Stand-Alone

These are stand alone novels (not part of a series). They’re listed by rating (5 star novels at the top).

Warbreaker: That was so good!

Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson

I just finished Warbreaker, and the words that keep coming to mind are "That was so good!" This is the first Brandon Sanderson novel I've read, and it certainly won't be the last. Warbreaker combines highly original world-building with an exciting plot that kept me on the edge of my seat.

The novel begins with the introduction of two major characters: Vivenna and Siri, princesses of the tiny kingdom of Idris. You may think you've seen these archetypes before — the stiff, elegant princess and the feisty, rebellious princess — but the way the two women develop is unexpected and realistic. Neither is prepared for what awaits them in the neighboring kingdom of Hallandren. The royal line of Idris once ruled Hallandren, and everything about present-day Hallandren is vilified in Idris, especially its magic, its... Read More

The Princess Bride: Five star family entertainment

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

William Goldman is better known for his screenplays than his novels. The two-time Oscar award winning author wrote the screenplays for The Stepford Wives, All the President's Men, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. He is probably most recognized among current audiences for writing the screenplay for Read More

The Laurentine Spy: Deserves more than 5 stars

The Laurentine Spy by Emily Gee

Saliel is in over her head. Masquerading as a noble lady in the fortress of Laureant’s greatest enemy, she sneaks into the old disused catacombs every other night to meet One, Two, and the Guardian, other Laurentine spies whose true identities she doesn't know.

After foiling an enemy plan to take over another fought-over land, Saliel learns that the Prince and his consort know there are spies in the fortress and have hired a notorious and feared spycatcher. Saliel and the other spies still have work to do however, and must stay one step ahead of him in order to accomplish their goal. All the time Saliel must play a part — a part she know she has no business playing — and longs to be back home in Laureant, independent and finally free from playing roles. And free from her past.

I could not put down The Laurentine Spy. From the fi... Read More

Winter Rose

Winter Rose by Patricia McKillip

The first time I read Patricia McKillip, I didn’t get very far. The book was the Riddlemaster of Hed, and I was completely unprepared for her complex use of language. But there must have been something in her style that intrigued me, because I tracked down Winter Rose not long afterwards, and since then have been a big fan of all her work. Out of all Patricia McKillip’s books (at least the ones I’ve read) Winter Rose is perhaps the most opaque. McKillip’s language has always been eloquent and atmospheric, often obscuring both plot and characterization, but in this case the plot itself is also rather vague and ambiguous. Based on the ballad of Tam Lin, this is a dreamy and mysterious tale of family secrets, unrequited love and the allure of faerie... Read More

To Ride Hell’s Chasm: Going on my list of favorites

To Ride Hell's Chasm by Janny Wurts

At the start of To Ride Hell's Chasm, an outstanding standalone fantasy by Janny Wurts, Princess Anja of the tiny isolated kingdom of Sessalie has gone missing on the eve of the ceremony for her betrothal to the Crown Prince of Devall. Since Anja is beloved by her people, and the alliance with Devall represents potentially big trade increases, it doesn't take long for many people to be involved in the search, from Mykkael, a foreign-born former mercenary now in charge of the city's garrison, to Taskin, the military commander for the kingdom.

Over 650 pages covering about 5 days, Janny Wurts delivers a story filled with almost non-stop action that's at times impossible to put down. One of the odd and wonderful things about this novel is the contrast between the tight pacing and the lush language. Again, those 650 pages cover just a h... Read More

Palimpsest: Gorgeous

Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente

The first thing that strikes you about Palimpsest is the gorgeous prose. Every sentence is crafted with the utmost care, resulting in a novel that almost reads like poetry. It simply begs to be read out loud. I've read many books that attempt this kind of lush prose, but Palimpsest is one of the most successful and most beautiful.

Palimpsest is a sexually transmitted city. People who have been there have a small tattoo — a piece of the city's map — somewhere on their body. Sleep with them, and you are transported there. When you wake up, back in the real world, you will find a small tattoo of another part of Palimpsest on your body — and you will want to go back.

The story follows four people who are all newcomers to Palimpsest — a young Japanese woman, a beekeeper, a locksmith, a bookbinder. They all have lost s... Read More

Stardust: Wondrously-told adult fairy tale

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman's Stardust chronicles the origin and life of the young Englishman Tristran Thorn, in particular his quest to retrieve, for the woman he fancies, a star that has fallen in the land of Faerie, which begins just beyond his village of Wall. But Tristran isn't the only one who seeks the star, and the star itself is much more than he imagined ...

Gaiman weaves a quickly paced, beautifully structured adult fairy tale — 'adult' because it doesn't neglect the human experiences of sex, death and time. His language is that of the gifted storyteller — clear, concise and lyrical, resonant with mythic lore and archetypes. I highly recommend this book (even as a new purchase) for fans of fantasy, fairy tales, mythology, and/or romance, as well as for those who simply enjoy a well-told tale.

