The River Kings’ Road by Liane Merciel
If The River Kings’ Road had been published fifteen years ago, it would have been hailed as something special. Liane Merciel does a splendid job on the whole. She has interesting characters, a suspenseful plot, and a good turn-of-phrase. It has all the elements of a great fantasy novel… including the ones that have been working very well for a lot of other fantasy novelists during the past decade.
The novel is never short of entertaining, but it does have one very real problem, and that is its clearly derivative tone and style. It’s a perfectly serviceable, charming read, but Merciel’s relative inexperience as a professional author shows. Her personal voice is often lost in imitation of other novelists, and the world-building in particular lacks the freshness that would make this a memorable journey. It’s the worst-kept secret in the world that fantasy has been obsessed w... Read More
Tim ScheidlerOn FanLit’s staff since June 2011
TIM SCHEIDLER is finishing a degree in English literature. His friends fully expect to find him living in a cardboard box several years down the road, but Tim’s friends are silly, silly people who oughtn’t to be believed. Some of Tim’s earliest memories are of his parents reading him J.R.R. Tolkien. Exactly what prompted the introduction of Mr. Tolkien to a five-year-old is still difficult to fathom, but it had a deep impact on Tim. He has obsessed over fantasy for most of his life, so that many of his family, far from growing alarmed, actually find their way to amusement on discovering Neil Gaiman novels squirreled away in every bathroom.Tim enjoys many authors, but particularly loves Tolkien, Gaiman, George R.R. Martin, Robin Hobb, and Jacqueline Carey. When he’s not reading, Tim enjoys traveling, playing the fiddle and bagpipes, writing in any shape or form, and pretending Kung Fu as he does it is a real sport.
The River Kings’ Road by Liane Merciel
The Arctic Incident by Eoin Colfer
The first installment in the ARTEMIS FOWL series ended with a dire note from a fairy psychologist, explaining that Fowl would go on to become “the People’s most feared enemy” over the course of “decades.” However, already foreseeing the sequel (if conspicuously not planning for the legion of follow-up novels past that point in which Artemis is about as villainous and feared as Minnie Mouse), author Eoin Colfer also slipped in a little tease about a certain occasion in which all the favorite protagonists and antagonists from book one were forced to work together. A year and a month later, what should appear but just such a story in the form of Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident?
Having used fairy magic to cure Mrs. Fowl at the end of book one, Artemis is plotting to rescue parent number two, who he insists is alive somewhere after his boat went down halfway around t... Read More
Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock
Mythago Wood is a weird little book. In many ways, I can see why it flies under the radar. Robert Holdstock has good prose and introduces some fascinating ideas, but what he creates is definitely not mass-market fare. It’s still recognizably fantasy, but the darker side of fantasy. This is Tir na nOg by night, when the Technicolor dragons, irreverent pixies, and maniacal dark lords have all retired for the evening, leaving a brooding, uncomfortable stillness in their wake. “Uncomfortable” is actually a word I want to dwell on a bit in relation to this novel. Mythago Wood is a very well-written, very intensely imagined story, but there’s always something about it that feels just a little off. Holdstock gives his novel an ambiance that is very difficult to grow comfortable with, and whatever position I contorted my mind into, I never quite managed it.
The story follow... Read More
Sanctuary by Rowena Cory Daniells
In this final installment of Rowena Cory Daniells’ THE OUTCAST CHRONICLES, the focus shifts from the conflict between the humans (Mieren) and the elf-like T’en to the clash between the different factions of T’en as they float across the ocean toward the titular sanctuary. Fortunately, the sense of pacing and deeper characterization from Exile, the previous novel, remains intact here, and as the T’en and Malaunje always dominated the cast of this series, it’s tough to miss the Mieren once they vanish from the proceedings. It’s more of the same material that was quite enjoyable in the last book, although the overall resolution of various plot threads leaves a bit to be desired.
