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Wicked: A challenging revisionist take on the Wicked Witch of the West

Wicked by Gregory Maguire

After finally seeing the Broadway musical I felt it was well past time to track down Gregory Maguire's Wicked (the inspiration for the musical, which by this stage has probably eclipsed the book in popularity) and read for myself the origin story of the Wicked Witch of the West.

Anyone who comes to the book out of a love for the musical is probably in for a nasty shock. Though the musical had its share of darkness and a bittersweet ending, it was generally a very light and comedic production that focused on the friendship between Elphaba and Glinda. Maguire's novel on the other hand is filled with violence, sex, murder and grotesquery, delving into the question of what makes a human being evil and whether or not they can escape their preordained fate.

Elphaba is born to missionary parents in lower-east Munchkinland, with unexplained green skin and ... Read More

Phoenix: A turning point in Vlad’s story

Phoenix by Steven Brust

Phoenix, the fifth novel in Steven Brust’s VLAD TALTOS series, is a turning point in Vlad’s story. By the end of this book, his life will have changed drastically. The story begins as Vlad is stuck in a situation that he might not be able to get out of alive. In desperation, he calls on Verra, his patron goddess, for help. She saves him (or so it appears), and in return she demands that he sail to the island kingdom of Greenaere and assassinate its king. Vlad can’t refuse, and so he goes. This sets off a series of events that eventually lead to a Teckla revolution in Adrilankha. During all the turmoil, both Vlad and his wife Cawti, a member of a rebel group, are captured and rescued more than once, and both have reason to believe they don’t have much longer to live. The usual crew is there to help, though, including Kragar (Vlad’s assistant), Loiosh and Rocza (his jhere... Read More

Silverblind: A good addition to this interesting series

Silverblind by Tina Connolly

Tina Connolly gives us a third book in the world of Ironskin, and continues to follow the women of the Rochart family with Dorie, Jane Rochart’s stepdaughter. In Silverblind, Dorie follows in the tradition of her stepmother Jane and her aunt Helen, fighting for the underdog, struggling to determine the right course of action when circumstance seem to pit humans against the incorporeal fey. In this book, we get a few more magical critters, too, including wyverns and a basilisk.

Adora Rochart, who goes by Dorie, is half fey, a secret she has kept from all but her closest friends. After the Great War between humans and fey, which the humans won, there were two conspiracies designed by the fey to achieve control or possession of humans. Now, however, the fey are completely defeated, except for a few who have managed to possess humans. A... Read More

An Acceptable Time: Metaphysics and religion for kids

An Acceptable Time by Madeleine L’Engle

The fifth and final book in Madeleine L’Engle’s TIME quintet is An Acceptable Time, a story about Polly, the daughter of Meg and Calvin, the kids we first met in that now-classic children’s science fiction novel A Wrinkle in Time. (Polly is also featured in a different L’Engle series about the O’Keefe family, and An Acceptable Time is the fourth and final book of that series. Slightly confusing, I know.)

One autumn while Polly is visiting her famous grandparents at their house in the country, Polly begins to see people who shouldn’t exist whenever she’s near that big rock where Meg and Charles Wallace used to go to think and watch the stars when they were kids. One of the people she sees is a girl who looks like a Native American and turns out to be a druid. There are also men carry... Read More

Fu Manchu: Sandy reviews the entire series!

FU MANCHU by Sax Rohmer

The FU MANCHU novels that English author Sax Rohmer wrote over the course of nearly half a century are much beloved today, although their notoriously un-P.C. content has made them the subject of dispute for many years. It has been a while since I have read the 13-book series, and have decided to place all my old thoughts on these books in one place for the FanLit reader who may not be familiar with these works. This overview, by no means in depth, can serve as your one-stop shopping destination for all things Fu. There remains one book, an anthology of short Fu Manchu stories, that I will deal with elsewhere. But here are the 13 novels in the main series, and my quick thoughts on each of them:

The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu (aka The Mystery of Dr. Fu Manchu) (1913)

