Rebecca Fisher

REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

The Time Traveler’s Wife: A haunting and bittersweet love story

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The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

I'm certainly late to the party when it comes to reading Audrey Niffenegger's first novel — I remember it making a huge splash when it was first published, and was astonished to flip open my copy and realise it was released back in 2003. Time certainly flies, which is an apt idiom to recall when reading The Time Traveler's Wife.

Clare meets Henry for the first time when she's six and he's thirty-six. Henry meets Clare for the first time when he's twenty-eight and she's twenty. This is made possible by the fact Henry is born with a rare genetic disease that sporadically pulls him into his past or future, often depositing him in strange locations where he's left stranded and alone.

What makes matters worse... Read More

Kingfisher: A Camelot-type court in the modern era

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Reposting to include Rebecca's new review:

Kingfisher by Patricia A. McKillip

Knights dress in black and ride motorcycles, sorcerers and sorceresses run restaurants, and maybe your grandpa isn’t actually crazy. Such is the world in which Patricia A. McKillip’s Kingfisher takes place. Though it may begin with a deceivingly simple quest of a young man looking for his long-lost father, Kingfisher becomes much more than that very quickly. It ends up following the stories of four young people as they navigate their changing worlds and values as well as deftly interweaving their lives in surprisingly satisfying ways. I was leery (and a bit confused) at first, but Kingfisher delivers an enchanting tale of anci... Read More

Daughter of Blood: The third instalment in an ever-growing fantasy epic

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Daughter of Blood by Helen Lowe

Daughter of Blood (2016), is the third book in Helen Lowe's four-book WALL OF NIGHT series, preceded by The Heir of Night and The Gathering of the Lost. It's been a while since I read the last book, so it took a few chapters to untangle the far-reaching web of characters and plotlines, but soon I was back on track and re-immersing myself into the world of Haarth.

The Wall of Night is a vast mountain range that is garrisoned by the warlike Derai clans. Made up of Nine Houses in all, the Derai defend the wall against the destructive and demonic Darkswarm — but internal strife and civil war has weakened the vigilance of the Houses, and the power of the Swarm grows stronger ev... Read More

The Ocean at the End of the Lane: An evocative return to childhood

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

I’ll start by saying that I’m not hugely familiar with Neil Gaiman’s work. I’ve read Stardust and watched his two Doctor Who episodes… and that’s it. At first I wasn’t sure whether or not to absorb more of his work before tackling The Ocean at the End of the Lane, but decided against it for the sake of a fresh perspective. So consider this a review from someone who has very few preconceptions about Gaiman’s style and themes.

Our middle-aged protagonist (I don’t recall if we ever learn his name) recounts to us his movements after a family funeral. Instead of going to the wake he drives through Sussex to his childhood home where vague memories begin to stir. Going down a little country lane he arrives at the He... Read More

Bridge of Birds: Two five-star reviews

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Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart

Welcome to a “story of ancient China that never was”. Barry Hughart's Bridge of Birds (1985) is a real romp of frenetic pace and fairy-tale style mingled with the mythology and legends of ancient China. It's as bonkers and as brilliant as they come.

The story centres on a simple but warm-hearted peasant boy, nicknamed Number 10 Ox for his great strength and the order of his birth. Upon learning that all of the children in his village have been struck down by a terrible disease he sets out to Peking seeking a wise man. Down a grimy back street he stumbles upon the only wise-man he can afford, a cantankerous old trickster, with “a slight flaw in his characternamed Li Kao. Together they set off to find the “root of power”... Read More

Cuckoo Song: Weird, scary and utterly unexpected

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Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge

As usual, I am late to the party. Published in 2014, Cuckoo Song is Frances Hardinge’s sixth novel. Her debut novel, Fly by Night, won the Branford Boase First Novel Award and her 2015 novel The Lie Tree won the Costa Book Award, (the fi... Read More

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind: Studio Ghibli at its ambitious best

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Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind directed by Hayao Miyazaki

After an event alluded to as the Seven Days of Fire, civilization as we know has been destroyed and humanity's remaining population scattered into isolated communities. Most of the globe is overrun by toxic jungles that produce spores deadly to human beings, and explorers must use gas-masks to protect themselves whenever they venture out into the wilderness.

Added danger comes from the insect life that now dominates the earth, particularly those known as the Ohmu. They look rather like giant pill-bugs with bulbous eyes that change colour depending on their moods, and it is their corpses that produce the poisonous spores that make life so difficult for what remains of humanity.

