Sunday, October 02, 2005

Sub-Par Fantasy

I wasn’t too terribly impressed by Dennis McCarty’s Flight To Thlassa Mey. It’s not actually a bad book, but I would hardly call it good either. All in all, I’d have to rate it as sub-par.

Flight To Thlassa Mey is about an escape. Princess Berengeria and her servant Aelia are being held prisoner by the evil Lothar the Pale. The knight Ursid, Lothars nephew, helps them escape from the palace. They hire Sir Palamon, a fallen knight turned bouncer, to aid them in their escape. Soon, they are pursued by Lothar’s men and the servants of the mad wizard Alyubol.

The book is actually well plotted, and the pacing is done well enough to maintain interest throughout the story. The main characters are very human, and I did think that they were pretty fleshed out.

Unfortunately other parts of the book aren’t so good. The villains are pretty two-dimensional. The major “surprise” plot twist at the end of the book is so predictable that I figured it out almost as soon as we learn that there is a mystery about Palamon’s birth. And the dialogue is just plain terrible.

I hate it when authors have their characters constantly talking in a sort of pseudo-medieval dialogue. This author uses more of a pseudo-Shakespearean, but it’s still pretty damn annoying. Here are few random examples:

I wind into my knitting gossip’s threads. I head those whom few others stop to hear, committing into memory’s counterpane all things that pass into my weaver’s grasp.

Infirmities of age will soon become your friends and boon companions, more so every year. Well could I tell you that much, even if I were no sage.

Do not converse where strangers may appear. The privacy of this small chamber shall be yours, for it is I who shall go forth.

Now imagine a whole book filled with that sort of thing. Ugghh!

Because of the annoying language, cruddy villains, and idiotic plot twist, I can only give Flight To Thlassa Mey 2.5 yo-yos. Up next will probably be Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood's End.

Friday, September 30, 2005

I'm So Lazy

I’ve been being very lazy lately. Not only have I finished reading Trudi Canavan’s The Magicians' Guild without writing the review, but I’ve also finished Jacqueline Carey’s Banewreaker and Scott McGough’s Heretic: Betrayers of Kamigawa. So, I’m going to do them all at once.

I liked The Magicians’ Guild. It’s a good book, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the series. It’s set in the city of Imardin. Every year, the magicians’ guild in that city purges the city of undesirables at the king’s request. This year, a young girl named Cery manages to throw a stone through the magicians’ magic barrier, which proves her to be an untrained—and therefore dangerous—wizard. The guild searches for her, but she hides, fearing for her life. While she’s hiding, she slowly loses control of her powers, putting the city in grave danger.

What I find most interesting about this book it the theme of class struggle; all of the magicians are members of the nobility, but Cery is a slum dweller. Many of the magicians—and presumably other nobles—view the slum dwellers as criminal scum. The slum dwellers look at the magicians as a guild of jack-boot nazis. This creates a good deal of tension, and makes for some very different viewpoints between the main characters.

This is a book that’s well worth reading. I give it 4 yo-yos.

Banewreaker is a magnificent book. I had previously read Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series, which I thought was very good, but not as good as Banewreaker.

The plot is rather complicated. A long time ago there were Seven Shapers, who created the world. The first Shaper was called Haomane, who gave thought to the world. The third was Satoris who gave desire. Haomane created an immortal race called the Ellylon, and refused to allow them to accept Satoris’ gift. The second Shaper created man, who accepted the gifts of Haomane and Satoris, but they grew numerous and Haomane demanded that Satoris take back his gift. This started a war and Satoris was reviled as the lord of evil. The war ended in a stalemate, and the world was sundered.

The book begins as an ancient prophecy begins to be fulfilled. This prophecy may mean the end of Satoris, so he does everything in his power to thwart it. Meanwhile, mankind and the other allies of Haomane try to aid it.

