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These are listed by rating — our favorites first.

The Hero of Ages: Put Mistborn at the top of your list

The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson

I'm extremely impressed with Brandon Sanderson's first fantasy trilogy. The entire story was carefully thought out, well-plotted, and well-paced. What impresses me most is that in this last installment, The Hero of Ages, there are plenty of wonderful surprises left. But these surprises aren't little add-ons that Sanderson lately thought up and decided to throw in just to keep up the interest and excitement. These are major pieces of the puzzle that have purposely been left for the characters (and therefore the readers) to discover. Back in The Final Empire, the first book of the Mistborn trilogy, I thought Brandon Sanderson had created a unique and really cool magic system. That was nothin' — it gets even better!

Finally, we understand the or... Read More

Dealing with Dragons: No more embroidery!

Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

Princess Cimorene is tired of embroidery, etiquette, and protocol classes. She wants to take Latin, fencing, magic, and cooking lessons instead. But, that's just "not done." So to avoid a betrothal to a handsome and charming (but not particularly bright) prince, she runs away to become housekeeper for a dragon. As a dragon's princess, Cimorene gets the freedom to cook and clean and to organize libraries and treasure rooms. She also has to fend off persistent knights who come to rescue her, and investigate the actions of a couple of sneaky wizards.

Patricia C. Wrede's Dealing with Dragons is a refreshing change from some of the more recent fantasy epics aimed at teenage girls. It's light, fun, and often hilarious as it pokes fun at several fairy tales and fantasy clichés. The plot moves rapidly and the writing is clear and precise. The... Read More

The Dying Earth: Brilliance!

The Dying Earth by Jack Vance

The Dying Earth is the first of Jack Vance’s Tales of the Dying Earth and contains six somewhat overlapping stories all set in the future when the sun is red and dim, much technology has been lost, and most of humanity has died out. Our planet is so unrecognizable that it might as well be another world, and evil has been "distilled" so that it's concentrated in Earth's remaining inhabitants.

But it's easy to forget that a failing planet is the setting for the Dying Earth stories, for they are neither depressing nor bleak, and they're not really about the doom of the Earth. These stories are whimsical and weird and they focus more on the strange people who remain and the strange things they do. Magicians, wizards, witches, beautiful maidens, damsels in distress, seekers of knowledge... Read More

The Eyes of the Overworld: Vance at his best

The Eyes of the Overworld by Jack Vance

I’ve already said, numerous times, how much I love Jack Vance, so I’ll skip all that this time. You can read other reviews on this page if you missed that.

The Eyes of the Overworld is the second part of Tales of the Dying Earth and the main character is one of my favorite Vance characters: the self-titled Cugel the Clever. Cugel is not the kind of guy you want to have dealings with — he’s clever, sneaky, completely selfish and remorseless. He is always trying to figure out how he can take advantage of other people in order to make his own circumstances better.

In The Eyes of the Overworld, Cugel decides to burglarize the house of Iucounu the Laughing Magician so he can sell some of Iucounu’s thaumaturgical artifacts. But the magician catches Cugel and punishes him by setting h... Read More

Cugel’s Saga: Who could imagine such protean depravity?

Cugel's Saga (aka The Skybreak Spatterlight) by Jack Vance

Cugel “the clever” is one of the scummiest, nastiest, lowliest rogues in all of fantasy literature. He’s got no morals and no respect for women, he’s often a coward, he’s not good looking, nor is he particularly good with a sword. In the words of one of Cugel’s acquaintances, “who could imagine such protean depravity?” The answer, apparently, is Jack Vance. And that's why Cugel is one of my favorite “heroes” — because he belongs to Jack Vance.

Cugel’s Saga, book 3 of The Dying Earth and the direct sequel to The Eyes of the Overworld, begins ironically — with Cugel again fallen afoul of Iucounu, the Laughing Magician, who has now banished Cugel across the dying earth to exactly the same place he had sent Cugel before and from which Cugel had... Read More

The Curse of Chalion: Beautifully written, excellent audiobook

The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold

Lois McMaster Bujold has long been esteemed in the science fiction genre, so I expected great things from The Curse of Chalion, and I'm happy to report that I wasn't disappointed. This is an excellent piece of work! Bujold's story is completely fresh, and the world-building and magic system are unique, too. I was hooked from page one and it proceeds at a pleasant pace with plenty of surprises and plot twists. Characterization is deep and somehow Bujold made me really like the main character, Cazaril, right from the start, even though he is not the type of hero I thought I preferred. As a psychologist, I especially appreciate how the characters realistically maintained their natural personalities throughout the story while maturing (or becoming more immature) as they grew from their experiences.

And, so importantly, ... Read More

Paladin of Souls: Another wonderful book in the Chalion series

Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold

Paladin of Souls takes place just after the events of The Curse of Chalion and focuses on one of the minor female characters in Curse. It can stand alone, but you'll get a lot more out of it if you read Curse first.

