Book Review: Daughter of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts (Four Stars)


Book Review: Daughter of the Empire (The Empire Trilogy #1) by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts

(Four Stars)

“Every sunlit façade cast a dark shadow and in those shadows the enemy plotted.”

More like three stars, but extra credit for the rousing climax. Competent, if derivative epic fantasy set in an east Asia-analog medieval kingdom. Obvious Game of Thrones rip off. The term “the Game of the Council” appears in every chapter. Finally, toward the end, the authors admit that even the cast would not be using that stilted phrase, but simply “the game” without the capitalization.

“What do you think the game is, if not to remain while you dispose of your enemies?”

Slow start. Episodic. Most crisis are dealt with in turn with the over-arching plot dormant for most of the story. Mara meets and conquers each challenge–and challenger–in turn. Nice climax.

“Fear the man who doesn’t desire a woman, for he will see you only as a tool or a foe.”

Lots of short cuts and predictable plotting. Large, six-legged mammals signal lazy fantasy writers. (Like multiple moons in the same orbit in science fiction.) The cho-ja (who have an excuse for six limbs) could have saved the story, but were introduced then reduced to two-dimensional puppets.

“Who is to be more feared, one who acts from ambition or one who acts for the needs of survival?”


Book Review: The White Hart by Nancy Springer (Three Stars)


Book Review: The White Hart (The Book of Isle #1) by Nancy Springer

(Three Stars)

“Pel shall pay the long-kept score/When the White Hart goes to war.”

Quaint. When published in 1979, this would have been a major accomplishment in epic fantasy, though its borrowings from The Lord of the Rings are many and obvious. It owes as much to nineteenth-century English romanticism and Celtic mythology. Springer did her homework. Still, not a compelling read by today’s standards.

“At the very worst, it will make a fine song.” “May the Mothers grant us life to hear it.”

A pleasant story, well-written, it nevertheless is predictable and syrupy. The plot opens with a strong, believable female lead, then abandons her partway through to follow the story of two men. Disappointing.

“Great is your gift of love … and great will be your pain in it.”

Book Review: Winter of Ice and Iron by Rachel Neumeier (Three Stars)


Book Review: Winter of Ice and Iron by Rachel Neumeier

(Three Stars)

“Now is the only time we will ever have.”

A better-than-average modern epic fantasy. Enough originality, despite it Medieval European cultural setting, to engage the discerning reader. Written as if for young adult readers, but some inappropriate subject matter.

“We cut our fingers to the bone/ On shards of passing years.”

Well-developed characters. The point-of-view characters had realistic internal dialogue. You cared about several of them. Good storytelling, though the plot–despite several parallel threads–was very linear. Few surprises, good or bad.

“A chance always comes if one holds to hope.”

The reader never doubts the various, increasing manifestations of evil will be thwarted. I didn’t feel the menace Continue reading

Book Review: Knight’s Shadow by Sebastien de Castell (Four Stars)


Book Review: Knight’s Shadow (Greatcoats #2) by Sebastien de Castell

Four Stars

“Yes, I’m trusting our lives to that fat slug, and yes, of course, he’s going to betray us.”

A little grittier than the first in this series. Classic epic fantasy with a side order of humor. Not heavy reading nor great literature, but enjoyable. Interestingly, all the transformational characters are female. The men are who they are, though Falcio’s struggle is being who he really is.

“The truth that makes our courage fail and our hearts surrender. That we fear most is simply ourselves.”

The stakes are higher and the odds lower, and the protagonist has a one-liner for every occasion. Good story telling. Fun interaction between characters.

“Love isn’t a cage.”

Countless epigrams: some witty, some pithy, some memorable. Like the cover art.

“Happiness is … grains of sand spread out in a desert of violence and anguish.”

Book Review: To Green Angel Tower by Tad Williams (Four Stars)


Book Review: To Green Angel Tower (Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn #3, Parts 1 and 2) by Tad Williams

Four Stars

“Forever is a long time to carry grudges.”

Excellent. Successful and satisfying conclusion to a huge epic fantasy. Sixteen hundred pages (in this story) of complex plots, sub-plots and sub-sub-plots set in multiple, fully-realized cultures, many more than medieval Europe analogs. Language, history, clothing, religion, music, clothes, prejudices: the whole boatload. Immersive. Loads of quotable epigrams.

“If what we have experienced lately has been God’s way of showing his favor, I think I would be willing to try a little of his punishment, for a change.”

Religion is a major part of these cultures and the stories. The various faiths are treated respectfully. A realistic variety of responses by people to the religion of their and other cultures. Some are redeemed; some are lost.

“One day I would have to send my son off to do something I could not do. And I would never sleep again.”

What’s not to like? The 1600 pages may be a clue. Williams almost pulls a Robert Jordan. (Not a complement.) Basically, he lost control of Continue reading

Book Review: The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams (Five Stars)


Book Review: The Dragonbone Chair (Memory Sorrow and Thorn #1) by Tad Williams

Five Stars

“Brave and foolish often live in the same cave.”

