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

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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

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

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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.”

Book Review: Sword of the Storm by David Gemmell. (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Sword of the Storm (The Rigante #1) by David Gemmell.

(Four Stars)

“We are born alone, and we die alone. In between we may be touched by love, but we are still alone.”

A rousing opening to a historical epic fantasy series based on the northern European clash of expanding Rome with the resident Celtic and Germanic populations. Good characterization and storytelling. Deep point of view of main characters shows all to be flawed, driven and occasionally very wrong. Just like us.

“I’m not saying not to fight. I am saying do not hate. It is not war that leads to murderous excuses but hate.”

Celtic and Roman analogs hew close to the history, except Continue reading

Book Review: The Age of War by Michael J. Sullivan (Five Stars)

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Book Review: The Age of War (The Legends of the First Empire #3) by Michael J. Sullivan

(Five Stars)

“[Rhunes] didn’t live long, but while they lived they burned brighter.”

This series, and Sullivan’s storytelling, keeps getting better and better. This is epic fantasy at its fullest and most satisfying. A turning point of history revolves around the courage and daring of a mixed bag of characters, most of whom have secrets and scars and a few of whom aren’t what they seem. Magic, multiple species, ancient wisdom and new discovers–all that and more.

“Regardless where you are born, the world has a way of finding you and ruining everything.”

The extra that Sullivan brings to the mix is his excellent story development. His plots are complex, but well timed and executed. The greater story grows naturally, and you the reader know things about each character that they don’t know. And yet you are teased with Continue reading

Book Review: The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold (Five Stars)

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Book Review: The Curse of Chalion (World of the Five Gods #1) by Lois McMaster Bujold

(Five Stars)

“If you lent me a razor now, for me to cut my throat with, it would save ever so many steps.”

Feared they weren’t writing fantasy like this anymore. Excellent in every way. Good world and cosmology building, deep first person point of view, maybe romance, a map, humor. A satisfying ending. What more could a reader want? More? Well, there’s that, too. Bujold is a master.

“His heart melted. Or maybe it was his wits.”

Unique among current fantasy because this world has several fully developed religions, not the cardboard caricatures of most science fiction and fantasy. Bujold presents a supernatural which is series and time appropriate without straying into silliness or social commentary … too much.

“He’d been swimming in a miracle every day of his life, and hadn’t known it.

Book Review: The Shadow of the Lion by Mercedes Lackey (Five Stars)

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Book Review: The Shadow of the Lion (Heirs of Alexandria #1) by Mercedes Lackey et al.

(Five Stars)

“Just as simple as original sin and just as seductive.”

Excellent. Amazingly deep, rich epic fantasy set in an alternate timeline very close to Renaissance northern Italy. The nations, myths, religions, factions and families are close enough to historical that the student of history has a leg up on the fun. Yet Lackey has shifted emphasis, history there, motives somewhere else just enough to create a fascinating new universe.

“There is such a thing as evil in the world, which cannot be persuaded, but only defeated.”

Amazing that Lackey produces such good word so quickly. Nonetheless, there are signs of this story being rushed to print. For example, modern expressions, Continue reading

Book Review: Age of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan (Five Stars)

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Book Review: Age of Swords (Legends of the First Empire #2) by Michael J. Sullivan

Five Stars

“Some things are unimaginable right up until you are looking at them, and even then, you might not want to believe. Love is that way, so is death.”

If anything, better than the first book, Age of Myths. Superficially Sullivan is not an epic fantasy writer like Rothfuss or Tolkien, but he weaves an excellent story amid afresh, if derivative world. Part of the fun is his tongue-in-cheek homages to classic fantasy.

“I hated my brothers. Dead for three years and they’re still trying to kill me.”

Satisfying conclusion with appropriate hooks into the next stories. Well done. Leavened with humor. Not so much as the Riyria stores, but enough. Waited for second volume for magic school, hooray! And the training was organic, taking the reader inside Continue reading