In this dangerous new world there are only a few pockets of civilization left; cities such as Torumekia and Pejite which are constantly ... Read More

Titus Groan: A host of eerie eccentrics

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Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake

I completed the first installment of Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast series with a sense of exhaustion. It is a colossal book, written with such dense language that reading through it is like gorging on words. It was the book equivalent of eating a very rich, very large chocolate cake. Behind all the intricacies and techniques of the language is an equally strange story, one that does not easily fit into any particular genre. In my local bookstore at least, it is shelved in the "fantasy" section, seemingly because no one knows where else to put it.

These days (after the publication of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings) the word "fanta... Read More

The Lost Mask: A rewarding second instalment in a promising trilogy

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The Lost Mask by Ashley Capes

The Lost Mask is book two of THE BONE MASK TRILOGY by Ashley Capes, set in a world that has as its most notable feature the existence of sacred bone masks that allow the wearer to communicate with mysterious god-like entities. From them derives the trilogy's name, and it makes for an intriguing concept that provides a doorway between the material and spiritual realms; worldly politics and numinous mystery.

As in the previous book, City of Masks, the story is spread across three distinct plot-strands, though unlike its predecessor, the scope of The Lost Mask expands to include more subplots, locations and characters.

King Oseto has assumed the throne, but diffi... Read More

La Belle et la Bête: A beautiful, mysterious film

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La Belle et la Bête directed by Christophe Gans

If you're going to adapt the fairy tale of “Beauty and the Beast”, you'd best make sure you do it properly, because you have to live up to the bar set by Jean Cocteau's 1946 black-and-white film and Disney's 1991 animated version — both classic films in their own right.

There's also a challenge in adapting the original material, which essentially involves a loving father giving up his daughter to a monster to save his own skin, and a young girl being wooed by a terrifying beast who emotionally blackmails her into staying with him by insisting he'll die without her.

How to make this material palatable to a modern audience? Director Christophe Gans's secret weapon is actress Léa Seydoux, who plays Belle not as an attractive doormat succumbing to Stockholm Syndrome, but as a young woman who uses her guile, intelligence ... Read More

The Windup Girl: Mixed opinions

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review:

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

My Body is Not My Own…

Having just finished Paolo Bacigalupi’s Hugo and Nebula award-winning novel, I’m left rather bereft at how to describe, let alone review, The Windup Girl. I am not a big reader of science-fiction or dystopian thrillers, which means that no obvious comparisons come to mind, and the setting and tone of the novel are so unique (to me at least) that they almost defy description.

Set in a future Thailand where genetically engineered “megodonts” (elephants) provide manual labor and “cheshires” (cats) prowl the streets, the world’s population struggles against a bevy of diseases brought on by all the genetic tampering that’s been going on. Oil has long since run... Read More

The Sleeper and the Spindle: Another treat from a favourite storyteller

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Reposting to include Tadiana's new review:

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman's latest offering defies the conventions of your typical fairy tale not just in content but format as well. You won't be able to sit down and read this to your child in one sitting as despite the multiple illustrations, for the story is lengthy and the font small.

Perhaps then it's better described as a fairy tale for adults, though I've always shied away from putting age restrictions on these types of stories. Let's go with calling it an illustrated short story that will be highly enjoyed by people of all ages with an interest in dark and twisted fairy tales.

The Queen of a faraway land is about to be married, at least until the arrival of three dwarfs bringing her news of events in the neighbouring kingdom. A sleeping curse has been l... Read More

Penny Dreadful, Season 1: Everything you could want from Victorian Gothic Horror

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Penny Dreadful: Season 1 by John Logan

If you had told me the premise of Penny Dreadful before I'd seen it, I would have probably rolled my eyes. A collection of famous characters from 19th century Gothic horror novels thrown together into an original plot? Yeah that worked SO well for Hollywood's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Van Helsing. (Not).

So the fact that Penny Dreadful manages to be compelling, thought-provoking, and genuinely interested in engaging the themes of the books that inspired it is a miracle in itself. One of its particular strengths is in throwing the viewer into a strange situation without much context as to what's going on or why. As each episode unfolds we get more clues as to who these characters are and what they're trying to achieve, but the show is content to take its time in divulging answers, and is ex... Read More

Winter’s Tale: A strange experiment that never finds its feet

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Winter's Tale by Akiva Goldsman

I made a point of watching Akiva Goldsman's Winter's Tale AFTER reading the book upon which it's based, knowing that stories are usually considered better on the page than as filmic adaptations. But having completed Mark Helprin's novel of the same name, I was left pretty bewildered as to how on earth the transition from book to screen would take place.

