Book Review: Age of Death by Michael J. Sullivan (Four Stars)

Book Review: Age of Death (Book Five of the Legends of the First Empire) by Michael J. Sullivan

(Four Stars)

“You see, Persephone, I sent them to—” “Their deaths. You killed them!” “True.” He held up a finger. “But I’m sending help.”

Another chronicle of the first empire in the world of Elan. This tale is rich in deep backstory as Sullivan starts connecting the dots for the coming climax. There’s no ending, no closure, just a big fat cliffhanger at the end. No, several cliffhangers.

“I thought life was misery because of the unending succession of trials and tribulations. But now, I see that challenges are what life is all about.”

I’m good with Sullivan’s decision to expand Continue reading

Book Review: Shadow’s Son (Shadow Saga #1) by Jon Sprunk (Three Stars)


Book Review: Shadow’s Son (Shadow Saga #1) by Jon Sprunk

(Three Stars)

“It is not the Night We Fear,/ But the Gathering Shadows Beyond our Ken.”

Good, if pedestrian epic fantasy. Another bad guy who isn’t, good guys who aren’t, orphan who is (oops, spoiler) …. You get the idea. You’re read dozens of them. Gave Sprunk an extra star for clean storytelling and a satisfying conclusion.

“He hated admitting she was right, but he’d probably hate dying even more.”

Uncomfortably numerous parallels to Michael J. Sullivan’s Riyria Revelations. Not quite plagiarism, but not as good either.

“There’s always someone looking for trouble. You try to avoid it when you can, but—” “But sometimes it finds you anyway.”

Non sequiturs: “a charcoal etching of a lighthouse” Charcoal etching? “You’re good with your hands. You could lead men.” Does not follow. “the crackle of blazing pinewood logs” (Who heats a palace with softwood?)

“We don’t cry for them, Caim. We cry for ourselves.”

Book Review: The Tiger and the Wolf by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Four Stars)


Book Review: The Tiger and the Wolf (Echoes of the Fall #1) by Adrian Tchaikovsky

(Four Stars)

“Believing in freedom was just a knife the girl had made and given to the world to cut her with.”

Fun, self-contained epic fantasy. Good world and character building. Narrative occasionally bog down in wordiness. Excellent foreshadowing. Enough humor to lighten the trip.

“Well, then, when do we go? What is your plan?” “I have no plan. We do not go. I go. With my lack of plan. You’d go, too would you?” “Someone has to watch and laugh.”

Editing could have improved it. Not tight and bright. Wordiness is okay to describe inner dialogue and conflict, but it slows the narrative. Repetitious, too. “When the attack came …” occurs three times.

“Ill fortune dogged the oath-breaker, just as it would the treacherous host, the ungracious guest, the kinslayer.”

Quibbles: “peat-clad roofs” Sod-clad? “saw the fires begin to gutter” Candles gutter, not campfires. Characters change size as well as shape. As they go from one state to another, they shed all fatigue from the previous state. A conservation of energy and mass would have improved credibility. (Who worries about credibility in fantasy? Attentive readers, even if they don’t know it.) Two characters are named Maniye and Amiyen. Too similar for easy reading.

“A slave?” “Slave with no collar’s still a slave.” “Of all the slaves in the world, you are the least satisfactory.” “There are worse ambitions.”

Nice cover art.

“The Wolf hunter shrugged, suggesting that neither he nor the world were there simply for her to understand.”

Book Review: Black Guards by A. J. Smith. (Three Stars)


Book Review: Black Guards (The Long War#1) by A. J. Smith.

(Three Stars)

“They’ll just assume we’ll go into the wilds and lie low. The idea of us going to Tiris is so stupid it won’t occur to them.” “So, our stupidity is what’s going to keep us alive?” “Precisely … I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Engaging epic fantasy. Good world building. Touted for being Lovecraftian, but I didn’t feel it. In fact, Smith’s supernatural dimension felt more organic to his world. Prose was easy to read.  A little humor.

Numerous non sequiturs: “He was flabby, with little muscle, though still immensely strong.” (Huh?) “… carefully placed a bolt, and pulled back on the drawstring.” (Wrong order.) “She’d fed him some of the baled of straw.” (She picked up bales of straw as she fled? Why didn’t she get something nutritional?) “… as the horses barreled into Continue reading

Book Review: Harpist in the Wind by Patricia A. McKillip (Four Stars)


Book Review: Harpist in the Wind (Riddle-Master #3) by Patricia A. McKillip

(Four Stars)

“He cleared his mind again, let images drift and flow into thought until they floundered once again on the shoals of impossibility.”

Satisfying end to the series. McKillip may feel, with some justification, that this is not great epic fantasy, but it’s a good one. Read all three books in order and at once. What it lacks in epic sweep, it makes up in intimacy and flow.

“You have a name and a destiny. I can only believe that sooner or later you will stumble across some hope.”

Good foreshadowing of the role and identity of many major characters—some hiding in plain sight, others obviously significant but not as they initially seemed. Satisfying interplay between protagonist and significant other, building Continue reading

Book Review: Heir of Sea and Fire by Patricia A. McKillip (Three Stars)


Book Review: Heir of Sea and Fire (Riddle Master #2) by Patricia A. McKillip

(Three Stars)

“There is an instinct in me to trust you blindly. Beyond reason, and beyond hope.”

