeal to the target audience

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The Witches' Kitchen by Allen Williams

I wanted to like The Witches’ Kitchen by Allen Williams. And I think, had I been in its target age group, I probably would have. There’s no denying that Williams has a vivid imagination. The world of the Kitchen is populated with strange and delightfully odd creatures like Natterjack, a one-eyed Rastafarian imp (at least, if his description and illustration are anything to go by). These myriad mad beasties remind me strongly of dark Jim Henson films like Labyrinth. They’re certainly interesting, and would undoubtedly have captivated my younger self. Williams’ art truly shines, though that should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with it. It’s spectacular and a high point of The Witches’ Kitchen.

Unfortunately, what can delight my inner child is not necessarily enou... Read More

Mark of the Demon: Everything urban fantasy CAN be

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Mark of the Demon by Diana Rowland

I’ve been having some difficulty reviewing Diana Rowland’s Mark of the Demon. Not because I didn’t like it; on the contrary, I thought it was fantastic. The problem is, every time I start to think about it, my brain goes on a tirade. Mark of the Demon leaves me frustrated with the urban fantasy genre as a whole, because it is everything UF can be. And inevitably, when I try to think about what I love about Mark of the Demon, it makes me think of all the tropes in UF that I can’t stand.

So here, I’m just going to get it off my chest here and now. These are the primary things (outside of vampires and werewolves, but I’m not alone in that one) that drive me away from urban fantasy as a whole:

Angry protagonists who rant and rave, running down ... Read More

The DragonCrown War Cycle: Fanboy fantasy at its very worst

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THE DRAGONCROWN WAR CYCLE by Michael A. Stackpole


I enjoyed The Dark Glory War, the prequel to The Dragoncrown War Cycle trilogy, a fair amount. That being said, the story took a steady downhill slide from there.

It is pure fanboy fantasy, and at its very worst. These heroes have all the personality of mud. The men are all “humble” and act completely shocked to find themselves in the roles of heroes. And the women are downright offensive. These strong, proud, independent women, who turn into docile, eager-to-please slaves when their men look at them. They fall in love with the male protagonists, even though they hardly know them, and the males have few qualities worth falling in love with as it is.
The “heroes” of the books are always going on in the vein of “We're... Read More

Dragon Jousters: First book is decent…

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Dragon Jousters by Mercedes Lackey

The first book in this quartet (Joust) was decent enough to make me move onto the second. It definitely had its flaws (Vetch is angry, hungry, and worth less than a slave... got it the first thousand times, thanks) but it had its intriguing moments.

Then Alta. The flaws from the first book which were bearable start getting worse. Vetch is like every hero Lackey ever wrote, except even more lackluster and he's supported by mostly equally lackluster characters. The eight boys from his "wing" are basically stereotypes... shy, lazy, handsome, humorous (dopey, grumpy, sleepy, sneezy, doc...). They're tolerable, though. It's Aket-ten, the female protagonist, who is really irritating. She's one of those tough know-it-all characters who occasionally gets weepy, but that's ALL she is. She's front and center fa... Read More

The White Road: The plot is extremely thin

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The White Road by Lynn Flewelling

After a long departure from the much loved Nightrunner series, Lynn Flewelling returned to Seregil and Alec’s adventures in 2008 with the release of Shadows Return. Now the adventure begun in Shadows Return continues in The White Road:

“Having escaped death and slavery in Plenimar, Alec and Seregil want nothing more than to go back to their nightrunning life in Rhíminee. Instead they find themselves saddled with Sebrahn, a strange, alchemically created creature — the prophesied “child of no woman.” Its moon-white skin and frightening powers make Sebrahn a danger to all whom Alec and Seregil come into contact with, leaving them no choice but to learn more about Sebrahn’s true natur... Read More

Shalador’s Lady: Did Not Finish

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Shalador’s Lady by Anne Bishop

Remember how, during my review (above) of The Shadow Queen by Anne Bishop I said that if you haven’t read any of the series before now, you should just skip the review? Well, allow me to reiterate that sentiment for Shalador’s Lady. Because trust me, you will have no clue what’s going on here. THE BLACK JEWELS SERIES can usually be summed up much like anime: it’s complicated.