The trailers would have you believe that Winter's Tale is a bittersweet time-travelling love story (perhaps a more fairytale-esque version of The Time Traveller's Wife), though I suspect any romance-loving reader who tracks down the book on the basis of this film will be utterly baffled by what it has to offer. Suffice to say that the book and the film are only tangentially related, sharing a few character names, a couple of plot scenarios and the basic gist of tw... Read More

The Elfstones of Shannara: Actually refreshing for today, and for when it was written

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The Elfstones of Shannara by Terry Brooks

I've read plenty of Terry Brooks's fantasy novels, but among his earliest works I've only ever completed The Wishsong of Shannara. But with news of a television adaptation of The Elfstones of Shannara scheduled to air in 2016, I figured now was as good a time as any to delve into his backlog — and it's interesting to see how he's developed as a writer since then.

As the direct sequel to The Sword of Shannara, the story centres on the grandson of the previous novel's protagonist: Wil Ohmsford, grandson of Shea Ohmsford. He's approached by the Druid Allanon with a task only he can accomplish — use the three magical Elfstones in the defence of a young Elf girl with a mission of her own set before her.

For thousands of years a magical tre... Read More

The Mark of Athena: A bit of middle book syndrome, but still action-packed

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Heroes of Olympus: The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan

This is the third book in the five-part HEROES OF OLYMPUS series by Rick Riordan, and as the title would imply, it focuses on Annabeth Chase: daughter of Athena. Though it suffers a little from middle book syndrome, with nothing started and nothing finished, Riordan makes sure that Annabeth's quest remains the key focus of the book, letting it drive the course of the otherwise sprawling narrative.

The seven heroes of the prophecy have been assembled: Percy, Annabeth, Leo, Hazel, Frank, Piper and Jason; all of whom have a vital part to play in the defeat of the goddess Gaea, who has been awakening both giants and the dead in her bid to destroy the Olympian gods.

As it happens, the Roman gods are also at risk thank... Read More

Immortal Beloved: A light but promising new start to a supernatural trilogy

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Immortal Beloved by Cate Tiernan

Nastasya is a burned-out immortal who has spent hundreds of years trying to avoid any sort of real emotion. With her equally jaded friends, she spends all her time in endless, meaningless carousing. She’s not very likable at first, but that’s the whole point. When her friend Incy’s casual cruelty gives Nastasya a wake-up call about what her life has become, she doesn’t like herself much either.

Horrified with herself, afraid of Incy, Nastasya does the only thing she can think of. She turns to River, a woman who offered her help many decades ago. River runs River’s Edge, a halfway house for immortals that serves as part rehab, part magic school. Troubled immortals go there to relearn an appreciation for life and to study positive spellcraft. Nastasya doesn’t quite fit in at first but eventually comes to enjoy her stay at River’s Edge, though ... Read More

End of Days: A satisfying(ish) conclusion to an edge-of-your-seat thriller

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End of Days by Susan Ee

End of Days is the third and final book in Susan Ee's post-apocalyptic PENRYN AND THE END OF DAYS trilogy, one which pits seventeen year old Penryn Young against hordes of angels who seem intent on bringing about the end of the world. More like an alien invasion than the Rapture, these Old Testament angels have decimated entire cities, leaving the remnants of humanity's population to scrounge in the streets.

Penryn has it worse than most, being the sole carer of her paraplegic sister Paige and her schizophrenic mother; struggling to keep all of them alive in the wastelands of San Francisco — at least until she manages to secure a truce with an injured archangel called Raffe, and gradually come to an understanding of w... Read More

The Son of Neptune: The second instalment of a series steadily cranking into gear…

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The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan

Warning: Contains some mild spoilers for the previous book, The Lost Hero.

First, a brief reminder of where this book stands among Rick Riordan's collection of YA novels: it is the second book in the HEROES OF OLYMPUS five-part series, which itself is the sequel series to the original PERCY JACKSON books. Suffice to say, if you're unfamiliar with the stories published before this one, you're likely to be hopelessly lost in understanding what's happening here. Head back to Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief and work your way up.