Moderns whine the former dearth of recognized female authors and lead characters in speculative fiction. Like most generalizations that’s generally wrong. This book is a case in point. Published in 1977, it features a mostly female protagonist and supporting cast. Sadly, but understandably, the series male hero … (Oops, that’d be telling.)

“I know that silence … sometimes I think it’s a silence of living, then at other times, it changes to a silence of waiting.”

Simple, direct storytelling. Great impact. Hate to think how Robert Jordan would Continue reading

Book Review: Age of Legend by Michael J. Sullivan (Four Stars)


Book Review: Age of Legend (Legends of the First Empire #4) by Michael J. Sullivan

(Four Stars)

“Suri sat alone with a sword across her lap, staring at what most would call a dragon, but which the onetime mystic of Dahl Rhen saw as a fragment of her broken heart.”

The opening of a monumental work of epic fantasy. As Sullivan explains in his Author’s Note, this book opens a trilogy similar to the three volumes of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. The comparison is both apt and misleading. Apt because the struggle described is both intimate and cosmic, and misleading because his is a very different world than Middle Earth, reflecting the difference between Tolkien’s nineteenth century worldview and Sullivan’s twenty-first century. Legend lacks the cosmic clash of good versus evil but has more depth of many characters.

“Crazy was only crazy … until it happened.”

To draw the reader deep into the inner conflicts and manifest the misunderstandings, Sullivan tells the story from inside the consciousness of a dozen different characters. It’s confusing, but worth the effort. He manages to give different voices–certainly inner dialogue–to many of them. Still, the reader must work to stay engaged and clear on whose head is the current viewpoint.

“Things that were obvious in the confines of the heart often failed to translate well when expressed through the inadequate filter of language.”

Read and heed the Author’s Note. Potential readers should not start this volume without having previously read Sullivan’s Age of Myth, Age of Swords, and Age of War. He also explains why this book ends so abruptly and promises the subsequent volumes will become available soon. Hope so.

“Sometimes our need to believe blinds us to reality, and sometimes seeing reality blinds us to what we need to believe.”

(Appreciate the link to the high-resolution online map. Maps, especially in ereader versions, are often unreadable.)

“Now that I knew where the legend came from and the truth behind the tales, I can see why we were taught what we were. But we had it wrong. So very wrong. Truth, I learned, is so much more terrifying than myth.”

Book Review: The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien (Five Stars)


Book Review: The Hobbit or There and Back Again by J. R. R. Tolkien

(Five Stars)

Obviously written more as a children’s tale, it introduces–but is not quite up to the wonder of–The Lord of the Rings as told by the mature Tolkien.

After sixth reading: this is the book that sucked me into the world of high fantasy literature all those years ago. “Roads,” indeed, “go ever ever on.”

“One morning long ago in the quiet of the world, when there was less noise and more green ….”

After at least the seventh reading: I have read this and LOTR at least once a decade since the 1960s. Each time I find something new. Each time I marvel that Tolkien told so much with so few words. The story propels you along even as it invites you to relax for tea with the author. Amazing. (I greatly prefer this to the movies.)

“If ever you are passing my way,” said Bilbo, “don’t wait to knock! Tea is at four; but any of you are welcome at anytime!”

Book Review: Circe by Madeline Miller (Almost Five Stars)


Book Review: Circe by Madeline Miller

(Almost Five Stars)

“I thought: this is how Zeus felt when he first lifted the thunderbolt.”

Well done. Follows the formula Miller first employed in The Song of Achilles: making a sympathetic bit character from a Homeric epic–in this case Odyssey–the point of view character for the entire story, expanding and embellishing as necessary. Works. Told in the first person by Circe, this tale weaves the psychology of her estrangement from just about everyone with the tapestry of ancient Greek history and mythology. Introspective but engaging.

“All those years I had spent with them were like a stone tossed in a pool. Already, the ripples were gone.”

Episodic, but with enough foreshadowing to keep the reader involved–mostly.

“Most men do not know me for what I am.” “Most men, in my experience, are fools. I confess you nearly made me give the game away. Your father, the cowherd?”

Readers familiar with Greek history and mythology will Continue reading

Book Review: Deeds of Honor by Elizabeth Moon (Four Stars)


Book Review: Deeds of Honor (Paksennerrion #10.5) by Elizabeth Moon

(Four Stars)

“Something would go wrong; something always did in war.”

Set in the world of the Paksennerrion tales, these short stories as less backstory as background. Each stands alone, concerning some minor or bridge character in the greater timeline. As the number implies, there’s a lot to cross connect.

“You can’t undo what is done or unsay what is said.”

I have only read The Farmer’s Daughter, but missing many connecting threads enhances the quality, if not the enjoyment, of these fragments. In fact, I enjoyed these short stories–because each was a self-contained whole–better than the sluggish longer work.

“Sometimes young men learn only from old men … willing to teach the hardest lessons the hardest way.”