What I like best about this story is that there are no villains. In most fantasy stories of this type, the dark lord is an evil monstrosity bent on destruction. In Banewreaker, Satoris is not evil; would you want to have your desire taken away? The other side isn’t evil either; they believe that Satoris is a stereotypical dark lord bent on destruction. Both sides are acting out of fear and ignorance. This makes for a very intriguing story.

I definitely recommend this book. I give it 5 yo-yos

Now, Heretic is the sequel to Outcast, which I reviewed a few weeks ago. This is also a good book, though I don’t like it quite as much as I like the first volume.

In this volume, Toshi Umezawa must rescue Princess Michiko from her father’s tower. Then everybody head to the Minamo School to find out the true cause of the Kami War. While everyone is there, the ogre Hidetsugu attacks the place in revenge for the death of his apprentice.

Really, this book isn’t as interesting as the previous one. Toshi has gained so much power from his kami, the Myojin of Night’s Reach, that he never really seems to be in any danger. The Princess also is never in any real danger, since Toshi, or her father, is always there to protect her.

Really, there isn’t much conflict in this book, but it still is interesting. I give it 3.5 yo-yos. Up next, I’m finishing of Flight to Thlassa Mey.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Puck You Cheating Fairy Get Back Home!

Hospital waiting rooms are very good places to read. Thanks to the fact that I spent about five hours in a hospital waiting room, I managed to finish Orson Scott Card’s Magic Street. This book was way better than the last one of his I read.

Before I get to far into this review, I’d like to point out that both Card and I are white guys. However, all the characters in this book are black. I’ve read other reviews that said that Magic Street’s dialogue reads too much like a white guy trying to write black. I don’t really know enough about that to comment, so I won’t.

I thought that this book was terrific. I’ve been a fan of urban fantasy for years, and this is probably the best book in the genre I’ve read, excluding the works of Charles DeLint. Card does an excellent job of combining the world of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with modern L.A. and putting his own spin on the whole thing.

The plot revolves around a boy named Mack Street. He is created through the magic of Faerie, and is found as an abandoned baby in Baldwin Hills. He is raised by a nurse and her young neighbor. As Mack grows up, he discovers that he has the power to unwittingly grant people’s deepest wishes—with disastrous results. Soon he discovers that Oberon, king of the faeries, is behind his sinister powers, and Mack must team up with Titania and Puck to save the world.

The setting of this book is a real place, and it feels like it. The characters are all fictional, but thanks to Card’s own magic, they feel real too. The idea of a creature that grants twisted versions of wishes isn’t actually original–it was used in the Wishmaster movies or the classic short story “The Monkey’s Paw” for example—but Card makes it seem brand new. Card is one of the best living writers of science fiction and fantasy, and this is one of my favorite of his fantasy novels.

Over all, this is a terrific book. I give Magic Street 5 yo-yos. Up next, I’m reading Trudi Canavan’s The Magician's Guild, which isteriffic…so far.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

An Omnibus of Redheads, Blonds, Brunettes, Goddesses, Ratgirls...

I recently finished reading Glen Cook’s Garret Investigates an SFBC omnibus edition containing Deadly Quicksilver Lies, Petty Pewter Gods, and Faded Steel Heat. These novels are part of that fairly rare genre, the fantasy mystery.

These mysteries are set in the city of Tun Faire. The main character, Garrett, is one of those hard boiled detective types. He tends to not want to work, preferring to drink beer, chase redheads, and sleep in till noon. His partner is called the Dead Man, who is a sort of psychic, non-human corpse. He spends much of his time with beautiful women—who always seem to fall for his charms—and with an assortment of oddball friends.

In Deadly Quicksilver Lies, Garret battles a cross-dressing crime boss. In Petty Pewter Gods, the gods of Tun Faire are fighting over the last available temple, and Gerret is right in the middle of it. Faded Steel Heat is the story of various human0rightist groups and a bunch of shape shifters.