In The Shadow Queen we met Cassidy, a plain-faced Rose-Jeweled Queen who had recently lost her court to a younger, prettier model. We also met Theran Grayhaven, a Warlord Prince of Dena Nehele and descendant of Jared and Lia from The Invisible Ring. Desperate for help in rebuilding his territory, which was left shattered in the wak... Read More

Shadow Mirror: YA ghost story with realistic relationships

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Shadow Mirror by Richie Tankersley Cusick

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love a good ghost story. I don’t love it when a book isn’t clearly marked as a sequel. However, that is the fault of neither Shadow Mirror nor Richie Tankersley Cusick, so I’ll let it slide. Just know you’ll want to read Walk of the Spirits first, if you’re interested in Shadow Mirror.

Miranda Barnes has the ability to hear and see the dead. Lately she’s been seeing the ghostly reflection of a woman whenever she looks in a mirror. These visions worsen after a visit to Belle Chandelle, a nearby plantation house that her aunt and mother are renovating into a bed and breakfast. With the help of her friends — including sexy and mysterious Etienne — she works to solve the mystery behin... Read More

Jim Butcher chats about Pokemon, responsibility, and Changes

We're pleased to welcome today one of the defining authors of epic and urban fantasy. Jim Butcher has thrilled fans for a decade and Beth and her husband Gert were happy to chat with him about his work. Mr. Butcher recently published the final volume of his high-fantasy series CODEX ALERA. The twelfth volume of THE DRESDEN FILES, entitled Changes, comes out today! So, two lucky commenters on this post will win a copy of Changes!

Beth & Gert: Now that you've finished CODEX ALERA (and what a finish, too), the question that springs to mind first is, what's next? And have you thought about going back to Alera at some point?

Jim Butcher: I’m not quite sure what will be next. I’ll be making that decision after I finish writing the thirteenth book of THE DRESDEN FILES, sometime this summer.

How did you come up with the or... Read More

The Pillars of the World: Not appealing

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The Pillars of the World by Anne Bishop

I loved Anne Bishop's Black Jewels Trilogy so much. But it took me a long time to pick up The Pillars of the World, because it just didn't sound terribly appealing.

And it wasn't appealing in the least. The one character I did like was portrayed as a cold, possessive jerk by the end of the book. The mysterious Lucien is shunted aside for the "sweet" Neall who has about as much depth as a puddle. And Ari, as a heroine, is a joke. There was nothing to like about her at all. The Fae storyline was tragically typical. They're arrogant and uncaring, so now their world is disappearing. Can't we have some Fae that aren't high and mighty? The only thing truly interesting about them was their positions which coincided with gods of ancient Greek and Ro... Read More

Silksinger: Meticulous details make a wonderful setting

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Silksinger by Laini Taylor

When last we left the intrepid — and tiny — heroes of Blackbringer, Magpie, Talon, and company were leaving on a task set to Magpie by the Magruwen (the Djinn King). Their mission: To find the last five of the Djinn who created the world.

In Silksinger we meet Whisper Silksinger, the last remaining member of a clan of faeries who weave flying carpets (because they’re all “scamperers,” meaning their wings are too small to carry them). She, too, has a mission. Her clan has long been the protectors of the Djinn known as the Azazel. As the last Silksinger, she must bring the Azazel (only an ember smoldering away in a teakettle) to his throne, where he will, she hopes, awaken. It’s a burden Whisper carries alone, as she doesn’t believe she can share her secret with anyone else.

Along t... Read More

Firebird: 90 pages in and it’s still starting

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Firebird by Mercedes Lackey

Since Firebird is one of Mercedes Lackey’s somewhat older works, I thought I’d enjoy it. It certainly sounded promising.

And indeed, Firebird starts off with a lot of potential. Though the main character, Ilya, is yet another underappreciated, super-clever youth whose family is mean to him, etc. etc., he’s a bit of a, well, womanizer. He likes him some womenfolk, and it’s kind of charming in a rather “That’s not very like Mercedes Lackey” kind of way. I liked Ilya, and the book, with its charming premise, starts out well.

But… by page 90-something, it still hadn’t stopped starting. I kept waiting and waiting and waiting for the book to get on with it. By the time I put the book down, Ilya still had not been “cast out” as ... Read More

Airs Beneath the Moon: Not the best school fantasy

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Airs Beneath the Moon by Toby Bishop

Ever encounter one of those books that you really wished you'd enjoyed more than you had? For me, Toby Bishop's Airs Beneath the Moon was one of those books.

