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Thorn Jack: Don’t drink the blackberry wine!

Thorn Jack by Katherine Harbour

For us readers of a certain age, “Tam Lin” and “college” in the same sentence are going to remind us of Pamela Dean’s quirky retelling. But other than profuse quoting of poetry, Dean’s Tam Lin and Katherine Harbour’s Thorn Jack are not much alike and don’t really invite comparisons. You might also think of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight a time or two, as a few of the story’s bones are similar, but I never once felt like I was reading a Twilight copy while reading Thorn Jack — which  goes to show you tropes need not be poison if woven into a good tale. What Thorn Jack reminded me of, more than an... Read More

The Spectral Link: Subterranean Press provides two spectral short stories.

The Spectral Link by Thomas Ligotti

Subterranean Press has issued two original stories by Thomas Ligotti in a special edition volume titled The Spectral Link. Ligotti is best known for a brooding, gothic style of psychological horror that avoids slashing, gore and disgusting body fluids for a deep, dark, almost spiritual sense of wrongness. He delivers that creepy sense of wrongness in both these tales.

Ligotti’s prose is masterful, as is his control of tone. Tone is not as easy to manage as people might think; very often an historical story or an epic fantasy founders for me when the author slips into modern-day diction, or a gloomy, gothic tale suddenly sprouts a sentence that reads like it came right off of Facebook. Ligotti does not make these errors. Each word, sentence and paragraph is crafted to draw you in, leading you along a downward spiral of otherness and disconnection. Read More

The Sorcerer: Metamorphosis: The Sword in the Stone

The Sorcerer: Metamorphosis by Jack Whyte

Merlyn does not want to return to Camulod. He has found happiness in Mediobogdum with his wife, Tressa, and his charge, Arthur Pendragon. However, war is coming. Merlyn’s enemy, Peter Ironhair, has hired mercenaries to attack the Pendragon lands in order to advance the claim of Carthac, a distant relative of Uther Pendragon and a monstrous — some say invincible — psychopath. Meanwhile, the Saxons continue to invade along the southeast coast and there are also rumors of an invasion from the northeast.

Clearly, the Britons need a savior king, but Merlyn still worries that Arthur’s metamorphosis into the Riothamus — the high king — is not yet complete. They return to Camulod, where Merlyn and his brother, Ambrose, prepare to ... Read More

Sacrifice of Fools: Aliens in Belfast

Sacrifice of Fools by Ian McDonald

Ian McDonald grew up in Belfast, a city known for the turmoil and unrest it has endured because of the conflict between Catholics and Protestants. Some of McDonald’s novels allegorically explore the causes and results of a divided city. In Sacrifice of Fools, McDonald presents a vivid and lively conflicted Belfast, and then he throws a third element into the mix: aliens.

The Shian are a peaceful alien species who, upon arrival on Earth, are allowed to settle in Belfast in exchange for sharing the secrets of their technological superiority. The Shian are humanoid in appearance, but have enough biological differences that they cannot successfully mate with humans. They also have very different languages, laws, culture, and customs. While their similarities make them attractive to many humans (and weird fetishes evolve), the differences cause misunderstandings and culture... Read More

The Silk Map: Vivid world-building and pretty decent poetry

The Silk Map by Chris Willrich

The Silk Map is Chris Willrich’s second adventure in the GAUNT AND BONE series. The poet and the thief, along with their bandit friend Snow Pine, are searching for their lost children, and this book takes them on a quest along an ancient trade route where they confront wonders, demons and their own fears.

Willrich has created a world based on ancient China, and the Spice Braid route that Gaunt and Bone follow is patterned on the Silk Road. Along this road, poet Persimmon Gaunt and her thief husband Imago Bone encounter enemy soldiers, greedy gate-keepers, undead Charwalkers, dragon horses, a mad monk and an incarnation of the Monkey God.