All of these Garrett stories are great. The setting is wonderfully though out. Garrett is a remarkable character, who does an admirable job of narrating his adventures. Overall, I’m not sure whether I like this series or Randall Garrett’s Lord Darcy series better. I also wonder if Cook named his character after Randall Garrett. But that’s really beside the point.

The Garrett series is a really great, engrossing read. I give these volumes a 4.5 yo-yos. Up next, Orson Scott Card’s Magic Street.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Short Stories by a Master

Neil Gaiman is a genius. I’ve never read anything of his I didn’t like, including Smoke and Mirrors. I’m not saying that I like this as much as Sandman or Gaiman’s various novels, but by and large the short stories in this book are great.

The book contains 31 short stories and poems—one of which is hidden (I won’t say where). As is usual with Gaiman’s writing, all of these stories are very strange. There’s a sort of futuristic Baywatch meets Beowulf. There are vampires, angels, and fox spirits. There’s even a warped version of Santa Claus.

My favorite stories have got to be “Snow, Glass, Apples,” “The Sweeper of Dreams,” and “Murder Mysteries.” “Snow, Glass, Apples” is a vampiric version of “Snow White.” “The Sweeper of Dreams” could have almost walked out of Sandman. ”Murder Mysteries” is—not surprisingly—a murder mystery; only it’s set in the Silver City, where God and the angels created the universe.

Not all of the stories were superb. I really didn’t like the Lovecraft pastiches, “Shoggoth’s Old Peculiar” and “Only the End of the World Again.” I was also rather bored by the Baywatch/Beowulf story, “Bay Wolf.” Oddly enough, two of these stories feature Larry Talbot, the original Wolf Man.

Still, despite a few unsatisfactory stories, I give Smoke and Mirrors 4.5 out of 5 goldfish. Up next was going to be Flight to Thlessa Mey, but that’s been kind of boring, so I switched to a Science Fiction Book Club omnibus called Garret Investigates.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Another Foray Into The Realm of Magic

I’ve been a fan of Magic: The Gathering for several years now, but—as you probably know—I only recently started reading the Magic novels. I just finished my second one, Outlaw: Champions of Kamigawa . It’s a good book.

It’s a story that could stand on it’s own, even if all the Magic references were removed. It tells the stories of Princess Michiko and the thief Toshiro Umezawa. The princess is on a quest to discover why the kami have declared war on her father’s kingdom. Toshiro is on a quest to find out why the kami are after him. Eventually, the two of them meet up and discover the horrible secret of Lord Konda, the princess’ father.

There were a few things I didn’t like. One of the kami is referred to as shooting like a cannon despite the fact that the pseudo-feudal Japan world of Kamigawa doesn’t seem to have cannons. I also wasn’t entirely happy with the way some of Magic’s legendary creatures were portrayed. From his card, I’d expect Marrow-Gnawer to be a fairly brave creature, but in the book he’s a total pansy.

Over all, I’d have to say this book is good and I’d recommend it to you even if you aren’t a fan of Magic. I give Outlaw 4 yo-yos. Up next, I’ll write a review of Neil Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors. I’ve actually finished reading it, but I don’t have time to write up a review right now.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Not Up to Card's Usual Standards

I just finished Orson Scott Card's Lost Boys, and I have to say that it's not one of Card's best. It's not a bad book, but it's not really all that great either.

The book, set in the early Eighties, tells the story of a Mormon family who moves to a small southern town where the father has taken a job with a software company. Somehow they make a lot of enemies in just a few months, and they meet quite a lot of interesting people, many of whom seem to be lunatics of one sort or another. Unbeknownst to the family, there is a serial killer in town, stalking young boys, and the eldest son's imaginary friends have the same names as the victims.

Unfortunately, it's not as interesting as it sounds. We don't even learn about the serial killer until the book is more than halfway over, and before that there's not really any suspense. Most of the book seems to be about politics--in an office, a church, and a school. There is also a lot about the close relationship of a loving family.