... Read More

The Midnight Queen: Like a Georgette Heyer Regency novel with magic

The Midnight Queen by Sylvia Izzo Hunter

Graham “Gray” Marshall is a gifted magician, studying magic at Oxford’s Merlin College, when some of his classmates insist he come along on a midnight adventure. In no time, things go bad. Gray is blamed for the misadventure and sent away from Oxford to the Breton estate of his tutor, the small-minded, petty and envious Professor Appius Callender. Sophie Callender is the ignored middle daughter of the professor. Her father has told her, repeatedly, that she has no magical ability, but she thirsts for knowledge and reads magical texts in secret. There is a mystery about Sophie’s mother, who died when Sophie was eight, and the housekeeper, Mrs. Wallis, knows more than she is telling.

The Midnight Queen, by Sylvia Izzo Hunter, reads a little bit like an old Georgette Heyer Regency novel. There is social stratification, etiquette, and magic. T... Read More

Taltos: Lots of backstory about Vlad

Taltos by Steven Brust

Taltos is the fourth novel in Steven Brust’s series about Vlad Taltos, a human crime boss in the fantasy world of Dragaera, where humans are short of stature and lifespan compared to the species that rule the world. Taltos is actually a prequel to the previous novels (Jhereg, Yendi, Teckla) in which Vlad tells us about an incident that happened years ago while he was solidifying his reputation as a new crime lord. One of his lackeys tried to cheat him, so Vlad went after him instead of letting the guy get away because he didn’t want to seem weak to his rivals. The man fled to Castle Black, an elusive floating castle owned by the Dragonlord Morrolan. Vlad followed. This is how he met some of the main characters who we already know from the previous novels, including Morrolan, the powerful sor... Read More

Tainted Blood: Fortitude is getting soft

Tainted Blood by M.L. Brennan

Book three of M.L. Brennan’s GENERATION V series and Fortitude Scott is starting to annoy me. Why? Because Fort’s progressive, do-gooder attitudes are eventually going to get a lot of people killed if he keeps siding with groups other than his family.

After the big conflict with the Elves (Ad-Hene) that led to Prudence, his older sister, trying to force his final transition to becoming a full vampire, Fortitude has been taking on more and more responsibility within the family business. It's truly like a mafia family, but instead of managing drugs, prostitution and robbery, they are controlling other supernatural races who live with permission in Fort's mother's territory. The challenge for Fortitude is that he seems to have taken in the brain-washing of socially progressive Ivy League graduates who want to pretend that everyone is actually nice and that bad things only happen when... Read More

California Bones: A new kind of heist story

California Bones by Greg Van Eekhout

Daniel Blackland has been raised to be a magician from at least the time he was six years old and found a kraken spine on Santa Monica Beach. He inherited his propensity to osteomancy — bone magic — from his father, a powerful magician who has made his share of enemies. More than that, he was trained, shaped and molded by his father, who wants to make him strong enough to withstand the schemes of his enemies, regardless of how that hill hurt him, physically and emotionally. But his father never had the time to train Daniel properly. In his adulthood, therefore, Daniel has turned into a petty thief — an accomplished, uncannily talented petty thief, but a thief nonetheless. He has stuck to small crimes out of choice, not because he is incapable of grand heists. Unfortunately, his crime boss Uncle Otis isn’t content to see Daniel allow his magic to go to waste. He has demanded that Daniel carry out a se... Read More

River Secrets: Razo gets center stage

River Secrets by Shannon Hale

Shannon Hale writes excellent children’s fantasy. River Secrets is the third book in her BAYERN series. It follows The Goose Girl and Enna Burning and focuses on one of readers’ (and the author’s) favorite characters from these books, Razo of the forest.