All the things that I loved about the first book The Scroll of Years show up again in The Silk Map. I love the world Willrich has invented. The dialogue an... Read More

The Dragon of Avalon: A return visit to the island of Avalon

The Dragon of Avalon by T.A. Barron

Recent republications of The Dragon of Avalon number it as the sixth instalment in T.A. Barron's MERLIN series. To be more accurate, it was published *after* the five-part LOST YEARS OF MERLIN and THE GREAT TREE OF AVALON trilogy, but is placed between them in the chronology of events. Confusing, right?

Although reading this in the newly designated order certainly doesn't give away any spoilers, there's a definite sense that Barron expects you to have some awareness of the Great Tree of Avalon (it's kind of like reading The Magician's Nephew before The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in the NARNIA books -- though it's a prequel, it'... Read More

The Unfairest of Them All: Cute and clever

The Unfairest of Them All by Shannon Hale

The Unfairest of Them All is the second book in Shannon Hale’s EVER AFTER HIGH series for children. These are tie-in novels for Matel’s line of EVER AFTER HIGH dolls, clothing, diaries, and sundry accessories. I feel like a real chump for obliviously falling into Matel’s greedy little trap, but I love Shannon Hale’s children’s books, so.... so THERE.

The first book in the series (The Storybook of Legends) was sweet and charming, so I went in to this one knowing exactly what I was doing and I found it just as original and adorable as the first one. In The Unfairest of Them All, Raven Queen, daughter of the evil queen, refuses to sign The Storybook of Legends, a contract that would require her to carry on in her mother’s evil role. Raven doesn’t want to be evil, but b... Read More

THE ETERNAL SKY: I liked it. I admired it. And yet…

THE ETERNAL SKY by Elizabeth Bear

Sometimes the whole feels less than the sum of its parts. Sometimes, you just wonder if you should have read a book (or three) at a different time. Sometimes you step back from your thoughts about a book (or three) and think, “Ingrate. What more did you need?” You feel, I don’t know, “churlish.” Like when that other person who is so smart and deep and beautiful and cute (which is different from beautiful) and witty and likes all the same music and read those same books and all in all just so great, really great, and all your friends are like, “You know, she (he’s) really into you” and you’re like, “Yeah, I don’t know.” And they’re like, “What, you think you’re gonna do better?” And you’re like, “No. But still, I just don’t know. I’m just not...” But they don’t even want to hear it. They just go, “Idiot,” and walk off. And all you can do is shrug and nod in probable agreement.... Read More

In Thunder Forged: Here’s my After-action Report

In Thunder Forged by Ari Marmell

To:  Military Subcommittee, Colonial Council, Kingdom of Fantasy Literature

Month of Summer Solstice, in the Year of the Brazilian World Cup

Re: Codename In Thunder Forged, After Action Report

Honorable Council:

Herewith my report on the targeted objective, codename In Thunder Forged. In reviewing reports for this mission I noted that your intelligence analysts theorized that In Thunder Forged may have been based on a video game, specifically, the game WARMACHINE. Our Preliminary Engagement Troops (PETs) immediately encountered espionage, loud and colorful explosions, unlimited magic that worked for no known reason, Pacific-Rim-like warbots and a stream of expository dialogue, confirming the analysts’ theory. However, the PETs had no trouble crossing the perimeter and moving among the locals, who were quite ... Read More

The Creature From Beyond Infinity: Kuttner’s first novel

The Creature From Beyond Infinity by Henry Kuttner

The Creature From Beyond Infinity was the first novel published by Henry Kuttner, an author who was one of the half dozen or so pillars of the Golden Age of Sci-Fi. It first saw the light of day in a 1940 issue of "Startling Stories" magazine under the title A Million Years to Conquer, and finally in book form in the 1968 Popular Library paperback that I recently completed. Although that original title may perhaps be a more accurate descriptor, the pulpier Creature title gives a truer feel for what this book is: pulpy as can be!