It would be a disservice to an interested reader to make th... Read More

The Master of Whitestorm: Wurts doing what she does best

The Master of Whitestorm by Janny Wurts

I love the characters that Janny Wurts builds because they are always flawed. The obsession and drive that Korendir feels are tangible, and as you come to know his past, it makes more and more sense.

The Master of Whitestorm is exciting and has plenty of adventure. Ms Wurts deftly walks the line between spending too
much time in trivial details and giving you a clear understanding of how the magic system works. Great read, and if you are a Janny Wurts fan, The Master of Whitestorm is a must!

The Master of Whitestorm — (1992) Publisher: After escaping from the slave-galleys of the bloodthirsty Murghai, Korendir, a man whose past is shrouded in mystery, sets off on a series of extraordinary quests: to battle the sorceress Anthei; to challenge the elemental ... Read More

To Ride Hell’s Chasm: One heck of a ride!

To Ride Hell’s Chasm by Janny Wurts

Due to its remoteness, the kingdom of Sessalie has enjoyed generations of peace while other parts of the world have been ravaged by war with sorcerers. That tranquility is shattered when their beloved Princess Anja goes missing on the night on her betrothal. Now her fate, and the kingdom’s, rests on two men. Dealing with unfamiliar evils, Taskin, the iron-disciplined commander of the Royal Guard, must depend on the worldly experience and unfathomable character of a foreigner and sell-sword: garrison captain Mykkael, who could just as likely be involved in Anja’s disappearance as her sole chance of rescue.

This was my first time reading Janny Wurts, and I now understand her very dictated and enthusiastic following. To Ride Hell’s Chasm is the perfect fantasy story. It contains some traditional fantasy elements like an endangered princess in a far... Read More

To Ride Hell’s Chasm: Not fantasy lite

To Ride Hell's Chasm by Janny Wurts

To Ride Hell's Chasm was my first Wurts novel. I actually have a copy of the first book of The Wars of Light and Shadow saga which I started (and liked so far), but I got a bit intimidated by the time commitment (and the fact that WoLaS is unfinished...), so I decided to try this stand-alone first to get a feel for Janny Wurts' style before I leapt into a mega-epic. Along that line, I was also interested to see how she would affect an actual ending, since WoLaS doesn't actually have one yet (at least not in print).

It took me a while to get used to Ms Wurts' style. I haven't had a lot of reading time lately, so the last several things I've chosen to read have purposely been a bit... light. Like chocolate mousse. Wurts is not li... Read More

Sleepless: Quite possibly Charlie Huston’s best book

Sleepless by Charlie Huston

CLASSIFICATION: Sleepless is a classic crime/mystery story set in a post-apocalyptic milieu afflicted by a unique illness. Think Dennis Lehane meets José Saramago’s Blindess and P. D. James’ The Children of Men meets Richard K. Morgan.

FORMAT/INFO: Sleepless is 368 pages long divided over thirty numbered chapters and an Epilogue. Narration is in the first-person via a sixty-year-old, ex-military freelance mercenary named Jasper, and in both the third and first-person (in the form of journal entries) of undercover cop, Parker “Park” Haas. Sleepless is self-contained. January 12, 2010 marks the North American Hardcover publication of ... Read More

The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray

The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray by Chris Wooding

If you enjoy the atmosphere and imagination of Philip Pullman, Garth Nix, or Philip Reeve, then you're sure to like Chris Wooding, a YA fantasy author who does not feel the need to fill his fantasy world with elves, dwarfs, wizards, dragons and every other fantasy cliché that's been done to death since Tolkien published The Lord of the Rings.

Some authors are willing to explore new territory, and Wooding is one of these. The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray Read More

Tigerheart: One of the most charming novels I’ve ever read

Tigerheart by Peter David

Whether you’ve read the original J.M. Barrie play or novel, seen the Disney film, eaten the peanut butter, or been exposed to any of the other countless adaptations out there, most people are probably familiar with the tale of Peter Pan and Neverland, and because of this familiarity, readers should be able to immediately connect with Peter David’s Tigerheart which is an homage to, an original retelling, and a sequel to the classic bedtime story.

As an homage, Tigerheart liberally borrows from J.M. Barrie’s classic including characters, places, and themes — names and certain elements have been changed such as The Boy instead of Peter Pan, Anyplace instead of Neverland, Captain Hack for Captain Hook, Vaga... Read More

Nation: Bittersweet perfection

Nation by Terry Pratchett

When much is taken, something is returned. That is the theme of Nation, a stunningly beautiful, thought-provoking and at times heart-breaking new novel by Terry Pratchett. This is not a Discworld novel. It is the tale of Mau, a boy just about to undergo his coming of age ritual on a small island in the Great Pelagic Ocean when a tidal wave destroys everything and everyone around him. But when so much is taken, something is given in return and, in this case, the tidal wave also strands the Sweet Judy, a ship of the British Empire, and its one surviving occupant, a young woman who answers to the name of Daphne.

