World Fantasy Award

The Physiognomy: Sometimes brilliant, always bizarre

The Physiognomy by Jeffrey Ford

Physiognomist Cley has been sent by Master Drachton Below, the evil genius who constructed the Well-Built City, to the faraway mining district of Anamasobia to investigate the theft of a fruit that’s rumored to have grown in the Earthly Paradise and to have supernatural powers. Upon arriving, the skeptical and arrogant physiognomist finds a whole town of morons whose physical features clearly indicate that they are all backward and generally pathetic. Except for Arla, whose beautiful features suggest that she is intelligent and competent, and who seems to understand the science of physiognomy (even though that’s impossible because she’s a woman). But Cley likes looking at Arla (women do have their place), so he invites her to be his assistant as each of the dimwits in the town comes one-by-one to disrobe, pose, and present their bodies for physiognomical inspection, measurement, and analysis.

... Read More

Soldier of Sidon: Wolfe and Latro have aged very well

Soldier of Sidon by Gene Wolfe

Soldier of Sidon is the third book in Gene Wolfe’s Soldier series. Latro is a Roman mercenary who fought against the Greeks at Thermopylae. In spite of his battle prowess, he now wakes every morning with no memory of his past ever since receiving a blow to the head. Will Latro ever recover?

Gene Wolfe originally told Latro’s story in Soldier of the Mist and Soldier of Arete, published in 1987 and 1989, respectively, and later published together in 2003. So this third installment has been a long time in the making. Considering how long Latro’s story has been waiting, readers could be forgiven for expecting Soldier of Sidon (published in 2006) to be a disappointment. Fortunately, both Wolfe and Latro have aged ver... Read More

The Shadow Year: Little slices of life

The Shadow Year by Jeffrey Ford

The Shadow Year is a charming coming-of-age tale about the 6th grade year of an average American boy (we never learn his name) growing up in the 1960s. This year isn’t average, though, because there are some strange things going on in his small town. As he navigates his way around mundane matters such as an alcoholic manic depressive mother, a father who holds down three jobs, live-in grandparents, and unpleasant teachers, he’s also concerned with a prowler, a classmate who disappeared, and a strange suspicious man who drives an eerie white car. Things get really creepy when he realizes that the weird things happening around town seem to be linked to the way his possibly-autistic / possibly-savant little sister moves the cars and people around in his older brother’s replica of their town which he works on in their basement.

The Shadow Year fe... Read More

Little, Big: Bittersweet and unforgettable

Little, Big: or, The Fairies' Parliament by John Crowley

"All Part of the Tale. Don’t Ask Me How…"

This review is going to be well-nigh impossible to write, as the subject matter is so impossible to describe. Well, John Crowley's Little, Big is definitely a book. That's a good start. But the second I try to narrow down rudimentary elements like plot and character, my brain gets a bit fuzzy. It's about a family. And a house. And how this family lives in the house which is situated on the borders of another world which sometimes intrudes upon their own, and so is aptly named "Edgewood." Beyond that, it gets more complicated. Or maybe simpler. It's hard to be sure.

It begins with a man named Smoky Barnable traveling from The City (though it's never named, it's clearly meant to be New York) toward the mysterious house of Edgewood in order to marry his physically l... Read More

The Very Best of Charles de Lint: Truly Charles de Lint’s very best

The Very Best of Charles de Lint by Charles de Lint

With a title like The Very Best of Charles de Lint, I had high hopes, and I have to say that they were met. Yes, this is the best of Charles de Lint’s fantasy. Chosen in consultation with his readers on Facebook and on his website, de Lint has culled down decades of writing to create a special volume with beautiful cover art by Charles Vess that highlights the reason why de Lint is considered one of the founding fathers of urban fantasy. I have been reading de Lint for close to two decades now, and am quite the completionist. I buy chapbooks and limited editions, and keep them in slip covers. With a background like that, I consider myself well qualified to judge if this is indeed the best of his writing. And, with the caveat that he is pulling from his short stories, because it’s difficult to anthologize his longer novels in this kind of a... 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

Ysabel: GGK didn’t work out for me this time

Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay

What can I say about this book? If I see a new Guy Gavriel Kay book on the shelf at the bookstore, I buy it. It didn’t work out this time, though, and the reason is that the way this story is told makes no sense to me as a reader, and I cannot fathom why Kay wrote this book from the perspective of a teenager.

The story is about a fifteen year-old boy from Canada who accompanies his father, a world-renowned photographer, on a trip to Provence (southern France). Very quickly into this trip, the characters get caught up in a centuries-old love triangle contest to win the love of Ysabel, which has been waged between a Gaul and a Roman for over 2000 years.  The book is short enough that summarizing the plot further will spoil it completely.

What is good about this book? Kay’s lyrical style has always enthralled me, and I must say that it shone through in several parts of th... Read More

Tooth and Claw: Pride and Prejudice with Dragons

Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton

Bon Agornin, patriarch of a well-off family, is on his death bed. His family has gathered around him, including his oldest son Penn, who is a country parson, and Avan, the younger brother who is making his way up in the bureaucracy of the capital city. Also there are his unmarried daughters Haner and Selendra, and oldest daughter Berend, who is married to Daverak, a young nobleman. When Daverak claims a large part of Bon's wealth, a complex family drama starts, involving an inheritance battle and the search for suitable matches for the young daughters.

