Rob Rhodes

RETIRED REVIEWER June 2007 — September 2010

ROB RHODES was graduated, magna cum laude, from The University of the South and The Tulane University School of Law and currently works as a government attorney. A lifelong reader of fantasy fiction, he has published several short stories and book reviews and is a co-author of the essay “Sword and Sorcery Fiction,” published in Books and Beyond: The Greenwood Encyclopedia of New American Reading. In 2008, Rob was named a Finalist in The L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest.

Rob’s favorite forms of speculative fiction include medieval fantasy (e.g. A Song for Arbonne by Guy Gavriel Kay; A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin; The Briar King by Greg Keyes) and sword-and-sorcery (e.g. The Hour of the Dragon by Robert E. Howard; the tales of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser by Fritz Leiber; the tales of Persimmon Gaunt and Imago Bone by Chris Willrich).

Rob’s favorite form of non-fictional sustenance is dark chocolate. You can read his latest news on his blog.

Here are a few of Rob’s works: The Hero of Hawk’s Field, Chasing the Wind, The Play of Her Life. He has also recently published the story To Be A Man in The Return of the Sword Anthology.

River of Stars: Savor this voyage

River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay

The river of stars, in the legends of Kitai, lies between mortal men and their dreams.

Ren Daiyan, even in his youth, possesses the gift of death. But even as the most gifted soldier and strategist of his generation, his desire is not for death but the reclamation of the lands his native Kitai lost to the tribesmen of the North. Lin Shan also has a gift: a blade-sharp mind honed by her father and capable of crafting exquisite songs and calligraphy. But in this place and time (analogous to the 12th-century Northern Song Dynasty), and under the mandate of Kitai's emperor, Ren Daiyan and Lin Shan will find their skills and convictions tested in unforeseeable ways. For the leaders of Kitai distrust the thoughts of soldiers and women, even as the river of stars flows unceasingly over all, and the collision of weapons, desires, and lives will forever alter the world over which it flows.

... Read More

Ad Eternum: This newest chapter is a treat

Ad Eternum by Elizabeth Bear

In 1962, vampire-detective Sebastien, having adopted the name 'Jack Prior,' returns from Europe to New Amsterdam, arriving not by airship but airplane. As he attempts to re-establish himself in the new world, he makes the acquaintance of a clique of sorcerers who invite him to join them in an ambitious endeavor. But old — indeed, ancient — habits die hard, and Sebastien must chart the course of his eternal voyage while buffeted by public protests against vampires and the sudden return of someone powerful from his past.

Ad Eternum is the fourth book by Elizabeth Bear featuring Sebastien. One should first read New Amsterdam, The White City, and Seven for a Secret, after which this newest chapter is a treat. At the risk of repeating myself, the tale and Ms. Bear's writing are elegant and subtle. My ... Read More

The White City: Best alternative-historical urban fantasy you haven’t read

The White City by Elizabeth Bear

The vampire-detective Don Sebastien de Ulloa and his small 'court' visit the White City of Moscow on two occasions, in 1897 and 1903, both before and after his sojourn in an alternative America. On both occasions, someone closely linked to a politically-active young artist, Irina Stephanova, is murdered. As the mysteries in both 1897 and 1903 unfold, Sebastien confronts a much older entity inhabiting Moscow and, ultimately, the mystery of his own forgotten past.

The White City is the third book by Elizabeth Bear featuring Sebastien, after New Amsterdam and Seven for a Secret. However, in the world of the story, the events occur both before and after those chronicled in New Amsterdam, so I strongly recommend reading the latter book first. (Seven for a Secret Read More

The Battle for Middle Earth: Tolkien’s divine design in LOTR

The Battle for Middle Earth by Fleming Rutledge

Fleming Rutledge may be the ideal critic of The Lord of the Rings. An ardent student of English literature, an orthodox (Episcopal/Anglican) priest, and a gifted writer, she brings to bear impressive resources in analyzing an often- or over-analyzed work. In doing so, she builds an impressive case in support of a seldom-heard conclusion: Tolkien's masterpiece is a masterpiece not only of storytelling, but also of theology and, perhaps, evangelism.