As Mau and Daphne struggle to rebuild some semblance of a life and a community and understanding between two very different cultures, Pratchett has the opportunity to explore the meaning of family, cultural belong... Read More

The City & The City: Utter genius

The City & The City by China Mieville

It’s impossible to discuss China Mieville’s The City & The City without discussing its premise. I don’t consider this much of a spoiler, as the reader is pretty fully confronted with the premise about 20-30 pages in, but it is led into with hints here and there so before hitting the premise, I’ll offer a very short summation and recommendation in the next two paragraphs, followed by the full discussion which includes the premise.

Despite the title’s promise of more urban New Weird fantasy along the lines of Perdido Street Station, anyone coming to The City & The City expecting more Bas-Lag fantastical settings and inhabitants, or the wild abundance of imagination that was the city in Un-Lun-D... Read More

King of Morning, Queen of Day: A fairy tale of unforgettable power

King of Morning, Queen of Day by Ian McDonald

I knew, just by reading the back cover blurb, that King of Morning, Queen of Day was right up my alley. Women with mystical powers? Check. Faeries? Check. Ireland? Check. In fact, I think the only reason I didn't discover this book earlier is that it was published in 1991, and I only started reading fantasy sometime in the late nineties.

The story begins with Emily, a bratty but endearing girl of fifteen, poised on the edge of adulthood in the early 20th century. Emily knows she is special — set apart — and when she sees the faeries in the wood by her family's home, she knows she will never be satisfied with ordinary life. Emily makes a colossal mess of things, as bratty fifteen-year-olds will do, and sets in motion events that will affect generations to come.

What follows is a fairy tale, but not preci... Read More

The Prodigal Troll: Here’s a gem

The Prodigal Troll by Charles Coleman Finlay

Although many cultures have a similar story, the most famous prodigal is that of the parable of Jesus told in Luke 15:11-31. In it, a young man takes his inheritance, leaves his family, and seeks his fortune in the wider world. He soon learns that the world is a cruel place and ends up returning to his father. The term “prodigal” eventually came to mean one who returned after a long absence, usually after finding trouble apart from their families.

The prodigal in Charles Coleman Finlay’s The Prodigal Troll is Maggot, a young man heir to power who ends up being reared by a lowly troll. Similar to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes, Maggot is a human reared by a more bestial race. Finlay’s trolls are what we expect: although not savage, they live a primitive, subsistence life, and ... Read More

Elom: Cave Bear meets Close Encounters

Elom by William Drinkard

I really loved this novel.

The blurb for Elom got me: "The Clan of the Cave Bear meets Close Encounters of the Third Kind."

William Drinkard is not your typical debut novelist. He served in the Alabama State Legislature for twelve years, and even was the Senate Majority Leader. He's still involved with politics, but not as an elected official. When one hears such things, one wonders, "Yeah, but can he write?"

In my opinion, the answer is a resounding yes.

The novel starts when the young Geerna is preparing for the ceremony that will make her a woman. Her devotion to her goddess, Shetow, is unquestioned, so when light appears and when i... Read More

Fire and Hemlock: Heaps of stars

Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones

With a sudden flash, college-aged Polly remembers her old friend Thomas Lynn, and realizes it's been years since she thought of him. It's almost like he's been erased from her memory, she thinks. Strange, since as she delves deeper into her memories, he turns out to have been her best friend, and the one bright spot in a very difficult adolescence.

Trying to solve the mystery of why he has vanished from her life, she asks around, only to find that none of her friends or family remember him either — they think Thomas was an imaginary friend she made up. Was he? Or has something else happened? And if he is real, where has he gone?

Diana Wynne Jones draws us into her spell with this novel, never letting us put it down. The story gets more and more intricate as is progresses, making less and less sense, and we are captivated, unable to turn away until we know what's going on. An e... Read More

Alcestis: Some moments will break your heart

Alcestis by Katharine Beutner

The ancient Greeks held up Alcestis as a model of wifely devotion. Her husband, Admetus, was spared from death on the condition that someone else die in his place. When Admetus’ relatives and friends refused, Alcestis volunteered herself and made the journey to the underworld, but was later rescued by Heracles. In her debut novel, a poignant literary fantasy, Katharine Beutner fleshes out the figure of Alcestis, and gives her a backstory that helps explain her willingness to sacrifice herself.

Beutner’s Alcestis has always lived in the shadow of death, starting with her mother’s death in childbirth. Then, as a child, Alcestis loses her favorite sister, Hippothoe, to asthma. When her father remarries, Alcestis forges a bond with her new stepmother and later with her half-sisters, but she still misses Hippothoe terribly and sneaks out of the palace to visit her gr... Read More

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