In it, we meet Ardath, the sole survivor when his Kyrian spaceship crash-lands on Earth while our planet is still in the throes of its infancy. Ardath is instructed by his dying captain to repair the ship, put it into orbit around Earth, go into hibernation stasis for several aeons, and await the coming of genius... Read More

The Moon King: An impressive debut

The Moon King by Neil Williamson

I ended up with mixed feelings about Neil Williamson's debut novel, The Moon King, loving the setting and the premise, quite enjoying the beginning, and mostly responding to the often lyrical prose, but finding as my reading went on that my appreciation was beginning to dwindle. In the end, I'd say it's an impressive first novel in many ways, very impressive actually, but one that shows some first novel cracks that widen as the novel progresses.

The setting is the island city of Glassholm, founded 500 years ago by "The Lunane," he who saved their civilization half a millennium ago by capturing the moon and tethering its orbit to the city. Since then, the population's moods and behaviors wax and wane with the moon: the people are depressed and listless during The Dark, and hedonistically carefree during The Full. But it isn't just the people who respond to the moon's phases — food ... Read More

The Winter Ghosts: A short and spooky read for a winter’s night

The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse

First of all, it’s important to note that Kate Mosse’s The Winter Ghosts is nowhere near the same length as her other works, particularly her best-known books Labyrinth, Sepulchre and Citadel. It’s best described as a novella, one which can probably be read in one sitting (it took me two). Your enjoyment will probably hinge on knowing beforehand that this isn’t a dense holiday read, but a thinly-plotted though atmospheric story about a man’s brush with the supernatural, told predomi... Read More

Horrible Monday: The Girl by Bryan Hall

The Girl by Bryan Hall

The Girl is the second novella in a series called THE SOUTHERN HAUNTINGS SAGA by Bryan Hall, a young, relatively new writer. If it is any indication, this fellow has a great career ahead of him.

The protagonist of The Girl is Creighton Northgate — Crate — who is a sort of psychic, and a sort of private detective, and a sort of ghostbuster, though he rejects all three descriptors. What it amounts to is that he can see ghosts, and he can persuade them to move along to wherever it is ghosts go when they’ve finished their business in this world. He makes his living moving from one haunted person to another, relieving them of their ghosts when he can and debunking claims of ghosts where there are none.

As The Girl opens, Crate has just spent four months in the northeastern part of the United States, working as hard as he ever has. Now, though, he’s on hi... Read More

The Wurms of Blearmouth: A short comic tale by Erikson

The Wurms of Blearmouth by Steven Erikson

The Wurms of Blearmouth is the fifth novella by Steven Erikson centered on his gloriously disruptive pair of "evil sorcerers" Bauchelain and Korbal Broach, along with their by-now-relatively-stoic servant Emancipator Reese. As with the prior four, this is a far lighter tale than his lengthy, dense, and often deeply serious MALAZAN series. The BAUCHELAIN AND BROACH tales are more comic, far shorter, with far fewer moments of Erikson's trademark "philosphophizing" (though fewer does not mean no such moments). I found The Wurms of Blearmouth a mixed success, with some laugh-out-loud moments, lots of chuckles, some welcome sharper bits, and a few less funny/comfortable moments.

At the start, we are introduced to the sorcerer-ruler of a small town on a wrecker's coast — Lord Fangatooth Claw (the first chuckle) atop his tower keep declaiming for the scribe ... Read More

Kingdom of Summer: Sir Gawain’s story continues

Kingdom of Summer by Gillian Bradshaw

In Kingdom of Summer, Gillian Bradshaw’s second novel in her DOWN THE LONG WIND trilogy, Gwalchmai (the Welsh version of Sir Gawain) is traveling Britain in search of Elidan, a noblewoman he fell in love with off screen. He wronged her eight years previously and hasn’t seen her since. (We didn’t see any of this happen in the previous novel, Hawk of May, but he tells us the story near the beginning of Kingdom of Summer.)

During his travels, Gwalchmai stays with the family of the farmer who helped him in the last book. Rhys, one of the farmer’s sons, is fascinated by King Arthur and his band of warriors, so he asks Gwalchmai if he can be his servant. Gwalchmai accepts him and takes Rhys to Camelot before they set out again to be King Arthur’s ambassador to King Maelgwn, who Arthur distrusts.

When they get to Maelgwn’s court they dis... Read More

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