Book Review: “The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington” by P. Djéli Clark (Four Stars)


Book Review: “The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington” by P. Djéli Clark

(Four Stars)

“For the blacksmith understood what masters had chosen to forget: when you make a man or woman a slave you enslave yourself in turn.”

Excellent speculative historical fiction. Since the root–that George Washington bought the teeth of nine slaves as his own rotted away–this might have made an excellent historical fiction. The speculative musings–while fun–are so over-the-top that they dull the edge on what would be righteous indignation over the behavior of our first president.

“… from the ramparts English mages hurled volleys of emerald fireballs that could melt through iron.”

The storytelling is compact and fast moving. Clark makes his points and Continue reading

Book Review: Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal (Three Stars)


Book Review: Shades of Milk and Honey (Glamourist Histories #1) by Mary Robinette Kowal

(Three Stars)

“There are few things in this world that can simultaneously delight and dismay in the same manner as a formal dinner party.”

Disappointing. I like Jane Austen; I like structured magic; I like historical fiction; I like the writing of Mary Robinette Kowal. What could possibly go wrong? Quite a bit. Kowal follows too closely in the footsteps of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, even to the characters and plot. What Austen lacked in horizon she made up in clarity of describing the world of rural Regency daughters. This book rings false because it is too self-conscious. (Subsequent Glamourist Histories, more properly historical fantasy, are richer and more enjoyable.)

“Jane plucked the fold [of glamour] from the shelf and held it out to Miss Dunkirk, the light dripping in strands of gold that would have made Rumpelstiltskin proud.”

If Jane is so plain, who are Continue reading

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


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 Shadow of the Lion by Mercedes Lackey (Five Stars)


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: Empire of Unreason by J. Gregory Keyes (Three Stars)


Book Review: Empire of Unreason (Age of Unreason #3) by J. Gregory Keyes

Three Stars

“There is nothing logical about war.”

If you haven’t previously been reading the Age of Unreason series, don’t start here. It will yield little sense or enjoyment. This installation is a mere stepping stone to an increasingly inevitable conclusion. The storytelling is good. Cliffhangers abound.

“This is all an elaborate trap.” “What will you do about it?” “Walk into it, of course.”

As Keyes strays farther from actual history into the speculative, the tale becomes more fantasy. The “angelic” actors get more powerful with each volume, but the heroes manage to keep their heads above water.

“If I wore silk, I would still have all the same faults, with vanity added them, and would have gained nothing but the respect of fools.”

Keyes’ fictional Benjamin Franklin, aphorisms asides, sounds increasingly like John Adams. The other protagonists are sufficiently flawed to maintain reader interest, but Voltaire is thin soup compared to Edward Teach.

“Happiness is not so much the product of rare occurrence as it is of many small and everyday things”

Book Review: Roma Mater by Poul and Karen Anderson (Three Stars)


Book Review: Roma Mater (King of Ys #1) by Poul and Karen Anderson

Three Stars

“God’s hand touches a man and that man turns into one whom others will follow though it be past the gates of Hell.”

Excellent old-fashioned historical fiction/fantasy. Well-researched fourth century setting. Draws the reader into many aspects life. Invented a religion out of whole cloth, but used it to compare and contrast with existing ones.

“Despair was for afterwards. He still had work to do.”

Punctuation irregularities and errors, perhaps optical scanning glitches.

“Magic is ever a two-edged sword, oft times wounding the wielder.”

Why there’s a Spartan on the cover of the ebook edition is anyone’s guess.

“Had he wandered so far, into such foreignness? Had the God of his fathers no longer heard him?”

Broke oft abruptly. Cost them a star. Won’t try the follow-on volumes.

“Wisdom lies in nobody’s gift. We must each forge it for ourselves, alone. As best we can.”

Book Review: Children of Earth and Sky by Gay Gavriel Kay (Five Stars)

Book Review: Children of Earth and Sky by Gay Gavriel Kay

Five Stars

“Legends, if you cross their paths, could get you killed.”