In making this case, Rutledge relies not only on her careful reading of the text (including its prequel, The Hobbit), but also on Tolkien's letters (as indicated by extensive and informative footnoting). In particular, she challenges commonly held ideas about the epic, including but not limited to the following: (1) it is a tale of pure good versus absolute evil... Read More

The Serpent and the Rose: Nothing new

The Serpent and the Rose by Kathleen Bryan

Averil is the daughter of a duke of Lys, trained from childhood in the magical arts on the Ladies' Isle. Gereint is a fatherless farmboy who possesses a powerful, untamed streak of wild magic. As the sinister king of Lys and his advisor, both practioners of dark magic, unleash a plot to remove the realm's nobles and awaken an ancient evil, Averil is summoned back to the mainland, while Gereint chases after a band of Knights of the Rose, hoping that their Order can train him. In time, Averil and Gereint find themselves together as unlikely allies and, perhaps, the only hope of both their realm and world.

As is obvious from that brief summary (and its faint echoes of Star Wars, among other tales), there is little new in The Serpent and the Rose, the first book of The War of the Rose trilogy by Kathleen B... Read More

The Eyes of God: Big fantasy beefsteak, not fully cooked

The Eyes of God by John Marco

The Eyes of God is a sprawling, medieval fantasy novel. The seed for the next book (The Devil's Armor) is planted well in the first, and I hope more of the good than the bad from the first book carries over.

The Eyes of God consists of three parts. (And before that, a beautiful cover — one of its very best features.) The first is basically a rehashing of Camelot's love triangle. The book does open very well indeed with excellent, fresh introductions of the scholarly King Akeela the Good; his handsome champion, Lukien the Bronze Knight; and his new bride, Cassandra, the beautiful seal on a peace treaty. However, even with the twist of Cassandra's mysterious illness and Lukien's quest to heal her, the first part fails to escape Camelot's shadow — it simply starts too squarely within it. Read More

Artemis Fowl: Fast, Fun, Forgettable

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

Artemis Fowl is a fast-paced blend of 21st century technology and ancient fairy magic, written by Irishman Eoin Colfer for young enthusiasts of science-fiction and fantasy. The plot is straightforward: Artemis, a 12-year-old genius and the son of the missing overlord of a criminal dynasty, concocts a scheme to acquire the little golden book of fairy lore and, using its secrets, hold a fairy hostage for an enormous ransom. The only thing is, Colfer's fairies aren't delicate little Tinkerbell-types; rather, they boast an elite "LEP-Recon" unit of laser-toting, time-stopping commandos. Can Artemis and his highly trained bodyguard Butler hold off their assault/rescue attempt and claim a fortune in fairy gold?

Colfer's yarn moves quickly, and cleverly reimagines the 'little people' for the 21st ... Read More

Under Heaven: Beautiful, epic, and vintage GGK

Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay

After the death of his father, a general of Kitai's army, second son Shen Tai retreats from the empire's dazzling capital of Xinan to spend the ritual period of mourning with 40,000 ghosts. In the breathtaking valley of Kuala Nor, near the border of Kitai and Tagur, the empire with which Kitai has established a truce, Tai spends two years alone, burying soldiers of both empires, a task beyond the power of any one man. His simple solitude is broken, however, by disruptions from both West and East: from Tagur, a decree that its court has chosen to reward his effort with the incomprehensibly generous gift of 250 purebred 'Heavenly Horses"; and from Kitai, the arrival of a message-bearing friend. Both compel Tai to end his solitude and return to Xinan. But as a man now unique in all the empire, marked by his time at Kuala Nor and the value of the coveted horses, Tai will find that all of his education and courage, and... Read More

The Sword: Quintessential B-grade sword-n-sorcery

The Sword by Deborah Chester

The Sword is the first of a high-fantasy trilogy and is little more than a prologue for whatever follows. What I mean by that is this: in terms of actual plot development, very little happens here. Each paperback in this trilogy is about 400 pages long (1200 total), so this could easily have been a 2-book saga with little to no impact on its quality.

As for the story itself... There are some books you can read when you're tired, some you can't, and some that just make you tired. At its best, this book falls into the first category; at its worst, in the third. The writing is clear but rough and unremarkable — much more telling than showing, especially where character emotions are concerned, and not one clever simile or metaphor.

The plot is uneven and filled with numerous extended chase and fight sequences that create a sense of deja vu. I was compl... Read More

Wind from a Foreign Sky: Decent ideas, poor execution

Wind from a Foreign Sky by Katya Reimann

Gaultry is a young, beautiful, spirited huntress, who has been raised by her great-aunt, a hedge-witch, on the border of Tielmaran. One day, the outer world cruelly ends her idyllic life, as a squadron of soldiers seeks to abduct her, and she finds herself a key figure in a prophecy that will bless or curse the entire realm.