Where has this book been all my life? Well, since it was published in 1988. So much better than many Lord of the Rings rip-offs. Epic fantasy in a quasi-European medieval setting (though the Sithi are as much Nipponese as elvish; and the name is unfortunately similar to the evil characters of Star Wars). Good world building, good character development, complex cast and motives and history and ….

“Books are magic because they span time and distance more surely than any spell or charm.”

Unlike many LOTR clones, Williams’ series has a so-flawed-as-to-be-disgusting hero. Not that Simon’s bad, he’s just … irritating–in the hero-worshiping, ADD teen boy way. Well, he’s got room to grow. The other men are complex and driven as necessary.

“Why is everyone forever forcing their horrible secrets on me?”

Unfortunately, most female characters are not so well developed, though telling about the exception Continue reading

Book Review: The Children of Hùrin by J. R. R. Tolkien (Three Stars)

Book Review: The Children of Hùrin by J. R. R. Tolkien

Three Stars

“In their light we are dimmed, or we burn with too quick a flame, and the weight of our doom lies heavier on us.”

This volume is a necessary, one might say essential, part of the corpus of Tolkien’s history of Middle Earth. Followers of Tolkien will certainly want to read it. Alas, however, this work lacks the quality of the works published in Tolkien’s lifetime. I blame the efforts of his son and executors less than the simple press of time and lack of collaborators while Tolkien still lived.

“Fear both the heat and the cold of your heart, and strive for patience.”

Reads like a synopsis with occasional dialogue at key points. That it approaches being a coherent whole forty years after the author’s death is credit to Continue reading

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

Book Review: Age of Myths (The Legends of the First Empire #1) by Michael J. Sullivan

Five Stars

“If you can’t trust an ancient talking tree, what was the point of having one?”

I previously rated the beta-version of this book four stars; the final is even better. Sullivan may not be in the first rank of current fantasy authors, but he has talent. He writes well-thought out, satisfying, witty tales. Fun to read.

“It’s easier to believe the outrageous lie confirming what you suspect than the obvious truth that denies it.”

This book inaugurates a five-book epic set in the same world as his Riyira tales, but ages earlier. In fact, these are the stories behind Continue reading

Book Review: The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley (Three Stars)

Book Review: The Emperor’s Blades (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne #1) by Brian Staveley

Three Stars

(Potential spoilers)

“There is no should; there is only what is.”

As I read the opening chapters of this book I kept asking myself if I’d read it before. My database reported I hadn’t, but it sure felt familiar. Having read all 480 pages I’m sure it is a new story, but many of the elements are familiar.

“No blade is as keen as surprise.”

Perhaps the familiarity stems from this story including all the current de rigueur epic fantasy tropes (and a few borrowed from science fiction): all of them. Nihilism. Maps. Mysterious murders. Ninjas. Assassin orders. Inscrutable monks. Yoda. Alien monsters. Extinct super races. Hints of extraterrestrial origins. Aphorisms. Rigid soldiers. Sadistic trainers. Hypocritical churchman. Lesbian waifs. Gentle-hearted giants. Prideful nobles. Incredibly accurate archers. Traitors. Magicians. Blood by the gallon. All it lacks are lions and tigers and bears. Oh, my.

“Every son should have a chance to know his father, not as a child knows his protector, but as a man knows a man.”

All that and a decent plot. Good storytelling and character development. Not too many typographical errors, which should be a given but isn’t these days.

“Resist faith. Resist trust. Believe in what you touch with your hands. The rest is error and air.”

Uncommon for series these days, it even brings the current volume to a satisfying close while sets hooks to draw the read into the next.

“Low expectations are the key to success.”

Why only three stars? Because it’s all been done. Almost every twist and turn felt like a re-run. It was good; it was competent; it didn’t hook my heart. I liked it, I just didn’t love it.

“A man wants to die with his limbs and his dignity intact.”

Book Review: Sunset Mantle by Alter S. Reiss (Four Stars)

Book Review: Sunset Mantle by Alter S. Reiss

Four Stars out of Five

Engaging take on the exiled soldier taking on an impossible mission epic fantasy. Well-developed plot and engaging characters. Great voice. What’s not to like? The storytelling. It reads almost as if English is not the author’s first language. Occasional awkward phrases. Amateurish grammar. Inconsistent punctuation. (Why is the placement of commas a big deal? It isn’t until it jerks you out of the flow of the story. As it often does here.) Needed one more proofreading by a real editor, because he delivers such a good voice.

Sunset Mantle earns its fourth star, however, for something which rarely occurs in fantasy literature: a full-blown, integral-to-the-story religion. Not a copy–must less caricature–of one of our world religions, as is de rigueur for current fantasy and science fiction, but a fully developed system of beliefs and practices presented almost anthropologically as “what these people believed.” Even the bad guys believe in God, though it doesn’t straighten their bent to evil. The presence of such a belief system adds depth to the characters and story, even though there are no supernatural elements to the story.

Finally, though Reiss leaves himself plenty of hooks into a sequel, he weaves all the main threads into a satisfying tapestry to close this story.

Loved the Cover art.

Looking for more and better from him.