In Winter’s Shadow by Gillian Bradshaw
In Winter’s Shadow is the final book in Gillian Bradshaw’s DOWN THE LONG WIND trilogy, an elegantly written historical fantasy about King Arthur that’s inspired by the Welsh legends. While the first two books, Hawk of May and Kingdom of Summer, have focused on Gwalchmai (Sir Gawain), this last novel is written from Gwynhwyfar’s perspective. You certainly don’t need to read the previous books to fully appreciate In Winter’s Shadow, but if you’re a fan of the time period or the legends, you’ll probably want to read Hawk of May and Kingdom of Summer at some point. They are lovely historical stories.
In In Winter’s Shadow, Gwynhwyfar gives us some of the history of the Roman Empire... Read More
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In Winter’s Shadow by Gillian Bradshaw
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 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 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
Hamlet, Prince of Denmark by A.J. Hartley
Hamlet, Prince of Denmark: A Novel, a retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet by David Hewson and A.J. Hartley, is fairly straightforward. It doesn't depart from the basic plot events or thematic issues as we are familiar with them in Shakespeare, nor is it particularly inventive in language or structure. This surprised me at first, as I expected a meta or avant garde treatment of this most classic of texts. (Thinking about it, I was probably unconsciously expecting a more Stoppard-esque adaptation.)
What this book does do is deepen the characterization of each of the major characters. In Hewson and Hartley's version, we understand the myriad reasons for Old Hamlet's murder, for Fortinbras' invasion of Denmark, for young Hamlet's halting confusion. We get a lot of backstory, as well -... Read More
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 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 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 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
Sailing to Byzantium by Robert Silverberg
I just finished listening to the audio version of Sailing to Byzantium. It was read convincingly by Tom Parker, who transported me in time along with Charles, the lead character. Charles is from New York City, and he is a twentieth-century man, a curiosity in the world of the story. His 1984 is long gone, yet he doesn't quite understand how he's been transported in time to the 50th century. The people of this time, the "citizens," will tell him very little actually. They consider Charles to be a "visitor." Charles doesn't know how long his visit will be though. He is confused and tries to go with the flow, but keeps finding it hard to do so in this very odd future world.
In the 50th century ("of what," he wonders at one point), there are very few citizens. There is a small world population compared to 1984 (and especially compared to our time). All the citizens look almost identical — ... 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
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 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
The Gates of Sleep by Mercedes Lackey
The Gates of Sleep by Mercedes Lackey, part of her ELEMENTAL MASTERS series, is a fun, harmless read based loosely on the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale.
Growing up, I had always been drawn to Mercedes Lackey books, mostly because of the lush cover art, usually drawn by Jody Lee. But then, unfailingly, I’d read the blurb and decide not to read it; they usually sounded too involved, too conspicuously “high fantasy,” or otherwise cheesy and formulaic. (I love high fantasy, but I must have been a hipster when I was a kid because I couldn’t stand it if the book seemed like it was trying too hard.)
So I was pleasantly surprised by how engaging I found this book. Lee’s artwork is the perfect companion to Lackey’s prose, which is rich and descriptive. The world she creates fo... Read More
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 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 Secret Sharer and Other Stories by Robert Silverberg
The Secret Sharer and Other Stories by Robert Silverberg is available on Audible and offers a top-notch performance by Robertson Dean. The title is a little misleading, I think. There are only three selections included, and only one is a short story. The other two seem to be novellas. However, based on the way Silverberg’s works have been repackaged and republished over the years, even those distinctions are difficult to make: For example, We Are for the Dark is included in both his collected short stories volume seven, We Are for the Dark: 1987-1990, and in the collection Sailing to Byzantium: Six Novellas. In listening to all three selections, I noticed that The Secret Sharer and We Are for the Dark are both much longer than "Good News from the Vatican." The short story is a good one, but I absolutely loved the two... Read More
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 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 Word Exchange by Alena Graedon
[In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.]
When I started listening to Alena Graedon's The Word Exchange on audiobook (read by Tavia Gilbert and Paul Michael Garcia), I was bowled over. The sheer beauty of Graedon's language, the book's inventive dictionary structure, its references to Alice in Wonderland, and the compellingly plausible mystery of the Word Flu hooked me from the beginning. But... ah, there's always a bu... Read More