Kat Hooper

On FanLit’s staff since June 2007

KAT HOOPER is a professor at a university in Florida where she teaches neuroscience, psychology, and research methods courses. She occasionally gets paid to review scientific textbooks, but reviewing fantasy is much more fun. Kat has five young children and no time (or desire) to read inferior literature, so after being frustrated about the lack of a free, reliable source for information about excellent fantasy fiction, she started this website.

Kat’s first criterion for the novels she reads is that they be excellently written. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for grammatical errors, bad sentence construction, dull prose, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Dark elements are fine, but not horror. And it helps if there’s a tall good-looking man wielding a sword (Joscelin Verreuil is HOT, Thomas Covenant is NOT).

Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Fritz Leiber, Robin Hobb, Robert Holdstock, Roger Zelazny, and William Gibson.

Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone: A fascinating pilgrimage

Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone by Ian McDonald

Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone is a fascinating short novel by Ian McDonald. At the beginning of the story we meet Ethan Ring, who’s feeling conspicuously tall and red-headed as he chants in a Buddhist temple. Ethan and his friend, a famous Japanese manga artist, are on a bicycle pilgrimage in Japan. Neither of them knows what kind of demons the other is struggling with, and neither does the reader at first, but as they journey on, their stories come out and even though each man’s tale is different, they realize that both of them are searching for redemption and peace.

Many stories deal with a hero’s search for redemption, but Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone is unique. The setting is a neo-feudal Japan where tech corporations are the fiefdoms and gangs of armed vigilantes threaten citizens’ peace and security. This is jarringly j... 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

Scourge of the Betrayer: Surprisingly gripping

Scourge of the Betrayer by Jeff Salyards

Arkamondos the scribe has just been given a new and unusual commission. He’s been hired by a notorious band of Syldoon soldiers to travel with them and observe and transcribe their adventures. The leader of this motley crew is Captain Killcoin, a brooding authoritarian figure whose weapon of choice is a frightening looking flail that has magical properties. Killcoin is accompanied by a few loyal companions who are just as scary and tough as he is. Arkamondos is intimidated by all of them, and he wonders if he’s made a big mistake, but Killcoin’s insistence that important events are about to occur makes Arkamondos decide that it will be best for his career if he stays... Plus, they’ll probably kill him if he leaves.

So off he goes with Killcoin’s band. They are coarse and vulgar but their dialog is frequently sharp and witty. There is much drinking, cursing, barfing, bleeding, piss... 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 Oversight: One of the best audiobooks I’ve read this year

The Oversight by Charlie Fletcher

Charlie Fletcher, previously best known for his Middle Grade STONEHEART trilogy, makes his adult debut with The Oversight, the first book in his OVERSIGHT trilogy. I listened to Hachette Audio’s version read by the illustrious Simon Prebble, an Audie-winning narrator who always brings out the best in the books he reads.

The story is set in a supernatural Victorian London where five gifted people who call themselves The Oversight attempt to protect the world from the paranormal baddies that live in another dimension and are trying to break through. The Oversight used to be a much larger group, but sometime in the past they were decimated by an event that is related to us bit by bit throughout the story. As long as there are at least five people (a “hand”) left, the border between worlds will stand, but the group is now so... Read More

Shattered: Introduces an excellent new character

Shattered by Kevin Hearne

When Kevin Hearne’s IRON DRUID CHRONICLES series started with Hounded a few years ago, the story starred Atticus O’Sullivan, the world’s last druid, and his funny movie-watching Irish Wolfhound, Oberon. In Shattered, the seventh novel (and the first one released in hardback!), we now have two more point-of-view characters. One is Granuaile, the former barmaid who became Atticus’ apprentice and is now a druid in her own right and has her own hound (Orlaith) that she can mind-speak to. The other is Owen, Atticus’ mentor who has just escaped the Morrigan’s time stasis spell. All three of our human POV characters share page space in Shattered as each goes about his or her own dangerous mission.

Atticus spends his time helping Owen acclimate to modern times, getting his magical tattoos fixed, and trying to figure out what Loki is up to and how the gods are linin... 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

Skin Game: Exciting and Well-Crafted

Skin Game by Jim Butcher

Reading a DRESDEN FILES book at this point is literary equivalent of sky-diving. I think I’ve compared the experience to a roller coaster before, but I was in error. Roller coasters, in the main, start off with a slow clickety-clack up a steep slope, and you sort of bob up and down and round and round after that before finally drifting to a long, hissing halt. Skin Game, however, dispenses with the trappings and simply shoves your exuberantly screaming self out an airplane door and directly into glorious freefall.

When last we saw Harry Dresden – wizard and Winter Knight – he had learnt that he had somehow been conned into becoming Warden for a maximum security magical prison called Demonreach, an island in the midd... Read More

The Broken Land: Surreal visions of the horrors of civil war

The Broken Land by Ian McDonald

Ian McDonald’s The Broken Land (Hearts, Hands and Voices in the UK) is a book I admired more than I loved. It’s an allegorical look at the horrors of civil war caused by religious zeal and division. The story is set in a fictional country that feels like it could be in a future Africa where biotechnology has led to the development of mechanical infrastructure that is part organic and part artificial intelligence. The citizens are divided by their religious affiliation — some are Proclaimers and some are Confessors. All are subject to the Emperor who lives across the river.

