Book Review: Spellsinger by Alan Dean Foster (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Spellsinger (Spellsinger #1) Alan Dean Foster

Three Stars

“The strange quasi-science [he] called magic. Or was the wizard right and science was really quasi-magic?”

Dreadfully slow pace. Almost quit after fifty pages; almost quit again fifty pages from the end when I realized nothing was going to happen in this volume. This story merely introduces the characters, world and issue for the greater series. Still, Foster tells a good story.

“This land he now found himself in was no more alien-appearing than Amazonian Peru, and considerably less so than Manhattan.”

Populating his world with human-like mammals is automatically works against stereotypes. In addition, Foster works counter expectations with an artsy male, who is repelled by the fantasy work he’s been thrown into, and an athletic female who embraces it.

“The appetite for evil far exceeds that of the benign.”

Many readers love these never-ending tales; I don’t. I won’t be back.

“It wouldn’t be any fun if it didn’t have any danger.”

Book Review: A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan (Four Stars)

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Book Review: A Natural History of Dragons (The Memoirs of Lady Trent #1) by Marie Brennan

Four Stars

“Alas for my well-being, I was young and therefore far too stupidly stubborn.”

Jane Austen does Dragons. Great fun. Great world building. Great storytelling.

“Why should I give up the company of a man who would love me to run a household and otherwise bore myself into porridge?”

Perhaps the best grasp of the Victorian Age I’ve found in modern fantasy. Yet intensely close and personal. Captures both young Isebella’s sharp, questing mind and her childlike impulsiveness.

“… the harmless sort of fluff-brained, not the sort I actually was.”

Three times uses “stoop” describes a dragon attacking from the air. It seemed “swoop” would have been closer to right, but, no, stoop describes the attack mode of birds-of prey, which dragons would mimic. (I’ve seen a peregrine falcon stoop from a high perch. Impressively fast and deadly.)

“Relatively approachable” dragons?  … “(Where I would become an easy meal. The deranged side of my mind invented these ideas, but the practical side knew where they would end.)”

Book Review: “Little Wren and the Big Forest” by Michael J. Sullivan (Three Stars)

Book Review: “Little Wren and the Big Forest” by Michael J. Sullivan

Three Stars

“That was the nature of the forest. Things went in and never came out.”

A brief excursion into the greater world of Sullivan’s First Empire. This short story appears in Unfettered II, but I got it separately, so I’m reviewing independently. Not up to the quality of most Sullivan fiction, but a fun read.

“Naive. Innocent. Dumb. Maybe, Wren thought as she followed the sheep, but I’m not a coward.”

A modern fairy tale heroine. Pretty introspective for an eight-year-old.

“The moment you thought of something terrible, that’s exactly what would happen.”

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

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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 Falling Woman by Pat Murphy (Four Stars)

Book Review: The Falling Woman by Pat Murphy

Four Stars

“Each culture defines its idiosyncrasies and then forgets it has done so.”

Maybe 4.5 stars. An exceptionally fine story which defies neat genre assignment. It won a Nebula Award, so I feel somewhat safe calling it fantasy, but this is a great, thought-provoking tale for any reader.

“One frightens oneself; it is not the shadow that frightens us.”

Published in 1986, it argues against the proposition that women didn’t write or weren’t recognized for writing first-class fantasy and science fiction. In fact, all the major characters of this tale are women. The men seem included for merely verisimilitude.

“Archeologists are anthropologists who don’t like people.”

Much good information about the ancient Mayans and the field of archeology, without the clumsy data dumps so intrusive in so many novels. It also explores how mothers and daughters have extra power to drive each other crazy and/or help each other out of it. Good job.

“Many people we call insane are just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Quibble: The paragraphing is so awkward that the reader must often stop to puzzle out who is acting or speaking the actor often changes midway through paragraphs.

“The dead teach us things.”

Book Review: The Third Eagle by R. A. MacAvoy (Three Stars)

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Book Review: The Third Eagle by R. A. MacAvoy

Three Stars

“Ten years climbing a ladder to find nothing at the top.”

A young man who lives in a niche of a niche culture, chucks all aside one day and leaves: leaves his job, his home, his planet. Unprepared? Does being a galaxy-class martial arts expert count? Some.

