Pharos the Egyptian by Guy Boothby
Once upon a time, when the British Empire was at its zenith, adventure fiction and fantastical writings began to deal with the idea that London — and tacitly, all Britain — was under threat by some ancient, terrifying force (frequently from a place where Britain had established a colony). There was an immense fascination with the occult versus the modern, the venerable old kingdoms versus the new British Empire, and most of all, the diabolical arcane opponent versus the plucky, civilized Englishman. It’s a trend that gave us such well-known works as Bram Stoker’s Dracula or Henry Rider Haggard's She, but prior to these there was Guy Boothby and his mummy novel Pharos the Egyptian.
The story is fairly straightforward: a young Englishman named Cyril Forrester comes into contact with an... 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.
Pharos the Egyptian by Guy Boothby
Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb
I have some mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, I’m tremendously pleased that Hobb is writing Fitz again. He is and remains (for me at least) her most entertaining protagonist, and represents a return to form following what I believe to be her experimentation in the SOLDIER SON TRILOGY in particular. And the book is good. So far at least, Hobb has managed to resist her tried-and-true soul-splitting motif, and we get a complete human being to follow. Hobb depicts his life with sterling characterization and subtle nuance, reminding me why she is considered one of the best (possibly even the best) in the fantasy genre when it comes to introspective narratives. During the first third to half of the novel, this was enough. In the second portion, though, I admit that I found myself increasingly concerned at how slowly Hobb was building events.
Now, let’s be clear: Hobb has nev...Read More
The Silent Blade by R.A. Salvatore
The Silent Blade is in every regard an improvement over the LEGEND OF DRIZZT’s preceding installment, Passage to Dawn. The plot is tighter, the characterization is subtler, and – stressing this point most of all – the prose has taken leaps and bounds forward. However, this is also the installment of THE LEGEND OF DRIZZT that finally convinced me that the series has not only jumped the shark, but is doing Evel Knievel motorcycle flips over whole tanks of great whites.
Previously, on Drizzt and Friends, the demon Errtu finally (!) managed to return to the mortal plane and gain possession of the crystal shard. At last granted his heart’s desire, Errtu was primed and ready to doom the earth to a living hell. Except he wasn’t, because Drizzt and his crew came bustling in like grumpy border patrol officers and spanked him straight back to the netherworld f... Read More
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
Passage to Dawn by R.A. Salvatore
Passage to Dawn, fourth and final book in author R.A. Salvatore’s LEGACY OF THE DROW quartet (and the tenth in his broader LEGEND OF DRIZZT series), is pretty good, by Drizzt standards. Hurrah! Cue the Triumph through Rome! Bring on the cheering throngs and falling rose petals! All right, so it may sound like I’m damning with faint praise here, but given the overall shakiness of the quartet it seems expected to tie together, Passage to Dawn’s being pretty good actually does seem like something worthy of a bit of celebration. That doesn’... Read More
The Daylight War by Peter V. Brett
I’d hazard a guess that a sizable majority of readers become readers in the first place because at one point in time a book swept them away. An aesthetic appreciation for imagery or turn of phrase is all well and good, but most if not all of us hunger for a novel that seizes us by the throat and drags us into another world. Whatever else it may be, The Daylight War is such a novel, compulsively readable. I found myself putting off real life to finish it, and it was a good feeling. A lot of it is down to Peter V. Brett’s deft styling and plotting, keeping his reader hooked without sacrificing artistic integrity. He does it so well that he even manages to keep his reader enthralled despite the fact that — in comparison to his two previous novels — very little actually happens in The Daylight War.
In the aforementioned first two books, Brettintroduced readers to... Read More
Swords of Good Men by Snorri Kristjansson
Swords of Good Men is a pretty good siege story. That’s about as much as I’d feel bound to tell someone if I was, for instance, asked about it in a bookshop. Pretty good. Not a light for the ages, not bad by any means. Not even mediocre. It’s just… pretty good. It has some notable strengths and a few troubling weaknesses. I’ll go into all of that below, but if all you were wondering about is whether Swords of Good Men is a reasonably diverting Viking fantasy novel to hang around with for a little while, there’s your answer. It is, but it operates pretty much just as advertised. It’s not a diamond in the rough, but nor will you be too disappointed.