In the previous books, Razo’s friend Isi, who has wind magic, became queen of Bayern and his friend Enna, who has fire magic, helped Bayern win a battle with Tira. Now Bayern and Tira are swapping ambassadors and opening diplomatic relations. The people of Bayern are not popular in Tira because of what Enna, the fire mage, did to their army. Enna isn’t happy about her role in the battle, either, so she asks to go to Tira with the ambassador, hoping to redeem herself by doing something constructive instead of destructive with her magic.
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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children: It’s not the X-Men without Wolverine

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

If there is one genre in young adult fiction that has been egregiously overdone at this point, it’s… well, actually, can’t tell a lie, it’s paranormal romance. But a close runner-up is the “Teens with Powers” genre that’s rocketed to prominence in recent years, particularly after a certain book series involving young wizards and their magical school. The formula is generally much the same: there’s a secret society of magic-users who organize themselves in some sort of refuge from a dangerous world where they have an equally magical enemy. The inevitably teenage or tweenage protagonists are at first under pressure to simply conform and leave the problems to the adults, but must soon take matters into their own hands to indulge teenage hormones and face their nemeses in glorious magical combat. This isn’t to say it’s a bad formula (indeed, many auth... Read More

Jala’s Mask: Interesting world-building in this YA fantasy

Jala’s Mask by Mike & Rachel Grinti

I enjoy reading fantasy that stems from a different folkloric basis than the one I grew up in. Middle European, British, Native American and Asian fantasy tropes have been done a lot, so Jala’s Mask, by Mike & Rachel Grinti was a refreshing change.

Jala has grown up in a society similar in some ways to our Polynesian one. Her people can magically shape ships from the material that forms the reefs around their islands. They gather wealth by raiding the mainland. The Five Islands and One are ruled by a king and queen, but except for the One island, where sorcerers are exiled, each island is controlled by a particular family. Jala is part of the Bardo clan. The new king, Azi of the Kayet, is looking for a wife, and Jala’s father is sure she will be chosen. This seems unlikely, because Azi’s Kayet uncle doesn’t trust the Bardo, but Jala’... Read More

Dreamer’s Pool: The perilous business of being female in fantasy

Dreamer’s Pool by Juliet Marillier

Those who have read Juliet Marillier before know the drill: She produces exceptionally readable and endearing fantasy set in the medieval and ancient British Isles, revolving around women, myths, and magic. I adored Daughter of the Forest for its loving recreation of my absolute favorite fairy tale as a kid (the Six Swans).[1] The other SEVENWATERS books went by in a blur of kings and curses because I was on vacation and had to get through the entire series before my Mom left with her duffle bag of paperbacks.

Dreamer’s Pool is still about women, magic, and ancient Ireland. So if you liked SEVENWATERS, there’s no need to fear that Marillier is now writing about werewolf romances in Prague or... Read More

David Falkayn: Star Trader: The merchant adventures continue

David Falkayn: Star Trader by Poul Anderson

David Falkayn: Star Trader is the second in a series of seven books collecting the writings of Anderson in his Technic Civilization universe. Publisher Bean decided to publish them in order of internal chronology, which is not the order in which they were written. In the first instalment, The van Rijn Method, we see humanity's first exploration of the universe, the origins of the Technic Civilization and the formation of the Polesotechnic League, a mercantile organisation that soon acquires vast fortunes and political influence beyond that of a mere government. In this book the Polesotechnic League is at the height of its power. The seven works collected in this volume mostly deal with the exploits of members of the league. Most notably Nicholas van Rijn and David Falkyan.

“Territory” (1961), the opening story of the collection, set... Read More

Extinction Game: Post-apocalyptic parallel universes!

Extinction Game by Gary Gibson

I was really looking forward to Gary Gibson's Extinction Game, as it combines two of my favorite concepts: parallel universes and post-apocalyptic settings. But while I found it a generally pleasant read, I'd be lying if I didn't admit it was a bit disappointing, perhaps because of those high expectations.

The premise is so great I'm shocked that it hasn't actually been done before. Jerry Beche, one of the few survivors of an extinction-level, planet-wide plague, hasn't seen a person for years, so he is understandably surprised when he finds a set of footprints outside his home. He is even more shocked when the people those prints belong to abduct him and then explain they are from a parallel Earth that has also suffered its own extinction event. Even better, they work for a mysterious entity (is there any other kind of entity?) called The Authority, which i... Read More

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