If Exile, the book which preceded Sanctuary, was about cultural conflict and upheaval and the book which preceded that, Besieged, was about stagnation, the... Read More
White Wolf by David Gemmell
At its best, Heroic Fantasy can inspire and enliven. By nature, the subgenre is less concerned with realism than it is with depicting nobility, honor, and genuine integrity. In so doing, it shows us a world that reflects the better portions of our own, the world as it should be rather than as it is. At its worst, however, Heroic Fantasy is notorious for shallow characterization, mindless violence, and sententious, often hypocritical, pontificating to justify all that mindless violence so our valiant warriors can get back to massacring villages with rumps firmly planted on high horses. White Wolf is a bit better than the latter, but it’s a good way from the former. It evens out more or less for David Gemmell, but it’s far from the proudest moment of his career.
The novel opens on a guilt-ridden warrior called Skilgannon the Damned, tragically burdened with a... Read More
Cold Days by Jim Butcher
If the Harry Dresden stories have ever had a problem (reflecting, I think, an issue with urban fantasy in general), it’s that they can tend to feel a little repetitive. A monster of the week shows up, and Harry goes through hell both emotionally and physically to stop him. Along the way we get the requisite number of quips, film references, attractive non-humans, old-fashioned courtesies, and cackling villains with vaguely British syntax. At the end of it all, Harry goes back to his Batcave apartment and gets to be the snarky private eye pastiche for a little bit before the credits roll.
It’s been a very successful formula for Butcher, and one that has indeed made him essentially the new crown prince of the urban fantasy subgenre (both in sales and in stylistic influence), but in book twelve, the appropriately titled Changes, he undid many hallmarks of the Dresden ... Read More
Exile by Rowena Cory Daniells
Exile, the second book in Rowena Cory Daniells’s OUTCAST CHRONICLES, simultaneously raises the stakes and deepens the narrative that began in the first installment, Besieged. It’s a good bit of work, and readers will be pleased to find Daniells addressing some of the issues that were problematic in Beseiged while at the same time keeping to the familiar sense of suspense and breakneck speed that made the first novel so gripping.
When last we left the T’en, they had finally given some sense to the book’s title and gotten themselves besieged by the armies of King Charald. Starting the book going right into that problem for her characters to work on seems to give Daniells energy coming right out of the gate, and the text clips along at a swift pace. The long-awaited direct comparison be... Read More
Batwoman: Elegy, by Greg Rucka (author) & J.H. Williams III (artist)
At this point the Dark Knight has so many sidekicks and associates that it’s difficult to keep track of them all. There have been five different Robins in the main DC continuity, and each of the superheroes who “graduated” from the title has stuck around under a new name (or did until DC rebooted the continuity last year). There have also been several Batgirls, Catwoman, a Catgirl (for a brief stretch), the Huntress, Batwing, and Azrael. Batman himself has had several different incarnations during that awkward period where Bruce Wayne pulled the patented “superhero-death-but-not-really.” In all of that kerfuffle, it would have been very easy for a character like Batwoman to slip through the cracks into relative obscurity in much the way Batwing has (did anyone even know there was a fellow called Batwing? Apparently he has his own ongoing series, but I had... Read More
Besieged by Rowena Cory Daniells
I have very mixed feelings about Besieged. Overall, I’d give it a positive ranking, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that the text does have issues. Quite a few issues, really. What does work is very good, and I can really give those elements a sterling review. But then there’s… the other hand.
Besieged is a big, sprawling political drama concerning a race called the T’en, the ordinary humans (here called True-Men or Mieren), and the “half-blood” population, apparently a result of interbreeding between the two, called the Malaunje. On the face of it, the whole dynamic looks like just another tussle between the Elves and the Humans: the T’en are a tall, beautiful, long-lived people with magical powers and an advanced, artistic culture, but are relatively few in number. The Mieren are plentiful, but are comparatively barbari... Read More
The Dragon’s Path by Daniel Abraham
The Dragon’s Path comes with a recommendation from George R.R. Martin on the front cover, and after the first few chapters I could see why the publishers wanted to play up that comparison (aside, of course, from Martin’s newfound superstardom with the success of the television adaptation of his books). The Dragon’s Path depicts a world that isn’t exactly similar to Westeros but certainly shops at the same trope boutique. It’s an epic fantasy heavily steeped in politics and concerned with warring families vying for power. Magic exists, but as in A Song of Ice and Fire it’s very understated and little-acknowledged. Overall, I think Abraham does a very good job with this kind of story, although I do feel that he could have given a bit more time to certain elements for a richer experience.