Don't get the idea that the book is all bad. The characterization is superb, just like you'd expect from an Orson Scott Card novel. You'll also learn a bit from this book. You can learn about the workings of the Mormon Church (assuming you aren't already an expert). You can also learn about the early days of home computers, back before the PC became a major force or Macs even existed.

I'll give Lost Boys 3.5 yo-yos.
Up next, Outlaw: Champions of Kamigawa .

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Two For One...

No, I’m not reviewing another omnibus. I’ve gotten so far behind in writing my review for Rakkety Tam that I’ve already finished Necroscope Three: The Source. So, I’m going to write reviews for both of them.

As you know—assuming you’ve read my other reviews—I’m a big fan of Brian Jacques’ Redwall series. I haven’t been too impressed with some of the more recent books in the series, however. Because of this, I wasn’t entirely certain whether or not this would be a good one. Luckily, it was.

This is one of my favorite books in the series. The villains in this one are definitely nasty; they’re cannibals! The titular hero of this book is a squirrel with a Scottish accent and a feisty temper. He is also the most interesting Redwall Champion that we’ve seen in years. You’ll also find all of the classic Redwall elements: riddles, songs, and of course, the feasts.

This book is highly recommended for the young and the young at heart. I give it 5 yo-yos.

Besides being a fan of Redwall, I’ve also recently become a fan of Brian Lumley’s Necroscope series. This is also a great book in a great series, though part of the jacket description is slightly misleading:

When Jazz Simmons, a British agent sent to infiltrate the base, is captured by the KGB ESP-ionage squad and forced through the portal, his last message tells Harry Keogh, necroscope, that the vampires are preparing for a mass invasion.

Jazz Simmons doesn’t send Harry a message; they don’t even know each other. Also, The vampires aren’t planning an invasion.

Other than that, this is a great story. Harry is a very interesting character, and he is much more of a presence in this story than he was in the previous novel. Also, there are several surprise plot twists that will keep you guessing.

Brian Lumley really knows how to write great horror. I give it 5 yo-yos.

Up next, I’m reading Orson Scott Card’s Lost Boys, which has absolutely nothing to do with the movie of the same name.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

An Omnibus That's Just Okay

For once, I’m not exactly sure what to say about a book. I did actually like Peter Morwood’s The Book of Years, Volume One , but I didn’t think it was all that great. It is another omnibus edition, containing two novels.

I think there’s something about the style that I found rather ponderous. It’s not exactly poorly written, but somehow it just didn’t sustain my interest enough to make it an easy read. Not that it was actually boring, because it does have lots of action and adventure at spots. Unfortunately, the writer seems to spend too much time building up to the action. For example, the second novel in the book begins with a hunt for a werewolf, but the battle doesn’t happen for about 100 pages.

The main character, Aldric, is fairly interesting. In the first novel, we see him go from a reckless youth to a warrior bent on vengeance. Unfortunately, he doesn’t really develop any further as a character in the second novel; he just spends his time being an almost cold-blooded killer. Really, it made the second novel rather disappointing.

Overall, I would rate this book as above average, but not by much. So, I’ll give it 3.5 yo-yos.

Up next, I’ll be reading a book that wasn’t on my old list: Rakkety Tam by Brian Jacques. I love the Redwall series, and since I knew it was coming to paperback in September, I ran out to buy it. While I was at it, I also got Necroscope Three: The Source, by Brian Lumley, and Smoke And Mirrors, by Neil Gaiman.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

An Interesting And Popular Saga That, Somehow, I've Missed

The Bloody Sun is not only the first Darkover novel I’ve read; it’s also the first novel by Marion Zimmer Bradley I’ve ever read. After reading it, I can see that I’ve missed out on a lot of good stuff.