There's something truly solid here, a pretty good foundation with some strong writing structurally speaking, with the exception of the fact that Bishop seems to think that a comma can always replace the word 'and'. It can't.

There's also some fun support characters, like Hester Golden, who's a good friend of young Lark, the heroine. And Phillipa Winter, a Horsemistress who the book spends a great deal of time on, is solid and likeable, if a bit Professor McGonagall-ish. I liked Lark's brothers, too, though I didn't see much of them.

The problem is the f... Read More

Dark Lord of Derkholm: A gem

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Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones

Sometimes, when you're rummaging around in the heap that the fantasy shelves can at times be, you find a gem. It's a small, unassuming little thing, but all the more precious for being so unexpected. Diana Wynne Jones' Dark Lord of Derkholm is such a gem.

I'm not sure which came first, this or her Tough Guide to Fantasyland, but one obviously spawned the other. This means that Dark Lord of Derkholm is a satirical, delightfully irreverent little novel. Yet while it spears the genre with great skill and humor, it contains depths the likes of which many so-called serious fantasy novels never achieve.

The characters range from endearing and fun to annoying and fun, and though there are those to love and those to hate, there weren't any I dis... Read More

House of Many Ways: My favorite DWJ world

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House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones

Had I realized that House of Many Ways was another sequel to Howl's Moving Castle it would've ended up in my hands even quicker than it did. Nevertheless, it found its way there happily enough, allowing me another visit into my favorite of Diana Wynne Jones' wonderful worlds.

House of Many Ways features Charmain Baker, an overly sheltered girl strong-armed by her aunt into taking care of her Great-Uncle William's cottage — which just so happens to bend space and time, leading to any number of places, the royal palace included. Soon she finds herself embroiled in a quest to find the mysterious Elfgift and to stop a devious, murderous creature called a Lubbock. Fortunately (?) for Charmain, she has help: a magician's apprentice, a woeful dog that just might be magical, an... Read More

The Singer’s Crown: This book has nothing

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The Singer's Crown by Elaine Isaak

When I picked up The Singer's Crown and read the back of it, I thought it sounded pretty generic, but an instinct told me that I should pick it up and give it a try. I don't know, perhaps I'm desperate for another Carol Berg or Lynn Flewelling. I'm not exactly sure what tree I was barking up here, because Elaine Isaak's work made this review less of a "Did Not Finish" and more of a "Barely Began".

The one thing I liked about The Singer's Crown was that when the blurb on the back talks about Kattanan being mutilated, it means that he was made a eunuch. That was a good twist, right at the beginning, and boy was I glad to see an Evil Usurpi... Read More

Blackbringer: Laini Taylor has crafted something nice here

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Blackbringer by Laini Taylor

Laini Taylor has crafted something nice here. She’s got some great characters, first of all. I admit, I didn’t connect very well with the main character, Magpie, at first. She seems a bit like the typical “tough girl” appearing in fantasy these days (you know, the one who is the utter polar opposite of the “doormat”), at the beginning. But Taylor uses her story not only to develop Magpie, but to unfold and reveal her deeper layers. She doesn’t just stomp and demand, sniping at everyone for perceived slights and making stupid moves to prove her “independence.” It becomes very easy to like her when she admits her mistakes, apologizes when she’s rude, and has the strength to ask others for help. (Can you tell I’m getting tired of having to swallow angry, mean-spirited women as “strong female characters”?)

The supportin... Read More

THE BRIDGE OF D’ARNATH: Carol Berg is a favorite

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THE BRIDGE OF D'ARNATH by Carol Berg

Carol Berg has been one of my favorite authors for years now, ever since I picked up Son of Avonar, having been intrigued by both the title and the cover. She’s an author who can handle first person point of view with skill (no, it’s not easier, trust me), weaves some truly fascinating plots with excellent twists, and creates interesting worlds peopled by races that feel unique in a genre full of elves, dwarves, and the like. Though she has her occasional disappointments, the quality of her writing is still above and beyond a lot of what can be found on the shelves next to her.

Son of Avonar is the first book in The Bridge of D'Arnath quartet. It introduces Seriana, and her twin journeys: Through the world she inhabits, yes... Read More

Dragon and Phoenix: Slow To Begin, But Well Done Overall

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Dragon and Phoenix by Joanne Bertin

Joanne Bertin's Dragonlord plot has been rather weak overall. However, Dragon and Phoenix is a huge improvement on The Last DragonLord.