“Hearing his death described as inevitable moved Wanbli not a whit. Everyone’s death was inevitable.”

Excellent sense of otherness. Language drift, Wacaan culture, day flower species. Then the earthies show up.

“An excellent translation of what [the stars] would look like if massless directionality were Continue reading

Book Review: An Excellent Mystery by Ellis Peters (Five Stars)

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Book Review: An Excellent Mystery by Ellis Peters

Five Stars

“A duty once assumed is a duty to the end.”

My favorite Cadfael story. All the elements familiar to Peters’ readers–death, mystery, and sleuthing set amid a historic civil war, medieval culture, Welsh borderlands, and young love; but Peters mixes the ingredients a little differently this time.

“To me he has been all the sons I shall never father.”

Peters’ best investigation of what constitutes a life well lived. A man returns from the Crusades, as had Cadfael himself, to retire from the world into the Benedictine order. This noble is also ruined of body. As he fades, those around him seek to ease his earthly and emotional burdens, including the disappearance of his espoused bride three years previous.

“His spirit outgrows his body … there is no room for it in this fragile parcel of bones.”

Murder mysteries all involve death. Or do they? Yes, someone dies here, but was someone murdered three years previous? Why? Where? How? And most important Continue reading

Book Review: Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson

Four Stars

“All because he stole something that should have been his to start with.”

This is historical fiction as it ought to be written: a vivid portrait of the times woven from many factual threads as well as period appropriate people and ideas. But this is no history, rather an engaging, enjoyable fiction. Each chapter opens with an epigram from some primary source draw from letters or journals of that time. The story also explores the lot of the common soldier encamped at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania that brutal winter of 1777-8.

“My humors fell out of balance, and I became tetchy and sour-minded.”

The voice of the protagonist, a young black male fleeing from slavery and joining the fight for American independence, sound authentic. Written to simultaneously capture the attention and persuade young readers.

“Even from his grave, Father could be an annoying fellow.”

A fictional treatment of American slavery risks either sugar coating what was an awful reality or demonizing everyone and everything involved. Anderson draws a clear line against slavery while exploring the varying attitudes and justifications of that day.

“The land which we have watered with our tears and blood is now our mother country.”

A good, standalone read, even though it is the sequel to Chains.

“If our luck does not turn for the good on its own,” she said, “we’ll make it turn.”

Book Review: The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu (Three Stars)

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Book Review: The Grace of Kings (Dandelion Dynasty #1) by Ken Liu

Three Stars

“A bright, tenacious flower will not bloom in obscurity.”

Both the book and the author demonstrate the potential for greatness, as reflected by its winning several notable awards. However, despite being over six hundred pages, it feels rushed. Liu tries to create a world and fully develop all the players in a major turning point of history. He almost succeeds.

“All the works of men must be trivial in the fullness of time.”

Medieval culture on cusp of industrial revolution, geography like Japan though the culture seems more Chinese, I’ve heard it called silkpunk. As in Homer, the gods exist but don’t directly act. They meddle as forces of nature and impersonations of common people.

“Understanding nature is as close as man can get to understanding the gods.”

The underlying thesis is that conflicting views of reality, values, and perceptions lead inevitably to conflicts. Common enemies may produce common goals, but even those you love are Continue reading

Book Review: Conqueror’s Pride by Timothy Zahn (Three Stars)

Book Review: Conqueror’s Pride (Conqueror’s Saga #1) by Timothy Zahn

Three Stars

“When lives are at stake, you do what you have to, whether it’s personally comfortable for you or not.”

Typical Cold War-era space opera. Independently-minded heroes take on bumbling bureaucracy as well as the heinous enemy. Standard space opera opening: new alien obliterates friendly human greeters.

“No empire looks oppressive to those in power.”

Well conceived (first published in 1994) and well written. The technology and science aged well: despite being written before the advent of smart phones, tablets, and the internet. Not great literature, not even great science fiction, but a good read.

“We don’t always create the wars. But whether we do or not, we always win them. Tell your Elders that.”

Trivia: The Conqueror’s Sagas immediately preceded Zahn’s enormously popular Admiral Thrawn Star Wars books.

“It’s that ‘supposed to be’ that I worry about.”