Oh, yeah! Very much worth the wait. Kay spins another tale of “history with a quarter turn to the fantastic.” Large cast, strong inner voices, complex plot, many historic antecedents. All that readers expect from Kay.

“A parent who loves his children must always be a little afraid of them.”

Kay employs the age-old technique of in medias res, starting not only the book but many chapters and sections within chapters after significant action has already occurred, then filling the backstory through nonlinear plotting. Some modern readers find it hard to follow. I love it, especially as Kay employs it. I’ll read this book again, soon.

“Of course there was a spy, there was always a spy.”

The following is nitpicking, but presenting one character (only) in the present tense and all others in past kept knocking me out of the story. I have no idea why he does it, unless he fears that too many of his male characters sound the same. (They do.)

“You need luck in war, but you didn’t want to depend on it.”

Quibble: you wind a crossbow, then you slot the bolt.

“We don’t wear masks only at Carnival.”

A few thoughts on Kay’s “quarter turn to the fantastic”: Most people, not just religious people, do not accept modernism’s “What you see is what you get” materialism. Kay invites his readers to look slightly askance at the givens of western culture. “We do not understand the world. We are not made that way.” Thank you, Guy.

“We live among mysteries. Love is one, there are others.”

Book Review: A Song for No Man’s Land by Andy Remic (Three Stars)

Book Review: A Song for No Man’s Land by Andy Remic

Three Stars

“… soldiers praying to a god they no longer believed in … for a miracle that couldn’t happen.”

Excellent set up, good storytelling crippled by inept plotting. The Great War (WW I) as seen by Tommies who neither know nor care about the politics; they just want to survive. But perhaps the Huns aren’t the only ones hunting them.

“You will be a hero … but more importantly, you will strive to do what’s right.”

Reveals the supernatural element slowly, so the reader (intentionally, no doubt) at first wonders what is real and what is hallucination. But, even with each chapter labeled as to its time and place, the skein of the story is twisted, knotted and occasionally broken. Needlessly repetitive.

“How could one man take praise … when so many of his friends were dying out there in the dark?”

It’s good; it might have been better as a novella. Or, since there’s more, combine that with this to make one decent story.

“Sometimes lies are the only option.”

Three stars was a gift.

“Is he dead?” “Aren’t we all?”

Book Review: Altdorf by J. K. Swift (Two Stars)

Book Review: Altdorf by J. K. Swift

Two Stars out of Five

Interesting story with a good sense of place, marred by amateurish storytelling and many anachronisms. Think of it as historical fantasy. Set in medieval Switzerland Altdorf proposes to tell the—or a—story behind the legend of William Tell. So far as it goes, the story itself is plausible.

Apparently meant to be historical fiction, it’s more historical fantasy. While bashing Christianity and praising all other religions is de rigueur for modern novels, this version of druidism exists only in epic fantasy. The reader finds himself in “a galaxy far, far away” as the Weave so resembles the Force.

Everything is slightly over the top. The hero is stalwart, the heroine a mystic who feels a saddening in the Weave (“There’s a great disturbance in the Force.”), the buddy is a seven-foot gentle giant, the villains are doubly evil because they are Christians. Another buddy manages an impossible crossbow shot: 300 yards through the neck of a man sitting on a sailboat underway, and the bolt retains enough power to pass entirely through the neck (horizontally). The hero’s “conversion” is unconvincing, though he has reason enough to abandon his allegiances.

The storytelling suffers from many verbal anachronisms. References to adrenaline, penicillin, catalysts and connections are either improbable or simply jar the reader out of the spell of the story. (If you slap moldy bread on a wound, you’re more likely to kill than save the patient.) Many readers will skip over the modernisms; students of history will shudder.

Awkward punctuation throughout. A good editing would save the reader much confusion. “Why so negative brother?” can mean several things. Yes, modern writer eschew commas. but they serve a purpose. If the reader must stop to figure it out, you’ve betrayed him or her.

The cover art must have been drawn by a friend of the author. Why else hobble your book with such a poor image?

Good ending. Draws together the threads of this story while drawing the reader into the sequel.