This is the story of Jeff Kerwin, who is half-Terran and half-Darkovan. He was raised by Terrans, but as an adult, he returns to Darkover, the planet he thinks of as home. Once there, he learns that he is descended from the Darkovan lords and is heir to their psychic abilities. He is soon accused of betraying Darkover to his Terran masters.

This book is extremely exciting. There are fight scenes, several mysteries, and a surprise twist that even I didn’t see coming. It’s definitely interesting enough to make me put the rest of the Darkover novels on my want list. Just about the only bad thing I have to say about this book is that it’s no longer available except in an omnibus edition—I was lucky enough to get my copy second hand. Anyway, I love omnibus editions, so I’d recommend buying it. I give The Bloody Sun 5 yo-yos.

Up next, The Book of Years, Volume 1

Friday, August 26, 2005

The Dead and the Undead

Vamphyri! is the second book in Brian Lumley’s popular Necroscope seriesI had previously read, and immensely enjoyed, volume 1, Necroscope. While I didn’t think this book was quite as good as its predecessor, I still thought it was exceptionally good.

This book tells the story of Harry Keogh, the vampiric Yulian Bodescu, and the British and Russian ESP spy groups. As the novel begins, Harry—the necroscope—is slightly dead, and sharing the body of his infant son. He discovers that the vampires, who he believed had been exterminated in the previous book, were not quite gone yet. Yulian Bodescu had been infected with the vampiric taint while still in the womb, making hm a half vampire. Now the ghost of the master vampire Thibor Ferenczy plans to use Yulian to return to life, but with the combined help of the two ESP branches, Harry tries to destroy the vampires once and for all.

As I said, I didn’t like this book quite as much as the original, mainly because Harry wasn’t in it quite as much. However, this book does have much of interest. We get the life story of Thibor Herenczy and his maker. We get to know other members of the British psychic spies. We get to meet a vampire who’s even more horrible than the one from the last book. The plot is excellent, and the writing is well up to par.

I definitely think this book is well worth reading, though you should definitely read the first volume first. I give this book 4.5 yo-yos.

Up next, I'm reading Marion Zimmer Bradley's Bloody Sun.

Monday, August 22, 2005


I just finished The nonexistent Knight & The Cloven Viscount by Italo Calvino, and I am very impressed. I'd never actually heard of Calvino before, but I stumbled across this book at a book sale, and since it was only $1, I bought it. Now I feel like one of those people who by an old painting in a junk store for a few bucks and later on find out it's worth thousands of dollars.

Before I get any farther I'd like to point out that these stories were originally written in Italian, and this edition is translated. I can't say with absolute certainty how much of my enjoyment comes from Calvino and how much comes from the translator. I'm going to assume that most (if not all) of it comes from Calvino.

This book contains two fantasy novellas. The first is "The nonexistent Knight," the story of an animated suit of armor called Sir Agilulf. He is a paladin in Charlemagne's army, who gained the knighthood by rescuing a noble virgin from rape. Another knight claims that the noblewoman was not a virgin and therefore Sir Agilulf is not a knight. So, Sir Agilulf goes off to search for the woman.

"The Cloven Viscount" is the story of a viscount who is bisected by a cannonball during a war. Only his right half returns home, but that half is evil. He sets about being wicked and eventually falls in love. Soon his other (good) half returns and falls in love with the same girl. Eventually, they fight it out.

Both stories were exciting and humorous. I found all the characters to be interesting and well fleshed out. My favorite character had to be Sir Agilulf's squire Gurduloo, who seemed to be either a lunatic or a nature spirit. I also found it interesting that Calvino made the viscount's left half the good half, when the left is usually viewed as sinister; it makes me wonder if Calvino was left handed.

Anyway, I definitely recommend this book. It gets 5 yo-yos.

Up next, I'll be reading Brian Lumley's Vamphyri!. If anyone has any suggestions on what I should read next (see previous post), please leave a comment. In fact, if anyone is reading this, please leave a comment.