The Dragonlords are no longer the sole concern and in fact, they are hardly mentioned for a good deal of the novel. They're much less overbearing this time around and while the whole "soultwin" bit is still silly, it isn't quite as absurd as it was throughout The Last DragonLord.

There is an intricate plot, full of intrigue, woven through this book, which is both a blessing and a curse. It strengthens the story in some ways, but also weakens it. The intrigue is so well done that the Dragonlords' part in it feels tacked on like an afterthought. Read More

The Shadow Queen: Still on my guilty pleasures list

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The Shadow Queen by Anne Bishop

My last encounter with Anne Bishop’s BLACK JEWELS SERIES did not go well. Okay, that might be a bit of an understatement. But I suppose even my inner fangirl is a bit hard-pressed to let go sometimes, so I decided to give the series one last try.

The setup is somewhat different for The Shadow Queen. After suffering centuries of abuse and degradation under corrupt Queens, the territory of Dena Nehele is left without a Queen at all. Theran Greyhaven — the last remaining heir of Jared and Lia from The Invisible Ring — is determined to change that, but doesn’t quite know how. He calls in a favor from a powerful man who once knew his ancestors (sorry, fans, no points for guessing this one, it’s obvious) and manages to bring a Queen to his territory ... Read More

The Waking: Dreams of the Dead: Scary!

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The Waking: Dreams of the Dead by Thomas Randall

Considering what an awkward foot Dreams of the Dead by Thomas Randall (Christopher Golden) starts off on, I was pretty surprised when, shortly after beginning, I found myself unable to put it down.

In spite of my overactive imagination, I like something scary once in a while. Poor Thomas Randall was already up against some stiff competition, since only days ago I wheedled my husband into watching Ringu (the Japanese horror film re-made as The Ring) with me. Fortunately, Dreams of the Dead has a lot of its own strengths to carry it.

Kara Harper and her father move to Japan, a sort of long time dream of theirs. There, in her new school, Kara meets fellow outsider (though in a different way) Sakura. ... Read More

Eyes Like Stars: Fresh, Original, Fun

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Eyes Like Stars by Lisa Mantchev

I confess, I’ve been put off by YA books a lot lately. The trends seem to lean towards dark and “edgy” books (many of which sound depressing) and Twilight clones and wannabes. I can deal with the former, but the latter isn’t my thing. But while I was browsing one day, the cover of Eyes Likes Stars caught my attention (not surprising, since it’s gorgeous). I read the blurb and decided I had to get it; it sounded fresh, original, and fun. And it very much is.

Lisa Mantchev has created something special with her Theatre Illuminata. In the Theatre, all the characters from all the plays ever written exist, to be called upon at need (mostly) when plays are staged. (Note: I don’t consider this a spoiler. Thoug... Read More

Doubleblind: A letdown, but I’m not giving up on Aguirre

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Doubleblind by Ann Aguirre

Of all the books I’ve been looking forward to this year, Doubleblind was pretty high up on the list. When we last left our heroine, Jax, she was in the orbit of Ithiss-Tor, preparing for a diplomatic mission with high stakes: Recruit the distant but formidable Ithtorians to the human cause. Fail, and the human race gets eaten by the Morgut. If they’re lucky. But the Ithtorians aren’t very fond of the idea and Jax’s job is to change their minds. She also has to deal with March, whose head is pretty much screwed six ways to Sunday thanks to the war on Lachion in Wanderlust.

I’ve generally enjoyed this series a lot. Ann Aguirre writes well (though her style can take some getting used to at first); the books are well plotted and paced; and the romance doesn’t overwhelm the sci-fi.... Read More

Webmage: Fun Science Fantasy!

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Webmage by Kelly McCullough

It’s time  for another round of Beth vs. The Urban Fantasy Genre. Today’s contender is WebMage by Kelly McCullough. Mind, the quote on the cover has it right: Science fantasy is really a better term for it. But Webmage can and does fit into the urban fantasy genre as well. Only there’s a distinctive lack of vampires, werewolves, and love dodecagons. In fact, WebMage is kind of like the illegitimate lovechild of The Dresden Files, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and some computer geek. And I mean that in a good way.

... Read More

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