This is another beautifully written masterpiece which won several prestigious awards, including a Hugo and a Nebula. Not only is Lois McMaster Bujold an excellent writer, but her world of Chalion is believable and complex, the magic is deep, fascinating, and just plain scary.

Bujold's Chalion is very far from the wizard-coming-of-age, orphan-boy-saves-the-world, or hunk-whips-up-on-the-bad-guys-with-a-cool-sword kind of fantasy epic. This is fresh. And highly recommended. Read More

Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honor of Jack Vance

Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honor of Jack Vance edited by George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois

Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honor of Jack Vance is the best anthology I’ve ever read. These stories will be enjoyed by any SFF reader, but they’ll be ten times more fun if you’ve read Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth, because they are all written in honor of that fantastic work. Each tale is written in the style of Vance, which is quite amusing in itself, and each takes place on the Dying Earth, that far-future wasteland in which natural selection means survival of the cleverest, nastiest, sneakiest, and most self-serving.

Songs of the Dying Earth was written by “many high-echelon, top-drawer writers” (as Mr. Vance says in the preface):... Read More

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell: The perfect book for the right reader

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell by Susanna Clarke (audio)

Let me say two things about Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell:

1. This is one of the finest novels I have ever read. Ever.

2. You might hate it.

Okay, let me say more. I listened to this book on audio and, because of the language and humor, I was delighted from the very start. I listened for 32 hours and approximately 25 of those hours are rather slow. Interesting stuff happens, but nothing that's going to put you on the edge of your seat. It's leisurely and teasing. It's not clear how all of the characters and plots relate to each other. If you're ready for action, it's a bit frustrating. But the action finally does arrive and all of the characters and plots finally come together in an unexpected and satisfying way. Looking back, you realize that the plot was clever and quite tight all along.
Read More

The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories: I hope there will be more

The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories by Susanna Clarke (audio)

Rebecca has written an excellent review of The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories and I am completely in agreement with her review. I'd just like to make a few points about why I love Susanna Clarke's writing, and I'll mention the audiobook:

The Duke of Wellington Misplaces his Horse" was a particularly delightful piece not only because it was so whimsical, but mainly because the main character is a real historical figure. One of the aspects of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell that I particularly enjoyed was Susanna Clarke's use of several historical events and people. She gives them personalities that are completely believable. Imagining The Duke of Wellington in this particular magical situation was highly entertaining.
In addition to mentioning true hist... Read More

Speaker for the Dead: Even better than Ender’s Game

Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card

It’s been 3000 years since Ender Wiggin, as a child, was tricked into committing xenocide. While he and his sister Valentine traveled the universe and benefited from the effects of space-time relativity, Ender’s name has been reviled on Earth and all the inhabited planets. He is infamous for his childhood deeds, but almost everyone thinks he’s been dead for centuries. They don’t realize that the man who holds the respected position of Speaker for the Dead is actually Ender Wiggin. And they don’t know that the Hive Queen of the Buggers still lives and that Ender has vowed to find her a new home. When Ender is called to the planet Lusitania to speak the death of a beloved xenologer, he thinks he may have finally found a suitable place for the Hive Queen to resurrect her race.

In the author’s afterward to Speaker for the Dead, Orson Scott Card explains tha... Read More

Stardust: Try it on audio

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

Stardust is a charming novel and beautifully written. The language is simple, concise, and to-the-point (I appreciate not having to re-read convoluted sentences). If you're looking for a deep, dark epic that's heavy on description, characterization, political intrigue, and plot twists, this isn't it. This is a light break from the heavy stuff. It's fun and entertaining. The plot is quick and has a bit of the Princess Bride feel in that it's purposely a bit silly in places.

I listened to Stardust in audiobook format, which I highly recommend because Neil Gaiman himself is the reader, and he does an excellent job. His voice is smooth and pleasant and there are none of those little problems where... Read More

A Wizard of Earthsea: Beautiful award-winning fantasy

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin

I love the way that Ursula Le Guin writes. Her prose is both lyrical and powerful. She makes every word count -- each is necessary, there’s no fluff or redundancy — it's simple, natural, alive, and vivid.

Le Guin's understanding of different peoples and cultures (her father was an anthropologist and her mother was a psychologist) enhances her ability to create imaginative, creative, and believable characters and worlds. When you step into Earthsea, you feel like you're in a real world with real people. It's deep and engrossing right from the start.

I also like Le Guin's of magic system here: knowing the "true" name of something gives you power over it. You just have to find its true name.

This is the original boy-finds-out-he’s-a-wizard-and-goes-to-wizard-school novel and it's suitable for adults and kids. I should mention, though, that it... Read More

The Hobbit: Good clean fun

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Hobbit is just good clean fun, delightful for children and adults. If you've read LOTR and wondered how Bilbo got the ring, here's the story. I enjoyed Tolkien's omniscient narrator style in this book — somewhat like Thackeray's Vanity Fair, and more recently Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell — which I suppose he adopted because he was writing for children. I think it's charming.