For those who are all up-to-date, you'll be pleased to know The Son of Neptune doesn't waste any ti... Read More

To Hold the Bridge: An inventive and engaging collection of short-stories

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To Hold the Bridge by Garth Nix

This is not the first time Garth Nix (or at least his publisher) has released an anthology like this one: a short story collection that heavily emphasizes the inclusion of a brand new tale set within the Old Kingdom (the setting of his most famous works: Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen and the recent Clariel) but which also contains an eclectic assortment of unrelated stories.

The last anthology was called Across the Wall, and as with that book there may be a few readers disappointed in the fact that only the first story is set within the Old Kingdom – and unlike Across the Wall, it does not contain any familiar characters from the rest of the series, only the city of Belisaere and... Read More

The Monster’s Ring: A quick and breezy Halloween tale

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The Monster’s Ring by Bruce Coville

Note: This book is titled Russell Troy, Monster Boy in some markets.

For kids that are too young for the complexity of the HARRY POTTER series, and yet still interested in fantasy stories, Bruce Coville's MAGIC SHOP books might be the thing to hook them up with. Five in total, each one revolves around a simple premise: a young child with the usual kid problems (home trouble, bullies, crushes, angry teachers, etc) stumble across Mr Elives' Magic Shop, and leaves with an unusual purchase which initially creates more trouble for them, but ultimately teaches them important lessons.

They've recently been reissued with new cover art by Read More

World After: A strong follow up to the riveting first instalment

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World After by Susan Ee

It's been a while since I read Angelfall the first book in Susan Ee's fantasy/dystopian trilogy called PENRYN & THE END OF DAYS, but a few details remain clear in my mind: the strong narrative voice, the desperate post-apocalyptic situation, and the spunky teenage protagonist whose only goal was the protection of her schizophrenic mother and paraplegic sister.

Picking up where Angelfall left off, World After finds seventeen year old Penryn being transported to one of the few human communities that remain intact after the recent angel invasion left the world ravaged by war and destruction. Believed dead after the climactic conclusion of the previous book, she's really just paralysed due to the terrible experiments that angels are performing on human s... Read More

City of Masks: A promising start to a new fantasy trilogy

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City of Masks by Ashley Capes

Whenever I see the words "book one" or "first in a series" on the cover of a book, I'm always a little leery about whether or not it's going to end on a cliff-hanger. There's a difference between a trilogy that's essentially just one story divided into three parts, and a trilogy that's composed of three relatively self-contained tales.

As the first in THE BONE MASK TRILOGY by Australian poet Ashley Capes, City of Masks is enough of its own story to leave you satisfied, with just enough plot-threads left over for the next book to continue. So if you're like me and have an aversion to cliff-hanger endings, rest assured that you won't find one here.

In keeping with the trifold theme, there are three major POV characters at work in City of Masks, each with their o... Read More

Brilliance of the Moon: A slightly anti-climactic finale

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Brilliance of the Moon by Lian Hearn

With a complicated web of back-story set up and a return to familiar characters that we’ve seen develop, it goes without saying that Brilliance of the Moon should be the gripping climax of a trilogy that has thus far moved from strength to strength. The third and final instalment of the TALES OF THE OTORI series, the book has many loose ends to tie up, not to mention a certain prophecy that needs fulfilling. Across the Nightingale Floor and Grass for his Pillow were always going to prove tough acts to follow, and unfortunately Brilliance of the Moon doesn’t quite live up to its predecessors’ standards.

We start from where Grass for his Pillow left off: Takeo and Kaede have just been married in secret... Read More

Grass for His Pillow: It’s impossible not to get swept up by the characters’ plights

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Grass for His Pillow by Lian Hearn

We saw myth, legend, folklore and tradition of feudal Japan seamlessly woven in Across the Nightingale Floor, and Grass for His Pillow offers equal richness and storytelling depth. In what marks the second book in the trilogy, Lian Hearn returns to the stories of Takeo and Kaede as they choose their alliances amidst increasing unrest between the clans.

Grass for His Pillow opens with Shirakawa Kaede lying in the temple; she is in the deep sleep Takeo put her in when we last saw her. Upon waking and discovering the departure of Takeo, she resolves to return to her father’s household and to inherit the lands that Lady Maruyama pledged to her before she died at the end of the last book. She feels increasingly sick on her journey and it is not long before Shizuk... Read More

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