Anyway, on with the show. The premise of Swords of Good Men is that a young king named Olav has ari... Read More
Siege of Darkness by R.A. Salvatore
The major problem with Siege of Darkness is not, hopefully, R.A. Salvatore’s fault. The issue is that this is the point in THE LEGEND OF DRIZZT saga when a particularly noxious example of the “Shared Universe Event” decided to rear its ugly head, getting in everyone’s way and disrupting the meta-narrative. Its long-dreaded appearance does absolutely nothing aside from ticking a box on a checklist, so much so that I’m giving Salvatore the benefit of the doubt here and imagining that the material “had” to be there on the word of the mighty Wizards of the Coast, despotic lords of all Dungeons and Dragons tie-in novels. If that was indeed the case,... Read More
Starless Night by R.A. Salvatore
While reading THE LEGEND OF DRIZZT series, I’ve developed the grim suspicion that every time R.A. Salvatore looks at his characters and thinks “time for some development, lads and lasses,” he immediately starts trying to shoehorn in an adventure to go along with it. Apparently one simply cannot have development through conversation or work or leisure or for that matter anything else that does not involve leaping off the hunched shoulders of your barbarian friend to stab an ogre in the face. Granted, maybe it’s just that I’ve read a lot of these novels in quick succession by now and my patience is starting to fizzle a bit, but I do feel on occasion that whenever Salvatore decides to do some character work, there ends up being this substandard, breezy little quest that doesn’t really go anywhere or do anything except give the characters the opportunity to think about Important Issues. This is of cours... Read More
The Legacy by R.A. Salvatore
As I’ve been doing these reviews, I’ve tried to point out a few things about THE LEGEND OF DRIZZT series. First, these books are fun, diverting, and lively. Second, they’re… uh… not very good. Now when I say “good,” I am of course referring to the Literary definition of good (that’s Literature with the capital L, Literature the genre, that I’m discussing now). It’s problematic in a number of ways that one genre has set the standard for what constitutes “good” writing, but that’s just where things are right now, and like it or not it’s about the closest thing to an objective measuring stick that we have. There are things Literature likes: deep characterization, subtle nuance, lush prose. THE LEGEND OF DRIZZT has none of those things. The series’ virtues are swift-moving action, camaraderie, breathless fun, and occasionally some decent plotting. Unfortunately, Literature would prefer its... Read More
The Halfling’s Gem: In Which Salvatore Takes a Machete to his Own Plot, and Everything Still Works Out Somehow
The Halfling’s Gem by R.A. Salvatore
The Halfling’s Gem is the finale to the ICEWIND DALE trilogy, and as such is tasked with tying up the dangling plot threads from parts one and two, by this point no easy feat. The dwarven homeland of Mithral Hall (can’t you just hear Tolkien spluttering indignantly from the hereafter?) has been found but it remains in the hands of the grey dwarves, different from regular dwarves in that they are grey. And evil. Apparently the two coincide. Bruenor has gone toppling to his demise locked in combat with the dragon that’s standing in for the Balrog in this particular spin-off, and unlike Gandalf before him, there’s no conceivable way he’s actually alive after that fall and might decide to pop back up again.
Yep. No way. Definitely dead. Tooootally deceased.
Anyway, though they would love to hold a proper funeral for the dwarven king (seeing as he’... Read More
Streams of Silver by R.A. Salvatore
Streams of Silver, the sequel to The Crystal Shard, breaks no new ground for THE LEGEND OF DRIZZT, and to be honest I’m finding it difficult to review because there is so very little to say about it (having already reviewed the preceding works). Like The Crystal Shard, Streams of Silver has issues with wooden dialogue and cluttered prose but almost makes up for it on the basis of swift-moving action and a general sense of enthusiastic fun. It’s, again, a popcorn novel, and neither the best nor the worst of that category. While it feels a bit less vibrant and imaginative than its predecessor, it does manage to introduce at least one interesting new character and works out as a pretty decent little quest narrative (so long as the reader is kind enough to focus on the quest’s journey and not its destination). So… not great, not bad. Not much... Read More
The Crystal Shard by R.A. Salvatore
The Crystal Shard, although technically preceded by THE DARK ELF TRILOGY according to the new reading order, was actually Salvatore’s first Drizzt novel and in fact his first novel, period. The Crystal Shard does have a lot of the usual first-novel bugs (mechanics sometimes don’t work out the way they should, dialogue is frequently hamfisted), but it also has something that I feel began to fade out of THE LEGEND OF DRIZZT after a while: ambition. Ambition doesn’t usually go hand-in-hand with shared-world novels for obvious reasons, but there it is. The Crystal Shard feels raw, in content but also in tone. There’s a sense, by DARK ELF at least, that Salvatore is beginning to be comfortable with his success and thus more prone to taking it easy. The Crystal Shard has more of an edge, reaches a little further, tries a bit harder. Occa... Read More
Sojourn by R.A. Salvatore
Sojourn is the last book in Salvatore’s DARK ELF TRILOGY, the prequel novels he wrote to establish Drizzt’s origin story after the success of his earlier trilogy ICEWIND DALE. While the first two DARK ELF novels, Homeland and Exile, are charming enough little stories to entertain on their own merits, Sojourn is the point at which the story begins to suffer for the necessity of ticking certain narrative boxes to get Drizzt where he needs to be by book four. It’s very much a transitional novel, and while on the whole it keeps the flavor of the rest of the trilogy, the plot here is the weakest of the three.
At the end of Exile, our valiant drow hero Drizzt Do’Urden exited the subterranean world in which he had lived practically all of his life to brave the surface. Drizzt is starting fresh here, which means that we,... Read More
Exile by R.A. Salvatore
Exile, the second novel in THE LEGEND OF DRIZZT series, is a sequel to the first book, Homeland, in the same way that The Two Towers is a “sequel” to Fellowship of the Ring: technically you can call them separate stories, but when you come right down to it they work more strongly as one complete narrative. Exile picks up where Homeland left off to tie up the plot threads left dangling at the end of the first novel. Homeland and Exile essentially form the “Menzoberranzan duology” of THE LEGEND OF DRIZZT. Their ties are very close, and to be honest there’s not much to say about the second one that I haven’t already said about the first one. Still, Exile has a few separate strengths and failings independent of Homeland, and it affords me the opportunity to go a bit more in-... Read More