I highly recommend the audiobook, read by Rob Inglis. He's a Royal Shakespeare company actor and the best audiobook reader I've ever heard (and I've heard a lot of them). He has a different voice for each dwarf, and he does a great Gollum, too. He actually sings the songs (nice voice... Read More

Blood Rites: So many great moments!

Blood Rites by Jim Butcher

“The building was on fire and it wasn’t my fault,” says Harry in the opening line of Blood Rites. This has to be one of my favorite DRESDEN FILES books, and the very first line is quite possibly one of the most memorable in the series. Harry has been asked for a favor by his pseudo-friend and White Court Vampire, Thomas Raith: he is to investigate a possible death curse at an independent adult film studio. As with all Dresden stories, not everything is as it appears to be. Harry finds himself in multiple perilous situations, all of which are over his head. Jim Butcher masterfully weaves the reader through the chaotic mess that is Harry’s life, all culminating in a dramatic finale that deserves a standing ovation.

There are so many great moments in Blood Rites, from demon mon... Read More

Who Fears Death: A book I will never forget

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

To be something abnormal meant that you were to serve the normal. And if you refused, they hated you... and often the normal hated you even when you did serve them.

In Nnedi Okorafor’s post-apocalyptic Sudan, there are two predominant ethnic factions: the light-skinned Nuru and the dark-skinned Okeke. Who Fears Death takes place amid a genocide that the Nuru commit against the Okeke, a campaign that (like genocides in our own time) includes both murder and rape. The mixed-race offspring of a Nuru and an Okeke is called an Ewu and treated as an outcast.

Onyesonwu, whose name means “Who fears death?”, is Ewu, the result of her mother’s rape. As a child she develops magical powers, which further set her apart from others. In her girlhood she clashes with the local sorcerer, who doesn’t want to teach her bec... Read More

The Shadow of the Torturer: Now is the perfect time to read this epic!

The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

For those of you enjoy audiobooks, this is the perfect time to finally read (or to re-read) Gene Wolfe's The Shadow of the Torturer. Audible Frontiers recently put it on audio and the excellent Jonathan Davis is the reader.

The Shadow of the Torturer introduces Severian, an orphan who grew up in the torturer's guild. Severian is now sitting on a throne, but in this first installment of The Book of the New Sun, he tells us of key events in his boyhood and young adulthood. The knowledge that Severian will not only survive, but will become a ruler, doesn't at all detract from the suspense; it makes us even more curious about how... Read More

The Claw of the Conciliator: Enjoy the journey on audio

The Claw of the Conciliator by Gene Wolfe

The Claw of the Conciliator is the second book in Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun quartet. If you read The Shadow of the Torturer and felt like you were lost (or drunk), and weren’t sure whether things would get clearer in the second book, I have to tell you that no, they don’t. But if you, like me, enjoy that dreamy I’m-not-sure-where-I-am-or-how-I-got-here-or-where-I’m-going-but-everything-sure-feels-fine literary experience, then read on, because Severian’s head is a strange and fascinating place to be.

The Book of the New Sun is one of those works that some people think is ingenious and others suspect is just drivel. This is not the series for a reader who wants a quick-paced action-filled story with a concrete beginni... Read More

The Sword of the Lictor: Captures the essence of excellent speculative fiction

The Sword of the Lictor by Gene Wolfe

Gene Wolfe’s The Sword of the Lictor essentially contains no plot, but it’s the best plotless book I’ve ever read. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read, period. I loved every moment of it! (I read this on audio; Audible Frontiers' audio version, read by Jonathan Davis, is exceptional.)

This third installment of The Book of the New Sun continues Severian’s journey from apprentice in the torturers’ guild to Autarch. He doesn’t seem to be getting any closer to his exalted position (if anything, I’d say farther) and we’re no closer to understanding how he’s going to get there. But that’s totally fine. Unburdened by a need to be anywhere or t... Read More

Divided Allegiance: Make sure you have the next book!

Divided Allegiance by Elizabeth Moon

I have previously reviewed Elizabeth Moon’s The Deed of Paksennarion, the trilogy of which Divided Allegiance is the middle book. Brilliance Audio sent us a copy of their audio book version of the story, and I was planning on listening to the first CD or two to review the quality of the production since I have read the whole series probably ten times now. But that is not what happened. Not only did I listen to the whole book, I broke out book three and read that as well.

I have always been pleased with the quality of Brilliance Audio’s recordings. Jennifer Van Dyck’s narration is excellent, with easy shifts of tone and accent between characters that keep the reader entranced in the story without having to struggle to figure out who is speaking. I pa... Read More

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