Katya Reimann creates, for the most part, a well-imagined world with some fresh touches. However, the kindest thing I can say about her telling of the story is that, this being her first novel, she shows glimmers of potential. To identify the major problems:

First, the story begins, for the sake of excitement, as Gaultry and the prophecy are about to collide; consequently, the plot is over-burdened with flashbacks and info-dumps about the history of Tielmaran — information that could have been much more gracefully integrated via an earlier starting poin... Read More

The Innkeeper’s Song: A vivid, bittersweet dream… but of what?

The Innkeeper's Song by Peter S. Beagle

The Innkeeper's Songis a one-volume fantasy for mature readers that is by turns (or even simultaneously) lyrical and maddening. Lyrical because much of its language is, in contemporary fantasy, on par with only Patricia McKillip and Guy Gavriel Kay. Maddening because — despite the full-throttle beginning, intricately woven characters and a world made wondrous without a map or long descriptions but simply by names and prosaic brushstrokes — the promise of the beginning and middle absolutely fizzles to a all-but-incomprehensible anti-climax in which none of the characters' skills, virtues or flaws seem to matter. It's the equivalent of dreaming oneself into a world of rich and dread beauty, flying over that world so freely as to go beyond dreaming e... Read More

The Paladin: Oriental fantasy

The Paladin by C.J. Cherryh

The Paladin is a stand-alone novel set in the China of an alternative world. It's more of an alternative history than a fantasy — there are no mythical creatures or magic here, although superstitions of both remain. The story falls into two parts. In the first, a stubborn girl seeking vengeance for her murdered family arrives at the mountain home of an exiled hermit who was the greatest warlord in the Empire prior to the death of the old emperor and the takeover by an evil regent. The girl wears him down, and he agrees to teach her swordsmanship and so on, convinced that she will eventually tire and lose hope in her foolish quest. Instead, she perseveres, and he finds himself growing fond of her. Over a two-year span, she becomes a promising pupil; he finds his defenses against the world he left behind crumbling... and how much he now needs her.

In the second pa... Read More

Heir of Autumn: Flawed but compelling debut

Heir of Autumn by Giles Carwyn & Todd Fahnestock

I started Heir of Autumn with skepticism because (1) it's a first novel (2) by two guys who've been friends since high school (3) that begins with a nubile young woman fondling herself as part of her sorcerous training. A few times during the first few chapters, I considered returning it to the library and writing it off as another botched heroic fantasy epic.

Fortunately, I read on.

The bulk of the story occurs in the fabled city-state of Ohndarien, the "jewel of the known world," founded as the dream of four families and ruled by their descendents, The Children of the Seasons, who comprise an eight-member council (one man and woman representing each season/house). The story revolves around the titular character, Brophy, and the struggle by him and his allies against political intrigue within Ohndarien; the threat of invasion... Read More

The Magician and the Fool: A post-modern fever dream

The Magician and the Fool by Barth Anderson

Jeremiah Rosemont is a far-fallen academic star, an art historian with specialized knowledge of — and uncanny experience with — tarot decks. Having exiled himself from the United States, he finds his wanderings through Nicaragua interrupted one night by the mysterious delivery of a plane ticket to Rome. There, he stumbles into a maelstrom of occult forces and figures gathering around a deck of uncertain origin and powers. Another figure with links to the deck is the Boy King, a vagrant in Minneapolis with strange and formidable talents. The chapters of The Magician and the Fool alternate between Rome and Minneapolis, while the story meanders through time and space, until the lives of Rosemont and the Boy King finally dovetail with surprising consequences.

This is Barth Anderson's second novel, and in it he displays prodigi... Read More

This Crooked Way: A tale of blood and ponder(ing)

This Crooked Way by James Enge

Morlock Ambrosius has a problem with his father. Most problems are eminently solvable for the seer and master-maker, but because his father is Merlin Ambrosius — yes, that Merlin — this one's a bit trickier. Shortly after helping his sister stabilize a kingdom, as chronicled in James Enge's fine debut novel, Blood of Ambrose, Morlock finds his conflict with Merlin entering a new and deadlier phase. And when two men with such vast powers collide, both bystanders and entire races will be irrevocably impacted.

It's difficult to provide a more detailed yet spoiler-free review of This Crooked Way. The difficulty stems from the author's deliberate construction of the novel from an eclectic series of loosely connecting vignettes. (Several of these vignettes have previously appeared as short stories in Read More

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