So far, fairly standard plotting for a Jane Austen novel. The twist here is that every character in Tooth and Claw is a dragon, and the wealth of the dying dragon doesn't only include his hoard of gold but also the flesh of his body, which dragon children traditionally eat to grow in strength.

When I read the revie... Read More

Tender Morsels: Strange and dark retelling of “Snow White and Rose Red”

Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

I have a long-time interest in adaptations of fairy tales, and so it surprised me that it took me so long to get through Tender Morsels, a strange and dark retelling of "Snow White and Rose Red."

The beginning is promising. We meet Liga, mother of the "Snow White" and "Rose Red" characters, as a traumatized teenager. She is sexually abused by her father and later raped by town boys, and Margo Lanagan handles these sensitive topics well. The actual abuse is never described in detail, so it's not sensationalistic. I had a lot of sympathy for Liga and was rooting for her survival. The prose has moments of exquisite beauty, but I should warn readers that there's a lot of Scottish-style dialect in it, so it may not be every reader's cup of tea.

Eventually, Liga is whisked away from her painful existence by a lunar entity. This sounds a lot like Read More

Madouc: Lyonesse is Pythonesque

Madouc by Jack Vance

Well, here's the finale of Jack Vance's Lyonesse, and I'm sorry to see it end. This novel was about Madouc, the changeling princess of Lyonesse, and her interactions with Casmir, Sollace, Aillas, Dhrun, Shimrod, Throbius, Sir Pom-Pom, Umphred, Twisk, et al.

Madouc maintains the quality of this excellent trilogy — it's filled with clever prose, charming characters, and lots of imagination. Jack Vance's careful planning produced a tight plot and Madouc wrapped up all the loose ends from Suldrun's Garden and The Green Pearl.

I thoroughly enjoyed Lyonesse, but it may not be for everyone. It occurs to me that these books are a lot like M... Read More

The City & The City: Utter genius

The City & The City by China Miéville

It’s impossible to discuss China Miéville’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-Dun will find all that stripped away. The same for those looking for Miéville... Read More

Ombria in Shadow: Dreamy and intricate tale

Ombria in Shadow by Patricia A. McKillip

Like all of Patricia McKillip's books, Ombria in Shadow is a dreamy, intricate tale, made memorable by her distinctive poetic prose. Symbols, circumstances and meanings can be interpreted on any number of deeper levels, making her books ones to be savored and re-read. If you are a lover of eloquent poetry and subtle imagery, then let Ombria in Shadow be the first of McKillip's range of stories to let you drift away on language that must have been meticulously chosen in order to create a sense of faery and dreaming.

The royal prince of Ombria is dead, leaving a child-heir, a grieving mistress and a confused bastard nephew at the mercy of Domina Pearl ('The Black Pearl'), the regent of the city, who is seemingly immortal and has her own dark plans for the ruling of the oldest city in the world. Casting the young mistress Lyd... Read More

The Prestige: Haunting and thought-provoking

The Prestige by Christopher Priest

I was drawn to Christopher Priest's novel after having watched and enjoyed the Nolan brothers' film adaptation of The Prestige. Going into the reading, I knew that several plot twists would be spotted a mile away, but the film is sufficiently different from its source material that Priest's work contains several surprises.

Journalist Andrew Westley is brought under false pretences to a Derbyshire estate to meet with a young woman who is quite desperate to get in contact with him. Andrew is an entirely ordinary man, except for one quirk: having been adopted at a young age, he is convinced that he has a twin brother somewhere in the world, despite all evidence to the contrary. However, his informant Kate Angier thinks that she can shed some light on his situation, believing that a traumatic experience she had as a child and Andrew's own confused past all h... Read More

Gloriana, or The Unfulfill’d Queen: Reader Unfulfill’d

Gloriana, or The Unfulfill'd Queen: Being a Romance by Michael Moorcock

Gloriana (1979) is Moorcock's homage to Mervyn Peake (author of the Gormenghast saga), and fittingly, is a lush tale of intrigue told in thoroughly British prose. At times brilliant (especially in the descriptions of the seasonal festivities), often captivating and humorous, often sluggish and overly subtle, ultimately unfulfilling, it's a book I recommend borrowing from the library before buying. Not everyone will enjoy such decadence.

Speaking of decadence, the tale takes place in Renaissance-era Albion, the England of another world. Queen Gloriana presides, with the assistance of her counselors, over an empire of remarkable peace and prosperity: a romantic Gold... Read More

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: We love it

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

I'm giving Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell a 5 for the simply reason that I thoroughly enjoyed it all the way through, but I'd warn all readers to be more wary than usual of reviews (including this one). More than many books, this one I think will be a matter of true personal taste and experience will be your only truly accurate guide.

To begin with, Strange is often referred to as a "fantasy" novel, an "adult" Harry Potter (ignoring Potter's self-obvious claim to millions of "adult" readers). If you're expecting fantasy in the form of Harry Potter magic (though done by bigger people employing bigger words) or Lord of the Rings-like quests and elves, be advised neither is here. Fa... Read More