Th... Read More
Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
Artemis Fowl, progenitor of an eight-book series, was when it first appeared a book that really put the “novel” in… well, novel. Young adult fantasy does like its fairy tales lately, but it’s usually down to the plucky teenaged everyman discovering magical lineage or the plucky teenaged everywoman discovering magical romance. Colfer appeared on the scene like a dapper ringmaster of a nine-ringed fairy circus: Artemis Fowl was a crime novel, a battle of wits, a thriller, a comedy, a cop drama, with fairies somehow woven seamlessly into the tumult. It was all quite funny and well-managed, but it must be admitted that the elements that really made the novel seem so fresh and lively were the premise and the audacity of following it through.
That premise is as follows: twelve-year-old supergenius Artemis Fowl (the inheritor of the Fowl criminal empi... Read More
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin
The EARTHSEA books are one of those landmarks of fantasy literature, much like J.R.R. Tolkien’s work or C.S. Lewis’s. Ursula K. LeGuin has indeed often been cited as a recourse for fantasy apologists when fending off attacks from the Raymond Carver-worshiping old guard who can’t quite imagine “genre fiction” might contain good prose. A Wizard of Earthsea lives up to the hype, but not quite in the way its reputation might lead the reader to expect. The best piece of advice I can offer is not to go in expecting hoopla and fireworks. There’s very little of that in the world LeGuin has constructed. Instead, the novel (and indeed th... Read More
The Last Guardianby Eoin Colfer
The ARTEMIS FOWL series in general has always been amusing, but after the first couple installments it rather lost the feel of being the breath of fresh air it seemed when the first novel rolled around. Eoin Colfer is never less than witty, and his premise and characters remain lively, but there has been an increasing sense that the series and the protagonists have been treading water a bit. Artemis’s world is like a slightly daring sitcom: at the end of each adventure there’s one token change that seems impactful, but the status quo for the next installment promises to be more or less the same.
The Last Guardian doesn’t do much to alter this state of affairs, but on the other hand there’s nothing particularly wrong with the flow and style of it either. In comparison to book 1 it certainly suffers, but then all the subseque... Read More
The Sailor on the Seas of Fate by Michael Moorcock
The Sailor on the Seas of Fate is the Elric book that’s been cited to me as “coming from left field” or “the weird one,” which considering it’s Elric is saying something (the next book is actually called The Weird of the White Wolf, for an amusing bit of trivia, although Weird in that context is used archaically to mean “fate”). It’s not that Sailor is bad necessarily, but as in the first novel, caution doesn’t really seem to be on Moorcock’s radar. An author with a touch more consideration for the casual portion of his audience would probably have given the premise of the multiverse time to develop before careening from traditional sword and sorcery straight into… whatever in fact Sailor is. There are good points and not-so-good points about this novel — which I’ll... Read More
Elric of Melniboné by Michael Moorcock
Elric of Melniboné is one of those fantasy giants that shook the genre. He’s probably not so well-known as Conan or Gandalf, but he’s nonetheless in the same country club of figures often cited as seminal to sword and sorcery — for good reason. The argument could definitely be made that Elric was the basis for most of the brooding, troubled heroes that have become so popular of late. Think of all those angsty sorcerers and tragically doomed warriors wandering across unforgiving worlds. Some — perhaps most — of them would not exist in their current form without Elric. Even those readers out there who are just about now awkwardly wondering whether they’re supposed to have heard of this guy and what it means that they haven’t would probably reco... Read More