Our protagonist is a young woman named Mathembe who, because of her particular convictions, decides not to speak. Mathembe is a confessor, so she is skilled in the manipulation of genetic material to create new life. When members of her family die, their heads are attached to a huge tree where they are event... Read More

The Master of Whitestorm: A satisfying self-contained story

The Master of Whitestorm by Janny Wurts

Janny Wurts’ The Master of Whitestorm is a stand-alone high fantasy that, like the author’s other work, differentiates itself from other fantasies published in the late 20th century that feature a medieval-style setting. The book has recently been produced in audio format by Audible and is read by British actor Simon Prebble, a highly decorated audiobook narrator and someone whose name I’m always happy to see in the credits. As expected, he does a wonderful job with The Master of Whitestorm and I recommend this audio version to anyone who wants to read or re-read this exciting and emotional story.

The story begins in the slave galley of a ship. Haldeth, whose wife and children were slaughtered by the Murghai, is now chained to the oar of one of their ships. As he slaves for his captors, he observes his benchmate, a man named Korendir who looks fierce but so far has neve... Read More

Wolfblade: An epic political drama

Wolfblade by Jennifer Fallon

Wolfblade is the first book in Jennifer Fallon’s WOLFBLADE trilogy which is a prequel to her DEMON CHILD trilogy which I read several years ago. These are fat epic fantasies with lots of characters that are focused mostly on political drama but also contain plenty of magic and romance.

This story takes place in Hythria, one of the kingdoms in Fallon’s world. Lernen, the current High Prince (a Wolfblade) cares nothing for his country and is not respected by his people because he spends his time in the pursuit of unusually decadent pleasures. All of the nobility agree that Lernen should not be running the country, but they disagree about how they should take care of the problem. Some are content to wait him out, some want to kill him, and some want to take his place. Since Lernen doesn’t seem to be interested in be... Read More

Sorcerer’s Legacy: Janny Wurts’ debut now on audio

Sorcerer’s Legacy by Janny Wurts

Most readers are probably familiar with Janny Wurts’ epic fantasy series THE WARS OF LIGHT AND SHADOW or the EMPIRE trilogy she wrote with Raymond E. Feist back in the ‘80s, but Wurts also wrote a few stand-alone fantasies, two of which have just been released in audio format.

Sorcerer’s Legacy, Wurts’ debut novel first published in 1981, is one of these. In some ways it feels like a 1981 high fantasy novel (e.g. the medieval setting) but, in the most important ways, it stands out. The story is about Elienne, the recently widowed and pregnant wife of the ruler of a conquered country. She’s been taken captive and awaits what’s certain to be a nasty fate when a wizard from another country saves her on the condition that she marries his endangered prince. She has no choice but to agree, of course,... Read More

The Last Coin: Read this if you love Fawlty Towers

The Last Coin by James P. Blaylock

Andrew and Rose Vanbergen have recently purchased a California inn which they are fixing up and getting ready for guests. They live in the inn along with aging Aunt Naomi, her numerous cats, and her companion, Mrs. Gummage. The Vanbergens have only one real guest so far — the mysterious Pepto-drinking Mr. Pennyman.

Andrew has grand plans for the inn. Unfortunately, he’s also a bit of a slacker and he’s always managing to find excuses for doing anything but the actual work that needs to get done. While his good-natured and industrious wife is cleaning or sewing linens, he’s daydreaming about a gourmet kitchen and purchasing luxury items that aren’t really necessary. (He fancies himself an epicure).

Andrew also tends to have crazy ideas that sometimes border on delusional. Sometimes he acts on these. He knows he’s being silly and that it upsets his wife, so he’s in the habit of bei... Read More

The Hall of the Mountain King: Tarr’s style elevates this standard epic fantasy

The Hall of the Mountain King by Judith Tarr

Every day, for years, the King of Ianon has stood on his castle’s battlements, hoping to see his daughter coming home. He is old and she is his heir. When someone finally arrives, the king is told that his daughter is dead, but she had a son, Mirain, whose father is the god Avaryan. The grieving king opens his heart to this unknown grandson, but there are others who are not pleased with the new development — especially the king’s concubine and her son Moranden, the king’s bastard and a great warrior. Stuck in the middle is Vadin, a boy who’s assigned to be Mirain’s squire. It is Vadin who has the best vantage point and is able to witness the struggles, trials, and triumphs of two young men who want to be king.

The Hall of the Mountain King, first published in 1986, is the first in Judith Tarr’s AVARYAN RISING trilogy. You can tell by my description that it’s hig... Read More

The Elfin Ship: Charming, light-hearted and funny

The Elfin Ship by James P. Blaylock

Audible has recently put several of James P. Blaylock’s novels in audio format, so I’m giving a few of them a try. The Elfin Ship, first published in 1982, is the first book in Blaylock’s BALUMNIA trilogy about a whimsical fantasy world filled with elves, goblins, dwarves, wizards, and (because it’s Blaylock), a few steampunk elements such as submarines and airships.

In The Elfin Ship we meet Jonathan Bing, a cheesemaker who lives in a quaint little village with his dog Ahab. It’s just before Christmas, a time when Bing should be selling his famous cheeses to neighboring towns. However, something is afoot in the outside world and trade is drying up. Not only is Bing’s business in danger, but all of the villagers will have a dreary holiday if they are unable to buy their traditional toys and treats. Somebody must be sent to investigate what’s happening outside... Read More

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